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Our Rich History: The Humanities Enrichment Program and workshop series in the 1970s

By Tom Ward
Special to NKyTribune

Part 7 of our series: “Retrospect and Vista II: Thomas More College/University, 1971-2021”

In the 1970s, colleges and universities throughout the United States benefitted from federal grants for programming, from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). One of the primary achievements of the Integrative Humanities Council (IHC) at Thomas More College was its establishment of the Humanities Enrichment Program (HEP), largely through a $150,000, three-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). (See this Our Rich History column.) The HEP sponsored a Workshop Series that included lectures by distinguished authors and scholars from around the world.

Speakers for the 1974 lectures and the series symbol. (Courtesy of Thomas More University Archives.)

Dr. Frank Bremer, chair of the IHC, also served as director of the HEP (with Ms. Theresa Hillenmeyer as the administrative assistant) and did much to promote it. In a July 4, 1973 memo to IHC members and departmental chairpersons announcing the recently approved NEH grant, Dr. Bremer stressed that it should “be interpreted as national recognition of Thomas More College, the humanities and allied social science departments that will undertake the program, and the Venture Program which formed the foundation for our discussions and our grant requests.” His interpretation of “national recognition” probably referred to the fact that TMC was one of only eleven schools nationally that received a grant from the new NEH program. He added that “for the college and for the students of Thomas More, it will hopefully mean an improved selection of elective course offerings.”

As Dr. Bremer’s memo points out, HEP must be understood in the context of the Venture Program and its focus on multi-disciplinary clusters of courses. The new courses would be the culmination of the IHC’s key “concept of curriculum enrichment through faculty development” (HEP Report, Oct. 1, 1973). It was clear that the lectures were not created simply to bring famous speakers to the college — they were to be an integral part of the courses approved by the IHC.

The series was initiated under the title of Humanities Enrichment Workshops. Faculty preparing courses were asked to recommend to the Humanities Program Office those individuals whom they thought should be invited as speakers who would enrich the experience of the courses they planned. Dr. Bremer urged faculty “to guard against thinking small” when making suggestions; he hoped that a $750 stipend from the NEH grant would serve as enough of an inducement to attract “individuals with excellent credentials and reputation.” The Program Office would take responsibility for all official contacts with prospective speakers (Bremer memo to IHC and Humanities Program Faculty, Aug. 20, 1973).

As part of this plan, the various departments represented in the IHC were to design courses that would be parts of clusters that fit into themes approved by the IHC. Faculty members from a department took charge of planning upper-level courses to correspond to the related cluster themes to which that department was assigned. Other departments would act accordingly for their parts in the clusters. The faculty member would receive six hours of release time to prepare the course and be entitled to have a student “apprentice” as a paid assistant. They would also make recommendations for new library resources that would be needed. That same faculty member was to “assist the Humanities Enrichment Program Office in the scheduling of a Humanities Enrichment Workshop to supplement classroom instruction.” These clusters thus formed the basis for decisions regarding potential speakers (Bremer memo to department chairs, Aug. 30, 1973). The speakers, however, were to participate only the first time that the clusters were offered at TMC.

Prof. Frank Bremer, Humanities Enrichment Program Coordinator, and Theresa Hillenmeyer Mattei, Program Assistant. (Courtesy of Thomas More University Archives.)

The addresses (open to the public) were the most recognizable feature of the workshops for the speakers, but there was another feature that tied them more directly into the academic content of the clusters. Each speaker would also take part in two informal work sessions with faculty to advise them in course preparation (Bremer memo to DeGraff, Oct. 1, 1973).

The Humanities Enrichment Program was inaugurated with a special Academic Convocation on October 16, 1973 in honor of Sr. Mary Irmina Saelinger, O.S.B., longtime professor of education and registrar for the college. On the occasion, Sr. Irmina was named the first Professor Emeritus of Thomas More College, and she was also presented with the Thomas More Medallion. The address was delivered by Mr. Harold Cannon, Program Officer of the NEH (Program for Academic Convocation),

The actual workshop format began later in October with a theme “Renewal in the Humanities,” which was not related to a cluster. Four speakers visited the college on different dates in October and November: Dr. Howard Zinn, Dr. Dwight Allen, Dr. Alden Vaughan and Professor Kenneth Boulding. As Dr. Bremer expressed in his report regarding the workshops, they were intended “to expose our faculty to new approaches to and dimensions of education for the purpose of aiding them in our curricular revision and enrichment.” 

To this end, the informal seminar sessions in the lounge of Marian-Howard Hall were especially helpful. The faculty used the opportunity to question the speakers to glean new ideas for their courses. Students also joined in the seminars and could ask cogent questions because they were familiar with the subjects from their coursework. Dr. Bremer thought that these seminars were more beneficial overall than the public lectures, the attendance at which he found disappointing. The speakers also participated in luncheons or dinners that were primarily social occasions (Bremer preliminary report to Ebben, Nov. 27, 1973). 

Sr. Mary Philip Trauth, SND and Prof. Geoffrey Barraclough – lecture on the “New Views of Adolph Hitler.” (Courtesy of Thomas More University Archives.)

The first course-related workshop was also held during the fall of 1973, with the same Dr. Vaughan. It was aligned with Dr. Bremer’s “Puritans in Old and New England” course. Dr. Vaughan’s address on November 15th was entitled, “White Over Red: American Attitudes to the Indians; 1550-1812.” Unlike the other public lectures, it was well-attended, by approximately 220 people (HEP Report, Oct. 1, 1973). PThis was because it was part of a cluster course that students were taking for credit, whereas the “Renewal in the Humanities” series was not. Dr. Bremer believed that it had been valuable for the students, and that “while the format of the future course-related workshops might differ,” it had demonstrated that “the next 31 can be among the most exciting experiences for the students in the college’s history” (Bremer preliminary report to Ebben, Nov. 27, 1973).   

A higher level of attendance by the general public could be expected for the ongoing series because, although “the events should focus the attention of the entire regional intellectual community” on TMC, the “lectures will not be addressed to the somewhat narrow concerns of scholarly specialists but will be designed to interest and enlighten all members of the community” (HEP Report, Oct. 1, 1973, p. 6). However, more would be needed to entice the non-academics to visit the TMC campus to hear notable scholars.

The key to drawing more attention to the public lectures was, of course, advertisement. Numerous press releases about the series were sent to editors, with the addition of announcements that were mailed to other academic institutions in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region. With assistance from the Office of Public Relations, artistically designed posters were printed for each of the series of lectures. Each poster depicted one workshop, with the several speakers and their dates listed. A unique logo was also designed for the HEP, which was printed on the posters and as the letterhead for stationery.

Allen Ginsberg. (Courtesy of Thomas More University Archives.)

To look at just one example of what were later called “mini-clusters,” a cluster simply entitled “German Studies” was first offered in the fall of 1974 and spring of 1975. It was comprised of four courses taught by faculty from three departments: “Of German Ways,” by the Foreign Languages Department; “Martin Luther: His Life and Thought” and “Modern German History” by two different professors of the History Department; and “Contemporary German Philosophy” by the Philosophy Department (HEP brochure). In conjunction with this cluster were four workshops on different dates, including the lectures on Martin Luther by Dr. Harold McSorely, on Modern Germany with Dr. Geoffrey Barraclough of Cambridge University, England, who presented “New Views on Hitler,” Fr. Quentin Lauer, SJ, who spoke on the German philosopher Hegel, and Dr. Louis Helbig who gave a lecture entitled “Of German Ways” (NEH brochures). 

Sr. Mary Philip Trauth, SND, a longtime History professor at TMC, was able to use travel funds from the NEH grant to travel more extensively than any other professor. As a faculty member in two clusters—the one on German Studies and another on Soviet Studies—she visited West Germany and the Soviet Union in the spring of 1974 to help her prepare for her courses. She also had the opportunity to hear Professor Barraclough lecture at Cambridge. Two of Barraclough’s books were listed on the syllabus for her Modern Germany Course. Sr. Philip found her time in Europe “invaluable” for her preparation. (Trauth, HEP Experience January through July, July 9, 1974).

Besides the German and Soviet Studies clusters with their attendant workshops, some of the others during the 1974-1975 academic year were titled: Evolution; Appalachian Culture and Society (featuring Kentucky authors Wendell Berry and Harriette Arnow); and Individuality. Each had its courses with TMC professors, plus the guest lecturers who addressed topics related to the cluster themes. The speakers were at TMC at different times during the semesters, with schedules listed in the various brochures and other notices. 

One lecture that captured much attention was the presence on February 5, 1975 of poet Allen Ginsberg, who read some of his poetry. Because he was Jewish, his presence was protested by a group of American Nazis (Bremer response to inquiries, July 13, 2021). Along with Ginsberg as another component of the Individuality Workshops, Baba Ram Dass (formerly of Berkley and Harvard Universities where he was a professor of Psychology and taught with his birth name of Richard Alpert) appeared on March 12th with a lecture on altered states of consciousness.   

In 1974-1975, the first year in which the workshop program was fully operational, two workshops were held that were structured differently than the usual format. On two nights in January, the “Phenomenon of Man Project” expounded upon the Christian evolutionary teachings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, with a multi-media presentation; it was part of a cluster on Evolution. The POM Project brought in representatives of the California-based organization with a worldwide span that exposed the TMC faculty, students and guests to Teilhard’s controversial ideas. The other was a Conference on Puritanism on April 21 and 22, 1975. The main speaker was Dr. Christopher Hill, Baliol College of Oxford University, a leading authority on Puritans. This was not held as part of the earlier mentioned cluster led by Dr. Bremer, but the conference was attended by over 20 scholars, many of whose presentations were collected and saved by the college.

Cover for Conference Program on “Puritanism in Old and New England,” featuring Dr. Christopher Hill of Oxford University. (Courtesy of Thomas More University Archives.)

The 1975-1976 workshop series included clusters on: Female Studies; Medieval Studies; Utopian Studies; Creativity; and Comparative Societies. A workshop connected with Utopian Literature featured world-renowned architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller as a speaker on February 24, 1976.

This was also the final year of the series because it was the last year of the NEH grant. Dr. Bremer believed that the HEP series had been successful. The lectures had “served a worthwhile purpose in opening the Thomas More community to outside ideas and stimulating intellectual discourse.” He thanked faculty for their attendance at lectures and support of the program (Bremer to faculty, Oct. 10, 1975). Overall, the HEP series had been a positive experience for students, both those in cluster courses and those who only attended for their own personal interest, and the larger regional community. The cluster students who had the opportunity to meet speakers in small groups had the added benefit of asking the speakers about their work and brought them into “contact with the broader world of knowledge” (Bremer response to inquiries, July 13, 2021).

Although the expensive lecture series had to be discontinued with the expiration of the NEH grant, the cluster courses were expected to continue as part of the Venture Program. But problems with the overall program would lead to its eventual demise.

Tom Ward is the Archivist of Thomas More University. He holds an MA in History from Xavier University, Cincinnati. He can be contacted at wardt@thomasmore.edu.

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

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