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Our Rich History: Thomas More College in the 1970s and the innovation of ‘Integrative Councils’

Part 6 of our series, “Retrospect and Vista II”: Thomas More College/University, 1971-2021

by Tom Ward
Special to NKyTribune

The 1970s witnessed innovations in education nationwide. Some of these were encouraged by grants from federal programs, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Thomas More College introduced “Integrative Councils” at this time, designed to foster innovation, as well as to harvest new funding sources.

Thomas More College’s Integrative Councils were not all conceived at the same time, though they were all eventually components of the Venture Program. There were four in all: the Integrative Science Council; the Integrative Humanities Council; the Integrative Fine Arts Council; and the Integrative Social Sciences and Professions Council. After their actual formation, their chairs were to serve as members of the General Studies Board (Academic Affairs Committee Minutes, May 2, 1973).

Dr. James Ebben, Academic Dean. (Photo courtesy of Thomas More University Archives)

On September 7, 1973, Academic Dean James Ebben wrote a memo to the Academic Affairs Committee regarding the Integrative Councils that were already in place by then. The breakdown of academic departments within each of the four Integrative Councils was as follows:

• Integrative Science Council (Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics).

• Integrative Humanities Council (History, Philosophy, Theology, English, Foreign Languages).

• Integrative Fine Arts Council (Art, Drama, English, Foreign Languages).

• Integrative Social Sciences and Professions Council (Economics, Business Administration, Psychology, Sociology and Social Work, Accounting, Education).

This alignment for the Councils followed the divisional alignment of departments finally approved—after discussing various suggested groupings—by the Academic Affairs Committee the previous year. The original plan was that the Councils would function as subcommittees of the Academic Affairs Committee, to which they would report.

Each Council was to consist of the chairs of each constituent department or their designees. The same memo stated that the purpose of the Councils was to “work together on projects to improve the academic programs of the college.” They were to do this by evaluating resources (including curriculum, library holdings and faculty), planning and developing resources through grant preparation, and setting budget priorities. One of the primary tasks of the Councils was to create proposals to procure funding for their specific programs that included more than one department.

In this September 7, 1973 memo, Dr. Ebben also supplied some background information, though his account of the creation of the Councils seems not entirely accurate. According to the memo, the Integrative Science Council (ISC) was formed in 1969-1970 to prepare a grant proposal to the College Science Improvement Program (COSIP) of the National Science Foundation (NSF). This makes it sounds as if the ISC was created first. Dr. Ebben apparently projected the title “Integrative Science Council” (ISC) back to what was then merely a project committee that had been appointed the task of writing a proposal. Although the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics were represented on the committee, it was not yet called the Integrative Science Council. These departments would all be on the later ISC, though the original 1971 body included the Departments of Economics, Psychology and Sociology that would be part of the Integrative Social Sciences and Professions Council in 1973.

Sr. Mary Casimira Mueller, SND – Department of Chemistry, First Chair of the Integrative Science Council (ISC). (Photo courtesy of Thomas More University Archives.)

In fact, the title of Integrative Science Council may not have been in use until the spring of 1973. A proposal for the General Studies Board handed out to the Academic Affairs Committee in March already referred to the ISC and the IHC but did not refer to the Fine Arts group as an Integrative Council. Sr. Mary Casimira Mueller, SND, first chair of the ISC, questioned at a later date “whether this ISC has its roots in the original COSIP proposal or not” (Sr. Casimira memo to Departmental ISC representatives, May 7, 1974).

At any rate, the four Integrative Councils only began official operation in fall 1973, with the Fine Arts, and Social Sciences and Professions Councils formed only at that time (Minutes of Academic Affairs Meeting, Sept. 12, 1973). Only the IHC actually had a designated chairperson at that time and it had been debated whether the Social Sciences and the Professions should be two separate Councils. The ISC continued to carry on the task of forming proposals, along with the college’s Development Office and helped to determine how unspecified grant monies that were approved would be dispersed among the science departments.

It seems that the Integrative Humanities Council (IHC) was actually the first of the Integrative Councils to be identified as such. According to Dr. Frank Bremer, its first chair, the IHC was formed in August 1972 by its constituent department members “to stimulate humanistic course renewal and multi-disciplinary cooperation” (Section titled “The Humanities and the Venture Program,” page 11 of grant application, Feb. 1973). Dr. Ebben confirmed this in his September 7, 1973 memo when he stated that the IHC began in the fall of 1972 when it started formulating a proposal to send to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).  

In preparation for the proposal, Dr. Bremer met with Ms. Susan Cole at the NEH offices in Washington, D.C. to discuss the necessary elements of a successful appeal. Ms. Cole made him aware of the aspects of the proposed Humanities Program that should be emphasized to increase the prospects for securing a grant; these aspects were contained in what was already presented in the Venture Program being implemented by TMC. They included an emphasis on team-taught courses involving multi-disciplinary activity, coordinated clusters of courses (which was a salient feature of the Venture Program), and Humanistic Studies Workshops with guest speakers, which would figure prominently in the proposed Humanities Enrichment Program of the college (Handwritten notes by Bremer, n.d.).

Dr. Frank Bremer, Department of History, First Chair of the Integrative Humanities Council (IHC). (Photo courtesy of Thomas More University Archives)

On October 20, 1972, the Humanities Council held a meeting during which Dr. Bremer reported on his discussions at the NEH just a few days before. The current Humanities Council was to be called the “Humanities Program Office” (HPO), a title preferred by the NEH. It was recommended that the HPO invite the departments of Psychology, Sociology and Economics to participate as members of the new office. Dr. Ebben joined the meeting and confirmed that the college would match the government grant to the percentage required. It was also important to stress the connection of the program with the entire Venture Program that began at TMC that fall (IHC minutes of Oct. 20 meeting included in a memo from Sr. Loretto Driscoll, CDP, to HPO and Dr. Ebben, Oct. 21, 1972).

The next HPO meeting was held on October 26th. While discussing the qualifications that a director of the HPO should have, it was noted that the HPO program closely paralleled the COSIP program (of the ISC), the qualifications of whose director were then assumed for the HPO position. After answering in the negative a question that had been raised at the previous meeting—whether the HPO should have one co-director from each department rather than just one director—the members present unanimously voted Dr. Bremer to be director. It was also decided that, as in the ISC, the HPO director should be given release time to serve part-time as director. Appointments were also made to a subcommittee that would draft the proposal to the NEH (Minutes of HPO meeting, Oct. 26, 1972). As suggested by some members, three students were added to the Council in October.

As director of the Humanities Program Office, Dr. Bremer acted as Chair of the Integrative Humanities Council. Memos and meeting minutes made clear that by November the IHC was aware that it needed to pursue a course similar to that of the ISC’s proposal to COSIP. This required that members of the IHC and all faculty who would be involved in teaching in the program should submit curricula vitae to highlight their qualifications and that all the academic departments should prepare departmental profiles. The program of the IHC would also need to support faculty development so that they could prepare for the more demanding kinds of courses that would characterize the team-teaching and cluster approaches. These endeavors would include funds for release time and travel (Bremer memo to IHC re: Nov. 9 meeting, Nov. 7, 1972).   

In a November 6 memo to IHC members, Dr. Bremer emphasized that the Council should have a proposal prepared by mid-December so that Ms. Cole at the NEH could read it over and make recommendations before the official proposal was due on February 1, 1973. The proposal was to be for $180,000 over a period of three years. The amount up to $180,000 was specified in the government program and this procedure had been suggested by Ms. Cole in their October meeting (Bremer memo to IHC re: Oct. 18-19 meeting with NEH, n.d.). Bremer also noted the purpose of the NEH program, which coincided closely with the Venture Program adopted by TMC: it was “to give new life to the humanities in small and medium-size colleges by establishing a Humanities Program Office which should act to encourage and administer multi-disciplinary programs, courses and clusters” (Bremer memo to IHC, Nov. 6, 1972).  

The IHC formulated a proposal for the NEH during fall 1972 and sent it first in December to Ms. Cole as planned. It concisely summed up the Humanities Program at TMC, going back to efforts of the Educational Policies Task Force beginning in 1969 and the development of the Venture Program. Of course, the proposal spelled out the elements for which the NEH monies would be needed: faculty travel grants and course-development stipends; a student scholar apprentice program for assistants to faculty; consultants; library resources; and supervision of experimental team-taught and cluster courses. A preliminary budget was also included (TMC Preliminary Proposal to NEH, cover letter to Cole, Dec. 1972).

One of the most important elements of the program was to be the Humanistic Studies Workshops. These workshops were intended to bring in outside speakers who were experts in their fields and were to be held in conjunction with corresponding academic courses. The proposal noted a similar event, the American Revolution Bicentennial Conference (with highly regarded historian Richard B. Morris) that had been held at TMC the prior spring. The sponsorship of such workshops would “relate the fields of those invited to speak to the academic areas being investigated in the multi-disciplinary courses and humanities clusters sponsored by the Council” (TMC Preliminary Proposal to NEH, cover letter to Cole, Dec. 1972).

Humanities Enrichment Program (HEP). (Image courtesy of Thomas More University Archives)

The final proposal, which was mailed to the NEH in February 1973, called the entity to be funded “the Humanities Enrichment Program” (HEP). It also listed some of the Humanities-related clusters of courses that were being introduced at TMC, such as Utopian Societies, Women in History and Literature, Evolutionary Thought, Medieval Society, Soviet Studies, Culture of Appalachia, Theology of Hope and others. These cluster courses would include offerings from several academic departments, and the HEP would be evaluated at the end of each semester.

The inclusive dates for the proposed grant were August 25, 1973, through August 24, 1976. The exact amount requested was $179,870, with $92,000 for the first year (Cover sheet of grant application, Feb. 1973). The actual amount granted by the NEH in June 1973 was $150,000, but in his acceptance letter, President DeGraff assured the NEH chair that the IHC would adjust the budget to this smaller-than-hoped-for amount and that “there will be no significant diminution of the benefits that will accrue to our faculty and students” (DeGraff letter to Berman of NEH, July 6, 1973). 

A press release announcing the grant highlighted the workshops that would bring noted speakers to campus. These would be open to the public, though their main purpose was to introduce the various clusters that made up the Venture Program. This meant that there were to be 33 events with distinguished speakers during the three-year span of the NEH grant (Undated press release, ca. July 1973).

These speaker workshops will be the subject of the next installment of the TMU centennial series.

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, Ph.D. is a Professor of History at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

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