University Archives: The University of Iowa Oral History Project, 1999-2001

In 1976-1977, James Beilman conducted 46 interviews with former University staff and faculty which are preserved as bound transcripts (and in some cases as cassette recordings), housed in Special Collections. Beilman described this project thoroughly in a 1977 Books at Iowa article. For a name and subject index to the interviews in this project, compiled after it had concluded, click here.

A second oral history project, begun in 1999 through the generosity of a private donor and contributors to The University of Iowa Foundation, came formally to an end in August 2001. In that time, Linda Yanney, project director, conducted or supervised interviews with 42 people (in 75 sessions) and collected more than 125 hours of recorded sound. The project also transcribed four interviews recorded earlier by Robert Engel, Professor Emeritus, College of Education, and an additional interview was conducted after the formal end of the project by David McCartney, Archivist, bringing the total number of interviews obtained to 47. Not all of the transcripts were returned and released by interviewees, however, and access to a small number is restricted for varying periods of time.

Oral histories of key University faculty and staff, many of them emeritus, as well as other members of the University community, preserve perceptions about as well as the facts surrounding events and changes in the life of the University. The “sound of the time,” they add dimension to the substantial collection of individual and departmental papers in the Archives.

Sandy [former President Willard Boyd] was a marvelous guy to work for. I always said he had a vacuum theory of administration, that is, he wouldn’t tell you quite what he wanted you to do. If you were a person who likes to fill vacuums, then he would [say] just go do it. Some people found it impossible to work that way, but the rest of us just had a ball. — David H. Vernon, Professor and former Dean, College of Law , May 25, 1999

One of the principle things I learned from Sandy [Boyd] was how to deal with problems in which the people were very important factors. I was used to solving problems for the physical world and knew how to go about that, where to get help and what the rules were. But when it came to the world of people, I really learned a great deal from Sandy . Because I learned that when you’re trying to resolve conflicts for example, you don’t go into isolation and come back with [an answer]. But you get people together and talk to them, and let them talk, talk to one another and the person who is trying to help. And in that way, you reach a, not necessarily a hundred percent consensus, but you reach the point where each of the people understands why the other one is taking the position that they are. — Philip Hubbard, Professor Emeritus, Engineering, and former Vice President for Student Services, Interviewed by Robert Engel, August 1998.

I mean I feel so lucky. I never would have believed, never dreamed, I’d ever be a college professor. It was really sort of unbelievable. Neither of my parents got past elementary education, but valued education. I never had a big ambition. You know when I was working in radio I thought, “Oh God, I wish I could get to a union station and make $60 a week. If I made $60 a week, I might be able to get married.” Then to become a teacher, to be paid as well as we’ve been, it’s pretty damn lucky. And people have been good to me here. You know, I think Clay Harshbarger really pushed me and promoted me. Even sometimes when he didn’t know what I was doing. — Sam Becker, Professor Emeritus, Communications Studies, April 26, 1999

Prospective interview participants were chosen from lists submitted by Special Collections staff and other interested parties throughout the University with the help of an advisory committee composed of Gerhard Loewenberg, Political Science; Malcolm Rohrbough, History; Margery Wolf, Anthropology and Women’s Studies; and Darrell Wyrick, UI Foundation.

Transcripts of interviews conducted during 1999-2001 are available in bound volumes housed in Special Collections, unless access has been restricted by interviewees. Particular care was taken to preserve the audio record of these interviews as well, and cassette versions are available to users, again unless restricted.

Completed interviews include:

Sam Becker, Professor Emeritus, Communications Studies; additional posts held: Chair, Communications Studies; Acting Chair, School of Art and Art History; Acting Provost

Mary Bennett, Alumna, State Historical Society of Iowa (Restricted Access)

Arthur Bonfield, Professor of Law

Susan K. Boyd, wife of Willard (Sandy) Boyd; Patron of University and community projects; UIHC Patient Representative Program

Sue Buckley, Associate Vice President for Finance and Director of Human Resources and other administrative positions (Restricted Access)

N. Peggy Burke, Alumna, Chair, Physical Education and Dance

Cosmo Catalano, Professor Emeritus and Chair, Theater

George Chambers, Faculty, College of Education, administrative posts (Restricted Access)

Phil E. Connell, Secretary to the President (Restricted Access)

Lois Cox, Clinical Professor of Law, past Ombudsperson

William Decker, Alumnus, Vice President for Research

Charles deProsse, Professor Emeritus, Medicine

James Dixon, Professor Emeritus, Music

Robert (Bob) Engel, Professor Emeritus, College of Education, assistant to Boyd and Freedman

Samuel Fahr, Professor of Law

Dick Gibson, Alumnus, Facilities Planning Group

Sarah Hanley, Professor of History, Women’s Studies

John Harper, Assistant Professor and Vice-chair, English

Kate Head, Alum, New Wave activist; issues related to military research on campus; divestiture of investments in South Africa; Iowa City zoning of Greek system

Ray Heffner, Professor Emeritus, English, Provost (Restricted Access)

Patricia Herring, Alumna with MSW, Social Worker, original member of Virology (HIV) Clinic team

Philip Hubbard, Professor Emeritus, Engineering, major administrative posts

Doris Hughes, Alumna, Early Childhood Education Center

M. L. Huit, Emeritus Dean of Students

Nick Klenske, Student Government President 2001-2002

Richard Kolbet, Librarian, director of Libraries’ Acquisitions and Collections

Jerry Kollros, Professor Emeritus, Biological Sciences

Jean Martin, Motor Pool, AFSCME

Susan Mask, Director of Affirmative Action

Robert McCown, Special Collections Librarian

Ken Moll, Professor Emeritus of Speech and Audiology

Bruce Nestor, Alumnus, BA and Law, New Wave Activist

Mary Jo Small, Retired Associate Vice President for University Finance

Tom Smith, Visiting Professor, History

Andy Stoll, Student Government President 2000-2001

Roberta Till-Retz, Labor Center (Restricted Access)

Norval Tucker, Professor Emeritus, Art

David Vernon, Professor Emeritus, Law, former Dean of the College of Law, Vice President

Darrell Wyrick, President Emeritus, UI Foundation

Linda Yanney, Alumna, Oral History Project Director (Restricted Access)

Antonio Zavala, Alumnus, theater artist

This seemingly disparate collection of individuals shares a unique quality. As David Vernon noted, Boyd’s style was to find good people and encourage them to “fill a vacuum.” The people interviewed “filled a vacuum’ in various ways. They saw a need in their corner of the University, and took the initiative to do something about it. Some operated within a department or discipline, some were chiefly administrators, and others moved in and out of Central Administration, serving as a sort of informal “Kitchen Cabinet.’ Students and staff changed the University in much different ways.

TECHNICAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE PROJECT

After consulting Dennis Reese of WSUI, an audio professional with an interest in audio preservation issues, and reviewing discussions on the listserv H-ORALHIST, the Project purchased a Sharp MiniDisc Recorder (MD) for interviewing. Digital recording with a high-grade microphone provided excellent sound quality. The audio record on MD can be transferred to Compact Disc (CD) or other digital media, including the Web, without loss of resolution. The Project copied the MDs to cassette tapes for transcription using a dictation machine. A Sony dual-well deck was purchased for copying to cassette and for duplicating cassettes. Readers can listen to the collection using the deck and earphones. Because the archival stability of digital recording is not yet proven, audio “masters” will be kept in both digital and analog cassette versions.

OTHER ORAL HISTORY PROJECTS

Robert Engel Interviews

During the 1990s Robert Engel, Professor Emeritus, College of Education, conducted interviews with four University administrators. The interviews with Phil Connell, Philip Hubbard (August 1998), and Dewey Stuit (January 1998) were recorded on microcassettes; the interview with M.L. Huit (January 1990) was recorded on cassette. Altogether, there are 10 tapes, representing approximately 9.5 hours of interviewing. Sound quality varies. These interviews were transcribed and edited during the 1999-2001 Project.

Hamilton Cravens Interview of Willard L. Boyd

On May 18, 1981, Hamilton Cravens of Iowa State University interviewed outgoing University of Iowa president Willard L. (Sandy) Boyd about the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station. An audio cassette tape recording is available; the transcript is 16 pp. in length.

D.C. Spriestersbach Interviews

During the mid-1990′s, D.C. Spriestersbach, dean emeritus of the Graduate College, conducted interviews with over 50 individuals associated with research activity conducted at the University of Iowa. The interview transcripts are part of the Papers of D.C. Spriestersbach (RG 99.0255), and occupy five folders in box 6. No tape recordings are known to be available.

 

Return to the Resource Guide to Oral History Interviews