CHAPTER 8

TRYING TIMES[1]

            In 1969, Girard College entered a new period with a controversial President, and a Board whose indifference nearly caused the destruction of this famous institution.  With Dr. Friedmann retiring the Board set out to find a new president.  Unfortunately, politics may have been involved in selecting Dr. Gayle K. Lawrence.  Lawrence was serving as Director of the Philadelphia Commission on Higher Education.  When the Board asked the Commission to submit names of people to be considered for the presidency, Lawrence's name was submitted.  He was a political science instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, and for 19 years a professor of political science at Temple University.  He was involved with local and state politics, served as Director of Personnel for Governor Leader, and a special assistant to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.  He was chairman of the Democratic Party in Lansdowne, where he lived.  Did this background qualify him to administer Girard College?  Apparently the Board thought so because they appointed him to be President of the College.

            When Lawrence assumed the position, lack of potential students had become a serious problem, if the college was to survive.  A byline in the July 27, 1970, Philadelphia Daily News read:  GIRARD COLLEGE: A $50,000 EDUCATION THAT CAN'T BE GIVEN AWAY.  The article stated that although Girard's Will was broken to admit non-white students, only 37 had been admitted since 1968.  Although the leader of the local Negro organization claimed that he would find several hundred Black applicants, the boast never materialized.  For the first time in 25 years the school was advertising for students.  An ad was placed in newspapers of the twenty largest eastern cities, resulting in only eight inquires but none became applicants.  Perhaps the negative publicity the College received during the Will's litigation was taking a toll.

            The tone of Lawrence's first letter to the alumni, published on Founder's Day 1969, reveals that he thought he had a mission to change the school.  He said, "The College must gird itself for the future, put its affairs in order, and strengthen its programs."  These were strong words for a person in office only three months and they set the tone for things to come.

            Lawrence apparently believed that in the modern educational curriculum, old-fashioned discipline was unnecessary and unwise.  He believed that the youth should play a major part in governing themselves.  Students were permitted to wear their own clothes and determine their own hairstyles and appearance.  Contemporary style clothes were purchased for the older boys.  He eliminated the battalion,[2] apparently disliking its image of military discipline.  Before the end of his first year, he apparently concluded that his experiment in liberal discipline was a failure so he outlined his future plans in a letter dated Aug. 24 1970, to all guardians.  He divided the school year into three parts, eliminated final examinations, and reduced the length of the school day to provide for more counseling.  He appointed a disciplinarian and insisted upon a strict code of behavior.  He threatened to discharge any boy unable to conform to his "Standard Of Student Appearance, Conduct, and Behavior".

            While he and the Board were concerned with beautifying the campus, in 1971, the staff become dissatisfied with their working conditions and salaries.  Turnover of personnel was far greater than expected of a contented organization.  Teachers threatened to strike so the Board finally approved tenure, gave them a new contract that included a sick leave package, and reduced the school year to 182 days.  The September 1971 issue of the Steel and Garnet reported that the alumni established a committee to examine the "overall deterioration of the conditions at Girard College over the past few years."  The committee's mission was to develop a "course of action for achieving our goal of a better Girard."  By mid 1972 the committee concluded its investigation and reported that "deteriorating conditions, such as plunging enrollment, ineffective academic program, high faculty turnover, breakdown in spirit and discipline and a general loss of confidence truly threatens the survival of the college."  The thirty-five page report[3] was submitted to the Board of Trustees on July 31, 1972, and whereas it was intended to be a confidential report to the Board, it leaked and its content was published in the newspapers.  The report reflected opinions of 43 people including students, former students, mothers, faculty, and staff.  The report either did not convince the Board that a real problem existed, or Lawrence's political influence was greater then anticipated.  According to an August 8, 1972, Evening Bulletin article, four members of the Board claimed that Lawrence was doing a good job.3        The Board Report commented that 1972 was a “tumultuous year for the College administration”.  It mentioned that public attacks by newspapers, radio and letters were appearing attributed to persons representing the Alumni and mothers.  In the fall of 1972 the alumni began a "Save Girard" campaign and prepared to go to court.  They claimed that vandalism in the school was rampant, discipline was lacking, health care had declined, and the college was being poorly administered.  The August 15, 1972, article in the Chicago Tribune indicated:  FAMED GIRARD COLLEGE MAY CLOSE ITS DOORS.  The article reviewed the Court case but indicated the problems were related instead to Girard's controversial president, Dr. Lawrence.  About this time Lawrence, in what appeared to be a vengeful act, fired Alfred Moscariello, the school's Business Manager and a popular alumnus.

            Labor problems continued.  In 1972, 148 service employees formed a union and become part of Local 473 of the AFL-CIO International Brotherhood of Fireman and Oilers.  On November 13, 1972, the teachers struck after 14 months of fruitless negotiations that forced them to join the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.  The teachers were seeking a 13% pay increase, better working conditions and job security.  The starting yearly salary was $7,000 since 1968.  The strike lasted until December 11 when the teachers were given a minimum $650 increase.  By 1974 the starting salary was raised to $8,400.  When the strike began the college sent the students home with little or no warning to their guardians.  The administration failed to realize that they were legally responsible for the students and therefore three mothers, with the assistance of the alumni, sued the College for abandoning its responsibilities.  The suit was filed December 12th 1972 before Judge Daniel E. Huyett, 3rd Federal District Court.

            Lawrence's problems continued to mount.  In December of 1972, three years after he became President, a review team of professional educators from the Middle States Association of College and Secondary Schools, warned the College that its accreditation was in jeopardy unless reforms were made in the curriculum and administration.  Here are some of the courses that were being taught:  U.S. Minorities; Folk Life; Folklore; Life Sciences; Lyric Poetry; Urban Problems; Sociology; and American Culture.  The reviewers granted a provisional accreditation for only one year, a very unusual extension since previous extensions were for 5 and 10 years.  Although perhaps unrelated to the review, a wise decision was made in 1972 to reestablish separate staffs for teaching and household life.

            The alumni organization continued, unsuccessfully, to solicit the Board to act but it remained indifferent, apparently resenting the alumni's involvement.  In December, Lawrence evicted the Alumni office from the campus where it had been for 28 years.  This was an unbelievable act on Lawrence's part especially when considering these words he wrote in 1969.  "Devotion of the alumni to the college is most impressive.  There is no educational institute which I know of to match the generous expenditure of time, energy, and funds which many alumni regularly contribute to the well being of Girard College.  In my mind the alumni constitutes one of the College's greatest resources."

            While waiting for their hearing before Judge Huyett, the mothers took other actions.  They picketed the Board meeting on April 13, 1973, to protest their not being notified about the school's possible loss of accreditation.  The mothers were concerned that loss of accreditation would prevent their children from furthering their education beyond Girard College.  They also sent the Board a letter requesting information about other events that happened.  The Board refused to discuss the matter with the mothers and refused a petition, signed by more than one hundred mothers, seeking Lawrence's removal.[4]  Their court hearing was still pending in November of 1973.

            Apparently, the accumulations of Lawrence's many problems forced some action, because in September 1973, several staff changes were made including the appointment of Dr. Andrew F. Widener, as the Director of Secondary Education.  He spent 30 years at the Valley Forge Military Academy in several key positions.  He spent his first months at Girard reviewing and acting on the changes proposed by the Middle States accreditation team.  Conditions appeared to change with the application of new dress codes and more stringent rules and requirement.  A year later the accreditation was extended for two years.

            Applications for admittance still declined, and each year approximately 30 students were removed by their parents even though $11,000 was being spent yearly on each student.  In 1973, to encourage admittance, the Court permitted the maximum age of admittance to be raised from 10 to 14 years of age, and also permitted admittance of motherless orphans.  By March 1974 the student population was down to only 361.  Naturally, with all the bad publicity the school was getting, parents were reluctant to enroll their children.  The school's operating expense for the year that ended in August 1974 was $3.9 million.  It is difficult to believe that a school could spend that much on so few and not produce the best-educated children in the country.  The best "prep" schools were spending considerably less.

            In 1974, fifty-seven employees were terminated and  functions were curtailed.  Around the clock nursing was discontinued, then reinstated after a protest.  Driver training, the school newspaper, and maid service for the household staff were discontinued.  The summer program was severely reduced.  While this turmoil persisted, major renovations were proceeding intended to upgrade and beautify the campus.[5]  Banker Hall, built in 1851, was demolished in April 1970.  The President's home and Bordeaux Hall were renovated.[6]  In 1972 a new Infirmary opened and the old one was demolished.  The same year Mariner Hall was closed for renovation and refurbishing of Allen Hall was authorized.  Plans were developed to shut down the unused West End.  In 1973 dormitories were installed in the old Dining and Services building and the area was renamed Banker Hall.  Unfortunately evidence of administrative inadequacies were revealed by the tragic death of a student who fell through a skylight in the roof of the High School on November 27, 1974, when he was supposed to be attending a chapel service.  The student's death appeared as another example of insufficient control and guidance.  Supposedly, the administration was warned that the senior class of 1974 was using the rooftop for beer parties.

            By December 1974, the mothers became impatient with the court's delay so they filed suit in the Philadelphia Orphan’s Court requesting removal of the Board as the college's governing body.  On December 18,1974, the Board promised student representatives that they would investigate Lawrence's policies.  This meeting between the Board and the students occurred after 200 students boycotted classes for two days protesting conditions at the school.  On January 31, 1975, the Evening Bulletin reported that the Board had appropriated $25,000 to hire Dr. Edward B. Shils, Chairman of the Department of Management at the Wharton School to do a comprehensive study of the school's problems.  This action was taken after the Board censured Lawrence for inappropriate physical discipline.

            On June 13, 1975, the Board of City Trust strangely granted Lawrence a year sabbatical leave.  Dr. Shils' report must have confirmed many of the complaints.  During the Lawrence years, the College's long reputation of excellence was badly tarnished.  Never had politics become part of the selection and retention of an administrator.  We will never know why the Board backed Lawrence so strongly and delayed its action.  The newspapers reported rumors that the school was in jeopardy of closing or moving.  By this time the school's enrollment was down to 336, nearly half what it was when Lawrence became President.  Only eleven students graduated in June.  It was the persistency of the alumni, mothers, and students that avoided a disaster and saved the College.

            The Board appointed Emil Zarella, a 1924 Girard graduate, to be an interim Headmaster of the College.  Simultaneously, Board member John Pinnel, a Girard College 1934 graduate, was appointed Chairman of the Board's Girard College Committee, replacing Mr. William A. Meehan.  The selection of the retired Emil Zarella was a good move.  Zarella spent nearly his whole life involved with the College and its alumni before he retired in 1973.  He graduated in 1924, then worked in the College as a housemaster, educator, administrator, Vice President.  All who knew him regarded him as a fine gentleman, sincerely dedicated to the College and the growth of its students.  He proceeded to put things back in order.  He quickly improved communications with the students, the faculty, and alumni and improved student home life and activities.  He emphasized discipline and changed the weekend privilege concept.  Things began to turn around and full accreditation was granted in December 1975.  Pinnel appointed a committee of eight educators to choose a new President.  He and Zarella acted as advisers to the Committee.  In 1976 it cost $3.9 million to operate the College and the cost to maintain each student was $12,473. The Estate value, after remaining stagnant for several years, finally rose to $82 million.

 



[1]Lawrence, unlike all Presidents before him, did not publicly publish an annual President's report, an act apparently not questioned by the Board.  Whereas much of the information in this book came from Presidential Reports, for the Lawrence years I had to consult the Board's yearly, required public reports to obtain some events of the Lawrence era.

[2]The Cadet Corps, Battalion, was formed in 1869 under the leadership of Major Henry Oliver.  Membership was voluntary and a privilege.  The original Corps had 40 members.  In 1870, the Board appropriated $1800 to purchase Civil War uniforms and muzzle loading muskets.  In 1893, the U.S. Army assigned an officer to the College, to conduct the drills and training three times each week.  In 1912, Dr. Herrick, downgraded the emphasis, hired Major Brookfield, an officer in the Pennsylvania National Guard, and made him part of the College teaching staff.  Brookfield was succeeded by Lt. Col. Hamilton.

[3] The investigation was conducted by and for Gush Pelagatti, an attorney and 1956 graduate from the College.

[4] During this period Donald C. Rubel was the President of the Board of City Trust and William Meehan, long time powerful Philadelphia politician, was a one of the three Vice President.  Meehan was the Chairman of the Republican Party of Philadelphia for many years.  He became Chairman of the Board, a position he held for many years.

[5]In 1974, $750,118 was spent on major renovations

[6]Bordeaux was renovated again to accommodate high school girls



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