Prosser Gifford

Interviewed by Robert C. Townsend
June 8, 2011

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[0:00] Townsend: Well, it's it's a great pleasure to be here with Prosser Gifford who was the first dean of the faculty of Amherst College, arriving in 1967, having been appointed in ‘66, and served for 12-- 12 and a half distinguished years until-- till the spring of 1979. It's great to have you here.

[0:30] Prosser is our first dean of faculty. And that's a salient point that I'd like to start with. I came in 1962 when there was a dean of admissions, the legendary Bill Wilson who let you in, so to speak. And then once you were in as an undergraduate, there was a dean, Scott Porter, and he was dean of everything and symptomatically the code of behavior in the catalog, in one sentence, was that Amherst expected you to behave like a gentleman. And if he did-- if you didn't, you were gone. And there were no judicial boards. It was a very simple life.

[1:16] Shortly thereafter, there was a dean of students, and Scott Porter died at the beginning of 1966. And you were elected-- selected to be the first dean of the faculty. You had some obligations and responsibilities that you had to meet. So if I'm correct, you didn't start until January of 1967. 

[1:45] Gifford: That's correct. 

[1:46] Townsend: And previous to that you had compiled a very impressive record of education, law school, Rhodes Scholar, uh, History PhD. And I'd like to begin by asking you to retrace those steps with the addition or with the contextualization of what was to come, that is to say that you were going to be a very important administrator at Amherst College. And I assume there was some experience that led up to that other than being a good student.

[2:21] Gifford: Um, not much. I was-- in ‘66 I was teaching African history at Yale, both graduate and undergraduate. And I had a very nice office and a good teaching schedule and I was turning my dissertation into a book and anticipated staying at Yale indefinitely. One afternoon it was pouring rain and it must have been early fall of ‘66. This large man in a dripping Poncho appears in my office and says “Hello, I'm Cal Plimpton. And I believe in education and I think you believe in education.” So we chatted a bit. And he said, you know, “I'd like you to come up to Amherst for lunch.”

[3:11] I said, “Well, I can do anything for lunch.” So we agreed on a Sunday. And that Sunday, my wife, who was a very good athlete was in the finals of the paddle tennis tournament at New Haven long club, so she and her partner played the finals, lost, and then we got in the car and raced like hell up to Amherst to find that this wasn't a luncheon with Cal and Ruth. This was a luncheon with the committee of six.

[3:42] And I’d never heard of the committee of six, sounded very Venetian to me. So at lunch, I sat next to Arnold Aaron's and-- who I did know slightly because he had a connection with Woods Hole. And so I said to him, “Well, when do you need this person?” He said “A year ago.” So then we had a very difficult decision because we had a, we’d fixed up a house in New Haven, we had a very good situation. But on the other hand to go from assistant professor to Dean of the Faculty at Amherst was sort of a challenge. So I came in the winter of ‘67, January, discovered that at least three of my senior colleagues had wanted the job.

[4:33] And of course, I had no Amherst connections at all. So the first thing was to find out how Amherst worked, well that's not easy to find out. But there was a great advantage in being the first Dean of the Faculty  because nobody knew what a Dean of the Faculty should do. So I sort of had my own mandate, and I kind of made it up as we went along. 

[4:56] And, uh, got somewhat accustomed to the committee of six and some of the other peculiarities, and it wasn't very long before both Columbia and Berkeley blew; Columbia with fire and Berkeley with just lots of turmoil. So it became clear that the Amherst student body, which was bright and small was going to also take this up, which they did fairly quickly-- 

[5:33] Townsend: Let me interrupt because I'm curious, if things were more casual in those days, is as is evident, but how did Cal know about what Dr. Johnson calls lexographer, a harmless drudge like you in your office at Yale?

[5:55] Gifford: Well Cal --

[5:56] Townsend: What, was there advertising? Were you aware that this was a position?

[6:00] Gifford: No, Cal-- I was not aware and I was not seeking anything. Other people had asked me whether I wanted to be x and y. And I said no. But Cal had pretty good intelligence. And his brother-- half brother Francis was-- had been in the same class with my father at Harvard Law School, and they kept up legal relations in New York. And so he obviously, he knew what he was about, but I had no idea what he was about, 

[6:35] Townsend: Or what you were about.

[6:38] Gifford: [laughs] And it was a very difficult decision for us because,  but we decided to try it. And in fact, that's kind of characteristic of my career. If you look back now, it looks like it's coherent. But every single major move was completely A) unanticipated and B) unplanned, so it was a series of ad hoc opportunistic moves.

[7:04] Um and when I came to Amherst , I had no idea. Well, first of all, I had no idea where we're heading into the late 60s, early 70s. And secondly, I had no idea I’d be here 12 years. So, um, which were fairly formative years actually in the college. 

[7:22] Townsend: No question about that.

[7:25] Gifford: I think there was one woman, Rose Olver, was the only woman on the faculty when I came and 26 when I left.

[7:32] Townsend: She and I came in ‘62.

[7:34] Gifford: Uh 

[7:35] Townsend:  And I don't think you would have been there but they had to-- because her husband John taught at the university and they had to ascertain how much John made so that Rose would not get more money.

[7:54] Gifford: [laughs]

[7:56] Townsend: So there were-- that-- that is one of the subjects we will come back to I'm sure, because it culminates in ‘75 with co-education. But-

[8:07] Gifford: Right

[8:08] Townsend: You as Dean were spearheading an effort to get more women on the faculty and not necessarily assuming, but somehow this was--

[8:18] Gifford: Well, assuming that-- 

[8:20] Townsend: This--

[8:20] Gifford: Assuming that diversity in the faculty was good, whatever that-- 

[8:24] Townsend: No matter what happened, yeah 

[8:26] Gifford: But there's one dimension that you asked me that I didn't pick up. And that is, in addition to my teaching at Yale, Kingman Brewster, who was then president, had gotten money from the Carnegie Corporation, because he believed and I think the Carnegie Foundation also believed that people ought to be able to interrupt their undergraduate education. So he asked me to take on what was called a five year BA, and this was at the beginning of the Vietnam War. So we had to have-- we had to have a university cover, but it wasn't an academic program.

[8:59] So we selected 12 students, I modeled it with colleagues’ help pretty much on the Peace Corps selection process. And they had to be self sustaining in the field. That is they have to either get their room and board or make enough money to do that. But they didn't have any academic fees to Yale. And their only obligation was to write a letter, a couple of-- at least twice a month, I imagine to me.

[9:28] And a colleague of mine, Ken Kennison, who's now a retired professor at MIT, but he and I split the field trips. So I talked to six of our guys who were in Africa and India, and he talked to those in Latin America and Asia, and Pacific, Asian Pacific. Um and it was a very interesting program, but that had already sort of gotten me into the administrative game.

[10:00] And then when Kingman heard that I was thinking of leaving, he said, “Well, how would you like to take on the Yale Vassar merger?”  And I lied and said I wouldn't. Fortunately, it never happened. I think it would have been a big mistake for both institutions. 

[10:15] But so I was flirting with the edge of the administrative business, although I did teach at least-- at least a course every year and often every semester here.

[10:32] Townsend: Did you? 

[10:33] Gifford: Yeah. 

[10:33] Townsend: Forgotten that- 

[10:34] Gifford: because I didn't want to be perceived as simply one of them. 

[10:37] Townsend: Did-- did-- the administrative duties you took on had some precedent. What I don't hear is what you assumed about what you found attractive if you gave it thought about a small liberal arts undergraduate institution as against a university. Amherst’s reputation obviously was-

[11:05] Gifford: Well-- 

[11:05] Townsend: something that made it attractive but did you at the time uh, because this became an important issue, I think during your years, certainly things have changed radically here from liberal arts, emphasis on teaching and smallness and rapport to hardly university magnitude but there are people who miss that and contrast it to what they think is a university-- encroaching university influence. In other words, way back then, presumably Amherst was quite different from, as a group of, what, 1200 students.

[11:46] Gifford: Well, it was clearly different in size and the faculty. I mean, my whole faculty was about the size of the history department. 

[11:57] Townsend: Yeah.

[11:57] Gifford: 123 I think or 130 people. But Yale,uh , Yale has a very strong humanities tradition. I mean, it's probably, it's strong suit. 

[12:09] Townsend: Of course.

[12:11] Gifford: And um I had, I had been in an experimental program as an undergraduate, which emphasized the humanities. And I had many colleagues in the humanities and I was in the history department. So I think what was, I think the main attraction was, first of all, Cal’s persuasiveness. 

[12:34] I mean, he was, he's such an unusual guy that working with him was, uh he really was, he was Delphic in some ways, but he was also, as a, as an MD. We used to interview, we used to be the last two people to interview all the candidates. And I would ask about, you know, academics, what they were teaching and all this and he would find out that the guy's mother had jumped out the window when he was 13 years old. 

[13:04] And, you know, I mean, he, he’d get all this stuff that I, I had no way of accessing. He was-- but, the, the, the strength of a liberal arts college, and of course, it wasn't clear then that five colleges was going to be important, but that became one of my central concerns. And we got the federal money for the first buses and we got the five college appointments and we, there was a lot of work on that. 

[13:40] Townsend: He turned this over to you the way Brewster tried to turn Vasser-Yale over to you.

[13:46] Gifford: Right. And in fact, I used to go or sometimes I went to the, to the meeting of the presidents of the Five which again was very, was very-- Tom Mendenhall was then president of Smith. Um and my wife would go on to Mount Holyoke. So I had a certain loyalty there. 

[14:13] Townsend: Well, presumably you were ideal because other things in your past led you or right off the bat, you were very much of a supporter of this and that was not necessarily a feeling that was pervasive and universal. Is that true enough?

[14:32] Gifford: [laughs] I think that's delicately put. Yeah, I believed in cooperation because I saw it at work academically at Yale. And it was quite clear to me that we could do things jointly that we couldn't do individually. And as it turned out, of course, Amherst was the net importer and net exporter of students. Even though we were the smallest.

[15:03]  So that was an excitement but that really developed later that was not a, that was not an initial-- cause Hampshire wasn’t even founded. 

[15:11] Townsend: I was gonna say Hampshire's first class came after you. 

[15:16] Gifford: Yeah.

[15:17] Townsend:  So it really was Four College at that time. 

[15:19] Gifford: Right. 

[15:20] Townsend: And--

[15:22] Gifford: Right.  

[15:23] Townsend: But that, that I know. Uh, curricularly--

[15:27] Gifford: Yeah.

[15:29] Townsend: Getting back to the liberal arts tradition, um, that became increasingly, certainly into the Ward years after all the things that had transpired. Uh it-- I don't know if he addressed every project and every task as if it were the most challenging and most important, but--

[15:55]  I'm jumping ahead,but speaking of the curriculum, as against another institution’s, when we put the ILS curriculum in place, he said something to the effect that this was a greater accomplishment than going coeducation, which seems a bit extreme, or maybe not. But you were instrumental also in defining, if I remember correctly, characteristics, not requirements, but of what a fully liberally educated young man or woman at that time would be. 

[16:34] Gifford: We went through, in my time we went through two accreditation reviews. And I was trying to figure out, it must have been ‘60-- ‘68 and ‘78 or ‘69 and ‘79 because I think one of them was just as I was about to leave. And those of course, were big self examination processes.

[16:55] Which was very good because it got me to know a number of the faculty members that I hadn’t really worked with, um... What else? You said something else--

[17:07] Townsend: But that was a time when one had to be very exact and explicit and--

[17:14] Gifford: Well, the thing about Amherst was that the, quite apart from five college cooperation, the tradition of cooperative teaching was strong here. So that the notion of two or three people from different departments teaching, teaching together was to me attractive and--

[17:37] Townsend: Which, which they had done in the previous curriculum too and indeed, in the, quote, new curriculum, which was in place. Now, I'm, when I mentioned the liberal arts, you spoke about the humanities, but this is also an aspect of a small liberal arts educational institution and that is a great preponderance of faculty in the classroom if not exclusively. 

[18:07] Whereas presumably at Yale graduate students taught or sectioned, and, and the amount of labor intensive work that went on in these courses with small sections mandated, taking faculty members away from their departments to teach general education course, that that was quite unusual, as against the Yale experience.

[18:31] Gifford: Well, no it wasn't, I've got to back up a little bit after the war, or in fact during the war, the Second World War, there was a general feeling that we got to get back to the basic humanities. So Columbia put in great books, Harvard put in whatever they called it. Amherst did the new curriculum. Yale did directed studies, which I was in.

[19:02] They were all essentially the same thing trying to integrate knowledge more and to base it in some fundamental way on some of the great things of the past. And I think that came up because people felt my god Germany had great culture, but what happened, you know?

[19:21] So, the program that I was in at Yale was, first of all, small, only 30 people. And it was taught by young assistant professors but almost all of whom became Sterling professors. I mean, these were people on the rise. So, it was deliberately integrated with philosophy at the center, history, literature. So I was familiar with that, with that model, and I and I believed in it.

[19:55] And now again, I have no idea whether Cal knew any of that, he might have but he might not have. And the other thing that was just luck was that having gone through Harvard Law School and being a member of the DC bar, even though I didn't practice, I could talk with lawyers.

[20:15]  And when we got into the late 60s and early 70s, there was the counsel, the Harvard counsel, Ropes and Gray, was a wonderful old New Englander now I can't remember his name. But I talked to him on the phone. And he said, let me give you some advice. He said, make your procedures simple and clear. And stick to them. And for God's sake, don't get lawyers involved.

[20:45] Because if you get one lawyer, you've got seven, everybody. It was very good advice and, but it was nonetheless important to be able to understand what these people were talking about. And but that was, again, that was just the way it broke. It was not anything that I planned but it was a useful asset, at times.

[21:12] Townsend: Just to complicate the curricular and use it as a way of moving towards what you've already brought up, we we certainly will get to, and that is student behavior.

[21:27] One of the curricular issues that many, many institutions were facing of its time was the advent of Black Studies programs. And that doesn't fit the historical or generic categories that we're talking about 

[21:46] Gifford: Well, my PhD was in African history.

[21:48] Townsend: No, you-- but I mean, if you look at what Horace Porter or CP Ward were saying, at the time of the establishment of Black Studies, their definition of what a Black Studies program would be, was precisely antithetical to what-- because to them, it was the way Western civilization had operated, although it might have gone to African Studies and other lands, the manner of presenting knowledge and the relationships between knowledge and experience and so on, were really radically different now.

[22:29] I experienced some of that directly and indirectly, but yet again, this is not something you foresaw. And I think you have a lot to say about the formation of Black Studies in Amherst, and I know you were integral to the establishment of it.

[22:47] Gifford: About about three years, three or four years ago, I was using the Amherst archives and because, um... what’s his name, Ambassador to Mexico um… ugh! [exasperation]

[23:02] Townsend: Morrow?

[23:04] Gifford: Morrow was an Amherst graduate and distinguished excetera at but he and my grandfather knew each other and there was correspondence and stuff. So I came up to use the files, and in the archival reading room, there was a young black woman and man.

[23:24] So I get-- I said, Well, what are you working on? And they said, we're working on the origin of Black Studies at Amherst. I said, well, I can tell you something about that. And they looked absolutely astounded and they said, who the hell are you?

[23:38] So I gave them my name. And they said, yeah, we've read some letters by you. And that was it. We didn't pursue it. But-- yeah, it was very interesting because as an African Studies, I mean that’s what I taught. I went to the early African Studies meetings, and in those days, there were about 200-300 people was African Studies in the U.S.  

[24:03] And I remember meeting in Toronto or Montreal, maybe it was Montreal when the, the first black studies sort of inroads and they pulled the, pulled the mics and the plugs on the cameras and stuff because they said this was, this was honky stuff.

[24:26] Well, it wasn't, I mean, you had to know ultimately-- But here I chaired the five college-- I can hardly call it a committee. It was a gorilla. You never knew-- I never-- We met at Hampshire and I never knew whether there were going to be 30 people or 200 people. 

[24:46] Townsend: I think I was one of those when one of the major agenda items or demands, that word gets thrown around rather freely, was that-- that the Five College Black Studies Committee was autonomous and that the funds were under their control, not the colleges’. There are two, two aspects of this, one that would be five college and two, that the funds would be under control of one of the ma-- there were many meetings but I was one at Hampshire where that Jackie Pritzen was just trying to herd the cats and there was so much of that, I erupt. I just like to hear you. 

[25:32] Gifford: The leader was Mike Thelwell, who was Jamaican or Barbadian? 

[25:39] Townsend: Jamaican, I think. 

[25:39] Gifford: Jamaican. Anyway, he was certainly Cari-- and the Caribbean Blacks had a different-- quite different take on this because they, they, most of them had benefited from either English or French secondary education in many cases, university education.

[25:59] So they were much less antithetical to the notion that that Africa has something to do with it, you know, because of Cesaire and négritude and which most of our kids had-- didn't know at all. 

[26:13] And so that was one of the internal dynamics of all this and I finally figured it out - it was a dress code. If Thelwell came in a ripped shirt and blue jeans with holes you knew, it was in for a bad meeting. But if he came dressed respectably, and-- the signal was look, let's have a honest conversation and then when I presented it out, you must have been there, and to the Amherst faculty when I presented he came in an immaculate Mao jacket buttoned up to-- [laughter]

[26:51] Townsend: Dress code. Did Amherst, when it first arose, it, as one does in any pause in the action, set up a committee to establish it and--

[27:04] Gifford: To establish Black Studies? Yeah.

[27:05] Townsend: Yeah. And that was a committee of-- Jim Denton was the only Black faculty member and he may have been, but he was a mathematician, but-- And then it was Gordy and Jan got the task of setting up Black Studies alone. 

[27:21] Gifford: Gordon Levin and Jan Dizard. And then, we had visiting black faculty. But I don't know when that started. 

[27:28] Townsend: But that-- I mean, better and more valiant souls are not on the faculty, but the students just wouldn't-- I mean, it just wasn't the way they thought their experience should be addressed. Right? 

[27:43] Gifford: Yeah. 

[27:44] Townsend: And I remember Horace Porter saying, well, if Winthrop Jordan was teaching us a - white scholar whose, I forget the title, best seller had just come out. That's one thing. I mean, it-- and Gordy and Jan said we're just not trained to do what you’re--

[28:06] Gifford: Yeah.

[28:07] Townsend: How did one proceed? I can't quite remember. Obviously, everybody across the country institutionally was trying to answer the call for more Black faculty. And so somehow-- 

[28:19] Gifford: Well, that was a-- yeah, and that was very difficult because the big institutions with big budgets, got the first shot. But I just kept teaching. I kept teaching African history and literature. I taught them together. 

[28:34] Townsend: Let me go-- go back to your other hat, as Dean of the Faculty, how did, how did you navigate through those waters? How do you, how did you get to where we got?

[28:50] Gifford: Well--

[28:51] Townsend: Because the demands on Cal in his living room, the Black seizure of four buildings and then the taking of the books in the library are really-- they all emanated from a set of principles and demands that were really, to the untutored eye, irreconcilable with--

[29:14] Gifford: Well, they were, they were demands that we want to be in control. We want to be in control of what we learn. We want to be, but ultimately, it wouldn't work. I mean, and I think the better ones saw that. When I was teaching, and I forget what, it must have been ‘72 or 3 it was-- very shortly after the Black-- remember when they locked Converse and--

[29:38] Townsend: Yeah, the four buildings 

[29:39] Gifford: And I had to run a faculty meeting somewhere in a theater or the gym--

[29:43] Townsend: In Kirby theater. 

[29:44] Gifford: Yeah. 

[29:46] Townsend: And that and then in the middle of that meeting, news came out that they had come out so that was another item on the faculty resolution. We are glad you came out. We will now negotiate.

[30:00] Gifford: But the next day, I was teaching again, my seminar - I had about 15 kids, two of them were black. 

[30:09] Unfortunately, I don't remember their name, but I remember them very well. They both went out to get PhDs at Yale. And, what was his name? He's 19 years old, big, handsome guy. And he had been the spokesman for the non negotiable demands and stuff in Johnson Chapel at one point-- 

[30:29] Townsend: Is this possibly Wilburn Williams?

[30:32] Gifford: Might be. 

[30:33] Townsend: Anyway

[30:34] Gifford: And I, of course, had spoken for the faculty. And the next morning he came in and I said, “Oh,” I said, “I really didn't expect you to be here.” And he said, 19 years old, he said, “Oh,” he said, “you have your job and I have mine.” 

[30:53] He had realized that this was, it was not personal. It was institutional and, and symbolic and I had colleagues including the President of Brown, for instance, who didn't realize that. They thought it was all, you know, they're after me. Not at all. They were after the symbolic. He figured it out. And-- and it made all the difference.

[31:20] I mean it was the key thing. I think being an administrator in those years you couldn't take it personally. 

[31:28] Townsend: Well, two things. One is, it's extraordinary that the leaders at that time, like Horace Porter, were freshmen and sophomores.  And the editorials, I remember when the negotiations were over, there was an advocation of reasonable discourse and so on. Horace Porter wrote an editorial with The Student, contextualizing reasoned discourse in a way that made it seem evasive and that they wanted action, activism, relation to Springfield, not just the five colleges, the summer programs, there was real community building.

[32:11] And just as you've mentioned that though I happen to be reading it recently and Cal’s. Well, it's you, marvelous words about Cal that he knew not to take things personally after all these years. 

[32:27] Gifford: Right, well, it's crucial. I mean, it's crucial being an administrator, anywhere. And I mean, Bart Giamatti whom I knew well, and was a marvelous speaker, and I think on the whole a pretty good president, but the labor union unrest at Yale, got to him-- he thought-- and that was a big mistake, that was the beginning of his downfall because you can't invest.

[32:57] I mean, you've got to stick to your principles, but you can't invest yourself in a particular solution.

[33:07] And one of the things about being not only the first Dean of the Faculty, but in times that nobody had anticipated. You had you had free rein. I mean, you had to make it up as you went along. Because there weren't any rules, right? So, instinct and improvisation were very important.

[33:29] Townsend: Well, I'm thinking of two instances where, just coincidentally, the night of the ‘68-’69 moratorium, you came to the Octagon, in that tempestuous night, and if I'm not mistaken, Cal was in Texas. 

[33:48] Gifford: Cal was in Texas

[33:49] Townsend: And then when the spring of ‘72 under Ward, he was in Paris! 

[33:57] Gifford: Yeah but let's go back to the Octagon because-- 

[33:59] Townsend: Oh, I just want to get into the fact you, the buck stopped with you at these two explosive moments. 

[34:06] Gifford: But the letter that we drafted, I read, don't you remember in the cage?

[34:12] Townsend: Yes. Back up because I think, contextualize that. I mean, I, that is one of the great moments, the moratorium of ‘69. And two days off, mass meetings, it's fair to say nobody knew exactly where this was heading. And Cal pointed out that we are upset about injustice, racial injustice in America, the war in Southeast Asia.

[34:40] And everyone was picking on Amherst College and really was-- and what emerged was issues of governance and one of the ways that the pressure released was your letter. I just wanted to contextualize that and the letter to Nixon.

[34:59] Gifford: The letter to Nixon and I remember reading it in the cage with you know, hundreds of people 

[35:04] Townsend: Eight hundred is what The Student reported. 

[35:07] Gifford: And that was some experience. And then it got-- it got-- Leo Marx of course, polished it and Cal signed in and it went off and got published in The Times. 

[35:22] Townsend: It published in The Times, it was the lead editorial, it was the front page of the New Republic and-- and 10-- and when the next moratorium came along, they referred back to this letter, it got incredible. 

[35:35] Gifford: Yeah. 

[35:36] Townsend: But the moratorium was voted in on the weekend, it was from Monday and Tuesday, uh-- the letter was suggested at that faculty meeting when the moratorium was voted on, or did this--

[35:51] Gifford: I honestly don't remember. 

[35:53] Townsend: I'm trying to think because it was a-- it really was a way of-- I don't mean to be cynical at all, but it, it took, it took the target out of Amherst again. And it was a terrific letter.

[36:07] Gifford: Yeah, well, I forget the origins. I remember working on the letter in my office and I remember talking, Leo and I talked it through and then I read it at the-- in the cage.

[36:26] And I think Cal didn't come back from Texas until-- I remember him walking in the Cage. Maybe he wasn't in Texas then, but he walked into the cage as I was reading the letter and he was fairly astounded because you know, 800 people milling around and-- 

[36:51] Townsend: Potentially rowdy. Did he-- It's funny David Eisenhower at the time, was quoted by UPI reporter because he was down at the Washington Correspondents Dinner is saying that Cal had signed this with a gun to his temple. And that got bandied about but then the minute he got back to Amherst, he said, No, no, no, I was just being flip off the cuff and I tried to stop the story. But it wasn't a, pardon the vernacular, but it wasn't Cal's thing to do a thing like this, but he, he saw--

[37:28] Gifford: Yeah, I think he grasped the situation.

[37:32] Townsend: I mean, he would never-- he did later, a year or two later, he joined 37 presidents to sign a fairly vociferous letter but by then-- 

[37:43] Gifford: I don't think he would have come up with that though as, initially as a way to respond.

[37:51] Townsend: Well, the tactic which I thought and it's, you're the one to be credited with it was a deflection away from policy, away from Nixon by saying more generally, look, we have this population in America that you have to temper--

[38:09] Gifford: Right

[38:11] Townsend: Your actions are-- are causing these outbursts and disruptions.

[38:18] Gifford: Well and of course it was not-- it was not just the U.S. I mean I was at Doshisha when the Red Helmets with their--

[38:28] Townsend: Went to the streets? 

[38:29] Gifford: With their, yeah with their bamboo staves and their motorcycle helmets and so this was a-- this was a sort of contagion that spread. the Italians were actually assassinating people.

[38:49] Townsend: One of the things to move back to Black studies, which I think was a very good sign was that this moratorium and all those mass meetings and discussions, so to speak, tabled the Black agenda. And at that time, the council or whoever was setting the agenda for the future, the summer commission and so on, did say we have to take another day off.

[39:24] If you remember that, about three or four weeks later, there was another day off it was called the day of concern, which culminated with a lecture by Ralph Ellison, who would-- remember that?

[38:38] Gifford: I don’t that much. 

[38:39] Townsend: That was-- it was very well done, for Amherst. Of course, everyone breathed a sigh of relief in the spring of ‘69. And then, by the spring of ‘70, there was a rerun.

[39:54] Gifford: Well, I think one of the key things in the early, in the early go around was that Thelwell, for whatever reasons decided that it made sense to be cooperative that if we're going to get a five college program and it was to his advantage to get one because UMass was very strong in black music and jazz that sort of stuff but they didn't have a lot of people and other--

[40:21] Townsend: Other fields.

[40:22] Gifford: Other fields and--

[40:26] Townsend: But once, I mean titularly, that was put in place, but Amherst’s operation, you correct me if I'm wrong, settled into being an Amherst program/major/department with some sand in the gears, but we got here, with some sand in the gears.

[40:52] Gifford: We got there.

[40:53] Townsend: You got there. You got there.

[40:58] Gifford: Now, what else?

[41:02] Well, Doshisha is an interesting phenomena because Tao was very interested in that and my first trip to Japan was with him actually. And Otis Cary, I don’t know, did you ever--

[41:19] Townsend: Oh I did AKP one term and met him there, you know, 

[41:25] Gifford: And the Cary’s-- the Cary family their-- a couple of their kids knew our kids. So there were connections there. But I thought that was a terrific, um, opportunity and it gave us-- because UMass had a long connection with Hokkaido, the Northern University. 

[41:48] And Smith had some dealings with China. So, again, there seem to be much greater possibilities. And in those days, people were concerned about Japan, not China, it was not yet on the high priority list. But I remember--

[42:14] This is skipping ahead. But I remember one last-- one of my last five college meetings that the deans of the faculty, provosts used to meet every two weeks. And we were the ones quite honestly, who got things done. Presidents met occasionally for symbolic reasons.

[42:37] And UMass was going to stop teaching Chinese. And we said, that doesn't make any sense. So we got the records of all the people who studied Chinese at UMass. They all had jobs.

[42:52] They’d all done well academically, and we said, look, why are you getting rid of this? I mean, I could think of a lot of other things. And we saved it. We saved the-- we turned UMass around, and I'm sure they're very glad now that they didn't stop teaching Chinese.

[43:13] Townsend: You're talking about these cooperations, cooperative ventures, five college, Doshisha... As if-- as it turns out, this, say like co-education, is the wave of the future. On the other hand, you take that example. It was a long haul against a lot of opposition.

[43:40] Was there-- How do you characterize the opposition to five college cooperation because I can remember people standing up the faculty clearly worried about Amherst’s autonomy. Did, did that register? Are there places where the deans felt we just don't want to be a conglomerate? 

[44:04] Gifford: Well, my--

[44:07] Townsend: It doesn’t turn out to have been a great danger.

[44:10] Gifford: My approach on all this stuff was just to do what I thought needed to be done. And if it couldn't be done, well it couldn’t be done.

[44:19] But I didn't get terribly hung up on the l pro and con arguments. Because I thought it was demonstrable enough that there were advantages. And there were enough people, both undergraduates and faculty who saw some of the advantages.

[44:41] So, you know, just sort of press ahead

[44:46] Townsend: Cal used a metaphor once about his presidency. He said two things in an interview he said, one there was a master of Clair College who, whom he respected greatly, who said, “We ought to stand in front of the mirror in the morning and say, you are evil, you are very evil, but you are a necessary evil.” And the other he said, he is very suspicious of anybody who considered themselves an administrator and made much of this. He said, “It's what I happen to do.” And the metaphor he used was, I just want to keep the ball rolling. And it, of course, was Cal who was 6’3” or 4”, it helped. And he was an Amherst family man and he was a patrician. And this was something he saw himself as a caretaker of.

[45:47] Gifford: He'd also run the medical faculty at AUB, the American University of Beirut, so he had lots of guts. He went over there when, the middle of the shooting, you know, he was-- but he could he could be absolutely Delphic - he’d say something and you had no idea a) whether it was intended to be funny or not and b) whether he was, you know, he really meant it or on what level he meant-- 

[46:20] Townsend: And then the eyebrows would go up as if he was rather surprised. [laughter] I thought he-- I did the faculty minute for him and I just look back on those years and thought, we were very, very lucky to have this equanimity. And in his final commencement address, he talked about being a servant and likened it to being a doctor. That you are tending people trying to bring them back to health or if not at least, making their, one way journey was his phrase, as comfortable as possible. Well, he prevented Amherst from becoming a one way journey.

[47:03] Gifford: Well, he, yeah, it goes back to what we were talking about a little earlier, he never took himself too seriously, in the sense that he never--

[47:09] Townsend: Right. He didn't take things personally. 

[47:14] Gifford: That's right. He didn't take it personally. And he didn't, he didn't pretend that this was some eminence that he had attained.

[47:24] And that was, that was a great lesson to me. I mean, I have those instincts anyway, but to work under somebody who has that. And I think Bill had that feeling less, I think--

[47:40] Townsend: No, no question about it. I mean, he said at the end that-- well, it raises an issue as to whether coming from the faculty is-- where you're assuming certain relationships and you're quite startled that they have radically changed once you become a president. Collegiality is not available to the same degree. Making that leap, we don't want to go too far without mentioning the co-educational process, it can be imagined to be analogous to much that we've been talking about, it's going to happen. You just keep the ball rolling. But that took a heck of a long time. 

[48:25] Gifford: Well, my argument,I helped co-educate five institutions in that period of time, one of which was Concord Academy, which went the other way. 

[48:37] And some of the conversations were priceless. But my argument about Amherst was, look, there're only, asides from Jesuit institutions, the only two institutions left which have all male student bodies are the Mass Maritime College and Amherst, and I--

[48:54] Townsend: I think, if I may correct you, I think Wabash-- 

[48:58] Gifford: No but this is Massachusetts I was talking about.

[49:00] Townsend: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. 

[49:02] Gifford: And I said it's a singular, it’s a singular disadvantage to men to bring them up as undergraduates when they never encounter brighter women. Because-- which of course they did through five colleges, but they're going to be in law firms and doctors offices and engineering, businesses, where are they going to be-- where women are going to be their bosses! And they better get used to the fact that they're equally as bright, quicker and have different emotional reactions.

[49:41] And you know, and that argument usually stumped people because they didn't-- they didn't have an easy answer to that one. Except that, well, of course you have Holyoke and Smith. 

[49:54] Townsend: Well, you and I can think of a lot of answers, like “that’s the trouble with law firms.” [laughter] But I mean, Bill's son said to him, you know, you’re president, he’s like, what the hell kind of college is this where this is an issue? But it took fiv-- the Long Range Planning Committee. You weren't on that, were you? Let me-- Cal announced the Long Range Planning Committee when the first moratorium wave hit, and they were going to look ahead to the future and there were seven categories administration, five col--, you know, valley cooperation, co-education was one of them, curricular matters. And Fink and Demott and Kateb, were the faculty representa-- or members of that committee, and it was a very small conclusion: we ought to go co-ed. Now, that was in maybe ‘70, 5 years later we went co-educational. Bill became President in ‘71. 

[51:02] And he, leading up to his feelings here, he said this isn't well worked out enough. What? He didn't approach the subject the way you have. This is going to happen.

[51:19] Was he, not antithetical, but was he unsure about the whole damn thing? Do you think?

[51:28] Because it would’ve been very easy to have said, Williams did. Rather, we're going co-ed and we'll work out the details. The longer it went on the opposition came from every nook and cranny.

[51:44] Gifford: Well, there was a lot of alumni opposition and there was board opposition. But it's interesting thinking back on it, Bill Ward, and I never had sort of conversations at the philosophical level, we never really sat down argued--

[52:02] Townsend: About co-ed for example? 

[52:03] Gifford: Well, about almost anything. I mean, we had procedural discussions about, you know, how are we going to get through this and what are we going to do next? But at the philosophical level, you know, why do you believe that women should be treated absolutely equally, we never talked about that. And I don't know quite why but we didn't. We didn't have an easy rapport. I mean, nowhere near like me and Cal.

[52:40] Townsend: Well, he had his faculty friends from American Studies, and there was greater rapport. It just, I mean, I couldn't imagine they wouldn't do this and that and most of the faculty felt likewise. But it took-- what really tipped it was Ted Green’s five college-- Bill kept making task forces to look into this more and more and more and there wasn't a previous committee that could handle the question of how are other institutions faring that have gone co-ed? Well, the amount of time and money and paper that was spent so to speak to prove that Princeton is still standing, you know, looks as if it will be and it wasn't a single red flag that they've detected after all these years. 

[53:44] That's what I, pretty sure that's what finally convinced people but 

[53:53] Gifford: Well, having you know, having had three daughters, all of whom as it happened, went to Yale but it was never a question in my mind.

[54:08] Townsend: No, it seems-- 

[54:10] Gifford: I remember there was this is a little off the point because it's a Yale story, but quite true. It was at the Yale club, and it must have been in New York and it must have been in ‘72 to ‘73 years. Because you know, Yale went co-ed at about ‘75 or 6. ‘75 it think, or maybe even earlier,

[54:27] Townsend: I think it had to have been earlier because Amherst was ‘75.

[54:30] Gifford: Yeah, it was earlier. Anyway, before it-- just before that happened, there was this meeting and some of the older members were very disturbed because they thought that if you let in a lot of women, you'd reduce the male undergraduate population and that would hurt the football team.

[54:50] So I said at this meeting, I said, well, Yale and Dartmouth just played last weekend and who won? And I said, you know, Dartmouth is a lot smaller than Yale, and they don't seem to have trouble with the football team. And all these arguments that were-- 

[55:12] Townsend: Well, of course, we accommodated to the degree that we went up to 1600. Yeah. It was a reduction of the male population, but there was something of a 

[55:21] Gifford: Well, Yale did the same but the there was, was a reduction but--

[55:28] Townsend: But you can still win a few ballgames. [laughter] And the other argument was music. Somehow, it looked as if they'd never be the singing college again, because, as if women didn't have voices, which, metaphorically-- [laughter] we’re being informal, but my favorite anecdote as to the tenor of things is when the college faculty, you remember, made Ellen Ryerson and Rose the faculty representative. That was a fairly clear message as to how the faculty felt and they had a meeting in New York with the assembled trustees and the alumni representatives and so on. And they met at the Century Club which-- 

[56:13] Gifford: Which was in the throes of the same.

[56:15] Townsend: No. It was long before, they didn't allow women. So Rose and Ellen had to be scarfed up in a service elevator and raincoats or something.

[56:27] Gifford: Oh, I was involved in that argument too, both at the Century and at the Cosmos in Washington. I mean it was absurd, but--

[56:37] Townsend: Was he for co-education? 

[56:40] Gifford: Oh, I think so. I think 

[56:44] Townsend: He was a member of the Exeter board and-- 

[56:46] Gifford: He was very sensitive to the alumni. I mean, the alumni relations. He never articulated it that way. But he was-- that was part of him. But I don't think he ever had any doubt that--

[57:01] Townsend: it would occur

[57:02] Gifford: it would occur and should occur.

[57:05] On the other hand, he wasn't driving towards it in any, but he never-- he never stopped what I was up to.

[57:16] Townsend: Did you have occasion to-- well, you were some of those meetings where you were making your point.

[57:24] Gifford: I remember. 

[57:25] Townsend: And Chuck Longsworth certainly was.

[57:29] Gifford: I remember a meeting of the Amherst alumni in Cleveland. And I was the after dinner speaker and I spoke. And then there's a question period. Well, the question period went on about an hour and a half. And I was just being used as the intermediary and what was happening was the old guard was speaking to the newer alumni. And so their questions were to me, but they were really to the other side of the room.

[57:57] Townsend: Lectures to the other side. [laughter] Do you think-- we've both been to other institutions, neither of us is an Amherst alum. Do you have a sense of the positive here that the Amherst alum has a lo-- certainly a loyalty to his institution the likes of which I never saw. There are segments of loyalists at the institutions, we know. But I've always felt that one thing that can be said about this is, is that this is-- this is our college.

[58:36] Gifford: I think it was particularly true of the alumni that went through what was called the new curriculum because everybody did the same thing. 

[58:47] Townsend: Good point, yeah.  

[58:48] Gifford: And you know, and there was a cohesiveness there. Um, one of the things that became clear to me, [coughing] losing my voice, um, Amherst is a very faculty run institution.  

[59:03] Townsend: You say that neutrally. [laughter] I have heard administrators say, if I knew how faculty run, I would never have come here.

[59:17] Gifford: No, I found that a very interesting experiment. The colleagues on the committee of six were on the whole, very good people. But it does create a different atmosphere. Even when the faculty are very strong as they are at Yale, you don't get the sense that, that the structure of the university is, is faculty driven, which it isn't.

[59:47] So I think that-- I think that has, also has an aspect on that kind of cohesiveness of the experience. 

[59:53] Townsend: That makes good sense.

[59:55] Gifford: And you know an Amherst alumnus meets another one, and he says, well, you remember Kim Townsend? Well, most people will remember Kim Townsend. But if you say, you know, do you remember Professor X at Yale they may or may not ever have encountered him.

[1:00:11] Townsend: One of the, back to the co-ed for one second, one of the most dramatic examples of this is when the faculty just said to the board in effect, we don't accept your decision. And Merrill and others were sitting in that bullfighting arena where we meet, which is not irrelevant. And I think that was a very unusual and important, important event.

[1:00:42] Gifford: Yeah, the-- it's interesting because I think the architecture of the Red Room does make a difference.

[1:00:48] Townsend: Well, you're talking about dress codes, but the move from faculty meetings in the Babbitt room, where-- up top of the octagon, which is where we met when I first got here, and I mean I laugh in retrospect, I was in the cheap seats in the back and an instructor and we weren't allowed to vote. And there was a pecking order up front, on both sides with chairs like this of eminance [laughter, Townsend snaps his fingers] the hierarchy was just lethal.

[1:01:28] But then you get into this bull ring, pit, cockfighting pit, symbolic Red Room.

[1:01:36] Gifford: With only two of us down at the table. 

[1:01:38] Townsend: Yeah. An important event in these years when you look back on it, that you served as Dean of Faculty, for two eras, I mean, there's a Plimpton era and there's the Ward era and I said it, just want to repeat it that on an occasion in crises in both administrations, you were ahead of the college because they were out of town. And in the latter instance, in ‘72, Ward was in Paris and got on an earlier flight than he had planned. But that led up to Westover. That we haven't mentioned. And I think it would be interesting to hear your views on Bill’s getting arrested at Westover. It didn't take up as much time as the co-education issues. But I can tell you having been to those archives, there's something like 2000 letters on the subject. That took up a lot of forestry, if not a lot of time. [laughter]

[1:02:55] Gifford: Well, I was, that would not have been my initial response, to go sit in Westover, and I went, I went to be supportive of Bill. But, um, it wasn't that I thought it was a bad idea, I just didn't think it was the most compatible with what Amherst stood for. So even though it clearly became a symbolic event, it was not one in which I'd invested a lot of thought or energy.

[1:03:34] And, and some people, I mean including my wife, thought it was counterproductive. And there was an argument that that was true, but in any case, it was not, it wasn't to me one of the seminal events, I think it became seminal because there was so much opposition on the, on the board and and in the alumni.

[1:04:05] Townsend: Well, if you get back to Cleveland, so to speak, you don't have to be a sophisticated sociologist to know that the vote went exactly along an age spectrum. Because I still hear, because this project from undergraduates who-- younger alumni and if you go through the faculties of alumni, it's faculties in the humanities that like it and medical professors don't. It's very, very simple. But the alumni opposition, for the most part, tended to be, as it was in Cleveland, of the older alumni and the younger people. I don't think either of them define the issue very well. They’re either for it or against it. And whatever it entailed, well, we'll accept that or we’ll reject that too. 

[1:05:06] Which leads me back to your word symbolic. What do you think it symbolized? What was the nature of the gesture? And I'm getting to the question that was central to the debate at the time as to whether or not this was a personal action.

[1:05:30] Gifford: Well, I think my sense at the time was that Bill wanted to do something which was over and above what we've done before. And as we surveyed the options this seemed like a pretty good one.

[1:05:55] And, you know, all of us as academics can rationalize almost anything. But as I say, I was not, I wasn't against it, but I wasn't, I wasn't, I didn't think it was a great idea. And I supported it simply because I wanted-- I didn't want the dean of the faculty going off in a different direction. But I remember, I remember one board meeting, because I used to sit in on the board meeting.

[1:06:30] The subject of hair came up. And somebody made a derogatory comment about all these beards and hair. So I said, well, would some of you come with me down to the gym. And you go, and their whole team with every-- every person has it [makes beard gesture]. So I said, “Well, now what about that,” and they said, “Oh, well that was the style.” And I didn't say a thing. [laughter] I mean, the kind of willful blindness on some of this stuff is amazing. 

[1:07:07] Townsend: Yeah. Yeah. There was strong opposition to Bill’s getting arrested from certain members of the faculty that you would have thought were very supportive. On what you said with Bill and obviously didn't talk about it philosophically, but on small p philosophical grounds that this isn't the way Amherst did business. 

[1:07:39] Gifford: Well, I had some of that feeling myself.

[1:07:43] Townsend: How did you feel about the blurring of the line between the person and the institution? I mean, there were people, handful who got arrested before from the faculty.

[1:08:00] No hoopla. They did it. And nobody made much of it. And there was no intention on the part of these six that much should be made of it. But clearly, this was a gesture that came with [gestures]

[1:08:20] Gifford: Yeah. well, I think that was-- that was part of the uneasiness that some of us felt.

[1:08:31] Well, I remember I don't think you were involved but the support of the Black institutions in the south, I flew down with Lou Mudge. And Tuskegee and-- and he-- coming back, not on our trip but the trip before, he discovered one of his gas tanks went dry, and he had only-- fortunately had two engines but somebody had bored a hole in his fuel line. When he had it-- when the plane was down and--

[1:09:13] Townsend: Contextualize this, the purpose of the trip was, I mean, I know Lou flew down to Selma. 

[1:09:20] Gifford: Well, this was support, we had-- Amherst was supporting a sort of tutorial, Summer Program at Tuskegee. And there were a couple of undergraduates down there. And he was very interested in this. And I went down and I think I, on that trip, I was the only one but I think others went down at other times with him. And but, I mean, you were talking about people getting, standing up for things and, uh, there certainly was a lot of that and

[1:10:02] Townsend: But I don't know if it's an easy bridge to the questions that I've asked, observations we've been making about being an administrator. It's just you-- once, tell me, once you take on such a job, you have a relationship with the institution that the faculty member doesn't. And you, are you not, precluded from thinking that-- Bill always used to say one of the great things about the job is I can pick up the phone and call somebody and they'll talk to me because I'm president of Amherst College. I'll pick up the phone and call someone and they’ll say, hmm, he's busy. But you know, I've, I've--

[1:10:50] Gifford: Well, it certainly is, I mean, there certainly is an institutional aura… institutional, I mean. You can certainly feel out the Library of Congress, I'd make a telephone call and say-- the Library of Congress and I wanted-- and you know that, that seemed to be something rather special.

[1:11:15] But again, I was very reluctant to use that. Unless I was talking, you know, if I was talking to the council at Harvard, of course, it was important that I was-- 

[1:11:28] Townsend: identify yourself

[1:11:29] Gifford: Yeah, but, I-- I mean, it's clear that when you're, when you're an administrator, you carry a different kind of burden. You can't do things just because it feels good. 

[1:11:52] On the other hand, I never felt, partially because I taught and I never felt really at odds with the faculty in any way. I mean, there were some people who probably didn't like me and some people I didn't mix with much, but I never had difficulty with rapport.

[1:12:13] Townsend: Well. You knew which hat you were wearing at-- in which room, on which occasion. I'm just remembering all these years and events and I'm jumping back for a minute.

[1:12:31] Do you remember the cross burning? One of the saddest-- 

[1:12:35] Gifford: I remember it

[1:12:36] Townsend: I mean, it was one of Bill's last experiences. When he discovered that it had been done by black students.

[1:12:52] Gifford: I remember the event but I don't remember that I was, I may not have been here. Because I was away,

[1:13:03] Townsend: I think it was ‘78, it was towards the very end. And I mentioned it because it was a sad ending. He went ballistic over this after all he had done and all he tried to do, particularly and he seemed to have been very good at supporting, yes, Black Studies, the greater number of Black students and the campus was having another one of its throes. Because it did seem that this was a racist gesture. Certainly 

[1:13:41] Gifford: No, I, you know, I don't remember being involved in it. It could have been that I was somewhere else. I might have been at Doshisha.

[1:13:49] Townsend: Well, one thing, one thing by that time, things were discernibly wearing down after the highlights of Westover and co-education ‘72 to 5. And so the the thing that was propelling the downward movement was and maybe you have some recollection of this, although I don't think it was directly on your plate, but was the argument over, over salaries, which never came up so markedly with Cal and perhaps as dean of the faculty that's less yours than Kurt’s.

[1:14:31] Gifford: No, that was, well, again, you mentioned it in your paper. I don't remember that-- I remember discussions about it, but I don't remember that being in any way as sort of a crisis 

[1:14:47] Townsend: the subject being salaries. 

[1:14:49] Gifford: Salaries. And it may be that-- it may be that for both that and the cross burning I was somewhere else because I don’t remember being involved in those.

[1:15:03] Townsend: I know you had some leaves, time off in those years. Well, maybe I could just throw--

[1:15:08] Gifford: And then I had-- because I remember Bruce Morgan and then Arnold Collery both stood in. Both of them I think are dead.

[1:15:21] Townsend: Maybe this is a glance backward to something we began with. And maybe you'll have a comment on this, whether you remember, minute by minute or not. The issue was-- and there was some confusion of memos and baselines, whether and we were in an inflationary period so that the buying power of the faculty was under some stress. There were some people who thought it wasn't the most impoverished and trying activity possible to say the least. But at any rate, the issue was, was Amherst’s salary scale to be compared to that of, quote, comparable institutions, i.e. small liberal arts colleges of a certain quality? Or was it to the best institutions in the country? i.e. Harvard, Yale, blah, blah. And that became the way of framing the argument. And it came down on the side of the former, much to the dismay of many faculty members who thought that the latter scale was one--

[1:16:54] Gifford: I would, I would not have come down on the former myself because I don't think-- I mean, those institutions may be comparable in certain respects, but they certainly aren’t comparable in their academic standing, in their undergraduate bodies. And the surprising thing about Amherst faculty was that a lot of them did research. I mean, when we got that Sloan neuroscience grant, for instance, we were about the first college to get it. So I think, now whether they should be on a par with Harvard, I mean, who's on a par with Harvard? But I think the comparison is with first rate institutions, not with similarly sized institutions. So I would certainly have been in that category.

[1:17:55] Townsend: But you and Bill might have had a rare philosophical discussion, towards the end on that, because I think he came down on the former, much to the chagrin of the faculty and that after all that had happened after all of the commotion, disturbance of your 12 years to have this the final issue.

[1:18:23] Gifford: Well, of course there are other-- there are realities and constraints, I mean, independent of what you believe to be correct if there isn't the money there, you can't pay it. And I don't know. I mean, I've always thought Amherst is among the wealthier institutions per student, per faculty members, etc. But you know, Amherst is no, in that department, Amherst is nowhere in the league with Harvard and Yale, which are managing billions, I mean 10 or 11 billion. 

[1:19:03] Townsend: Therefore these salaries are more readily available. One thing Bill did do, which I'm sure you were aware of was try to close the gap between senior and junior faculty. 

[1:19:16] Gifford: Well, that's important too. 

[1:19:18] Townsend: And that's, that's a piece. Alas, that wasn't always popular with seniors. [laughter] Luckily, you and I aren’t going to get old and turn into one of these figures but there's a very clear generational war going on in these, over these various, various issues. We've been staying within the college limits successfully.

[1:19:57] Your work subsequently, I think it's important that as we started with what led to Amherst what spent a lot of time and you've, as you once wrote me so many other activities have followed that it's hard to remember what was, I think, what we think of as the Alpha and the Omega experience.

[1:20:25] Gifford: Yeah, I kind of had two careers subsequently. Um, I went from here to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for scholars, which was a-- the first-- it was, it was really through Moynahan, it was set up under Nixon. It was the first presidential memorial that wasn't bricks and mortar. It was monies for fellow-- for people to come and work postdoctorally in humanities and social sciences. 

[1:20:53] There was no science because there was no labs but history of science, philosophies, but basically it was humanities. And that was a marvelous-- I spent eight years there. And that was a marvelous-- because we had fellows from all over the world. And this was when Eastern Europe was in turmoil and we had a lot of people from Eastern Europe. Africa was beginning to gear up post colonially to all sorts of unfortunate things.

[1:21:55] And Asia was just beginning to grow into young tigers. And we had, we had all these folks and I ran conferences in New Delhi in Bellagio, in Texas. It was very, it was an exciting period. And again, the intellectual heritage was one of cross cultural--

[1:21:55] I forget what year it was but I ran a-- because all the seminars at the Wilson Center were voluntary. We couldn't tell people they-- but I ran one that was a comparison between Eastern Europe and Africa because at this point, they both had socialist governments and they both had strong dissident populations. And so the Rockefeller Foundation got interested and we ran a big conference at Bellagio. A week long, a very unusual conference at Bellagio, comparing these two sets of, with a good many participants from both camps. And that was I mean, that's the sort of thing it was fascinating.

[1:22:48] Townsend: Did that ever result in a publication or proceedings?

[1:22:51] Gifford: It should have but in the end, it didn't. Two previous ones had resulted in books. But this one, sort of-- it must have been in the fairly late 80’s because it coincided in time with a new director, Jim Billington, who'd been director of the Wilson Center was made Librarian of Congress. So I was in charge technically. And then they hired a new director, who, in my view was a disaster. And I told them that and it took them about five years, took Congress about five years, but Congress finally said, look, this guy's got to go or we're not going to support the institution anymore. So he fired me which turned out to be a great stroke of luck.

[1:23:49] And so I spent a year in Europe, I was at the École des hautes études in Paris, and ended up then at the Library of Congress as the first director of scholarly programs, which was also quite exciting. But it became more exciting when John Kluge dropped 60 million on us. Jim said, you set it up. So I did. And, you know, and you're curious why I've been-- I was the first dean of the fac-- I was the first person that Brewster asked to set things up then I was the first Dean of the Faculty then I really designed the programs at the Wilson Center and then at the library. So it was all-- was a great, you know, I had enormous latitude.

[1:24:46] But the Kluge Center was sort of more of the same. It was bringing very distinguished people in and interacting with them and I found that while it was much like being dean of the faculty, in a sense, you had to, you had to talk to, you know, Polish politicians and Romanian economists and you know, esoteric students of literature. And so it was a, it was a marvelous career.

[1:25:23] Townsend: What, what year have we gotten up enough to? 

[1:25:26] Gifford: I stayed at the library Congress until I was 75. So that was 2005. So I'm just in my sixth year of full retirement to Woods Hole. And there again, I'm reasonably active because I had been--

[1:25:41] Townsend: You've always been active there. 

[1:25:43] Gifford: I had been chairman of the board at the Marine Biological Lab for 12 years, which was a volunteer position. 

[1:25:51] Townsend: More or less, I'm cutting across this chronological bout and mixed metaphors, you've avoided being a college president, which is, so you've avoided fundraising. [laughter]

[1:26:04] Gifford: Pretty much. 

[1:26:05] Townsend: And you don't seem to regret that. [laughter]

[1:26:10] Gifford: I was asked actually at a couple of points whether I wanted to be college president, but I didn't.

[1:26:17] Townsend: You don't seem to regret this. 

[1:26:19] Gifford: Oh, no, I don't regret it. And the places that asked me were not places I wanted to be president of in any case, but no, I, I think I was. I think my course was correct. And as I say, when you look back on it, it looks like it's all part of a piece but at every stage, I mean-- 

[1:26:51] Townsend: Well, surely we can end with the Woods Hole metaphor. You're a sailor aren’t you? I mean, you, you've tacked, you’ve tacked well

[1:27:00] Gifford: That's right. And I think and I've always said to our kids, their generation, nobody's gonna stay in one career. They may stay in one career broadly defined, but they're going to zigzag. I mean, you got to, I think, if you're, if you want to-- if you want to do things in which you have a real interest.

[1:27:31] Townsend: Well, it's been a great pleasure.


Prosser Gifford served as dean of the faculty from 1967-1979. He holds a law degree from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. in history from Yale. In addition to teaching appointments at Yale, he also has extensive experience as an editor of volumes on African history and United States foreign policy. In 1980 Gifford was appointed deputy director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars where he worked until 1988. He then served at the Library of Congress as the director of the Office of Scholarly Programs and the John W. Kluge Center until his retirement in 2005.

Robert C. Townsend came to Amherst in 1962 as a member of the English Department and served as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities until his retirement in 2008. He has taught everything from Wordsworth and Keats to nonfiction writing.

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