By Martha Hunter Shepard ′66
Research by Dean Galaro ′11
What makes Rhodes what it is? What’s changed in the last 60 years? A lot. And what hasn’t? Certainly not the essentials. Some changes have been significant, like having six presidents, from Diehl to Troutt and a student population that’s gone from some 300 to 1,800. The Rhodes curriculum, in many ways a living entity, can change over time. But what’s constant is the faculty’s commitment to refine its core, always providing students the skills fundamental to a liberal arts education. So here’s a digest of how things have changed yet stayed the same on campus from the mid-1940s to now.
Back in the day, Dr. Diehl recruited as many Rhodes Scholars as he could for the faculty. There were one or two women faculty members. (Today, of 140 full-time faculty, 60 are women.) There were 8 a.m. Saturday classes. Seniors had to take—and pass—“comps,” three-hour written comprehensive examinations in their majors. In the late ’60s into the ’70s, Third Term was popular, a few weeks of individual student-designed courses. Today, students can enroll in a “Maymester,” four-week courses in countries around the world led by Rhodes faculty. The college’s expansion of educational opportunities through the years has been its basic tenet: to provide the best liberal arts education anywhere.
Carole Branyan ’67 and John Rone ’71 can testify to that. She has been auditing classes at Rhodes since retiring three years ago; he has worked at the college for 34 years. Among the things that haven’t changed, she says, are the “great professors and challenging classes where the faculty really know their students.” Rone agrees: “The vision of President Diehl for a campus of close-knit students and faculty is still very much in evidence.” Bill Coley ’50 believes the faculty “were responsible for instilling the spirit of the college— inspiring students and guiding them to an appreciation of their fellow man and service to the community, which to me is the true essence of education.” Says Brandon Couillard ’05, “The ability to think critically and adapt to a fluid environment is no doubt credited to my liberal arts education.”
Rhodes’ signature interdisciplinary course, “Man,” now “Search,” has been around since 1945. In 1986 the name changed from “Man in the Light of History and Religion” to “The Search for Values in the Light of Western History and Religion.” Alternative Bible and history courses were available, and in 1983 that option was named “Life: Then and Now,” offering methodological approaches to the study of religion. Both tracks were, and still are, eye-openers, even foundation-shakers for many students.
Loyd Templeton ’56 says, “I took the Man course and was lost at first, but soon ‘got the picture’ that everything we were studying, everything that I had ever studied, came together to build a rich and whole appreciation of life, learning and understanding.”
For John Rone, Man made him “completely rethink my approach to my religious upbringing. It has continued to help me draw my own conclusions about the continuum of history.”
Phil Mischke ’79 took Man; his son Will ’13 followed the Life path. It happened with the Carroll family as well. Says Heidi Hayslett Carroll ’82, “I loved the program. It was my first in-depth exposure to philosophy, religion and history.” Daughter Piper ’13, a Neuroscience major, “took Life and I loved it. I had Prof. Gail Streete and she made the course very enjoyable. After taking a course in Judaism my sophomore year I decided it would definitely be worth it to become a Religious Studies minor.”
The library, always a primary study space, has moved around—it’s been the Paul Barret Jr. Library since 2005; Burrow from 1953-2005; and from 1925-53 it was located on third floor Palmer, currently home to English Department faculty offices. In Palmer, there was “a hand-operated pulley-lift to deliver books to and from the library,” according to Loyd Templeton.
Study methods throughout the years have gone from longhand to broadband. Bill Coley, Loyd Templeton and the Mischkes, along with Carole Branyan, John Rone, Heidi Hayslett Carroll and Jim Golden ’85, usually studied in the library. Employing the card catalogue, periodical indexes, books from the stacks and reference rooms and handwritten note cards and outlines, they would compose their papers either in longhand or on manual typewriters.
Heidi Carroll made carbon copies, with plenty of Wite-Out at hand. While her “big thrill” was borrowing her father’s electric Smith-Corona with a correcting ribbon, her daughter Piper, on the other hand, says, “When it comes to papers there is definitely nothing better than the double monitor computers on the second floor of Barret—you can have up websites, your paper, maybe even Pandora all at once.”
Adds Will Mischke, “Coffee from the Middle Ground (the Starbucks in Barret Library) is a very common study aid.”
Personal computers would come along in the ’90s, which found Sarah Sears and most students spending considerable time in the Mac Lab. Likewise, English major Katharine Etchen ’05 studied in the Buckman computer lab, not in her room, which she says “produced subpar results.” When Campus Safety would close down the lab at 2 a.m. she’d move to the Lair. Brandon Couillard, now her husband, and his fellow Economics majors preferred study groups in Buckman Hall classrooms, complete with dry erase boards and rheostat lighting.
In counting the hallmarks of the college, generations point to its beauty, educational excellence, the Man/Search track and of course, the Honor Code. In place since the early 1900s, it allows the campus to live in a trusting, respectful and peaceful environment.
Another kind of code guided students in the past, namely the dress code—skirts for women, jackets and ties for men at dinner—that lasted until the late 1960s. For many years now, T-shirts and flip-flops take a student from day into evening.
Chapel attendance in Hardie Auditorium, with worship services and community speakers, was mandatory until 1968. At first, it was five days a week, then three as the student population grew.
Today, the student body is much larger and more diverse than in the past. There was a time when everyone knew everyone else by name, then at least by sight. Now, the online directory gets lots of hits.
A larger student body means more cars. With parking space at a premium, in 2010 the college tried a new tack—bringing to campus two Zipcars, hybrids that can be rented by the hour, day or weekend. Students can also borrow bikes from the Bike Shop for free. And it’s beginning to pay off, with more students opting to leave their cars at home this year.
For years, the only dining options were the refectory and for snacks, the Lynx Lair. Real meals can be had in the Lair these days, and light fare is available in the Middle Ground. Alums can recite litanies of favorites: macaroni salad, the doughnut machine, steak night, country fried steak, pizza, Miss Jesse’s fiesta del sol, Leroy’s gyros. Ambience is important too. “I felt very scholarly at those dark wood tables underneath that Gothic ceiling. It was everything I thought my college should look like,” recalls Sarah Sears.
Studying and dining may be staples at Rhodes, but so is social life. Fraternities and sororities provide much of that, but Memphis remains the off-campus playground. Always, there’s been the zoo. Farther into the city, Loyd Templeton and John Rone enjoyed the downtown movie palaces, dancing at The Peabody Skyway and Cotton Carnival. The Mischkes liked the Rendezvous and Overton Square, as did many students in the ’70s and ’80s when the legal drinking age was 18 and there was a pub on campus.
Brandon Couillard and current students cite Memphis in May, the riverfront, Beale Street and the Cooper-Young district as favorites. Today’s students can also run or bike the new Greenline, attend plays and concerts with $5 tickets courtesy of Rhodes’ Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts or take in Grizzlies games in Memphis, Cardinals games in St. Louis or white-water rafting in East Tennessee for cheap via the Big Diehl, the Residence Life group that provides entertainment for students.
“On the whole, the Rhodes student body is interested in and passionate about current issues affecting Memphis, the United States and the world,” declares Will Mischke. It’s been that way from the beginning.
Bill Coley started college during World War II. It was the Korean War and two-year military service after graduation when Loyd Templeton was a student. It was civil rights and Vietnam in the ’60s, when “many males made sure they were accepted to grad school to avoid the draft,” says Carole Branyan. The antiwar sentiment that continued into the ’70s prompted John Rone and many others to participate in peace marches.
The oil crisis was a concern in the ’70s and ’80s, “when gas prices broke $1 a gallon for the first time,” say Phil and Lisa Gilchrist Mischke. There was also the death of Elvis and the Memphis firefighters’ strike.
Heidi Carroll describes major political issues in the ’80s: “the Iran hostage affair, the air traffic controllers’ strike, an assassination attempt on President Reagan and debates regarding supply-side economics, the trickle-down effect, abortion, deregulation and the Moral Majority movement.” Jim Golden adds: “‘Moral hazard’ had not yet become a financial buzzword, and a mortgage rate of 10% seemed like a good deal.”
In Sarah Sears’ Intro to International Studies class in the ’90s, she had to memorize every country in the world. “If it had just been a year earlier we could have labeled the top part of the map ‘USSR’ instead of individually listing every new republic that was popping up,” she laments.
Katharine Etchen and Brandon Couillard were one month into their first year at Rhodes on Sept. 11, 2001. “I never imagined my world, or the world as I knew it, would change so rapidly, says Couillard. Etchen describes the outreach, vigils, fundraising and support groups on campus in the aftermath of the attacks. “We were living through the ultimate crash course in international studies,” she says.
Today’s students still are. Piper Carroll reports that last year, health care reform was a hot topic. Then, Osama bin Laden’s death “had a huge effect on campus. I was walking to dinner and saw a crowd watching it on the news.”
From Bill Coley’s era till the early 1980s, students’ communication with the outside world consisted of old-fashioned letter writing and a rotary dial pay phone in the hall. Fastforward to spring 2011 when a student captured on her smartphone an image of what appeared to be a funnel cloud over Barret Library (it wasn’t) and instantly sent it around the world. On campus, the term “duck and cover” took on new meaning.
Frequency of communication depends on one’s era. Phil and Lisa Gilchrist Mischke live in neighboring Germantown, TN. Their son Will lives on campus. Will, like most students these days, phones home “a few times a week, at the very least.” With a phone in her dorm room, Lisa “made brief calls once every week or two, and always late at night when rates were cheapest.” Sarah Sears recalls having a phone card to call friends and family. She got a cell phone “the size of a brick” two years after graduating. Brandon Couillard ’05 says he called his parents maybe twice a week, “though I’m sure they would characterize that statistic as grossly inflated.”
Memphis is fun, but Rhodes takes the city quite seriously as a laboratory for learning and service. Sarah Sears worked throughout her college career, including three jobs her senior year. Katharine Etchen spent a summer interning at Memphis magazine, which “opened doors to neighborhoods, restaurants, people, events and festivals I otherwise would have missed.” As today’s students do through internships and fellowships in metro Memphis, Sears and Etchen learned valuable lessons that translated from workplace to classroom to career.
Rhodes students have historically given back to the city in which they learn so much. The volunteer Kinney Program was founded in 1956. Today, with some 85% of the student body engaged in service, it’s no surprise that for the second year in a row Newsweek has named Rhodes the No. 1 Service-Oriented College in the U.S.
Confirms Jim Golden, “Those who were involved in service were really involved.” Lisa Mischke tutored at Snowden School, read on a radio program for the visually impaired. Her husband Phil worked at Muscular Dystrophy Association camps and was a Big Brother; he later served on the Big Brothers/Big Sisters board of directors. Their son Will has worked with Advocates for the Homeless and the Memphis Music Foundation.
Heidi Carroll volunteered at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and Snowden Elementary. Her daughter Piper has volunteered at the Regional Medical Center and a soup kitchen. “I also took an internship at the Memphis Crisis Center and continue to volunteer and take calls for the center, even from home in Maryland.” Bill Coley, a retired dentist, continues to serve the Memphis community 61 years after graduating. In April 2011, he was one of 10 recipients of the Mid-South Jefferson Awards for outstanding volunteerism, having served many years with the Church Health Center and the Memphis Dental Society Outreach Committee. The year before, Rhodes honored him with the Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Working, volunteering, studying or just out for a good time, students love Memphis. “People from all walks of life and with a vast array of interests can be found here. For students at Rhodes there is much to be discovered and much to love,” says Will Mischke. “One of the best things about Memphis is definitely the food. I can’t get enough of it,” claims Piper Carroll. Brandon Couillard loves blues music; for his wife Katharine, it’s barbecue. Couillard worked three separate jobs all over Memphis as a student. Having seen it all, he “would characterize Memphis as a city with plenty of grit, soul, enthusiasm and even greater opportunity.” The same could be said of Rhodes and its generations of students.