A Rollins Perspective
By Lorrie Kyle Ramey ’70
“The college never stands still.
It goes either forward or backward.”
—Paul A. Wagner, 1949
Filling Holt’s shoes was a large order and Rollins made its first attempt in 1949, when 31-year-old Paul A. Wagner arrived at Rollins and became the youngest college president in the U.S. The student body rushed to support their new “Prexy,” but the honeymoon didn’t last through Wagner’s sophomore year.
A questionable financial crisis and decisions perceived as peremptory led the students to question the president’s judgment. In cost-cutting measures, all intercollegiate sports were dropped and over one-third of the faculty had been fired. The students met and proposed alternatives to the faculty cuts, including offering to assume the maintenance duties of the College.
All of Rollins’ family members—students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, and Wagner—proceeded through a series of confrontations and silences which lasted more than two months, and arrived at a stalemate. Wagner had lost the College’s confidence. Hamilton Holt asked Wagner to resign. The students asked the board of trustees for a resolution. Wagner refused to resign, but the board of trustees, in a special meeting in New York, moved to dismiss the president.
On May 13, 1951, Paul Wagner left Rollins and Rollins art professor Hugh F. McKean was asked to step into the presidential shoes. McKean accepted the position of acting president and simultaneously submitted his resignation, dated a year later. The students celebrated McKean’s acceptance with a candlelight procession and the College bathed itself in light to symbolize its rededication.
Ten months later, attorneys for the College and ex-President Wagner announced settlement of suits filed against Rollins and the board of trustees. A statement from Rollins College and Paul A. Wagner declared that an “amicable end” had been reached: “both sides have made considerable concessions from what they maintained to be their rights in the matter, but in the spirit of compromise and with a view toward a common objective of the general good of the community and of the institution, these concessions are made with wholeheartedness and accord” (The Sandspur, 1952). The Wagner Affair, as it had come to be known, was over.
On April 9, 1952, Acting President McKean accepted the presidency and the students rejoiced with the second Festival of Light. President McKean immediately proposed a $10-million program to mark the College’s Diamond Jubilee in 1960. A seven-year Self-Study program was also initiated, with committees focusing on students, teaching, curriculum, finances, and facilities. In 1955, the student body was to be enlarged to 800, but the student-faculty ratio was to remain at nine to one. Cram and Ferguson, who had planned the campuses of Princeton and Boston Universities and Sweetbriar College, and Jefferson Hamilton, the site planner responsible for the University of Florida and Stetson University, were asked to prepare new master plans for Rollins.
In 1957, plans were announced to build a new dining hall and a new women’s residence hall. A government loan of $900,000 (at 2 percent interest) was received to construct the two buildings and to build a new dorm for the KAs, whose house was purchased by the College. The new buildings were designed “combining modern ideas and facilities with a simplified Spanish architectural style” (The Sandspur, 1957).
The new KA house was named for distinguished alumnus Rex Beach, the new dining hall bore the name of major donor Rose Skillman, and the women’s dorm was called Elizabeth Hall in honor of Mrs. McKean’s mother, Elizabeth Morse Genius. Because of its amenities, Elizabeth was soon nicknamed the “Lizzie Hilton.”
Proposed uses for the old Beanery included an indoor racetrack, an elephant farm, and an armory—“In this citadel, Rollins students could bravely withstand such formidable enemies as the Winter Park high schoolers” (The Sandspur, 1958). In fact, the Commons became the home of the art department. (And the old art building became the home of Rollins Courses for the Community.)
Two new residence halls were added in 1962 and 1966. Both were to undergo name changes. New Hall originally honored 23 distinguished professors whose names appeared on brass plaques throughout the building. The dorm was later renamed for President McKean. The Independent Men’s Dormitory, first occupied in 1966, was renamed for obvious reasons in 1967 when women moved in. It became Holt Hall.
President McKean continued to pursue the educational aims he had identified in 1951: “Our overall plan is to lead Rollins in the direction of its best traditions and revitalize it with common sense.” In President McKean’s first year, three new programs had been introduced: Orientation for the Armed Services, Free Society, and Physiographic Influences on World Affairs. “While in the Military Orientation Course the aim is to make students aware of their immediate defensive role, and in the Free Society Course it is to make them aware of their responsibilities as American citizens, and in the third course, the aim is to make them better citizens of the world in a progressive expansion of responsibility” (Rollins College Bulletin, 1951).
Grades were introduced in 1953, and the grading system began its fine-tuning process. At one time, an A was worth three points while an F deducted one point. Later, an A was upgraded to nine points, with an A- counting eight and an F minus three. Later still, the A earned 12 points and the F at last reached zero.
A variety of cooperative degree programs were initiated with schools such as New York University, Duke University, Dartmouth College, Tulane University, Vanderbilt University, Columbia University, and M.I.T. to permit students to earn two degrees in five to seven years. Degrees were thus available to Rollins students in engineering, forestry, business administration, medicine, and law.
Rollins also maintained its commitment to the community. Operation Bootstrap, which served Sanford Naval Air Station, and Pinecastle, Orlando, and Patrick Air Force Bases, was inaugurated in 1951. Later, local Operation Bootstrap students attended classes on campus and Rollins opened a branch at Patrick Air Force Base. Creation of the Rollins Institute of General Studies was authorized in 1960 and confirmed by the College’s board of trustees the following year. The Institute encompassed the Community Courses Programs; the Graduate Programs, which then included the M.B.A., M.S., and M.A.T.; and the School of General Studies, which had begun as Operation Bootstrap.
The Animated Magazine continued, but not without some revisions of its own. In 1958, the program officially moved indoors. A year later, the magazine revolved around a single topic, “Manned Expedition to the Planet Mars.” The theme-format continued, focusing on such subjects as “Education for the Coming Era,” “The System of Free Enterprise and the American Tradition,” and “The Need for Noble Men.” Speakers included Basil Rathbone, Leo Durocher, Charles Percy (then president of Bell & Howell), Mary Pickford, Pogo creator Walt Kelly, General Omar Bradley, Lillian Gish, Jimmy Cagney, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Red Barber, Steven Canyon creator Milton Caniff, Buzz Sawyer creator Roy Crane, Wernher von Braun, Allen Drury, Brigadier General David Sarnoff, Walter Cronkite, Li’l Abner creator Al Capp, and Amadeus creator Peter Shaffer. In 1969, the Animated Magazine tested a truly different approach, with various “authors” presenting their features in different locations on campus. “Sixty-minute degrees” were offered in the “School of Instant Education.”
The Annie Russell Theatre, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1957, also continued to draw happy audiences, accomplished performers, and talented students, like Tony Perkins and Dana Ivey. In 1958, alumnus Jess Gregg saw his A Swim in the Sea debut at the A.R.T. before the play moved on to New York. A Sandspur reviewer commented that cast member George Peppard was “good,” but needed “to remember to lose his Ivy League aura.”
In 1962, the first Country of the Year was introduced. Because President McKean felt “we do not excel at understanding other people and other cultural traditions,” the students were exposed to visitors and exhibits from a single nation throughout the year. In 1962, Thailand was the featured country, followed by Mexico in 1963. The Country-of-the-Year program was abandoned in 1964 because of lack of interest, but resurfaced for another year in 1965 to salute the Netherlands.
In 1964, President McKean reiterated the need for a field house and stressed the importance of building a new science center. At that time, one of every six students at Rollins was a science major. There was even investigation of the possibility of inaugurating a Rollins Institute of Technology and a Rollins Space Science Research Institute.
During Founders’ Week in 1965, a 20-year plan was unveiled. Rollins’ enrollment was to increase to 1200 undergraduates, with perhaps as many as 500 graduate students. The curriculum was to be revised. The plan for the campus included a School of Finance and Business (Roy E. Crummer had given $1 million to this end four months before), science center, field house, classroom building, cultural center, fine arts and music teaching building, health center, residence halls, and new student center with pool on Lake Virginia. The following month came news of A. G. Bush’s gift of $800,000 toward the construction of the science center. (Bush later endowed a faculty chair of mathematics and the building’s operating funds.) A year later, Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. DuBois donated $85,000 for the health center.
The revised curriculum was introduced in 1966. The “Hourglass Curriculum” revalued credit hours, redrew term lengths, and rewrote freshman schedules. The rationale for the curriculum was for students to work from broadly based foundation courses into the specialization of their majors. Then, in their final year, students would again participate in broadly based courses.
The first two foundation courses bore the awesome titles “The Genesis of the Modern World: A study of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Society, Its Thought and Experience,” and “Man in the Twentieth Century: A study of Political, Economic, Social and Psychological Factors in Contemporary Civilization.” The third foundation courses in the sciences were ready by 1967 and the new home of science at Rollins was dedicated in 1969.
Seventeen years after Hugh McKean accepted the presidency of Rollins College, he stepped down. The cornerstones of his vision for Rollins—the field house, the science center, the business school, the liberal arts education with its eyes turned to the future and its feet on the ground—were realities.