The Reverend Dr. Richard R. Niebuhr, Harvard Divinity School theologian, lectured on "Unfinished Self, Unfinished World: Insights from William James for Our Time" in the Villard Room. The son of Yale theologian Richard Niebuhr and nephew of the Union Theological Seminary philosopher and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, Dr. Niebuhr was lecturer in religion at Vassar from 1954 to 1956.
Dennis Brutus, South African poet and anti-Apartheid activist, lectured on "the Poetry of Resistance: Human Rights in South Africa." The president of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee, which successfully lobbied for the exclusion of South Africa from the Olympics, he was imprisoned for 16 months in Robben Island Prison. Mr. Brutus was awarded the Mbari Poetry Prize for African poetry of distinction for his first collection, Sirens, Knuckles and Boots: Poems (1963), but he rejected the award because of its racial exclusivity.
Exiled after his release from prison, in 1984 Brutus was given asylum in the United States as a political refugee.
Director of Admissions Fred R. Brooks Jr. introduced a program to recruit African-American students, asking Vassar’s black alumni to speak with prospective students and their parents, write letters of recommendation and sponsor trips to the campus.
Vassar’s Delegate Assembly voted to use computers for student elections.
Russian-American poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky, author of A Part of Speech (1981), read his poetry in Taylor Hall. The Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Literature at Mount Holyoke College, Brodsky received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur “genius” award in 1981, and he was the Nobel Laureate in literature in 1987.
Lecturing in the Villard Room on "The Shaky State of the World," veteran investigative journalist I.F. Stone said, "There is an air of wounded macho in the United States, an air that is making the 20th century terribly volatile. I am worried about the fate of the world now," Stone told some 170 students and faculty members, "as never before." Stone found President Reagan, said David Fisher '87 in The Miscellany News, "guilty of over-simplification and impatience. Reagan has 'played up to the Super-rich and the Super-stupid,' and has benefited on the corporation and the rich."
An aggressive writer for The Philadelphia Record, The New York Post, The Nation and PM, Stone used I.F. Stone’s Weekly, which he started after being blacklisted in 1950 as an alleged communist, to criticize McCarthyism, J. Edgar Hoover, anti-Semitism, racial discrimination, nuclear proliferation and the war in Vietnam.
The Clash, an English punk rock band, played a concert at Walker Fieldhouse. Their third album London Calling (1980) was named best album of the decade by Rolling Stone Magazine.
The college joined the University of Minnesota, Macalester College, Wayne State University, the University of Michigan and the Pacific School of Religion in a brief filed with the United States Supreme Court opposing the 1982 “Solomon Amendment” that required colleges to certify male students’ draft registration in order to gain access to Federal student aid. A lower court found that the amendment’s provisions violated the Constitution’s protection against establishing guilt by legislation and also its protection against self-incrimination. The Supreme Court subsequently found the amendment’s provision to be constitutional.
Pulitzer Prize winning American poet Galway Kinnell read from his poetry in Taylor Hall. Known for humanitarian work such as his efforts in the 1960s on behalf of the Congress for Racial Equality, Kinnell organized a nuclear arms protest in 1982 called “Poetry Against the End of the World.” His Selected Poems (1980) won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
Mary Oliver ex-’59 won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her fifth collection, American Primitive (1983). Her first collection, No Voyage and Other Poems appeared in 1963.
President Smith appeared on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) program “The MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour,” challenging the constitutionality of the Solomon Amendment and its sponsor, New York Representative Representative Gerald Solomon. The amendment required colleges to certify either male students’ draft registration or their draft ineligibility to gain access to Federal student aid funds. In her interview, she called the amendment “inequitable, unfair, and improper.”
The college announced the inauguration of summer programs to “benefit the general education of the students while benefiting the finances of the college,” according to Director of Academic Program Development Charles I. Bunting. The programs included offerings in film, computers, business and publishing. The Vassar College Summer Program for Community College Students, later known as Exploring Transfer, was among the programs offered.
Journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson, the inventor of the highly personal and confrontational style called “Gonzo journalism,” lectured in the Chapel. His appearance was notable for his tardiness and his complaints about the chapel’s smoking ban. A lifelong user of drugs, he replied, when asked about his thoughts on cocaine, “it’s O.K. if only one percent of society uses it, but it gets ugly when fifty percent of society starts using it.” The Miscellany News
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971), which established Thompson as a new and powerful voice, was followed by Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail (1973), an account of the defeat of Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern by President Richard Nixon—Thompson’s nemesis.
Thompson spoke at Vassar previously, in 1979.
Feminist American playwright Ntozake Shange discussed her career and her works in the Chapel. Shange’s “choreopoem,” For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf (1975)—a series of 20 poems for the stage—was nominated for a Tony in 1977, and her 1980 adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children (1939) won an Obie award in 1980.
Public Broadcasting Service NewsHour television journalist Jim Lehrer, whose daughter Jamie was a member of the graduating class, delivered the 1984 Commencement Address in which he recommended that the graduates “become risky businessmen” because “to search for a safe place is to search for an end to a rainbow that you will hate yourself once you find it.” Lehrer recommended not only professional risks, but also personal ones: “enter into relationships with other human beings…whether as friends or lovers or spouses…with full gusto and commitment. Some of the unhappiest people I know are those who have spent their lives keeping others away, protecting themselves from emotional commitments—all in the mistaken opinion that to expose the nerves and the soul is to be hurt. Hurt is part of being a full human being. The emotional peaks and valleys are what being mentally healthy is all about.” News from Vassar
Finishing in a 3rd place tie with Princeton in the national finals of the College Bowl, the Vassar team earned $2,500 for scholarship funding and a 15-volume set of the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology for the Library from the tournament's sponsor. Representing the college in the final matches, broadcast on NBC television live from the Ohio State University campus, were Michael Church '84, Charles Lewis '87, Derek Wllentinsen '85 and (repeating a similar performance in the 1982 College Bowl) Charles Sperling '84 and David Thaler '84.
As part of a developing array of summer activities on campus, The Vassar College Summer Program for Community College Students, later known as Exploring Transfer, offered its first experiential learning sessions to promising community college students—five courses bearing Vassar credit, designed and credit team-taught by Vassar and community college professors. Funding for the first summer was provided by a grant from the Carnegie Foundation and President Smith’s discretionary funds.
Vassar received $750,000 worth of computer equipment from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). The gift included eight VAX 11/725 minicomputers and eight computer work-stations, intended to help professors create teaching aids for their students.
After much study, the college decided in 1983 on the DEC Rainbow as the first personal computer for faculty use.
New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro became the first female Vice Presidential candidate on a major party ticket when she was nominated to be the Democratic candidate with Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election.
A new language requirement for the Class of 1989 took effect. Students were required to complete a full year of a language at the introductory level or a semester at the intermediate level. They could also meet the requirement by obtaining high scores on an Advanced Placement language exam or any of the College Entrance Examination Board tests or by passing one of the proficiency exams provided by the Vassar language departments.
Randolph D. Pope, professor of Hispanic studies, said that the requirement was a “requirement of proficiency in the language…to allow you to really function.” The Miscellany News
The art department offered a major in studio art as a result of student demand and increased course enrollment. Entrance was contingent upon an “evaluation of the student’s class work and by a review of the student’s portfolio by the studio faculty,” said Susan Kuretsky, associate professor of art, adding that the department expected 15-20 majors in the next year. The Miscellany News
Classes were held for the first time in Mudd Chemistry Building, an environmentally innovative, urgently needed but aesthetically controversial new home for the chemistry department. The new $7 million building ($6,151,000 in construction costs), designed by the Boston firm, Perry, Dean, Rogers and Partners, featuring extensive use of glass brick and a "trombe wall" passive solar heat system on its South-facing side, was necessary because the ubiquitous wood construction in the Sanders Chemistry Building (1909) rendered it impossible to bring up to current safety requirements. Persistent campus criticism of the location of the new building—roughly the site of Vassar's original chemistry building, the Vassar Brothers Laboratory (1880-1938)—was joined by dissatisfaction with both the architects' explicit modernity and utilitarian design and their attempt to accommodate the building to its early 20th century neighbors' brick facades and lintel and roof lines. One student critic, writing in The Miscellany News, recalled Frank Lloyd Wright's observation that "A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines."
Major funding for the Mudd Chemistry Building came from the Seely G. Mudd Fund.
Kenneth Burke, linguist, philosopher and literary theorist, lectured in the Villard Room. Burke’s studies over many years of the relationship in language of rhetoric to symbol and of human action as both a biographical act and a kind of drama were joined in his Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature and Method (1966).
The change in 1982 of the New York State drinking age from 18 to 19 having led to the barring of underage students, Matthew's Mug was opened to all students, with controlled access to alcohol.
Influential art critic Clement Greenberg spoke about "Art Now" in the Aula. Greenberg was one of the foremost art critics of Modern art during the twentieth century and was one of the first to support the work of Jackson Pollock.
She “learned to temper idealism by the reality principle,” historian and personal friend Arthur Schlesinger told over 500 scholars, activists, government officials and students attending a four-day conference, “The Vision of Eleanor Roosevelt: Past, Present and Future,” celebrating the centennial of Eleanor Roosevelt’s birth. “She believed in hard work, self-discipline, civility, decency and goodness,” he said. “She believed above all in individual responsibility.”
Sponsored by the college and the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, the conference mixed scholarly papers on Mrs. Roosevelt’s accomplishments with reminiscences and the drafting of “an agenda for the future,” addressing such of her concerns as the quests for peace, civil rights, economic opportunities for women and international human rights. As psychology Professor Anne Constantinople explained, Mrs. Roosevelt—or “Eleanor,” as most participants referred to her—“would have had a stroke if we just had an academic conference. She always said, ‘It’s fine to talk, but where’s that get you?’ What we hope happens here is more than talk.”
Other speakers included civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, Howard University history professor and United States Civil Rights Commission member Dr. Mary F. Berry and women’s and labor historian Dr. Alice Kessler-Harris of Hofstra University. Professor of Political Science M. Glen Johnson, the conference’s initiator, explained the conference’s broad intention. “A lot of people,” he said, “are questioning the worth of liberal values. We thought it was important to ask, are these values, are Eleanor’s values, relevant to the present day?” The New York Times
Daniel Berrigan, anti-Vietnam War activist, poet, and Catholic priest, spoke on "A Peacemaking Citizen in a Warmaking State" in the Villard Room. Along with his brother Philip—also a Catholic priest—and six others, Berrigan formed the Plowshares Movement in 1980, attacking a nuclear missile factory in Pennsylvania and damaging materiel and files, the first of his many of non-violent anti-war and human rights actions over decades and around the world.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Susan Sheehan lectured on "Writing My Books and Working for The New Yorker" in the Josselyn Living Room. Sheehan’s study of the struggles of a young woman with schizophrenia, Is There No Place on Earth for Me? (1982) won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983, and Kate Quinton’s Days, an account of the efforts of an 80-year old Irish-American woman to maintain an independent life, which originally appeared in The New Yorker, was published in 1984.
Professor Deborah Dash Moore, associate professor of religion, was awarded a 1984-1985 Fulbright grant to teach at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The Matthew Vassar Lecture was delivered by Professor John Greene of the University of Connecticut on "Creationism and Science: An Historical View" in Chicago Hall. A historian of science, Professor Greene wrote The Death of Adam: Evolution and Its Impact on Western Thought (1959) and Science, Ideology and World View: Essays in the History of Evolutionary Ideas (1981).
Asian scholar and specialist Dr. Ramon Myers, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, spoke on "Modernization in Taiwan" in the Josselyn House living room. Myers stressed that he did not believe “the two Chinas”—the Peoples Republic and Taiwan—would unite under current circumstances. “Both governments must deal with the problem of political succession. Both societies must learn to coexist peacefully.” The Miscellany News
President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush handily defeated the Democratic nominees Senator Walter Mondale and Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro in the 1984 election, carrying 49 of the 50 states with 58 percent of the popular vote.
Charlotte Bunch, a feminist activist and organizer, lectured on the "International Feminism Network Against Female Sexual Slavery" in the Cushing West Parlor.
Feminist philosopher Judith Butler from Wesleyan University lectured on "Bodies and Minds in Some French Feminist Thought," as a Philosopher's Holiday lecturer in the Josselyn House living room. Professor Butler’s work focused on queer theory, feminism, gender construction, political philosophy and ethics. Her 1984 Yale PhD dissertation, “Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France,” was published under that title in 1987. Gender Trouble: Feminism and Subversion of Identity followed in 1990.
Imam Warith Deen Muhammad—formerly Wallace D. Muhammad—founder of the American Muslim Mission lectured on "The Role of the American Muslim Mission in the United States" in the Villard Room. The son of the Rev. Elijah Muhammad, who led the Nation of Islam from 1934 until his death in 1975, Imam Muhammad’s American Muslim Mission reformed the sect and also led it to form interfaith links with Christian and Jewish congregations. Imam Muhammad urged American Muslims to accept the concept of separation of church and state, and he worked to find and discuss similarities between the American Constitution and the Koran.
Cultural anthropologist Dr. Esther Newton from the State University of New York at Purchase lectured on "Is There Politically Correct Sex?" in the Cushing West Parlor. Dr. Newton was best known for her groundbreaking work on the ethnography of lesbian and gay communities in the United States.
Sociology professor James Petras of the State University of New York at Binghamton gave an Issues for the Eighties Lecture on "Ideology and Repression: the Use and Abuse of Anti-Communism in Central America" in Rockefeller Hall. A member of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal on Repression in Latin America from 1973 until 1976, Professor Petras published extensively on Latin American and Middle Eastern politics.
Advertising executive Phyllis B. Brotman of Image Dynamics, Inc. lectured on "The Marketing of a Candidate: Ethics and Political Advertising" in the Villard Room.
Mexican author Gustavo Sainz from the University of New Mexico, lectured in Spanish in the Gold Parlor. Sainz was best known for his novels Gazapo (1968) andLa princesa del Palacio de Hierro (1974), which won the 1974 Premio Xavier Villaurrutia.
Dr. Nancy W. Boggess, senior staff astronomer from NASA, lectured about her work on the Infra-Red Astronomy Satellite and shared photos of the galaxy taken by the satellite.
Science historian Professor Nancy Stepan from Columbia University delivered an Issues for the Eighties lecture on "Power and Knowledge: Biomedical Politics" in Rockefeller Hall. A specialist in the history of medicine, Professor Stepan published The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain, 1800-1960 in 1982, and herThe Hour of Eugenics: Race, Gender and Nation in Latin America (1991) was co-winner of the 1992 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Annual Award.
Lisa Hope Schiller '86, a junior, was killed in a car accident on her way to her field work assignment at the Harlem Valley Secure Center in Wingdale, NY. Described by her friends as "an enthusiastic person who was optimistic about everything," she was a member of the Measure for Measure acappella group and, as a sophomore, had won the Wendy Breslau prize for "outstanding contribution to the community," specifically for her work in bilingual education at the prison.
In February of 1986, the facility’s library was named in her honor, in light of her passion for and dedication to her work there.
M.J. Rosenberg, editor of Near East Report, the weekly newsletter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), lectured on "U.S. – Israel Relations" in the Villard Room.
A member of the Class of 1986 died in Bologna, Italy, from asphyxiation due to a defective gas water heater. The student, a Hispanic studies major, was visiting friends in Bologna after her first semester with the Vassar-Wesleyan program in Madrid, Spain.