The college received $19,000 from the National Endowment of the Humanities to help fund its second College Course, an interdepartmental class, The Human Relation to Nature. The College Course program was developed in response to “the fragmentation, and narrowness which often characterizes the curriculum of many American colleges and universities,” explained The Miscellany News. The Human Relation to Nature was designed as an exploration of the way that various selected cultures experienced interactions with the natural world.
Dr. Andrew Lukhele, a representative from the African National Congress, lectured on "Change in South Africa" in the Faculty Lounge. Lukhele asked students to get involved and “make the decisions students did during the Vietnam crisis.... I see you as standing in the line of direct descent of a tradition the whole world is proud of.” The Miscellany News
Fikile Bam, South African attorney and activist, lectured on "South African Youth and the Current Black Struggle" in New England 104. Imprisoned with other prominent South African anti-apartheid leaders on Robben Island for 11 years, Bam later served as a mediator for the Independent Electoral Committee in 1994, during the first democratic elections in South Africa. He has also held the position of acting chairman for Lawyers for Human Rights, a non-profit alliance founded in South Africa in 1979.
The board of trustees agreed to divest stock in Dun and Bradstreet, a corporation that refused to sign the Sullivan Principles, a code of conduct outlining suggested behavior for corporate activities in South Africa. The principles were developed by the Rev. Leon Sullivan, a board member of General Motors in 1977, to encourage U.S. corporations to put economic pressure on the South African government’s system of apartheid. The principles were ultimately adopted by 125 U.S. companies with operations in South Africa.
Jamaican political historian Professor Archie Singham of Brooklyn College lectured on "Black Youth in the Third World" in the Villard Room. A longtime faculty member at the University of the West Indies, Singham published The Hero and the Crowd in a Colonial Polity, in influential study of the leader as “hero” in Caribbean politics, in 1968.
Prominent child psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussaint of Harvard Medical School lectured on "Black Youth in Crisis in America: The Impact of a Racist Culture" in Taylor Auditorium. Much of Dr. Poussaint’s work focused on the integrality of racism in the mental health of the black community.
A group of students staged a “die-in” to protest the presence of a marine recruiter in College Center. Approximately 15 students lay on the floor as one of the protest leaders outlined their bodies with masking tape. In addition, the protestors played music and tried to engage other students in the action. “The significance of the die-in was to show that the military is not just a career for college kids, it is an institution which is inextricably associated with acts of killing, “ said Ezra Kohn ’87, who planned the formal protest. The Miscellany News
The admissions office announced a ten percent rise in the number of male applicants for the class of 1989 over the previous year.
President Smith announced that New York Governor Mario M. Cuomo would be the 1984 commencement speaker. Smith called Cuomo “an intelligent, caring official who does make a difference,” and added that Vassar is proud to be a part of his “family of New York.” News From Vassar
Smith College professor Cynthia Taft Morris '49 spoke on "Where Angels Fear to Tread: Quantitative Studies in History and Development." A specialist in the history of economics, Morris held joint appointments at Smith and American University in Washington, DC, where she founded the Washington Area Economic History Seminar (WAEHS), a monthly seminar on economic history.
Professor of History James Lockhart from the University of California at Los Angeles spoke on "Indian History from Indian Language and Documents" in the Aula. The founder of “new philology,” a school of historical thought that sought to understand the history of colonized indigenous people through their own writing and records, Lockhart studied colonial Latin America and the indigenous speakers of the Nahuatl language. His The Art of Nahuatl Speech: The Bancroft Dialogues appeared in 1987.
Sarah Gibson Blanding, sixth president of the college from 1946-1964 and first female president of the college, died at age 86. An enthusiast of modernism, she broke with the college’s conservative tradition in commissioning buildings from architects Marcel Breuer and Eero Saarinen.
An outspoken critic of McCarthy-ism, she refused the demand of the House Committee on Un-American Activities for a list of the college’s books—although, through a spokesman, inviting the committee to come and inspect the Library’s 260,000 volumes—and declared, “If the request was made for the purpose of examining textbooks and supplementary material, it strikes at the very heart of academic freedom.”
President Blanding served on several presidential commissions in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations.
Synchronized swimmers Sylvia Hall ’87 and Janet Arnold ’88 qualified in the top 40 swimmers at the Collegiate Nationals meet. In an interview with The Miscellany News, Hall explained her sport: “the precision of a ballerina, the energy of a jazz dancer, and the stamina of a long distance swimmer.”
Former judge and state senator Karen S. Burstein, president of the New York State Civil Service Commission lectured on "The Debate Over Comparable Worth" in the Villard Room. “Comparable worth,” a contraction of the concept of “equal pay for work of comparable worth” was an attempt to quantify and remedy inequalities of pay, particularly those generated by a history of “sex-segregated” jobs.
Ms. Burstein worked in the administration of New York Governor Mario Cuomo, as executive director of the State Consumer Protection Board.
Liberal Member of the Canadian Parliament Judith Erola spoke on "Women in the 80's: A Canadian Perspective" in Chicago Hall Auditorium. Valerie Feldman, a Canadian student, was disappointed by the larger student body’s lack of enthusiasm for the “dynamic and highly informative” lecture. The event “was well publicized but only a handful of people showed up. …I apologized telling [Erola] that when someone mentions Canada often Americans yawn,” Feldman wrote in a Letter to the Editor in The Miscellany News.As a member of the cabinet during Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s second term in office—1980-1984—Erola served as Minister of State for Social Development, Minister responsible for the Status of Women and Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs. She served briefly in the cabinet of Trudeau’s successor, John Turner.
German-American art historian Professor Ernst Kitzinger, Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, gave a slideshow lecture on "The Mosaics of Capella Palatina in Palermo" in Taylor Auditorium. A scholar of early-medieval and Byzantine art, Kitzinger argued, in such works as Byzantine Art in the Making:Main Lines of Stylistic Development in Mediterranean Art, 3rd-7th Centuries (1977) and The Art of Byzantium and the Medieval West: Selected Studies (1976) for the importance of stylistic analysis and stylistic mutation as tools in the historical interpretation of art.
Kitzinger had become interested in Sicilian mosaics in the 1950s, publishing Mosaics of Monreale in 1960. His six-volume I mosaici del periodo normanno in Sicilia appeared in 1992.
Ernst Kitzinger was the father of Vassar classicist Rachel Kitzinger.
The faculty voted in favor of a $10 million plan for the development of computer facilities on campus over the next five years. The Miscellany News
Vassar’s eighth president, Virginia B. Smith, announced her retirement at the end of the 1985-1986 school year. Dr. Smith, the second female president of the college, came to the college in 1977. She chose this time to retire because she felt the college would need strong leadership in the upcoming years, as the fundraising for the second phase of the Development Program would be at a critical point. “I believe it is only fair to Vassar to decide now to stay through that period or to leave early enough to allow a new president to develop knowledge and contacts prior to that crucial period.” Smith said she planned to “to undertake new projects involving research, writing and teaching.”
The legacy of Smith’s leadership included the repair of Vassar’s relations with alumnae and achievement of greater national visibility for the college. Smith was particularly pleased to have fostered cooperation among college constituencies. “We have refined the notion of shared governance,” she told Edward Fiske of The New York Times shortly after her announcement, “so that everyone is involved—students, faculty, alumnae/i, all of them.” The New York Times, The Poughkeepsie Journal andThe Miscellany News
Dr. Roman Vishniac lectured about his recently published book of photography, A Vanished World (1983), a remembrance of Eastern European Jews in the years preceding the Holocaust. “The future of the Jews is great in spite of the Holocaust,” Vishniac maintained. He cited jealousy as the reason for the persecution of the Jews: “If it is impossible, let the Jews do it, they will succeed.”
“While Vishniac showed an enormous sense of pride in the Jewish people, it was not a belief in racial superiority,” Betsy Amaru, visiting assistant professor of religion said in an interview after the lecture. The Miscellany News
Polish-American scientist and historian Lucjan Dobroszycki, a professor at Yeshiva University and Senior Associate of the Jewish Scientific Institute (YIVO), lectured on "The Destruction of the European Jewry: Deportation in and out of the Ghetto of Łódź" in the Josselyn House living room. Dobroszycki was sent to Auschwitz after living in the Łódź ghetto for nearly five years. The only survivor in his family, he was liberated from a satellite camp in 1945. Discussing the unusually complete and well-kept records of Łódź, Dobroszycki explained, “It was an extremely sophisticated and well-organized group of scholars who kept the archives,” and those working to chronicle their experiences had the mentality that “we’re not going to survive, but let’s tell the story.” Their records of the Lodz ghetto were buried underground before the last deportation. The Miscellany NewsDobroszycki was a co-author of Image Before My Eyes:A Photographic History of Life in Poland 1864-1939 (1977), and was the editor of The Chronicle of the Łódź Ghetto, 1941-1944 (1984), a compilation of reminiscences and comments gathered clandestinely by ghetto residents.
In the first on-campus drug raid in three years, three Vassar students were arrested for selling cocaine. Police reported that they had worked their way up the ladder of the campus drug chain by using arrestees as informants. This process also led to the identification and arrest of a New York City drug supplier.
Students told The Miscellany News that before the raid regular, nearly open, cocaine use was common in several prominent campus locations like the Mug, the Library and College Center. They added that the college administration was commonly perceived to have an attitude of, “As long as it stays in our confines, it’s okay.” “This place is a very protective campus, or at least it used to be,” said one student. “You sort of feel you’re exempt from rules.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Natalie Marshall ’51 told a reporter “we have absolutely no control over the law enforcement agencies,” adding, “let’s face it: I’m not going to protect anyone who’s dealing.” Marshall enunciated this position in an all-campus letter on April 19, which, she said, “could be taken as a warning but it doesn’t represent a change in policy.”
After the arrests, the three students withdrew from the college. The Miscellany News
Students protesting the college's investment in corporations supporting the South African apartheid regime blocked Main Gate for over a week in a sit-in. They began the sit-in by linking arms around the security booth at Main Gate and stating their intentions as a non-violent protest “seeking the administration’s cooperation,” said organizer Jason Albertson ’85. Susan Matheson ’87, who grew up in South Africa, explained her own reasons for participating in the sit-in, “My best friend as a child was black. And yet because of apartheid as we grew older I could not socialize with her or publicly show my kinship.” The Miscellany News
A Presidential Search Committee, comprised of seven trustees, five faculty, and two students, was formed to find a replacement for retiring president Virginia Smith.
The college made public its acquisition of the papers of author Mary McCarthy ‘33. The papers included over 6,500 pages of manuscripts, legal papers, personal notes, correspondence and galleys. McCarthy, 72, told Deirdre Carmody from The New York Times she was “really strongly tempted” two years earlier when President Smith had first spoken to her about the papers, because “I have nice feelings about Vassar.”
Neither McCarthy nor Smith revealed what the college had paid for the collection, but President Smith made clear that funds had come from private donors. The McCarthy papers, she said, would strengthen Vassar’s tradition of having students deal with original source material wherever possible. McCarthy was best known for her 1963 novel The Group, a fictionalized account of her life after graduating from Vassar, as well as those of several of her classmates. The New York Times
James M. Montoya, director of admissions at Occidental College, was named as the new director of admissions. His goals as director were to ethnically diversify the student body and reshape the image of the college presented to applicants through admissions literature. The Miscellany News
Speaking at Commencement New York Governor Mario M. Cuomo urged the Class of 1985 to eschew moral detachment and to fight to change the world. He told the graduates “despite the glitter of the success and joy that surround you here today in the beautiful Hudson Valley, all is not well with the world we live in.” Cuomo said that professors, parents and relatives counted on today’s students to “be wiser than we are…to love more than we have.” He concluded by saying “ultimately, a better future for this whole place called the city and the state and the nation and the world will depend on our willingness to reject detachment. Vassar has taught you that, but now the world needs to learn it.”
During his speech, the Governor wore a red armband over his academic gown in protest of the continuing oppression through apartheid in South Africa. Commencement marshal Professor of Chemistry Curt Beck attempted to remove armbands from about 100 seniors who were wearing the armbands as they reached the stage. Beck defended his actions saying that academic gowns were above politics. “An academic gown is like the robe of a judge or the garment of a priest…an academic may not advertise.” He added that he had not seen such a display of protest since the Vietnam War. The Miscellany News
President Smith served on a panel that selected ten finalists for the Teacher in Space Program. Out of these ten, NASA selected Christa McAuliffe to be the first teacher in space. When the Space Shuttle Challenger broke up after launch on January 28, 1986, McAuliffe along with the other six members of the Challenger crew were killed.
Almost 90 scholars from 50 North American colleges and universities gathered at Vassar for a two-day conference, “Teaching Cognitive Science to Undergraduates,” sponsored by a $16,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Even defining the new discipline proved difficult. David Waltz, computer science professor from Brandeis University and editor of The Journal of Cognitive Science admitted that his keynote address, “What is Cognitive Science?” was “a tough question,” and George Miller, professor of psychology at Princeton University declared that there seemed at present a number of “cognitive science” whose methodologies and concerns sometimes overlapped. “Cognitive science,” he said, “remains an aspiration at this point.”
Approached differed as well when it came to how to teach the hard-to-define subject. Some participants urged that students needed first to be grounded in the several disciplines involved—computer science, psychology, linguistics, biology, anthropology and others—while some of their colleagues said that having acquired the biases and constraints of these disciplines as part of the grounding would only make it more difficulty for students to grasp the essentials of the new field. Neil Stillings from the School of Communications and Cognitive Science at Hampshire College, where courses in cognitive science were taught since the college’s founding in 1970, said he believed students were capable of handling the uncertainties in the field. “The students,” he said, had “a unity in this field that we do not. They are the wave of the future.”
Vassar led the nation’s colleges and universities in 1983 by becoming the first undergraduate institution to offer cognitive science as a major. The Miscellany News, The New York Times
Patrick Manning ‘85 ran for the Dutchess County legislature as the Democratic nominee. He was asked by the Dutchess County Democratic Committee to run as a representative of the college.
Double Nobel Laureate Dr. Linus Pauling gave a lecture entitled “Modern Nutrition” as a part of Vassar’s symposium celebrating the importance of the sciences in a liberal arts education. Pauling won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research on the nature and complexity of the attraction between atoms that allows the formation of chemical substances, the chemical bond, in 1954, and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962 for his work in opposition to nuclear testing. He became interested in nutrition when the government began issuing RDA’s (recommended daily allowances) of vitamins. Presently researching the connection between vitamin C and cancer, Pauling declared, “I am the only one doing research on cancer and vitamin C.” The Miscellany News
Organic chemist Herbert C. Brown, the 1979 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, spoke in Avery Auditorium. Brown’s prize came as a result of his work with organoboranes, chemical compounds that are organic derivatives of the molecule borane.
The college considered legal action against the architects of Mudd Chemistry Building because of severe leaking in the relatively new structure. College administrators believed that some of the problems might be expected in a new building, while others were unacceptable building flaws. Several members of the chemistry department believed the building’s problems were due to conflicts between the design-oriented concerns of the architects and the functional needs of the chemistry department. The Miscellany News
The Vassar Progressive Union staged two acts of "Guerilla Theatre" in the College Center to protest the presence of Marine recruiters on campus. The VPU’s chairperson Benjamin Dulchin ’88 pretended to shoot down protestors who each held a placard representing a different Marine invasion. Dulchin asserted that they were not objecting to the Marines’ presence on the campus, but wanted to inform people who “accept Marine rhetoric at face value.” The Miscellany News
Former New York Times correspondent and columnist and Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Sydney Schanberg addressed students in Taylor Hall. One of the few journalists to remain in Cambodia after the Americans left and as the Khmer Rouge took over the country, Schanberg recorded the ensuing chaos and the uprooting of millions of Cambodians as Pol Pot’s regime consolidated it’s grim victory. His Cambodian reports won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1976. Schanberg spoke of the critical work that journalists do in avoiding the “natural inclination to self-interest,” which could so easily sway their reporting. Schanberg reminded the audience of the crucial role that reporters play in being “pests” to those in power, “Evil things flourish when good men say nothing,” he said. The Miscellany NewsSchanberg’s book, The Death and Life of Dith Pran (1980), the story of the nearly five years his Cambodian assistant Dith Pran lived through during the murderous regime of the Khmer Rouge, formed the basis of the film The Killing Fields (1984).
National Anti-Apartheid Protest Day was celebrated with a march through Poughkeepsie.
The Board of Trustees unanimously agreed to begin divestment of the college’s holdings in companies doing business with South Africa. Peter Millones, chairman of TIRC (the Trustee Investor Responsibility Committee), expressed satisfaction with the decision saying, “we had a chance to move forward, it was the right time to go ahead. We are trying to take a moral stance, and I think that’s what students are desirous of.” The Miscellany News
The college’s incoming freshman class of 1989 increased its racial diversity to 101 African-American and Hispanic members: 16.2% of the total class. In comparison, the senior class of 1986 consisted of 9.2% minority students. The New York Times
John Milberg ’81, an epidemiologist with the New York City Department of Health, spoke to students about the social, political, and scientific facets of AIDS. Milberg noted that much uncertainty still existed about AIDS in both the public mind and in the medical community and that this affected how society managed its concern over the epidemic. The Miscellany News
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation renewed the $250,000 “New Liberal Arts” grant to the college, thus enabling, “the college to enhance the quantitative skills and technological understanding of the students,” said Patricia Johnson, professor of biology and associate dean of the college. Professor of economics Stephen Rousseas expressed the concerns of some faculty members that the technology-oriented programs initiated by the grant would affect the quality of the liberal arts education offered by the college. “We are allowing a private institution to come in and pay for imposing its definition of a liberal arts education on us,” he said. “That doesn’t speak well for Vassar.” The Miscellany News
VSA secretary Neil Cohen ’87 attempted to temporarily freeze funding for the Vassar Spectator, a politically conservative campus newspaper, for publishing material that he believed to be potentially libelous. Cohen explained that he took action, “because of concern generated on campus about certain things in the issue pertaining to people. Surprisingly, the people implicated said nothing, but concern was directed to the VSA.” VSA treasurer Julie Salzman ’78 said, however, that the funds were not withheld. The Miscellany News
The President’s Distinguished Visitor for 1985, Harriet Pilpel '32, New York attorney and nationally recognized first amendment specialist delivered a series of talks on “The Real Meaning of the First Amendment,” “The Rights of the Press,” “Abortion and the Constitution,” “The Rights of the Artist” and “Pornography and the First Amendment.”
President Smith introduced Pilpel, speaking of her “great feeling for the individual’s right to plan one’s life with the maximum amount of freedom.” Pilpel addressed the audience on issues of censorship, “We have a guaranteed freedom of expression for the ideas we hate, and the more that we hate them, the more they need protection. …We are not a society which adheres to the will of the majority.” The Miscellany News
Pilpel was elected to Phi Beta Kappa during her junior year at Vassar, and she graduated second in her class of 269 from Columbia Law School, as one of a few women graduating. She contributed to many landmark cases during her distinguished career, including Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that led the Supreme Court to decide that the right to privacy under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.
The VSA voted to close Cardinal Puff, the student run record and magazine store. The closure was due to a debt that had, at its peak, reached $40,000. VSA president Vanessa Green ‘86 added that, “we are determined to stop blindly pouring money into Puff.” The store opened in 1977, shortly after the opening of the College Center. The Miscellany News
The VSA Alcohol Taskforce recommended that the campus become alcohol-free in December, in compliance with New York State’s new law raising the drinking age from 18 to 21.
Harvard professor Stephen Jay Gould, an influential paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and historian of science, lectured on "Time's Arrow and Time's Cycle" in Avery Auditorium. The lecture incorporated philosophical, religious, biological, anthropological, and geological issues. Though impressed by Gould’s knowledge of the subject, some attendees were displeased by his style of presentation. “He was authoritarian in his answers, dogmatic, and evasive. He didn’t answer people’s questions. It was like listening to a Ronald Reagan news conference.” The Miscellany News
A visitor to the college fell five stories from the roof of Main building. He was taken in critical condition to St. Francis hospital with two broken arms and a collapsed lung but appeared to have no spinal cord or neurological damage. He had apparently been drinking. The Miscellany News
Lester Thurow, professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, lectured on economic theory and the world economy in the first of “The Andrea Leeds Miron ’75 Lectures in Political Economy.” On the current state of the national economy, Thurow told the audience, “America faces the difficult task of learning to compete in a new world economy just at the point when America’s relative economic strength is weather than it has been at any time since the second World War.” Professor Thurow was an advocate of European and Japanese economic systems in which the government is very involved with the direction of the economy. The Miscellany NewsThurow was a founder of the Economic Policy Institute and the author of The Zero-sum Society: Distribution and the Possibilities for Economic Change (1980), and Head to Head: The Coming Economic Battle Among Japan, Europe and America (1992).
Howard Love, chief operating officer of National Intergroup lectured on "The Restructuring of Corporate America" in the Villard Room. National Intergroup was formed in 1983 as a holding company for the failing National Steel Corporation, a major American steel producer founded in 1929. The holding company supervised the division of National Steel into smaller, more focused units, the sale of one of its mills to employees and the sail, in 1984, of 50 percent of National Steel to a major Japanese steel producer.In his lecture, Love told students, “Change is one constant, and it’s a healthy one. Without change, our institutions would wither away and die.” The Miscellany News
U.S. Army demolition experts, the local Civil Defense Authority and the Poughkeepsie Police, Fire, and Health Departments were called to remove potentially explosive chemicals found in Olmsted Hall and the Sanders Physics and Chemistry Buildings. The authorities were alerted by the chair of the biology department, Leathem Mehaffey III, who had been informed that large quantities of a potentially volatile acid had been discovered in the Olmsted basement. The chemicals were removed to the Vassar Farm, where they were detonated with TNT. The Miscellany News