Interview with John Newell, September 22, 1982

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Interview with John Newell, September 22, 1982
Newell, John ( Interviewee )
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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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INTERVIEWER: Willie Henderson
September 22, 1982

John Newell
DATE OF INTERVIEW: September 22, 1982
John Newell is a professor of education at the University of Florida. Born
in Concord, New Hampshire in 1926, Newell received his BA from Yale
University in 1950. He then received his MA from Southern Methodist
University in 1951. Following that, he taught for several years and earned
a Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1959. He began teaching at the
University of Florida in 1967, following stints at the University of
Wisconsin and Tuffs University. He is married and has six children.
The interview concerns Newell's teaching career and his research interests
at the University. Newell started teaching at the time when there was a
lot of campus unrest. He remembers that students took over classes.
Later, the unrest went away. From the beginning of his appointment,
Newell concentrated heavily on research. He was involved in various funded
and non-funded research projects. He is proudest of his efforts to
establish learning projects for Mexican-American children and other
minorities in school districts in Florida and Texas.
Dr. Newell has been involved in other projects, too. He has had over two
dozen graduate students, all of who have been successful, and he is
actively involved in the Northwest Boys Club.

H: To start, give me your full name.
N: John Newell.
H: And what is your academic rank?
N: Professor.
H: Can you five me some basic background about when were you born?
N: I was born in February 1926, in Concord, New Hampshire. I did my undergraduate
work at Yale University. I got my doctorate at University of
Texas at Austin in 1959.
H: May I ask where you went to high school?
N: I went to high school in New Hampshire.
H: Did you to go college immediately after high school?
N: No. I went in the service for two years.
H: What was your rank in the service and how long...
N: I was in from 1943 to 1946. I was a pharmacist's mate, second class.
H: After the service, then you went to college?
N: Right.
H: How did you finance it?
N: GI Bill.
H: And you went to Yale from there.
N: Yes.
H: That is where you received your bachelor's.
N: Right. 1950.
H: When did you decide to come to the University of Florida?
N: 1967.
H: Had you ever visited the campus before?
N: Never been in the state.
H: What made you pick Florida?

N: Well, I was looking for a job and I had two friends that I had known over
a number of years, and I met them at a convention and we talked about it.
They said, "Why don't you come down." So we talked about it, and I
talked to the dean; he hired me, and I came.
H: Do you remember exactly what year you came here?
N: 1967.
H: Do you remember the opening of the Women's Gym?
N: That is one of the old buildings. It was there when I got here I think.
H: What did the students do for entertainment?
N: Well, football games, sports, fraternities, sororities. Those were the
kind of troubled periods; so for entertainment they did lots of things
like protesting and things like that. We had the Vietnam War; we were
really for the first time going through desegregation; we had a black
group that took on President O'Connell at that time, and took over his
H: You were pretty young and things as being as they were, so you didn't
actively take part in these situations?
N: Well, what I took part in primarily was something over which I had no
control--the students would take over the classes.
H: They did?
N: Yes. They would walk into class and take over.
H: How can that be? They would say, "I'm taking over your class, professor"?
N: Yes.
H: And how did you ever regain control over your class?
N: You did not.
H: How did they resolve this situation?
N: I asked them to leave, and they would not leave. I just told the class
that they could leave, and I walked out.
H: Did this occur often?
N: Oh, probably over a two-year period, about a dozen times.
H: So I guess that mdde things pretty hectic in teaching quality education?
N: It was very hectic.

H: Do you think that the registered students that you were teaching suffered?
Or were they taking part in these protests actively themselves?
N: There was a small group that were in support of whatever group came in.
A lot of different groups came in. But most of them resented it. But
it was just physically impossible to teach class.
H: But you endured it and rode the storm and it just cooled down eventually.
N: Eventually it just cooled down.
H: When you started teaching here, I am sure that [there] were not many
blacks enrolled at this university. Did you have any in your classes,
or when do you remember the first black students you taught at the
University of Florida?
N: I have no idea.
H: None in the beginning?
N: Never paid any attention.
H: So you cannot tell me if when you first started, if there were any
blacks in your classes or not?
N: I have no idea.
H: Where did you receive your master's degree?
N: At Southern Methodist University.
H: Why did you choose Southern Methodist?
N: Well, after I got done [at] Yale, my major professor at Yale recommended
a classmate of his. He wrote him and said I have got a student, and so
I went down there.
H: Did you receive an assistantship while you were working on your master's?
N: Yes, I was what we would call a resident counselor.
H: But you weren't teaching at the same time.
N: No. I did not have a chance to teach.
H: Did you have to write a thesis?
N: Yes. I wrote it on a factor analysis of a personality test.
H: Who was your professor that directed you?
N: A fellow named John Geer.
H: What was his rank?

N: Assistant Professor.
H: Was there anything outstanding about him? Was he difficult to work for?
N: He was very easy to work for.
H: When did you receive your master's?
N: 1951.
H: What was the degree called? M.A. or M.S.?
N: Master of Arts.
H: What did you do then? Did you immediately come here?
N: No, I taught elementary school for two years, and in 1953 I went to the
University of Texas.
H: So you did not start work on a Ph.D. immediately? Where did you receive
N: University of Texas.
H: Did you go straight through? Some people work a while, then they stop
and go back; did you?
N: Well, I did both.
H: Was that difficult for you, working while working on a Ph.D.?
N: Yes. I was married and had two children.
H: That's commendable. So when you came to the University of Florida, you
were fully qualified.
N: Oh, yes. After I left Texas in 1959 I went to the University of Wisconsin.
I was there until 1962, then I went to Tufts University in Boston, and I
was there from '62 to '67. Then in '67 1 came here.
H: Who was the professor that directed your dissertation?
N: O. B. Douglas.
H: Was he easy to work for also?
N: No. Impossible.
H: Could you give a few of the habits that he had and things that annoyed
N: He was an old man, and so he would ask for corrections in the disserta-
tion, and I would do them, and and bring it back and he would not remem-
ber. So he did not like what I had done, and wanted me to change it back
to the original way.

H: Do you think he was pursuing your excellence in having a good disserta-
tion, or do you think he was exercising authority?
N: I think his intent was to try to get a good dissertation. It was just
that he was kind of old and forgetful and could not remember what he
told me from one day to the next. So he was trying to stretch things
out a little bit.
H: When did you hear about the job opportunity at the University of Florida?
N: February, 1967-
H: When you applied for the job, did you send a letter first? Could you
explain that once more?
N: I knew two faculty members at the University of Florida. Bob Brown [Bob
Burton Brown, Associate Professor, Education, 1965], who was a graduate
student at Wisconsin while I was on the faculty there.
H: He had been to Florida?
N: He was here in Florida. Bob Soar was here at Florida. I had known him
because we had done some of the same research together, and I met him at
professional meetings. I met them and told them I was looking for a
job. They were looking for someone in the area of learning, which is my
area, learning theory. So they went to the dean and got some people
from Wisconsin who had national reputations to call the dean and recom-
mend me.
H: Can you name one?
N: Herb Klausmeier was the one who did most of the work for me. The dean
called me in and we spent about twenty minutes together.
H: That was your interview?
N: The interview was up in New York City. He hired me. Then he let the
chairman of the department know that he hired me. I did not know the
chairman of the department until I came here. The chairman of the de-
partment opposed me.
H: He opposed you?
N: Yes. But we had a very strong dean.
H: How did you eventually resolve this outside conflict between the chair-
man and yourself? Why would he oppose you?
N: No.
H: Did you ever find out any suspicious...

N: Sure. I know exactly. They had two major things that the department was
doing. One was the area of human growth and development; the other was
personality. The dean felt that he wanted learning theory as a third
focus. The chairman did not believe that that was an appropriate focus,
and he said, "We do not need anybody from learning theory." But the
dean said, "No, I want to put someone there to balance out the department."
The chairman said, "No, we do not need him." They hired me anyhow.
H: So the dean really had the deciding voice. Well, he should, he is dean.
Would you mind telling us what they offered you?
N: They offered me twelve thousand, five hundred dollars for three quarters,
nine months.
H: And you had your master's and your doctorate. Was that typical of the
salaries offered?
N: Little bit low, but...
H: Were you married at the time?
N: Yes.
H: And you had two children?
N: When I came here? When I came here I had six.
H: Six children. Could I ask you your exact age when you came to Florida?
N: I am fifty-six now; I have been here fifteen years, so that is forty-six
about forty or forty-one.
H: What was your first impression of the town of Gainesville?
N: The town? Terrible.
H: Why do you say that?
N: Did not have any shopping. They were just building the Sears Mall at
the time.
H: What did you do?
N: When we wanted to shop we went to either Jacksonville or Orlando. That
is, everything except for grocery shopping.
H: Was that typical or just about all of professors here?
N: Yes.
H: What was your first impression of the campus now?

N: It was a pretty campus. There were some exciting people in the depart-
ment. I had to work for a while to establish my turf because the chair-
man did not like it. The department did not like it. And I was essen-
tially imposed on the department. The department never voted on whether
to bring me in or not.
H: When did you feel comfortable about the chairman and other things?
N: I never felt comfortable with the chairman. I was at ease though. That
was his problem, not mine. I knew the circumstances under which I came in.
H: What was your initial job title?
N: Associate professor.
H: Where was your department located on this campus?
N: The old Norman Hall.
H: Who was your immediate supervisor in that department?
N: Dr. Gordon initially. And then Dr. Combs took over as chairman.
H: When did Dr. Combs take over as chairman?
N: The year I came in.
H: What were your duties at first?
N: I taught seven undergraduate courses.
H: Were they all in Norman Hall?
N: Yes.
H: And that was during the period when the protest was going on and they took
over your classroom. After that period ended, when you were no longer
threatened by students taking over your class, did you increase your teach-
ing load, or did your duties change?
N: Well, I got involved in a number of research projects and worked on a num-
ber of grants. And they cut my teaching load some.
H: How was the quality of students that you/ were teaching? How was the
quality later, and what about now?
N: Well, the quality of the students was about what you would expect at any
state university. We had some very good students, and we had some very
mediocre students.
H: But in general, the students that you...
N: About average.

H: Compared to the other universities?
N: Well, they were not as good as the students I taught at Tufts and Harvard,
but then those are very selective private universities.
H: Do you feel the quality of the students now is still average? Or has it
N: I think the quality of the students has improved considerably.
H: Would you compare it to the other schools you were just referring to?
N: I do not think it is as good as them, but then, it should not be.
H: Why shouldn't it be?
N: Well, because this is a public university, and there is some expectation
that people will be brought in if they have a certain grade point average,
and SAT scores, etc. And it is a very large university. When I came here
we had about 19,000 students.
H: So this university was considered small when you came?
N: Well, I only had 3,000 students at Tufts University. So, you have got
3,000 students in the university, which means you have got about 900
freshmen being brought in out of 11,000 applications. So they can pick
and choose.
H: Do you feel you could be more effective at a school like that than you
are here?
N: It does not make any difference.
H: Are the students more or less respectful now?
N: They are much more respectful now and much too conservative.
H: Much too conservative. What do you call too conservative?
N: They are concerned about job security; you tell them what to do and they
will do it.
H: Do you see this in the classroom, or just on a teacher-student relation-
N: They will do anything you want them to do. All they want is a grade.
H: Do you dislike this?
N: Yes. Too conservative. I wish they had a little more chance-taking.
H: They are strictly by the book?
N: Yes, and a few more risks.

H: The teacher says do this, and we will give him exactly this and I expect
this grade.
N: That is the way it works.
H: Do you feel that this is brought about by the change in the way the uni-
versity started teaching the students? Now they give you contracts stat-
ing: you need this for an A, and this for a B. Do you think the univer-
sity caused this?
N: Well, I think it did to some extent, but I think the economic conditions
of the country induced it. People want good grades so they can go out
and fight for a limited number of jobs. It is job security.
H: I wanted to hit on your research interests. What were they over the
N: Well, I worked for a while on a project called "follow through," which
was working with so-called economically-deprived, low socioeconomic black
and Mexican-American students.
H: How did you go about doing this research? Were you supported by your
N: Oh, yes. Dr. Ira Gordon [Dr. Ira Jay Gordon, Chairman and Professor of
Education, University of Florida, 1967] took over as director of that proj-
ect and asked me to work with him. I worked with him for about ten years
on it.
H: What were the accomplishments?
N: I think we had a lot of accomplishments. The two school systems that I
worked in the most were in Houston, Texas and down in Hardee County near
H: Did you go to these school systems during the summer during the regu-
lar year?
N: Regular year.
H: Did you take time off?
N: Yes. I had to rearrange the classes and we covered each other's classes.
When I went to Houston, I would go for three days.
H: Did you teach during the summers?
N: No, we worked full-time on research in summer.
H: Was that your only research project?
N: No, I had some projects on learning theory. Some funded, some unfunded.
H: How did you manage the ones that were not funded?

N: Out of my hide.
H: Was that pretty difficult?
N: That is the way it works.
H: Did you find that more rewarding?
N: Well, you were doing your own thing.
H: Did you like doing this more than those that were funded?
N: No, I liked the money better [laughs] that doing it out of my pocket.
But sometimes you have some personal research you want to do that is not
fundable, so you go ahead and do it anyhow.
H: What research project did you find that you liked doing and you were most
interested in?
N: The "follow through" project. We spent a lot of time on that.
H: Has that been completed?
N: Yes.
H: Are you interested in any more research projects?
N: Yes, I am looking at a couple of things. Money is hard to come by.
H: So you are not involved in any research at the present time?
N: Not any funded research.
H: What are you looking at presently?
N: Well, I am looking at a program working with Mexican-American migrant
children in central Florida.
H: Why Mexican-American?
N: Well, I had worked with Mexican-Americans when I was in Texas, and then
on "follow through," about half of the students I worked with in Houston
were Mexican-American. And then I did a project down in Hardee County,
down in Wachula, on Mexican-American migrant children.
H: So you have done a substantial amount of work with minority students.
How much work have you done with blacks in particular?
N: Well, I am on the minority student committee.
H: At present?
N: Yes. I have worked informally with Ray Graves [Samuel Ray Graves, Head
Football Coach, and Director of Athletics] when he was the football

coach, and they started to bring minorities in. The first time they
really started including minorities in football, I worked with some of
those students.
H: Have you seen any accomplishments in minorities at the University of
Florida? How have they progressed from when they first started in with
Coach Graves?
N: Oh, just an awful lot better.
H: Are they as motivated as their counterparts?
N: No, I do not think so. But the quality of students is better.
H: The quality of all students and blacks in particular?
N: Blacks in particular are much better. We have gotten over our tokenism.
We were bringing in blacks as tokens. We may still be bringing some of
them in as tokens, but I think we have gotten beyond that. Our main
problem is that you get a real able black student, and everybody else in
the country wants him too. We usually cannot get that student.
H: What is your personal advice to blacks at the University of Florida who
want to succeed in the College of Education? Are there any tips you can
give? What attitudes do you think they should have to make it?
N: I think they are a little bit too touchy.
H: Too touchy?
N: I think they tend to react to things that happen to them.
H: In the past?
N: No. Say, at a class, as if it were racial discrimination. Where, in
fact, it probably is not.
H: Does that make the average professor tense? Do you concentrate extra in
not offending blacks or do you just teach your class normal[ly]?
N: I just teach my class.
H: Have you had any personal racial oppositions from students who try to
accuse you? How do you resolve the problem?
N: Well, it is their accusation. Let them worry about it. Just saying it
does not make it true.
H: So you [have] never been proven to have done anything.
N: No. I have been accused.
H: Accused. What about other minority students? You worked with Mexicans,
and this university has many minority types? Any problems there?

N: Well, one of the problems with Hispanics is they have a language problem.
It is a big barrier, a big problem for them.
H: Well, what do you suggest? Is there nothing a professor can do when you
have a language problem like this?
N: Well, you can very often get some help for them.
H: Does the university offer it?
N: No. They can go out and get it. You will want to remember that most of
these Hispanic students who come here are very wealthy. They are sent
here on a grant from their governments.
H: So they are highly prepared?
N: And highly intelligent also. They are good people; they are able enough
people; but they have been selected by their governments and have been
hand-picked by their governments. They come from the wealthy class; they
come from the group that is politically safe; their parents or other peo-
ple support whoever is in power in Venezuela or Brazil or whatever at the
time. They are given a free ride by their government. The government
picks up all the bills.
H: Do they have less pressures when they are at this university?
N: Well, they have a different kind of pressure in that their government
usually sends them here for a limited period of time, and they expect
them to be able to complete the degree, and then come back home. They
have a job waiting for them. They do not have to go out and look for a
job. There is a job already assigned to them.
H: Do you know of any consequences that occur when a student does not live
up to what the government expects?
N: Yes. They get pulled back. The government just brings them home. It
cuts off their money and tells them to Wme home. Sends them an airplane
ticket and says come home.
H: Do you think they suffer once they get there? Are they penalized for not
being successful?
N: Who knows? Heads of government change in South America.
H: Have you directed many graduate students?
N: Yes.
H: Can you trace some of the work you did in working with graduate students?
I see books just loaded up on the wall. [laughter]
N: Top shelf. I have probably directed a couple of dozen graduate students.

H: Do you know any of them that you have directed that have since been suc-
N: I think that all of them have been successful. They have gone out and
gotten the sort of jobs that they wanted, and are doing the sort of
things that they want.
H: So you have been pretty successful in working with graduate students?
N: Yes. I only take about one or two a year, though.
H: Why?
N: Because that is all I want to do.
H: Have you had any involvement in community-affairs while at the University
of Florida?
N: I have worked with the schools and PTA, with all my kids. I have worked
actively with the Boys' club.
H: Which Boys' club?
N: Northwest.
H: What are you working with actively?
N: Coaching.
H: Coaching what?
N: Football and baseball.
H: Have you been involved in politics?
N: No.
H: It never interested you?
N: It interests me, but when I first came here there was nobody from the
University of Florida on any city or county board. It was controlled by
the good old boys. Now it has changed. But at the time, it was the good
old boys. The old Gainesville group. They controlled it all.
H: Did that displease you?
N: Yes. It displeased me.
H: But now it is not that way anymore.
N: If anything there are too many university people on committees or boards.
I think it has gone too far the other way.

H: Why can too many university people on committees be a problem?
N: Well, we are only one part of the community. Why should University of
Florida faculty members be on county boards that are talking to people in
Hawthorne, High Springs, and Alachua, which are essentially agricultural
areas? They may not recognize what those people's needs are.
H: But do you think those people are competent enough to sit on a committee
and give accurate statements? Are they qualified to be on committees?
Maybe University of Florida faculty members are not in those situations
themselves, but are the people in those situtations. Are they qualified
to convey what needs to get accomplished?
N: Not always.
H: Is that more often than not?
N: I would say about fifty-fifty.
H: How do you solve that problem if there are too many university people?
N: That is what we have elections for.
H: Who made the greatest contribution to your department over the years?
N: Ira Gordon.
H: Why?
N: Well, he got us involved in a lot of grants; he got us involved in a lot
of research; he improved the quality of teaching in the department.
H: Is he still teaching now?
N: No, he is dead. He died of a heart attack.
H: Has he retired before his death?
N: No.
H: Is there anything you wish to add before we close the interview?
N: No.
H: Well, Dr. Newell, I enjoyed talking with you. We will have this on file
at the museum. And we will give you a copy of the interview. I thank
you very much.