Recollections of a University of Maine teacher

By Richard C. Hill

Nearly 70 years ago, I arrived at Orono to teach thermodynamics to mechanical engineering students. University organization was simple. All five deans reported to the president, Arthur Hauck, along with the head of the ROTC, and the librarian.

The coaches reported to the dean of the college of education. The money side of the university reported to a treasurer appointed by a committee of the trustees. When Hal Borns of the Geology Department received a check from the National Science Foundation to cover some research he was doing, the treasurer of the university told him to take the check to the Merrill Trust, and open an account — the university accounting system was not to be contaminated with federal funds!

When my first semester was about one-half finished, I asked the office secretary if I could have another red pencil. “I gave you one” was her stony reply. One colleague, appointed along with me in 1946, received an offer from another university. He did not accept. Sometime later, while he was standing in line at the bookstore, the university president sought him out with the comment, “Harry, I’m really glad you decided to stay.” My friend was dumbfounded. The university was indeed “family.” In student assemblies, Arthur Hauck would be cheered by the students — mostly veterans. He acknowledged the greeting with surprise: “I don’t understand this. I was a sergeant in World War I.” More cheers.

Then three things happened. (1) The population of 17-year-olds declined. (2) Expectation of what a college experience should provide exploded. (3) In the aftermath of Sputnik, universities became awash in federal money.

Items one and two are obvious. Item three needs work. Looking back now, one may wonder about the panic instilled when the scientific and higher education community reacted to “the Russians are ahead of us.” It seems that all proposals for innovation were acted upon. Herding this newly exploding enterprise into some reasonable form gave us the university we have today. In the earlier time, faculty worked hard to assure the integrity of the curriculum. Somewhere along the line, this responsibility was lost.

Many staff people were appointed in the last five years of the 1940 decade. I am the last one standing. At age 97, I wish I could say something very important. Here is a shot: If one were to take a very large spatula, dig out around Marsh Island, break if free from the main land, float it down the Penobscot River out into  the gulf of Maine and sink it, very few people in Maine would know anything had happened.

Richard C. Hill of Old Town, now retired, taught engineering at the University of Maine in Orono.

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