All interviews were taped and documented.  They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library.  The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.

NARRATOR: Peter Sammartino
INTERVIEWER: Hilde Weisert
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    April 17, 1984
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (11/11/1984)

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(I) So you had some goals when you left that you weren’t able to fully accomplish. Do you know, have they, did they ever set up anything like the math and science college that you wanted or is that

(N) No, I can’t think of any new projects that Dr. Fuller evolved because whatever was there when I left, that’s what is there today.

(I) The late 60s and the early 70s were a time of academic turmoil. Now what did you think about what went on

(N) We never had any problems with student demonstrations. In Rutherford, we did have a few hours an abortive attempt by a group that came in from New York but in Teaneck, we never did. Very curious.

(I) What do you think is the reason for that?

(N) Well because our students were too serious. You see, they were all involved, they weren’t going to college simply because their families had a lot of money. They were going to college for a reason. They were busy with their studies. They, this doesn’t mean that they weren’t sensitive to issues because one of the things that we felt strongly about was that they should be involved in the persistent problems of living and that’s why we had the core curriculum. Core curriculum including contemporary society and economics. And we felt that we wanted students always sensitive to the important issues of the day. As you will see if you look through this book, I used to have some of the students spend three days down the Bowery. We used to give them $2.00. They would spend three days at the Bowery just living with the dregs of society so they would get to know how fortunate they were and what some of the problems were. And we were always having a continuous, continual stream of important visitors to speak to them to act as consultants, so to speak, on important problems of the day.

(I) Speaking of those problems, you were there when Harvey Scribner was the school superintendent in Teaneck and they had the voluntary desegregation of the schools. Did that have any

(N) No, we weren’t involved to that extent and our connection with it was with the high school principals rather than with the school superintendents. We weren’t involved there because segregation didn’t mean anything to us. We had black students, we had black members of the faculty. There was never any question at our university about segregation so that particular problem of Teaneck never really came into us. A very curious thing, the first time you know in novels and in books, names of colleges are mentioned. The first time that Fairleigh Dickinson was mentioned was by a graduate of Teaneck High School who then became a student at Fairleigh Dickinson. She dropped out after the first year. But she wrote a book called Surrogate Wife. She worked for the, now what’s the name of the outfit in St. Louis, the Johnson clinic and she was a surrogate wife and she wrote a very interesting book. But that was the first time that Fairleigh Dickinson was mentioned. And then Gore Vidal mentioned Fairleigh Dickinson in one of his novels.

(I) Do you remember the context? What was he talking about?

(N) Well he simply, one of the characters was professor at Fairleigh Dickinson.

(I) Well since you’ve retired, you’ve maintained a

(N) My title is Honorary Chancellor.

(I) So you, is that frustrating at times? Your vision was so

(N) Is it frustrating? Yes, the answer is yes, of course it is. It is just like seeing your grandchildren and you see the problems they have, you can’t interfere, you can’t do anything about it, you hope that they will do the right thing and when they don’t, you simply have to gasp, that’s all.

(I) Do you think the academic standards have stayed as high as they were when you were there or, has that been difficult?

(N) Oh yes because you see there was a, when I left, what I tried to do is to have the level increased by 2 to 3% a year, become more selective at the rate of 2 to 3% a year. I think that it has. I am not near enough to the specifics, near enough to the details of, but I think it has.

(I) The education, the graduate school of education, didn’t they have some trouble

(N) They had some problems. That was needless. That was under Dr. Fuller’s administration. The last thing I did was to set up the to have the old Board Of Education approve the doctoral program in education. But the program that I had devised and the one that was approved was entirely different from the one that Dr. Fuller developed. First of all, it took him 4-1/2 years after I retired. The one I had was first of all, the people had to have their Masters degree. Number two, there was a very careful screening procedure and I didn’t want the university to do it. I wanted three people from the outside to do, to decide who was to be allowed to come in. Number three; I wanted only twenty-five people a year to be admitted. I wanted a small program. Number four, they had to complete the work in three years because I didn’t want them dawdling. To me it’s, and I say so in one of my books, it’s really criminal the way in some graduate schools they just let the students take one course after another for years on end and never really, then when they finally come up for the doctoral examinations, then they find difficulty.  I feel that the selective process ought to be such that only the best people should be allowed to go into the program. Then the program had to be a concentrated one. I wanted them to do it in three years. And my idea was to bring in the spouses and say look, if you go into this you have to concentrate. You can’t be going to parties and having a lot of extra activities, you are going to be working hard for three years and it is going to be a sacrifice. Then I had arranged that their thesis had to be published and I had arranged for the Fairleigh Dickinson University press to publish it. Then another thing they had to do, they had to spend at least three months in an emerging country so that they would get to know the problems of an emerging country.

(I) This is wonderful. You should go do this now.

(N) So whatever my ideas were, they were packed away. Nobody paid any attention and they devised their own thing and really what happened was that, and this happens in all universities, one person apparently copied some material and it shouldn’t have happened but it did happen. It has happened in other places and so there’s the story. It could not have happened with the system that I had approved and that’s there for the record. All you have to do is to look at the original approval in Trenton. It must be there somewhere in the archival files.

(I) Let me ask you a couple of other questions. Your concept of the high school board of high school principals is, I never heard of that before.

(N) We were the only college that ever did that.

(I) And that ended when you retired?

(N) I used to know about 250 high school principals by their first names. I used to know their wives or their husbands as in some cases. And it was a very close articulation.

(I) You mentioned Charles Steel and Helen Hill. Is there any

(N) And Marinus Galante, you probably didn’t know him. He was an assistant principal in Teaneck then he went into industry and then I brought him over and he became dean at the Teaneck campus and he was one of those, he really was greatly responsible for some of the important growth at the Teaneck campus.

(I) So he went from the high school to

(N) He didn’t go directly. He went into industry first. He was personnel director of one of the big textile companies. And I took him back, brought him back into education and he was very successful as a dean, now they call them provosts.

(I) What would you say that Helen Hill’s contribution to Fairleigh Dickinson was in her

(N) Well first of all, she helped us in the matters of guidance and in the matter of articulation and whenever we had any questions, she was one of the people that we always went to for advice. For instance, I’ll give you an example. When the problem of getting more blacks into colleges evolved, I simply sent out a letter to all the high school principals. I said among your students, among your seniors, there must be some blacks who should be going to college and are not going there because of financial problems. Now in each high school, I gave the principal one scholarship to be given to a black student that felt should be given the privilege. It was as simple as that. And it got immediate results.

(I) A wonderful system.

(N) Now I did the same thing with the everything session but there you see I had a board of industrial advisors which was composed of the heads of some of the large industries like General Levy was the president of AT&T and General Johnson who was president of Botany Worsted and the president of Curtis Wright but I had a board of about twenty people. I wrote to them,. I said look, I said if you have, no I didn’t write, I brought them together. I said if you have any black people who should be given extra education so they could move up into supervisory positions, we’ll give them courses in the evening free of charge. They said well, Peter, that’s a good idea only why should you have to pay for it? We’ll pay for it. So we immediately had it on two levels of, now can you imagine if every college in the country had done that? And it was really very simple. It didn’t

(I) Do you remember about when you did this?

(N) Well I had, it must have been in the 60s. I have in the Teaneck Library, if you go to it, now you won’t find it that easily. They have the Fairleigh Dickinson archival series and in one of them I have the volume on important developments and I have the original letter, a copy of the original letter I sent out to the high school principals. I’ll show you one of those volumes.

(I) Who’s doing the indexing, is that .. that’s a major task.

(N) See. You have these in the Teaneck Library.

(I) So this is what I should look for?

(N) Yeah. Maybe I could find it easily. Here maybe you can look for it. I think it is in this volume but I’m not sure. It might be in my volume on letters.

(I) So I’ll look in this one or in letters.

(N) Oh here it is-25. Then Dickinson gave us the money to set up the funds. Now you asked for the date. See, it is 1959. Here is a letter to the high school principals. 1967. Now as far as I know, no other college in the country did that.

(I) With the high schools, you had built such a close relationship

(N) Very close. Not only the high school principals but the guidance directors and we set up what was called the regional guidance workshop and we used to have regular conferences at the college on how to achieve better guidance for the students.

(Wife) And we would have a whole roomful of people. We would have enormous numbers coming to those meetings.

(I) I was saying to Dr. Sammartino that the concept of the high school board and that cooperation, I’ve never heard that before. It is a marvelous, marvelous idea.

(Wife) and the first admissions committee consisted of me and three high school principals and they knew the principals who were coming in.

(I) Now that was at Teaneck?

(Wife) At Rutherford. In the very beginning, when we opened, the high school principals came in and sat at my desk when we went through these applications and they knew high school students and they knew grades and they knew the schools they were coming from. It was enormous insight.

(N) See I get all the credit for Fairleigh Dickinson but she’s done half the work. She said she did more than half. She is a good example of women doing the work and I’m getting the credit but of the role of women in higher education and have you ever met a woman founder of a college? Well, you are meeting one now.

(I) That’s right. This is a first.

(N) About a week ago, you’ve heard of Clark Kerr

(Wife) What killed me was he thought I was just a president’s wife. He didn’t know I was

(I) He didn’t do his homework.

(N) Well he had forgotten that and anyway he was male. When you said, you know, Sally didn’t get very much pay in the beginning and he thought he was talking about me as a president’s wife being paid and he said it is interesting you say that because today presidents’ wives are asking for salaries and he mentioned one college where they were paying the wife 1/4 of the husband’s salary.

(N) Or in some cases, 40%.

(Wife) And they said listen, we are not going to do all this entertaining and all this picking up the pieces and so forth for nothing. You are getting two people on this job. And so what made me think about it was Blanche Herman, not Blanche Herman, I’ve forgotten her last name, Muller, Blanche Muller was our first bookkeeper she was the wife of a minister. And she said, they don’t pay me. So I am going to work here at this little junior college.

(N) But I don’t think, I think a president’s wife should be the hostess for the college or university. At no pay.

(I) Did you have to fill both roles? So you were both

(N) That’s what she means when she says worked harder than I did.

(I) You didn’t have to worry about social life?

(Wife) We had a lot of parties.

(N) And we were always entertaining. We’ve had fifty seven heads of state come through the university.

(I) I saw in one of the books many

(N) Probably Harvard has more but not many colleges come up to that. Because I felt very strongly about getting having the students know what was going on all over the world and that’s why I had for instance in Teaneck I had a professor from India, from Yugoslavia, from Africa, from Afghanistan, from Greece. And then I have a picture in this book; you think you’d like to take this book with you

(I) I could return it to you if I can borrow it. It would be very helpful.

(N) Well, if you’d like to have it, I’ll be glad to let you have it and it will give you background but there’s a picture of a group; we sent our whole social science department to Western Africa, the Middle East, Russia and Southeast Asia. The whole department, not just a few. Just so they could bring into the bloodstream of the university a feeling for the problems of the world.

(I) When was that, was that

(N) Well the date is in there. There’s a picture of .. I thought it was in 1957 or so, 58. Well when you look for something .. so that no college gave its students an opportunity to get different points of view on the international level and that’s why I used to bring as many visitors as possible from foreign countries. For instance, the representatives ( and I have a picture of that too in there) I don’t have it but the two faculty authors have it in there, when the Gold Coast representatives of the old colony which was called Gold Coast and is now called Ghana presented their petition to the United Nations, I had them come to the university and present the same petitions so the students could see how a new nation was born.

(I) Oh marvelous.

(N) And we were so near, we used New York city as a laboratory and when I formed Edward Williams college, for instance, I had all the tickets for the opera, symphony, theater, ballet included free in their tuition. Their tuition included their books and all the tickets for these affairs. Why? Because I wanted them in addition to the courses they had I wanted them to have the experiences of going to these different cultural functions because if you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.

(I) Is Edward Williams still, the original concept is still

(N) Yes. Some of the things they’ve let slip by. For instance, they don’t, they still take the students to these various affairs but now the students have to pay for it because they found that it was too bothersome to, the way I had it set up. Well, but Edward Williams has gone the way, had been miraculously left.

(I) Is it still as small? You said it grew. How many

(N) Yes. They’ve let it grow too large. That’s my feeling. It now has about 700 students. See I had said 400 but that includes their Saturday college as well so actually they’ve, but it has had the largest growth of any private college in the country. It is one of the little known facts.

(I) That’s quite a statistic.

(N) And they only lose, the mortality rate at the end of two years is only 5%.

(I) That’s incredible. That’s very low.

(N) Probably the highest in the country. And when Edward Williams’s students go on to the university for the third year, they do better than the regular university students. Why? Well because they’ve been taught how to study, they’ve been given good guidance. Every faculty member knows every student. It’s a very close association.

(I) Does Edward Williams faculty also is Fairleigh Dickinson

(N) No. It is a separate faculty. They enjoy the titles and prerequisites of Fairleigh Dickinson university faculty but it is a separate faculty.

(I) Let me just ask you a few more questions and then I will let you get on with your evening. The Robisons gave the first big gift. They were a Teaneck.. who were they and what motivated them to do that?

(N) Well I approached them. I think he was Mayor of Teaneck. They lived in Teaneck. Oh here’s the group, see. It doesn’t give the date, does it? See, now here was the Prime Minister of Indonesia. When our students went to Indonesia, we lectured to them in Indonesia. There’s Bunch. There’s the group from the Ivory Coast that I mentioned.

(I) You’ve known everybody.

(N) Well, look, we had groups abroad. We had one in Liberia, we had one in Thailand, Singapore there’s a Fairleigh Dickinson exhibit. Permanent exhibit. We had a group in Italy. Of course, we have a group in France. But I still help them. Now you heard me get to the telephone. That was Dr. Healy. He’s in charge of our hotel and restaurant management group. But I’m having Lord Forte of England coming here next year. He has the largest hotel chain in the world. He pays the highest taxes in England. 250,000,000 pounds a year. But he’s coming. Now he’s coming for another organization that I’m involved in but I’m going to arrange for him to speak to our own students. I’m not doing it officially as Chancellor. I asked Dr. Healy first if I can manage it, can you want him to speak. Well of course he wants him to speak.

(I) Dr. Healy is Fairleigh’s

(N) Well he is in charge of the hotel and restaurant management students in Rutherford.

(I) You were saying the Robisons gave the gift

(N) Yeah because I naturally was looking for help. He gave a gift. Muscarelli, I don’t know whether you’ve seen that name, he’s one of the outstanding contractors of the country. He gave me $1,500,000 for his building.

(I) He wasn’t a Teaneck resident, was he? Muscarelli.

(N) No, he lives in Hackensack. But the building he gave was in Teaneck.

(N) Al Robison was a member of our board of fellows.

(I) Now you didn’t mention that. What’s the board of fellows?

(N) Well we had board of trustees, which at that time was a small one. As a matter of fact, this room was designed for the board of trustees. See there were only seven of us and you see we could sit around here very easily and there were one, two, three, four, five, six and then I had another table for the, because I acted as secretary. But then we had a board of fellows which was had about twenty people on there. And Robison became the second chairman of the board of fellows.

(I) What was his profession? Do you what he did?

(Wife) He was president of Anton Robinson Company, a textile company.

(N) Now you see, this is some of the, this picture was taken some months ago when we were doing what you’re doing. We were making an oral history of the, television, we were making movies see. This is Archival, printed form. But now we also started on a motion picture and we had some of the board of fellows members this man Leviton, he’s given about $1,000,000 to the university. Rheinauer, this is Sol Rosen, this is Feldman.

(I) Is that Matty Feldman?

(N) No, Ned Feldman. Ned Feldman lives in Englewood. What’s the blind man’s name, Janet’s husband. David Van Alstein. But this was one group. We took them in groups, four or five at a time.

(Wife) But I did want to say one thing. You had two people giving, Ann Robison. His wife, she has a personality and a career of her own. She represents a lot of Jewish organizations around the world. She goes to Israel three times a year, I think.

(N) Well I think you’ve got enough now.

(I) One more final question. Is there, you had Fairleigh Dickinson in two towns. Is there any character of Teaneck that effected how the Teaneck campus was different from Rutherford? Did the town.. did the character of Teaneck make the Teaneck campus any different from the way that Rutherford developed?

(N) No. What happened there was because Teaneck had more space, when we developed our school of Engineering and School of Dentistry, we naturally had to put them there. We couldn’t put them in Rutherford. So that Teaneck while it duplicated all the courses that Rutherford had, also had special courses that we didn’t have in Rutherford. So to that extent

(I) We are just about finished now.

 

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