Campus Ministry in the 60’s and 70’s: Context and Observations by Howard Daughenbaugh



Campus Ministry in the 60’s and 70’s: Context and Observations

by Howard L. Daughenbaugh


Between July 1958 and July 1973, I was a United Methodist campus minister at Tulane University in New Orleans for eleven years and the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign for four years, so I want to offer some comments on  the dynamics of this important era in our history, along with observations about what we might have learned that can be useful today.

I begin by referring to an article, “My Hometown,” by Martin Marty, which was published in The Christian Century.  “With George Santayana I believe that one needs a locus standi, a place to stand to view the world.  Santayana had two:  the Spain of his childhood and the Harvard of his later years.  My places are Nebraska and Chicago.”  For me those two places are actually three.  They are Lake Charles, Louisiana; New Orleans, Louisiana; and central Illinois.

My wife Judy and I grew up in Lake Charles. In the days of our youth, it was the place where we had a marvelous educational and social experience.  The educational experience was unique because it was a city-operated system provided by a community of some 50,000 people in the Deep South,  and it was excellent because close to 50 per cent of our class attended college, with the majority completing at least an undergraduate degree.

The social experience in this community of our youth was developed by the high school we attended, the resources of the city, and the creativity of our parents.  It was healthy, taught responsibility, and encouraged a high level of enjoyment. From it we learned how to relate constructively to one another, how to develop leadership skills, and how to be responsible citizens.

If you think I’m painting an entirely too idyllic picture of this place of our youth, you are probably correct.  It did have its seamier side.  Racially it was a thoroughly segregated community. Religiously it was dominated by white, mainline Protestants which left little room for folks from other religious persuasions. However, there were several independent Christian congregations, a rather large contingent of Roman Catholics, and a Jewish congregation in the community.  Economically it became dominated by the petrochemical industry, so its environmental record left something to be desired.  Nevertheless, it remains as a “place to stand to view the world.” We often measure what we see in this world today, both the realities that need to be changed and those that need to be preserved, by what we experienced in that place of our youth.

My second “place to stand to view the world” is New Orleans, Louisiana.  I would risk the observation that New Orleans is to Louisiana and the world what San Francisco is to California and the world and what New York City is to New York and the world.  These cities cannot be confined nor defined by the states in which they are located. In large measure New Orleans is defined by Latin American culture in the same manner as San Francisco is defined by Asian culture and New York City by European culture.  These are, indeed,American cities but also they are international cities.

In June, 1958 we moved from Perkins School of Theology and Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas to Tulane University in New Orleans.  I had entered seminary in 1955 not knowing whether or not ordained ministry was the vocation God intended for me.  I graduated in 1958 with some certainty about ordained ministry, but I was unclear as to what expression of it I should pursue.  One day during my senior year I was walking by a large bulletin board in the seminary’s administration building and saw an announcement about a chaplaincy opening at a church related college. Intrigued I continued my journey straight down the hall into the seminary dean’s office.  As luck would have it, he had some time to give to a confused senior.

Merrimon Cuninggim was this gentleman scholar’s name. Some of you may recognize him as having served as the Executive Director of the Danforth Foundation following his tenure as Dean of Perkins School of Theology, and my district superintendent asked whether I would be interested in being the United Methodist campus minister at Tulane University. Subsequently the bishop appointed me to the Tulane Wesley Foundation effective July 1, 1958.

You might recall that in 1958 the Civil Rights movement was gaining a head of steam. Our society was beginning to move from quiet social conformity into a time when the centrifugal forces began to overwhelm the centripetal forces.  All of the component parts of our ordered society came under intense scrutiny.  It began with the Brown versus Board of Education decision which produced Little Rock.  It continued with the launching of Sputnik, and it shifted into high gear with the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, and Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, spoke, sang, and inspired us to face the injustices of a conforming society where a hierarchy of accepted values was suddenly and substantially challenged. As we recited “On the Road” with Kerouac, sang “The Times They Are a Changin’” with Dylan, and read King’s “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail;” it began to dawn on us that we were witnessing some significant alterations to the fabric of our society.  According to these prophets in our midst, it was no longer acceptable for the economic franchised to control the economic disenfranchised, for women to be subservient to men, for blacks to be obedient to whites.

Though these disruptions of the established norms occurred throughout our society, there was a sense in which they were focused on the higher education community. It was in that community where the opportunity to question and challenge existed as an essential ingredient to its enterprise.  It was also understood that the formation which occurred in a person’s life during those higher education years would have a direct bearing and substantial influence on her/his adult life and the society of tomorrow.

The academic community was seen as the place of greatest flexibility, freedom, and focus on the future. It was thought that the seeds of a society characterized by greater justice would have their best chance of taking root in our colleges and universities. Yet no one seemed to be able to forecast the turmoil that this vision for higher education would create within the academy.

In such an atmosphere in loco parentis was no longer applicable.  Students began to understand themselves as contributors to, not just receivers of, the educational enterprise.  They wanted greater influence in the curriculum and greater governing authority on the campus.  They thought house mothers were anachronisms and dorm hours incredulous.  It wasn’t long before the economic and civil rights revolutions were joined by the sexual and educational revolutions.

The educational enterprise began to question itself. Would the university continue to follow the traditional academic model or would it, in the vision of Clark Kerr, President of the University of California system, and Thomas Jefferson before him as he planned his beloved University of Virginia, become a collection of residential colleges fostering a sense of academic community between students and faculty?  Would it be a research community, a teaching community, or both?  Would it concentrate on specialized departmental education providing skills to be employed in careers or would it provide an education experience designed to create a purposeful and meaningful life or would it seek to offer both?  To be sure these questions were really not new to higher education.  However, they contained urgency about them in the 1960s and the early 1970s.

So the rather quiet decade of the fifties came to a close. Of course, the fifties had not been all that quiet.  There had been warning signs of what was to come.  If we had possessed the necessary eyes to see, and naturally some did, the Brown versus Board of Education decision would have alerted us to the Civil Rights Movement, Sputnik would have revealed to us the possibility of a technological revolution and a space race, and President Eisenhower’s farewell warning of the growing military/industrial complex would have signaled the economic challenges ahead of us.

Although no one was quite ready for what was to come, very few of us saw the new decade as a foreboding time. We did not dread its arrival. Even with the growing racial turmoil in our society, changing student and faculty expectations in our colleges and universities, a Cold War that was especially hot at the time, and the discussions surrounding the role and purpose of higher education, the sixties dawned with a great sense of hope and with the eager expectation of exploring new horizons in space and elsewhere.

As the decade opened, there arose on the scene a young Roman Catholic politician who eventually became the symbol for the hope and promise of the decade. At the same time there was a book published by a young Harvard Divinity School theologian by the name of Harvey Cox.  The title of his book was The Secular City. In it he proclaimed that there were no longer any unsolvable problems– only unsolved problems.  Today we see such observations as naïve.  Then it was the expression of a “can do” generation.

On our national scene that young President from Massachusetts reflected the optimism and commitment of a generation. John Fitzgerald Kennedy described that generation as “tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace,…and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of…human rights.”  On the international stage, a Scandinavian visionary served as General Secretary of the United Nations.  Dag Hammarskjold talked movingly about cooperation, not conflict, between the nations of the world.  On the religious front a short, rotund Pope, elected almost as an afterthought, gave voice to an ecumenical spirit.  This spirit, according to John XXIII, assured us of respect, even reconciliation, between the various expressions of the Christian faith as well as openness towards Jews, Muslims, and people of other religious persuasions.  He reformed, nay, he revolutionized the church.

Indeed the decade began with abounding hope, falling boundaries, and limitless possibilities. At least it seemed that way at first.

In the midst of this idealistic climate campus ministry realized its task could no longer be nor did it want to be defined as a youth ministry of recreation and fellowship for young adults. If it was to be true to its faith, campus ministry had to offer opportunities for students to wrestle with the economical, social, and educational issues emerging at breakneck speed in the society.  It had to engage the university in conversation about the purpose and style of education necessary in the changing society.  It had to provide religious education for students struggling to relate their faith to a society where the ethical issues associated with the exercise of power and the pursuit of justice were paramount. It was a heady, energizing time to be alive.

There was this feeling in the early years of the decade that we were engaged in a truly important enterprise where significant affirming differences could be made in the lives of people, the university, and the church. The very title by which we were known changed.  For example, I was no longer known as the student minister on campus or as the Wesley Foundation Director or as the United Methodist Chaplain.  I was now the Wesley Foundation Campus Minister or the United Methodist Campus Minister.

This change was significant in private, non-sectarian and public higher education, because it declared that we were no longer compartmentalized in a segment of the university community. In some cases, probably most, our linkage to the university remained through the dean of students or the vice-president of student affairs.  In some cases, we were given direct access to the provost or the president.  In virtually all cases we became integral participants in most phases of the university’s life.  Our relationships with the faculty and the administration were as important as those with the students.

The change was equally significant in the life of the church. Until the 1960s most campus clergy were not clergy at all; they were lay persons licensed as directors of Christian education.  Before the decade was half over the directors of Christian education were replaced by fully ordained clergy many with advanced degrees or post-graduate study under their belts.

What was not fully anticipated in both the university and the church was the profound alteration this made in our roles in each of these communities. We now engaged in serious conversations about the educational, theological, and ethical questions surfacing in face of the many issues arising in the society.  We were seen as members of the university community as a whole. In the church we were identified as an authentic specialized ministry with a clear mission.   With our emphasis on questions of ethics we bridged different academic disciplines.  With one foot in the society, another other foot in the church, our bodies immersed in the university, and our minds and spirits committed to all three we were able to communicate with all three in a manner quite unlike other vocations.

Some of the results of these changes were not comfortable for us nor for those with whom we worked and conversed. In the university the questions we raised about the educational process were not always appreciated.  The activities in which we engaged, primarily those related to civil rights and later the Viet Nam War, brought discomfort to the status quo in both the university and the church. In the church we were thought to have developed a prophetic edge to the detriment of what was thought to be primarily a pastoral vocation.

Still, the advantages of this change in our role within the university and the church far outweighed the disadvantages. We were discovering realities of fundamental importance to our lives in our society, the university, and the church.  It was a time of renewal and re-creation.  There was energy, purposefulness, and hope about who we were and what we were doing.

Late in 1963 all this began to change. The decade had hardly begun.  There was the assassination of the president on the streets of Dallas, Texas.  The United Nations’ General Secretary was killed in an airplane crash in Africa.  The life of the Pope in Rome ended just as the reforms of Vatican II were beginning to take root.  In 1965 Viet Nam began to explode onto the world stage.  Early in 1968 that young African American leader who spoke to us about a dream and taught us about non-violence in face of monumental oppression was cut down. A few months later another young Kennedy, an even more energetic and articulate presidential candidate, had his life snuffed out just as he was beginning to restore our hope and awaken our conscience to the plight of the poor in our midst and the possibilities for peace in the Far East.

It was said by one, “We will never laugh again.” The reply by another was, “Oh, we will laugh again.  But, will we ever hope again?”  A decade that began with hope, commitment to the ideals of our nation, and a concentration on the needs of our less fortunate neighbors ended in despair, anger, and self-centeredness.

Nevertheless, New Orleans and Tulane University became my second “place to stand to view the world.” It was a view filled with eagerness, anticipation, triumph, and hope tempered by tragedy, despair, and doubt. My life changed.  My vocation changed.  My faith changed.  I believe all three matured as a result of standing and viewing the world from New Orleans and Tulane University.  But the time had come to move on, and move on we did—big time.  We left behind Lake Charles, New Orleans, and Tulane for the unknownpossibilities of living in the prairie land of central Illinois.

All of my great grandparents and grandparents were from Illinois, so coming to Urbana, Champaign and the University of Illinois was something of a homecoming for me. One of my great grandfathers had been aMethodist pastor in southern Illinois. Another great grandfather served in Grant’s Army that secured Vicksburg, Mississippi and Mobile Bay, Alabama.  Among all the Civil War veterans buried in a cemetery in a small southwestern Louisiana community his tombstone is the only one which bears the marking, “Grand Army of the Republic.”

Not many weeks into my responsibilities as the executive director of an ecumenical campus ministry related to the University, we attended worship at Wesley United Methodist Church in Urbana. That morning the Associate Pastor of the congregation and the Associate Campus Minister for the Wesley Foundation introduced us to three Nobel Prize winners.  I knew, then, we had moved into a different world.  I had this strange sensation of truly being in over my head. Besides “I am honored to meet you” what else do you say to three Nobel Prize winners?  Words like “Wow” and “uh, uh, uh” came to mind, but I didn’t think they were appropriate.  I began to realize that we had moved to my third “place to stand to view the world.”

While in New Orleans and at Tulane, the Civil Rights Movement and the changing environment in higher education and the church defined our view of the world. In Urbana/Champaign and at the University of Illinois, the Viet Nam War and its impact on life in the university and the church defined our view of the world.

The issues of war and peace, not to mention the birth of a broadened environmental movement, formed the context in which the university exercised its responsibility in the educational enterprise, and the church gave witness to its faith at work in the society. The Civil Rights Movement and poverty were still key players on the stage, but they were now matched by concerns for the environment and the trauma of Viet Nam.

It was here that the disarray we had begun to experience in our last years in Louisiana gained momentum. Students who once had thought there were no boundaries to their futures now began to feel betrayed by a stagnant economy, by a government which had been so promising and now was a part of the problem, and by what they thought was an endless, aimless war.  University faculty experienced division in their ranks over the role social, political, and peace issues ought to play in the academy.  Tensions arose between faculty and administrators, because one was perceived as too closely allied with the status quo and theother as desiring an academy too far removed from reality. Campus ministers found themselves separated from the denominations that supported them, and those who didn’t experience such separation were, quite often, criticized by their colleagues.

All of this is grossly oversimplified; but I do believe it is fair to say that vision was lost and survival became the motivator in the church, campus ministry, and the academy.  As a result, distrust anddisillusionment with social and political institutions, including the university and the church, grew at warp speed. Robert Bellah and his colleagues in their classic study Habits of the Heart documented the collapse of community responsibility in favor of individual rights.  Entitlement became the operative goal.  A decade which began with such promise ended in the throes of trauma.  Preservation became more important than transformation.

As I conclude I would like to offer a few observations from these “places where I’ve stood to view the world.” I claim no particular uniqueness about them.  Others far more articulate than I have spoken about them.  Still, these gleanings from the sixties may have some relevance to us today.

First, we can remember that our best choices are seldom either/or.  More often they are both/and choices. As a matter of fact, it is the tension existing with the both/and that most often produces creative results.  As Robert Bellah would have us remember, we live as individuals in community.  Once we emphasize the one to the detriment of the other we start down the slippery slope of narcissism, on the one hand, and dominating control, even totalitarianism, on the other.

Beginning about 1965 we forgot what we had learned in the first half of the decade, namely that we shared responsibility for the well being of our communities, nation, and world. Our enemies did not evaporate, but we had learned how, for the most part, to contain them, even isolate them. This was done by addressing the legitimate concerns and grievances of most people with whom we shared life.

Following the assassinations and confronted with the ever expanding war in Viet Nam despair rather than hope became dominant among us. We turned inward and began to lose our focus on the shared responsibilities we had in our communities, nation, and world. As we stared into our mirrors seeing only our personal pain, we lost sight of our neighbors. The word entitlement was substituted for responsibility. Becoming focused primarily on what is good for me instead of upon what is good for us led to a concentration upon the accumulation of power rather than the pursuit of justice, though it is clear that justice cannot be attained in a given situation without the power to achieve it.  Much depends, however, upon our focus.  Is it on the power we want to accumulate or is it on the justice we need to pursue?

My second observation from the places where I have stood to view the world is one that I do not like to hear myself say, and it is probably entirely too cynical.  Nevertheless, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that there may be something about us that can tolerate only so much hope.  A cursory look at history seems to reveal that we, as societies, have not treated the conveyors of hope very kindly.

Fortunately, however, there have been those persons who have taken the challenge to repeatedly reintroduce the creative potential of hope into our lives. It is very encouraging to note that those who have been the most creative in their expression of hope gain our attention. So, it would seem that even as we are unable to live with them we know we cannot live without them.

As a result, this observation from the “place(s) where I have stood to view the world” leads me to conclude that we may now be entering another era where a focus on our neighbors, particularly our neighbors in need, is receiving greater attention. Perhaps, we may be realizing that we need to turn from an era of entitlement to a time of responsibility.  We may have begun to see that the exercise of self-centered power is, in the final analysis, self-defeating.  It may also be that we are beginning, once agai,n to ask the questions of justice for those among us who need it the most.  On that note of hope I’ll conclude.

This paper was originally prepared for the College Alumni Club at Illinois Wesleyan University.



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