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Interview with Saul Bachner, November 14, 1998 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Saul Bachner, November 14, 1998
November 14, 1998
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Interviewee: Bachner, Saul Interviewer: Dutka, Andrew Date of Interview: 11/14/1998 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 27 minutes

Dutka: Can we begin by telling us a little about your history; where you are from; where you were raised?

Bachner: Okay. Actually I was raised in New York City and went to the public schools in New York City. I played basketball in high school and ran the streets like everybody else who grew up in New York City. Then went off to World War II... I’m sure, four plus years Air Force, United Army Air Corps... in China and India the last year and a half before being discharged. Radio operator; dits and dots, Morse code, that kind of thing. Was discharged, went to school at Wayne State in Detroit. Got married during World War II and settled in Detroit. Went to Wayne State and majored in English and psychology undergraduate. And then in graduate school I was graduate assistant for an educational psychology professor and did some of his field research in the public schools where I was asked to teach a class now and then. I liked it very much and switched over to education. Got my life-time certificate in Michigan in English education. Taught public schools in Detroit after that for 21 years, 16 of which are in inner city. I taught the original Willie Horton, not George Bush’s, at Northwestern High School. He was a baseball player and then later on went pro with the Tigers. I also had Henry Car, another athlete, who got a gold medal in the ‘64 Olympics in the 220. Those are athletes I had as a public school teacher and as an... I also did the school newspaper when I first started teaching and then later on down the road coached J.V. basketball. Was a coach, taught English...and coaching was voluntary though, so I was never paid for it. Teaching I was paid for. And then went on for the doctorate which I received in 1969 in curriculum instruction. Focus was English education. Taught for a year as part of a sabbatical at Wayne State University, which allowed me to finish the doctorate. And then was offered a job here by Dr., Harold Hulon, who was then department chair of the Department of Education... was just a department. I came down here in August of 1971 and I’ve been here ever since. So, next year adds up twenty-nine years here; and fifty years of teaching. I get the watch, I guess, next year. I get the gold watch.

Dutka: What made you decide to come down to this part of the country?

Bachner: Well, I read... actually it’s a fluke. I’d given up trying to get a job at the time. Was stumped trying to get a job at the university. A friend of mine at the University of Michigan activated her file and said, “We’ll send you the... Michigan will send you the kind of job openings that match your credentials.” And this one came in and was just what I wanted to do. I wanted to supervise English teachers; teach certain courses. So, I called down here and applied and Harold Hulon came up to that area and interviewed about ten of us at his airport motel room. I remember I was first that day; nine o’clock in the morning. And we talked for half hour, forty-five minutes. And after what he called... called back up and invited me down to be interviewed, which I was by Dr. Hulon, Dr. Calvin Doss who has since retired, ____ who is still with us, I’m trying to think who... oh, and Betty Stife, who’s also retired. That was the whole... what amounts to current School of Education at the time.

Dutka: What was your impression of the campus when you first came here?

Bachner: When I first got here the campus... it was really an impressive looking campus. Everybody likes that red brick. And the nice green grass all around, you know, big city boy; that looks good. Weeds look good to me.

Dutka: (Laughs).

Bachner: The School of Education impressed me as a nice building. I guess we’ve outgrown it.

Dutka: Right.

Bachner: Because a new one is on the boards, I guess. And in... one year later, I think it was August of ‘72, the building was dedicated. Dr. __ King, who it’s named after, came down from Chapel Hill. There was a ceremony. It was really a nice occasion and there was still just five of us there. Then Dr. Hulon left and was replaced by Dr. Harkin, who came originally as a chair and then became the dean when we went from a department to a school. At that point, I think the School of Education, what used to be the Department of Education, took off; from five or six members originally to about 30 or 40 now with a lot more service to the public schools than it did originally. When I first got here, we just served New Hanover County. We sent out student teachers to New Hanover County and that was pretty much it. Then an accreditation group came in and suggested we serve the surrounding area as well; which brought in the adjoining counties: Brunswick County, Onslow County, Pender County, Bladen, I left out... and Sampson. That’s where we send them all to now.

Dutka: What was it like to get the accreditation? What was the process? What were some of the things you were involved in to get accredited?

Bachner: Well, an accreditation team comes to see if you’re fulfilling your mission. They wanted to see if we were doing, for instance, what an English education is supposed to do, as set forth by the national organizations; and questioned accordingly and gave us survey sheets which they read and then came back to with questions. There were meetings... different meetings of different groups. I’m sure there are administrative standards that had to be met; state standards that had to be met, that kind of thing. We were accredited with no problem.

Dutka: Now, tell me a little bit about some of your coworkers at the time and some of your first impressions about people that you worked with.

Bachner: Okay. Originally Harold Hulon was the department chair. He started the whole school. I believe it was at the Isaac Bear building down at New Hanover High School. That’s where we started and then moved over to here. Dr. Hulon, Calvin Doss, and Betty Stife were the first three members of the Department of Education. And they worked with the psychology department in a building where the psychology department was on the second floor and the Department of Education was on the first floor; which is still the same building. The second floor has been taken over since so that the whole thing now is the School of Education. We had to run those animals out of there. There were caimans upstairs... what the psychology department was working on and that kind of thing; and revamp the whole second floor. So you have a suite of offices where the dean is now. And expanded into some areas which added additional classroom space. For instance, 201 pushed out at first, then it was cut back down to allow for two offices where Dr. Jones and Dr. Moore are now. Those... one of those was Harold Hulan’s office. Then we moved upstairs from downstairs. They took the lounge, which was on the second floor; made two offices out of that. One of which I had for a while, before coming over here, and one of which Dr. Lockledge had. They restructured the building, in effect, to accommodate what was then the School of Education. Dr. Harkin being the first dean; Dr. Tendall the second. Dr. Harkin did some innovative things. Restructured the course work, of course in conjunction with the department. Added a good deal of course work that was essential; teaching and reading... those kinds of things. And of course, pushed us out into the additional counties that were added. Very ably I might add. He has since been succeeded by Dr. Tendall, who’s done various kinds of things; all of a positive nature. He’s ahead of the curve where the technology’s concerned. He’s been a step ahead of every movement that’s come in, which has allowed us to meet any kind of change required of us; with facility. And that’s where we stand at this point. And I think the next innovative move will be a preschool education, with Dr. ___ as the... I don’t know if the chair, but certainly that’s why she was brought in; as the acting authority, which I think is a good step. Which will provide more jobs for some of our kids who come through and prefer to... what’s the word I want; teach down, if that’s it, to an earlier age group.

Dutka: What do you see, in your time here, about the change in students? Have they changed as far as their outlook, or their goals or...

Bachner: Well, the goal of every student is still to get a job when he finishes and that’s not a bad goal.

Dutka: (Laughs). That’s true.

Bachner: I would say... well, we’ve had some... I can think back... we had some great students. I got a Christmas card from Judy Marshall, who was one of my early student teachers. Did her student teaching in Jacksonville and was quite impressive. She had a really... I’ll never forget this, sitting and observing her. She had a really difficult group. And they were kind of acting up in the back of the room and she just waved her hand like that, said, “Knock it off back there.” and they knocked it off. From a student teacher that’s assertiveness that doesn’t usually come with the territory.

Dutka: Right.

Bachner: Anyway, she... she did such a first-rate job that they hired her at White Oak a little ways down the road. She taught there a while and then left the area. She’s teaching in California now. I got a card telling me how much she likes it out there. And she graduated in ‘79, so that’s twenty years ago. That’s part of the, you know... one of the pleasures. She was really a first-rate teacher and to get a note from her saying she’s doing well... and how are you doing and all those kinds of things. I guess those are the... what’s the word I want; peripheral rewards; maybe they’re direct rewards.

Dutka: Did you... on the goals that you had set when you came on campus to today; did you achieve the goals that you wanted to.

Bachner: Well, my goals are always to be as good as I could be in the classroom. I’m a career teacher.

Dutka: Right.

Bachner: I would say yes. I got the... in terms of awards, I guess that’s one way. I guess a major leaguer would say I got the MVP So, last year Manny Sosa had a good year. He certainly deserved it. In ‘87 I received the Board of Trustee’s Excellence in Teaching Award. At that time that was the only award on campus, so it was quite an achievement. It’ always nice to be recognized. And last year... or two years ago, I forget which, the Distinguished Professor Award. So, I guess either my peers or my students, or how that’s evaluated, seem to think that I’ve done a good job in the classroom. I would say yeah... yes, in that respect I’ve done well and I still, you know, with this retirement I’m one of the original phase-outs.

Dutka: How’s that?

Bachner: Yeah. This is the first semester, or first year, of phase-out. This is my first year on the phase-out. So you get three more years and.... It’s still a pleasure and I innovated... I was.... One of the reasons I think I was hired was because of my inner-city experience. We were experiencing the integration of the public schools in New Hanover at the time, and Dr. Hulon thought I could offer a course which would give public school teachers a better idea about the black experience. And the 545 course I teach; Black Literature and Resources for Teachers was that course... well, that’s my doing. Last semester I... a year ago I guess, the fall of 97, I taught Sports Lit. and the Teaching of Literacy course. That’s the first time that course was given. And the 356 course which we offer... that’s our undergraduate course to comply with state mandate that every student has one course in the teaching of ___.

Dutka: Yeah. Tell me about the sports literature. I was told that you’re an expert on sports literature. How did that come about?

Bachner: Well, it came about growing up in New York City. I don’t know anybody that grows up in New York City.... I grew up in New York City when there were about ten dailies. The World Telegram, Journal American, let’s see if I can pick off a few; The Sun, which my dad brought home every night. I don’t think he knew what he was reading. It was a very conservative newspaper; and he’s a union organizer. But it had the best sports section in town. It had Grant ___. It had Herb Gorin. It had great columnists. I used to read the print off the page. And New York City kids have access to refuse cans, where people threw away newspapers. I used to pick up thrown away newspapers and read the columnists, who were; Bill Corm, at the time; Grant __; Jim Bishop; Paul ___, which is sports center and columnists for the New York Daily News. He’s since gone on to write bigger books and do other things. All those columnists are in the same columns. I read the columnists. I read the box scores. Next day going to school all of us, third and forth graders, arguing box scores. Giants, Dodgers, Yankee’s, in baseball. And Giants and Dodgers in football. There was a Brooklyn Dodger football team at the time.

Dutka: Really (laughs).

Bachner: Those days the Giants had Ed __ quarterback. And anybody could see a ball game. Fifty cents to get in; you go to the boot cheap seats. That’s were it started. And I always thought kids would be interested. You could do the kinds of things you want kids to do, with print information, by teaching. And __, if that’s a term, that there was an intrinsic interest in them. If the kid’s interested in sports, you give him book after book, column after column, or item after item to read; he sharpens his reading skills and becomes a reader. I read now. I’ve got my hand on a book all the time, which is what I think the aim of public education is; to make readers out of our kids. And I think it came out of that early experience with the sports... with the newspapers in New York City. And I did a research project __ in the archives. I can be an article. It’s called ‘Using Sports Literature with At Risk Students’. We did it over at North Brunswick High School. I got a small grant of about two thousand dollars and it impressed me... the thing I was impressed with was how far you can make two thousand dollars go. We bought paperbacks. We bought subscriptions to The Star News so we could do the sports section every day. We did things like that. The kids read. They enjoyed the course. And we made a couple of field trips. Came over here to see a basketball game. Had them write about it. We did a little video in the class room and that kind of thing, with reports. You can do a lot of things in an English class with young adult novels. John ___ novels, for instance. Sports, for young adults, sports novels; Hoops, Outside Shot and Bruce Brooks’s book Moves make the Man, which the kids like. And the most current, I think, and most interesting is a book called Skeeter by Kay Smith. It allows you to bring in different kinds of things. It’s a book about hunting and fishing. Basically hunting, where references are made to Jackie Robinson and so on. You can bring those things in, give the kids a lot of interesting things to read and do a little bit with the Civil Rights Movement. Gee, really blending into American history with that.

Dutka: Now, you were on campus during the late sixties, early seventies. Did you notice any, I don’t want to say rioting but, disturbances __....

Bachner: Well, let me tell you about the sixties. I taught public schools in the sixties. I was at a high school. Henry Ford; Bruce Kinser, who’s down here. I think he’s an alumnus of that high school. I remember once I was walking... it was the second floor.... I was walking down the hall and I looked down and this wave of students flying towards me. These kids had all left class for some reason of another. They were protesting something. I mean they were just running. I thought to myself, if I don’t get out of the way I’m going to get stampeded. So, I just stepped back into a little alcove, which was one of the rooms.

And they went by me. No. In those days, kids had sit-ins in the principals’ office, or outside it. They would cut and mask study hall; “we don’t think we should have study hall”. Those kinds of things. They wanted a voice. Well, you could talk to some of those kids reasonably; to others you couldn’t. They would just rebel for the sake of rebelling or whatever.

Dutka: Did you see it down here....

Bachner: No, not down here. I remember... we took a group of student teachers out to New Hanover High School; and Billy Mason was principal, and he would meet with our student teachers at the beginning of the semester; fall semester, spring semester, and tell them what he thought a good teacher was. And he started out one of his speeches with, “You know if you guys want to lead a movement, do it at UNCW don’t do it at my school. So, I guess he was a little fearful about leading movement. I didn’t see much of that here, no. I don’t think I saw... It took the form of student teachers going into the schools and teaching activists kinds of things. Had one student teacher at Onslow County, I believe it was at Dixon, who told the students to go down to a Board of Ed. meeting; there was an issue at the time that had, I guess, galvanized the community, and make their voices known. “Get up. Don’t be afraid to say anything.” he said at the free talk time at the beginning of the meeting. “Let them know what you think. You’re students. You’re gonna be affected by this.” That was the only form it would take; or , for instance, the American Indian movement at the time... I think Wounded Knee might have been part of the package. I had one student... I’ll call his name... name was Mets... just a good kid, good history student. He certainly knew his American history. He had... his planning was creative. He went out there and had kids debate both sides of it. And it wound up almost in a knock down, drag out war. All the conservatives on one side. They didn’t think Indians had any rights; and the kids on the other, the more liberal kids, thought they did. He caught in the middle of .... That’s the form it would take. The kinds of free speech in the class room, they believed in, with ... in sandy area issues, let’s say. Not in our... not here though. Although we had some kids who might have been more assertive in the class room about the way they thought it should be taught. I would listen to them and that’s all. Then I’d teach it the way I thought it should be taught.

Dutka: Did you find students... what’s the main difference in the students today and students when you started teaching? Are they more aggressive now... or maybe different....

Bachner: At the university?

Dutka: Yeah. At the university, yeah.

Bachner: I would say that they’ve gotten more aggressive, yeah. Because when I first got here they were, I don’t know if laid back is the term, or docile; that’s a little too strong. They were compliant. You would say a thing... and if a student tended to disagree with you he would... “I think this may in a way be inconsiderate”... “I would like to disagree for these reasons.” “It was nice;” that kind of thing. I would say they’re a little more aggressive now if they disagree. That’s all. Maybe a little more outspoken, too.

Dutka: I wanted to take this discussion to when __ publications that you were involved, or any conferences or anything that you want to talk about here.

Bachner: Well, I do. I’ve done presentations and conferences. Basically sports lit. I do the sports column, as criticism; the sports column as literature... that kind of thing. Well, I’ve done some... the novels of John __ at the state reading conference. Basically, and... well, I’ll leave it at that. That’s it. Yeah.

Dutka: I’m going to pause here for one second.

Bachner: Go ahead.

Dutka: Can you tell us a little bit about the surroundings of UNCW? The physical surroundings in Wilmington when you got here, compared to today?

Bachner: Well, when we first got here it was a small town, to put it in those terms, which means there weren’t that many traffic lights all over the place. I would leave my house in the morning and get here in about five or six minutes. I don’t know the exact distance. But there was two lights; that’s one light at Shipyard and College Road; another light at Oleander and College Road. And that was it. After that I was here. Now I think there are about six or seven lights from where I start to where I’m going; and the traffic... That’s a problem here I’m sure. The traffic is just tremendous in the morning. If you leave after 7:30 a.m. you’re going to be in a line. I do the supervision... I’m still doing supervision. I’ve got students at Dixon this time, which means getting over to Military Cut Off, then getting over to 17 and taking it up. If I leave after 7:30, it’s going to take me a good long time to make that trip. It’ll be a while until I hit the light at the beach if I go in that direction. And then a while from that across Military Cut Off until I hit 17. I don’t know what a while means, but... fifteen minutes. And then going north from that point it’s bumper to bumper, unless I leave earlier and beat the traffic.

Dutka: When you started here, how big were the class rooms? How many students did you have?

Bachner: Good question. Okay. Of course The School of Education has grown. I had regularly, consistently 25 or more. I used to hump courses. The 365 course which...356 course, which is a reading course; we had 25 to 30 from day one. And last semester when I taught it we had 35 in there. But it’s a required course, so you’re going to have what amounts to 25 to 35 normal load regularly. The Black Lit. course grew though. First course I taught... first was the... February of ‘72. That spring semester of ‘72 it was first offered we had 14 students. We went from 14, down the road to 40, back to the last time I taught it, to about 10. It’s come and go. Interest has waned I guess, or whatever.

Dutka: Can you tell me a little bit about some of the characters that you’ve encountered during your tenure here at UNCW?

Bachner: Well, I’d say probably, if you talk in terms of memorable, Tom Mosley. And if anybody’s been sitting here doing this and they haven’t mentioned Tom Mosley, I’d be surprised. Outspoken like... he was really the conscience of this university. You have a question; you ask Tom; you get a direct answer. And diplomacy was a low priority with him I think... just direct answers. Not intentionally (clears throat)...I guess the voice is gone a little bit here... not intentionally abrasive or anything like that.

Dutka: I can get some water.

Bachner: That’s Okay. Interesting. Tom Mosley... probably the most unique. I’m trying to think of who else we’ve had. Harold Hulan was an interesting guy. Conservative. I would just get him into an argument now and then by making some liberal statement. He was... he always came back with a right of center answer. And he was interesting. And he did a lot, I think, for the Department of Education, School of Education in its inception stages. He was an excellent administrator. What ever had to be done at the desk, he got it done, so that things could happen. Ran in a structured ship, which I thought was efficient, and got the job done that he needed to get done. Those are the two people that I probably worked most closely with. I’d add one more: Gus __ in the history department. Really knew his history. He was the Bo __ of this campus. Best dressed guy on the campus. And his classes were always full, so he must have been a first-rate teacher. Certainly knew his American history. Put me on about two or three books about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, which were really interesting, and that kind of thing. He knew what he had to know very well. Published one or two books which were well received... and was always affable and nice to be around.

Dutka: Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re doing now? What do retired faculty do?

Bachner: Well, I’m in the phase out, so I’m teaching half-time each semester. I’ve got two courses this semester. I had two courses last semester. That’s the gradual sinking below the horizon. But down the road? That’s a good question. I went down to WHQR and thought I would do commentaries on sports. But I thought I would do it the easy way by using columnist cut... story-line cut and that kind of thing, rather than write the commentaries.

Dutka: Right.

Bachner: But you have problems with clearance and copyright. At this point I would say when I get time I’ll do it. It takes a good deal of time to write a commentary that people should want to listen to; and that kind of thing. One of which might have been something like, you know, a foolish consistency is the hob-goblin of little minds. Not Don Capers, but Ralph Waldo Emerson. Although Don Capers could have said it... that would have been a good start. Then you deal with consistency and that kind of thing and you bring in Joe DiMaggio; 56 games in a row; that’s consistency... and that kind of thing. I don’t know, I would say the nice thing, you know, about retirement.... People say go travel. I have a son in New York City. I see him. Go places and read all the books you want to read, you’ll have the time. That’s the nice thing about this phase-out. Mornings are pretty much open. I read mornings.

Dutka: Great.

Bachner: It’s a plus. And maybe do some writing if I’m up to it. Anyway, I don’t think I’ll write my memoirs. I don’t have any memoirs. Let these be my memoirs, right here.

Dutka: Do you have any final comments, or anything else you’d like to add right now?

Bachner: I think this is a growing, thriving university. I think under the leadership... current leadership, Dr. Leutze and the deans, like Bob Tyndall, will be heard from in a lot of ways. Things look good to me. They’ve grown while I’ve been here and I would say, possibly brought us some good people. And one day the basketball team will make an NCAA bit. Maybe this year. Who knows?

Dutka: That’s great. Thank-you Dr. Bachner. I appreciate it.

Bachner: Thank-you.

Dutka: All right.

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