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Interview with Jim McGowan, April 28, 2004
April 28, 2004
Dr. James K. McGowan, UNCW Professor Emeritus, studied philosophy at Mary Immaculate College, the Catholic University of America, and the University of Louvain. Joining UNCW's Philosophy and Religion Department in 1971, Dr. McGowan taught introductory courses, which he found most rewarding. In this interview, he discusses his schooling, theories of teaching, and years in administration, as well as the growth of the department.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: McGowan, James K. Interviewer: Hayes, Sherman / Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview: 4/28/2004 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 100 minutes

Introduction: Okay, today is April 28th and I am Sherman Hayes, university librarian at UNCW, with Paul Zarbock, Emeritus Professor Social Work from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and today we're interviewing Jim McGowan.

Hayes: Before we get going and rolling on this, why don't you tell us your full name and where you were born.

McGowan: James Kevin McGowan, born in Philadelphia, March 21, 1936. That's my vital data.

Hayes: He's legitimate, there you go. Before we get into the years and you've been at UNCW for more than 33 years, that's a lot to cover, but you know people just don't arrive from nowhere. Where did you grow up and how did you finally come to this particular campus?

McGowan: It's circuitous, right. I mentioned born in Philadelphia. I did my early years of growing up until about 13 in Philadelphia. My family is still mostly in Philadelphia. I went to high school in New Jersey at St. Joseph's Preparatory School in New Jersey right near Princeton, not part of Princeton but just across the lake from Princeton University in a town closer to Kinston, New Jersey. I did my high school and junior college there. Did my senior college part at Mary Immaculate College and Seminary School in Northampton, Pennsylvania.

Hayes: Gee, I don't know that one. Is that a small liberal arts type?

McGowan: Yes and church, seminary school related to the Catholic tradition and then also spent four years doing theological studies there. It was a six-year program.

Hayes: With an aim to become?

McGowan: I wanted to be a teacher and teach philosophy. Originally had some idea of going into a ministerial service, but I think I discovered on my way through the philosophy program that if the opportunity developed I would love to spend my life in philosophy. As it turned, out that's what happened. After finishing studies there I went to Catholic University, Washington, to do a Ph.L., that's licensed in philosophy.

Hayes: So what degree did you come out of after that six years?

McGowan: Six years? I had a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and four years of theological studies which I swear could have been a doctoral degree [laughter] because we had to study Hebrew and Greek. That was pretty much it.

Zarbock: But no credential was awarded?

McGowan: There was no credential offered there, the whole theory being well if you really want to live a life in service, you surely don't need credentials, so that was simple enough. I understand that about 10 years after I had left there, someone insisted that this be recognized and they started giving them the appropriate degree which they felt was the Master's. It should be at least a Master's.

Hayes: Right, Master's plus, I mean really.

McGowan: So, but what I did was go to Catholic University Washington for what's called a License of Philosophy, which is about the equivalent of a Master of Arts in Philosophy. The only reason I went for the Ph.L. was because I did have in my going to the University of Louvain in Belgium for my doctorate and in Europe, at least in Belgium, they were more familiar with the Ph.L. terminology.

Hayes: I don't even know what that is, Ph.L., I don't.

McGowan: License of Philosophy.

Zarbock: Why had you decided to go to Europe to continue to get your education?

McGowan: Well, I was focusing on medieval philosophy.

Hayes: How interesting. Some particular people? In other words, you were after...

McGowan: No, when I got going in the Master's program I think I just wanted to go into medieval philosophy so that was that in general. I did my Master's thesis on Robert Grosseteste, the English philosopher of about the 13th century.

Zarbock: Sounds German.

McGowan: Well, a lot of people insist it sounds like French, big head, gross tet, you know [laughter]. His specialty was optics and things like that. He was just at that point in history where they had started to develop like glasses, eyeglasses and things. So he was one of the people who were playing around with theories of light and he had all these physical theories of light, but at that time he just couldn't do physical things so he developed the whole metaphysics of light.

Hayes: Really?

McGowan: Yeah, and I think in Plato's writing somewhere there's a big pillar of light that runs through the whole universe and in fact not only runs through the whole universe but runs through the whole of existence. So I think Grossteste picked up on that and developed a theory that all of existence is anchored in light, this force of existence that we call at that point lux, that would be the Latin. So he had the theory and everything comes out from light and of course once you get going on something like that, then you can add on things like divine light, as we use that terminology today. See lux duvena, so you have divine light. You have the light of reason and we even use a very everyday expression, "Do you see the light?" "I have finally come to see the light." [laughter]

Hayes: Oh that's right.

McGowan: I have finally come to see the light. See, that whole concept of light was in there. So I did that at any rate for my Master's thesis. Now back to your question why I headed for Europe. Well, in medieval studies I was told much earlier than that by some professor, I don't remember who, if you're really interested in medieval studies, there's only one place to get serious about it [laughter]. I mean, go to the source.

Hayes: I was going to say you would have ended up in anthropology in America.

McGowan: No, that took me there. And as a fact for medieval studies in philosophy and I would suspect for many people even just in philosophy, the University of Louvain in Belgium is respected by many.

Zarbock: Now, what year did you get there and how old were you at the time?

McGowan: Let's see, I went to Catholic University in 1963, so that made me 27 and I spent just one year there because with the background I had, you know...

Hayes: You didn't need more...

McGowan: It was easy to take a two-year program and boil it down to a one-year program. It was two years, but see I had so much philosophy and theological studies, and basically all the theologically studies in the Catholic tradition are anchored in medieval philosophy, so you can't do theological studies in that tradition without really specializing in medieval philosophy. I mean, they just go together. A big name, of course, being Thomas Aquinas, and then all kinds of groups--the Bonaventurians and the Skodists and everybody else is roaming around the edges and all that--but Thomas being the main thrust. So at any rate, in 1964 then I went to Europe. Then the real journey begins.

Hayes: Well, before we go into that I just want to get a sense back. I mean, you're an amazing scholar and a teacher and philosopher. What in your family background sent you in that direction? Was there some logic? I'm always surprised when somebody picks philosophy. I mean, was there a professor in your family?

McGowan: No, no, the family was _____ immigrants, so they were from Ireland.

Hayes: And your dad worked in what particular...

McGowan: He was a carpenter, worked in Philadelphia, was a carpenter.

Hayes: Wow, I just find that fascinating because, you know, we think philosophy is not chosen by the masses and yet you were struck from a very early point.

McGowan: First class I had in philosophy. You know it's kind of a crazy thing, you just say I'm home, yeah. I really loved it and I can't say it was the professor as much as...I know that I was always being told that I was kind of a daydreamer, you know, and I've heard lots of daydreamers have more than just daydreaming going on. I'm just thinking, thinking, thinking so I suspect that might have been part of it.

Hayes: That's good. It doesn't matter, I was just curious because...

McGowan: I honestly think that, but I do know like other things that I had in my head as a high school kid, you know like maybe going off to work in missions in China. Of course I was naïve because China was already closed [laughter], they were all African missions then. That all just disappeared when I hit philosophy. I knew I didn't want to be a preacher anymore.

Zarbock: We were roaming around a little bit in your early history. Do you have siblings?

McGowan: Oh yes, we were 10 children.

Hayes: Ten children, wow!

Zarbock: Any of the other brothers or sisters enter...

McGowan: Several of them. Let's see, at least five I think ended up in the teaching world, so we all sort of had a lean toward teaching. I had a grandmother who was a teacher in Ireland, so there's something in there. I know that.

Zarbock: What about religious ordinance, any of the five?

McGowan: No. Let's see, my brother Joe just got himself a degree and taught high school in the Philadelphia area for a while. My brother Tom just retired from teaching in the Philadelphia area. My sister Kathleen is a librarian actually, she just retired in Florida as a librarian. Actually, she was a teaching librarian. She wanted to teach people about books.

Hayes: I just think that's fascinating because you know from your working-class background, how did your folks react to a Ph.D. in philosophy? Could they connect at all with what...

McGowan: Oh yeah, well if you're from Philadelphia, the first topic has to be sports [laughter], and that takes care of that. And I grew up knowing enough about sports to know that whenever I go home, I'm not a Ph.D. in philosophy. I'm a Philadelphian who talks sports [laughter], so that takes care of everything. Why waste the energy and think well maybe I could slide some philosophy in? I will say this though, if you're looking for familial influence...

Hayes: Well no we're not...

McGowan: I mean, for the record this is something that has always been important to me and I've made sure that my children knew this, was that when I was somewhere between the ages of 11 and 13, which I think is sort of a key age for a boy, I had a good father image and all that I understand. My father was a carpenter and he had a weekend job working at the YMCA or something like that and he took me with him every Sunday and he'd go out to work. He had like a two-hour break or something when he wasn't doing any work. We sat and he read to me, and you know I find this amazing because he came from Ireland, raised in the Irish Catholic tradition and he read to me all the text that he could find from Hinduism and Buddhism and Taoism and do not ask me where he came on that. I haven't a clue.

All I know is I was a kid sitting there and he was always saying to me, and he went to church every morning of his life, every morning that guy was up at the crack of dawn and off to church. He would just say to me, "Now look when it comes time for you to pick a religion, if you want to pick a religion, it's supposed to be this, you know Catholic." But he said, "Now you pick the one you really like or don't pick any if you don't want it. Live that one thoroughly, but you be sure to believe that all of them are true." Now this is back in the 40's.

Hayes: Interesting.

McGowan: Yeah, isn't that fascinating and I think that had a terrific impact on me. It just really changed my whole world. Without my knowing it, it changed it. I mean I didn't know where I was headed like no one does when you're 11 or 12, but I do know that that stayed with me and basically shaped in me what we call in philosophy an openness. You can't do philosophy unless you're unbelievably open to ideas. I think he laid the groundwork. I do know this: he was the same person who was always saying to me, 'cause he tried to teach all of us carpentry [laughter], he said, "Now look, you do want to get yourself a good education because you're not going to make it with your hands." [laughter] So I think he saw a picture but he didn't have any idea where I was heading toward either. But he did push us all to finish at least high school.

Hayes: Yeah, and you know when you were growing up and so forth finishing high school was unusual and then to have so many go on to college, that has to be some family influence.

McGowan: Yeah, and I think he was a major one. And I remember the house had an awful lot of books in it. He read and read and read. So it's a wonderful memory to have, I think, of a man who had to get up and go to work every day just to pay bills and keep a big family going.

Hayes: One of the interesting things I always find about people like you in philosophy and religion is that you seem to be able to study and work and be open, but you still have your own belief and faith, but people almost act as if because you can be open and study all of these, you must have no faith. But that wasn't the case. That wasn't what was driving you. You were a practicing Catholic. That was your orientation.

McGowan: Yeah, back then I was. So then north to Europe I went and that opened up a whole new world. I think in just going to Europe I basically developed my philosophy of education because of the journey involved. Okay, so I got to Paris and I knew, this was in July, and I knew that in October classes started in Louvain and all the lectures would be in French so I had to get up to speed in French. My background in French at the time was two years in high school and two years of college, book French and that was it. Never really left that northeast corridor somewhere between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. That was my world. So I went to Paris and I was very lucky. I mean, you want to talk about good fortune. I started off with one of those Aviance Francais schools, which was useless because it was all just a roomful of American tourists who wanted to learn basic French so that they receive some phrases in French and I realized that wasn't going to get me through graduate school [laughter].

But the house I was staying in in terms of where I was boarding, I expressed my concerns to the fellow that basically ran the place. He said, "Well there's on old artist living here and he's about 65 years old, his wife died within the past year. He's all alone, has no family, is a very lonesome man, does not know a word of English and I'm going to hook you up with him and I think you'll be talking some French before October." I was.

So we worked out a fantastic deal. I mean, he was one of the traditional poor French artists, if you will, living in Paris. So what we did, his name is Baneyre and had his own influence on me. So we worked out an agreement. He was happy as a lark to be able to talk to somebody and he was a talker and he did not talk a word of English, but he was a marvelous teacher as it turned out. We agreed and he and I would walk Paris every day from 8:00 in the morning til whenever we couldn't walk anymore and I would cover lunch. Didn't have a whole lot of money, but he ate very simply anyway, so we managed lunch every day.

I would cover lunch, and he would have me talking French before I got there and by darn. So the journey started. I said it had a tremendous impact on my whole theory of education I know because it's really a lonesome journey to enter another language and not be able to talk.

Many of this have been down this road, but it was kind of lonesome on the beginning, and he talked and talked and talked and he just walked me everywhere and he walked me to every church in Paris and every gallery and we'd stop at cafes and we walked every park. I mean, really, I have the feeling I've walked every street in Paris--at least the old Paris.

He explained stuff and the lonesomeness turned into a kind of joyousness as I realized I was understanding some of the things he was saying, and then of course uncontrolled joy the day that I said something and he seemed to understand what I said in French, you know.

Hayes: Was he pointing, did he do words and things like...

McGowan: Yes, and every evening he made up a list of stuff. I mean, he was a terrific man really. So he made up a list of words that he wanted me to master for the next day. Well, the next day would come and darn if the words wouldn't be showing up in the windows of the stores. It was just a marvelous experience so it was really nice, it was very, very nice. Of course, at this point I'm 29 years old and, you know, even then you just simply could not pick up a language as quickly obviously as a 10-year-old or something or even a 20. Well, all I can say is when I went through Louvain, I obviously did not master French, but I had enough to feel confident that I could make it. So that was that. And then my journey ended, I never saw him again by the way you know.

I went back to Paris about a year later to that place. I looked him up and he was not living there anymore and they didn't know where he'd gone. They thought he might have moved on to Travasse or somewhere. They weren't sure. So I never did meet him again.

Hayes: Fascinating.

McGowan: Yeah, it's kind of sad, but I learned a lot from that too, you know, namely that Paul was just in transit, you know [laughter]. So you offer what you have to offer as you're going on by and that's that.

Zarbock: The French you learned has a Parisian accent?

McGowan: Oh no, my wife would say the French I learned is a very, very American accent [laughter], not his, but mine. When I talk French, it still sounds very American and this is 40 years later [laughter]. That's just it, you know. I can speak it pretty well, but it comes out with an American accent so that's that. So that was my experience there. The principles involved, though, is this journey really from one's own homeland is symbolic and that's just from America to Paris, but going from your home language all the way through some kind of nothingness into another home language and you really need to start from zero there and express your feelings, especially your feelings, in another language. It's almost impossible, I'm thinking, because you know you learn truly how to express your feelings when you're a little child in a language.

So you can come up with the vocabulary, but I have heard that the vocabulary can never be steeped in the history or the moves of a human being that grew up in the language. It just cannot be done.

Zarbock: What about humor? I've been told that humor is difficult in a foreign language?

McGowan: Well, this is another aspect of it. You can pick up the intellectual part of the humor. I can read the jokes and understand them. I've had the experience of telling a joke in French and it lands like a rock because there's something that's not there. I think it's the same as the emotion. Humor is loaded with emotion or emotional history, and I'm just convinced that very few people can truly tell a good joke. It's not telling a joke, it's being humorous in another language. I think it's very difficult. That's all there is to it. And yet when someone, like in my wife's family over a holiday get-together, tells humorous things, I click on them, but I know I don't click on them the same way as my wife does. It's just not a possibility because the history is not there and that's something we have to realize.

And that has terrific overtones for teaching because here you've got all these kids in a classroom and my history is not there and their history is not here and whew, North Carolina history is not up in Pennsylvania, you know. So one of the hardest things I always found in teaching, but most joyous, was to try to actually strip down everything just like that journey into another language.

Get to the zero point and really let the other say "This is who I am," because we get close to that, who I am move wise, which again I think is almost impossible. The closer you can get, I am convinced the better you can be a teacher.

Hayes: Interesting.

McGowan: But boy that takes work [laughter]. It really takes work.

Hayes: And we'll get to this later, but philosophy has a whole set of almost code words and definitions that your student seldom came with, right? I mean, isn't that part of the problem in philosophy? Because you talk in philosophy.

McGowan: Of sorts, yeah. That's about the best challenge in philosophy. I suspect it might be true in other fields as well, is the 101 class see, the introduction. I think I flopped with it as often as I would succeed, if I can use the word succeed, simply because the major task is to try to get to a starting point and often I discover if I start in January, we finally get to a starting point somewhere around mid-April.

Hayes: Oh my gosh.

McGowan: Uh-huh, so you see what's going on between January and mid-April? Entertainment [laughter]. But you know trying to actually get everybody in the room to a point where we can find us in and now let's give this a try and discover. Most aren't interested in giving it a try because it's the end of the semester and they figure well we were supposed to do that on the first day, but you can't do that on the first day or the third or the 10th. That's why education has intrigued me all my life. It really intrigues me, you know, to say well before education can really begin, 'cause it can't be just lecturing. Anybody can cover the material. I mean really, if it were just a matter of covering material I would say let's clear out the whole faculty and bring in internet. I mean, it will do a much better job.

But if you want to have the true learning process going on, you not only have to have people involved like professors and all that, but they have to be people who are committed to stripping down every assumption they've got and every conviction and all the knowledge they have, which is paradoxical because you have to have the knowledge, but you have to strip it all down and enter the role of the person who does not know whatever it is you're talking about.

So now you've got this big pile of philosophy, but you're dealing with the student, under the term of the student. You're dealing with the person who does not know this, may not even be interested [laughter]. Which is the next two chapters, but then you can't say here you're going to know it because I'm going to teach it to you. You really have to become the same person as the student and push yourself to the point of not knowing so you start where he or she is starting.

Hayes: Interesting.

McGowan: Isn't that neat? I find it, at least that's been my model of education. One of the best ways I found is to, first of all, I don't forget my journey into French and that journey across nothingness. Because I remember that artist was waiting for me. He just waited and figured sooner or later I would get there and I did. Sooner or later I started feeling at home in that language and then I could start talking it. Well, I tried to turn that process around and say what I've got to do is try to journey into the student's world and the day that he or she senses hey this guy is kind of at least sensitive to my territory, that's the day that they start turning. If they don't feel that or experience that from one end of the semester to the other, then they're not going to enter into philosophy period.

Hayes: Do you think that philosophy is even more challenging than other disciplines that are more fact-based or, you know, a chemist who can go "Here's a chemistry," and this is self-worth because you're so much about concepts. Do you think that philosophy is even more challenging?

McGowan: I don't know. I'd like to think that one can't be a true chemist unless one actually strips down every assumption he has about matter.

Hayes: That's true.

McGowan: From a chemical point, you have to strip everything down and start at zero. Now if you just start with all the terminology at chemistry, you can just master it all and somebody can say great chemist has taught that stuff like nobody's business but may never out-journey to nothingness and come out. So they may have a Ph.D. in chemistry for all I know, but they're not really a chemist, a chemistry-based person. I don't know how to phrase it. But it's the same in philosophy. I mean, anyone can really master telephone books. You just get the material down in any field. But you know the true scientist, the true writer, the true artist, I think the one who wants to live in philosophy, all have to go through the same process: leaving one's home, getting into nothing and then starting anew. Pretty simple theory of education.

Hayes: But you bumped into this woman you were telling us about. You might venture there in Paris.

McGowan: Who becomes my wife? [laughter] I didn't get there yet. She might be saying, "Well who is this woman?"

Hayes: Oh no, I thought that this was the time, I'm sorry [laughter].

McGowan: Oh no, that's going to be at least a year later, you see. I left Paris and then went up to Louvain in Belgium and there was the Center for Philosophy and Medieval Studies, which also is the heart of the philosophy program at Louvain is absolutely marvelous. I found there an intellectual community that was just a dream. That's all I can say. I mean, these professors who were totally committed to working in philosophy. I mean, they were just committed to it. And of course Louvain, like many universities in Europe, I hope this is still true of them, they worked on this very simple model like if you have the previous degree, come on in. So I had the previous degree, namely the license in philosophy, so they said come into our doctoral program. But their joke was, now let's see you get out [laughter]. I thought that was great. It was wonderful. And their model of education is so distant to everything we have in America, it's frightening, but I loved it.

I'd like to think that if I had gone there at the age of 20, I would have also loved it.

Zarbock: Could you back out and scratch out a part a little bit when you say their philosophy of education was entirely different. What is there and how were they different from? The old compare and contrast.

McGowan: This is pretty easy stuff to handle here because in America it's all boxed. So a Master's program or a Doctor's program involves x number of more credits/hours. See, so we have 124 credit hours and then you get 36 more credit hours and then you get some more and then you write your thesis and things like that. You attend all these courses and it's all pretty well block step and you know where you're heading all the time. Now maybe that's necessary in some fields, I just don't see why it's necessary in education. At Louvain, it was basically, first of all I wasn't sure that I was really registered at the university. That was a difference right there. I went to the Center and I met a secretary and she said, "What's your name?" and I said my name was Jim McGowan. She asked if I'd brought any proof that I had an education with me, and I showed her my transcripts and all and she looked at all that. I said fine and she asked my name again and I told her my name and she write my name down and said fine. That was it.

Zarbock: That was the enrollment process.

McGowan: That was my enrollment process. So that was one difference right there. I'm not sure I'm here [laughter]. Ok, so I'm assuming some of these things have changed with the internet revolution. It was on a wall in the library for the Institute of Philosophy that just had the list of the lectures and topics that would be given that year. "Good, what do we do with these?" and they said, "Well do whatever you want with them. You can attend them or not attend them, that's your choice. Do you know what you came for, there's the key. You know what you came for. Well do it, whatever you came for." You know, if you came to party, I guess they'd say, "Well go party," but this is the hooker. Let's see you get out of here without a degree. So if you came to work and study, you'll get your degree. If you came to party, then that was your choice. It was that simple.

So they had a list of lectures and the different professors who were giving lectures and I really love this approach myself. I happen to like to study philosophy so I was going to be there and I went to the lectures. And this is very free-floating. They come in and most of them come in and give one lecture a week like Aristotle. He came in and he lectured on the text on Aristotle once a week and he picked his texts so he might be lecturing on the metaphysics or the ethics or something.

There was a history of philosophy based. So then somebody else was lecturing on Thomas Aquinas, and then somebody else lectured on Plato, and somebody lectured on DesCartes and all different kinds of people. And so that's what they'd do. And you'd just coast through the year that way. That's about it. No examinations, no tests, no anything you see. So you just keep moving along, moving along, moving along and then you know the end of the year is coming. That's inevitable, it's like death, it's coming, you just don't know when.

But in May they would put up these lists and lists of people's names who were registered, and my name was on there so I said, "Good, now I know that I'm here." [laughter] And there were instructions to be sure that you contact professors from with whom you want to discuss the topic of the year and on which you wish to be examined and that's that.

So what I had to do was go around to all the different professors and say well you know I want to discuss whatever and they'd say fine and make up a date and that was that. Now you say that there have to be some requirements. Well their requirements for the doctoral, you should be able to manifest the background over your time here in metaphysics and ethics and in epistemology and the whole list of all the fields.

Since we're studying all of these from a history point of view, we should be able to discuss Aristotle on the metaphysics and Thomas Aquinas on the metaphysics and whoever else and DesCartes on theories of knowledge plus Aristotle on theories of knowledge, so you'd better know your stuff. They didn't care if you did it on the first year or the second year or the third year or when.

So that's the difference right there. We just would not handle this is America like this. It doesn't sound organized enough.

Hayes: You had to do reading on your own then. Did you meet with other students in setting?

McGowan: Well these were the options you had. Most of the professors ran seminars on the side, optional seminars and if you were really interested in Aristotle, you could go to the Aristotle seminar. Typically, there would never be more than four or five people there and the professor and he would talk about Aristotle. You can see the example. So these things are floating all around the place, these kinds of seminars. And you could go to them or not go to them. The only thing that was really structured and a very measured course was the symbolic logic. That was a very structured and measured course and it was devastating. Now here's a fellow who gave a lecture once a week, but a friend that I knew who had been there already said it made a difference if you went to his lectures, but make sure you go to his Saturday morning seminar, never miss it and you'll see why at the end of the year.

So I did go to his seminar every Saturday, which was kind of tough because you know being in Europe, Saturdays and Sundays would have been nice to travel and all that, but I said well, I was told sacrifice your Saturdays so I did. But the nice thing was that at the end of the year there would be lists of expected readings.

If you wanted to take your exam in metaphysics with Professor whoever, here's the reading list. Actually, reading lists were available back in October, but the main thing was you were on your own to read all this and study and then you could go to a professor anytime you wanted to to discuss or ask or whatever.

Then comes the exam times. So you make up your schedules. Then you would go to either their office or to their house. Most of these people, most of them live like monks. The simplicity of their lives was incredible. There was just no fringe. I still have the memory of going into just about every professor's office and there was nothing in there except a little tiny table and a couple of chairs and books and that's it. No pictures and I know that's had an impact on me 'cause in my office there's just nothing. In fact, our house looks like that. People would say is this a monastery or something like that.

But at any rate, you would go in and the exam would begin and you could bring anything you wanted. It made no difference, but the professor would start asking some questions. Typically, the examination would be sort of like here's a volume of Aristotle's Metaphysics, open it up to any page you want, explain it to me.

You know, that's it, open it to any page you want. The most frightening one was we had this one reading there who taught Plato and she also said open it up to any page you want and explain it to me. This was when I was very appreciative of the classical background I'd gotten in high school and college in Greek because when I opened up the book it was all Greek. It was a Greek text of Plato.

Hayes: Oh my gosh.

McGowan: And the teacher said take any passage you want, it's yours. She kind of grinned a little bit and just said, "Well you did come for a doctoral degree, didn't you." [laughter]

Hayes: Oh my gosh, and this is all in French?

McGowan: This was all in French.

Hayes: So you're not doing any English?

McGowan: No, they were very patient with the Americans. They kept it in French. They insisted on doing everything in French with us because they felt well, if they baby you, talk some English, you're not going to get anything from it. So they insisted on that and we were making mistakes grammatically and all, but they could live with that. So these were just interesting things that happened. So that one exam in logic, that's the one that I never will forget... I could have never done this to a group of students myself, though I've been tempted a few times because it takes a special kind of courage.

What he did was this fellow had written a three-volume work in symbolic logic and he marched us every Saturday through these three volumes. Just chapter after chapter after chapter and it was painful. You couldn't do the second chapter unless you had gone home and spent plenty of hours mastering that first chapter and so on. It was all just mathematical process.

I suspect it would be about the same as taking a real high-level mathematical course here and you just can't trick anybody or fool around with this. Either you know this stuff and you know everything that feeds up to point x or you don't, that's it. Well we got through the three volumes. The last chapter of the third volume was the last Saturday seminar.

Then there was an examination--and that was the only communal examination we had in that program--and he just came in and he had one question. "Having completed the three volumes, what would the next chapter be?"

Hayes: Wow!

McGowan: That was all.

Zarbock: What about fees and money to do this?

McGowan: Okay, this is another major difference. I'm assuming the fee scale has changed, it has to have changed.

Hayes: And I don't think they live like monks anymore.

McGowan: But when I was there this is for a doctoral program and I was there two full years and then I came back to the States and I returned again to defend my thesis. But for each of those two years I paid $120. This is 1964-65, 65-66 and $120. Because I was out of country, I had to pay $120 and that also covered all my medical. Obviously, everything was underwritten by the Belgian government I assume [laughter]. I assume it was the Belgian government and we paid the $120 because we're not Belgian citizens. But that covered everything, the dental, eyeglasses. That has to have changed. I mean the economy of the world ____. I think, though, right now the actual tuition at the doctoral level is somewhere between $400 and $500.

Zarbock: This period of your education was not terribly long after the conclusion of World War II.

McGowan: Right.

Zarbock: What, if any, were lingering attitudes and remarks about you as an American?

McGowan: Oh okay, this is Belgium in 1964, so it is 20 years later. One of the nicest surprises I had with Louvain was going to the University of Louvain library, which had been bombed out during the second World War, but it's nice that you brought this question up. And I remembered standing out there waiting for it to open one day, and had just doodled and was looking at things and all that and I noticed writing on the bricks. And I see purely by coincidence the one that I happened to see. My brother Tom was teaching at Plymouth White Marsh High School and it was just outside Philadelphia. And I was standing there, and I said "Man, am I imagining things?" I swear I'm reading "Plymouth White Marsh High School," and I looked at that brick and it said "Plymouth White Marsh High School." So I started to read more bricks, and there were bricks all over just like the bricks you have out here in front of the library.

Hayes: Right.

McGowan: And they had American high schools all over the place. So I did check to find out what this was all about and there are beautiful stories in here that I don't know who thought the project up, but that library was reconstructed with money raised by high schools in the United States and sent to the University of Louvain. It had to have been a University of Louvain alumnus somewhere in the United States. But to me that's a beautiful story. It's probably forgotten now, but apparently the money was raised by high schools all around the country and then sent off to the university to help. I mean, obviously it couldn't have reconstructed the whole place.

Hayes: Right.

McGowan: But it certainly, I think no matter how much money or how little it was, this message: the Belgians love the Americans. They really just love the Americans. I enjoyed my two years there were great. I had a wonderful academic experience. I met a group of Belgians who had basketball teams and got me to play on their basketball team in a little regional league and everything, so I got to know Belgians that way. They loved their beer. The café that sort of underwrote the basketball team, I guess it was a typical Belgian café. But everybody in the town, it was this town of Kesselo, it wasn't far from Louvain, they all had their mugs. Everybody had their own personal mug hanging up in the café and they had these little tiny mugs for little kids. I thought this was hilarious, and they have all strengths of beer in Belgium. And the little kids, they had to get them started early, but they were like 3- and 4-year-old kids would get these little mugs of beer [laughter]. You wanted to know another difference.

But you know, I never saw problems. You know, they grow up and it's just part of life to them. There's none of this business, "Oh you're not allowed to touch that until you're 21 or 18." You know, parents knew how to correct a kid and tell them, "Well you don't want to drink too much of the stuff." It'll make you sick or it makes you crazy or it does something. They just grow up with that. To me that was another difference. They seemed to know how to enjoy life and take things easy.

The Belgians were still suffering I think, you know, it was the 60's, with terrible memories. The residence where I lived there, I remember one man telling me that two of his brothers were shot in one of those line-ups, you know. He was the brother in between and he said they took all the men between 20 and 30 or something out because somebody had blown up some train tracks and the Nazi officer said, "Well we want the people who are responsible to step forward," and nobody stepped forward. And I said, "Yeah, I think we've seen this in movies."

Hayes: Yeah.

McGowan: It's a horrible..., but you know the man...he screams, he cries. He said that they came down the line. "Since no one would step forward, they just pulled out every other one and shot him right there in front of the rest of us." And he said, "I saw two of my brothers, one on each side, but not me." So they were living with those kinds of things, you know. Their economy was already bouncing back.

Hayes: Good.

McGowan: You know, in the sixties but the memories were I guess, I guess you live with that stuff till the day you die, you know. But that was Louvain, it was a great place. The professor I had for my doctoral thesis, his name was Fernon Van Stienburghen and he was a delightful man, just absolutely wonderful and recognized in Europe as one of the top two or three medieval scholars.

Hayes: And who did you do your thesis on? A particular person or particular book? Or...

McGowan: Yes, yes. Again, see their focus was all historical, and at the time that I was there they were really stressing the importance of a text edition work, which is fascinating. Which reminds me, I've got a copy of my doctoral thesis upstairs and I was just about to throw it away and I said I wondered if they want this thing in the library.

Hayes: Sure.

McGowan: But it's there at any rate. But the text edition work, medieval text edition work is absolutely fascinating. I knew nothing of it when I went there, but...

Zarbock: How do you define it? Text edition?

McGowan: Okay. I can pull it out for you. The medieval texts, of course, were all handwritten, you see before printing. They're all handwritten and there was a medieval and it's all written in Latin, so you had to be pretty good at Latin. And I was real strong at Latin so there was no problem. Um, but what I didn't know was medieval shorthand. And there is a medieval shorthand that's absolutely frightening, I think. [laughter] So I had to take a couple of courses of what is called "Paleography." Okay, paleography being the science of handwriting, and it had to be medieval paleography so you could figure out all this stuff. And then another little hooker that's involved in text edition work is medieval text comes without punctuation. So it's in shorthand and without punctuation.

Hayes: And it's in Latin.

McGowan: And it's in Latin. So you had to work your way through these three things. They didn't expect you to do big, big projects. They just wanted to do a project [laughter]. And anybody who that could finish one of the projects, they figured well you've earned your medieval degree [laughter]. You've done well, you know, real good [laughter]. So I did... His name, the one whose text I worked on, was Gerard Belunia in Italy.

Hayes: Right.

McGowan: And he was a master in Paris, a professor in Paris. They called them the masters because he was the professor at the University of Paris, somewhere between 1300 and 1317. The exact dates aren't here.

Hayes: Right.

McGowan: But he was there and he was teaching at the university and he was one of these fellows... It was a period of terrible skepticism, you see, and Thomas Aquinas of course had died in 1274 and had built this marvelous superstructure and lots of people thought that was great but other, some people didn't. Of course, the condemnations in Paris came in 1277 where the church authorities thought that the professors were getting just a bit too liberal, so they started condemning a lot of their theses and things like that. So there were some tough days there in the last quarter of the 13th century, the 1200's see. And a lot of the professors gave up and left and moved out. A lot of questioning developed, lots of people saying, "Well there's nothing to all this talk going on about gods and heavens and everything else. We don't have any proofs of this," so already the beginnings of what we call modern science were creeping in. Let's have a little proof here. How can we really prove it? And with all these arguments that we have that we call proofs don't really prove it, so this was building.

Well by the time you get to 1300, it turned into a kind of skepticism that's not known. Most people think medieval, middle ages, everybody just said "Yes sir" and marched. Well they didn't, at least not the intellectuals. They mainly never did [laughter]. So it was just this period. It was a pretty rough period and a lot of cynicism, which always goes with skepticism I think, had crept into the university world.

Well this Gerard Belunia shows up from down in Italy. He's a monk, most professors were monks. He saw the situation so he set out to write a summa because the summa was the major work of the time. These were just a summa being a summary, very long, but still called a summary of the thinking and writing of a given professor.

So he set out to write I guess the mother of all summas or something like that. But his introduction says, I'm going to write something because there's so much doubt, so much skepticism that we have to clear the decks and just come up with servitude for our young students. We can't let our young people's minds be all mixed up so I'm going to write a summa now that will just clarify everything, start all over again, get it all done and get this thing done the right way to get rid of the doubt. So that was his project. He was obviously naïve.

So he set off and most summas run four to five volumes and 150 questions per volume and all this, so it's usually a very lengthy thing. Well he waded in there, and traditionally you start off with the question "Is knowledge possible?" epistemology question and he handled that one alright. He thought he handled it alright and then he moved into the question of God. Can we know God? The traditional answer, it seems not, but then it seems we can. Of course, you always end up by saying we can, you see.

He started in there and he got about halfway into that when he said, "You know there's a word in here we really have to clarify and pin down once and for all, it's the word causality." So once we know exactly the nature of a cause then we're all set. Then we can get back and demonstrate that God is the first cause, you see. So that took him off at an angle into Aristotle stuff to clarify what causes.

And of course he got so far into Aristotle, and in Aristotle there is always different meanings of the word cause. He's got ____ of them all over the place. And so he's trying to put them all together, and he stopped at question 17 and went silent. He left his teaching position and went back to the monastery and that was the end of him [laughter]. So I have to assume at that point, he cracked [laughter]. That's all I could figure. Nobody knows really.

Zarbock: Or the truth was revealed to him and he didn't want to hear it.

McGowan: We can't know. I think after he found out___, maybe we're stuck, but he was centuries before his time I felt. At any rate, so he had this unfinished manuscript, if you will, and it was written in the same Latin and shorthand and all that. What happens then, there's an original manuscript and typically that gets lost somewhere, but people were always copying it and as you know, the copying business is working your own ideas, a little variation.

Hayes: Side note [laughter].

McGowan: A few extras get in there, run into the main text and everything. So modern edition work involves going back and trying to round up all the available texts you see and then trying to put them into families and very often you'll find you may have say 100 different manuscripts and can boil them all down say to five families or even two. I think in my case it came down to two or three families. Now there were manuscripts, Gerard had managed to get out from Paris so apparently he was popular for some period of time even if it was an incomplete summa. They had worked their way out into what is now modern-day poems in other parts of the world, pretty far east, see they had gone out. So these things were just sitting typically in monastery libraries but sometimes in state libraries for centuries. And this whole movement was started in the 19th century and then really picks up speed in the 20th century of medieval text edition work involves people going out and first somebody cataloging all these texts that are unedited, just sitting there so that when you know what is in the different libraries around whether it church or state.

Then if you're interested in a given author trying to bring all that back and then start doing text edition work. So that's what I did on Gerard Belunia and I tracked down and it can become very, very expensive to try to get copies of everything, or at least it was then. So they did say before you even collect any, trying to find out what kind of information there is that leads us to conclude what are the family origin ones and if we can get to those most basic ones, just get copies of those. So it involved doing all that.

And then once you get it, sitting down, and this is where you do have to start living a very quiet life and trying to move that Latin from medieval shorthand Latin into medieval longhand Latin and punctuating the whole darn thing and then getting it all typed up so it becomes 20th-century typed medieval Latin.

It's a long, slow, steady project. It's not a highly creative thing kind of project you know, but not everybody can sit down and write a new philosophy. In fact, we've only got about 10 people ___west that have done that. So you know we're not waiting for another ______ or Descartes or Aristotle. If one shows up, fine, but that's kind of doubtful. So this was great discipline, I think, and again it was one of these things that had an impact...

Zarbock: I'm sorry, I've got to challenge. As a philosopher, you're doubtful that something might happen.

McGowan: Well you know it may. I leave room for the possibility, but in the practical arena, I'm doubting it. Nothing big is going to show up here in the States [laughter]. We're just not even encouraging it.

Zarbock: Ye of little faith [laughter].

McGowan: Well that's the way it works, you know. That does sound pretty negative.

Zarbock: Well it doesn't sound very philosophical [laughter].

McGowan: Well, you know, I just retired [laughter]. But that was kind of it.

Hayes: Now in your thesis, though, would you then comment on what changes had happened and what that meant? I mean, you weren't just doing the text?

McGowan: You do the text and what you have to do is blend in and make decisions on what looks like the most authentic text, the most valid. Now I was working with the summa and since all the summas were about, they were sort of stylized so just knowing the summas of the previous century, you'd say he simply has to be heading in this direction. So the surprise came when Professor Steenburghen as my guide and myself, where we got to these sections where he finally starts wobbling, you know. He was moving along with certitude his first year for questions and then you could sense there is something shaking apart in here and then he stops.

So we had to at least come up with the conclusion as to what was the most authentic text, had to get it all punctuated and get it all print to form and then you're supposed to write a commentary on it.

Hayes: That's what I'm saying.

McGowan: Oh yeah, yeah and the commentaries, again you know, they were very interesting people. They were just calling for a brief reflective commentary. Didn't have to come up with any big time theories or anything, but just say well here's what we see. Again, to me, the importance for education was to actually go through this discipline of trying to assume nothing. Just saying let's start as simply, don't jump in too soon, things like that. I just thought that was very valuable for my teaching life, to try to be as attentive as possible to the text.

Hayes: We're just going to change tapes. --TAPE BREAK--

Hayes: We've been going for some time, but it is still April 28th and it's Paul Zarbock, Sherman Hayes and Jim McGowan. And Jim why don't we capture your wife and then let's see how we get into UNCW or at that time was it Wilmington College?

McGowan: UNCW. Ok, capturing a wife was not easy [laughter]. Alright streamline, I finished up my two years of studies at Louvain in '66. Now I did not have my doctorate degree, but to back up on meeting my wife, I was working in medieval studies into my first year '64-'65 at Louvain. My Professor Steenburghen recommended to me that I go to a medieval institute in Quate, France. Quate is just this lovely medieval city that puts on a six-week institute every year. They accept only 40 people a year for this institute. He said, "I could write a letter of recommendation for you and guarantee you'll get in there, but its two values would be it would get you beyond medieval philosophy because it's not for philosophy. It's for culture and art and history and warfare and treats everything, you see. So it's medieval life and that would just give you that nice rich background in six weeks. The people they have giving the presentations are all top level. And the second thing it would do it would surely help you improve your French." He said that gently. Okay, fine. So off I went. About the first person I met walking into the door of the institute was a beautiful young French girl standing there at the door welcoming everybody. And she eventually became my wife. She was 21 at the time, so she's eight years younger than myself, seven. But she was there and I thought of course she was part of the institute. But she was coming too, you see, as a student as a member of the summer program, but she got there and I think she had so much class about her that they put her to work right away. The people of the institute said stand here and welcome people.

So that's how I met Odiel _____ and of course those six weeks we became good friends, but this was a fascinating institute. There were 40 people there from 17 different countries. It was absolutely incredible. People from Japan, none from China at the time because they couldn't get there, several countries in Africa and then eastern European countries. And it was marvelous to meet them then because they had to get these special permissions. I still remember one fellow explaining he was allowed to come but only on the condition that his wife stay behind. See that was the system.

Zarbock: Hostage system.

McGowan: Yes, hostages. But that was a great experience. And at the end of the summer, Odiel and I were just good friends. You know, we had a great time together and all that. So then I went back to Louvain. Spent my second year there. Of course that second year was pretty much just working on a thesis. Then I came back to the United States with my thesis almost finished. I had started teaching. I went to a seminary school in Florida, Bolton Beach, Florida, St. Vincent's Seminary and taught philosophy there. So that was pretty much the story that got me back over to the States. A little aside there, just something that ran through my mind. I think it's important, I won't dwell on it a long time though, that the philosophy institute in Louvain required every student going for a doctoral degree not to get another doctorate in some other discipline, but to take the equivalent of a doctoral-level program in another program. I think that's absolutely fascinating.

Hayes: Really?

McGowan: Yes, I do not know if they still require that kind of thing, but they said like if you were really science-oriented, go over to physics or go over to biology and get yourself... You don't have to do a doctoral program there, but you have to take what a doctoral person would be taking so that you will have a background, so when you start talking philosophy of science, you'll know what you're talking about. So what I did, I wasn't heading that way. So I went over to the psychology program. Again European psychology is very much what we call humanistic psychology distinct from behavioral. Actually through that institute I happened to meet Carl Rogers, the American who was invited over there. He was invited to be there for six weeks at a program. They encouraged me to stay around because they said they needed someone there that understands English. So I met him during that time. At the time I did not know who Carl Rogers was, but by the time those weeks were up I sure knew Carl and I use his work so much in my teaching.

Hayes: Really?

McGowan: Oh yeah, again he's another one of those people that just passed on by and left a mark on my existence. It's incredible. So I've done seminars twice on him here because of his background in existential philosophy. Then they didn't teach existentialism at the University of Louvain, but what I discovered when I came back to America was that they had just steeped us in existential philosophy. My professor of medieval studies interpreted everything he was doing in medieval studies by way of existential literature. And I didn't even know it at the time. So at any rate I came back to the States, started teaching.

Hayes: How'd you come here then? What were the circumstances that got you to Wilmington?

McGowan: This is where there may be proof that there are gods around, okay. What happens is '66, '67 I taught, went back and got my doctoral degree in the summer of '67. Ok, came back and continued teaching. It was a brand-new school down in Florida, it was not yet accredited, all right. We wanted to have accreditation from the Southern Association. So we applied, and they said, "Ok we'll be sending a team." The chair of the team that came to accredit us at St. Vincent's in Florida was Paul Reynolds, who was at that time the Dean of the College of Wilmington.

Hayes: Oh, that's right.

McGowan: Yeah, Reynolds Drive there, he was the dean. He had been the Dean of the Faculty at Florida State and he had retired and came back home. He's from Wilmington, this is his hometown. He came back here to retire and apparently they were looking around for anybody who could still breathe here, to get a school going. And they brought him back in the service and made him the Dean of the Faculty. So he came down. He was the chair for the committee that would do the evaluation for us. He came down for two preliminary visits and then they came down and spent the week. You know, so that they do. And during that week, I remember him saying to us, "You know, I have never met a educational system...setting like this in my life." And he said, "I'm in my late sixties, and I have never in my life met an atmosphere like you people have here. How do you do it?" And I said, "We just do it. We love teaching, and we're committed. And our students know no fooling around. We're using the same system, if you want to come you know why you came. If you're not here for what we're here for, go home. It's that simple."

And so he finished up, we got our accreditation. During the following two years, he came down on his own, because he had a son who was living somewhere in Florida. But he came down to our school at least, I'll bet you twice a year, just to spend several days and sit in the classrooms.

Hayes: Oh my God.

McGowan: He said, "I never been in anything like this in my life." Now all I know is that we took it for granted. You know, we ran a classroom and everything. So that was all back in 1970.

Hayes: Right.

McGowan: In 1970, and of course those years of course, I'm going back to Europe and I was doing transatlantic dating with Odiel and stuff like that. So in 1970, we had decided we were going to get married in '71 at the end of the academic year. And so I said, "Okay good. We'll find out where to settle. We're not going to stay in Florida forever." But I wouldn't have minded going into the university system in Florida. So I wrote to Paul Reynolds and basically said to him, "You used to be a dean at the University of Florida, can you give me any leads as to the schools?" And he wrote back and said, "Look, I have really lost contact with everybody in Florida. Would you be interested in coming to our little town of Wilmington, North Carolina?" I don't know where it is, but I'll check it out.

So I came up here in February of '71. And that was great stuff because the week that I came up for the interview, was the week that was under curfew. The city was under curfew with the Wilmington Ten and all that stuff. So he met me at the airport, and I remembered that I stayed at his house. And his car got all smashed out while I was here, with the riots. He had driven downtown one night and didn't make it back with the car in very good condition.

Hayes: Really, geez.

McGowan: Of course it was really a hot thing. Of course he was trying to guarantee me it's not like this all the time [laughter]. Just happened to be an exceptional week. But Paul Reynolds, who was then dean, introduced me to B. Frank Hall. And as I mentioned, I was just convinced when I met Frank Hall I had either met the most incredible person that I would ever meet in my life or I had met the best car dealer. I wasn't sure, but this guy was unbelievable.

Hayes: He was the chair of the what department at that point?

McGowan: Philosophy and Religion Department.

Hayes: He was brought in to be first chair?

McGowan: First Presbyterian minister here. He was the department from 1963 to about '67 or '68, and he brought Gerald Shin and then those two were the department and then I came in 1971. So that's how I got here, you know. That was also the year Paul Reynolds retired and Charles Cahill came as Dean of the Faculty and everything was changing.

Hayes: And what did they have you start teaching? What were you teaching immediately then?

McGowan: What I started teaching was an introduction course, Intro to Philosophy, and then Greek philosophy and existential philosophy. We all taught five courses, that was minimum, five courses.

Hayes: So what was this joke at your retirement about father, son and Holy Ghost? [laughter] Now what was that?

McGowan: Okay, now that was a joke, I suspected Frank Hall. He claims that a student made it up, but Frank Hall you have to... If you weren't here with him, it goes back to what I said about living in another language. If you weren't there, it's just impossible to understand the energy or there was something that came up out of this man. He was incredible. I mean really, he was the best lecturer and teacher. I used to just go and sit in his classes and think, my gosh, where is he coming from, you know. He was incredible, that's all I can say. And he was born right here in Wilmington. This was his hometown back several generations.

But the joke was this, you see, as Frank Hall would present it, he said, "I don't know, the new students, the things they say, just the other day" and then you hear this big story about the trinity and you wonder who made it up, but at any rate it came out. He said, "Everything recognizes this place is really in bad shape. We've got a long ways to go, but, but there are possibilities, you see."

He says, "And so one of the students was saying 'We think we see the possibilities along the horizon now because the trinity is here.' " And he said, "The trinity is Dr. Hall you are God the Father because you are so ancient that no one knows how old you are. So therefore you are timeless and that makes you God the Father." Then he said, "And Jim McGowan is God the son because this place really was lost until Jim came along and has brought salvation." You know, and then, "Gerald Shin is the spirit because we know he exists but no one has ever seen him and nobody has any idea where he ever is if he ever is." So that was the trinity and that became kind of a campus joke.

Hayes: [laughter] Oh I love that.

McGowan: Yeah, it was wonderful. It's one of the happiest memories of those early years. It was a small campus.

Hayes: Yeah, that might give us a sense of that. What was there, like 3,000 students? Were we four-year at that point or still two?

McGowan: It was four-year, no it had moved over from being Wilmington College to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in '69, I think.

Hayes: Right.

McGowan: And then I came in '71 and that was the point I think we were changing terminologies from president to chancellor. The year that I came I do know the Dean of the Faculty became the Vice-Chancellor. So these terms were just coming into existence. There was no Vice-Chancellor for business or student affairs. It was the Dean of Students who was also teaching three or four courses.

Hayes: And Charlie Cahill, you said, came in, but he was a chemist. Now how did your department relate to a chemist?

McGowan: He didn't come in as a chemist, though. He came in as a first-place chancellor, you see. The way I ended up in administration was... You know we started doing our teaching and everything, and then in 1973, Frank Hall, and this is how Jim Megivern ended up coming here by the way. Frank Hall had decided that he had put in enough work as the chair to the department and the place was growing, and therefore I was going to become the chair of the department. Well just at that time Charles Cahill saw the campus was expanding. Of course his job was to expand it so what he did he wanted to have two assistants, one from the sciencone from the sciences and that was Dan Plyer.

Hayes: Oh that's right.

McGowan: Dan Plyer was from biology and he wanted someone from the humanities, so I think he interviewed lots of different people 'cause I was brand-new and he did have to work with the fact that there were established people here, people who came from Wilmington who were teaching in English and languages and all that. He was very careful with that, Charles, but eventually it got to me and he asked if I would be the person from humanities to work as an assistant. So Dan Plyer and I both went in. And with that, Frank Hall, who knew how to put on a rage if he cared to put on a rage like nobody's business, went into his prepared rage stage, you see, and went over and voiced indignation at the fact that they stole me from the department. Right at the moment when he was going to make me the chair, so he demanded that he be given another position so that he could bring in someone to be the chair because he was stepping down regardless of what happened. And Gerald Shin had already made it known that he would never, ever in his life be a chair of anything.

Hayes: Which is good.

McGowan: Safer for everybody. So that's how we eventually searched for a person to come in and we found Jim Megivern, whom I knew all the way back to high school days. We knew one another for a long, long time and I happened to meet him. I'd lost contact with him for a while but happened to meet him and he was hunting for someplace so he came that way. But I went into administration and then as the place grew and grew, I was in Charles's office. Then we created a dean position in 1974 or '76.

Hayes: But when you say you went into administration, what was your release time? How many courses did you still have to teach?

McGowan: I continued to teach two per semester.

Hayes: So okay, all that time you're still teaching, but then was it more that they moved you up to the senior-level courses because of that or did you still...

McGowan: I always wanted introductory. If I had to make a choice between a senior-level course and an intro and someone said now you have to make a decision one or the other, I'd take the intro. I love intro to philosophy, working with the kids that just never entertained a philosophical thought in their lives. I mean, seminars and senior-level courses are a piece of cake. They're so easy. Those intros are invigorating.

Hayes: But they're also how you get majors because how many people even think of philosophy, right? If you don't have good people in introductory courses.

McGowan: Most are going to come and go their merry way.

Hayes: When you say you're now assistant provost or assistant vice-chancellor...

McGowan: I was assistant vice-chancellor.

Hayes: What did you do, what did that mean, you're in administration?

McGowan: In the early stages, it really was doing whatever he asked me to do on a given day. It was that simple. You know like here, we need these things to be typed [laughter] and the secretary's not here. You did whatever had to be done because you know we were trying to build something. I mean, we didn't have a Department of Psychology yet. We had the Department of Education and eventually we got going with the Department of Psychology. So as we did that, somebody had to help with the administrative things, the hiring, so I helped anyplace where it might be more practical or useful to have a humanities person involved. I know we created the deanship which might have been in 1974.

Hayes: Now all of this time you're a master teacher. Did you go the route of scholarship in that time period, still writing on these people you had worked on from the medieval ages?

McGowan: I did, I did when I could.

Hayes: But then why did you stay in administration so long? Did you like that part of it? I mean, it's interesting 'cause you were there for years, right?

McGowan: Yeah, I was there for 18 years. It's a strange thing. Well this might sound odd, but I've always tried to build the theory of service. I really believe in that. I personally feel that we are not working on that model anymore, but it was raised on that model and the model basically said if you've committed to an institution, you serve wherever you can best serve the institution, and I believe in that so strongly. Quite frankly, I feel badly that that is not the model, not just here, but that is not a model in our society. We have the word service, but we don't have the model. Service basically means you really commit yourself because of a love for something and then service is the way you live out love so it's not just talk. Ok now, now that I claim that what I'm going to is I've got certain abilities, certain talents, I've got certain limitations so let's try to keep the limitations out of the way, but take your talents. We've got an institution going, give yourself to the institution as generously as possible in any way whoever is the responsible person for the overall development and the chancellor, anybody who asks you to. I mean that's my theory.

So I found it, especially with Bill Wagoner, I mean Bill Wagoner was just this marvelous person to me to work with. So he and Charles both asked me to work in the administration and I said yeah. I had a few little conditions. My conditions were if I could keep teaching and that I could have that month every other summer to go back to France, because I really felt obligations to make it possible for my wife to return to France every second year and we kept to that.

I wanted my children obviously to know their French relatives, their cousins, and their aunts and uncles and all that. So they were the only two conditions. Beyond that, actually they grew. Across the years I became aware that as this institution was focusing very much on the sciences, which again went along with the national movement and trend, that we were focusing very much on biology and chemistry which made sense and the budget was all headed that way, that it was not a bad thing since our provost was a chemist and our dean was a biologist, it was not a bad thing to have a person with a humanities background in administration. So I liked staying there.

Then I enjoyed staying there and then I enjoyed doing the things I was asked to do. I really did. I say at one point I left the provost's office and went into the chancellor's office. I was in his office from 1976 to 1980.

Hayes: Oh really, what was that doing?

McGowan: I was assistant to the chancellor, but that was right at the time when all the federal regulations were coming in, federal compliance stuff, and so he asked me to become the Federal Compliance Officer. So I was the Federal Compliance Officer for four years and it was a lot of fun, like writing up all the policies and statements and documents, going up to Chapel Hill, working with the lawyers up there because they'd say here are the things you have to have in there, but you have to write it. So we'd all get together and work at it. But I liked doing that because it involved, at that time, working an awful lot with people across the whole campus and that's what I really like. I like to get to meet people and I really felt by 1980 I knew almost every employee on this campus. I mean the groundskeepers, just everybody.

And it was small enough that you could know everybody. In the 1980's, the thing went whew. In 1980, I went back into the provost office anyway. It had become the provost office by then and became his associate. Then in '76, we had brought the School of Business and the School of Education into existence and I guess a few years later the School of Nursing.

Hayes: So even though it was administrative work, it sounded like it was creative work when you're getting to create a new department, a new college, hire new faculty. Did you get involved in all of that whenever someone came on campus?

McGowan: Very, very much so. Yeah, yeah.

Hayes: You were the face of the university to all of these candidates?

McGowan: Well, especially to the ones in humanities that were coming in through the humanities of the arts. It was nice and I think a lot of them appreciated really somebody who knew their field a little bit, you know, didn't pretend to be in the field, but just to know it and respect it. Charles would handle the science areas. So it worked very well. We worked well together, Charles and I, I feel because we had two very different styles. He had that very critical and chemical approach to things. I had more of an existential flair [laughter], you know that kind of thing. So you know that kind of thing so that was nice. And then the startup business was nice, the fact that we were bringing different offices into existence. I happened to like going in, getting something set up, and then getting out of there. I do not like the follow-up part, you know. Like the graduate office. I was the Director of Graduate Studies for three years.

Hayes: You were?

McGowan: Yeah.

Hayes: You mean just within the provost's office, they created...

McGowan: Well yeah.

Hayes: But you didn't give up another job, you just added that job?

McGowan: Added it on, yeah. So at that point I wasn't doing any scholarly work, I can assure you of that. I almost stopped reading [laughter], but it was fun setting up the graduate, that was really enjoyable. That was one of the few times I think the temptation when we said if you're ever going to set up the Dean of Graduate Studies. I enjoyed setting up that one so much because it got me really into contact with biology and chemistry, the ones we were pushing for first.

Hayes: And English.

McGowan: And working with them a lot. Now I was only doing the administrative things. They had to do the academic part, but just getting all that set up and then when they sat down and said we're going to have to have a dean, I suppose you know if I had said I'd really like to be the dean I could have probably stayed there. Nobody cared, but I sensed that temptation and said no, no, that's the trap. You don't want to give in because the building part was over and from there on in, it was basically bean counter or just keep it moving and add more things on, change things, improve.

Zarbock: But it's basically maintenance.

McGowan: That's exactly it, yes, and once you get to that stage, I do lose interest. I'll be honest, except for philosophy.

Zarbock: I'll tell the story about the mother robin who always built her nest with a hole in the bottom because she loved to lay eggs but she hated raising little ones.

McGowan: [laughter] That's good, let them go. So that was it. I enjoyed the 18 years and left in 1992.

Hayes: And went back to the faculty.

McGowan: Went back to full-time teaching.

Hayes: You weren't tempted to become chair after that?

McGowan: Oh gosh no, no.

Hayes: Because that's so close to the same thing, in other words doing the...

McGowan: Oh yeah, no, no, and by that time the department had changed very much. Jim Megivern had built it up from three people really to, I guess it must have been 12 or 13, maybe 14 when I came back to the department.

Hayes: Now when they were getting someone in religion or philosophy then, did you get to participate as a regular faculty member in those selections?

McGowan: No, by choice I stayed out.

Hayes: Oh did you, okay.

McGowan: Yeah, I've always believed that anybody who's in a department and is in an administrative position should really stay out of departmental matters for many reasons, the negative. You know, you can put it on to pressure. And other one is, you know, is other departments start saying hey wait a minute they've got an inside track because so and so. So to me the best thing was to stay out completely.

Hayes: Oh, that's a good point. And that transition came when Dr. Wagoner retired and Dr. Leutze came.

McGowan: Well Dr. Leutze came in 1990.

Hayes: So you were in the overlapping there...

McGowan: Yes, for two years. Then it was time I think for everybody to move on or do something, you know, build a new division and new things.

Hayes: Now since you were a builder, what are some of the ones you're most proud of in that time period then, in that building period? Someone mentioned the department that didn't exist. That you had a department that didn't exist. What was that?

McGowan: Oh it was probably the Department of Creative Arts.

Hayes: Oh that was it, the Department of Creative Arts. Now what was that story?

McGowan: Well, that was just a wonderful time. If I came along and somebody said now we're condemning you to hell so which administrative job would you want, I think I would have taken creative arts as the chairman. You know, I mean if you have to go anyway why not go with a very interesting group of people? [laughter] But there's no way I would study. No, the way that happened there had been three mini-departments. You know, there was a Department of Art and a Department of Music and a Department of Drama and Speech and administratively, I guess it was around 1978 or so, they were all put together so it became the Department of Creative Arts.

Hayes: I didn't know that.

McGowan: Yeah, which I think myself, call it foresight or hindsight, it depends on who's doing talking, that was a mistake. You know, these people should never have been put in the same bag together. It was bad enough having them in the same building, but in the same administrative package, especially when you think that arts' budgets are typically very small. You know, they're at the bottom of the barrel always. That's a tragic fact. So you have a small budget and three groups wanting that small budget, you've got trouble. So they put them all together and hired a chair and that didn't work out to put it gently. So the department wanted to...

Hayes: It was a divorce then, right?

McGowan: It was still one department, though. This chair didn't work out. So they had the person in the chair for x number of months or so and then the department really wanted to get started again you see, but they had to stay as a single department.

Hayes: Oh they had to stay?

McGowan: Yes, yes, there was no choice about that. So that's it. I knew most of the people in the arts because, see when I came, that one little building out there in the front where the Kenan Building, where art and music...

Hayes: Kenan Hall.

McGowan: Yeah, not the big building, the little one. That housed, when I came in '71 it housed art, music, drama, philosophy, religion, English, modern languages. It was like the mushroom. They were all in there. I have walked that building so many times in recent years, thinking where are we. Now I do know that Frank Hall, Gerald Shin and I were all in one little teeny weeny room not much bigger than a closet. So none of us ever stayed in there, we all roamed the hall all the time because there was no way you could get in, especially if Frank Hall was loud. But we were all in there and that was incredible, but the nice thing was I got to know all those people and that was important. This was in '71. So in '79, when they wanted someone as an interim because they said we have to go through the process, it was kind of flattering I suppose, but the nice thing was they said, well we can trust Jim McGowan so we'd like to have Jim McGowan for our chair.

So I agreed to go over, but only on the condition that they do get into the process of hiring somebody else somewhere down the line, not too far. So you know, because I said as an administrator I think I could handle this, but it's just not something I want to do. I was there for I think almost 18 months.

Hayes: 18 months?

McGowan: Yeah, which was fine by me. They were the funniest 18 months of my life. Honest to God. I got along just well with everybody, but as they all told me, "We hope you have armor on your back because we want to stab you every chance we get." [laughter] I mean, they said that nicely, but nobody ever did any harm to me or anything like that. But I always feel badly that the arts are treated poorly and without adequate respect because these people are so talented and we had a group of people there talent wise, the talent was just coming out of them everywhere. So the building was like a big box of electric. It was just incredible. You could go in there any day and think of it and you had all these wonderful musicians and you've got the artists and you had the dancers and the drama. My God, you have everything. I mean, the place was alive. And then the kids that came there were alive. I mean, they're not moping, "What do I have to do today?" These kids came in there so loaded up with energy. You know, I'd come home at the end of the day spinning. It was fantastic.

Hayes: But you didn't have to then administer the divorce that came later?

McGowan: You mean when they broke off again? Oh no, that was years later. So I was there for the 18 months. They did hire another chair. That chair was there for six or seven years.

Hayes: Who was that?

McGowan: Dennis Foray. Now, I would say that no matter who would come in as chair for all three groups, it was going to be a bad ride, that's all. If you brought in a dramatist, he just leaned towards the drama people, and the musicians and the painters were all angry.

Hayes: Now for the record, the structure is there's a Department of Music and there's a Department of Art and Theater, but I mean they have wonderful people, but some of the same tensions.

McGowan: Because as soon as you say well here we're giving x number of dollars to the art theater, the other says well we need that so it just doesn't work. So it's sad to think that back in the 70's there were actually three separate departments. If we had left it alone, you think there would be separate departments and bigger ones today. That's the way that goes. But they were wonderful months.

Hayes: So that was one of your highlights. We have about 10 more minutes, so don't let us divert you from things you want to say.

McGowan: I guess I'm better responding to questions.

Hayes: Some of the other folks then, that you may want to mention, Jim Megivern continued and continues as a great friend? I mean, it's kind of funny that you knew him in high school.

McGowan: He was several years ahead of me and we just clicked. He was the man who I think made me aware that I could do more than just play sports. If I could put it simply, I mean he loves sports too, but Jim was like the born intellectual. He must have been born that way because when I came there Jim was almost like the focal point of the school. I mean, I think he was the head of all the professors. I really think he could have taught any professor in the school, that's the image we had of him, right under the table or whatever the guy's specialty was [laughter]. He was absolutely amazing and he played music and he was an excellent athlete, but he was one of these guys who had a ability of just inspiring people to come alive and we became friends. And I think he touched something in my life intellectually____.

Hayes: But you were here and helped him come here. Now that's interesting.

Zarbock: When my family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1962, the population of the University of Tennessee had jumped up from 3,500 to 6,000 and the townspeople were enraged on the basis of this huge university that was going to gobble up the city.

McGowan: [laughter]

Zarbock: The population now is about 35-40,000. Anyway, it was starting rapid growth in a traditionalistic environment where everybody knew everybody and the language was "I work at the university." It wasn't "I teach at the university," "I'm a researcher." What was Wilmington like when you first got here, and as the university expanded what was the town situation?

McGowan: Well something I really sensed as soon as we got here was the pride the people in this town took in the university, because they were still calling it "our college." When I came--and it was obvious I was a newcomer to town--I'd be in a store or whatever, they'd say, "Where do you work?" and I said, "I work out at UNCW," "Oh, you're in our college." I started using the phrase myself. During all those early years, it was just "our college." Of course you know the history, it was the people of this city that had the name and they were extremely proud. My wife and I were welcomed into Wilmington with such really authentic warmth, you know. Of course, she was sort of a novelty. She came from France. She didn't talk English when she got here. She went through the same journey I went through.

Hayes: That's right.

McGowan: She came straight from Paris.

Hayes: And you were offering her a lot of assistance.

McGowan: But see, you have to get that English. That's why we talk French at home practically all the time. Our first boy did grow up mostly with French for his first 3 or 4 years, but then when kids start moving out of the house, they talk more English anyway. But when we came, I remember the newspaper interviewed my wife. They did a big picture story.

Hayes: Wow!

McGowan: It was really nice. I doubt that that would happen today, but that was the atmosphere. There were four or five families in Wilmington, which we did not realize at the time--they were really the old Wilmington families--that hosted us and when my wife's parents came to visit us, took their parents all over. It was just marvelous from that atmosphere. So I've always felt very much this is home for us because the people here really, really welcomed us. Now what's changed, I don't know. The city grew, the university grew. I would suspect that the average faculty member coming in today just arrives, unloads his car and disappears into the woodwork, does his job and that's it. But honestly, when we came, I had the feeling that when someone new was hired at UNCW, everybody in Wilmington knew it. It's not a mathematical fact, but that was the atmosphere. You just had that feeling.

Zarbock: It was a corking quality too.

McGowan: I really liked that.

Zarbock: I don't sense any animosity to this day.

McGowan: Oh no, no. I think it's wonderful.

Hayes: No, and we're in so many things out in the community that they're glad that you're at the university, but I think you're right, an individual faculty member doesn't have the same impact they had when you arrived. That was significant. And the students were mainly Wilmington-based.

McGowan: Yes, practically all.

Hayes: So your student would go back into the community, talking about...

Zarbock: Was there a faculty club on the campus when you arrived?

McGowan: No, there was never a faculty club, but there was a faculty hangout room, and every afternoon we all headed toward the room over in the administration building, Alderman, it was one of the rooms down there. I don't know, before I went home every day I would stop in there, maybe 10-15 minutes, have a coffee, talk and there were always several faculty members in there and administrators. Bill Wagoner was in there. I'm still going back to Bill. I mean, I admired the man a lot. He created an atmosphere I feel of friendliness, of openness and warmth. He didn't want people fighting. He just didn't like fighting, saw no reason for it and he was always just trying to open doors and create a good positive atmosphere and then let people do their jobs. I thought that was great. He did not butt into anybody's work area. I mentioned this a few times. He was always saying to me when I worked for him, "Do your job, give me a report once a year, I'll back you no matter you do. If you mess up, I'll take the blame." That's the kind of fellow he was.

Hayes: Interesting.

McGowan: But he didn't expect you to mess up. He sort of said, "But you better not mess up." You know, he was there a few times I made boo-boos and he stepped right up front and took the blame. I just found him to be really a marvelous administrator.

Zarbock: That's real leadership.

McGowan: That's how I felt because it made it easy for me to work in administration.

Hayes: Thank you for talking to us because you represent such a creative time where from small to the next size up, you could do such interesting things and yet you yourself said that if you didn't put in place the administrative systems, it wasn't going to work. In other words, it was necessary to create policies and procedures, right?

McGowan: There weren't any.

Hayes: And I think people forget that, that you must go through the policies and procedures as you grow. And I think it's wonderful that a faculty member with your background and scholarly activity was willing to do that. Not everybody today, sometimes when they put the call out asking if people would come and help...

McGowan: I'm not sure I would do it today [laughter]. Of course, you're older and tired.

Hayes: Thank you very much, I think that was great.

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