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Interview with Melton McLaurin, May 18, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Melton McLaurin, May 18, 2006
May 18, 2006
In this oral history interview, Melton McLaurin discusses his career in academics as well as his life history. He begins with his childhood in Wade, North Carolina. Dr. McLaurin attended East Carolina University for his bachelor's and master's degrees in history. He and his wife obtained their Ph.D's from the University of South Carolina in 1967. They both obtained jobs at the University of South Alabama. In 1977, they moved with their family to Wilmington. Dr. McLaurin was hired as chair of the history department, a position that he held until 1991. He discusses the department during this time of growth at the university, the beginning of the graduate program in history, his teaching, and his research. In 1996 Dr. McLaurin became associate vice-chancellor for academic affairs. Although he retired in 2002, he continued his association with the university, serving in various roles. Most recently he organized a video documentary project about the Montford Pointe Marines. The interview includes Dr. McLaurin's reflections on what he envisions for the future of UNCW and the future of humanities in the university setting.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: McLaurin, Melton Interviewer: Riggins, Adina Date of Interview: 5/18/2006 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 120 minutes


Riggins: Good morning, my name is Adina Riggins, I'm the university archivist at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Today is May 18th 2006. We're in the Randall library conference room on the campus of UNCW. I'm very pleased to have with me a special guest for our University archives Oral history program which is entitled "Voices of UNCW." Our guest today is a long-time faculty member and administrator at UNCW. He'll be sharing with us his history, his life and times, his experiences at UNCW and elsewhere. Dr. McLaurin please state your full name for the tape.

McLaurin: Melton A. McLaurin.

Riggins: Thank you, Dr. McLaurin thank you for coming. I'd like to start off this tape as we usually do for the archives program, that is to get your background information so we know where you're coming from, life story as you will. Can you please tell us where you were born and where you grew up?

McLaurin: I was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina and grew up in a little village just outside Fayetteville in Cumberland County, a little place called Wade, North Carolina, a town of about 1,000 people, very similar to any number of agricultural villages throughout Eastern North Carolina. It had a train depot and served as a market for a variety of agricultural supply goods and, of course, allowed the farmers of the region to ship out their produce and supporting businesses, stores, post office, so forth; typical little North Carolina agricultural village.

Riggins: Thank you, thanks for that background information. I didn't know you were from Eastern North Carolina. I know your wife Western-no, she's from Eastern North Carolina? I must've been thinking of someone else. Speaking of growing up there, you went to a small high school?

McLaurin: I went to a very small consolidated high school. It had four different former high schools in it and it only had about 400 kids total. There were about 54 or 55 people in my graduating class.

Riggins: It was consolidated because it was rural areas?

McLaurin: It was consolidated because they were rural areas and there used to be separate high schools in four different communities. They must've had like 50 students apiece who eventually were consolidated.

Riggins: What was that like? Well I guess you didn't know any different. What was it like growing up there? Was that an integrated school?

McLaurin: Of course not. I didn't graduate until 1959 in high school and I grew up in the segregated South. I actually wrote a book about it called Separate Past: Growing Up White in the Segregated South. It was normal but I had real questions about segregation and we can talk about that later. But at any rate, it was a wonderful childhood. It's a wonderful place to grow up. I had a conversation with my daughter who went to New Hanover High, graduated from New Hanover High. At the time she graduated, there were probably about 450 or so students in her graduating class. I was talking to her about the kids I went to high school with. Well I knew all the kinds, let's say when I was a sophomore, I knew all the kids in the 12th grade and in the 11th grade. I knew the kids in my class and I knew the kids in the 9th grade. Basically, I knew their families as well, the families of many of them, not all of them, and she was saying "You knew all those people?" And I said of course I did. I knew them very, very well. I could talk about who their brothers and sisters were and so forth and she was saying "When I went to high school, I didn't know that many people at all," because we just had a group of people that she associated with, that little clique, and that was about it. I think that there's something to be said for the small school, the small town, the more rural situation where you really do get to know an awful lot of people.

Riggins: Yes that is a very true experience that most of us have. And at the same time you might even be more in touch with people from high school than some of us who went to bigger high schools. You never know. You feel more of a bond, or a closeness to the people there's more a reason to keep up with them. From high school, did you always know you were going to go to college?

McLaurin: Yes, although I was the first in my family to go to the college but again, I was born in 1941. It was expected. It was always expected in my family that I would go on to school after I graduated from high school. And I did. I went to East Carolina University, at that time, East Carolina College largely because it had a very well thought of Air Force ROTC program. I went and got into that program with the intention of becoming a pilot. Kids my age were reared on Jimmy Stewart films and SACs, the Strategic Air Command, which was the glamour military force of the time and everybody wanted to be a pilot. Chuck Yeager and all that kind of thing. I was in that program but I have an eye program. I went through the medical exam and the very last medical exam I did, very last part of the exam, had to do with the eyes, not how well you see but the way the eyes move. As a result, I couldn't fly. Not wanting to be a non-flying career Air Force officer, I got out of the program. I was already majoring in History and things just happened for me to go on and continue my studies in history, very, very fortunately for me.

Riggins: Did you continue at ECU?

McLaurin: I completed a degree in Social Studies with an emphasis in history, American History, at ECU. I was certified to teach because I had thought about teaching. Largely what I was thinking about was teaching after a career in the service, which a good many people do. I did extremely well in undergraduate school. I met my wife there. I married her while in our last year there. We both applied for graduate scholarships at East Carolina; we were encouraged to do so and did so. At that time, it seemed a good thing to do. I had obtained an appointment in--

(crew talk)

McLaurin: Both my wife and I were encouraged to continue our education. I got an appointment to go to Reserved Officer Training Corps slot in the Air Force, so I had that option. But our graduate fellowships came through so we decided to take that instead. So we both got Master's at East Carolina, me in History and her in Mathematics. We both applied to a number of schools, state universities, because we didn't have the money to go elsewhere. Both of us were very fortunate to get money at the University of South Carolina. We both got money there. We had positions. We were accepted everywhere we applied including the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia but we did not both get scholarships at those institutions and we both got scholarships at the University of South Carolina. So it was a very easy choice for us and we went to the University of South Carolina to begin our PhD programs after obtaining the Masters' at East Carolina in 1963.

Riggins: At that time is when you proceeded to Columbia?

McLaurin: Yes, at University of South Carolina at Columbia. I'd gotten my Bachelor's degree at east Carolina in 1962 and the Master's degree was actually not awarded until 1964, but I had completed all the requirements for it in August of 1963 and that's when we went down to the University of South Carolina at Columbia and began graduate studies there, of course me in History and her in Mathematics. We both received our PhDs in 1967. The History department had a very strong History of the American South component and that was something I was interested in. So that's what I did my work in while I was at South Carolina. I did a dissertation on early efforts to organize Southern textile workers, early 20th century efforts, something that had really never been looked at very much.

Riggins: What states?

McLaurin: The dissertation really covered almost all the East Coast Southern states, the major textile belt. Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama were the states that I looked at especially. So that's basically where the textile belt was. It moved into just a little bit of Alabama. I completed that and that proved to be a very good choice. Let me talk about where I went to work first but I'll go back to why that dissertation topic proved a very good choice. I worked with a scholar there named Tom Terrill who was a late-19th century American historian. When we completed our degrees, we were of course looking for jobs because one needs a job, and in the academic world, you have to go to where the jobs are. There's just no question about it. At that time, many states had laws that would not allow a man and a wife to work in the same state system and it was very difficult to obtain jobs for the two of us. We obviously wanted to teach together. I remember very, very clearly, speaking with the chairman of the History department at Appalachian State which had a job in the History of the South and we would've loved to have gone to Appalachian State. When I told the chairman that my wife was in mathematics, he said there's no reason to continue this conversation because we simply can't hire man and wife. These were laws that had come out of the Depression really to ensure that only one person in a family had a job with the state or with any kind of governmental agency. But basically, they were used as anti-spousal laws and particularly anti-female laws. We ended up--we wanted to stay in the South. We wanted to be in a state supported system. I took a job at the University of South Alabama which was a new school founded in Mobile, Alabama. It had begun as an integrated institution in 1964 when they opened it. It had originally been a center in Mobile of the University of Alabama but in 1964, they made it a separate entity and a lot of that was going on in the '60s, a lot of university building. So I went there in 1967 and Sandra got a job at the University of West Florida in Pensacola and it was its very first year.

It was a brand new school, just established, the University of West Florida had been. It's very interesting that the provost I worked for, a man named John Cavanaugh, would later go to that school as president of the University. But at any rate, what we told the institutions was that if one of them would hire the other spouse, that we would very much appreciate it and the other spouse would definitely go and South Alabama, the following year, decided to hire my wife, who was a PhD mathematician. At that time, there were not a lot of PhD mathematicians around and certainly very few female PhD mathematicians. So South Alabama somehow got permission to hire both of us. I taught at the University of South Alabama from 1967 until 1977--10 years there. My wife taught there from 1968 until 1977. When we left, I was a tenured, full professor. I went through the ranks and was full professor by the time I left the University of South Alabama. I had a book out and a book under contract when I came here. My wife was a tenured associate professor at the University of South Alabama in the Department of Mathematics. We came here in the fall of 1977 and I came as chair of the department.

Riggins: How is it that you came here? You're both in Alabama doing well.

McLaurin: The personal reason for coming was family. We had two children. We had a girl that was born actually in South Carolina in December of 1966 and we had a daughter born in Mobile in June of 1970 and we wanted them to be able to know their grandparents and their first cousins, our nieces and nephews. We frankly never felt at home in Alabama. Mobile was, in a many ways, a very comfortable environment, also extraordinarily conservative. If you think Wilmington in Southeastern North Carolina is conservative, you should try living in Mobile, Alabama. Not so much racially conservative, it was Alabama, but it prided itself on being the most liberal area racially of all of Alabama, and it was, which is not very liberal. But at any rate, when we came here, it was like a breath of fresh air. We took some real chances; or my wife took some real chances. I came as chair of the department as a full professor with tenure and we had to have that kind of guarantee. She came with only the guarantee of part time work, all the part time work she could handle. We looked at the area. At that time, Mobile was a much larger area. Mobile was probably--the standard metropolitan area of Mobile was well over 300,000 people. We were coming into little Wilmington. Wilmington did not even have an enclosed shopping mall when we came up here. The University of South Alabama was over 7,000 with five different schools and UNC-Wilmington at that time was roughly 3,000 and was still organized as basically a college of arts and sciences. Very, very different. But we thought that Wilmington was going to grow. We thought we knew a little bit about how it was going to grow having gone through the same process in South Alabama. When we went to South Alabama, it was about 3,000 students, although it did have two professional schools at the time and it had grown tremendously. By the time we left, it had a medical school, so we had seen an awful lot of growth, organizational changes as that growth had occurred. We pretty much felt we knew what was going to happen up here and it turned out we were right. My wife got a job here, full time, within two years after we'd come here.

Riggins: It just was a matter, I guess, of timing.

McLaurin: Of timing but also some knowing what was in the cards. If I had felt that Wilmington did not have tremendous growth potential, I never would've come because it would've been a foolish move.

Riggins: You knew the area well enough--

McLaurin: Knew the area. My family used to vacation at Carolina Beach, occasionally at Wrightsville Beach, at Holden Beach. My dad loved to come here. As a matter of fact, we live at a place in Wilmington right now, a place called Oyster Bay down on the North Bank of Whiskey Creek. My dad used to take us to a restaurant there. After church sometimes he'd drive down, which was a little over a two hour drive then, to have a meal at a place called Uncle Henry Kirkham's Seafood Restaurant, a very quaint place that I remember with great fondness. I currently live within about 150 yards of where that restaurant was.

Riggins: When you came to the department, what did you find here? What kind of history department were you in?

McLaurin: In many ways, I was brought in to refashion the history department and really to get a history department that would eventually be able to offer a Master's degree. The history department that I inherited was a collection of individuals who had taught under a very different regime. When Wilmington College had just moved out to this area and had just become a part of the system, it was very much an undergraduate teaching institution. Some of the people did not have PhDs. Some of the people had only taught in this environment. It was a department that was fairly typical of very small colleges in the South in the late '60s into the 1970s.

Riggins: It was not a very small college at this point.

McLaurin: It was a small college. It was only 3,000 people. The department also had some very good young members who had been recruited relatively recently, primarily people from North Carolina but not all. But all of them had been recruited primarily from Southern institutions--Mississippi State, another University of South Carolina PhD and any number of the University of North Carolina PhDs, and the main way of recruiting when I came here was to call the University of North Carolina and see who was available if a position sort of came open. So I changed a lot of things when I came and one of the reasons that I decided to come--and I am not downplaying some of the people who were here. For example, Alan Watson, who was here, is a remarkably active scholar, very well known particularly as a scholar of North Carolina, very respected again especially by scholars in North Carolina who were working on North Carolina History. And Alan was here on the faculty when I came. So there were some very good people but there were also people who were quite good in the classroom but were not interested in doing research or had never done much research and so forth and so on. So that's just the way it was. I had four positions. There were I think like 10 people on the faculty and I had four positions that we could fill when I came in and that's one of the reasons I came. Frankly, if I had been offered that position and they had said "Okay, you can come in and you just have this faculty and that's all you have to work with and we don't know when you're going to get another position, there's no way I would've taken that position.

Riggins: You might have to fight and fight for it.

McLaurin: Right. So I had four positions and the very first year, I'll never forget this, we started talking about recruiting. One of the first things that came up was let's call the University of North Carolina and see who they've got in this field, that field, the other field. I said no, that's not the way we're going to do it. We're going to form committees of people who have experience in the fields we were recruiting and we're going to recruit nationwide, we're going to advertise and we're going to get the very best people we can get in here. There was really no opposition to that. Everybody said sure, it makes sense, so that's what we did. We brought in four people that year. One of them had a degree from Rutgers, who was a tenured, I think at that time associate professor at a very good private school, Dennison University. We brought in a young man who had his degree from Penn, University of Pennsylvania. The person I brought in from Rutgers was Bob Toplin and I had met in Atlanta in a seminar in Atlanta, Georgia under a very, very well known Southern historian named Bill Wiley. It was a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar. Bill Schneider was the person we brought in from Penn, a young man. This was his first permanent job. We brought in Carol Fink who had finished her PhD. Carol got her PhD at Yale and she had been teaching part time at State University of New York, one of the larger State University campuses with a PhD program. I'll think of it in a moment. Carol came in. Her husband had been on the faculty there, was chair of the music department there and he remained the chair of the music department there. But Carol came here. I also brought in Phil McGuire who's an African American historian on the faculty at Ohio State. Phil was a Southerner and tired of terrible winters, and so was Carol. Bob was tired of terrible winters and Bob Toplin was here because they had a terrible winter in '77/'78. So recruited four really excellent people. Bob Toplin is getting ready to retire. Bill Schneider left us to go to IUPU, which is Indiana University of Purdue University in Indianapolis. He's chair of that department. In 1990, Ohio State came to Carol Fink and made her a Godfather offer, really an offer that she couldn't refuse. They recruited her, came down, and made her specifically an offer to go there and Carol left and went there. Phil McGuire published a couple of works with us and eventually went to Fayetteville State as an administrator. Phil died not too long after he went to Fayetteville State. But Phil stayed here until 1990 so he was here 12 years. We had a very drastic change in the department in a very short period of time.

Riggins: How did that go over with the old guard vs. the new faculty?

McLaurin: I'd have to say I think it went very, very well. The old guard did not seem resentful of, they were welcoming of, they were supportive of. I think the department was a very cohesive unit in that sense and that kind of breakdown did not occur. There were some frictions obviously in a department of that size and that complexity. Then we started getting additional lines and we added to that. But what we did was try to bring in people from a variety of backgrounds. We added, of course, African American History with Phil and then we began filling out other areas, bringing in Latin American scholars. Bob Toplin was originally brought in as a Latin American scholar. He is a trained Latin American scholar, Brazilian. We brought in a woman's historian pretty soon after that, Cathleen Berkeley, who's still on faculty. So we added areas to the curriculum that simply had not been covered by a smaller faculty.

Riggins: Was Charlie Cahill a provost at this time?

McLaurin: Charles Cahill was a provost and Dan Plyler was a dean and of course, I was working directly with Dan Plyler who was an extraordinarily supportive person.

Riggins: Was Cahill involved in the searches?

McLaurin: Dr. Cahill was not and neither was Plyler. We were allowed to develop our own faculty. Obviously, Dean Plyler had to hire the person and had to approve of the person and had to approve of the search pool but I'll have to say the department was given an almost free hand to do what it would in bringing in new faculty.

Riggins: Yeah, sounds like there was a lot of growth. You need to teach a lot of classes, the student population was growing. Did you hire part time faculty as well?

McLaurin: We occasionally hired part time. Plyler had a philosophy--and I think a correct philosophy--of trying to keep part time to a minimum and bring in full time people. Certainly the department was devoted to that philosophy. Occasionally we had to hire part time people and occasionally we had somebody go out on leave for whatever reason or they got a grant to go do something and of course you had to bring somebody in to replace them. But we were always able to hire really good people and part of the reason for that, quite frankly, is the market was depressed. The academic market after 1968 just collapsed and for almost 15 years, it was extraordinarily difficult to get a job in History. So we could hire people out of Harvard, we could hire people out of Yale, we could hire people out of Penn, and we do. We made a hire. We have Harvard people on our faculty. We have Duke people on our faculty. We've hired, as I said, Penn people, Rutgers people, Yale people. We've hired people from the very best institutions in the country.

Riggins: Has that changed? It still seems tough for history.

McLaurin: It is still very tough. I don't know because I'm not in the department, but I've heard that there were 50-some positions open in Latin American History this year, and we were looking in Latin America. So in some fields, it's changed and things are a little better, fortunately.

Riggins: Encourages grad students to go into Latin American history.

McLaurin: But that's one of the reasons we hire people from top ranked graduate programs all over the country and did. And we hired people who would fit the department we felt that were from very good institutions but not the Harvards or Yales or the Penns, and some of them had done extraordinarily well. My degree is not from a top ranked institution. It's from the University of South Carolina, which is a very good school but it's not Harvard and it's not Yale.

Riggins: People go to these universities for various reasons.

McLaurin: They go for various reasons. They go for money, they go for location and they go for subject area. There are some schools that have very specialized departments and they're not Ivy League schools or they're not major state universities, the biggies like Ohio State or Berkeley or whatever. But they have very good programs in specialized areas. Some of them are the best programs in the country in specialized areas so you hire these people.

Riggins: I've been told about the history department here. I know it's very strong now, but it seems to me that it always had to be strong to acquire this strong faculty that's been here for a long time. Why do you suppose the history department has been strong here?

McLaurin: I'd like to think I had something to do with developing a really first rate history department. It is a strong program, and the people in it are active in research and active in the profession, as well as being fine teachers. That was always our goal. People had to be able to do research, had to prove they were interested in research, had to have the prospects of publishing, but they also had to be good teachers. One of the things we did was when we had candidates in, we didn't just listen to what they had to say about their teaching experience. We put them in front of the classroom and they all taught a class. We turned down more people by far because of their inability to perform in a classroom than because of their research record. Absolutely. I remember one particular search, I won't go into detail about it, but we had four people come in that had really good records and we turned all four of them down. The last one that came in, it was that person's job to lose because we were going to give that person the job if they did an adequate performance in the classroom and they just couldn't teach. It was clear they didn't know how to handle a classroom, didn't know how to organize their material. I'm sure they may have learned it but we wanted somebody to come in and do a good job in the classroom. So we turned them down. I suspect, I have not been active in the department since 1996. When I went over to administration, I stopped going to departmental meetings, was not involved in the hiring process but I suspect that my colleagues in the History department continue to place a great deal of emphasis on one's ability to teach and to teach well.

Riggins: Also how they describe teaching and also their feelings about their teaching.

McLaurin: Yes, you could but a person who is more interested in research can also be a very good teacher. As a matter of fact, I happen to think the two go together. I really do believe that if you aren't active in your profession and don't keep up in your field, you're not going to be a good teacher. I'll put it that simply. That doesn't mean that if you are active in your field and you are a major researcher that you're going to be a good teacher because that's not necessarily true. But you could tell where the person's interest lay, more toward teaching or more toward research. Just because people had a strong research agenda didn't mean they couldn't be good teachers and that's what we were looking for, people who might have preferred research to teaching in terms of their personal preferences but also had enough professional pride to want to be seen and to want to be recognized as somebody who did a good job in the classroom.

Riggins: That's something that the old guard really appreciated and being supportive of is the department's emphasis on teaching.

McLaurin: I think that is true. That's one thing that everybody in the department could agree on.

Riggins: How long did you remain in that position?

McLaurin: Too long. I chaired the Department of History for 14 years I think it was. I came in 1977 and I left at the end of the 1990-1991 year. So I left in June of 1991.

Riggins: During this time, your department, and you had some participation of the faculty and decisions, it wasn't just you as a department chair making decisions on everybody. I've heard in other departments in the university, probably before 1977, there was a tendency for the chairs to make decisions and not involve the faculty. You have to get involved faculty really have to get involved at the meetings, participating in researches, etc. Was that already in place by the time you came here?

McLaurin: I'm sure they had faculty meetings. I really don't know what much about what they did. To be honest, there was a major split in the leadership of that department to older members of the department and that's another reason I was brought in. I'm not going to go into detail about that but there was a major split in the department, one that I think certainly damaged the morale of the department. It put younger faculty members in that department in very, very awkward positions. So I alleviated all that. You had to have a sense of what was politically possible and you had to be inclusive, but I wanted faculty members to be involved. You can't dictate to a faculty. I'd never experienced that so I held regular faculty meetings. We set up policies, I mean written policies, which is something I was very big on because, quite frankly, it gives you, as an administrator, something to hide behind. If you've got a policy, everybody knows what the policy, and you carry out the policy. That takes personalities out of the process so I was very much in favor of policies, very much in favor of open meetings, very much in favor of having people who had the expertise in a particular area to be on the search committees for faculty positions. All of those things were put into place and there was very little opposition to them as a matter of fact. I'll tell you a story and I'll go ahead and name the names because people know who they were. There were two chairmen here prior to my coming. One was a man named Gus Crouch and one was a man named Tom Mosley. Tom Mosley had been chair of the department when Gus had come and Gus had his PhD from the University of Kentucky, Mosley was a UNC PhD. I don't know what happened but I know that the dean on the spot relieved Dr. Mosley of his title of Department Chair and made Dr. Crouch as the department chair. That's not the way I would've done things had I been dean and it set up animosities that one would expect from such an arbitrary move. Dr. Mosley and Dr. Crouch were really continually sniping at one another from what I understand when I came here.

When I came here, I decided that we were going to be a department. I sent out an invitation for the members of the department to come to my home for a social gathering, dinner. Tom Mosley came to my office and wanted to know if Gus Crouch was coming. I said "Tom, Gus is a member of this department. He's invited, as are you." "If Gus Crouch comes, I can't come." I said "Tom, this is ridiculous." I said, "You are a grown man and Gus Crouch is a grown man. I'm not asking that you like one another. I'm just asking that you behave civilly and professionally. My house is big enough that you can go into one room and Gus Crouch can go into another and I expect you to be in my home." About 10 minutes later, Gus Crouch comes to my door. Same story. I gave him the same response. They were both there and from then on, it was very clear they would not speak to one another in the department but in departmental meetings, only occasionally would they take potshots at one another. They contributed to the departmental meetings. They acted professionally. They acted civilly. I never had another problem.

Riggins: You said to put it behind them, this is not my problem.

McLaurin: That's exactly right. "It's not my problem and you can both behave professionally." And they did.

Riggins: Do you remember Walter Allen? I tried calling him the other day, he seems okay. Have you been in touch with him at all?

McLaurin: Walter Allen was an older member of the faculty. I think Walter had some medical problems before he retired. I know that both his wife and he have had some major medical problems since retirement and Walter is getting on up there in age, too. He's got to be in his early 80s now. A very, very fine person, always a gentleman.

Riggins: He said it wouldn't be a good time to interview him right now but I hope to get up to him soon. At this time, there were a number of people who were chairs that were brought in from elsewhere.

McLaurin: That is correct. We were all brought in for the same reason, to deal with problems internally in the department and to create departments that would be capable of offering Master's degrees.

Riggins: At this time there were meetings of all the chair people. Did you participate in those?

McLaurin: The dean held meetings of chairs, Dan Plyler, the dean.

Riggins: I've seen those minutes in the archives. Jack Levy was there.

McLaurin: Jack Levy was chair of the Chemistry department, Jim Dixon of Political Science and so forth and so forth. Brooks Dodson who came in the year before me in the English department and myself in History. Fred Tawny was Mathematics chair and he was later replaced by Doug Smith with some interim chairs in there, and a variety of chairs. Claude Howell was chair of the Creative Arts department.

Riggins: And Education?

McLaurin: Education, Roy Harkin was chair of that department. When I came here, as I said, it was a College of Arts and Sciences arrangement for the whole school and Education was a department and Business was a department. Norm Kaylor was chair of the Business department. I knew that as the school grew, what was going to happen is that there'd be a reorganization. They would become schools and they would have their own deans and of course, that is what happened, with Nursing, Education, and Business.

Riggins: That began to happen around 1979-1980?

McLaurin: It would've been about three years after I came here. That's about right. I can't remember if Marlene Rosenkoetter was the dean when I came, not the dean, the chair of the Department of Nursing when I came here or not but roughly that's when Marlene was here.

Riggins: How was it working with this group? Sounds like, I'm sure you guys were friendly. Did you work together pretty well since y'all had common goals?

McLaurin: I think so. There was some old school/new school stuff among the chairs. As a matter of fact, in some ways, it was more obvious among the chairs than it was among the faculty. I think that by and large--and that's a compliment to Dan Plyler as dean--that things went relatively smoothly. There were some bumps because you've got strong willed people with very definite opinions, some of whom including myself, who didn't mind stating them, and some of them with very strongly held opinions who could more quietly make the point, like Jack Levy. Jack Levy was a very effective chairman. Jack is, as you know, not a bombastic person but Jack can get his point across very effectively.

Riggins: As currently learn from each other and different styles, but I'm sure there were some old school people. Fred Tony was more old school.

McLaurin: Fred actually was not. Fred Tony had gone back and gotten his PhD fairly recently and Fred was a younger person as well, as the chairman of the Math department. I like Fred Tony. He's very sound, very solid, very reasonable, always willing to listen to opinions of other people.

Riggins: I heard that you were told to have a Master's graduate program but not given any money or anything like that.

McLaurin: That's not quite true. Actually, we knew we were going to get a Master's program. There was pressure from Chapel Hill, central administration, to get it. The way we got it was involved with the racial politics of the system of North Carolina. Fayetteville State was made a comprehensive institution at the same time we were made a comprehensive institution. As a matter of fact, if you go and look at the two institutions, they were almost totally paired. They got almost exactly the same Master's programs that we got. I think they may have gotten a Master's program in Psychology right off the bat and we didn't. But basically, it was the same thing. I had not wanted a Master's program in History. I still think it was a mistake for a variety of reasons but what I wanted was a Master of Arts in Teaching program in which the History department could teach all the content courses and therefore get all the goodies in terms of reduced teaching loads and so forth that come with the Master's programs and have none of the administrative headaches. Let Education do all of that work. So I wanted to have my cake and eat it, too. It was made very clear to us that that was not going to happen and that the only choice we had was to either opt out of the program and say "Okay, we don't want a Master's degree," or say "Okay, we're going to give a classical, Liberal Arts Master's in History." I remember our discussions and this was discussed in the department, debated very openly and my position was--and it was the position that carried the day--hey we've got everything to lose and nothing to gain if we don't do this. So we did it. We said we will do the Master's and I thought that doing the Master's would allow us to get reduced teaching loads gradually. I thought that doing the Master's would allow us to put a little more emphasis on research for a variety of reasons. And I thought that doing a Master's would allow perhaps some increase in salaries and actually it turned out that way. One of the worst experiences I had as chair of the History department was when that Master's program came online because we did get some monies, not a lot, but we did get some monies that were to be used to upgrade faculty. And that money was to be used for those people who were going to be active in the graduate program, active researchers and so forth. I had to distribute that money on that basis and that caused some problems in the department because people who were, at that time, the major producers, the people who were involved in research, got the bulk of the money. That's what I was told to do and that's what I did with it. And there were some people who were not happy with that decision.

Riggins: Did you explain you were required to do this?

McLaurin: I was not only required to do that; I agreed with the philosophy. But I was, in fact, required to do that and I did what I was required to do.

Riggins: Of course a program came along, was there a Director of Graduate Studies or a Coordinator of Graduate Studies?

McLaurin: I can't remember when we developed that position but that was pretty soon after the program came on, but I cannot remember. That position involved and of course has continued to this point, the Coordinator of Graduate Studies within the department.

Riggins: What was the focus of the graduate program when it started? Was it like it is now with different choices, U.S. History?

McLaurin: Pretty much. We worked on it quite a bit. The big question was about Public History and adding Public History into the mix, which was eventually done. Public History has become sort of the mainstay of the program. In the early period of the graduate program, it was Military History that carried it and Larry Cable almost on his shoulders carried the graduate program I'd say for about three years. That's an interesting story but Cable had by far the largest number of graduate students of anybody in the program. It wasn't even close.

Riggins: He's not here anymore?

McLaurin: He's not here anymore.

Riggins: He's moved on to another institute?

McLaurin: That's an interesting story.

Riggins: I won't go there.

McLaurin: You can if you want to. I had moved into administration when this broke. I hired Larry Cable. I was on the search committee. I was chair when he was hired and of course, I signed the contract but the department voted to bring him in. We knew he was different but he had very good recommendations. He had a good book out. He was from the University of Houston and he was an expert on Vietnam and counter-insurgency. It turns out that Larry didn't talk about his military involvement. He indicated on his little form that you fill out, employment form, that he had been in the Marine Corps. He just put USMC, that's all he put. So I assumed he had been in the Marine Corps. We got all the credentials, his undergraduate credentials, and you had to have at that time certification, a copy of their transcript from the institution from which they graduated with their Bachelor's, Master's and PhD. We got all that with Larry, they came from those institutions. Larry became a sort of phenomenon on campus. He was probably the most compelling speaker I've ever heard. He rarely spoke outside the academic community but I did get him to go speak to one group that I was in, the Kiwanis Club, and Larry dressed like an old hippy. I didn't know how it was going to go over with the Kiwanis Club but he went into the Kiwanis Club and within two minutes, you could've heard a pin drop. I'd never seen a man that could control an audience the way he can control an audience. And his books got reviewed, reviewed well. He did another book while he was here. He already had a book when he came here. He was on the speaking circuit at all the major military command training centers like the school at Maxwell Air Force Base, which is down in Alabama. He taught at West Point, at seminars up at West Point. He taught at Annapolis, at seminars at Annapolis. He was on everybody's A list. A book came out saying he was one of those people who was a Vietnam imposter, that he'd never been in the service and never been at Vietnam, he did not have a college diploma. This hit while I was in administration. It was either '96-'97 or '97-'98. I think it was '97-'98. I did a lot of work on this. I still don't know what the real deal is on Larry Cable. The guy who outed Cable did it in a book called Stolen Valor. He's a Texan. He's also a guy who was involved with Bush's National Guard credentials. But at any rate, this guy had outed a number of Vietnamese imposters. In every case, he was able to say what they were doing when they said they had been involved in Vietnam except for Larry Cable. Cable claims he was a secret operative and he couldn't go into real details about it. And he could've been. All I know is I called all around. I talked to a guy at the Naval Academy--I can't remember his rank there--and I was talking to him about it. They had been told they could not use Cable as a speaker anymore and I said "What do you think about Cable?" He said "I think the guy is a national treasure. He knows more about counter-insurgency than anybody I've ever seen."

So he knew his stuff and he did have a PhD of course from the University of Houston, he did have an MA from the University of Houston. I talked with this thesis advisor down there and there was no problem with this academic credentials. There is some question about whether he really graduated from Shimer College, which was a really dicey operation that was used by the CIA to recruit very bright kids with shall we say behavioral problems. So I don't know whether Larry Cable was just an outright fraud, whether Larry Cable really was an operative of some intelligence group, or whether Larry Cable got so involved in his sources that he created this fictitious persona. But I do know that Larry Cable knew Vietnam and the issues involved in counter-insurgency in Vietnam backwards and forwards. He would send his students up to archives and he'd tell them exactly where to go to do their work for their theses and they would go do it.

Riggins: I don't know, after hearing the story I want to believe that--

McLaurin: I did. There is no idea and I cannot--all I can say is I traced back enough to find out that the guy had two social security numbers. That's as far as I got. Whether he had more than two social securities, I don't know. That's as far as I got and I said I'm going to stop it at this point. I'm not going to try to go any further. There were potential leads that I could've gotten into but they would've involved travel and interviews, and whether these people would've talked to me or not, I don't know, and I'd still like to know. I'd really like to know who Larry Cable was, where he was when he said he was in Vietnam. The guy who did Stolen Valor could not find out. The people I talked with at Annapolis and West Point didn't know and they had tried to find out. This is interesting.

Riggins: Did you find out enough to know that he should leave? Was that it?

McLaurin: No, it wasn't my decision. He decided to leave. I don't think he should've left. He had a PhD. He knew his subject. Why the hell should he leave? He was a great teacher. Was he what he said he was, which was a PhD in History with training in this area? Yes. Was he a person who had personal experience in this? God only knows.

Riggins: Okay, we'll stop the tape and we'll move onto tape two.

McLaurin: That's a nice story, isn't it?

Riggins: It's very good. Thanks.

(Tape Change)

Riggins: We're back. This is a continuation of our interview with Dr. McLaurin. Today is again May 18th, 2006. We're speaking with Dr. McLaurin about the university. Right now we're talking about your time as chair. We were talking about the characters that were around. Do you think there were more characters then than now in the current round of PhDs that come in?

McLaurin: No. I think it remains about the same. It's just that they're in different departments now.

Riggins: Speaking of characters, did you get to know people in other departments? I know you were a chair. Did you get to know people more than these days? For example, Dr. Shin, he's a character we hear about in Philosophy and Religion.

McLaurin: Obviously, you got to know people in other departments better then because it was a much smaller institution, but it was beginning to get large enough. Shin was an old UNCW character.

Riggins: Do you mean kind of old guard?

McLaurin: Meaning old guard. Shin's life was UNCW and he had established that reputation long before I came here. And there were people like that. Claude Howell is another one. Jerry Shin is one. Their lives had been building their area at the University of North Carolina and they were theatrical. They were eccentric and so they got a lot of attention. As I heard William Wagner say about Jerry Shin once, every campus needs a Jerry Shin but only one.

Riggins: I've heard that. They had a following on the students. You came here around the same time Gene Hughley started. I know you guys went back.

McLaurin: Yeah. Gene Hugulet came here as a librarian, I think either the year before or maybe six months before, something like that. When I came here, I thought there'd be lots of people I knew from East Carolina here. When I got here, Gene was the only person here that I had known and yes, I knew Gene Hughley from graduate school. Gene did a Masters in English the same time I was completing a Masters of History at East Carolina so I had met Gene there. I knew Gene and his wife, Joyce, from 1962-1963 at East Carolina. They were and are good friends.

Riggins: I mentioned when we started I'd like to find out about your research interests and how were you able to pursue your research while being chair?

McLaurin: I had published my dissertation. My dissertation was read by a very well known scholar in American History, a guy named Gene Genovese and he was advising a publisher at that time. He told them that they should take a look at publishing my work and it was. It was published by Greenwood Press and I think it came out in 1969. It was a dissertation and it was called Paternalism in Protest and it was on early textile mill organization, late 19th, early 20th century. It was reviewed very, very well and one of the groups that I looked at there was a group called the Knights of Labor. So I began to look at the Knights of Labor which was the largest labor organization in the United States in the 1880s and looked at their activities in the South, not just in textiles. But they were very big in the Birmingham area in the coal mining areas and the timber industry in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida; in textiles in North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and in other areas as well. So I did a work on the Knights of Labor in the American South which was also published in Greenwood. I had begun that work before I came up here. I finished it while I was here as chair.

Riggins: Greenwood was the publisher?

McLaurin: Yeah, Greenwood Press.

Riggins: Are they with the university?

McLaurin: No, they're out of Westport, Connecticut and they publish a lot of monographs, a lot of it in labor history, civil rights history. They concentrate in several fields and I assume they're still publishing. They've been bought up in all the changes that have occurred in the publishing industry. But a very reputable press. I got really good reviews, as I said, on the first book; fewer good reviews on the second books, but I did good reviews.

Riggins: Was your second book more controversial?

McLaurin: No. I got some good reviews and I got some people who didn't like my interpretation that basically the Southern workforce did not fit Marxist axioms. You cannot use Marxism as a way of explaining the development of Southern labor and if you're a Marxist, you don't like that. At that time, Marxist dominated labor history. I don't think they do anymore but they did then. And Genovese was a Marxist. I also had started a book on Alabama in the late 19th/early 20th century called Images of Progress because I was working with a guy who was trained as an African historian at the University of South Alabama. And we got into these caches of old films, glass plate negatives and celluloid films, a lot of glass plate negatives; marvelous shots of the social life and economic life of Alabama during the late 19th and early 20th century. So we did a book together. I wrote the text and all the captions and it's a book called The Image of Progress: Alabama Photographs. I think it's 1890 to 1913, or maybe 1877 to 1913, 1914, somewhere in there; 1877 to 1917. That's when it was. That did, again, very well. It got a lot of good reviews in large measure because of the photography, which is just fantastic. You get these old glass plate negatives and you can make marvelous shots, things like people working in textile mills or in sawmills or on boats and ships, so it's the working class, and in the social life of things like dead kids in a living room, setting up kind of thing. We used as a model, not so much for the content but format, something called Wisconsin Death Trip, which is a classic, it's sort of a cult thing among historians on early photography in Wisconsin. Anyway, that did well for me. I got that book out just after I came up here. I remember I was trying to continue doing other things and I finally went to Dan Plyler and I said "Dan, I can either stop my research and stop my writing or I can drop a course." And I said, "I would prefer to drop a course and not teach as much."

Riggins: How much were you teaching?

McLaurin: I was teaching I think at time three courses. The normal load was four. There'd been some major changes since I came.

Riggins: Even after recruiting all these--

McLaurin: Then it went down to three and that was one of the advantages of graduate school, although it became the norm whether you were graduate school or not and I knew that was going to happen. So those departments that don't have graduate programs still teach by and large three classes and they get the benefit of that, which is fine with me. But at any rate I said "Dan, I can't do this," so I went to teaching one course a semester. I did continue to write. The next book I got out was Separate Past, which is autobiographical, Separate Past: Growing Up White in the Segregated South. University of Georgia Press did that. That came out in the late '80s about 1988. I also did a history of Mobile called Mobile: The Life and Times of a Great Southern City. That came out about 1983/84, somewhere in there. Obviously, it's based on work that I had done while I was in Mobile. After Separate Past, I did a work called Celia, a Slave. Separate Past sold very, very well. It's still used as a text in classes on race relations and the history of the segregating South. Celia, a Slave came out I think about in 1992. That book garnered tremendous attention. As a matter of fact, I'll have to boast a little bit. I expect I'm one of the very few, if not the only historian, who's ever had a book reviewed simultaneously on the front page of the New York Times literary supplement and the New York Review of Books. And it was also published by the University of Georgia Press. It's also been used widely as a textbook, both in this country and abroad. The same thing was true with Separate Paths and it did extraordinarily well commercially.

Riggins: Was this made into a film?

McLaurin: It was not made into a film but it was purchased. 20th Century Fox bought the rights after optioning it three times. So from a financial standpoint it did beautifully. There is a script that was developed by a very well known script writer but it's not been made. I've read the script and frankly I'm not very satisfied with the script, but that's their problem. They own the rights and I'm not going to get any money anyway. The paperback rights to Celia were bought at auction by Avon and the book's still in print, both with the University of Georgia Press, the hardback version, and with Avon, the paperback version.

Riggins: Where did you do your research for this book?

McLaurin: This is based on a slave case in Missouri and the research was done out in Fulton County, Missouri, right outside the city of Fulton, Missouri. It's not Fulton County. It's Calloway County and the town of Fulton, Missouri. After that, I did a book that came out in '93 or '94 called You Wrote My Life: Lyrical Themes in Country Music. It's an edited work. I had the lead essay in it, which is an essay on how the South is portrayed in country music lyrics.

Riggins: Interesting. So you're an editor of the book?

McLaurin: I was the editor of the book and had the lead essay in the book. After that, I did a book while I was in administration called The North Carolina State Fair: The First 150 Years which I'm very proud of. Again, there's about 100 pages of text in it so it's quite a bit of text but it's illustrated and it's a handsome work. But it's also I think a very readable work and on one of the most visible institutions in North Carolina that goes back to 1853. So I really enjoyed doing that. I remember going to the state fair as a kid and so the research on it was not only professionally fulfilling; it was personally fulfilling.

Riggins: Would you say you're a social historian or a cultural historian or regional historian?

McLaurin: I would consider myself and I describe myself as a historian of the American South and race relations and that's what I've done. The fair book is sort of a one-off but even in the labor work that I was doing, there was an awful lot of racial material there, so there are chapters in both books on how the racial aspects of organization played out. So race has always been a major thing with my work and there's a little bit about race in the state fair book but not much. The state fair book is sort of a labor of love and the North Carolina Division of Archives and History published that book. Now I'm working on another project.

Riggins: What's that?

McLaurin: I'm doing a documentary, a major television documentary with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Television on the Montfort Point Marines, the first African American Marines. We're just about ready to wrap it up and send it to post production. Then we've got to negotiate an air time and a network so we've still got some work ahead of us. The library is a part of this project. This is a project that's being funded through South Carolina State University under a grant from the Office of Naval Research and there's a long story to that. It's our project but we went to South Carolina State because they had the political connections to help us get the money and quite frankly, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington would not support it as an earmark. They supported other areas and did not, at that time, want to commit to trying to get earmarked funds for this and we said if we can't get funds here, we'll have to find another way. I understand that. The University of North Carolina at Wilmington's priority are not the Montfort Point Marines. They're in areas, particularly marine, but not Marines, marine-related areas. And that's fine. So we got the money finally.

Riggins: Did you think of the South Carolina State connection or did that come up through your research?

McLaurin: That came up through a colleague of mine. This whole project started with a parking lot conversation between myself and a man named Clarence Willie who holds a Doctorate in Education from East Carolina University and is a retired lieutenant colonel from the Marine Corps and is African American, and we started talking about this. I was representing the university on the Lower Cape Fear Community Chest. What do they call that? United Way. And he was representing Brunswick County education. We started talking about it and said maybe we can get something done. We went to Chancellor Leutze and he gave us $5,000 to start with and the university chipped in another $5,000. Then the university chipped in an awful lot of time and talent over at UNCW Television and what we did was do 61 interviews and the documentary's based on that. The grant from South Carolina State allowed us to develop the film, write the script, get all the illustrative material, get the music, get post production. It was a huge grant. It's a lot of money. So we're about the end of that project. And the library's involved in that project because the library will be hosting a website that almost all the material that we don't use in the film will put up on this website for scholars all over the world. It's going to be a major collection because these guys are leaving us at a rapid rate. These were the very first African American marines. The Marine Corps did not have blacks until 1942. They trained at Montfort Point, which is on Camp Lejeune; still there as a training base. It's called Camp Johnson. It was a segregated training base from 1942 until 1949. This is material that will be nowhere else in the world, that will be in this library.

Riggins: Will the library also get involved with the grant for some of the equipment?

McLaurin: No, we got the library involved. We came the other way around. We said "Would you guys like to have..." So yes, the library used some of the funds that are associated with the website to buy some equipment, cameras and servers and so forth and so on.

Riggins: In exchange, they will host the website?

McLaurin: In exchange, they host the website and will help develop the content. The website format is actually being developed by a professional website developer.

Riggins: That helps us. That's okay, that's alright. Well with that same discussion about your professional activity would you say you were also involved with regional historical associations? I think Sherman mentioned that to me, the American Historical Society.

McLaurin: When I was teaching, I was always professionally active and was a member of the American Historical Association, Southern Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians; gave papers at their meetings, all three of these organizations. So yes, I was active in these professional societies. I've been active on the local level. I was very much involved with all the 1898 events and actually put together a grant proposal and got it funded and did a major seminar on the events of 1989--not a seminar, a symposium on the events of 1898 open to the public.

Riggins: For the centennial?

McLaurin: For the centennial in 1998. We had two days and we had scholars from history and English, economics from all over the country. The people who were "the experts" on 1898 were brought in to talk with the people of Wilmington about 1898. And it was the first major public forum on 1898.

Riggins: I wasn't here for that, but I've heard about it.

McLaurin: It was very interesting. You've got most of it on tape and so it's here and you can look at it.

Riggins: Jim McGovern and Bertha Todd were co-chairs.

McLaurin: The were co-chairs of the 1898 Foundation but I put together the symposium, that aspect of that whole year of commemorative events.

Riggins: Have you been involved with that foundation?

McLaurin: I continue to be involved with the foundation and we're very near signing a contract to do the very last thing that the 1898 Foundation had proposed to do, and that is erect a built memorial to the people who were killed in the violence of 1898. That will be done and construction on that I hope will start within the next year. After that, the 1898 Foundation fully expects to go out of existence.

Riggins: Some of the things that it developed and have been tasked to--

McLaurin: Other organizations, yes. For example, we started what they call dialog circles of blacks and whites in small groups, 12 to 15 people meeting in homes with trained facilitators to talk about racial issues. And the YWCA here in town has taken that and gone with that. They're still running that. We wanted an economic component and so something was organized out of the Chamber of Commerce called Partners for Economic Inclusion. They do a variety of programs and seminars to try to get minority businessmen more involved in economic activity. They partner with a variety of institutions to do that, including the university. For example, several years ago, the university did a seminar on how to become bonded. If you're a contractor of a businessman, how do you go about getting bonded so that you can bid for larger projects. That's the kind of thing they're doing, and helping people get loans to expand their businesses, and they've been very successful. Those are just two of the things that they came up.

Riggins: The Girls' Club I believe took over some things.

McLaurin: Not that I know of. These are the two programs that have been most successful coming out of 1898.

Riggins: Speaking of some of the work you've been doing, your research interest on race relations and the South almost lends itself to being involved in the community and not being in the ivory tower teaching and researching and working with university students only, but going out into the community. It sounds like you felt fine about that throughout your career.

McLaurin: Yeah, and I was very involved in the civil rights movement in Mobile, which is a different story. But the Montfort Point material will also come out in book form. I'm doing a book with that with the University of North Carolina Press. I hope.

Riggins: The history department has always been prolific in terms of books at this university. Is that typical of history departments?

McLaurin: Yes. The publishing medium for history is primarily books. People do articles but if you're a professional historian, you're in a department and there is any emphasis on research, you are pretty much expected to get a book out.

Riggins: The idea is that you need more expansive medium?

McLaurin: I think it requires more because your research topics are generally fairly large topics and it's hard to encapsulate that in an article. You can take aspects of that research topic and encapsulate that in an article. And some historians really concentrate on shorter formats. One who has done that has been Alan Watson. Alan has books but most of his work has been done in articles and in very short monographs that were published by the Department of Archives and History.

Riggins: It seems like it been in other departments more than yours, but I'm not sure. The number of faculty these days are doing a lot of articles because they're so extensively peer reviewed, I'm sure there's always been peer reviewed articles that they're departments seem to demand peer reviewed work.

McLaurin: When you're talking about peer review, what's happening on this campus--I'm just guessing now because as I said, I've been out of the department since 1996 when I went over to administration. But an institution with heavy research involvement, promotion generally involves the assessment of one's written work, published work, by people outside your department. That's a normal method in the universities that stress research and it's inevitably going to happen at UNC Wilmington, that departments are going to require that published works of their scholars be evaluated by external reviewers. Frankly, I think that's a waste of time because if the work is published, it's evaluated, when it's published and it's reviewed, and all you've got to do is read the reviews. Why should you go?

Riggins: After it's been published.

McLaurin: Right. Just wait until it's been published.

Riggins: Now you're saying the peer review process before being published is part of it.

McLaurin: No, it's after, that people talk about their article. They'll send your articles out to people to read and they'll read it and tell you what they think and so forth. Sometimes it's before. Sometimes it'll be a dissertation and they'll send their dissertation out. Or they'll have a book under contract and they'll send it out to a wide variety.

Riggins: Like a peer review, you send out your article and it gets sent out to other scholars in the field before it gets published in the journal.

McLaurin: But that always happens. There are peer review journals and there are non-peer review journals and every department knows which is which within their own field. For example, if you publish in the North Carolina Historical Review or the Journal of Southern History or the Journal of American History or the American Historical Review, all of those are peer review journals.

Riggins: That's certainly required for promotion, in addition to the two books, monographs, which--

McLaurin: Not necessarily. If you've got a book, why worry about whether you've got two or three articles. Quite frankly, in terms of the way these things are weighed, particularly in arts and humanities departments, a book is worth way more than an article or three, four, five, or six articles, unless it's one heck of an article. No, the book is the key--in history. There are other departments, like Sociology for example, where the article is more the focus.

Riggins: Maybe more quantitative.

McLaurin: Or Math. Most people don't publish books on math, except Tex. They publish articles.

Riggins: They do other things. Okay, it's just been helpful to get your perspective of what's going on in academics. Another thing that's been going on in academics, I spoke to the university librarian, Sherman before I interviewed you. You have some strong feelings I believe about administration and academics.

McLaurin: (laughs)

Riggins: And you are an administrator so I think you're allowed to talk about it.

McLaurin: I don't know what he means by strong feelings. I enjoyed my time in administration. I went into administration because I was asked to go. I did not apply for the position, which some people might see as not the right way to go about it, but that's the way I went in and I went in at the end of my career. So I went in as a tenured, full professor basically with nothing to lose. I was able to go right back into the classroom if I didn't like it. I enjoyed my time in administration and I think by and large, faculty undervalues administration. I think by and large this university has been under-administered, particularly in the academic areas.

Riggins: There's not as many people.

McLaurin: Not as many people. We've been running on empty and I think that's probably true in the library. So administration is absolutely crucial but I do believe very strongly that the faculty is the most important component of the institution and the faculty should be involved in all academic decision making processes. I don't think Business Affairs, for example, should be determining academic policy and I think that's been done on this campus to some extent. I think Academics should determine academic policies with the administration. They have to work together. But academic policy should not be determined by Business Affairs or Student Affairs or by the advancement office. It should be done by Academic Affairs.

Riggins: How has that emerged, if you want to go into it or not, I don't know when Business Affairs made decisions impacting academic life?

McLaurin: Primarily through the budgeting process in which Business Affairs was able to develop an initial budget concept without thorough discussion. I don't know that that practice continues. I'm not in administration, have no idea, but in the past, that was the situation that existed and did cause friction, sometimes substantial friction and stress. I don't know what the budget process is like at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington today. I hope it's an open process in which all the divisions of the university are able to see what comes down from Raleigh and to have open, above-board discussions about how this money should be spent. And then, of course, the chancellor--that's what the chancellor gets paid to do; has to eventually make the decisions about where the money is going to be sent.

Riggins: When you began in administration, what was your mission? What were you called in to do?

McLaurin: My role was to deal with academic personnel and academic policies and programs. That's what I did. There was another associate chancellor in the office who did primarily the financial side, construction, budgets and so forth and so on and that was Paul Hosier. There was another associate vice chancellor who was Dennis Carter, who was dealing with the student enrollment side.

Riggins: You went in '96?

McLaurin: I went in'96, exactly '96.

Riggins: Was Marvin Moss still--

McLaurin: Marvin Moss was the provost and of course Jim Leutze was chancellor. Marvin was the person who asked me to go in. I made sure that Marvin understood that I was not going to work Marvin's hours. I think Marvin works from six o'clock in the morning to about 10 o'clock at night and he had that reputation. I just was not going to do that. Marvin Moss did a tremendous job as provost and really helped put this institution on the map in terms of marine sciences and other areas as well. He was just, I think, a remarkably effective provost. I know he had some detractors but overall, this university owes a lot to Marvin Moss. And I think to Jim Leutze for bringing Marvin Moss in because both of these were people with very strong egos and very pronounced views, that they worked together as well as they did for as long as they did I think is remarkable and was certainly very good for the university.

Riggins: And managed to work together for a long time.

McLaurin: Absolutely, so I think both of them were really good for the university.

Riggins: Marvin Moss came from the outside.

McLaurin: Marvin came from the outside and his job was to try to get that marine center built and to try get a PhD program in Marine Biology up and running, and to encourage research, and he did all of those things and did them well.

Riggins: He stepped down and Dr. Cavanaugh--

McLaurin: John Cavanaugh came.

Riggins: You were around for that search?

McLaurin: I was here for three years under John Cavanaugh, and then I was half-time both to chancellor and the interim provost, who was Paul Hosier. He asked me to stay on half time and I stayed one year half-time, but I had retired at that point. I was in sort of a phased retirement mode and it's crazy to do administration half time because you never do half time. But I did it because I wanted to teach the following year and I wanted to be able to teach exactly what I wanted to teach half-time the following year, which was the year 2003/2004. So I set that up and taught an honor's course and a seminar in the one semester I taught that year. Those were my last two classes.

Riggins: So you could go out teaching.

McLaurin: Yeah, to go out doing exactly what I wanted to do. That's what I did.

Riggins: Towards the end of when you were in administration, that's when you were co-chair of the diversity--

McLaurin: That's correct. The last year I was in administration, I co-chaired the Diversity Task Force, which Dr. Leutze had appointed with Michelle Howard-Vital as the co-chair. And we did the first faculty-wide survey of attitudes about diversity, first student survey attitudes about diversity. We held meetings all over the campus. The chancellor the previous year had had three ex-chancellors come in and look at the diversity issues on campus and issue a report. In many ways, that committee that Michelle and I co-chaired was a response to their report, the three chancellors' report and one of the things we were trying to do was to get everybody to read it, get everybody to see what was said, get everybody to think about diversity issues seriously. I hope we did that job. We produced a report. The first time I met the current chancellor, Chancellor DePaolo, was as an outgoing administrator and I gave her my view of what had happened with that diversity report.

Riggins: She picked up the ball and kept running.

McLaurin: Yes. It's been a major issue and it will continue to be a major issue.

Riggins: Dr. Leutze addressed that some enrollments had gone down.

McLaurin: It's a very complex issue. It is extraordinarily complex. It is not a problem to be solved and if people think there is a solution out there, that there's a magic bullet out there that if you just do X, Y, or Z, we're going to solve our "diversity problems," they are crazy. It's not going to happen for a variety of reasons. One is, there are no fixed targets and a lawyer would not allow you to have fixed targets in today's climate anyway. If you were to go out and say we're going to have 10% African Americans, it's not going to happen. The other thing is, there really are no fixed targets. When is a student body diverse enough? The whole concept is, if you think of it, amorphous. American society is complex. American society contains any number of ethnic elements and trying to ensure equality of opportunity from an educational standpoint because we're an educational institution is going to continue to involve looking at diversity issue. You're not going to be able to say "We're going to put these programs in place and we'll have solved the diversity issue and we can go on and think about other things." Not going to happen.

Riggins: It's one of those issues that's very complex.

McLaurin: It's going to always be there.

Riggins: No easy answers. Were you involved with faculty senate over the years?

McLaurin: I was on the faculty senate for awhile, actually twice. I was on the faculty senate during the 1980s when we redid basic studies, which was very interesting. I was on the chair of the self study committee here, right after I came in from the University of South Alabama in part because of the things we'd gone through at South Alabama. I was the chair of the SAX [ph?] self study committee here. I chaired a subcommittee in the second self study and was on the steering committee on the second self study.

Riggins: Was that the senate steering committee?

McLaurin: No, this was a self study steering committee.

Riggins: That was the one that happened in--

McLaurin: 1990, in the '90s. I was involved in three self studies here on campus. I chaired one, chaired a subcommittee on the second one, served on a steering committee on the third one. And you can see the growth here and you can see what the problems were at this institution. The second self study involved the switchover to computerization. That was the major issue and I think that self study made suggestions that led to our embracing the technological change that was sweeping education during those periods of time.

Riggins: Did you have a chance to collaborate with other faculty members much in your research?

McLaurin: History is a lone wolf profession, it's a lone wolf kind of thing. No, I didn't. The closest thing I did was with the photographer at South Alabama. We worked on two books together. He did the illustrations and I did the text.

Riggins: I guess glass plates are pretty stable.

McLaurin: That was back in the days. We used to go up to the archives at Montgomery and we would take glass plate negatives out of the archives and take them home and develop them back at Mobile and take them back up. They trusted us. You can't get into an archive now without signing your name in blood kind of thing because people have stolen so much from them, as you know, so you just can't do it. I'm sure you can't do it in our archives but back then, you could. The guy I was working with was a perfectionist. He would make six, seven, eight contact prints and that's what you do with glass plate. Until he got it just like he wanted it, he'd drive me crazy. That was my collaboration but it was not a research collaboration.

Riggins: Who are some of the faculty that you remember from a more socializing point of view? For example I'm going to be interviewing next week Sylvia Polgar.

McLaurin: I remember Sylvia well. She's a delightful person, absolutely delightful person.

Riggins: She mentioned, as I was talking about some things she said, "I'm not going to be able to remember much." And I said the person that suggested I should interview you was Charlie West from the business school. She said, "Oh, yes. I remember going to lunch. It seems like it was mostly male faculty.

McLaurin was in that group that we'd go and have lunch with."

McLaurin: Charlie West. I've known so many people over the years at this institution and some of them stand out, people not in your department. Of course, you socialize with people in your department but I remember Betty Jo Welch who was just a marvelous, marvelous woman. I really admired Betty Jo Welch. I thought a lot of her and I thought she gave a lot to this institution. And Sylvia Polgar and Lou Nance in the chemistry department, who was my best friend for years. Unfortunately, many of these people are no longer with us. So I did know a number of faculty members and some of them are still with us, like Gene Hughley [ph?]. Brooks Dodson is retired and moved out of the community. Jim McGivern has retired and moved out of the community. Fred Tawny was a great friend, close personal friend of myself and my wife and unfortunately, Fred is no longer with us. Fletcher Norris had been a marvelous friend. Doug Smith, people in Mathematics department that I've known through Sandra's work here.

Riggins: Barbara Ryan, I interviewed here.

McLaurin: I didn't know Barbara on faculty. She was gone when we came here. Barbara was one of the people we knew at East Carolina.

Riggins: That must be another Barbara.

McLaurin: No, you're right. I'm sorry. I take that back. Delete that. Barbara Ryan is on faculty here. I'm thinking of another Barbara and I cannot remember her name but it'll come to me. I know who you're talking about. Barbara Ryan. Barbara was more my wife's friend. I really didn't know Barbara that well from a personal standpoint, but as a faculty member, yes. She was a woman who contributed tremendously to that department. Who's the other Barbara?

Riggins: Something Sylvia Polgar was telling me was about a group of you who ate lunch and didn't shy away from political discussions.

McLaurin: We enjoyed that. One of the things I wish the university had is a more organized way for faculty to come together. I think it's especially desirable as the institution gets bigger and bigger. It becomes almost impossible to know colleagues who are in Business or who are in Education or who are in Nursing or in the hard sciences, if you're in Arts and Sciences. It just becomes almost impossible so it would be nice if you had that ability to socialize. It's difficult to do. It's difficult to finance and that's the reason it's not done. Even major institutions have problems financing faculty clubs of any kind so it's hard. But it would be nice.

Riggins: I agree. Definitely. It's something that we could use around here.

McLaurin: Are you going to give me a wrap-up question?

Riggins: Yeah, that's fine. There's just so much I have not asked.

McLaurin: I'm still here. I'm going to be around.

Riggins: Talk about the future. What lays ahead?

McLaurin: I will never do a major project like this TV project action. I'm not going to tie up my life that way. I'm not going to be beholden to funding sources. I'm not going to be beholden to other people's work schedules. I will continue to write. I have two or three projects I'd like to see if I can accomplish.

Riggins: Academic works?

McLaurin: If you'll notice in my career, I've moved more and more and more away from work that is designed to be read by the other five specialists in your field and more toward a popular audience. Separate Past was a huge break in that but the photographic works before that were moving toward a more popular audience. I remember a good friend of mine, a past president of the Southern Historical Association, when I told him I was doing an autobiography about growing up in Wade, he told me "Melton, you're crazy. You need to get on a research project." Thank God I didn't listen to him and I told him that. Because of the success of Separate Past. Celia, I worked very hard to make Celia accessible to a general public and it was a powerful story that allowed me to do that but I still worked very, very hard to organize it and to write it in such a manner as to make it accessible. This Montfort Point work is all aimed at a broad public audience, including the book manuscript. We're using 35 minutes of the interviews in the film out of 2,800 minutes. So the book will allow us to use another 300, 400 minutes.

Riggins: And as a historian here, grateful for that. All this data and research.

McLaurin: Some of it's not that good but I'd say 1,000 minutes of it is just wonderful. Maybe more than that. Maybe as much as 1,800 minutes, which is like 30 hours. But at any rate, I have some projects in mind but they are projects that I can do on my own schedule with my own resources.

Riggins: Back to the solitary mode.

McLaurin: Yes.

Riggins: Of course you'll have other goals, I guess. Any retirement-type goals?

McLaurin: Travel and we have traveled some. I've been to Russian, I've been to the capitals of Eastern Europe. I just got back from England. I've got to do China, I've got to do India. I've got lots of travel plans.

Riggins: Yeah, yeah, that's great. What do you see for the future of this institution?

McLaurin: It's got to continue to grow because the region's going to continue to grow. The institution has the beach. It recruits off the beach and it recruits very good students. It recruits off the reputation at Wilmington. As you know, Wilmington's a hot spot. Throughout the country, people all over the country know about Wilmington, especially the Northeast. That's why everybody's coming down here and buying up real estate like crazy, which I think the bloom is off the rose there. Wilmington is going to continue to expand, continue to grow, continue to be a wonderful place to live and it is a marvelous place to live. So we're going to draw students. We're going to continue to draw very good students. We've got very good academic programs now, not just Marine Biology. Our Education program--Cathy Barlow has done a marvelous job in Education for example, in huge grants. Virginia Adams and her shop in Nursing got in the grant money to do a variety of things including establish a Master's program in Nursing. So there's a lot going on here that attracts students in a variety of academic programs and they can come to this institution that has really fine academic programs in a marvelous location and that's why we're going to continue to grow and continue to attract students. There are two areas that I'm concerned about with this institution. We are woefully inadequately funded in terms of endowment, in terms of private monies. I understand there's going to be a major push to change that but this has always been a problem and frankly, I don't think it's a problem we've solved. And it's one we have to continue to work on as an institution because we simply have to have private monies to survive and to differentiate ourselves from others. The other thing is research and I think that if you look at the profile of this institution, our research profile is much closer to what we call a doctoral one institution like East Carolina is declared now or Charlotte is, than it is to a comprehensive institution.

Frankly, I think that's where we have to continue to make progress and I frankly think that our whole research apparatus needs to be reorganized and research should be stressed all the way down in every department, not everybody. I'm not talking about individual research; I'm talking about sponsored research that brings in money because if you look at the amount of money we bring in, in terms of sponsored research and it's across the board in Psychology, Chemistry, Biology, Nursing, I just mentioned it's not just in the Marine Sciences. If you look at that money and I don't know where it is right now but I think it's around maybe $13 million, $14 million a year that we're bringing in, to get that kind of income with an endowment, if you had $100 million endowment at 10% it would be only $10 million a year. We've got $37 million. So if we can get to $50 million, which would be a big jump with a campaign, we wouldn't be making as much off of an endowment that is vastly expanded as we're currently making off of research.

Riggins: So you're saying support so that we can get even more sponsored research.

McLaurin: Research monies I think is something we absolutely have to have more of and something we absolutely should encourage. I may be totally wrong on that; that's my view and I think we need more emphasis on this campus on doing that. I think we need a different organizational structure which would really be something like an associate vice chancellor or probably put this person in the provost office, an associate provost for research in charge of all research efforts on campus, graduate and undergraduates. I think we badly need that position.

Riggins: That's interesting because we're getting so many dollars already. That's our strength; why stop there? We need to get more but we need more support.

McLaurin: What we need is, I think, a different organizational structure because right now, we're doing things like we've always done. This position does not exist and I think this position needs to exist, and have said so.

Riggins: We'll see if anyone listens down the road.

McLaurin: It's a money issue but if you really look at it, it's going to cost to bring in somebody like that. If you bring in somebody to do that, you may be talking about $200,000 a year salary but hell, what do we pay a basketball coach? But also, the person that comes in is going to earn their salary by increasing the research potential. It's going to involve some other issues but I think we need that person on this campus. I think we need that person on this campus and I think we need a much more effective advancement operation. And maybe we're getting there. I don't know. I hear rumors. I don't know. But I'd say we have not had, over the years, either under Wagner or temporarily under Leutze, an extremely effective advancement office.

Riggins: There was a capital campaign under Leutze.

McLaurin: Bill Anlian. [ph?] When Bill Anlian was here, I thought we had an extremely effective advancement office. Bill Anlian came in from another institution in North Carolina. He knew everybody in North Carolina. He had tremendous contacts and quite frankly, he left us to go make money. I don't blame him. But we need another Bill Anlian. Not to be shy about things but my colleagues will love me saying that.

Riggins: The future of the department--history. I know you've been away, back and forth. How do you see the History department changing at this university?

McLaurin: I really don't know. I've been out of the profession a lot. I think that historians in general--and I'm not just talking about the department--need to pay more attention to writing for a larger audience. If Humanities disciplines don't have widespread support, they're going to wither. They need to have that widespread. You can't just write for the 15 academics that are going to read your work. That way lies disaster for Humanities departments in my opinion. The other thing is Humanities are going to have to get much more involved in sponsored research to get money. The money is not going to come from the State of North Carolina and as I just pointed out, it's not going to come from private donors. We're not going to have a $100 million endowment and as I said, a $100 million endowment would net you, at 5%, $5 million a year. That's less than half of what we're bringing in with research monies. There are research monies available for Humanities. What you have to do is say as a department, we have to develop a strategy that will allow us to go out and get research monies and say somebody takes a turn at trying to do that for two or three years and slacks off their own individual research and so forth and so on. But I think it's crucial that departments do that because if you look at what's happening in public education, public education is being made--and your tape is out.

Riggins: We do have a minute or two.

McLaurin: Public education is being made a private commodity. It's being paid more and more and more by the student in tuition and fees and less and less and less from the state. The State of North Carolina pays about 30% Here at UNCW. The rest of it comes from tuition, from fees, from grants and from private sources. It's not state. If you wait until the State of North Carolina pays you to do all the things you want to do, you're never going to do it, so you're going to have to go get the money. The sciences know this. The professional schools know this and they've been doing it. And more and more and more people in the College of Arts and Sciences are going to have to do it, Humanities, the Arts and so forth. And it is possible. It's possible. It takes work.

Riggins: It takes work and some support. Thank you very much and I'll be glad to provide you a copy of this video.

McLaurin: Okay.

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