Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William Dallas Herring, February 14, 1987. Interview C-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Debate over the purpose of a community college education

Herring recalls Governor Luther Hodges's efforts in the late 1950s to develop an industrial education program in North Carolina to provide capable hands for textile mills, and Herring's own effort to convince the governor of the importance of comprehensive education. Comprehensive education lost out when the 1957 Community College Act shifted the state's focus to liberal arts education.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William Dallas Herring, February 14, 1987. Interview C-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

From that day in April—I've forgotten what day of the month it was—1958, in less than a year, the Burlington city board of education had a new building for the Burlington IEC, it was called, Industrial Education Center. Faculty was forty part-time people and over a thousand students—fully operational. We approved seven of them in the state on that occasion. The one in Wake County took two or three years for them to get what is now Wake Tech but…
These were jointly financed; counties participated?
Yes, the counties. It was part of the public school system. They put up the buildings, and we furnished them. We got the teachers' salaries out of the George-Barden and Smith-Hughes Act funds, and the real carrot was the equipment. I remember Charlie McCrary, Wade Martin, and I went to Washington to the Pentagon to request them to grant some of the equipment that they had stockpiled in the salt mines against atomic attack. This was all new equipment. It was simply scattered about the country in case of attack—machine tools most of them. We made the point to them that we needed to stockpile some machinists to run the equipment. If people got killed who knew how to run them, what good would the machines be? And we were not getting to first base until we got hold of Hodges. He called the powers that be—I don't know who they were, but influence in the Pentagon higher up—and we got over a million dollars worth of equipment that went to Winston-Salem-Forsyth IEC. It's still up there by the way. From that day on the idea just took root and spread like wildfire. It was a popular thing because it spoke to a need that the state had never met before. Hundreds of thousands of people across the state were shut out of the process of higher education. Shut out at the high school level because the high schools are too small to give them a diversified program that they really needed to keep their interest and teach them the skills that they needed in order to make a living. At the same session, the 1957 session, the Board of Higher Education was under the leadership of Harris Purks, who was the director, a physics professor and former provost at the University at Chapel Hill; Bill Womble, a young lawyer from Winston-Salem, who was a representative from Forsyth; Bob Lassiter from Charlotte, also a member of the Board of Higher Education and of the legislature; and Charlie Reynolds, from, I believe, Spindale. Oh, we had some fine people. They proposed a different kind of community college system. Two of them had been out to California with Harris Purks to look at this, and they concluded that it was all wrong and didn't want to get involved with that. What they were interested in was the liberal arts and sciences programs only, no vocational at all. Bonnie Cone had a comprehensive institution going in Charlotte at local expense, called Central Community College. It was operated by the Charlotte city schools, and public school vocational funds that came through the Department of Public Instruction were used. But when the new Community College Act of '57 was adopted, it severed the ties with the public schools. You couldn't spend the money on that. The state adopted a policy of reimbursing the local institutions. I think the figure was $3.50 per credit hour of instruction actually delivered. You would pay this over at the end of the quarter. You had to operate on local funds. You got a reimbursement at the end of the quarter if you did actually produce so many credit hours. Well, that spelled the end of vocational education for Charlotte Central Community College. Wilmington also had one. The university started extension programs down there in cooperation with the public schools. Asheville had a slightly different experience with what was later known as Asheville-Biltmore Junior College. We could not continue it. So we put the IEC's in there to take up the vocational programs. Asheville-Buncombe Tech it is now, Cape Fear Tech, and Central Piedmont Community College was at first Central Piedmont IEC, in the same place in the old central high school building. Bonnie was very much grieved at that—this arbitrary separation, and I shared it with her. I voted against it on the Board of Higher Education, a minority of one again, and I don't want there to be any misunderstanding about it. I voted against it because it was a departure from the comprehensive community college idea, and it was totally inadequate in its funding. They only appropriated $25,000 for each of three schools. And they sold their soul for a mess of pottage. Hiden Ramsey blessed me out about that. Bill Womble got offended over it. I just quietly went about my business of building the IEC's. I knew Hodges would not agree for any liberal arts instruction to go into them, no libraries. He wanted us to train these millhands and do it right now and not have any pussyfooting about it. We were doing it. But I told him, "These people can't read. A lot of them can't read, and those that can, can only read at an elementary school level. How do you expect them to perform in a complex industry in tomorrow's technical fields?" Starting the Research Triangle out here and expecting workers like this to perform in it. I remember later on when he got to be Secretary of Commerce (Watts Hill had been on the Board of Higher Education in the Moore administration).
Watts, Jr., I believe.
Yeah. Watts got the idea that we were competing and about to turn the IEC's into community colleges. Hodges didn't like it. So I scheduled a session with him in Ready's 8 office. 8 Dr. I. E. Ready had become director of the Department of Community Colleges in 1963. I'm getting a little ahead of the story but I'll tell you now while I'm thinking of it. Ed Rankin was with him. They were dressed in their boots and were going hunting. There was snow on the ground. They went bird hunting. I defended what we did, but I don't think I ever convinced either one of them, Ed or Hodges, that the comprahensive idea was what was right for the state. We'll get back to that in a minute. We didn't fall out about it but we just didn't agree. Another thing that Hodges did, and I think it's often lost in the telling. He began the State Citizens Committee for Better Schools. Holt McPherson 9 of High Point was chairman of it. 9 Editor, High Point Enterprise. [Interruption] I was telling about the result of the 1957 Community College Act which really was not a community college act. It was an act to inhibit the development of community colleges and to redirect the local movement to liberal arts and sciences alone rather than a comprehensive curriculum involving the technical and vocational as well as the avocational and the liberal arts and sciences. My colleagues on the Board of Higher Education simply were not convinced that the state needed any such thing as that.