AN "F" FOR EFFORT
by Merlin D. Darby
I came to Oregon College of Education twice: once in the Fall of 1955 as an entering freshman and again in 1968 as an assistant professor. This anecdote is about that first Fall Term.
Having dropped out of Silverton (Oregon) High School in the 1950s, it was not long before my Selective Service "friends and neighbors" elected me to serve in the military during the downside of the Korean War. It was in Taegu, Korea, as a company clerk (a position acquired by dint of having taken a typing class in high school) that news of an “early separation for educational pursuits” process came to my attention. Qualifications were not very stringent. Uncle Sam was motivated to reduce active forces as soon as possible at the conflict’s end, and I found myself on the way back to the States and discharge in the spring of 1955.
Even then you didn’t just walk into college. There was an expectation for completing high school to qualify. So—off to the State Department of Education I went to take a GED examination. Once that was completed, admission was no problem until, along with other 21-22 year- old veterans, I arrived on the OCE campus for Freshman Orientation.
It was not hard to distinguish this grizzled group from the beany-clad youngsters being hustled about by student monitors. Thank goodness for the Canteen Tavern (now the Trail’s End in Independence). By assembling there, we survived until registration day in the old gym. My advisor, who turned out to be Humanities professor Dr. Charles McClure, soon became aware of my total confusion regarding credit hours, majors and minors, penciled in a group of courses and sent me away to that place of dysfunctional registration madness in the Old Gym. More than one from our Canteen Tavern seminars walked out the door, never to be seen again after becoming totally frustrated by the process–plus standing in line, something they had done far too often in the military.
All my classes fell into place—among them, Art Appreciation, a lower division requirement. The instructor was one Pearl Heath. That meant nothing to me then. Little did I know.
Fall term slid by without any major problems. With no other compelling reasons I selected Humanities for a major because Dr. McClure had pointed out all the literature courses it involved and, What the Hey, reading books was part of my life since I was five years old. Easy stuff.
Art Appreciation involved looking at countless slide pictures of Pearl Heath on a camel, at the Pyramids, in a gondola on Florence’s canals, and so on. A minor brouhaha arose over the dozen or so veterans in the class commandeering one of the busses chartered for Art Appreciation day at the Portland Art Museum. On the way home, with the help of an agreeable driver, we stopped at several watering holes along the way, thus arriving back on campus to find an enraged Pearl striding up and down in front of Todd Hall. The poor bus driver took the abuse as we had departed the bus behind the old gym.
The term ended with the usual tests and away everyone went for the holidays. My grades arrived and there among all my reasonably good marks was an F in Art Appreciation. Mystified, I went to Ms. Heath’s office at the start of Winter Term to find out what had happened. There, she handed me a folder containing my class notes, which as a course requirement I had dutifully amassed pages of my scribbled interpretations of the Pearl Heath travelogues, bound them attractively and presented as evidence of my attentiveness. In red ink across the front was written, “This is not college caliber work!” They were supposed to be typed, collated, and precise. Now why didn’t I know that?
My protestations regarding the A- earned on the final and mid-term were dismissed out of hand. So, off I went to the administration building and the Dean of Men’s office to seek redress for this travesty of academia. There I encountered Dr. Arthur Glogau, who, upon my second coming to OCE was to be my colleague but then known affectionately to the undergraduate population as “Black Art.”
I presented my case to the Dean who listened attentively, smiled rather smugly, leaned forward for a pad of paper, uncapped his pen and inscribed a large, capitalized TS.
You may wonder then, how the second coming was accomplished given that Art Appreciation was a required course. Well you may ask.
Four years plus later, in my final term as I was doing my student teaching, I re-registered for this only blemish on my academic credentials in order to graduate. I plopped myself down among another group of freshmen, none of whom were veterans, to go through the experience again. Pearl Heath was not the instructor and her replacement was ill prepared and evidenced little interest in the content of this lower division exercise in informing the masses. My attendance was sporadic. I did have my well preserved notes from Pearl’s travels you know. Thus, at term’s end, going to the final seeking only a D grade which would let me graduate, what did I find before me?
You guessed it: Pearl Heath’s final, which covered at least half again as much material as was presented in the current class and was drawing cries of dismay from my classmates, who were seeing questions regarding people, places and things of which they had no idea.
I blithely whipped through the test, and walked out of the room to the astonished stares of students and instructor alike. A week or two later my grades arrived with an “Inc.” in Art Appreciation. Back to the Art Department in venerable old Campbell Hall (it still had its steeple then) to the instructor’s office where I was informed that because my score on the final was so much higher than anyone else and I had answered questions on so much material that was not covered in class that I was suspected of – CHEATING!
Cloaking myself in all the self-righteousness I could muster I asked, "Was this test ever used for this class before?" and then laid out the circumstances. The next week I received an amended grade report with a B in Art Appreciation.