- Synopsis: Arlene’s BackgroundKeywords: Peace Corps; California; UCLA; Stamford;Austria; Germany; Khon Kaen University; Bansomdej College of Education; Bangkok; Southeast Asia; graduate schoolTranscript: JOANN LOSAVIO: Wonderful. Today is August 1st, 2019. My name is Joanne LoSavio. I'm here with Dr. Arlene Neher to do an oral history interview for NIU's 125th anniversary oral history project. We're in Zulauf hall, room 603. Arlene, I was wondering if we might start, if I could ask you to introduce yourself and say a little bit about you and where you're from.
DR. ARLENE NEHER: Okay. Is it picking me up? Great. I'm a Californian and even though I've lived in Illinois for almost 50 years, I still think of myself as a Californian. My hometown is Palo Alto, California and I went to the hometown university at Stanford and I met my husband, Clark Neher when I was a senior in high school at Palo Alto. In those days there weren't very many women at Stanford so the freshman boys had to date the townie girls. That's how we got together and I was 17, he was 18. It wasn't a smooth path but we finally did get married in 1962 having shared an overseas experience, he in Austria and I in Germany in our sophomore and junior years. Right from the beginning we had a real strong international approach to life in everything that we did. It wasn't a big leap for us to go into the peace corps. In fact, Clark was one of the first people to join when the peace corps was announced and we weren't married yet but we got married and then I applied and they put us together. We spent two years in Bangkok as peace Corps volunteers. Clark was teaching at Khon Kaen University and I was teaching at Bansomdej College of Education. Our son Eric was born as we call him, the little Peace Corps lad and I don't think he was the first baby of Peace Corps volunteers but it was in the first year of the Peace Corps in Bangkok and Thailand that all of this happened. That interest in Southeast Asia is what took us first back to California when Clark did a Ph.D. at UCLA because one of the leading scholars of Thailand was there, David Wilson. While he was getting the Ph.D., I was teaching at university high school, taught international relations and world geography and was the AFS advisor and generally had a great time.
- Synopsis: How Arlene and Clark Neher Came to NIUKeywords: Graduate School; family life; Chulalongkorn University; missionary; Christianity; World War II; Thailand; Graduate Research; Chiang MaiTranscript: NEHER: I thought at the time that was the best job in the world but it's probably the second-best for me. This was what I was able to put together at Northern. [Pause] We had gone to Chiang Mai, Thailand in 1968 and 1969 and Clark did research on his studies for a local government, the anthropological approach to poli sci [political science] so he was on the frontier in that. I and our two children at that time in Thailand lived in Chiang Mai and I taught in a mission school. It was called the Chiang Mai Coeducational Center and there were children from all kinds of countries whose parents were working with the consulate or with one of the industries or department of drug control or whatever. So there were enough children who were seventh and eighth graders that I could teach social studies and English to them and started doing a little bit of research on what was happening during World War II just because that was really the interesting project for me in Southeast Asia that Thailand started World War II on the side of Japan and they ended World War II on the side of the allies. And how they pulled that off was just very interesting to me. I kept hearing about it but I hadn't yet thought about graduate school. I just was interested in finding out what had happened. When the Japanese were in Thailand during World War II, I was interested in how the Thais reacted to that and how the missionaries reacted. The missionaries had built a number of hospitals, Christian-American missionaries and they'd built schools and colleges and when the Japanese came in, they took over the buildings that the Americans had built, the hospitals and the schools and some agricultural projects and so on. By the time we were in Thailand in 1967 and 1968, those missionaries had come back. They had stories to tell and the Thais had stories to tell. I always liked to hear a good story so that was cool. Clark visited his office colleague at Chulalongkorn University when we were there the second time and in walked Lad Thomas to Ajaan [teacher] Seumas office one day and met Clark and then sometime later there was a one year appointment available at Northern Illinois University. They wrote him a letter and said, "Come and take that." We didn't even know how to say it. We said it De-Kab [laughs] like the Atlanta people [laughs]. We showed up and Clark drove a trailer across the country and I flew with the two little boys and we rented a house in DeKalb and sort of jumped in and I started taking one course a semester and got hooked. I remember the graduate advisor, I can't think of his first name. Professor White came to me one day at one of the seminars and he said, "You've got only about two courses left to take and what kind of a masters do you want?" [laughs] There was an A or a B choice. You could write a thesis or you could take it or write a paper or something I said, "I would like to interview this guy, Kenneth Landon. I guess I'll take that track." Then I started getting more serious about it and I started taking two classes a semester. In the meantime, I was doing some writing for some tests in companies and just generally settling in and having babies and going to Southeast Asia parties.
- Synopsis: Faculty Culture in the late 1960sKeywords: tenure; faculty; history department; political science departmentTranscript: NEHER: Definitely the lure for us at Northern was the center for Southeast Asian studies. There were a lot of people in those days who were very unhappy being in a second-tier university that they were going to publish their way out of here. We were just delighted because there were like twenty profs and staff who were Southeast Asian, we had great parties and we were where we wanted to be. I remember that Professor Minot was a guest at our house one night and it was winter. The joke that goes around was that Arlene didn't buy a winter coat because it was going to just be here for one year. I layered up and kept talking about being a Californian and a Thai person, how cold was so cold? Bill Minot, he said, "We offered Clark a tenure track." He said, "Do you think you'll take it?" I said, "I think I'll take it." He said, "Maybe it'll make up for the lack of sunshine." This is the same man who, when I walked across the stage to get my Ph.D., gave me a big kiss. [laughs] I said, "I remember sitting down next to one of my fellow Ph.D. students and I said, "Did anybody kiss you up there"? He said, “No, but they did you." [laughs] That was a great story. They definitely made me feel that this was a place that I should be. There was always this kind of underlying support that and recognition that— then I was also a professional that I had also been in Peace Corps and had been a teacher. The history department and the political science department in those days didn’t get along. It was an issue over tenure that had been given to one of the historians. The background is the war and student protests and so on. The year before we got here there been a big brouhaha about one of the professors who either should or shouldn’t have got [tenure]. Somebody will tell you that story. I don’t know whether it’s worth telling.
LOSAVIO: What year was that?
NEHER: We came in August of ’69. The brouhaha would have been the year before that. I was always sort getting it mixed up. I remember when we went to a newcomers party and those were the days when Poli Sci hired five new faculty that year. There’s no affirmative action. There’s just— you’re good buddies and that’s how the center got built is that when they needed a sociologist or a historian whatever then they would just call off their friends. The Southeast Asia all of a sudden there were a little Islands in Southeast Asia in history and Poli Sci and sociology and anthro so that just the energy of the faculty who were here and the wide-open and frontier people were being hired right and left. We thought it was a great place to be because there was already this recognition and books in the library in all the languages. It was a great base for us. We were kind of at odds with some of the other attitudes a kind of faculty from elsewhere from the coast and feeling that there was no place for them here.
- Synopsis: Vietnam War Refugee Resettlement in Dekalb AreaKeywords: Racism; Refugees; Southeast Asia; Continuing Education; Ann Kaplan; Humanities Council Grants; Vietnam WarTranscript: NEHER: There was always a little bit of a stress back and forth, but sort of going to once were here I made reference to that idea of kind of wide-open spaces that I had the good fortune to meet Ann Kaplan who was a friend of one of the return Peace Corps volunteers, Crystal Smith. Crystal and her husband George were in Clark’s first Southeast Asia seminar and Crystal and I became good friends because we both been Peace Corps in Thailand, she in the Northeast and I in Bangkok. Their little girl and our little girl sort of were in the strollers together and it was a good time to be there. Ann was with Continuing Education [a department at NIU] and she and I were having a discussion about prison libraries because by that time Clark had taught a course at State Ville and I had an idea about book collections and so on. She said, “Why don’t you write that up, Arlene?” I said, “Why would I write it up?” It was just a conversation. She said “Well, I think what you’re talking about is a kind of a model for how to get some things done.” I did and in fact I wasn’t going to do it and she called me and she said, “What do you have?” I said “I have a page and a half of hand writing.” She said “Can I read it? Can people read?” I said, “Yes.” She said “Okay.” It turns out that they had written one of the first Illinois Humanities Council grants with a group called Literacy Volunteers in where were they? Batavia and Geneva and Wheaton, where David Grossman who’d written a grant and was a friend of Ann’s had written to take the university resources that by that time we had people like John Hartman who had been Peace Corps too. The Henrys that was South Islands— Southeast Asia, but and what David had done is they were going to provide some programming, some training of the literacy volunteers and the teachers who were suddenly had in their classrooms maybe five Lao students and two Vietnamese students and what did they do about the families. What did they do about healthcare? What did they do about TB [tuberculosis] tests and all of these things? The people who were serving the refugees needed to get the information that the faculty had. That’s what the grants had been written for, to bring those resources to the community needs. Did kind of service them all and through the years I think I probably had maybe eight humanities council grants of one topic or another how have feminism changed the disciplines. Oh, I can’t even think about the method, teacher training and things so all promoting the humanities. We found the source, an outside source and in those days if you found like a fourth of the funding then you could get the rest of the funding and assign it to somebody to get it done. It was working the system in a way that became increasingly hard to do because of things being shut down, but in those years there were open positions. You could hire a half time coordinator. You could get a graduate student who was interested in doing that kind of work so the public programming. It was a time when there were lots of jobs here, but in general, there were not jobs nationally in history and English and linguistics. That was starting to close up, but Allen and I was just behind a step or two so that it was a kind of land of opportunity and it attracted some sort of true believers. There were [unintelligible 00:17:29] and things, but there were things that were more of longer-lived and service to the refugees was one. We had several projects like there was one that we dealt with training public health nurses. We got a grant from the governor’s office and through his Kishwaukee college to train— they wanted us to train one hundred public health or refugees sponsors. We did the three week long programs. One in Quadcities where there were a lot of refugees and one-- was it Champaign-Urbana or Springfield? I can’t remember now and then one here in DeKalb. Worked with a woman, Tippawan Reed who had been a language teacher here at Northern and was now working in workplace training and sort of the end the governor had tapped her to head up the refugees’ resettlement programs. Then the training that needed to be done in communities. She’s a lifelong friend and now after doing that over the years, but--
LOSAVIO: Do you mind if I ask about some of the programs that were done here in DeKalb? Before the interview started I know you had mentioned that there have been some tensions between the university and the community. How did those programs or did those programs have an impact on those relations?
NEHER: I think that there were some that were— that people that didn’t like. I remember there was some resistance to the Department of Corrections programming. I remember one of our secretaries in Continuing Education said that she couldn’t bring herself to doing this registration and stuff for the prisoners, convicts, convicted felons who were getting free education and she and her family had to struggle to pay for university education. It wasn’t official tension, it was the sort of undergirdings of— we had in this community in Dekalb we had a lot of people who sponsored refugee families. Clark and I had Ampoon and Ooikoonthamcham, a Lao couple who lived in our basement for two months until we could get housing for them. A few months later Ooi had her baby and I was the translator in labor. [laughs] I guess there was a tension there when she first started. I took Ooi to Dr. McCormick, Jennifer McCormick and as it turned out she had the baby, had Victor and a year or so later she had a second child. When she went to the doctor the partner of Dr. Jennifer said that he wouldn't treat her and that she should have an abortion which was a pretty strong reaction. Having to explain that to Ampoon was very difficult, by that time they had some English but-- actually I called my friend whom I just mentioned, Tippawan and had her help me with vocabulary because my Thai is pretty good but they were really Lao so I was speaking sort of northern Thai to their southern Lao. The communication was okay but it was a challenge.
LOSAVIO: Were there lots of incidents like that?
NEHER: There weren't a lot. At any rate, she had the second baby and they've made a wonderful life and they live up in Michigan now and we had a couple of faculty, the Kings, Dwight and Kathy and a mathematics Prof and people who helped with supporting that Lao family. There were more of those good things than-- at least that I saw. I think that it was hard for people in Dekalb and Sycamore to understand that the Southeast Asians were not all the same, there were some Vietnamese who were highly educated and well-trained and had good language skills and brought money with them. There were several waves of refugees, but we never had any problem finding housing for people. The churches were very helpful and supporting the refugees but I think there were more tensions over the war than there were over the refugee resettlement. The refugee resettlement appealed to people's best instincts, there was sympathy. My colleague Steven Johnson is an example of that, he was part of the operation Baby Lift in bringing babies out of Vietnam and I think he brought out eight or nine children and then he brought out twins whom he raised and I think that he could probably tell you some resistance because the two little boys got raised and launched in the world just fine and we can go on Steven's Facebook and see his daughter in law went to Stratford with them this time. I think I'm more aware of the positive. There were a few incidents.
LOSAVIO: How were local Dekalb reactions to the Vietnam War?
NEHER: By the time we got here I think they were pretty much in hocks, they call them the hocks and [unintelligible 00:24:47]. In the department of Political Science, it was mostly pro the war. I think it was a surprise to some of Clark's colleagues when they found that he was on the History Department's side of the teach-ins because we had marched in California when we obviously thought the war was the wrong place, wrong time, wrong tactics, wrong everything. I think that there was more reaction there, the University was seen as too liberal and all of that, although once you got into it you realized it was not nearly as liberal or radical, certainly, but if there were any of those elements, they were in the History Department.
LOSAVIO: What were those teach-ins like? What happens with those?
NEHER: I probably only went to one or two of them. I think it just depended on which rap they were doing it, there was a lot of Marxist rhetoric that was floating around, in the History department anyway. At that point, the History Department had only— the anti-war people were more in Philosophy and of course History, but I don't know whether there was that much community reaction. [silence]
LOSAVIO: Thank you for talking about that.
- Synopsis: Gendered Experiences in AcademiaKeywords: Gender Discrimination; Sexism; Faculty WifeTranscript: LOSAVIO: No, that's wonderful. I do want to ask, you mentioned your memory of walking at your graduation and being given a kiss. Do you mind if I ask what it was like as a woman getting her Ph.D. at the time when there weren't a lot of women in higher education?
NEHER: I had one really terrible incident to tell you. I had been— let's see, I told you about going to school part-time most of the Master's and then I was encouraged by the department and the faculty that I had that I should become a real graduate student, write a thesis and a Master's and Jerry Israel was very encouraging and Karl Perrini was very encouraging and the chair of the department was Jay Carol Moody and these were all people that I knew socially because I was a faculty wife. Then, lo and behold, I was a student in their class. Some of them didn't handle it well but the ones I've named handled it very well. Then there came a time when I had an assistantship and there was a faculty member who had an alcohol problem so the Department called me and said— I don't know what my funding was, but at any rate they said, "Could you finish the class?" so I ended up the last three or four weeks and did the grades and so then I had been a TA [Teaching Assitant] in the class. Then, Don Hart who was the Director of the Center for Southeast Asian studies called me and said, "We've just got these—“, what are now the FLAS grants but there was the National Defense Foreign Language Fellowships. He said, "This is just right for you because you have advanced Thai and you are going to be doing your research you need, somebody can help you with the translations and you just have to enroll in the advanced Thai class." I made the application and I had submitted my GREs [Graduate Record Examinations] which were pretty high, especially for the language part and I got a letter from the Dean of the Graduate School who said that although I had the highest credentials that were in the stack, that they were not going to give me the fellowship because it would look like I would be a conflict of interest because my husband was on this faculty. So I thought, "Oh, okay.” Well, the history department had told me that I was going to get the department scholarship that year. I thought, okay. Talk about being tapped in a seminar. Jay Carol came-- I can't remember which seminar it was, but saying can I speak to you? He said, "You're not going to do anything about this. We are", he said, "because this denies the department one more." He said, "You can have your scholarship with you." If he said, "We should be having two because there's this money that's there." The other person who looked like was a man who had three children. I didn't have three yet, maybe only had two, but whatever I had three on the way. I had an adopted child, but any rate. He said, "You know, I made this needs to go through for my bash." He said, "It's not right." He said, "If Clark wasn't on any committee, that was given." They called me and I had to demonstrate that I had been financially responsible for my children. In other words, shifted it to a need-based thing I had presented it, money that I had earned. Finally, University legal counsel called me in, at this time, the only people who know about it was my history department people. I had gone to— It was past time by the time I got who's the director of affirmative action. She said, "Well, I don't think we can do anything about this, there's no proof." I said, "Well, I have a letter signed." She said, "You have a letter that says that?" I said, "Yes, I do." They interviewed me, I kept having to appear before people, and saying why the Dean of the Graduate School said, "Why do you want a Ph.D.?" And I said, "I gave my answer because I want to find out why Thailand managed to play both sides of the war and end up.[unintelligible 00:32:34] " He said, "Well, you want a Ph.D. because you want to study something?" I said, "No, I have some other questions too, but that's the one that's really motivating me." He threw up his hand. I didn't get it, but then the next year they gave it to me. I shouldn't say they gave it to me, I earned it. They no longer supported dependents that [they did] the year before. I heard later that they almost lost the whole grant because in Washington they found out that they had discriminated against me. It was very interesting. I gave you the examples of having known presidents, and Provosts, and Deputy Presidents, and Provosts and so on. I never said anything to them about it. I remember, again, friend Bill Minot said to me, "Why didn't you just call me up?" And I said, "It didn't occur to me that I." He said, "We would never have allowed this to happen." It was an interesting thing because what you had is the old view is that, as a good wife I shouldn't be having career goals. It never occurred to me that I would sue the University, but of course, I had… I would have had a case but, I don't think of myself as a sit-at-home and not doing anything about things. It was a long hard haul. I generated pages of arguments for them. "Why do you want to do this? Why do you need to go to Washington to do your research for diplomatic history?" "Well, because that's where the archives are." "Why do you need a scholarship?" Well, of course, this isn't what graduate funding is all about. It's not about need, the richest man in the world could still get. It's about merit. That was an interesting lesson to— I did have the power, I could have brought those people out. Jay Carol Moody kept saying to me, "I will get every faculty member who was at you as [laughs] a student, [to] really support you" I was more conscious of the support than I was of the disrespect and prejudice, and misogyny that was really lurking there. I don't know, I think I got a lot of cool points for being—-for not thinking fast.
LOSAVIO: What do you mean?
NEHER: Well, after that, I had a career almost thirty years where— I can't count them on one hand the number of faculty who turned me down, for wanting them to work on an outreach project, or teach a class or, and always they had their own first. People wanted to be a part of our projects, people would volunteer. All I heard that, "You got a grant to do this." "I'm interested, and I've done this." It was the continuing activity level and energy level was so positive. There were people who hired Dean Clyde Pery who really had terrible sexist language, and he put me in very awkward situations a number of times. I said stop, and they stopped.
LOSAVIO: Do you recall any sort of particular moments, or phrases that were?
NEHER: Yes, but I'm not going to be recorded on. May they rest in peace, those people. More obvious was, certain people were interested in change, and they were interested in making things better, and working, and in continuing education. We did have resources that we could help a faculty develop an archaeological dig. Fronting the money that he needed to go out and find the site. We helped several anthropologists develop field schools. I say we, but it was the resources that I had. I always had to make the argument, nobody ever just gave it to us. We legitimately described what would be possible and what we hope to have happen, and found the right people to make it happen.
- Synopsis: Thirty Year CareerKeywords: Gender Discrimination; Sexism; Faculty WifeTranscript: LOSAVIO: Could you say a little bit about the new career, and those thirty years then doing that?
NEHER: Well, I always came in sort of through the back door. There was one point when we helped set commission, and status of women-- There had been an organization that I was by Ann Kaplan’s invitation to join the group of women who called ourselves the 'academic women's equality'. Bill Minot later said that if we hadn't developed that as a group of faculty, women from all of the colleges. They did include some supportive professional staff and I was in that role. That's when we were called faculty, 'no rank', that was our name. [laughs] Faculty no rank as opposed to rank I suppose. Okay, I've lost it.
LOSAVIO: All the academic-
NEHER: Commission on the Status of Women.
LOSAVIO: What was the purpose of that group with this—? [cross talk]
NEHER: The grouping, and that was supposed to make sure that women can do some "networking." Graduate students would meet people at a faculty of women and become approachable across disciplines and across colleges. When the Commission on the Status of Women started, I don't know whether I was in the first year, but I spent a couple of years doing it. One of the projects that I took on, I had a graduate assistant who was working on a mapper degree. She was an intern at our office and we tried to explain why women had lower salaries than men did which they clearly did. What we came up with is that women tended to come into the system informally. They came in on a grant, on some soft money or as an intern and that was my path. I was on a fellowship finishing, had all but the last two chapters of my dissertation when this thing and we came along for refugee resettlement. I had the community development skills, I had the language skills, I had been a teacher, it just sort of fit in. The first offer, I don't remember how much it was for, but it was for half time and I said, "I'll give you 100% of my time, but I can't take that job starting point." I think I probably learned that from Anne that if I started at that lower rate, I'd never get out of it. They wrote the contract, the coordinator, it was a fourth time and whatever it was so that when I was working my way into the job. At the time, there was an Ombudsman named Mike McCharman, I think his name was and he said to me at a party again there I was on the distaff side. He said, "There's a big vacuum over there. They've got all these resources and they don't have people who know what to do with him." He said, "Just go and do it and create a job for yourself." I had a boss, David Grossman who said the same thing. He said, "Here you can see all the things that we need to have done, start doing them," and I did. I think that it wasn't until Bill Young was the dean in Continuing [Education], and that's another sad story, but one of the things that he did in two years time he increased my salary by 30% because I was so far out of line with the men. He said to the university "She has a case to sue you," which I said I'm not suing the university. He said, "Well, don't say that out loud" because in fact, and even then after he'd done that, there were, in continuing ed and in various places, there were, I think I was the only woman who was the director of outreach. Some of my best friends today had less experience than I did, didn't have Ph.D.s and made 40% more than I did. I can't tell that story, but it fell under some category and they had a word for it. When your salary was really out of line, but the pattern was that I had come in at one point when they would make me a director. I said, "I'd like you to open the job," and they said, "Then you won't have a guarantee that you'll get it." I said, "Yes, but I won't be able to negotiate my salary." They wouldn't do it. It was the same thing that Bill Young said at one point. Anybody who wants to go on and earn your salary can do that, and at that point, I had like 110% of my salary that I was bringing in for staffing. I went to his office and I said, "I got two or three other places I can go to get some more money." He said, "I didn't mean you." Another way of looking at what was going on and continuing it is that it was "soft money." You couldn't hire somebody on a tenure track, but you could hire a coordinator or you couldn't hire an instructor for two classes or something like that on soft money, but rightly so that you couldn't promise that you were going to get that money. There was always a process of moving them into state money for part of our funds.
LOSAVIO: That's an interesting project for the commission. When you submitted that report and those findings, what—
NEHER: Did anything happen?
NEHER: Of course not. They didn't want us to tell them how to change, but I think my story is part of it. Conspiracy theorists would say that there was effort to divide women and make them feel that if they got something, then the other person wouldn't get something. I think that there were a lot of women who definitely were cooperative in the ways that they didn't make it seem competing with each other, but there were many times when I was the only woman in that situation. That's for sure.
LOSAVIO: Did that change, the feeling of that work environment or [crosstalk]?
NEHER: I sound like I'm insensitive, but it didn't bother me. I was a married woman with children. I somehow managed to escape that. There were a lot of women who said to me, "How did you do this?" Women who had experience in education that I think it was partially the coincidence of knowing how to do community development. When I think of some of the accomplishments, like figuring out how to do a field school so that students could get overseas experiences, sort of manipulating funds, rearranging, finding community support. Like finding a place where the student could live for less money and that kind of behind the scenes, giving him a structure to hold on to. Which should be possible at all times, but when money gets tight, then you can't do it. I had a very good piece of advice again from Ann Kaplan saying that when it gets near the end of the fiscal year, have three or four projects ready to go because they are going to come and say, "Can we have some of your transportation money if you'll do this and you do that." True, many years the funding for another semester for a grant assistant or whatever it was was we were able to pull it off. It took some creativity, and some guesswork, and an attitude. My name isn't on most of those projects because it's a faculty leader or a faculty investigator or a faculty instructor.
- Synopsis: Stateville Prison Education ProgramKeywords: Prison; Recidivism; Education; Stateville; Teaching; Grants; English DepartmentTranscript: NEHER: Finding out how to do it. That's why I said it was one of the best jobs that I could ever have because basically if you demonstrated the need, point it to the funding you would get, and show that there was an audience for it, nobody said no to it. Because it didn't take away from anything that anybody else was doing. It was creating new programming. It appealed to a lot of people on the social justice side. I mentioned that about the department of corrections. It was a steady stream that the department of corrections would support doing three or four classes at Stateville. Then the warden said, "Other prisons wanted us to do things." We've had to work with the community colleges to get it done. I remember one faculty member in the English department. The English department did not want their faculty to teach overloads. He came in and he said to me, he said, "I will do this without payment." We had scheduled him to do this English class and he said, "I believe in this, and these men need to have it, and it's something that I want to do." I said, "If your department will approve it, that's fine." I said, "I'll get you as much transportation as I can." It was very interesting that he said, "I want to tell you why I think this is important," and he related some things from his experience of teaching there. It reminded me of thinking about him and that time when he sat down and said, "I want to tell you why this is so important." We had a graduation ceremony at Stateville and we took a bus of university faculty. A couple of students and our provost, Ann's boss, I can't think of her name now, but she was a mathematician. She was the speaker. We got caps and gowns from Joliet junior and I think we gave eight bachelor's degree. It was a wonderful article in the paper about it with the DeKalb Chronicle that was written by one of our local journalists. I can't think of her name either, but I remember a father took the bus up from Kentucky and said that his son was getting a bachelor's degree, and he said, "This is the first time I've ever been proud of my son to get this bachelor" Then he still got quite a bit of time to serve and he became a teacher at Stateville, an adult basic ed[ucation] teacher. So there's one life saved. [laughs] I'm sorry.
NEHER: We got you hooked.
LOSAVIO: I cry easily.
NEHER: I do too and I just had these cataracts taken off. I can remember some other man saying that when they are in the prison, they couldn't read. I taught a course because I felt that I needed to teach. What I needed to teach was really firsthand. I knew quite a bit. I went down for advising and things like that, but I taught a course, US history for whether it was 1965 to the present or 1950 to the present, whatever and however we divided it up in those days. Anyway, part of that period was the Civil Rights movement. These men are virtually all black. There are a few brown people, but they are men, and they are convicted felons, and they are black, and they did not know [about] Southern Christian leadership. They did not know anything. They had heard of Martin Luther King [Jr], they didn't know Mohammad, the numbers guy. Anyway, so here I was teaching about the Civil Rights movement and they didn't know anything about it. They had been in jail. They'd been in juvenile housing. This is only whatever.
NEHER: I'm trying to think of what year. I taught a course on China and taught a US history course. Time Magazine visited the prison when I was teaching one of those courses. I'm going to say, now you could look it up, but I'm going to say 1980s. We finally lost the program because there was a provost, whose name I probably won't remember, the provost name. Once he stopped the program and he said, "We will not do this because our faculty shouldn't be subjected to searches." I argued that they had been subjected to searches every time they went in from the very beginning and it wasn't random, it was regular. There was something in the newspaper about the prison guards saying that faculty got in without being searched well. There was never a faculty member who got in without being searched. I know there wasn't. At any rate, we argued that this was not mandatory, that these faculty did this voluntarily, that it was an overload situation and it had no value. It wasn't something that was positive or negative from the individual's point of view. At any rate, we lost it. Basically, we had a proposal that was like that previously for it and a provost blocked it, he wouldn't let us send it in. There was, in a way, nothing we could do about it. I still don't know why he blocked it, whether it was heard the argument of why should these men get free education and their recidivism. You can't prove a lack of returning to prison. Actually, we offered to prove that because we'd been doing it for twenty-five years or more.
LOSAVIO: That's how long ago the program ran.
NEHER: Yes, I inherited it when I first started working there in 1978. Remember I said that Clark had taught in his second year, so in 1970, it's so long. It started earlier than that though.
LOSAVIO: So there was the data to look at some of them?
NEHER: Yes, recently. Nobody really knows how to do recidivism or anti-recidivism to studies because you'd have to do it on a national basis. That means so many, like the man from Kentucky, and from Indiana, and they get caught in Illinois, but what we could say and which the wardens did always say is that it was the best thing for social control because it was an avenue out of the prison. It was if these men were taking classes, they weren't in trouble otherwise, and it was something that could be a reward that was given to people. It gave them hope and all kinds of positive reasons. The people who ran corrections were always very positive about it. Joanne How large was the program in terms of the numbers of students in a year?
NEHER: We usually did three or four classes, and at the same time, we had Joliet Junior College that they were providing the lower division courses, and we were providing the upper-division, all of our arrangements off-campus. Basically, the university hard money that went into all of these projects that I've talked to were all based on off-campus credit teaching. We had credit and non-credit programming. Mostly the things I've talked to you about today have been the non-credit programming, but in fact, the first initial investment was for off-campus credit courses. We had them in Rockford, and DuPage, and Hoffman Estates, and in correctional facilities. We did non-credit at the women's prison at Dwight. We did some courses out at Dixon and at Old Joliet, but most of them were at Stateville.
LOSAVIO: This was a really, really large program then.
NEHER: Not really. At each semester, if we did, say, three or four courses. Some semesters we did two and then Joliet did two or three, just depending where people are, how many students that we have, and the rate in a class. Joanne Were the classes held at each of the prison institutions?
NEHER: Mostly at Stateville. Over the years, maybe six or seven courses were at other prisons, but it was mostly at the maximum security at Stateville. If there were ten students in the class, twelve students.
LOSAVIO: So over the years, quite a few.
NEHER: Yes, and they're all there for something they didn't do. That's being glib, but I don't mean to be glib about it. We had some students who did get out, and came, and worked, and took classes at Northern, a couple who finished their degree, and it was the Bachelor of General Studies that they were getting, and it was NIU faculty. If you study these kinds of programs around the country, continuing education or extension teaching is often— staffed by non-faculty, it's instructors, it's community college profs. One thing that has been distinctively different or a difference with distinction, I guess I want to say, is that it was our regular faculty who were doing it and that in a way validated it and also in a way made it Northern's program. I won't say we never used a grad student, but we used a couple of instructors, but we had a core of faculty who really believed in it. Eric Alan was, for example, one of the faculty who was really very strongly supportive and it was out of social justice, helping people who needed help, which was nice to be involved with.
LOSAVIO: Definitely. It sounds like it was a great program.
- Synopsis: IBM Database ProgramKeywords: IBM; Information Technology; Databases; Computer Science Department; Foreign StudentsTranscript: LOSAVIO: I don't want to take up too much of your time and I know you have some notes and things that you wanted to mention. Is there anything to the interview that you'd like to add or that you want people to know about your experience here or about NIU?
NEHER: I was thinking, over the years what are the ones that were the most fun and there was some or ones that are still lasting. I'm really proud of the lifelong learning program that came out of liberal arts and sciences, external programming by the time. I talked about continuing Ed and then they dismantled the continuing Ed and put all of those outreach offices back in the colleges or into the colleges. They took on a different thing. At one point relating as a college itself and then were tacked on to, in my case, liberal arts and sciences, the big college. I remember Jim Norris when I first came over said, "I have problems with your salary." He said, "You make as much as some of my department chairs." I said, "Well, I have a bigger program than quite a few of your department chairs, such as my good friend in philosophy." If you just take the prison classes alone, that's more classes than some departments had in a year. We drove from all of the humanities and social sciences and some of the sciences for those off-campus classes. I'm really pleased that lifelong learning has continued. The travel with the professor programs, we did a lot of Southeast Asia, but a lot of other travel with the professor programs that I understand they're almost doing nothing. They've dismantled all of outreach. It's just one person for all of the university. I don't know where all these programs went, but they've just stopped. I think it's because of financial problems. I guess one of the things that was the most fun was to finally get computer science doing outreach. We had a great project with IBM for about three or four years. We called it curriculum transfer and IBM paid NIU several million dollars and gave us a new mainframe if we would, and we did, train, I think we had thirty-one summer and then thirty the next summer. They were professors of computer science from China, India, Russia. I wonder if any of them have been those hackers, but I hope not. [unintelligible 00:04:45] has died and buried so I'll never confess that we had Russians doing it. Middle East we had Saudi Arabia and anyway, they came here and spent the summer, basically got the software, large platform computer science that they could teach back in their countries. We got computer science off campus, which people said it could never be done. We worked very closely with [unintelligible 00:05:18] who was one of these big personalities and the dean of Liberal Arts. Tim Norris at that time said, "Just, keep Rob out of my office and you go and do whatever you can do with him." Well, it was just great. It was a huge amount of money, doubled, tripled our yearly income so we can do all kinds of great things.
LOSAVIO: What did they come to learn?
NEHER: How to— The mainframe software.
LOSAVIO: To use it?
NEHER: The computer is an empty box, you've got to program something in there so it's the programming of the big machine. IBM gave those same mainframes that university keeps all of its computer, all of our servers are in that one. Then we have one that's a back up and that changes every couple of years. You get a new one. It has to be programmed and then you have to populate it. Say you want to do a database project, you have to have the data in, somebody has to enter it and you need a program to do that. It's teaching them, it's the languages to do that and it's the writing of the code. You're teaching them how to be the professor of computer science. There was from each university, there was also a techie. The person who physically did it as opposed to mentally doing it. It was very exciting. I learned something, and that was different. There are evidently different platforms and this is the large systems. This is what runs all of the airlines, all of the social security. It's that level. It's not Windows.
LOSAVIO: Sounds like there were lots and lots of programs back then. Is there anything more that you would like to add or?
NEHER: I don't think so. I didn't mean to tell stories on people but—
LOSAVIO: No, it's just whatever you feel comfortable with.
NEHER: Yes, those we're just [unintelligible 00:08:18] answered some of those about—
LOSAVIO: Is there anything else that you think that for 125th anniversary, that there's anything that you would want students or faculty or anyone here now to know?
NEHER: Well, I've always felt that Northern would do a very good job about claiming its victories and there was a phrase going around in the '80s about Northern being the best-kept secret. I think that so many of the people at Northern in the faculty and staff people too, thought that they needed to be someplace more prestigious. I remember David Grossman, who was my first boss at Continuing Education, said to me, he said, "I know you know the difference." Because we had both gone to private universities. He went to Wash U for his PhD and I was an undergraduate from Stanford and graduate student at Berkeley. He said, "You don't seem to treat them any differently." I said, "Well, the focus is on the project. It's not on the background of the faculty member it's on whether we can get this done and let it add me. It's not entirely pragmatic. Yes I know the difference." He said "Well, come and talk to me when you get some of the big name faculty to be on your projects" which, you know, eventually we did. David was one of those people who was caught in— He probably went to graduate school thinking he'd be a professor. He's a Continuing Educator which is usually staff or professional staff. He's now at the University of Minnesota. He was really good at all of this stuff but he didn't value even his efforts. I thought that some of those early humanities grants like the survey on refugee resettlement were very creative. The way he found the literacy volunteers who would be teaching language and public health nurses who would be understanding the unusual Laotian medical, the clients and all that stuff. I guess I'd like to say it's been a great place to work in. I never thought I'd stay here all this time [laughter].
LOSAVIO: Thank you. Thank you. [unintelligible 00:11:32].