Remembering Richland College, 1972
By Steven R. Butler, Ph.D.
An aerial view of Richland College, 1972. There were a lot fewer buildings then!
In August 1972, I was a twenty-three year veteran of the United States Navy, married, and the father of a month-old son. I was also one of 3,506 mostly young people who were looking forward to enrolling for classes at a brand Dallas County Community College called Richland.
Earlier that year, after sending for and receiving a catalog (see picture, left), I applied for admission to Richland College, which was still under construction at the time. On or about August 4, I received a letter informing me that I had been accepted and I could not have been happier! After graduation from high school five years earlier I had suffered disappointment when I was financially unable to enroll at any of the three colleges to which I had been accepted for admission. After serving four years in the Navy and then working for a while, I was finally going to go to college, thanks to Uncle Sam and something called the G.I. Bill!
Unfortunately, the Vietnam-era G.I. Bill did not offer a benefit package as generous as the one that World War II veterans had enjoyed. In the late 1940s and 1950s, veterans had not only been eligible for a year's worth of unemployment insurance payments but also a generous monthly stipend when they enrolled in college. Their tuition, up to $500 per semester (which reportedly would even cover tuition at Harvard), was also paid by the government. By the late 1960s and early 1970s this had changed. When I was released from active duty in 1971 there was no unemployment insurance, which meant that I was forced by necessity to take the first crummy job I was offered. Vietnam-era veterans also did not have their tuition covered by the government. Instead, veterans received only a monthly allowance (and only while actually enrolled in school), which was to be used for tuition, fees, and books as well as living expenses. It wasn't enough. In 1972 the monthly allowance for a married veteran with one child was $230. Thankfully, a few months later the amount was increased to $298. (At the same time, single veterans received $220 per month while a married veteran with no children was entitled to $261.) These amounts did not improve until late 1974, when Congress overrode President Ford's veto of a Congressionally-approved increase.
Fortunately, I also qualified for the Federal Student Work-Study Program, a Lyndon B. Johnson "Great Society"-era program that used federal funds to pay the wages of students who worked in a variety of menial jobs. Mine was off-campus. During my first year in college, I had a late afternoon-early evening job, four hours a day, working as a janitor at nearby UTD (the University of Texas at Dallas), which was also a much smaller campus than today.
On Tuesday, August 29, 1972, I drove from my apartment in Farmers Branch to the Richland campus, where I patiently stood in line, in the gymnasium, to register for four courses. The courses I chose were Freshman History, Freshman English, Introduction to Mass Communications, and News Gathering and Writing, for a total of 12 credit hours. (My original major was Journalism, not History.) The total cost of tuition and fees was $75 (which doesn't sound like a lot of money by today's standards but in 1972 amounted to about a quarter of my take-home pay from the full-time job I had recently quit).
As was the custom at that time with both public schools and colleges, classes started the day after Labor Day, which in 1972 happened to be Tuesday, September 5. That day, I arrived on campus in my VW beetle, after about a twenty-minute drive down LBJ Freeway from Farmers Branch, excited to at last be going to college after a delay of five years and also to be one of Richland's 3,506 "charter students."
The day school started, workmen were putting the finishing touches to the brand-new brick and concrete buildings that overlooked Jackson Branch--the name of the artificially-widened stream that separates the east and west sides of the campus. There was no lawn, only bare earth, and newly-planted trees, some of which were so small you could encircle their trunks with your thumb and forefinger. The only buildings or halls that existed then were Crockett, Sabine (including the planetarium), Alamito, Fannin, El Paso, Lavaca, Pecos (Facility Services), and Guadalupe (Gymnasium). The footbridge that spans Jackson Branch from near the end of Sabine Hall to near the end of Fannin had no handrail, which necessitated being especially careful while crossing (although I never heard of anyone falling in the water). In the student lounge area of today's El Paso Hall there were pool and foosball tables. The present-day Student Media office (E-020) occupies the site of the original college bookstore, the doorway of which was located where a soft-drink machine now stands.
The college's distinctive brick and bare concrete architecture was, to my way of thinking, a striking combination of the bold and modern (the bare concrete) with a more traditional look (the brick), and although I wasn't sure at first what to make of it, I soon came to like it. I still do. In point of fact I think that Richland has by far the most visually appealing campus of all the colleges that make up the district--and I have seen most, if not all of them. I was particularly fascinated by the way Jackson Branch had been dammed on the north side of El Paso Hall, in order to direct the overflow beneath the building and out into a lower level "lake."
It took me a little longer to become accustomed to the school colors: green and purple. I don't know who chose them but to be honest, at first I thought it was an awfully odd combination. I didn't let that stop me, however, from buying, probably on the first day of school, a Richland College decal that I proudly displayed on the rear window of my VW beetle. For some reason that I can't remember, I cut the little square off the end of the decal, that displayed the college logo, leaving only the words. Amazingly, I still have that decal logo, which I keep in a small box of mementoes. I also bought a Richland College t-shirt.
Almost all the students in 1972 had long hair, men and women alike, and just about everyone wore bell-bottomed trousers of one kind or another, most often denim. Wide collared shirts and denim overalls were other fashions of the time. I was no exception, as photos taken of me at the time make evident. I had wanted to grow my hair long for years but in the Sixties, when I was in high school, the school district dress code forbade it. Transgression could result in suspension or expulsion, as some of my classmates learned in a well-publicized case in 1966. Between graduation from high school in June 1967 and joining the Navy in January 1968 I got a little shaggy but that was such a short period of time that my hair really didn't get very long before I suddenly found myself in boot camp getting it all shaved off. Afterwards, of course, owing to Navy regulations, I had to keep it relatively short (but was often getting cited for letting my visits to the barber go too far between).
In 1972, I smoked about a pack of cigarettes a day (my brand was Marlboro) and apparently so did a lot of other students. At that time smoking was allowed just about everywhere on campus except in the classrooms and labs. I quit in my early thirties, however, and my advice to anyone considering starting is DON'T!!! It's an expensive, smelly, and potentially health-hazardous habit.
In view of the fact that I am presently an adjunct Professor of History at Richland, it somehow seems appropriate that my very first class was Freshman U.S. History, which met on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:50 A.M. to 12:05 P.M. in room D-216, which, since the Del Rio building did not exist then, was actually located in Crockett Hall, and if I am not mistaken, somewhere on the second floor. I do not remember my professor's name but he or she was either a very good instructor or I was a very good student (or perhaps a little of both): At the end of the semester I made an "A" for the course.
My other Tuesday-Thursday classes were Introduction to Mass Communications, a journalism course, which met in what was then designated room M-30 (now either E-030 or E-032) from 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m., and Freshman English, which met in room F-222 (but not Fannin Hall), from 2:55 p.m. to 4:10 p.m. I don't recall my English professor's name either but my journalism instructor was Judith (we called her Judy) McAda, who was a graduate of North Texas State University (now UNT) and had, if memory serves me, some practical experience working for either the Dallas Morning News or Dallas Times Herald (I believe it was the former).
From 11 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I took News Gathering and Writing in the journalism classroom, M-30, where I also put in nearly 4 hours of "lab" every Wednesday afternoon from 1:00 p.m. to 3:50 p.m. The journalism lab consisted of writing and editing news stories and features for the Richland College newspaper, which was then called The Mandala, a name selected by popular vote of the journalism students sometime near the beginning of the semester. I honestly can't remember if I voted in favor of that name or not. It was suggested by a student who also worked with Stoney Burns on The Dallas Notes, a controversial underground newspaper of the time, using the pseudonym "Bellicose Bullfeather." (I don't remember his real name.) Although I think I was as "with it" as anyone, I favored a more traditional title, but I was outvoted.
Although I enjoyed my first semester in college, I was a little disappointed by the fact that by the time I became a college student, the student activism of the late 1960s, which took place during the time I served in the Navy was pretty well a thing of the past. I still regret missing all that, although if I had gone to school anywhere in Texas but UT Austin, I probably would have anyway.
When Richland opened its doors in September 1972, Richard M. Nixon was President of the United States and running for re-election. In November, in a landslide, he won a second term of office, from which he was destined to resign in disgrace nearly two years later following something called the Watergate Scandal--which no one (with the possible exception of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein) could possibly have foreseen at the time.
I have to admit that I didn't care much for Mr. Nixon. I was upset that nearly four years after he promised to end the war in Vietnam, it was still going. Although the majority of casualties occurred during the Johnson administration, 20,000 more Americans died after Nixon took office in 1969, saying he had a "secret plan" to end the war. I remarked to some of my fellow students that Nixon's plan was so secret, even he didn't know what it was. The day after classes started, Wednesday, September 6, my wife and infant son and I attended a political rally in downtown Dallas, in support of South Dakota Senator George McGovern, who was the Democratic nominee for President. You can read about it here.
Being on the college newspaper staff was the most memorable part of my freshman year at Richland College. The number one highlight of my short-lived journalistic career was interviewing popular local singer/songwriter B. W. ("Buckwheat") Stevenson, following a Saturday night free concert in the Fannin Performance Hall. Stevenson, who I found to be as friendly and personally humble as he was talented, went on to have some national success in 1974 with two songs, "My Maria" and "Shamabala." Unfortunately, the cassette tape of that interview was later lost or stolen but I still have copies of the Mandala, in which my article appeared. Here is an excerpt:
B. W. Stevenson and his Texas Toe Tappers kept plenty of toes tapping, hands clapping, and voices shouting for more at the concert here on November 10.
The audience, apparently loving every minute of Buckwheat's good-time Texas Country Rock music, weren't satisfied with an hour and a half's worth. They wanted more and they got it.
Stevenson, playing several songs from his first LP, including the popular "On My Own," also proved that were he not a talented musician and songwriter, he could make it as a comedian. The audience of almost 500 roared with laughter as he related his adventures in West Texas.
Other popular songs of 1972 included John Lennon's "Imagine" (one of my favorites), Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" and "Rock 'n' Roll," Badfinger's "Day After Day," and "Geronimo's Cadillac, by another Dallas-born singer-songwriter named Michael Murphey.
On December 7, 1972, as Richland's first semester was coming to an end and as I and my fellow students were taking our final exams, NASA's last lunar mission, Apollo 17, blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On December 11, the last two astronauts to visit the Moon (so far), Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, landed on the lunar surface. It was a stellar conclusion to an eventful year that included unprecedented trips to China and the Soviet Union by President Nixon, the Apollo 16 mission in April, the Munich Olympics (which were marred by the kidnapping and murder of some Israeli athletes by terrorists), a Presidential election, and a successful North American Tour by "the Greatest Rock n' Roll Band in the World," the Rolling Stones (who my wife and I saw in Fort Worth, along with opening act Stevie Wonder).