Shaun Illingworth: This begins an oral history interview with Mr. Jeffrey Wilson, on September 3, 2020. I'm Shaun Illingworth in Hightstown, New Jersey. Mr. Wilson, if you could just tell us where you are today.
Jeffrey Wilson: I'm in Dunellen, New Jersey.
SI: Great. This is for the Class of 1970 Oral History Project. To begin, could you tell me where and when you were born?
JW: Sure. I was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, on September 13, 1948.
SI: What were your parents' names for the record?
JW: Alfred and Jean Wilson.
SI: We would like to get a little bit of family background on our interviewees. I thought maybe we'd start with your father's side of the family, particularly since he has a Rutgers history of his own.
SI: Is there anything you can remember about the family tree? You do not have to go back generations and generations, but whatever you can recall.
JW: Well, my dad was born in New Brunswick. His father owned a bakery in New Brunswick, which went belly up during the depression. My dad graduated from New Brunswick High School, attended Rutgers briefly, had a part-time job working in a supermarket, was unhappy with their honesty, quit that, and proceeded to, for the next four or five years, travel around the country by hook or by crook, sometimes hitchhiking, sometimes taking buses, sometimes hopping on freight trains. He, at one point, went to California, where he had an older half-brother, who worked for Roebling, who got him a job operating a crane in a warehouse for moving stuff to the Golden Gate Bridge. In his travels, he also spent some time going to the University of California in LA [Los Angeles]. He also went to Arkansas and went to the University of Arkansas for a semester. Eventually, he made his way back to New Jersey.
During World War II, he was a conscientious objector, and he wound up working at a mental hospital in Connecticut. During that time, he met my mother. They were married in 1945. Eventually, when he was released from service, they moved to New York City, where my older brother was born in 1946. They then went up to Massachusetts. His company in Massachusetts, American Youth Hostels, relocated to New York City, so we wound up moving back into New Jersey. So, that's basically his history up until the time I was little.
He later went back to school at night to Rutgers and got a degree in accounting. After one or two jobs with accounting firms, he got his CPA, and he eventually got a job in the auditing department at Rutgers in New Brunswick. After several years there, he wound up getting a job at the Newark Business Office as business manager, and after several years there, he went to Union County College as vice president for finance, where he retired. After he retired, he and my mom wound up moving to Virginia, where they eventually passed away after quite a few years living down there. In a nutshell, that's my dad.
SI: Before we talk about your mom's side, did he ever explain what led him to seek conscientious objector status during World War II? Was it religious reasons?
JW: Yes, yes. He was a pretty religious guy. He was brought up in the Presbyterian Church in New Brunswick. I believe his mother was a Baptist. It was a second marriage for both my grandfather and my grandmother. My grandmother was widowed and had one son, who was my father's half-brother, who worked for Roebling. My grandfather had no children by his first marriage, and then he had my father, a brother, and a sister, with my grandmother. So, there were three full siblings and one half-sibling.
SI: I have more questions about his time as a conscientious objector, but I might save those for later on when we talk about your own experiences.
SI: Tell me about your mother's experiences and her side of the family.
JW: Well, my mom was born on a farm in Massachusetts, one of eleven children. After high school, she wound up going to Simmons College in Boston, where she got a degree in library science. She eventually, after college, moved to New York City. She worked at the 1930--whatever year it was--World's Fair. She eventually, became a secretary for, I believe it was, the Twentieth Century Fund. Then, after she met my dad and they got married, she just became a full-time housewife. [Editor's Note: The 1939 World's Fair was held at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens.]
SI: The job with the Twentieth Century Fund, was that in Connecticut?
JW: No, that was in New York City.
SI: Was he visiting New York City, and they happened to meet?
JW: He was dating a friend of my mother's. I'm not sure how they met. The friend of my mother's decided that she really wasn't interested but said, "Well, you might be interested in my friend Jean." Initially, my mother supposedly wasn't interested in her friend's cast-off, but eventually, they did go out and fell in love and got married.
SI: Very nice. You have an older brother, you said?
SI: What's his name?
JW: Alfred. Same as my dad. My grandfather, my father, and my [brother] are all Alfreds.
SI: When you were growing up, where was the family settled? Where are your earliest memories?
JW: Roselle, New Jersey. We were there through seventh grade. After seventh grade, we moved to Green Brook, also New Jersey.
SI: Can you tell me a little bit about the community in Roselle and what your neighborhood or street was like?
JW: Well, it was a typical lower-middle class or working-class street. The grade school I went to, Lincoln School, was a predominantly Black school, I'd say about seventy percent Black and the rest white. We just did typical things. We played stickball in the street, had a basketball hoop, and played dodgeball on the vacant lot next door, nothing really unusual for any kid that age growing up in that environment.
SI: Most of your schoolmates were African American, but were your neighbors?
JW: The dividing line between the white neighborhood and the Black neighborhood was basically one block over from where we were. So, we were the last lily-white street before you started to get into a mixed area and then the totally Black area.
SI: In Roselle, were there areas of town where you could not go based on your race?
JW: I don't know. I'm white, so I never had any problems going anywhere that I wanted to go. At that point in time, I really wasn't aware of there being any issue. A couple of things do stand out in my mind. For example, when I was in second grade, when we went on class trips, in order to figure out where they wanted to seat you on the bus, they had everybody fill out a little card with the three people they'd most like to sit with on the bus. One of the fellows in my class--I won't give his name--"Robert" said, "Oh, Jeff, you've got to put me down as your first choice to sit with." I said, "Yeah, I've got no problem, but why?" "Well, you're the only other white boy in the class." That struck me as odd at the time because my parents really made no distinction between white and Black. They were pretty un-bigoted, if you will.
SI: Would Black kids and white kids interact much in the school, other than when they might have to in a class?
JW: I had a few Black friends that I would hang around with, but mostly you hung around with the people that were on your block because, in the '50s, there were lots of kids hanging around. Another memory I have is--like I said, we had a vacant lot next to our house, which became a meeting place to play games and stuff. Usually, it was just all kids from our neighborhood. The only time any of the neighbors ever complained about us making noise or being loud was when a group of Black kids came over and joined the game with us. Again, at the time, somebody called the cops because we were making a lot of noise. It didn't mean anything, but in retrospect, it was probably because of the Black kids coming over.
SI: In school, what subjects did you gravitate towards? What did you enjoy most about school, whether it was academic or outside the classroom?
JW: Well, I was always pretty much academically-oriented, so I did pretty well in school. Outside of school, I did a lot of reading, and I also enjoyed sports. Well, baseball was the main thing back then, but we played a lot of sports outside and other kids' games like hide and seek and red light/green light, and stuff like that.
SI: Did you do anything outside of school, such as organized activities like Boy Scouts?
JW: No, I didn't do Boy Scouts. The only other thing I did was I took up the clarinet. So, I played clarinet, and I had music lessons. But there wasn't any organized group that I wound up belonging to, no.
SI: Going back to your parents, did they become involved in any community activities in either Roselle or Green Brook that you know of?
JW: Well, my dad was active in Democratic politics, more so in Roselle than Green Brook. Roselle was more of a Democratic town. Green Brook was a Republican town. So, he was involved with the Democratic Party. My mom got involved with the PTA [Parent Teacher Association]. Outside of that, we went to church every Sunday. We gravitated between Presbyterians, which was my dad, and Unitarians, which was my mom. So, my first few years of memory about Sunday school and church would be with the Unitarians. Then, the rest of the time in Roselle, we would go to the Presbyterian Church. So, it's probably about three or four years of each.
SI: Did you become an acolyte or involved with the church as a young man?
JW: No, no, nothing like that.
SI: As you were getting older, as you were getting into your teens, would you say that you followed what was happening in the world through the news? Was that something you were interested in?
JW: The first time I remember anything really in the news was when I was in seventh grade. That was the Kennedy-Nixon debates, and we'd talk about that more as a school assignment than anything else. But that was the first thing. Well, my dad had a good friend who was Finnish. I don't know how they met. I guess working in New York at some point. He and his wife would come down, and they would argue politics because my dad was a staunch Democrat and Walter was a very conservative Republican. So, I got to hear them go back and forth, Walter saying how Franklin Roosevelt ruined the American working man with all the socialistic things he did, etcetera, and my dad, being much more liberal, arguing the other side. [Editor's Note: In the presidential election of 1960, Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy and Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon squared off in four televised presidential debates. Kennedy went on to narrowly win the election.]
Seventh grade marked a change in the Roselle school system. After sixth grade, all the grade schools funneled into the main high school. So, we had kids from--I guess I was--five different grade schools, all being intermixed in the Abraham Clark High School, which was seven through twelve. There, we got segregated academically. I went from having mostly Black kids in my class to only having one Black kid in my class. I think only two people from my grade school wound up getting in the A-1 homeroom, or whatever you want to categorize it as. The one Black kid was one of two Black kids who didn't go to the predominantly Black school but came in from another school. As a matter of fact, his dad was a dentist in town, and his dad was the dentist that my dad patronized. So, I knew his dad, but I didn't know him until he was in my class in seventh grade. Then, after seventh grade is when we wound up moving to Green Brook.
SI: Do you know why the family moved to Green Brook?
JW: No. Off the top of my head, not really.
SI: What was that neighborhood like?
JW: Green Brook was pretty much a lily-white Republican town. We lived on a little dead-end street with ten houses on it. At the time, it was basically upper-middle class, if you will. Green Brook is kind of split by Route 22. We lived on the south side of 22. On the other side of 22, you go up into the Watchung Mountains. The more expensive houses in Green Brook were up on the top of the mountain, and there weren't a whole lot of them. It was a fairly small town. It was small enough so that it did not have its own high school. After eighth grade, all the Green Brook kids wound up going over to Dunellen for high school in Dunellen.
SI: Either in elementary school or in high school, do you recall any of the teachers standing out as being exceptionally good or maybe a mentor for you?
JW: I had several teachers that I liked a lot. My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Minor, was probably my favorite of all my grade school teachers. I always liked to read, so I guess I enjoyed English. Mrs. Fern was our English teacher in seventh grade. Seventh grade was the first time we wound up switching [and] having subject teachers. Kindergarten through sixth grade in Lincoln School, we just had the same teacher the whole day. In seventh grade, we wound up starting to have a specialized teacher, a science teacher, a math teacher, an English teacher, etcetera.
SI: Was there a particular subject you liked or area?
JW: Well, I always like to read, so English was good. I enjoyed history. I was always interested in history. When we were fairly young, my mother used to read to us a lot. She would read us history stuff. There was a series, Childhood of Famous Americans, that I remember her reading. She even read us stuff by [Charles] Dickens. I'm trying to think of the author's name--shoot. It was a book about animals that lived in--Thornton W. Burgess had a whole series about different animals that all lived in the woods around this Farmer Brown's farm. We read a lot of those. Every summer, the Roselle Library had a summer reading club, and we belonged to that. Basically, you had to go and try to read as many books as you can. After you read each book, you filled out a little synopsis and what you liked about the book on a little four-by-five sheet of paper. So, we did a lot of reading in the house.
SI: Did you ever work, either in the summers or after school during this period?
JW: The last year we lived in Roselle, I had a newspaper route, so I did that. Then, after we moved to Green Brook, I had odd jobs doing stuff for neighbors, like I would dog-sit, mow lawns. My brother and I would shovel snow in the winter, but no real actual employment where I got a real paycheck or worked a set number of hours. They were just odd jobs picked up here and there. It wasn't until after I graduated, the summer after I graduated high school, I had my first real job.
SI: As you're going through high school, were you always thinking about going to college?
JW: Yes. Although it didn't turn out that way, I always was enthralled with building stuff. I had two uncles who were engineers, so probably around seventh or eighth grade, I thought I wanted to be an engineer. Indeed, when I enrolled at Rutgers, my first year I spent in the engineering school, and then I decided during the year that it wasn't really for me. I wound up transferring out to Rutgers College and wound up getting a degree in economics.
SI: Before we go deeper into college, in high school did you get involved in any activities or sports, that sort of thing?
JW: Well, I played recreation basketball, nothing official because I really wasn't good enough to make any of the teams. I also was in the band. So, I was in the marching band and the concert band. We would play at halftime of the football games for the marching band, and then the concert band would have a Christmas concert and a spring concert. So, those are my main outside activities.
SI: Why did you choose the clarinet? I am just curious.
JW: When I was a kid, we went to see The Benny Goodman Story at the movies.
SI: That's funny. With Jimmy Stewart, I think?
JW: No, Steve Allen, I think, played Benny Goodman, if I remember correctly.
SI: Maybe Stewart was Glenn Miller. [Editor's Note: James Stewart portrayed Glenn Miller in the 1954 film The Glenn Miller Story. Steve Allen plays clarinetist Benny Goodman in the 1956 film The Benny Goodman Story.]
JW: I could be wrong on that. That's a long time ago.
SI: Are there any other experiences that you'd like to talk about before we talk about Rutgers?
JW: No, there's nothing really too exciting or unusual about my life other than what we've already talked about, I guess.
SI: Were you able to visit Rutgers before you came on campus as a freshman?
JW: Well, I was pretty much committed to going to Rutgers. Actually, I wound up applying in my junior year for early admission and got accepted. My dad worked at Rutgers at the time, so it was tuition-free. That was the big drawing card. I think my dad once said, "Well, if you go to Rutgers, I'll pay all your expenses. If you go anyplace else, you've got to pay all your expenses." So, that made the decision rather easy. My brother, who was two years older than me, was already enrolled in Rutgers. So, he'd been going for a couple of years.
SI: Since your father was an employee, had you been around the campus before, at sporting events, or that sort of thing?
JW: Yes. The only sporting event I remember before we went was probably my senior in high school; we went to see a Rutgers-Columbia football game. We did the usual, "Let me take you in. I can show you my office." I think I remember at least going over once, maybe twice, with my brother and sitting in on one of his classes with him just to see what it was like, one of the large lecture classes where nobody would know that you didn't belong there.
SI: When you first came on campus as a freshman, where were you living?
JW: I commuted all four years. Green Brook is only seven, eight miles to New Brunswick. My brother also commuted. So, we wound up, for the two years we were there together--well, for one year--we shared a ride back and forth. Senior year, he decided he wanted to live on campus. For sophomore, junior and senior years, I wound up commuting by car.
SI: Being a commuter in that era, were there any services for you? Were you just kind of left on your own?
JW: Well, there was a Commuter's Club, which basically, they made the lounge in Clothier Hall available, and those commuters that wanted to hang out with each other at lunchtime would go there and have lunch together. There were maybe about fifteen or twenty guys. Back then, Rutgers was all male, so it was all guys. The Commuter's Club did do a couple of mixers with Douglass, where they did a New York City theater trip or something, but I didn't get involved in any of the after-hours stuff that they did. I was home hitting the books or hanging out with my high school friends. I had a number of high school friends who were still around. I was more in tune with the guys I went to high school with and who were still around than the people I met in my Rutgers classes, although I must say as a commuting student and as an engineering student, where part of your classes were on what was then the University Heights now Busch Campus and the other half were in New Brunswick, you were very popular if you were on University Heights for a lab and your next class was in New Brunswick and you had a car. Everybody who didn't want to take the bus, "Can I ride with you? Can I ride with you?" So, I did have quite a few hangers-on who would ride over from campus to campus with me.
SI: That still happens. [laughter] How long were you in the engineering curriculum?
JW: One year, just freshman year.
SI: Why did you choose economics as your second major?
JW: Well, as a freshman engineer, you had two options. You took your regular basic engineering courses. Then, if you opted to, you could take a one-and-a-half-credit ROTC course in the fall and a one-and-a-half-credit ROTC course in the spring, for a total of three credits. If you did not want to be in ROTC, then you had to add a three-credit elective in the spring. I wound up, I guess, on the advice of my brother, maybe in part because we already had the textbook, he said, "Why don't you take economics in the spring?" That was my elective for the spring, and I really enjoyed it. I said, "Gee, this is probably what I should be majoring in." So, it was.
SI: That first year, there was a lot happening on campus, even before the big tumult of the Vietnam War that would happen later on, like the Free Speech Movement. If you look in the Targums, Students for a Democratic Society is getting active, and Young Americans for Freedom. As a commuter, did you feel removed from that, or did you take an interest in any aspect of that?
JW: Not really. Our freshman class was a bit raucous. One of the things we had to do freshman year was there was a mandatory freshmen assembly. They had eight programs--I think it was--that you had to go to. They handed out a little IBM card, one for each event. When you went to the event, you had to hand in the IBM card to prove that you were there. The first event was a history professor from Princeton who was giving a speech in the College Avenue gym. As we were going in, somebody was outside handing out some kind of flyer. I forget what the flyer was about. Anyway, all these rowdy freshmen are going into the gym with these pieces of paper, and they're sitting up in the balcony of the gym. Suddenly, a lot of these pieces of paper, these leaflets, become paper airplanes, and they're sailing into the gym. Then, Dean [Howard] Crosby gets up and announces, "Okay, our speaker tonight is going to be Professor …" I forget the name, Smith, let's say, "Professor Smith from Princeton." As soon as he said "Princeton," all the Rutgers people in the stands started booing Princeton. The next day, there was a big to-do in the Targum, and Dean Crosby said he was ashamed to be a Rutgers man because we were so rude. The freshmen class said, "Well, these freshmen assemblies are stupid. They're not relevant. You should do stuff that we're interested in."
They wound up giving us an additional option of more events that were going to happen. If we didn't like the eight events they had selected, we could go to any of these others that were approved freshmen assembly events. The one I did go to that I couldn't get in, Barry Goldwater was speaking. There were so many people who wanted to go see Barry Goldwater, not only the freshmen but the whole campus. By the time I got there, the place was full. There was the guy out there with a big box saying, "Okay, just throw your card in the box to prove you showed up." That's the only memorable event besides the Princeton professor that I really remember out of any of those freshmen assemblies. I believe next year, in my sophomore year, they did away with freshmen assembly entirely. So, one year later, we wouldn't have to go through all that.
SI: That first year was the second half of the 200th anniversary year. I forget if it was then that Hubert Humphrey came to campus. Do you recall that at all?
JW: I don't remember him coming, no. The only other person--I'm not sure what year it was--outside of bands and performers, Muhammad Ali was there. I didn't get to see him, but he came to campus maybe my sophomore year. I don't know which year it was.
The only other quasi-politician, which is not really a politician, that I went to see and I did see was Dick Gregory, because he was running his campaign, running for president the year of Humphrey-Nixon [in 1968], and he came to campus and spoke. Another interesting thing about that was one of his little handouts--I also have a "Dick Gregory for President" button that I picked up; I think it's still lying around someplace--but he had these Dick Gregory dollar bills, which was a little green piece of paper with Dick Gregory's picture on it. It was the size and shape of a dollar bill. The day after he spoke, the Secret Service came down because seven or eight of these Dick Gregory dollar bills got cashed in at the change machine, the dollar bill changer in the Student Center, and Mr. Gregory had to forego giving out these simulated dollar bills in the future because the automatic dollar changers couldn't tell the difference between them and a real dollar bill.
SI: Wow, I hadn't heard that before. I saw, in reading some of the Targums, that the Targum would up endorsing Dick Gregory for president. Did you get the impression that he was serious about his campaign, or was it more publicity?
JW: He knew he was never going to get elected. As a matter of fact, I voted for Dick Gregory for president. Well, actually, the one thing I did get involved with politically was I did do some campaigning. There was a Eugene McCarthy campaign headquarters on Eastern Avenue, and I did go there a few times and did volunteer work for them. After McCarthy lost the primary, I was totally disgusted with the Democrats, and I wound up not wanting to vote for either Humphrey or Nixon. So, I did wind up voting for Dick Gregory.
JW: As the Vietnam War is becoming more and more of an issue, do you remember it coming up, either in classes or in social settings that you would be a part of?
JW: No, I think the biggest hullabaloo I remember--I forget whether it was maybe my sophomore year--they started having teach-ins. A history professor, whose last name was Genovese, I forget his first name [Eugene]--anyway, at a teach-in, he said that he would welcome a Viet Cong victory in Vietnam, and there was a great deal of outrage. People like the American Legion wanted to get him fired. Of course, they said, "Well, academic freedom, and he's got tenure." The only downside of the whole thing was Boys State, which the American Legion runs, used to be held at Rutgers. After the Genovese incident, Boys State got pulled out of Rutgers and moved down to Ryder, I think because the American Legion didn't want to have anything more to do with the "Commies" at Rutgers. [Editor's Note: Eugene Genovese (1930-2012), a scholar of slavery and the American South, served as a history professor at Rutgers from 1963 to 1967. On April 23, 1965, at a teach-in at Scott Hall dedicated to discussing U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam, Genovese declared, "Those of you who know me know that I am a Marxist and a Socialist. Therefore, unlike most of my distinguished colleagues here this morning, I do not fear or regret the impending Viet Cong victory in Vietnam. I welcome it." Amidst the firestorm of controversy that ensued, Rutgers President Mason Gross, with the support of the faculty, resisted public pressure to dismiss Genovese and staunchly defended the principle of academic freedom. Genovese's statements became a campaign issue in the 1965 New Jersey gubernatorial race, with the Republican candidate, New Jersey Senator Wayne Dumont, demanding Genovese's removal and incumbent Governor Richard J. Hughes supporting the University's decision. Genovese later resigned and moved to Canada, where he taught at Sir George Williams University. Subsequent teach-ins occurred in the fall of 1965 and continued in 1966.]
Probably freshman year (maybe sophomore), I was between classes in the library reading room, and my brother came in and told me he just saw an article about one of my grade school classmates being killed in Vietnam. I hadn’t seen him since sixth grade, so it was quite a shock to hear that this guy I remembered as a twelve-year old was dead.
SI: Since your dad was working there, did he ever express an opinion about the Genovese controversy?
JW: No. He was anti-war, but that controversy didn't really--I don't remember that registering with him at all.
SI: Along with the anti-war movement growing, you also have the Black Student Movement. Do you recall any activity related to their protests?
JW: I think in all my classes, in my four years, I had something like four Black students in my classes. There were almost no Black students at Rutgers-New Brunswick that I ever saw when I was down there. I think I can only remember four off the top of my head, and two of them were foreign students. So, there were only really two American Black students in any of my classes in the four years I was there.
SI: Once you were in the economics program, did any professor stand out as being particularly interesting to you or maybe the opposite?
JW: I think my favorite, most interesting professor was Professor [Robert J.] Alexander, who I had for "Comparative Economic Systems." I regret I also didn't take his other course on "South American Economics." That was his specialty. At one point in class, he said, "Well, the first time I met Che Guevara was when I was in Argentina, on such and such a date. Then, I met him again in Cuba." Probably the hardest I ever worked on a paper was--he gave us a list of topics, and we had to pick a topic from this list of about a hundred subjects to do a paper on. He said, "You have to come see me because I don't want ten people doing the same thing. Come see me, and I'll approve your topic that you select." So, I look down the list. I said, "Oh, the anarchists in Civil War Spain. That sounds interesting, I'll do that."
I walked into his office and said, "Professor Alexander, I'd like to do topic number eighty-two, anarchism in Spain during the Civil War." He says to me, "That's a fascinating subject. I've been meaning to write a book about that for years." That's when I said, "Uh-oh." He had a double office. One was kind of a file room and one where he had his desk. He said, "Well, come with me." He had this whole bank of file cabinets against the wall. He goes to one file cabinet and pulls out a drawer, "These are interviews I did with Spanish anarchists. These are interviews I did with Spanish fascists. These are interviews I did with Spanish communists." He had about eight drawers full of all these folders of interviews he did and said, "Feel free to come in and use any of this material you'd like. By the way, do you speak or read Spanish because I also have this stack of Spanish newspapers from the period." I said, "No, that's a little beyond my capabilities." Knowing I probably had a fairly serious taskmaster, I worked harder on that paper than anything else I ever did in college, I think.
SI: That's a great story. I've seen I've seen Dr. Alexander's papers. They're really amazing.
JW: Did I lose you?
SI: No, I'm here. Let me pause for a second.
JW: Are we ready?
JW: My senior year, I took a course, I think it was the "Sociology of Politics." I'm reading this book on politics, and one of the lines in the book is, "According to famous Latin American expert, Professor Alexander …" I said, "Wow, he does carry some weight in South American economics."
SI: Do any other professors come to mind or you had interesting experiences with?
JW: Well, I can tell you that my freshman calculus lecturer was really horrible. We had, I think, about ninety guys in the class. By the end of the semester, only about eight people showed up to his lectures, he was so bad. I won't give you his name.
One thing that wound up happening was when I transferred, Rutgers College had a requirement of two years of language. As an engineer, you didn't have to take a language. If you didn't complete your two years by the end of your sophomore year, you had to go to summer school. Anyway, I said, "Well, what do I want to take?" I had taken Latin in high school. My brother, when he went to Rutgers, decided he would take Latin because he took Spanish in high school and really hated it. He knew he had a built-in Latin tutor at home, a high school brother, who was in third-year Latin. Anyway, I said, "Well, let me take Latin, especially because Latin isn't offered in summer school. So, there's no way they can make me go to summer school to make up my two years of a language requirement." I really enjoyed my second semester Latin teacher, a guy by the name of Smith Palmer Bovie; he was pretty good. As a matter of fact, I wound up taking an elective class with him my senior year, which, unfortunately, I wound up not getting to the end of because they closed the campus my senior year before the end of the semester because of all the hoopla going down after Kent State. [Editor's Note: On May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard fired upon a group of anti-Vietnam War demonstrators and bystanders at Kent State University, killing four students and wounding nine. This occurred during the national student strike to protest the expansion of the Vietnam War to Cambodia.]
SI: Yes. I was going to move into that era of the '69-'70 period, but before that, do you recall attending any kind of actions or activities, like a march or a sit-in or something like that, while you were on campus or outside of it?
JW: No, that was never my thing. I didn't get involved in any of that stuff. Basically, groups like SDS kind of turned me off. Being violent to protest, violence somehow seemed kind of counterproductive to me. The only thing I did politically was the time I spent working on the McCarthy campaign.
SI: What had attracted you to Eugene McCarthy's presidential run?
JW: Well, basically, the war. He was going to end the war, and I was anti-war, and none of the other people, except for Nixon's secret plan to end the war, [said] anything other than, "Well, we're going to continue what we're doing."
SI: What would you do while you were working on the campaign? Would you go door to door?
JW: Yes. Mostly, it was going door to door handing out flyers.
SI: When did you solidify your position as being against the war? When did
you decide what you would do if you were involved in the draft process, that sort of thing?
JW: I guess my earliest thoughts about the war were with the [Lyndon] Johnson-[Barry] Goldwater election, where Johnson was supposedly the peacenik, and Goldwater was the warmonger. So, I tended to be for Johnson, which turned out rather badly, in my opinion. I'd say by sophomore year in college, I was pretty much a convinced anti-war person, probably even beginning sometime during freshman year. I guess, probably my sophomore year, I had a friend I went to high school with who was also anti-war. He had been going to a draft counselor in Plainfield. They basically had a second-floor room and a little building across from the train station, a large conference room, and anybody who wanted to come would come down and talk about the draft. Angelo was the name of the draft counselor; I don't know his last name. Angelo would talk about what you could do to not get drafted, and if you were filling out the CO forms, what you should do, and if you get called down and interviewed by the draft board, what you should do. So, I probably went to at least a dozen sessions down there over the couple of years that I was still in college.
SI: They weren't trying to convince you. They were just telling you what to do in this case.
JW: Yes. I mean, if you were going down there, you were probably already convinced that you didn't want to go. So, it was basically advice on how to deal with the system.
SI: Were you aware of other people on campus who had similar beliefs, or was it mostly your own path that you were following?
JW: Again, being a commuter, I basically went to class and came home. So, I didn't get too really involved with anybody else. I remember freshman year, going up to one of my classmate's dorm room, and he played "Alice's Restaurant" for me--the first time I'd ever heard it. But that's the only political thing I really remember. Not too much beyond that. [Editor's Note: "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" is a 1967 blues song by Arlo Guthrie that satirizes the Vietnam War draft. The song inspired the 1969 film by the same name.]
SI: You mentioned a couple of speakers that came to campus. Do you remember any musical acts or entertainers?
JW: Yes. We went to quite a few on campus, and we used to go to New York City. Schaefer [Brewing Company] used to run a summer concert series at the Wollman skating rink [in Central Park], which was pretty cheap, maybe a buck or two for the tickets. But on campus, I remember seeing Simon and Garfunkel, Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, the Blues Project, and, of course, Dick Gregory. You could call that a concert because it was basically him doing a stand-up act. Off the top of my head, those are the ones I remember most. Going into the city, we saw people like Country Joe and the Fish, Tim Buckley, Phil Ochs. We also saw probably on campus Pete Seeger at least once or twice. They had a jazz fest, if you will, at Rutgers Stadium. I forget which year it was. We didn't actually pay to go in because you could sit on the grass outside the stadium and basically hear the concert without even having to pay. They had folks like Roberta Flack and Blood, Sweat and Tears. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other folks. We also wound up going--I remember going into New York on Long Island to see Procol Harum, and going into New York to the old World's Fair, where we saw--I'm not sure if it was Crosby, Stills and Nash, or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. That's primarily it, I think.
SI: Going back to the pacifism issue and the draft, I would imagine your parents were pretty supportive of you and what you were doing.
JW: Yes, yes. My dad was really supportive of both my brother and I. My brother decided to join the Air Force, so he wouldn't get drafted into the Army. I went the opposite route and didn't want to go anywhere. He was supportive of both of us.
SI: When was the first time you had to put these things that you'd learned at the advisor's office into practice?
JW: Well, in order to get CO status, they gave you this big long form that you have to fill out and send to the draft board to put down your reasoning as to why you believe you should be given CO status. There are maybe about, off the top of my head, four or five essay questions. You had to write about your beliefs and send it to the draft board. Then, you had to go down to the draft board for an interview before they'd grant you CO status. One thing Angelo had said was, "Well, when you go, bring people with you for witnesses and also have letters from people who aren't going that would support you. If you go down, tell them you have witnesses. They'll want to see them. If they say no, repeat several times that you have witnesses," which I did. They weren't interested in my witnesses. My dad couldn't go, I forget why, but he wrote a letter, which I gave to them, which basically said he supported both me and my brother in our decisions, and he was a CO himself, etcetera. That probably helped swing the deal. I was granted CO status, and then I just had to sit around and wait to see if my number hit in the lottery, which it did.
SI: Was that the December '69 lottery?
JW: No, it would have been, let's see, I graduated. I worked for a year. I didn't wind up getting drafted until '71. It was the first lottery they ran. I had a fairly low number. Maybe it wasn't until '71 that they had to dig down into 60 or 70, whatever it was. Off the top of my head, I really don't remember what my number was. Like I say, it was low enough to get me drafted. [Editor's Note: The first Vietnam draft lottery took place during the senior year of the Class of 1970. On December 1, 1969, the U.S. Selective Service held the draft lottery, which was broadcast live on television and radio. The lottery selected birthdays to determine the order in which men born between 1944 and 1950 were called to report for induction in 1970 during the Vietnam War.]
SI: Again, with your father's background, had he tried to prepare you in any way for anything you might encounter?
JW: No. I think it was probably much harder for him during World War II, which was fairly popular, a lot more popular than Vietnam. By Vietnam, there were a lot of people against the war. Very few people after Pearl Harbor were against World War II.
SI: Can I just pause for a second real quick?
JW: What may or may not be interesting was the draft physical. We basically all had to go into--well, Green Brook is in Somerset County--so we had to go to Somerville. They bused us into Newark for the draft physical, and I still think I probably should have failed my physical because when we got all done, they picked maybe two dozen of us, who apparently had done pretty bad on the eye test, they said, "You guys have to retake the eye test." So, we go back down to the eye test station, and the little private is there. He said, "Doctor whatever, the eye guy, took off. I think he left. We'll have to go track him down." So, they go and find this Army eye doctor, who was probably halfway out the building and ready to go home. They bring him back, and he didn't really want to be back. So, he looked at this line of maybe twenty-four guys. He picked maybe the first ten, which did not include me, and gave them the retest. He said, "All you other guys after this guy, you all pass." Maybe I should have flunked the eye test and not been eligible at all, but who knows?
SI: Would you mind repeating the last few lines? It cut out on my end.
JW: Basically, we all went back to retake the eye test, and the eye doctor had started to leave the building and was nowhere to be found. So, they had to go scurry and bring him back. He obviously didn't want to be there. He wanted to be home. So, there are about twenty-five of us. He took maybe the first ten guys in line, re-gave them the eye test, and [to] the other fifteen of us, including me, said, "You guys all pass," and he took off. So, maybe I should have failed the test and not been eligible at all. Who knows?
SI: Let's look at that second half of your senior year, where things really accelerated on campus. Do you recall, even before Kent State, did it seem like things were coming to a head?
JW: I think there were protests by the ROTC building on College Avenue, and somebody burned down the police science building on what's now the Livingston Campus. There was no Livingston College back then. So, it's just the Joyce Kilmer area. The police science building was one of the old Army buildings that were left over from Camp Kilmer. There was a fair amount of unrest and unhappiness around campus. [Editor's Note: Livingston College opened in 1969 as Rutgers-New Brunswick's first coeducational undergraduate college. Livingston College was constructed upon the former Camp Kilmer, an Army embarkation base that Rutgers acquired in 1964.]
SI: I think it was in the beginning of May when Kent State happened. What do you recall about the experience on the Rutgers campus at that time?
JW: Again, I was away from campus most of the time, except for classes, so I really didn't get too involved in any of that stuff. Obviously, the administration was worried because they said, "Well, you guys can all go home and participate in whatever you want, and whatever grade you have at this point in time, that'll be your grade for the semester. No finals. All finals are canceled. Nobody can give you finals," although there were professors who did make you take their finals. As a matter of fact, my friend, Professor Alexander, told our class, "You don't have to take my final, but the best I can give you if you don't take the final is a 'B'. So, if you have an 'A' going into the final and don't take the final, you'll get a 'B'." I wanted my "A", so I wound up going in and taking his final. I didn't have him, but Professor Sidney Simon told his classes--he had a six-credit business administration class--he said, "Well, my course consists of a midterm and a final, and each one is worth fifty percent of your grade. So, if you take the midterm and you got a hundred, and you don't come in and take my final, you get a fifty for the course, which is an 'F'. So, you'd better come in and take my final. Even though the president says you don't have to, I'm saying you have to." So, anybody who had Sidney Simon wound up going in and taking his final.
SI: That's interesting. That's come up in some other interviews. I'm curious. Did you have Professor Monroe Berkowitz?
JW: Berkowitz? No, I did not. Professor Berkowitz was primarily--his main course was "The Soviet Economy," if I remember correctly. At the time, you could not take both "Comparative Economic Systems" and "The Soviet Economy" course and get credit for both of them because they, at least in part, touch the same area. Comparative Systems obviously included Communism and the Soviet system, so the economics department said you could take one but not both.
SI: As you were coming up towards the end of your college career, what were you planning for the future? What were your thoughts then?
JW: Well, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do because I knew I had the draft hanging over my head, and I had been working part time in the summertime and during the school year at the physical plant department over on the Kilmer Campus in the office. So, when I graduated, I just kept working what had been a summer job for the summer.
Then, I got lucky being in the right place at the right time. The woman who was the administrative assistant for the department wound up leaving. I also had a chance to leave that department and go to another department. When our business managers thought I might be leaving, [they] said, "Well, we just lost the administrative assistant. How would you like that job?" So, that was my first real full-time permanent Rutgers job. I was an admin assistant for basically the year, from July through the end of June, '70 to '71. After that is when I wound up having to go do my alternative service, so I was gone for two years.
SI: You knew the draft was hanging over your head, as you said, but when was it absolute that you would be doing these two years?
JW: Well, not until I got my draft notice. Given my fairly low draft number, I figured that I was going to be going at some point. I'm not sure exactly when the process started for me to get drafted, but the draft board sent me a note saying, basically, "You're drafted. If you have to do alternative service, here's a list of places that we would approve you for alternative service. Pick three." Our director of physical plant tried to--it had to be for nonprofit or a government agency--he tried to tell them, "Hey, we'll have this guy work as a custodian on our Camden campus," because one of the requirements was to be far enough away from home so that you would probably have to relocate and have some inconvenience in doing this. The draft board turned that down. So, I gave him three choices. I think one was--where I wound up going, which was Goodwill Industries in Jersey City. One was, I think, the New Jersey Dairy Association, and the other was a Quaker group in Philadelphia. They told me, "Okay, well, you're going to apply for a job at Goodwill Industries in Jersey City," which I did. They hired me, and I spent two years working there doing various things.
SI: That seems interesting. Jersey City might be closer than Camden.
JW: Well, I guess they figured if I was still working for Rutgers, that wasn't really an inconvenience. The other thing I wound up doing in terms of Rutgers was going through personnel, asking them to give me a military leave since I was being drafted, which means they would have to take me back in two years as opposed to just quitting. After some hemming and hawing, they agreed, "Yes, yes, we'll give you a military leave." So, two years later, I came back, and they had me go on a couple of job interviews. I wound up going into the payroll department over on the Piscataway campus.
SI: Okay, so tell me a little bit more about the work you did with Goodwill. Were you the only CO there?
JW: There was one other fellow who thought he was going to wind up getting drafted and started working there in anticipation that he would. Eventually, it turned out that he wasn't going to get drafted, so he wound up quitting. He was a fellow Rutgers student. I knew him. He had been in my Latin class, in Professor Bovie's Latin class. So, I basically knew him a little.
I was working at Goodwill. We unloaded the trucks at a door in the front of the building, and we always had a problem with the neighborhood kids jumping into the trucks and taking stuff when we were unloading. We got to know most of them, and they would occasionally chat with us. One day, one of the guys comes over and very quietly asks me about why we are in Vietnam. I give him a quick explanation and asked why he wants to know. It turns out he had just come back from the funeral of an older brother who was killed over there.
When I first started, they put me on--it was called a production line. They basically would bring cartloads of the donated clothing and other materials up to the third floor of the building we were at, which was a really rough section of Jersey City. Basically, I had a helper, and we would unload the clothing onto a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt would run, and there were three or four ladies who stood along the conveyor belt and looked at the stuff going by. Anything they thought was nice enough to resell in the store, they would pick out and put aside, and anything that they let go would go to the end of the conveyor belt and down a chute into a baler. The clothes that went in the baler got baled up in these huge bales, which got picked up by a rag dealer.
I did that for maybe four or five months, the first four or five months I was there. They always had trouble keeping truck drivers. Basically, the job was minimum wage, so I was getting a dollar-sixty an hour for doing that. Then, I asked the boss if I could drive one of the trucks. I got moved to the truck, and I got a whopping thirty-cent raise, up to a dollar-ninety an hour. Basically, you went out with one helper, and your helpers were usually mentally-challenged guys. Well, they were always mentally challenged guys, I should say, because basically the idea behind Goodwill was they gave people with disabilities jobs and supposed training, although most of the folks were basically there forever because they really couldn't do anything else. As a sheltered workshop, they were allowed to pay the disabled people less than minimum wage, depending on what their capabilities were. So, the last year and a half, I drove a truck around, mainly picking up from collection boxes at supermarkets and churches and the like and occasionally doing a few house calls mixed in with that. We basically had, I guess, four collection box routes, and I would do three different routes, two twice a week and one once a week. So, that was kind of interesting. The biggest problem was their trucks were really in less than perfect condition. I had a number of interesting incidences, like having a truck catch fire on me, having a tie rod fall off, having a seal go, and having all the oil drain out of my truck, interesting stuff like that.
In the last six months--we had a big problem with our original building. On the first floor, we had a store, where they obviously sold stuff. The woman who was the storekeeper had been transferred from another store that they closed down in another bad section of the city because it'd been held up so much. She was so afraid of being held up again that anytime anybody that looked suspicious, any black male under the age of thirty came into the store, she would have the receptionist call up to the third floor, where I was working, and tell me, "Bring a couple of the guys to stand around the store until this suspicious person leaves." So, we would do that a couple of times. What good is a pacifist standing behind a counter holding a baseball bat, which is what we did, against some crook with a gun? As a matter of fact, one of the retarded workers, who had been my helper for a while when I was upstairs before I went out on the truck, wound up getting shot in the store in a hold-up while I was working there. Anyways, they wound up buying a building toward the Route 1/9 Truck route, which was a fairly safe and nice neighborhood. They moved all their operations there. The biggest problem was it was a one-story building, so the whole conveyor system, gravity feeding into the baler didn't work anymore.
While we were in the process of moving everything out, we used to have probably at least once a week, somebody break into the first building we were in. Since my boss, who was a young guy about my age, felt I was the most trustworthy guy, he used to make me hang around until he was ready to close up the place after the last truck was unloaded. One night, we had to go up to all four floors and make sure all the fire doors were closed tightly, because they had alarms on them. If they weren't closed tightly, the alarm system wouldn't go on. So, we would go up and check all the doors. On the third floor where we worked, where the clothing was sorted out, they used to save old bedsheets that weren't any good. But the drivers would go and take them to tie up loose clothes that were thrown in the box or maybe loose clothes that were in the box, and somebody went in the box and dumped the bags out.
Anyway, the light switch was on the far end, where the bedsheets were kept. So, the third floor was totally dark. Harry's at the elevator waiting for me to go get--I said, "Let me go get some sheets for the truck run tomorrow." I go down, flick on the light, grab some sheets, flick it off, and I hear Harry screaming at me, "Turn it on, turn it on." So, I flicked the light back on, and there's a young kid there--I don't know if he brought it or if he picked it up--who picked up a knife and was threatening Harry with it. Harry, being an inner-city Philadelphia guy, pulled out his Blackjack [knife] and got the guy to drop his knife. So, that was an interesting incident we had.
Anyway, while we were moving out of the building and had most of the stuff but not everything moved out, it got broken into and burned down. So, our old building burned before we were totally moved out. I also lucked out a little. We had a number of Ford trucks and two Chevys. One thing we had to do, as drivers every night, was take the batteries out of the truck, so they didn't get stolen. Then, at some point, they discovered that the radiators came out of the two Chevys very easily. So, they started stealing the radiators out of the Chevy. So, being somebody who lived out of the city and somebody who they trusted with their trucks, I wound up being able to drive the truck home at night, so the radiator wouldn't get stolen. For six months, instead of taking the train and the bus into Jersey City, I would up being able to drive the truck back and forth home, so it saved me some commuting expenses.
SI: As you were doing this, would you have to report to anyone or report what you were doing?
SI: Do you recall any people looking down at you because of your CO status? Was that ever an issue?
JW: No, not really, no.
SI: I'm curious because I know your father's generation would have faced a lot of prejudice.
JW: Yes. Well, I think when I left facilities, and they gave me my going-away party, a couple of the older guys who worked for facilities grumbled a little about it, but nobody ever said anything to my face about it. I did have one lady who worked in payroll, a younger lady, who said to me, "Oh, man. I saw your paperwork. Boy, that stinks that they gave you such a hard time over the military leave." "What are you going to do?" But, again, they did give me military leave.
SI: I imagine you were living at home still.
JW: For the first year, I lived at home. About a year and one month after I started working, I wound up getting married. We wound up moving to Cranford for a while and then to Roselle Park. So, we lived in a couple of apartments the last year or so that I worked for Goodwill.
SI: How did you meet your wife?
JW: She worked at local Chicken Delight in Dunellen. One of my good friends from high school also worked there. So, we used to go down there to talk to Joe, and Kathy was working there. Basically, that's how we met. She was also from the Dunellen but went to a Catholic high school, so I didn't know her from high school.
SI: Looking at the whole experience of the alternative service, did you see it as a worthwhile thing or just an inconvenience? What was your thought on the whole experience?
JW: Well, other than the fact I hated the guy who was the head of the organization--it was a minister and I thought he was quite a hypocrite--but other than that, I didn't really mind. I enjoyed [it], especially once I got out of the building and was driving the truck around. It wasn't a bad job. Obviously, I was making roughly half what I would have been making if I was still working at Rutgers. Financially and career-wise, it wasn't very helpful to me, but as far as an experience, it was an interesting experience.
SI: You came back to Rutgers in '73. Is that right?
JW: Yes, July of '73.
SI: You started working at the payroll department.
JW: The payroll office, yes.
SI: How long were you there?
JW: I was there three-and-a-half years, I think.
SI: I'm just curious. How were things done then? Does anything stand out in your memory?
JW: Well, yes. In the beginning, it was very hectic because they were just in the process of putting in a new payroll system on July 1, so I was involved in that. Of course, anytime you're putting in a new system, there are a lot of snafus. So, probably, the first six months or so, I wound up working until midnight quite a few times because when you went live, there's always something that you didn't figure was going to happen. One of the parts of my job--there were basically three sections of payroll: one that handled benefits, one that handled salaries and employees, and one that handled basically part-time employees, which was my area. The main input every week was the time slips that my department had to put in, and that was the last phase of payroll. We had to make sure all the time slips were in, or if they couldn't be processed, hold them out to the next week and try to resolve it. There is a series of steps you had to go through before you could actually print checks, one of which was a report that listed any payment over--I forgot what the dollar amount was, but anybody who was getting a payment over a certain dollar amount.
One of the snafus that happened, I'm going through this report and we couldn't tell them to print the checks until after I approved the report. There was some custodial lady who was getting some outrageous number, like a hundred thousand dollars. I said, "Whoops, something's wrong here." So, we had to call up the IT [information technology] people, who came down and tried to figure out why this lady was getting a hundred thousand dollars. It was some bugaboo in the system. Instead of using her hourly rate to figure her salary, it used her social security number to figure her salary, which was a lot of digits. So, they had to fix that bug.
In the beginning, a lot of people didn't know how to fill out the forms or have the timing on how they had to get the forms in. So, we had a lot of people [being kicked] out of the system. So, we would have people going three, four pay periods before we could actually get them paid. The only thing we could do is say, "Okay, well, we can send you down to the treasurer's office, and they can give you a form to get a cash advance. It'll get taken out of your paycheck when we finally do get around to getting you paid." So, that was a lot of fun for the first six months. Then, of course, payroll is something that--you can't not issue a check every Friday. So, if something's going wrong, you have to stay there until it's fixed.
SI: I know there wasn't a union then, but there was an employee association that dealt with issues. Were you involved in that at all?
JW: Yes. There was an administrative assembly, which we belonged to. It didn't really have any power other than making suggestions. All the payroll people, even the clerical folks who, if they had that job title outside the payroll department would have been in the union, everybody in payroll, since they saw all this confidential information like everybody's salaries, was exempted from being in the union. So, the payroll department was totally non-union. Another interesting thing with the new system, when President [Edward] Bloustein came onboard, believe it or not, he was the first employee ever to get more than a hundred thousand-dollars' salary. Well, guess what? Our system would only pay up to 99,999 dollars per person. So, they had to give him two appointments, one for the 99,000 dollars and the other for the extra four or five thousand dollars to give him his total salary. So, that was another early bug that wound up having to get fixed, so you could have people with a six-digit salary.
SI: That's interesting. This was before the big money coaches were in there. You were there for three years, and that brings us up to about '76.
JW: Yes, in December of '76 is when I wind up transferring over the budget and resource studies department.
SI: What prompted that move?
JW: One, better hours. I wouldn't have to hang around until midnight every couple of weeks. Two, obviously, it was more money. Being a young married guy with a kid on the way--well, actually, one child already--getting more money and a different career path because I didn't really want to stay in payroll my whole life prompted me to apply for a number of jobs. That was the first one I applied for that I actually got hired for.
SI: This was on the New Brunswick campus.
JW: Yes, on the New Brunswick campus.
SI: What did that job entail?
JW: Well, budget and resource studies was basically the budget preparation arm of the university. So, we would basically put together a budget request to the state.
When the state would tell us how much they were actually giving us, we would figure out, "Well, this is how much we have. How do we balance out what the state is giving us versus what we asked for and what we actually need?" We'd do tuition modeling to see how much we might have to raise tuition to meet our goals. We would do the mechanics of allocating out the budgets to all the departments within the university.
SI: What were the challenges involved in that kind of position? In one way, you could look at it and think it's just filling in, depending on how much money there is. What were the challenges?
JW: Well, we also got involved in doing a few other things. We would help the vice president for finance prepare materials to go before the Board of Governors, which you would present for them to approve the budget requests, because obviously, all of us poor little functionaries, we didn't know pull out (words?) [inaudible] what we needed for the budget, but the VP would ask us for materials that he would use to go to the Board of Governors. We would also do things where we would go out to the departments and ask them, "Well, what do you need?" Of course, they'd come up with three times the need of what we had the money for.
Some of the budget stuff was enrollment-driven. So, one of my early jobs was we had to do this enrollment reporting and stick it into a funding formula that we would send down to the state, where each different type of student got a different rate of funding. So, for example--I'm just making these things up off the top of my head, I don't remember the actual stuff anymore--but engineering students got more faculty per student than, say, liberal arts students. For the law [school], the average salary for the faculty was higher than the average faculty salary for undergraduates. We basically had to break down the projected enrollment by maybe ten different categories and multiply or divide that number of students by the number of faculty required for those students and multiply that by the average salary of the faculty. There were three or four different categories of faculty also. If you remember old, old programming, there was an APL, which stood for A Programming Language, program that we would run that calculated out all the calculations as to how much money we should get based on the state's funding formula, which, at least in the early years, wasn't too bad, because the state pretty much funded that. We also had a physical plant formula, where we had to figure out how much square footage we had, how many custodians you needed per square foot, how many operating engineers you needed, etcetera. That generated a whole formula that created a request for how much we needed to run facilities. That, however, the state never really took very seriously, and we never got the money that that was supposed to generate. So, the early years, when I was there, things were good. In the '70s, the state had a fair amount of money, and we pretty much had enough money to keep us going without too many tuition increases.
Then, when [T.] Alexander Pond came in as executive vice president, he wound up pushing these initiatives to get a lot of high-flying professors in, and money was rolling in for that. They created what they called WCSL, World-Class Scholarly Leader, and they hired a lot of very high-flying outside professors, like the guy who just died within the last year. I'm drawing a blank on his name, but he was over in the microbiology section.
Even through when Governor [Thomas] Kean went out of office, his last thing was to provide the university with a lot of money. After Kean, things started to go downhill. His giving out of a lot of money left [James] Florio in a hole. Florio raised the sales tax, among other things. Then, we got Christie Whitman, who started the whole process of screwing up the state pension system by not funding it. Things got a little tough, and we had to cut budgets. Then, you would go back to departments and say--well, we didn't go down to the nitty-gritty department level--we would go to the provost in New Brunswick and say, "Okay, provost in New Brunswick, you have to give us this much money back. You figure out which departments are giving it back and let us know."
After about thirteen years there, I wound up going up to Newark for about eight years as basically the provost's campus budget manager, which was basically dealing on the other end of the budget process, basically dealing with my old office, when they were allocating budgets out, and being the person who supplied them the information and getting information from them. Obviously, the provost made the decisions, but going back to the individual schools and departments and saying, "Okay, your budget for the year is this much. You tell us how you want to allocate it."
Eventually, after that, I went back down to the budget and resource studies office in New Brunswick as a kind of assistant director. The office was still doing basically the same kind of stuff. I was there until the end of my career. The last year I spent there, I was actually acting director because Governor [Jim] McGreevey had an early-out program. Our director, who was maybe about ten years older than me, was definitely going [to retire]. I was just about fifty-five, which is when you can retire without any penalty. So, I'd be retiring with the incentive, and our VP said, "Well, I don't want both you and Al retiring at the same time. We'll put in a request to give you a one-year extension on your retirement," which he did. So, I wound up being the acting director for the final years that I was there.
SI: Going back to your time in Newark, was that when Norman Samuels was the provost?
JW: Yes, I worked for Norman Samuels. I love Norman Samuels, by the way.
SI: Yes. I've heard a lot of great stories about how he could really do a lot with a little and transformed that campus.
JW: Yes, I really enjoyed working for Norman. My direct boss was actually a guy named Gene Vincenti, who was the associate provost, but I interacted with all the associate provosts and with the provost himself. The funniest thing was, being a fairly religious Jew, he was always very happy that he wound up not being able to go to Saturday football games with the president when President [Francis] Lawrence was there.
SI: [laughter] What were the challenges in that position during the years you were there?
JW: Well, when I first went up there, that's when Pond was pushing the WCSL program, and money was flowing. For the first three or four years I was up there, times were good. We were getting a lot of money. There was a bond issue to buy equipment. They put in a new Institute of Neuroscience up there, and they had a lot of new initiatives. Then, the last few years are when the budgets kind of went down the tubes. We started to have to take money back. So, the challenge of taking money back is always painful because you're dealing with having to lay people off and cut programs. I think Newark always also had a bit of a complex that we were a stepchild, and New Brunswick didn't really understand us. One of the funny stories that Samuels told is when Lawrence came on board. I don't know if you're familiar with the Newark campus at all. I don't even know if it's still up there, but there are two old industrial buildings. One became Bradley Hall, which was a real eyesore, and the other industrial building got knocked down and made into a parking lot. Anyway, when Lawrence became president, he's up to the Newark campus being toured around, and Bradley Hall is there. As they're going up the hill toward Bradley Hall, he says to Samuels, "That's not ours, is it?" [laughter] Of course, it was. Okay, let me say goodbye. The grandkids are taking off with their dad. Hang on one sec.
SI: It's okay. Take your time. It sounds like President Lawrence was not exactly beloved on the Newark campus.
JW: At least not that building anyway. While we were there, we had the big anniversary of the Black students' takeover of Conklin Hall. They had a special program. Our associate provost for student services, Dr. [James] Ramsey--I guess maybe he had been as a student or a lower-level guy at the time--organized this big conference and videos of people who participated in the takeover of Conklin Hall in the '60s. [Editor's Note: On February 24, 1969, members of the Black Organization of Students took over Conklin Hall at Rutgers-Newark to protest the underrepresentation of students and faculty of color at Rutgers.]
SI: When you came back down to New Brunswick for the last portion of your career, again, what were the challenges there or even everyday struggles that you had to deal with?
JW: Well, the biggest challenges were we were now in an era where we were basically cutting the budget every year. So, A, cutting the budget and, B, raising tuition to help offset the budget cuts. I used to joke with the people that I knew who had been students and say, "If you want to see somebody who's responsible for raising your tuition, that's me."
SI: That probably wasn't well received.
JW: Probably not. The other interesting thing was in my first life down there--I mentioned we used an APL program to do the enrollment projections. That was before PCs. Eventually, we wound up getting that on PCs, but we went slowly into that. First, we wound up getting--you had to have the IT people come over and approve that you could actually buy a PC. So, we got one PC that was shared by our secretary for word processing, plus five professionals who were in the building. We eventually wound up, obviously, getting computers for everybody. Initially, we started going from everybody sharing one PC to everybody having their own and basically having everything that we did PC-based, instead of this APL program, which involved dialing up the New Jersey educational computer network on a dial-up modem to connect to the APL programming.
SI: That's interesting the technological changes you've pointed out. Just from my own outside-looking-in view, it seems like a lot of systems are tested out in the finance and personnel end in the university.
JW: Yes. The assistant director, when I first started there, when we got our first computer, said, "That little thing sitting on the desktop has more memory in it than the whole room full of computers that we had when I was over there as a systems analyst working on computers," because basically back then, everything--well, when I worked in payroll--everything was on computer punch cards. We're skipping back in time, but in essence, when a time slip came in, we had to send a time slip downstairs to the computer department, where the key punchers would enter the data on, actually, three computer punch cards per timesheet, which all got run into the computer to operate the payroll. Obviously, today, there's no such thing as keypunch operators anymore.
SI: Right, it's a bygone profession. You've mostly been talking about what sounds like academic budgeting issues. Were you also involved with housing, athletics or other areas?
JW: No. University budgeting work was compartmentalized. So, housing and dining services and athletics were considered an auxiliary service and are outside of the state budget. We were only involved with the state budget. So, we didn't get involved in housing, dining, athletics, and we didn't get involved in things that were funded by grants. The money that we looked after was the money that we got from state appropriations and the money we got from tuition and some of the fee money. A lot of the student fee money wound up going to things that were considered auxiliary services. So, there's a student center fee. Student centers are supposed to self-support. So, that was a fee that we didn't get involved with. There's a student athletic fee that went to the athletic department. We weren't involved in any of that. We were basically only the state budget.
SI: You retired when you were about fifty-six.
JW: Fifty-five. Actually, the early out came when I was fifty-four, so getting the year extension pushed me to almost fifty-five. So, I retired two months shy of my fifty-fifth birthday.
SI: Did you do anything else after that as a working professional?
JW: Yes, I had a small mail-order model railroad business, so I did continue to do that. I had a friend who had a fairly large model railroad importing business. I went down, and I worked for him for a number of years until he wound up having to shut down because of some problems with Chinese manufacturing.
SI: Did you get involved in any activities as an employee at Rutgers over the years?
JW: No, not really. In my position, we weren't able to be unionized, so there was no union stuff to do. As a matter of fact, three or four times, I wound up being on the management team in the union negotiations. That's another thing we wound up getting involved in. Basically, I would sit in and the union would give proposals and I would basically have to calculate how much it would cost to fund the union proposal and how much it would cost the fund our counterproposal and do various financial modeling on the various proposals. Basically, the police unions and the faculty union were the main ones that I worked on a couple of times.
SI: Outside of Rutgers, did you get involved in any community activities?
JW: Yes, for quite a few years, I also taught part-time economics, a few years at the County College of Morris when I was doing my first session down in New Brunswick with budget and resource studies. I had to quit that when I went up to Newark because it was too much travel. After I came back down to New Brunswick again, I wound up teaching economics part time at Middlesex County College, so I did that. I also wound up getting two graduate degrees while I was working payroll and budget research studies, the first time getting a master's at the Graduate School of Education and then I wound up getting an MBA since basically tuition was paid for. Why not? So, I did that.
Outside, I was pretty involved with local town athletics. I have two daughters who both played softball, so I wound up coaching, in the recreation department, softball and basketball girls teams for a number of years--well, softball, my daughters were playing and then for quite a few years after. Also basketball. That would have been fifth, sixth graders. Again, that was after my daughters quit playing because it was really hard to get guys who wanted to coach girls. The girls' programs are always kind of second fiddle in town. I also was involved in my son's Cub Scout's troop. I did that for four years while he was in Cub Scouts. Again, they had problems finding people who wanted to be Cub Scout den leaders. So, I wound up, maybe three or four years after my son was out of Cub Scouts, staying in and doing Cub Scouts with them.
SI: You have three children.
SI: They went to a variety of schools. It sounds like you didn't lay down the law about Rutgers like your father had with you.
JW: No, no. The two older ones both got accepted by Rutgers, but the older one wanted to do something that Rutgers didn't offer and the younger one was kind of scared by the bigness of Rutgers. She didn't want to go to such a big school. My son wound up starting out not being that interested in school. He went to community college for a year and dropped out and then worked for a couple of years before he decided, "Gee, maybe I should go to school." He went to Raritan Valley, graduated there, and then went to art school down in Georgia.
SI: Considering that your father obviously had been a pacifist and a CO in World War II and your experience, did you try to instill any of that in your own children, pacifism or any aspect of that?
JW: No, not really. Of course, we don't have the same issues today since there is no draft. It's not something the girls would have to worry about anyway. Basically, the son--no draft, nothing to worry about.
SI: Is there any other aspect of your life that we missed or anything you'd like to add?
JW: No, nothing much that I can think of off the top of my head. I think we pretty much covered all the important stuff.
SI: I like to ask of people who were students and then employees at Rutgers, do you feel like your education at Rutgers had an influence on your work at the university over the years?
JW: It's like anything else in education. Ninety percent of it, you'll wind up not using ever again, and ten percent helped me out. Obviously, the courses in economics and my graduate work helped get me the part-time teaching gigs, which was more for fun than for the money because part-time lecturers don't really make a whole lot of money at the community colleges, but I enjoyed doing it. I've got no complaints about my Rutgers education or my years working for Rutgers primarily.
SI: Did you, at one point, consider teaching? Is that why you got the master's in education?
JW: No. Well, actually, when I was working for Goodwill, I thought about trying to get a job teaching high school. So, I did wind up taking some courses, both at Rutgers and over at what was then Newark State College, now Kean [University], for a teaching certificate. By the time I got all done with that, the only thing I had to do was student-teach. I was back working in payroll and married with a kid and saying, "Well, I can't afford to quit this job and do nothing so I can be available for student-teaching and not know if I'm going to be able to land a teaching job or not." So, I gave up on that idea. The master's in education was more--I was taking some courses here and there just for the fun of taking courses. I said to myself, "Well, gee, I might as well take something that I'm going to get a degree for." I looked around, and one of the easier programs to get in as far as what you had to do, as far as taking GREs or whatever, was over at the Graduate School of Education. So, I said, "It sounds like an interesting program." My area in the Graduate School of Education was something called the social and philosophical background of education, which included, among other things, courses in the economics of education, which was interesting to me, of course.
SI: Well, again, if there's anything you want to add, go ahead, but you can add things to the transcript later, if they come to mind, or we could do a follow up. I really appreciate all your time today. This has been great.
JW: I think I'm good with all we talked about. Probably ten minutes after I hang up, I'll think of twenty things I should have told you about. For now, I think we're pretty good.
SI: Thank you very much. I really appreciate your time.
JW: Okay, very good.
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Transcribed by Jesse Braddell
Reviewed by Molly Graham 12/22/2020
Reviewed by Kate Rizzi 1/7/2021
Reviewed by Jeffrey Wilson 2/1/2021
Reviewed by Kate Rizzi 2/2/2021