The Masterson Crisis


I thought I’d let you all know that I’ll be giving a talk on the 1969 Masterson Crisis next Tuesday afternoon. If you’d like to come, you would be most welcome. It’s quite a story. Here’s the announcement:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

4:00 PM, McMurtry Auditorium
Duncan Hall, Rice University
(reception after colloquium)

Lecture is free and open to the public.

Rice’s ‘Masterson Crisis’: “The problem is, what is the university going to be?”

Melissa Kean
Centennial Historian
Rice University

In the late summer of 1968, Rice’s President Kenneth S. Pitzer stepped down to assume the presidency of Stanford University. On Friday, February 1969 the Rice Board announced that they had elected William H. Masterson as his successor. Just a few frantic days later Masterson resigned, convinced that he could not lead Rice in the face of an open, widespread and sustained faculty rebellion. The ideas, loyalties and misunderstandings that were at the heart of this dramatic conflict shed light on a fundamental issue in this institution’s history: what is the purpose of Rice University and how are its goals best pursued? And who gets to decide?

You might also want to check out the website of Scientia, the sponsoring organization. They will host a series of talks throughout the year on various aspects of Rice history that I’m sure will be of interest to a lot of people.

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5 Responses to The Masterson Crisis

  1. Jerry Outlaw says:

    I hope you will be posting your entire lecture. I was at Rice at the time and would be very interested in hearing your analysis. I confess, I have never heard of your thesis that the crisis was about “what kind of university Rice is going to be”. At the time, there appeared to be a consensus that Dr. Masterson was not suited by intellect or personality to be the university’s leader. A different perspective will be interesting.

  2. C. Kelly says:

    Well, I recognize Bruce Topletz (’72), & I recognize other faces, but I’d need a yearbook to be certain of names.

  3. Melissa Kean says:

    The issue of Dr. Masterson’s suitability was definitely a big piece of the puzzle, but still only one piece. For something this extraordinary to happen, there have to be a lot of things coming together at once.

    I’m pretty sure the talk is being taped and will be posted on the Scientia website–I’ll let you know.

  4. Kathy says:

    Wish I could hear your talk! I might be somewhere in the background of that picture and would be very interested in hearing/reading your analysis.

  5. Sandy Havens says:

    Melissa, I remember the Masterson crisis very well. I was director of Rice Players at the time. The announcement of the appointment of Masterson was made to the faculty on Friday afternoon just as RPs were going into a weekend of tech and dress rehearsals for our production of the reknowned play by Peter Weiss–“Marat/Sade.” Marat/Sade is the short title; the full title is The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charanton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. A play about revolution–specifically about the French Revolution–but about revolution in general. As you know, the Rice “revolution” took place over that weekend and the following Monday. We opened on Monday night. An astonishing coincidence. Our opening night audience filled Hamman well beyond any capacity authorized by the Fire Marshall. On Tuesday Masterson withdrew.

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