Sometimes people ask me if I could go back in time which Rice person I would most want to talk with. They’re often surprised that it isn’t President Lovett but instead a student, Warren Skaaren ’69. After leaving Rice Skaaren became a successful movie screenwriter. He died very young, of bone cancer, in 1990. But as a student he was at the very center of the Masterson Affair, the turmoil over the board’s appointment of William Masterson as president that played out over five days in February of that year and ended with Masterson’s resignation. If you pay close attention in the files you quickly see that Skaaren, possessed of both an unusual emotional intelligence and a sharp tactical mind, was one of the most crucial actors in the entire episode. I remain grateful to Professor Harold Hyman of the history department for his grasp of the institutional importance of this crisis and his push to have oral histories taken from several dozen active participants. The archivists also carefully collected newspaper clippings, flyers, photographs and other miscellany so that the Woodson has a rich collection about the events of those days. We have records from faculty, students, and even trustees. And the ktru tapes that were recorded at the time have now been digitized. This episode took place nearly 50 years ago, though, so about the last thing I expected was for new materials to turn up. But they did.
First came this photograph of voting in the student referendum on the appointment of Masterson:
Then we received a folder from the Warren Skaaren Charitable Trust in Austin that was full of his correspondence and scratched out notes from the five days of the crisis. It took my breath away. Here’s a sample, where we can watch him turning words over and around to get at the truth he means to convey:
And finally this arrived:
I believe it was taken after the students had met in the Physics Amphitheater to discuss the appointment of Masterson. (Note the poncho–it had been raining all day. This actually becomes important to the story.) When they were finished they walked over as a group to the front steps of the Chem Lecture Hall, where they waited for the faculty, who were meeting inside, to emerge. That might be Skaaren in the paisley shirt.
Note: The link to the Scientia talk I gave several years ago about the Masterson Crisis is currently broken. Working on getting it fixed.
Also, it’s Spring Break! I’ll be posting as usual but I won’t be back on campus until next Monday. If you need anything in the meantime, call or email the Woodson. Seriously. Do not wait for me to get back!