Segregation, Tuition, and Football, 1962

You know how I’m always so surprised by the things I find? Like “Oh my gosh, I never expected to see something like this!” or “what a startling discovery!” That didn’t happen today. What I found today I’ve always known had to exist somewhere, so I’ve been waiting patiently for nearly thirty years for it to turn up. And then there it was, tucked in William Houston’s Personal Papers. I recognized it instantly and perversely I felt almost disappointed. I’m going to miss looking for it.

This is a letter from President Houston to President Pitzer, a careful recounting of a 1962 meeting between Houston, Rice’s first dean of engineering LeVan Griffis, and two senior officials of the Ford Foundation, one of the most important funders of advanced education in the South. It captures in a nutshell the tangle of problems that faced Rice in its efforts to move into the top rank of American universities and makes quite clear the motivations for the changes that followed. I’ve sometimes heard people speculate that the beginning of tuition that coincided with desegregation was a cynical maneuver to keep black students out even after admission was technically open to them. I’m capable of just as much cynicism about university administrators as anyone–possibly more given my job–but I’ve never seen any evidence that that’s true. What I have seen plenty of evidence for is that they did both things for the same reason–they needed money to pay for the dramatic leap in quality that they were planning and they had to do both to get it.

The only thing that surprised me in this letter was the suspicion of the Ford Foundation guys about the high quality of our football program.

Bonus: We all survived my daughter’s wedding and I’ve never seen Cohen House look prettier. We had Rice Campus Photographer Jeff Fitlow taking pictures and he did a phenomenal job. This is out in the garden.



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8 Responses to Segregation, Tuition, and Football, 1962

  1. George Webb '88, '91 says:

    My wedding reception was also at Cohen House — as was our fifth anniversary party. It’s a great place to celebrate!

  2. Robert Brazile says:


  3. Buddy Chuoke '75 says:

    The athletic director mentioned in #2 as working very hard to improve the academic opportunities for his students was Jess Neely. The fruits of his labor was the introduction of the Commerce degree program in 1960. Although it was very a very popular degree among athletes, it was discontinued in 1978 during the Hackerman administration. Melissa, I hope one day you will be able to locate and share some documents that explain Dr. Hackerman’s rationale for shutting down the department that led many of it’s graduates to outstanding business careers.

  4. “… a football squad requires only about 40 students and if they are selected for that purpose, they can be very good.” I once took the deposition of a thoroughly ignorant old man who lived in a small town up US 59, northeast of Houston. During a break, his lawyer grinned at me and said, “You won’t believe this, but he went to Rice Institute.”

    I was dubious. In fact, I accused my opponent of making that up. I asked his client about it when we resumed. The witness told me that in the early ’50s, he had been one of the best high school basketball players in Houston and went to Rice as a scholarship athlete. The university had a jock dorm back then where the athletes were housed and apparently, expected to stay. “We wasn’t allowed to mingle much with them geniuses,” he said.

    I’m sure Rice had its student athletes, but he was not one.

  5. loki_the_bubba says:

    You just don’t see quality watermarks on paper like that anymore.

  6. Thank you for finding and posting this letter — it dates back to my last year at Rice, before I passed my oral exam for my PhD in Chemistry on the Ides of March, 1963. I have always been cynical about the change in the charter being necessary to begin admitting black students. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I have always heard that the charter allowed only white males to be admitted, and, if that is true, admission standards had been changed to admit women students long before the 1960s, without modifying the charter. I was offered fellowships in both Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, and chose Chemistry because I wanted to learn more about the technical applications of digital computers. Both of the investigators who started the Rice Computer project were chemists — John Kilpatrick and Zevi Salsburg.

    In 1968 we moved to Denver. Sometime in the 1970s, Norman Hackerman came to Denver for an Alumni Association meeting, where he proudly recounted that Rice had admitted a number of black students, which we were glad to hear. This was around the time that Hispanics and Latinos were beginning to organize, with La Raza and other groups. My wife, Carol, had resumed her college work at the University of Colorado, and we had many friends who were active in the civil rights struggle. After Dr. Hackerman opened the meeting for questions, Carol asked “How many Hispanic or Latino students are now enrolled at Rice?” Long pause. Then something to the effect that Rice would be glad to admit them if they were qualified. Carol then said “Are you saying Rice can’t find any qualified Hispanics in the entire state of Texas?” I think this started an active effort to find and recruit them. But I don’t have any statistics on the subject.

  7. Robert Cargill says:

    Dear Melissa,

    A timely post as I recently read your book on the subject. I found it most enlightening and very well written. I was a post doc at UC Berkeley from 1960-1962. My professor Bill Dauben lived next door to the Pitzers. Bill invited William Agosta (Rice 1954) and me to dinner with the Pitzers after the announcement of Ken’s appointment as President of Rice. Of course, I had seen a lot of KSP at chemistry colloquiums. He would introduce a speaker, take his seat, and SEEM to fall asleep. He was the first to then ask deep searching questions of the speaker.

    I found myself on the Rice campus after I joined the chemistry faculty at South Carolina. Pitzer often invited me in for a visit. In the most memorable of those visits, he told me of the decisions made regarding charging tuition and integration that you so clearly describe in your book. He was very open and candid in his comments to me. And I truly loved and admired him. He led Rice toward its great future.

    Thanks for sharing this letter from Houston to Pitzer.



    Sent from my iPhone


  8. Leonard Lane '74 Hanszen College says:

    As usual, fascinating insights into the story of Rice Institute/University. Melissa, I trust you have a backup document to search for now that this one has been discovered.
    A memory of my personal experience of segregation in this time period: In February 1962 my family lived in Earth TX, where my father was a fifth grade teacher in the Springlake-Earth ISD, a small rural district northwest of Lubbock in the Texas panhandle. It’s hard for me to believe now, but in 1962 the Springlake-Earth ISD had a Colored School, across the road from the school attended by the white children. Needless to say, the Colored School did not represent “equal but separate” public education. I have yearbooks (“annuals” in Texas-speak) for the 1962 and 1963 Springlake-Earth School (a grades 1 through 12 school dating from 1925). In the back of each yearbook is a section for the Colored School. What a shameful memorial to segregation! By the way, the online history of the school district states that in 1965 “Negro students fully integrated.”

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