Seymour Describes the Development of His Fox Day

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Seymour:  Our daughters had gone to Smith College and Smith has a tradition called Mountain Day, where the president declares a holiday.  I always thought that was a great idea.  And I tried to get Dartmouth to do it.  And took it up to the faculty and so on.  And they said, Well you know, it’d interrupt labs and we’d have a problem with visiting speakers.  They were very stuffy about it.  When I got out to Wabash, the early years, Vietnam was still going on.  I was there when Kent State occurred and a number of terrible things in the first years.  But when Vietnam was clearly behind us, I said, you know, we need something like that.  So I just told the faculty we were going to have a holiday.  They didn’t like it a whole lot, but at least it was a small enough place and I could get away with it.  So I had a little holiday, which I called Elmore Day; called Elmore Day because of a wonderfully awful poet from Alamo, Indiana called James Buchanan Elmore.  And I said, “You know, somebody ought to recognize this unappreciated poet,” who wrote:


“In the spring of the year,

when the blood is too thick,

there’s nothing so rare as a sassafras stick. 

It strengthens the liver and cleans up the heart,

and to the whole system new life doth impart. 

Sassafras, oh sassafras,

thou art the stuff for me! 

And in the spring I love to sing,

sweet sassafras, of thee.


Well, I had Elmore Day.  I was pretty proud of that.  And I used to read his poetry at the flagpole at noon.

Well, when it was announced that I was coming to Rollins, the first order of business at the next faculty meeting was the faculty voted out Elmore Day, discontinued it (laughter).  But when I came to Rollins, I discovered that Rollins had had Fox Day.  But understandably, in the sixties, when life was so earnest, Jack Critchfield understandably discontinued Fox Day.  But when I came, one of the great bits of fun I had was to re-institute Fox Day.  So I was able to carry the Elmore tradition with me to Rollins and something that nobody, hardly anybody knows, is I had developed a funny little proclamation at Wabash.  And I brought that same proclamation down here and I changed just a couple words, and I took the picture of Elmore out and put a picture of a fox in there.  And I had a little verse by Elmore about Indiana and I took that out and found a verse by Elmore about Florida and put that in.  So the original Fox Day proclamations are Elmore proclamations (laughter).  And I sent that back to all my faculty friends at Wabash and I said, “Elmore lives (laughter).”

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Zhang:  So during your career, what courses did you enjoy the most that you’d teach?

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Seymour:  The course I have enjoyed the most— I really have enjoyed RCC [Rollins College Conference].  I believe in that course.  It’s a long story but I’ve been involved in the development of a course like that since 1959, when we developed something like that at Dartmouth in the English department there.  And I just know that what we tried to establish there, what I know RCC works on here was, let’s have a course which is what new students will hope college will be.  Now, they hope college will be x, y, z; they come and they end up taking Psych 1 and they learn about the optic nerves of rats, and then they have to take a language, and they’re dealing with this conjugation of verbs and so on.  So let’s get something that teachers are excited about and give the teacher room to get the student excited about it and do it and let’s have them all be different.  And that’s a great idea.  And RCC really works at that.  It’s hard to sustain, but it’s a great idea and I’ve believed in that.

It is hard to pull off, and I’ve had some RCC courses that went better than others.  But my last one was— Not my last one.  Four years ago, the class of 2005, was a particularly nice class and in fact, we had our last class in 2001 in the, down at the Power House.  And two weeks ago, just before their graduation, I invited all those students who are now seniors back to the Power House and we had breakfast together.  It was very gratifying to see how they’ve grown up and what they’d done at Rollins and so on.  So that’s a favorite.

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Seymour Discusses His Transition from Teacher to Administrator 

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Seymour:  I was— The provost, his name was Donald Morrison, called me into his office and said that I’d been recommended to be dean and he hoped that I would accept the position.  And I, heeding the advice of my advisor, thanked him very much and declined.  Said, “No, thank you.”  And then he said something else that was powerful.  He said, “Well I understand that, Thad.”  And he said, “Now we’ve been, you’ll be coming up for tenure soon and we’ve been watching your research and publication activity and you haven’t any publications that I’m aware of.  And maybe you have some about to come out, but—” And sauntered off.  And so, let me think about all this.  And that’s a very serious comment.

Polly and I talked obviously well into the night, because this was a fundamental change in my life and everything that I had worked for.  And she, wise person she is, said, “Look, you got into education not because you love eighteenth century literature, you got into it because you like students.  And this is a job that would permit you to spend full time—”  The title was Dean of the College, the work was really being concerned for the welfare of students, their personal and academic welfare.  She said, “Your interest is not scholarship, it’s students.” (Snaps) Simple as that.  Came in the next morning and said, “I thought it over and if you still would have me, I’ll take the job.”

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Seymour Discusses Why He Came to Rollins

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Seymour:  What attracted me more than anything else was the faculty and their concern for teaching and their knowledge of their students; their commitment to their students.  I’ve often said and I would say it again: Rollins faculty members like their students.  They like their students.  And I was trained in graduate school in an environment where not only were students irrelevant, they were in a way, an unnecessary burden.  You have to have the students to get the FTE [Full Time Equivalent] to get the budget from the state to buy the books for the library and build the buildings.  How you teach them is quite irrelevant.

In fact the other day I ran across, I have it in my bookcase, an article I wrote.  I got a little involved with student government as a graduate student, and helped them develop a faculty evaluation instrument.  North Carolina did not have a faculty evaluation device as we have at Rollins.  And we distributed this and collated it, and I then wrote an article about the need for evaluating faculty in part as a statement that the institution cares.

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Seymour Discusses How the Nature of Rollins Inspires Financial Contributions  

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Seymour:  Rollins had never raised or received a million dollars until a bequest from George Pearsall.  George Pearsall was a man from Deland, who, when he died, left a million, two hundred thousand dollars to Rollins.  Now here’s the story Pearsall, and it’s a story I’ve told often.  George Pearsall lived in Deland, his wife had gone to Stetson, he was a modest man who had retired, but he had had a hobby of investing, and he had invested, obviously, in a very canny way and had quite a portfolio.  He also had an interest in probability theory.  Kind of wacky interest in probability theory.

And he went to the math department at Stetson and said, “Excuse me, I’d hate to bother you, but I’m interested in probability theory.  I wondered if there was somebody here I could talk to a little bit about it, I’d like to read more.”  And the secretary said, “Well, Professor Johnson would be the person to talk to.  His office is down the hall.  I’m not sure he’s there, but let me make an appointment for you to see him tomorrow at one o’clock.”  So, Mr. Pearsall came back the next day at one o’clock, and Mr. Johnson never showed up.  He said, “Well I must’ve gotten it wrong,” so he went back and made an appointment for the following week, Tuesday at three o’clock.  He got there at three o’clock, Mr. Johnson’s door was open, he was talking to a colleague, and Mr. Pearsall said, “I’m sorry to interrupt.”  And he said, “I can’t see you now I’m too busy (unintelligible) so you come back later.”  And so he made another appointment and he came back a few days later, and the door was closed, Mr. Johnson wasn’t there— Professor Johnson.

And Mr. Pearsall said, “You know, there’s another college I’ve heard of down the road in Winter Park, Rollins, I’ve never been there.”  But he drove down to Rollins, went in to ask for the math department, was in the Bush Science Building.  Went into the Bush Science Building, went down the hall, there was a door open, faculty member Sandy Skidmore was sitting there.  And said, “I’m terribly sorry to bother you, but my name’s George Pearsall, I live in Deland.  I’ve gotten interested in probability theory and I just was trying to get some advice about some books to read.”  She said, “Oh, I’m interested in that, too.  Come on in.”

They sat down; they had this wonderful conversation.  And as she talked about probability it turned out that he was interested in ESP [Extrasensory Perception] and such matters.  And she said, “Well my colleague, Hoyt Edge, in the philosophy department is very interested in ESP.  So let’s walk down and I’ll have you meet him.”  So she walks George Pearsall down to the French House.  They meet Hoyt Edge, he and Hoyt hit it off.  Hoyt’s father had taught at Stetson, so Hoyt knew Deland.  The next year, out of the blue, Mr. Pearsall sent a contribution of five thousand dollars to support research in parapsychology.  And did that for several years, and became more interested in Rollins.  And when he died, he left a million dollars.

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