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Leo W. Jenkins oral history interview, May 24, 1978

Date: May. 24 1978 | Identifier: OH0051
Dr. Jenkins discusses his tenure as dean, president, and chancellor of East Carolina University. Included are commentaries on East Carolina's efforts to gain new programs, university status, and the medical school. more...
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EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #51
DR. LEO W. JENKINS
May 24, 1978
Interviewer is Donald R. Lennon

Donald R. Lennon:

You became president of East Carolina in 1960 and almost immediately requested an MBA degree authorization of the school--a Masters of Business Administration.

Leo W. Jenkins:

It was very much needed in eastern North Carolina. The business community needed people, and I saw no reason why we shouldn't supply that need. Therefore, we moved out of teaching exclusively teachers of business, and we put our emphasis on training people to go directly into the business community. Of course we kept the teaching business program. We had a little bit of deceit going on; boys and young women would come in and pretend they wanted to be teachers of business when I knew they didn't. They wanted to go into business so I said, "Why not let them go into business?" Therefore, we started to aim toward the MBA program.

Donald R. Lennon:

But this was rejected by the State Board of Higher Education when you requested it.

Leo W. Jenkins:

Well, almost everything we tried to do was rejected by the State Board of Higher Education. That was standard procedure, but we just did our best to convince the Legislature and others that we needed a program. The best illustration of that is nursing. I remember when we went for the nursing program, the chairman of the State Board of



Higher Education whispered to the executive secretary next to him, "Do we have another school of nursing in North Carolina?" The fellow said that we had one at Chapel Hill, and I think he said we had one at Greensboro. He said, "Well, we don't need another one then." Yet there was a tremendous shortage of nurses down here. When I saw the way the game was being played, I decided that we ought to play it our way and take our needs to the people because we would get nowhere through the Board of Higher Education which was stacked so highly in favor of other people and not in favor of East Carolina.

Donald R. Lennon:

When did you first realize you were going to have to bypass the Board of Higher Education and the Advisory Budget Commission and go directly through the Legislature?

Leo W. Jenkins:

I learned that the first month I was in North Carolina--before I became president. I went to the Legislature; the president had asked me to go up and see if I could help get an organ for our music program. It was a modest request--I think $40,000--at the time. A very dear friend of mine who was in the Legislature--we had been in the Marines together at Guam and we knew each other very well--as a Senator called me aside and said, "Look, I'm going to vote for this thing because of our friendship. But what in the hell would you do with an organ in eastern North Carolina?" I said, "We would play it the same as you would. Frankly, we would probably play it better." That sort of tipped me off regarding the attitude that existed about the people in the East. A few people here were respected, and the rest were considered peons. I'm not talking about blacks; I'm talking about white people and black people who were considered more or less peons even in terms of health. If a wealthy person had a fingernail broken, he would run to Chapel Hill to get it fixed. Appendectomies were done at Chapel Hill,



and minor surgery was done at Chapel Hill and Duke because people thought that the East was nothing but a backwater place. So I said to myself, "I'm going to do all that I can to change that." Little by little I knew that the answer was going to be through the political route.

Donald R. Lennon:

Do you have any indication of why this area has been considered a wasteland?

Leo W. Jenkins:

Yes. I think that the few people who had it made here had cheap labor. Maids were paid something like twelve dollars a week. So they had it made and they didn't want to disturb it; they didn't want industry to come in; they didn't want East Carolina to be stirring--just little ECTC was all right. Their life and their spirit and the things they admired came from the Chapel Hill area and Piedmont area.

As a matter of fact even Duke was considered a little backwater at the time. I know when I was a student at Duke in 1936, the prevalent conversation was that this little Methodist dump called Trinity would never become a university, never become anything worthwhile. But I had a feeling that it would although I never had the slightest dream that I would return here. I merely came to Duke because Doris Duke lived in my hometown in New Jersey, and they had some type of deal where we could get a little bit of a break by coming down here. So, I came down to Duke, and I got the feeling immediately that the only people who had the right to survive were those at Chapel Hill. I just didn't appreciate it at the time because I was a Rutgers graduate and a Columbia graduate, and I just didn't quite comprehend what was going on. But when the war was over and I came back here, it took me only about a month to learn what was happening. You were either a member of a small, elite group or you were a peon or a nobody.



Jokingly I told the Sunday school class I taught at Jarvis Methodist Church, "I've discovered that there are three tones of voices that I hear as I go around the community; there is one that is very sweet when one is talking to his superiors, there is one that is very normal when one is talking with his equals, and there is a very gruff voice when one is talking to his inferiors. As a Christian you ought to have just one voice and not three." Most of the men laughed because they knew what I was talking about. To the inferior it would be, "Hey you, come here." To the equal it would be, "Hello Joe, how are you?" To the superior it would be, "Good morning, sir. How are you, sir?" I said, "This is something we ought to do something about if we are going to be Christians. Treat everyone with the same voice." So I've been trying to get folks to use the same voice.

Thirty years ago I would go to Ruritan clubs and use jokes I knew were good because I had tried them thirty or forty times before and every time people had laughed. But at some of the Ruritan clubs they would look at "Mr. Big," and if “Mr. Big” didn't laugh, then no one would laugh. If "Mr. Big" grinned, then everyone would grin. If "Mr. Big" laughed very loudly, everyone would laugh loudly. I was amazed at it, and I asked a man who was a professional humorist speaker if he had observed that and he said, "Heavens yes, many times." And he told me various communities where no one laughs unless "Mr. Big" laughs. He illustrated it by telling me a few jokes that he knew from experience always brought the house down, but he said he would get dead silence in some of the rural clubs if "Mr. Big" elected to be silent. To illustrate my point, I brought a joke over there that Stalin was an unpopular dictator in Russia. I said, "Stalin was riding in an



airplane and he said, 'I think I'll throw a $20 bill out the window and make some poor slob down there happy.' So one of his assistants said, 'Mr. Premier, why don't you drop two $10 bills and make two people happy?' And another associate said, 'Well, I think a better idea would be to drop four $5 bills and make four people happy.' Then the pilot looked back and said, 'Why don't you jump out and make everybody happy?'" Well, normally that would get a little bit of laughter, but I've been to some clubs where there would be dead silence. It was not a dirty joke, but there would be dead silence because "Mr. Big" didn't get it or he decided that it wasn't funny. So it wasn't funny to anybody.

I had another illustration that gave me a signal that we had to get in the mainstream of life and that we had to move along. I would have very fine farm people come into my office to talk about their youngsters, and they would preface their entrance by, "I have no right to be in here. . . ." I would say, "Look, you have every right in the world to be in here; you are paying the bills for this institution so don't tell me you don't have the right to be in here. Don't apologize; get off your knees and sit down here and we'll talk as gentlemen." But so many times people would say, "I shouldn't disturb you; I have no right to be in here; forgive me for being here." It was that attitude, and we had to stop that.

I experienced it personally the first couple of years I was here. I was in back of Hodges' Hardware Store, and one fellow bumped another fellow's car. A white man got out of the car and said, "Hey you, come here." I wasn't used to being talked to that way so I said,



"You go to hell, my friend," and I walked right on into Hodges' store. He was aghast that anyone would ever say that to him because he was so used to ordering people. He came into the store after me and whispered to Mr. Hodges, "Who is that over there?" But he was accustomed to talking to people that way, and I wasn't accustomed to being talked to that way, and I wasn't going to tolerate it. And he soon found it out. So I think we have come a long way in terms of people feeling that they do belong--that they have paid their dues and are a part of society.

Donald R. Lennon:

Do you find that the people at Chapel Hill and in the Piedmont in general took umbrage at you?

Leo W. Jenkins:

No. In the Piedmont and in Chapel Hill--here again it was the "Mr. Big" who didn't like me. I was treated with great courtesy. To illustrate my point, I spoke to the Student Government at Chapel Hill, and I never had a nicer evening. The youngsters there just couldn't have been nicer; the hall was filled with people, not only the student government but everybody who wanted to get in the hall was there, and it was just loaded with people. They couldn't have been more courteous and nicer. I spoke to AAUP at Chapel Hill, and here again almost every member was out plus non-members and the hall was just loaded with people. There wasn't seating room for everybody. They just couldn't have been nicer. I couldn't have had a better reception. They took me to the home of one of the medical professors over there and had a reception. They were just as courteous and nice as could be.

So there was a little clique of people who not only wanted to bulldoze the East, but they wanted to bulldoze Chapel Hill also. They wanted to call the shots there. Some of



them would visit the class-rooms to look over their own professors and that type of thing. So it was a little group of wealthy people who thought they owned North Carolina. In many cases they played both sides of the fence; they would make contributions to every candidate who ran so they could not lose in an election. The daddy would give $5,000 - $6,000 to candidate A and the son would give $5,000 - $6,000 to candidate B, and the wife would give $5,000 - $6,000 to candidate C. So they couldn't lose; no matter who won, they had an “in” in the governor's office or a senator's office or a representative's office. They were just as bulldozing at Chapel Hill as they were in terms of the East.

You mentioned the Piedmont. I spoke before the largest service club in North Carolina--the Civitan Club of Charlotte--and I got a standing ovation at the introduction and I got a standing ovation after the speech. I thought that it might be customary there to give everyone a standing ovation. So I asked one of our graduates who was in the audience, "Is this the customary thing?" He said, "Well, I've been a member for six years, and this is the first time it has happened." So the people of the Piedmont were not anti-East. It was a small group. I met with the editorial staff of the Charlotte Observer; it was one of those "off the record" meetings where we agreed not to publish anything we said. We talked back and forth, and I learned to my amazement that only one of them had ever been in the East. I said, "How can you gentlemen sit up there and lean back and write derogatory editorials and nasty cartoons about an area you have never visited; that's just pure 'punksterism,' not good journalism." They sort of agreed to that.

I met Mr. Irwin Belk from the Belk stores who invited me to speak to the Lions Club in Charlotte. Here again they gave me a standing ovation when I was introduced and a



standing ovation when I was finished. I asked Irwin if it happened often and he said that it had not happened in many years. So, therefore, the people were not opposed to what we were trying to do here; I think they were sympathetic. Then I went on a radio program in Charlotte; it was called "Open Mike," and you could call in any question you wanted to. I was on the thing for about an hour and a half. Every question was a kind one. They would preface their questions with, "I'm very proud of what you are trying to do, I'm very proud of East Carolina, I'm proud of the East." One lady called who obviously was a lady--I could tell by her question--and she had a rather involved, complicated question. Fortunately Dr. Monroe was with me, and I told her, "If you don't mind, I'm going to let Dr. Monroe who happens to be in the studio with me answer this." He answered this to her satisfaction. But it was a leading question to try to prove that we didn't need doctors. She knew better, but she was trying to lead me in so I thought the best way to handle her was to let another M.D. answer her.

When we started the Nursing School, the word was out that we didn't need nurses.

Donald R. Lennon:

The News and Observer took a hand in that, didn't they?

Leo W. Jenkins:

Yes. It was part of the power structure of these few people who wanted to run North Carolina, and they resented the fact that there were a few people around the state who said, "Hold back; this belongs to the people, not to you." I think they resented the fact that I didn't play Uncle Tom to them, and I had no intention of playing Uncle Tom to them. I didn't need a job that bad; I could return to where I came from, and I wasn't going to play Uncle Tom. I think they resented it.



Donald R. Lennon:

Speaking of the News and Observer, Jonathan Daniels at times appears to be personally friendly with you, yet in the editorial policy of the newspaper, they are sometimes very vicious.

Leo W. Jenkins:

Personally, we are very good friends. As a matter of fact he gave the university his personal library which I think was a very nice gesture on his part. But he had a son-in-law who for some reason either didn't like me or thought he could court Chapel Hill through me, and he took it upon himself to be nasty, very nasty. But the reporters would tell me privately, "Remember, he is not speaking for us. We do not feel this way toward you and East Carolina and what you are doing down here. But he is the boss man; he married the boss's daughter." And marrying the boss's daughter, he had an “in.” I think he was one of the most amazed people in the world when he saw Jonathan give the school his personal library, because he was not privy to that information. He was a little bit amazed when he walked by and saw a photographer take a picture of Jonathan with his arm around me. I understand that since that time they have been divorced, so he is no longer with the News and Observer, and the paper has been much friendlier in the last year if you have noticed. He was the fellow who took it upon himself just to have an anti-East Carolina, anti-Leo Jenkins campaign. I had the same thing in Fayetteville with a fellow named Clay who just personally hated me. I don't know why; I never did anything to him. As a matter of fact I was friendly with members of his family. Some of them came to college here. But he hated me, and his editorials reflected it. Frankly in the long-run he helped me, because most people resent hatred and they love progress.



Donald R. Lennon:

You can usually read viciousness between the lines.

Leo W. Jenkins:

Yes. Most people don't read editorials, fortunately for me. They just spot my name. I have had occasions where people had very ugly editorials, and a fellow would meet me and say, "I've seen your name in the paper; keep up the good work." Obviously he had not read the editorial; he just saw my name in the paper.

Donald R. Lennon:

Frequently people are prone to take the side of the person attacked.

Leo W. Jenkins:

Oh, the underdog is always the American favorite. If a little guy fights a big guy, who do you root for? You root for the little guy. I knew that; they were helping me tremendously without their knowing it. I have an illustration for that. If you attack say the speaker of the House on Monday, you attack the president of the Senate on Tuesday, and you attack Leo Jenkins on Wednesday, then on Thursday the three of us are good friends because we have a community of interest. So in effect what they were doing was bringing these fellows into our camp with their viciousness.

For example, I think the thing that got us the Med School was the cartoon criticizing Coy Privette, who was the leader of the Methodist Action League in North Carolina. He was in favor of the Med School because he thought the people in the Christian church needed medical attention. I welcomed his support; it was good support. The day they were going to vote for this thing in the Senate, we had counted noses and found that we had one vote to the good. If one man had been sick it would have been a tie vote, and if two men had been sick we would have lost the Med School; it was that simple. That very morning, the News and Observer came out with a cartoon that said, "This is the gospel according to Privette." In it Privette was holding a



book which said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of Leo Jenkins." They were too dumb to know that the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and the Catholics of eastern North Carolina resent any unkind use of the Bible; they just resent it. I had phone calls all morning from people who said, "I don't understand what you are after," or "I haven't been following this, but what can I do for you?" I would tell them to call their Senator and tell him to vote for the Med School. At the vote that day, the house fell in; it was about seventy-six to twenty something; the whole house fell in. So I really owe the med school to the News and Observer without their knowing it. Their viciousness backfired on them.

Donald R. Lennon:

Back in 1962 when the MBA and the School of Nursing were both issues and you were having battles with the State Board of Higher Education, the big name was L. P. McLendon . He did not take too kindly to your proposals.

Leo W. Jenkins:

No. He called himself Major McLendon, and I was almost tempted to have him refer to me as Major Jenkins, which I am. But he was in love with Chapel Hill; there was no question about it. But we weren't the only victims of this stuff. He saw just one thing--everything had to be checked through Chapel Hill. He is the fellow who whispered to the executive secretary there, "Do we have another nursing school?" Well, I think he ought to have known that if he was the chairman of the Board of Higher Education. The fellow said, "Yes." He said then, "Well, we don't need another one; I vote against it." The others followed and voted against it so we took it to the Legislature--to Dr. Rose in Goldsboro and Walter Jones, who is now our Congressman. We said, "Obviously these fellows are not for the East; they are not for anybody. Let's just ignore them. They are the



servants of the Legislature and not the people who make policy. They are a sub-committee appointed by you, and they can be abolished by you or dismissed by you." So we took it to the Legislature, and with the help of Dr. Rose and Walter Jones we were able to get the Nursing School put in. Then he put out the word that we would never get it accredited. Well, we were accredited in record time; as soon as it was legally possible, we were accredited. Then they said we would never get a strong product--that they would not pass the state exams. Every last girl in that first class without exception passed the state exams. In the meantime in some of the schools, the failing rate was a little bit high. Even today in some of the schools in North Carolina, you have as many as 80 percent failing.

Donald R. Lennon:

ECU still has the highest rate of passing of any school in the state.

Leo W. Jenkins:

That is right. We've led the state because we let it be known from the beginning that this was not going to be a glamour program; you are not going to take chemistry for nurses, you are going to take chemistry, period. You are not going to take physics for nurses; you are going to take physics the same as the science majors and the same as the pre-med. There is going to be no watering down on any subject. So therefore, if you are here because of the glamour, don't come because you are not going to make it. We did have a high mortality rate the first year in terms of flunking kids out their freshman year. Then the word got out that it was not a “crip” program, but that it was a very difficult program.

Donald R. Lennon:

As a result you attracted a higher quality of student in the School of Nursing.

Leo W. Jenkins:

Yes. This program is not for the dumbbell; it's a very serious program, and the guidance people know it now and they don't recommend people they think won't make it. They go other places. But this is for the very bright person.



Donald R. Lennon:

Also in 1962 as part of your controversy with McLendon and the Board of Higher Education, something came along called the Carlyle Commission.

Leo W. Jenkins:

Yes. I was put on the Carlyle Commission by Governor Sanford, and Irving Carlyle appointed me chairman of the sub-committee on new colleges and community colleges. Working with Dallas Herring, who was on the committee, we established the community college system in North Carolina. But one thing was painfully obvious to me. The big city of Charlotte had no four-year college that was state-supported. It was the only large city in the country outside of Miami that did not have a university or college. So I suggested and made a recommendation that a four-year college be established at Charlotte. Some of my critics in Charlotte do not know this background. I got Bob Morgan and Irwin Belk to introduce a bill--they co-sponsored the bill--establishing Charlotte College which subsequently became UNC-Charlotte. The young lady up there who was in charge of the two-year college they had did not become president--they invited someone else to come in and become president of the institution. Now of course it is one of the largest institutions in North Carolina, but it was due to the efforts of Bob Morgan, Irwin Belk, and myself.

Donald R. Lennon:

In part of the study you made on that commission, you gave professional educators a greater voice in the State Board, and you got into further heated discussions with McLendon. Didn't he consider this a personal affront?

Leo W. Jenkins:

Yes. I was not one of his favorite people. He knew that we were going to challenge the things he said because I doubted his genius as an educator. He wasn't an educator; he was a lawyer, and I wasn't going to be bulldozed by him. It was just that simple. But I think he was



the type of man who was used to snapping his fingers and having people jump. It was obvious at the meetings that many folks jumped when he snapped his fingers. I decided that we should look at this thing in terms of the issues, not in terms of personalities. I didn't need his love, and I didn't solicit it. I think it was a mutual feeling; he didn't care anything about me. We merely went along and when we saw a genuine need, we went after it. I would be less than a man if I didn't do it. I think there was a price to pay on it.

I think in terms of salary I was punished indirectly, but I wasn't there for salary. I could live without a few thousand dollars more here and there. Principle is much more important than salary. But even today, we are the third largest institution; I am senior chancellor; and I am on the most prestigious committee in American education--the Commission on Post Secondary Accreditation. I have written more than any of the other chancellors--that has been documented in the library. In budget, student body, and staff, we are the third largest, yet I am about sixth on the totem pole in salary. So I know why those things happen. They say, "We'll get him one way or the other." And they did get me one way or the other, but I never raised a question about it or even brought it before the attention of my board. One member asked me where I was at one time, and I told him. He said, "Can't we do anything about it?" I said, "I'd rather you wouldn't because that would become an issue. But I knew what was happening; it is painfully obvious what is happening. For example, the chancellor at Charlotte and the chancellor at Greensboro both get much larger salaries than I do. Of course State does, but State is justified; it is a bigger university. I can see the justification in Chapel Hill; it is a bigger institution. But I knew



what was happening there. It was just the power structure saying, "If we can't get him one way, we will get him another." Also these people have the ability to occasionally write their own editorials almost--they could just call over and say they would like a certain thing to be in an editorial.

They have their own way of leaking things to papers. I tested it one time; I told a very important person in the state whom I knew could get things done that I might quit East Carolina and work with industry--it was just a test--about four or five years ago, and I said that it was very, very confidential. I said, "I know you are an honorable man and that you will consider this confidential." He said, "Yes, sir. It won't leave me; it will be very confidential." Two days later I had a call from the editor of one of the big papers in the Piedmont and he said, "I heard from a reliable source that you are going to go into industry. Do you want to elaborate on that?" I said, "Where did you hear that?" He said, "Well, I can't reveal my sources." Well, only two people in this world knew about it--I didn't even tell my wife about it or anyone else. I just told this one man. Of course, to make it look legitimate, he called a hundred miles away. You see I had told him this at Chapel Hill. So he called Winston-Salem because it would have been obvious if I had gotten a call from Chapel Hill. But it was painfully obvious what he had done--he had leaked it to the press. So once in awhile you have to pull something like that to test people's integrity.

I had a leak in the administration building that I couldn't catch so I tested a few people with different stories. I told one person, "Now, please don't tell anyone, but I'm thinking of



putting the football team in Ragsdale." That was an all women's dorm at the time. No one knew about this except me and that one person because I invented different stories to see if they would come back to me. The football coach came rushing in the next morning and said, "I heard a rumor that you might put the football team in Ragsdale." I said, "Where did you hear such a rumor?" He said, "I heard people in the cafeteria talking about it. I wouldn't do that if I were you, because if the boys are in there with the girls they won't be able to study. It won't be a good move." I said, "Well, if you recommend it, I won't do it." So I had found out who the leak was, and I had to make certain that no one said anything in the presence of this person because this person couldn't be trusted. So they are sly tricks, but once in awhile in administration I think them necessary.

Donald R. Lennon:

In this controversy over the Board of Higher Education, you were allied with UNC in that particular situation.

Leo W. Jenkins:

Well, I told President Friday that the university was too prestigious an institution to let a small group of people up here push them around, and that is what was happening. There weren't any giants on this board by far. I would say it was loaded with lightweights--people who got put there by some politician.

Donald R. Lennon:

This was one of the few times you had been allied with the university, wasn't it?

Leo W. Jenkins:

I agreed with President Friday, and I told him that this was too big an institution to be pushed around by a bunch of lightweights. I said, "You ought to let your voice be heard as loud as you can because people will respect your voice." He agreed with this so I said, "Let it be known that if you need a dormitory; that you are going to get yourself a dormitory." They



were going to keep dormitories away from Chapel Hill at the time--I think that was the argument. I said, "Goodness, this institution is internationally known; you can't let this little gang over here tell you what to do. You have to bring this to the Legislature and to the people." And he did. You know many people forget this, but it is our inherent right in North Carolina--every citizen has this inherent right--to take his grievances to the Legislature. Now they can slap you down and tell you to go on back to where you came from, but you have that right. I think he exercised it, and they won that argument over the dormitories.

Donald R. Lennon:

How was your relationship with Friday then?

Leo W. Jenkins:

Personally, very friendly. We have never had a harsh word in our lives. Our families are very close to each other. He frequently calls me; I frequently call him. We differ on many issues, but the differences have never become personal. We have never been on a name-calling basis. He often calls me, and I often call him. He solicits about my children, and I ask about his daughters. He was very kind to my children when they attended there. My son is an MD from Chapel Hill, and my other son is an MBA from Chapel Hill. My daughter attended a social work program and was told that our program was stronger. So, on the advice of Chapel Hill she came back here because the folks up there told her that our program in social work is much stronger on the undergraduate level. Theirs is good on the graduate level but not on the undergraduate. So she took their advice and came back here. My son attended Chapel Hill and wasn't too pleased with it so he and the Minges boy returned to Greenville. He did all right; he earned a 3.95 average which isn't bad, and he was in the ninety-eighth percentile on the law test to go to law school. He was admitted to six law schools, and he elected to go



to Duke Law School, which I am very happy about because of my relationship with Duke. I have known Bill for twenty-five years, and I knew him before he was president. I am senior chancellor, and he is one of the senior presidents in the nation. We have been through a lot of things; we have seen them come and go. We have seen the battles. We have seen the weak ones and the strong ones. We have seen the hypocrites. We both recognize what we see and we both know what goes on. As late as yesterday, he asked me to report on the off-campus degree programs that take place throughout the nation, which I did. As a matter of fact he was my inaugural speaker. I made that choice. When you are elected president or chancellor, you choose the person you want to give your inaugural address, and Bill gave mine.

Donald R. Lennon:

Has there ever been any pressure--not necessarily from Dr. Friday--from the powers that be in Chapel Hill or elsewhere in the state to try to force you to resign or leave ECU?

Leo W. Jenkins:

No. The pressure was brought on my children, not on me. When my sons were at Chapel Hill, reporters would call them in the dormitory and say, "Don't you think you have a lot of guts coming here when your father is trying to destroy the institution?" And they would call me and ask what they should do with the reporters. I said, "Tell them to go to hell and hang up." I don't know if they did that or not, but that is what I told them. Then I called President Friday. I said, "If your daughters were here, I would stop this immediately, and I know you think likewise." He said that he definitely did. So he did all he could to stop it. I called the owner of the paper and I said, "If this ever happens again, I am going to seek the opportunity to speak to the next meeting of the North Carolina Press Association. They will give me a platform, I know that. I am just going to let the whole state know what your



paper is doing; I don't think you will be proud of it. I am not going to take you to court, which I could, but I am going to embarrass you among your associates."

Donald R. Lennon:

So it was a form of harassment from the press, more than anything else.

Leo W. Jenkins:

Yes. I said, "I'm going to embarrass you if you don't stop this immediately." In all fairness, I've got to say that the owner of the paper did not know what was going on, and he said, "I am going to stop this right now."

Donald R. Lennon:

The year 1964 was the first we heard of the Medical School proposal. Where did this idea originate?

Leo W. Jenkins:

I wish I could say that I am the father of it, but I am not. One Sunday afternoon Dr. Ernest Ferguson of Plymouth rang our doorbell, and I was not home. So he came in and talked to my wife awhile. But to make a long story short, I did come home later and I caught him. He was rather angry--not at me, yet he was angry at me. He said that he had just come home from a seminar at Duke where they talked about delivery of modern medical care in rural North Carolina. He said that to his amazement he learned that eastern North Carolina was the worst region in the entire nation in terms of modern medical delivery--not quality, but quantity. He said, "Now, here you sit"--this was when the bawling out started--"you have the slogan, 'focal point of progress in eastern North Carolina.' You sit right in the middle of the squalor and do nothing about it." Well, to be honest with you, I didn't realize the problem existed. I had a very fine family doctor who always took care of us--Dr. Fred Irons. I had a very fine pediatrician, his wife Malene. I had no problems personally. If our kids had a headache, house calls would even be made.



So therefore, I didn't know if this man was exaggerating--he was angry and he told me that he personally had eleven thousand patients. He said all he could do was give them the once over lightly, that he could not give them modern medical care.

So I called in Bob Williams, who became one of Bill Friday's vice presidents and who was a very brilliant Ph.D. I said, "Let's keep this quiet, but I want you to research this thing. I want you to go out and visit every county and come back and tell me what happens." I think it took him about three or four months. He came back and said, "That man was not exaggerating. The picture is much worse than he painted it. We lead the nation in infant mortality. In some of our counties we lead the nation in suicides. We lead the nation in rejections from the draft--mental and physical. We lead the nation in a poor doctor-patient ratio and hospital bed-patient ratio." We had all of these statistics, and I asked him if he could verify them. He said, "I have the evidence right here."

Then I called Bob Morgan, the chairman of our board and I said, "I understand that we are the worst in the nation. We are even worse than the Indian reservations. The only one that is second to us is a region in New Mexico where they are in the process of doing something about it--they are building a medical school. What do you think we ought to do?" He said, "Let's bring it to the board." Of course it frightened the board. They never had the slightest dream of a medical school. So they moved that I pursue the establishment of a medical school. So I went ahead and pursued it.

Donald R. Lennon:

You had not talked with the powers in Chapel Hill?



Leo W. Jenkins:

No. They said for me to pursue it so I started to pursue it. The News and Observer got angry immediately. Bill Snyder, who is a great Chapel Hill supporter, almost went crazy with the Greensboro paper. There were some fifty editorials and cartoons against me. The reason I know that was that a youngster did a term paper on it and gathered them together and told me about it because I didn't keep count of them. I just said that the only weapon we had was to just keep telling the people the truth. Get me the statistics and get me the facts, and they did so I went around making speeches all over. People resented it terribly--"How dare you have a medical school?"

But I knew historically that this thing was not new to us. When Chapel Hill tried to go from two to four years, they went through the same thing in 1947. The people said that the state couldn't afford it, that we didn't need it, etc. When Duke started a medical school, it was the same story--"this little dump will never have a medical school; it will never amount to anything." But they went out and got some prestigious people like this Dr. Rhine in extrasensory perception and got a national reputation. They went out and built their football with Wallace Wade. They got McDougall, the world famous social psychologist. They got names there, and they began to get respect. So young men here no longer had to take two years here and then run off to Philadelphia, which most of them did, or to some other place. They could take their entire program here in North Carolina. Now both of the schools are highly respected schools. But they went through the same nonsense that we did. As a matter of fact, the very establishment of this college experienced the very same thing that we have



experienced with every program. McIver at Greensboro, a famous North Carolinian, put out the word that if eastern North Carolina had a college, it would bankrupt North Carolina. He fought it vigorously--you would have thought he would have been for it. When that argument was proved to be ludicrous, he came back with a real dilly. He said that the East was not genteel enough to train women. He ought to have known history because this was where there was culture; books were being written; poetry was being written; commerce was going on. We had transportation. All of these things were taking place when the West was a wilderness. But the man didn't know his history.

Donald R. Lennon:

When this idea of a medical school first hit the press, I imagine your phone was rather busy that day.

Leo W. Jenkins:

Well, there were people who were afraid of it; I think some people feared competition. If we got more doctors they would not be able to make their big salaries. I think some of the doctors thought that.

Donald R. Lennon:

So you had opposition from the medical community.

Leo W. Jenkins:

Some were for me; some came out immediately and said that it was a marvelous idea and that we needed it and asked what they could do to help. I had very good and strong support from some of the people who saw the need for this thing. Of course, others got nasty, and some thought there was no need. But the weapon that I often used that helped greatly was that number one, we researched our facts because I knew everything I said would be investigated behind me by some reporter or some doctor to try to prove me wrong. For example, if I said that there were only two doctors in Gates County, they would go up there and see if there possibly weren't three. So therefore, we had to research thoroughly, and we did. Then I used this tool, particularly on some of the ugly folks. I would go to a



Rotary or Kiwanis Club or somewhere and there would be someone who would come and say that he was opposed to it. I would say, "Well, let me ask you this. If your grandchildren asked you some day, 'Granddaddy, what did you do to help build North Carolina?' Are you going to be proud to tell them that you killed the Medical School in the East? If they have a big parade in this town to honor you, do you think they will honor you because you killed the Medical School in the East?" He would say, "No. They would never give me a parade for that." I would say, "Then why in the world are you trying to deny people something that they need?"

You see good health was dependent on geography; it was just that simple. Medical care was dependent on geography, and a premature child born on the coast did not have a prayer. A premature child born in the Piedmont would probably survive until you could get him to a hospital. A brain injury on the coast meant death because by the time you got over these very poor roads in the East, you would be dead by the time you got to Chapel Hill. But if you had a brain injury in Raleigh you had a good chance of being taken care of, and we knew that. We knew that health depended on geography. There were no psychiatrists at all in eastern North Carolina when I came--not one east of Raleigh. I can go on and name the other specialties that did not exist here at all. I sort of proved my point a little bit. A professor from Duke got hold of me down at Atlantic Beach. He called me over and he was semi-friendly, and he said, "What are you knocking yourself out for, trying to get a medical school down there? They are going to pay you whether you do that or not. Why waste your damn time?" I said, "Doctor, it is simple. Let me ask you a question now. If you were to have this minute a cerebral hemorrhage, and the



Lord gave you a choice to have it here or have it on a street in Durham, where would you rather have it?" He said, "You know damned well where I would rather have it--in Durham." I said, "That is what we are talking about. Good health and modern medical care should not be dependent on geography in North Carolina. It ought to be everywhere for everyone." People ought to have in their backyard the things that are needed.

The mere thought of a medical school brought doctors to this community. They came in by the tens. For example, our medical staff at the Med School has one hundred and six on it. Just the spinoff of the idea of the Medical School has resulted in some 1400 majors over here in paramedical programs. They call it Allied Health--Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Medical Records, etc. All of these things that were so desperately needed are now here. Some very distinguished doctors nationwide have elected to come here because this is an oasis almost of Americana. This is the last place that you can get pure water and pure air, hunting and fishing, accessibility to the mountains and ocean both, lakes, rather good protection, very fine, courteous people with a background of being friendly. Most people are amazed at how friendly folks are; they take you in immediately. I am a classic illustration.

Donald R. Lennon:

The Medical School proposal came in 1964, and the next year the university status came into play.

Leo W. Jenkins:

Well, here is the story. We were a university; we were organized as a university. We had one of the strongest Faculty Senates in the entire state--we still do. Ours is about the strongest in the state in terms of authority. We had schools, we had departments, we



had size, we had volumes in the library. All of the criteria were satisfied to be a university, so I talked to Herb Paschal, and I said, "How should I begin this thing?" He said, "Why don't you do what James Wilson in the days of the Revolution did? He said, 'Here stands a nation; why not have it declared so?' Take that theme and develop it--'Here stands a university; why not declare it so?'" So we took that theme and we explained how we were a university. I said to myself that I had to get a decent platform for this so I took it out of my backyard and went up to the faculty club at State in Raleigh. I alerted the press, and most every TV station in existence was there. I talked to their faculty at a luncheon. I said, "Here stands a university; let's declare it one." Then of course, the News and Observer went crazy again, and everyone else went crazy saying. "This guy must be nutty." They had editorials that our library wasn't strong enough and this wasn't strong enough and that wasn't strong enough. But a few years later with half the volumes we have, Wake Forest decided to call itself a university, and then the headlines in the same paper said that they had a perfect right to be a university because they had a strong library. So I knew that it was an unfriendly press.

Over the years they have frankly practiced “punksterism;” they've told the half truth; they have used little tricks. Again to illustrate my point--the word ubiquitous is not an evil word, but many of the people who love this university and support this university are folks who have had little education. They've had to drop out for economic reasons. They've succeeded in business, but they've had very little education. Some folks refer to them as rednecks. I don't mind that because I consider myself a redneck. But they knew that by always using that word before my name that the people might think it is an evil



word. They would say, "The ubiquitous president of East Carolina University spoke here last night, the ubiquitous president spoke there." Now they might think that has something to do with sex--"Gee, I never knew he was one of those guys"--you know. It is the same trick they pulled on Bankhead down in Alabama. His sister was Tallulah Bankhead, the actress. They said, "Are you going to vote for a man whose sister is a thespian?" Of course, there was nothing wrong with being an actress. And they pulled a trick on a fellow in Florida. They said, "Are you going to vote for a man who lets his daughter attend a college where men and women matriculate together?" Well, here again you see there is nothing wrong with people matriculating at college. Then they went further in this Florida thing, I understand. They said, "Also in this college, the professors make the girls show them their theses." Here again it was perfectly innocent, but it was a nasty trick.

I think the Greensboro paper pulled the nastiest trick of them all, and I had a chance to answer them. I asked to appear before the journalists' society at their dinner up at Chapel Hill, and I exposed them. They had a marijuana problem at the college in Greensboro. They wrote up the story that the girls were not students in Greensboro but that, for example, Suzy Jones lived at 505 5th Street. Well, that happened to be the dormitory. I could tell you something similar--instead of Brewster Building, a certain number 10th Street. Well, they used that to cover up. The next day a four-column headline appeared on the front page, "Drugs Prevalent at East Carolina University." That was a diversionary thing to let us be the whipping boy to rescue them. I called the editor and said, "Can you give me some evidence; because if this is true, I am going to call



Charlie Dunn, my friend who is head of the SBI, and ask him to have his men come down here and really comb this place, because I don't want it to happen." He said, "Well, I don't know." But to make a long story short, a reporter came down here and interviewed one student out of twelve thousand. He asked that one student one question, "Are there many drug people on this campus?" And that student said that he thought that about half of the kids here were on drugs. So here is a major state-wide newspaper, and I said to the editor, "Do you mean to tell me now that a major paper such as yours will have a four-column front-page story on one student who thought drugs were prevalent here?" He said, "Well, why get uptight about it?" I said, "I'm just asking you if you think that is fair play, or do you think that is 'punksterism?' You answer it yourself."

Then he pulled another trick. One of our professors, Ovid Pierce, won the North Carolina Award in Literature. At the time Ovid had been here fourteen years. The chairman of the committee to choose the winner was Bill Snyder, the editor of the Greensboro paper. The next day there was an editorial commemorating the three winners. The one in medicine was defined perfectly as a professor of medicine at Chapel Hill. The next winner was Mrs. Kellenberger who gave a lot of money to Tryon Palace; she was well identified and so forth. And the third winner was a man named Ovid Pierce from Greenville--not from East Carolina University. I called him and I said, "Now you are chairman of the committee. If you didn't know he had been a professor here for fourteen years, why did you pick him; why didn't you investigate beyond that?" Of course, he knew. He said, "Well, a cub reporter wrote that editorial." Cub reporters don't write lead editorials on a state-wide newspaper. So we have been the victim of that kind of “punksterism.”



One trick they pulled--which I'm glad they did because it helped me--whenever anything nice happened they often put it on the obituary page. Everyone over thirty reads the obituary page, but they are too dumb to know it. That is the first thing most people turn to to see if any of their friends have died during the night. So instead of hurting me or hurting East Carolina, they are doing us the biggest favor in the world. I hope they continue to put it on the obituary page, and I hope they continue to give us negative editorials.

Donald R. Lennon:

They have always used this teacher training stuff to hang around your neck every time there was a move for a professional school or professional program.

Leo W. Jenkins:

The thing is, the pie is only so big, and they have the naive idea that if we take a slice a little bigger, their slice will be smaller. It really doesn't work that way because if we don't get our slice, it will go somewhere--maybe to the highways or mental health. It will go somewhere, but it won't necessarily go to them. It doesn't work that way.

Donald R. Lennon:

What was the role of Watts Hill, Jr., in the university status controversy and the Medical School controversy?

Leo W. Jenkins:

He was opposed to all of it, vigorously opposed to all of it. But he didn't have the ammunition to really successfully fight it. I don't know whether he had ambitions; I suspect it but I don't know. I suspect that he wanted to become governor, but we weren't the whipping boy to use because it backfired. We had the people with us; there is no question in my mind about that. I would not get--and I'm not bragging now; I'm just telling the facts of life--standing ovations if people weren't with what I was trying to do. It is not just a question of me; it is what I represent; what I am trying to do. You saw the commencement last week. Where have



you seen a commencement where there were seven standing ovations. I went to a very prestigious university graduation last week, and there were no standing ovations that I knew of. There were very prominent people speaking and everything else; folks just do not do that. But you saw what happened out there, and you saw how loose our youngsters were last year and the year before. I think that is a feeling of love--a feeling that the youngsters are happy with what they see here. Troy Pate was the speaker, and they were very loose.

Donald R. Lennon:

Do you feel that not only the students but the faculty and staff at East Carolina have perhaps worked a little harder for you and perhaps done more than at other institutions as far as giving a little more of themselves?

Leo W. Jenkins:

Yes. There is no question in my mind about it, and I think the secret is--and maybe I am a poor leader--I have never had an argument with a faculty member in thirty-one years, never had any harshness. We have disagreed on certain things but it never got to name calling and it never got to ugliness or anyone being balled out or anything. One thing is that I think that it is an act of cowardice on my part to ball out anybody who has a lesser position--a subordinate--because he cannot fight back. He has children to think about. Therefore he almost has to take it. I do not mind arguing with people who are

above me or who are my equals--and I do argue with them as you know--but I would no more think about balling out the man who for example cuts the grass here. That poor fellow cannot fight back. He has to say "yes sir" and take it. I am not a bigger person for doing this, and maybe I am a poor leader.

I also believe this--and so far it has worked--I have used it in the Marine Corps and I have used it here. In the first place, get a person you know can do the job, then give him



the authority and the responsibility to do it and let them alone. For example, Laupus has hired a staff of one hundred and six people in the Medical School. I have not interviewed one of them, because I assume he knows who a good surgeon is better than I do; he knows who a good pathologist is better than I do. And I would not dream of telling him, "Hire this man or that man," because I have confidence in him. Now if you put extreme confidence in people and let them alone, if they cannot stand freedom or live up to that responsibility, people soon find it out. I do not have to find it out; I learn about it, and that person either resigns on his own or his associates ask him to resign. We have had a couple of cases of that as you know. But if you put a good man in a spot and say, "Go ahead," you know that Pittman in Music, for example, is going to run a wonderful program. He knows that I am not going to come over there. I have not been in the music building in maybe six months; he knows I am not going to look over his shoulder and say, "What are you doing and how are you doing it?" Horne in Admissions--he knows that I am not looking over his shoulder. Tom Willis down here in the Regional Institute and in your own case--I know the excellent job you are doing here. But it is not because I am looking over your shoulder; I don't think I have ever been to your office. I think if you let people alone they will work harder; they really will. I think they appreciate the fact that you know that you have confidence in them.

Donald R. Lennon:

Have you ever had pressure from outside to employ particular friends or relatives of people in political power?



Leo W. Jenkins:

Constantly. But we never honor it. But we don't offend them. What happens if a prominent man says, "I've got a brother who has a PhD. in History?" I say, "I will do all I can, but Herb Paschal is in charge of this, and if I look over his shoulder and call his shots, he has recourse to the Faculty Senate, etc." You know he would not do that, but yet I don't turn the fellow down flatly. I say, "I'll tell you what I will do. If we can't find a spot here, I will be glad to call some of my friends in the denominational schools for you." They like the fact that I am interested in them, but I never give in to that stuff because I don't do the hiring; I haven't hired a teacher in twenty years. I don't hire anybody. The staff, coaches--all of these are handled by the people who are in charge of the activity.

We have the same thing about getting a youngster into school. A very prominent man with a dumbbell cousin, let us say, calls here. I know the youngster will not get in, but rather than brutally let him down, I will say that I will give it my personal attention and get back to him. Then if Horne tells me that the youngster is not eligible, then I say, "I tried my best, but I couldn't get him in, but if you will let me, I'll get him into some school. Don't worry about that." I know schools that are looking for bodies so I will call one of these schools and say, "I have a kid who can't make it here; do you want to take him for a year or two and maybe he can transfer back?" I won't insult the fellow's intelligence, but he knows what I am saying. I send the youngster down to some other school. Then we are all happy. He wasn't shot down brutally; he was taken care of in this thing. For example, in the Medical School, I get letters almost every day about



getting kids into Medical School. Here again I have never asked them yet to take any youngster into Medical School. Why? Because I feel it is their responsibility. They've got an admissions committee; they know more about what a prospective medical student looks like than I do, and I am not going to second call their shots. All I do is say, "I'll be very happy to have your youngster come over and visit with our committee." Anybody on the street can visit our committee, so it's not that big a favor; but they don't know it. Then the youngster will come down, and Hayek will give him an interview and so forth and either accept him or reject him. But I have done my duty because I tell them, the accrediting people would be on my back--they wouldn't but I tell them that--if I tried to put youngsters in there. They decide; I wouldn't dream of doing that. I tell them that I wish I could help but that the accrediting people would be on my back.

Donald R. Lennon:

The political issues surrounding the Medical School and university status and the other developments--you really did not have a master plan of what you wanted to develop and how you wanted it developed. You took more of a pragmatic approach.

Leo W. Jenkins:

No. Well, master plans just do not work. To illustrate, our dormitory enrollment has been cyclical. Now this fall you can't get a room; at other times we had to force people to stay there or they would be empty. We had four cafeterias here when I came here. We planned for a fifth one, but something told me that I should not go on with the fifth one because there were too many restaurants being built downtown You know the story now; they are all empty; they don't feed any meals over there at all. If we had a master plan that said we ought to have six cafeterias by 1978, they would be empty. So you have to live a



little bit day by day if you can. Who would have thought there would have been a tremendous surplus of PhDs? Yet they come a dime a dozen now. Who would have thought there would be a surplus of surgeons? General surgeons come a dime a dozen. We could get fifteen guys to apply for the job if we said there was an opening in general surgery. Now the specialized surgeries are still glamour; but the general surgeon is a poor fellow out by himself now. No one goes to him. If you have something in your throat, you go to the eye, ear, nose and throat doctor, and if it is your feet, you go to another guy. If it is urinary, you go to another fellow. They are all specialists. Therefore, I think we have to work plan by plan.

To illustrate again, I never had the slightest dream of having a program here in correctional sciences when I became chancellor. Who ever heard of correctional sciences until Governor Scott called me in and asked me to put a program of correctional sciences into effect. He said that he was tired of the recidivism and that the program ought to be here. So, therefore, without any planning at all, overnight, we got hot on a new program. Now the computer business--who would have thought that would expand the way it did? So, therefore, comes 1980 if you continue to operate with a two way street of communications there might be program X or program Y and we would have to drop everything and put all our steam on that--the way Sputnik got us science crazy. I think we must live with society as we see it. I think your next big push is going to be with our senior citizens. They are going to come back in great numbers to the campuses because most of them are going to live to about eighty-five if we correct cancer and heart disease--and we will.



Donald R. Lennon:

There will probably be a surge back to the liberal arts with them.

Leo W. Jenkins:

No question about it. So therefore, I think we must be as flexible as we can be and take the needs as they arise and go after them. Where the Medical School will lead, I don't know; it might lead into some more spinoffs. I think there is a tremendous need for the Medical School to get together with the sociologists and do some joint research on such problems as why there are hypochondriacs; why are there people who never go to a doctor? My father-in-law died at ninety-two and never went to a physician for a physical check-up. The only time he went to a doctor was when he broke a bone and they fixed it, but he just didn't go. But why do some people stay away and why do some people go from doctor to doctor; that is sociology and medicine working together. There is a great need for that. In the psychosomatic field, the psychiatrists and psychologists ought to be working with the other members of the M.D. crowd. So some of those things might be happening over here. We don't know, but it might.

[End of Interview]

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