Charles Coble oral history interview, June 23, 2021


Charles R. Coble
Narrator

Alston Cobourn
East Carolina University
Interviewer

June 25, 2021
Greenville, North Carolina

Alston Cobourn (0:04)
That is always a good idea. Yes. Okay. All right. I think it looks like we are going,

Charles R. Coble(0:12)
Okay.

Alston Cobourn (0:16)
Hello, hello. Hello. I'm looking for my volume like testing numbers. Let me turn it that way, that might be better for the volume. Hello, my name is Alston Cobourn. I'm the University Archivist at East Carolina University. Today is Friday, June 25. And I'm going to be interviewing Charles Coble. We're conducting this interview in Joyner Library on ECU's Campus. It is around 10 o'clock in the morning. First, Charles, can you please tell us your full name? Your date of birth and place of birth?

Charles R. Coble (0:58)
Yes, I'm Charles Ray, R-A-Y, Coble. I was born in Albemarle, North Carolina on November the 19th 1941.

Alston Cobourn (1:11)
So... Why don't we just start by having you tell us when you started working at East Carolina, and in what capacity?

Charles R. Coble (1:22)
Sure. Sure. I was... was currently a visiting assistant professor at UNC Chapel Hill in 1972. I had received my degree in science education there - My doctorate degree in science education, and they employed me. But during that year, it became very obvious to me that I was not a good fit for the very university in which I had received my degree. I was interested in science, education, teacher preparation, helping people who wanted to become science teachers to do that. And Chapel Hill was more interested in researching about that, than actually doing that. And so I had the good fortune of through my advisor, gentleman named Barry Hounshell, who introduced me to Floyd Mathias, who was chair of a relatively new established Science Education Department at ECU. It was in the College of Arts and Sciences. And it was a good match. And so I applied for the position. And because Leo Jenkins had received a planetarium from the US Marine Corps, they were looking for somebody who could also help establish and run a planetarium program. And out of the eighty or something applicants, I was the only person who had ever done that. I used to run a planetarium in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the Children's Place Museum.

Alston Cobourn (2:50)
That sounds very fun.

Charles R. Coble (2:51)
Yeah, the same gentleman, Barry Helms who was the one that got me into that when he was down there as science supervisor. So it was a great, it was a great match. It looked like this was perfect. I was going to come to ECU, be on the Science Education Department. And I was going to set the planetarium program up and off we go. Now, so I came in 1972, to be an assistant professor of science education here with a goal of getting this planetarium set up. Shortly after I got here. Of course, I knew all about this because Leroy Jenkins was notorious in North Carolina. And in where I grew up, he was not beloved because he was a uppity chancellor, I only knew of one Chancellor's name in North Carolina. I didn't even know the name of the chancellor at Carolina, but I knew the name of the chancellor at East Carolina University because of what he was doing in the state. So shortly after I got here, he had already now established East Carolina University as a university before that, you know, it was the largest college in the whole South. So he had that going. And so... The... When I was leaving Carolina, the dean called me in and said, "Now we're disappointed at your decision for leaving us to go to East - East Carolina University. He said it's not really a university, but it's going to become one. And so you better set your mind on behaving like it's going to become a university". And that was good advice. So I'm down here now. And we got a planetarium. And Leo Jenkins announced he wanted to have a medical school. And the Hardy family had given $45,000 which was a fair amount of change at that time. Okay. To help start this, this planetarium, Dr. Jenkins redirected that money with the permission of the family toward re.... redesigning. I think it was Fleming Hall, I'm not sure to be that one year medical school that they, they had approval from the General Assembly and the Board of Governors to create. And so now, the whole reason for me getting selected to come to ECU was off the table. There was going to be no planetary built on this campus. And, but things were working out well anyway with me on the faculty. And so I loved it. It was a fabulous place. The East Carolina University School - Department of Science Education was among the largest in the entire nation. It had an unusually large impact on science education across the nation, so it was a great place to be. And one of our students, Jerry Everhart, who's now out in New Mexico, eastern New Mexico, teaching science education, started the first student chapter of the National Science Teachers Association. So we were on the map at a great place. And so we, I think, Floyd and I, and the rest the faculty worked well together. And it was it was just terrific.

About five years into my work here. The the University School of Education, received the largest grant ever received at ECU at the time, which is a $1 million grant from the federal government to start a desegregation center. The state was desegregating at public schools, but not very well. And so the purpose of the center was to help both black and white teachers deal with students of the opposite race and learn how to teach them better, especially in reading mathematics. And we had some fabulous reading specialists here and math specialists. So Clint Downing, a black gentleman from Raleigh was on the faculty of the School of Education, I'm over in the Science Education Department.

Alston Cobourn (6:55)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (6:56)
They asked me to work with him to carry that program on so so I did that for a year, but that would have derailed my entire career, I'd stay there longer. So I did it one year to help you get it set up, get it moving in the organization, and I went back to the school education, but I had met the faculty of the School of Education. They were in the Speight Building, sharing that space with the Psychology Department, what I noticed was the psychology faculty all had office spaces. Every single person save a very few had doubled up occupancy for the School of Education faculty. They were very cramped up, and a building, in which if they'd expanded to one single offices, it could have occupied the whole building. So I also noticed that when I was over there, that the Department of science education had eight graduate students in that ten - eight person department, we had eight graduate students. The School of Education, which had 40 faculty members had eight graduate students. Alright, so I noticed that it didn't look like to me, things were being fairly distributed on campus. So I didn't understand why given the fact that this place had a reputation of being a great teachers college.

Alston Cobourn (8:21)
Yeah - Our founding, right.

Charles R. Coble (8:24)
So about five, fast forward five years -

Alston Cobourn (8:30)
Can I actually interject a quick question. So the program you were saying that you helped set up for that one year about the desegregation? Yeah. How long did they do that program? Do you know?

Charles R. Coble (8:41)
They - they did that for about, you know, honestly, I sort of lost track, but they did that program for at least three years.

Alston Cobourn (8:48)
Okay.

Charles R. Coble (8:48)
Okay. And so we were statewide

Alston Cobourn (8:52)
Right, right.

Charles R. Coble (8:53)
And so we traveled all over the United States. It was great, because Clint was black. I was white. And so we're showing up as a salt and pepper team, if you will, in these different schools. And Clint was the consummate gentleman, dresser, non-threatening in every way. And I was a fairly gentle soul. And so, you know, we managed to work with people who probably weren't all that pleased about some things. Okay. But it worked out. And so...

Alston Cobourn (9:24)
And then, I guess, let's see, the other question was, oh, so right. You said, so the Science Education Department was not housed then in the School of Education.

Charles R. Coble (9:37)
It was in the College of Arts and Sciences -

Alston Cobourn (9:39)
College of Arts and Science. Thank you. That's what I wanted -

Charles R. Coble (9:40)
And we were in the Flanagan Building, okay?

Alston Cobourn (9:43)
Okay, thank you.

Charles R. Coble (9:44)
And what happened there is that when ECU became a university.

Alston Cobourn (9:48)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (9:49)
Yeah, remember right before that, when it was East Carolina College, the whole campus was devoted almost to teacher preparation.

Alston Cobourn (9:58)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (9:59)
Alright. So when they started establishing university status, they wanted to, quote, purify these departments and sort of get the science and get all the education related science faculty - over in their own department. So we became a science education department in the College of Arts and Science. That changed, and I'll tell you why. But anyway, so there we are. So, so they had a long time, Dean of the School of Education, who eventually retired, Doug Jones had been there for a long time. And they recruited a gentleman named Dick Warner, out of Alabama, I think it was, he was from Pennsylvania. And I was on the search committee for that. You know, the outside person from a college education they had, they had discovered me because I've worked with them for a year. And then so they asked me to come back and be on the search committee. So I did. And so we recruited this gentleman, Dick Warner. And Dick got here. And he noticed the same things I had seen a few years earlier, that the resource allocation to the college - to the School of Education was really abysmal. It was worse than I thought. The office situation, the budget was terrible. Their budget, the budget for the entire School of Education was only $1,000 higher than the budget for the Department of Science Education. And they had five times the faculty and graduate programs and everything. Alright. So so it wasn't even possible for the School of Education at that time, the Dean of Education didn't even serve on the curriculum committee that made the basic decisions about what they could even teach. That was controlled mainly by faculty outside the College of Education. Yeah. So it was time for the college to be accredited nationally....

Alston Cobourn (12:19)
Because that happens every few - like periodically

Charles R. Coble (12:22)
Every seven years.

Alston Cobourn (12:23)
And they were up for their renewal

Charles R. Coble (12:25)
They just happened to be up for it. Like the year after this gentleman, Dick Warner was hired. Well, I don't know what had happened in the past. And I know what happened this time.

Alston Cobourn (12:38)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (12:38)
And that is the big these accreditation people come from all United States, they started noticing the budget of facilities, the lack of graduates system support. And then then, but when they got to the curriculum, and realize that the school of education could not even control its own curriculum, which is unbelievable.

Alston Cobourn (13:05)
Yeah,

Charles R. Coble (13:06)
They said, We're not going to grant this. Alright. So now what that meant was it had ripple effects way beyond the scope of education, because the degrees and teacher education were still owing to its teacher college history, based in math, education. We had science education, there was art, education, music, education, French education, foreign language, history, soja, English, everything. It was all over campus. 14% of the entire enrollment of the university was in teacher education programs, over 90% of all the graduate students were education graduate students in all of these different education - plus it was a good education, and they had one year to get the accreditation back, or they would have to stop enrolling anybody. So that would have had a devastating effect. So that denial of accreditation made the front page of the Raleigh News & Observer.

Alston Cobourn (14:11)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (14:12)
Alright, twice, actually. And John Howell, who was a sterling person and others felt that the root cause of this problem was this new dean. Alright, because he didn't handle it well. Now, he was a prickly character, not a great fit for ECU, frankly. He had his own difficulties with his own faculty, by his behavior. So he didn't help his case any just by his persona, which I have said to him, so I don't mind it being recorded. And on top of that the upper administration felt that since nothing had changed. Why were we losing our accreditation? Okay. But nevertheless, they asked him to leave. And then

Alston Cobourn (15:16)
I had assumed so maybe that's a good point. That, you know, they were saying since nothing had changed why now, I guess I had thought that perhaps in the move to university status, that's when the budget situation got out of whack or the allocations or something, but perhaps that was not the case,

Charles R. Coble (15:37)
It was long standing. And the faculty, I have since I discovered, when I became Dean had been complaining to the current dean for a long time. Alright. But it never got resolved. I think he had honestly had aspirations to be the chancellor himself. And so keeping things under control, took precedent over addressing the issues. Okay. So nothing changed. And not it not even this university status. That was not it. It was just raw, organizational management, fiscal responsibility was way out of whack. So I'm sitting over in The Science Education Department, and Angelo Volpe, then, Vice Chancellor under John Howell, sat down with me and John Howell, and asked me if I would take on the acting deanship in 1983 - I believe it was - in the wave of all this, because they felt like, given the compressed timeframe of one year, this has got to be fixed.

Alston Cobourn (16:50)
Right, that is a pretty short window.

Charles R. Coble (16:53)
They need to get somebody who knew the campus and knew the people and knew the faculties. And so I agreed to do it. And so, what I did was study in detail, all this the financial structure, organizational - decision making model and all of that. And came to the conclusion that some things would have to change at the upper level impact of the school.

Alston Cobourn (17:24)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (17:25)
And that, I would have to be able to show that any shift we made in organizational structures can bear fruit. And the best way to do that just happen to occur at the State of North Carolina had just approved a brand new teacher licensing program, middle grades education, okay. It had not been that way before it just been elementary and high school. Okay, the intermediate grades 6-7-8 are part of elementary.

Alston Cobourn (17:56)
Okay.

Charles R. Coble (17:57)
Okay. And so they said, No, we're gonna cipher that out, we're gonna make that 6-7-8, We're gonna call that middle grade education. And what I, what I thought could happen is if I could get this decision making process changed, and then put forward a brand new teacher education program at the undergraduate and graduate level and get it passed, that would be able to show the national accrediting team that we had made the changes necessary. And we actually implemented during the, during that one year. So I proposed a brand new model for what the role of the Dean of Education would be, that the Dean of Education would also be the director of teacher education for the whole campus. And so my authority or the authority of the dean would extend into those other programs. So that the Dean of Education as as director of teacher education, not as dean of that college, but as director to teacher education would be responsible for the hiring, promotion, tenure and salary of people outside the college of education, but who were in teacher education. Well, needless to say, that was not usually popular with a number of people across campus, okay. And it was, it was, it was an audacious kind of recommendation. So Angelo bought us some tickets and we got on a plane, we flew to Washington, DC we met with the accrediting agency and they said, Okay, Coble is going to lay out to you what he proposes to do about the the lines of authority at ECU. And I need to know from you if if we approve this, will that - short of any other flaws that you've found that we think are far less minor than this one - Will that get us our accreditation back? He said, not only will it get your accreditation back, but you will be you will be the institution in America that people want to emulate. So we flew back. And so Angela told me, You got to go in there and tell this to John Howell, I'm not going to go with you. Okay. So I went to the Chancellor's office, and I sat down with Dr. Howell - Chancellor Howell. And I explained to him what I felt we had to do to guarantee that we get this accreditation back. And probably for the longest 10 seconds of my life, he just turned around in his wheeled chair, looked out the window. And he turned back around, he said, here's how we're going to do it. We're going to call the Faculty Senate back into session over the summer, they're going - we're going to get this approved, you're going to get it in place. And then we're going to get this degree program you want to get the [unintelligable] going to have is a proof of concept. We're gonna do it and he pulled in Emily Boyce, who used to be the Director of Library Studies at East Carolina University and she was chair of the Faculty Senate. Okay. And so it - she engineered that whole operation got the faculty to come off vacation, we had almost 100% attendance, they voted in place gave me this new title, we put the new rules in place, put a new governance structure in place. And in the meantime, they doubled my budget, and doubled my graduate student allocation. Okay, where that came from I don't know.

Alston Cobourn (21:49)
Well, it seems that, you know, you weren't trying to bring everyone under the School of Education, but it seems like you were trying to unify, you know - that was like your goal still in a lot of ways

Charles R. Coble (21:59)
You have some kind of you have to have a structure of fulfillment, or else you can't, for example, we - this was, you know, microcomputers were coming, you know, we're coming into vogue at that time. I mean, there were no computers, except the big mainframes before that. But these small little computers were coming into place. Okay, the School of Education could not even get through its curriculum committed the year before I got there, a course in introduction to the use - educational uses of microcomputers, they could not get that approved. They said that had to be in the they had to be in the Computer Science Department. Well, I mean, I understand the rationale for that. But it was mainly about the educational uses of it, not about...

Alston Cobourn (22:50)
Right, right.

Charles R. Coble (22:51)
Computers and programs.

Alston Cobourn (22:53)
Learning everything single thing about computers.

Charles R. Coble (22:54)
That would actually be done in the computer science department. Here. We were just talking about, here's what you can do with kids in the classroom here.

Alston Cobourn (23:01)
Yeah, ways to think about how you might integrate...

Charles R. Coble (23:03)
And here's how administrators can put together a spreadsheet for - Yeah, I mean, could not get it passed. Okay, we got to passed that year. Okay. And we got, we got the entire - we got the entire undergraduate and graduate degree programs passed and in place and started enrolling our first accepting our first students. So that was a big change, but the School of Education. Also, its morale was was terrible. You know, we're all they're all packed up in these small opposites.

Alston Cobourn (23:44)
Well, you said that you found out they'd been talking to the previous Dean about you trying to get changes.

Charles R. Coble (23:50)
Yeah. And so as luck, as Providence luck, whatever you call it would happen. A gentleman moved in behind me where I lived on Sixth Street. And I, he looked pretty old, and I got to know who he was. And this gentleman's name was Dr. E. L. Henderson. And he played a big role in a controversy in the 40s when the chancellor of the university was using University - from our college funds to set up student housing which he happened to benefit from. And a female student, head of the - you know - head of the student body -

Alston Cobourn (24:37)
Yeah.

Charles R. Coble (24:38)
Called him on it. And this Chancellor wound up being he was very popular with the especially with the women in Greenville, at the time, he was a smooth operator. He wound up being fired and tried and served jail time.

Alston Cobourn (24:58)
Yeah, you're Yes, the name is escaping.

Charles R. Coble (25:02)
Okay. I can't remember his name.

Alston Cobourn (25:04)
Exactly I cant think of it either. I know exactly.

Charles R. Coble (25:07)
So this guy, E. L. Henderson and his sort of -

Alston Cobourn (25:15)
It wasn't Mess -

Charles R. Coble (25:15)
Messick?

Alston Cobourn (25:16)
Messick? Yeah.

Charles R. Coble (25:17)
No, no, no, Messick was the first - No, no, no not Messick. He came in afterwards. He was a good guy. He died -

Alston Cobourn (25:23)
Meadows

Charles R. Coble (25:24)
Meadows.

Alston Cobourn (25:24)
That was, with the M. With the M.

Charles R. Coble (25:27)
It was it's a bad scene. This guy, E. L. Henderson had defended the student and anyway, and taking and taking her stand with the faculty and the faculty. They were kind of cowered by this, and he was a very popular guy. After Meadows lost his job, his own way out the door, literally, he fired E. L. Henderson a month before he would have been eligible for Social Security benefits. So for 40 years, this man had been living in shame in Greenville, over here about where the library was, and when this was being built. They were tearing down his house and relocated him behind my. Okay, and so we sat down and talked, I said, You mean you were dismissed by the university in 1945? And where have you been since then, and on and on and on, and I looked up all this history, he was a hero. I told John Howell about this. And John - we had a big event had invited all the College of Education over there. First time they'd ever been invited the Chancellor's house, as a faculty member, you know, they went over there, E. L. Henderson was given a distinguished honorary degree. And we put them on the float at Christmas time. And

Alston Cobourn (26:53)
that's interesting. Yeah, cuz I know, there was a lot of controversy about the whole Meadows -

Charles R. Coble (26:57)
Oh, yeah.

Alston Cobourn (26:57)
Situation, a lot of people with lots of different opinions.

Charles R. Coble (27:01)
Oh, yeah,

Alston Cobourn (27:01)
it was a big deal.

Charles R. Coble (27:02)
Oh, it was -

Alston Cobourn (27:03)
Okay.

Charles R. Coble (27:04)
And so, turns out, he helped lift up the... I - It's hard to explain now, but he helped lift the spirits of the faculty. They -

Alston Cobourn (27:16)
That's good!

Charles R. Coble (27:16)
We put him on the float. We won the first prize in the in the Christmas parade. And he was interviewed all over the place and talked about starting the graduate school, which he did, and blah, blah, blah. So anyway, there was a morale issue. And E. L. Henderson and John Howard recognized that we could use this and take care of a regress and harm that had been visited upon this guy, and lift the morale of the whole teacher education faculty. So we did that. So anyway, okay, so now we're in operation, okay. We got a budget. And finally, we'll continue to press the faculty and Angelo and Howell we finally had the psychology faculty moved out of Speight Building into Rawl or the building next to it

Alston Cobourn (28:13)
And so let's remind ourselves what year approximately was this?

Charles R. Coble (28:16)
Okay, so this was probably about five years after I became Dean. So this was probably somewhere in the range of 88 to 90.

Alston Cobourn (28:28)
That's - I was thinking like the end of the 80's, okay.

Charles R. Coble (28:31)
So they moved out, we took over the entire building. So now people have office spaces, you know, and they could have conversations with students without, you know, asking their fellow faculty member to leave. So that just did wonders for the faculty morale as well. So several other fortunate things happened. It was during the reign of Jim Hunt, and he was getting things to happen in education, we established a science math center, we, we got a Teaching Fellows Program, one of their sites and became the second largest in the state. And then we got money to establish a mod- and this is - this is going to be I think, where the real change in the College of Education occurred, or School of Education occurred, we got money to establish a model, clinical teacher education program. So, you know, I mentioned at Chapel Hill, the reason I felt like I couldn't stay there because they wanted to research about it rather than do it.

Alston Cobourn (28:31)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (28:35)
Alright. So what had happened at ECU and all over the nation is that Wahl-Coates School used to be the Lab School of the University.

Alston Cobourn (29:50)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (29:51)
And when I became Dean, it was still the lab school.

Alston Cobourn (29:55)
Okay, okay.

Charles R. Coble (29:56)
But - But it was way - I mean, it couldn't even function as a lab school, because we had former elementary education....

Alston Cobourn (30:03)
I was going to say it was an elementary school too, right?

Charles R. Coble (30:05)
It was an elementary school. My own kids went to it. But it was just one of the schools that we had. We had hundreds of teachers. You know, we had a very large Elementary Education Program.

Alston Cobourn (30:16)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (30:16)
They were all over the county and they were in 32 counties.

Alston Cobourn (30:20)
Right. Okay.

Charles R. Coble (30:20)
Okay. So it became so what happened all over the country is that - when the GI Bill took place and we got money to bring the GIs except for black people -

Alston Cobourn (30:38)
Right

Charles R. Coble (30:38)
Back to college. This place was called East Carolina Teachers Training - East Carolina Teachers College like Appalachian State Teachers College -

Alston Cobourn (30:49)
ECTC, yeah.

Charles R. Coble (30:49)
Okay. But then it became East Carolina College in the same with an Appalachian became Appalachian State - Appalachian State College, they dropped the teachers part.

Alston Cobourn (30:59)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (31:00)
And they got the money to... The GI Bill didn't fund the campuses, any money to hire faculty or build infrastructure. It just paid for the GI to go to college.

Alston Cobourn (31:12)
Right, right.

Charles R. Coble (31:13)
Alright, so now they're swamped.

Alston Cobourn (31:15)
You had an influx of people, but not...

Charles R. Coble (31:17)
These people getting a free education, men and women.

Alston Cobourn (31:23)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (31:24)
And the campuses had no money to really do it. So they did all over America, they closed down these clinical practice sites, they closed down the lab schools. They sold them, they took the money. And then they also had budgets, which the school used to have to pay the mileage of faculty to go visit people. They stopped all that and they took that money and rebuilt the infrastructure of the campus to handle the GIs that happened from border to border, coast to coast in America. And it begat a phenomena called the cash cow. School of Education became the cash cow for universities. And that's where that term came from. That's that that particular term is is well known in teacher education world, that we were the cash cow. So the university, but that's what happened. That history sort of got lost upon people, it just looked like when these new Chancellor's kept coming in, this is what the budgets were with. There's a reason for that pack over here. So we finally got we finally were resourced and able to get the business but now, now what to do about the fact that we were now - we didn't have the infrastructure, the clinical money to go and handle these clinical placements.

Alston Cobourn (32:58)
So you said Wahl-Coates was still open here when you came, did it close during the time... [unintelligible]

Charles R. Coble (33:04)
During the time I was - during the time I was dean, we actually sold it.

Alston Cobourn (33:07)
Okay.

Charles R. Coble (33:08)
To the Pitt County Schools.

Alston Cobourn (33:10)
Okay. Okay.

Charles R. Coble (33:11)
Because -

Alston Cobourn (33:12)
That's when it moved from more like it was on campus to off?

Charles R. Coble (33:16)
Yeah - well no.

Alston Cobourn (33:17)
Kind of right? You know the location changed.

Charles R. Coble (33:18)
No, you know, where the theater department I guess still is right beside Speight building as you're looking at Speight right beside that used to be the theater building. Okay. That is the old Wahl-Coates School.

Alston Cobourn (33:29)
Yes.

Charles R. Coble (33:30)
The new Wahl-Coates School which you know about

Alston Cobourn (33:32)
Yes.

Charles R. Coble (33:33)
Had moved well, before -

Alston Cobourn (33:34)
Before. Okay.

Charles R. Coble (33:35)
Yeah.

Alston Cobourn (33:35)
Thank you.

Charles R. Coble (33:36)
All right. So I simply ended up an obvious thing. We we were giving the Pitt County schools or Greenville a free ride on a building and a school and a faculty. And I sold it. Okay.

Alston Cobourn (33:50)
All right,

Charles R. Coble (33:50)
With permission. I mean, I can't [crosstalk]. So we now -

Alston Cobourn (33:58)
Okay, thank you.

Charles R. Coble (33:58)
And I cut a deal that we could have some of those resources to help fund our clinical program. And, and also had to have a mild confrontation with some lovely people in Continuing Education. Our faculty were being paid, like maybe 1000. In fact, $1,000 to go teach, you know, 12, a 12-week course, on campus, somewhere getting $1,000. Continuing Education was getting far more than that. Okay. The School of Education was getting none of it. Okay, so the faculty members were doing this as a moonlight job. They were making the money and, and I meaning the School of Education, were getting none of it. So we met as a faculty and made an agreement we're going to stop teaching off campus courses. And that we were we were at 80% business that would have bankrupt Continuing Education at ECU, which I had no intention of doing. But we needed to have some equity. And in in the income created, which was going to produce really nice salaries, wonderful facilities, office spaces, carpet, this kind of furniture. We had none of that. And so we worked out an agreement. And that brought an extra $1 million a year in the School of Education budget, just that one decision. Okay. So those were difficult decisions to make. But inside the School of Education, it made an enormous difference. Okay, in terms of what we had to work with, we can buy stuff, you know, we could actually go and see the students. So. So the other thing that was happening is that students would select the teachers they wanted to student teach with, the students would do that. Okay, that's it. I want to teach with Miss Jones. Okay. Well, it turns out Miss Jones was like, a nice person, but she had no supervisory skills at all.

Alston Cobourn (34:33)
Wasn't necessarily the best fit.

Charles R. Coble (36:21)
And you know, and we were in 32 counties.

Alston Cobourn (36:24)
Yeah.

Charles R. Coble (34:15)
So I met with the superintendents across the state. And I said, across eastern North Carolina, and we, we got to change this model, we can't do this, we can't support this. And we're going to be the ones now working together to select the teachers. And we're going to draw in the number of counties. But we're going to rotate that. And so we create a thing called Project East, okay, we rotated where assignments would be. So everybody would get their turn eventually, as the only way I can figure out how to make them happy, and them understand what we need to do, which they did, which was to have better supervision closer at hand, and that sort of thing. So. So that was part of this model teacher education program, we started seeing that we really needed to have better clinical practice, carefully chosen sites, well trained supervision. And so that's what we did. So ECU created what we call partnership schools rather than lab schools - we created partnerships, and we would together be responsible for the, for the preparation of these of these teachers. That proved to be measurably beneficial. That is, the state of North Carolina kind of put in what they called an IHE report card, an Institution of Higher Education report card. And one of the primary measures was how long did the teachers that you produce stay in a profession? Yeah, okay. East Carolina University was losing along with the rest of them -

About 50% of the graduates would be gone in five years. And wherever they went, they'd be gone.

Alston Cobourn (37:04)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (37:26)
So we moved that up to over 70%. And that was way higher than anybody else. And so the idea of working with the school systems to more carefully prepared the teachers was the equivalent of not having to prepare a whole crop of teachers every fifth year. We move that out to about every seven years, well, they're mostly female. There's a lot of begetting, and there's a lot of families, and there's a lot of moving going on. So it's so you are going to have some attrition in any female dominated profession over time, because, you know, it's the women who are having the babies, and we still live in a society that by and large, the women are the ones who take care of the children also. And so that affects every one of these professions, but it was differentially affecting teacher education, because of the poor preparation. Ladies, they said to hell with it, you know, I can't I can't do this. So that began to generate a lot of money, some of the newspaper article [unintelligible], Ed Warren, and others started getting us money to expand that clinical program and work with this Project East we talked about. And so now that that had implications then when I was so, so what ended the story for me here at this university -

Alston Cobourn (40:00)
Yeah, I know that you left here at some point when - when did you leave?

Charles R. Coble (40:04)
Okay, right. So this this thing now, this clinical model this partnership program was beginning to run like a machine. It was really working. You know, the the teachers were going they were getting well prepared by and large they were staying they were staying longer. We, the School of Education picked up, I think, honestly, every every state, regional and national award that I know of that they could have gotten, they got. Okay, these things all over the walls. And Ed Warren was delivering on funds directly to the School of Education directly out of the General Assembly. The chancellor here was very okay with that.

Alston Cobourn (40:15)
Yeah, and who was chancellor then?

Charles R. Coble (40:58)
Well, it eventually Eakin became, I mean, we have an interim -

Alston Cobourn (41:02)
Right

Charles R. Coble (41:03)
then but we had Eakin, he was very okay with that. He said, I'm not I don't care whether we are the ones that get it or you get it as long as it lands up on this campus.

Alston Cobourn (41:12)
Right, right.

Charles R. Coble (41:13)
Okay. And it's for worthy purposes. And we all these things were. And so we started a real education institute working on all this stuff, and needed money. And Ed and McClaren at Grifton, and I can't think of her name in Farmville. They work together to make sure the ECU was taken care of. This caught the attention of Dick Spangler.

Alston Cobourn (41:23)
Edith Warren lives in Farmville.

Charles R. Coble (41:39)
Edith Warren.

Alston Cobourn (41:41)
Was that who you meant? I that might have been.

Charles R. Coble (41:43)
Yeah

Alston Cobourn (41:44)
That might be who you meant.

Charles R. Coble (41:45)
Oh, God, she was so wonderful.

Alston Cobourn (41:46)
She is. I've met her

Charles R. Coble (41:48)
She's still alive I hope.

Alston Cobourn (41:49)
Yes, she is. She's doing good. She's a great lady.

Charles R. Coble (41:52)
I want to stop in Farmville and see her. She's such a great person.

Alston Cobourn (41:55)
Okay.

Charles R. Coble (41:56)
Well, anyway, so Edith, McLonghorn and - they were in the House of Representatives in the House Education Committee, and Ed was on the Appropriations and the Education Committee in the Senate. So it was working. But it caught Dick Spangler's attention. He was the President of the University System. And so he called me and he said, I want to chat with you tomorrow. And he was a man of few words so. So, you know, I told Dick about it. And I went up there. And, and he wanted to know, what all this - what all this was about. And, and so we had a long talk. And I had taught him astronomy years ago, in Charlotte, by the way. So we knew each other, but you know, I was - he was Mr. Chancellor, or Mr. President to me. But so he was having a problem. And as the General Assembly was mocking on some of the things that he wanted to get for the university, like new buildings, and expanded campuses, stuff like that, because the General Assembly didn't feel like that the university was doing very well by the public schools, and health and teacher education specifically. Except for ECU, because they were hearing that - he was hearing that all over. And the faculty really were doing a great job. And so he said, so I want you to leave ECU. And I want you to work for me, and I want you to do whatever you're doing down there, do that across the state. And I said, Well, you know, it's taken a while.

Alston Cobourn (43:58)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (43:58)
And I was the I was the dean, I had charge. And I had the ear the chancellor, and they were very supportive. He said well, you got my year - I said...

Alston Cobourn (44:11)
A big decision.

Charles R. Coble (44:12)
But in all honesty, we don't - general administration doesn't tell many people what to do, because you don't control the salary, the promotion, tenure - and you know, and that is the job I have at ECU.

Alston Cobourn (44:26)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (44:27)
And I said to him, how can I do that? He said, well that's what I want you to figure out. And he said, but you'll have my total support, and we'll get it done. So I get down and talk to Dick. And, you know, he made it he made a good show, trying to say no, you need to stay here and stuff like that. But he he knew that this is really needed to happen. And so, you know -

Alston Cobourn (44:53)
Like he was ultimately going to support you in whatever you decided.

Charles R. Coble (44:56)
Yeah, that's right.

Alston Cobourn (44:56)
Yeah.

Charles R. Coble (44:57)
And so he knew he needed to make Spangler happy too. I guess Spangler - you didn't know him, but he was a, I tell you - he was a person of few words. And he was very rich. And he didn't. He didn't, by the way, he didn't accept a paycheck for the entire 10 years he was chancellor, he would redirect -

Alston Cobourn (45:19)
President? Of the -

Charles R. Coble (45:20)
As president. He directed that money to a different campus. And also, on the evening he retired, he and his family gave $8,000,000 - Three endowed scholarship - three endowed professorships to every single campus in the University system. It was incredible. So he was an interesting guy. But anyway, that's what took me to the general administration they wanted sort of that ECU model of clinically based partnerships schools, as a as the strategy for preparing teachers, in the same way that the medical school prepares its doctors in a clinical setting.

Alston Cobourn (46:07)
Yes.

Charles R. Coble (46:09)
But they're, they're so few, you can handle it all inside of one hospital. But the School of Education that had now become the largest in the state couldn't do that we had to have hundreds of schools. And, and lots of counties working with us. And so, again, I attribute - I attribute the faculty to that. They did a really good job of, you know, because we worked through it carefully to make sure we had the plans. And some of those documents I've presented are in the plan how we did that, and the details of it. And so then, as the Vice President, my job was to create a resource base, incentivize the campuses and put in these partnerships schools all across North Carolina, which is what we did. And Jim Hunt got that money for us as permanent allocations, it's still in place today. And allocated to the campus is based upon the then standing enrollment of the campuses - Of the teacher education programs on the campuses. So ECU and Appalachian State, like, got the most. But, but we had a scale that even the smaller campuses, they actually got a bigger percent -

Alston Cobourn (47:40)
Right, right.

Charles R. Coble (47:40)
Of the allocation, but much less money than say ECU. So anyway -

Alston Cobourn (47:46)
And so it was probably what then in the early 90s, when you went - moved to the system office?

Charles R. Coble (47:55)
Well, it was 96 actually.

Alston Cobourn (47:56)
96, okay.

Charles R. Coble (47:57)
96. I was in that role for 13 years. And -

Alston Cobourn (48:01)
At the deanship here -

Charles R. Coble (48:02)
At ECU.

Alston Cobourn (48:03)
For 13 years.

Charles R. Coble (48:04)
Yeah.

Alston Cobourn (48:04)
Okay. And then you went there in 96.

Charles R. Coble (48:05)
Yeah. And honestly, to lay out that basic shift from teaching what you should do to really putting a partnership model in place, that took eight years. Okay. And so, so the final five years I was here really was just refining, getting it better and better, doing research around it, putting new kinds of support structures in place, you know, like a big technology center. And so we we put in a thing called - oh god, Eastnet. This was before even AOL existed.

Alston Cobourn (48:46)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (48:47)
And Bell South. And it was before that, in fact, the people from Bell Telephone came here to see what this guy Greg had put in place. It was amazing. And we've created accounts for people all over Eastern North Carolina - the teachers.

Alston Cobourn (49:04)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (49:05)
And so so we, you know, that was just one of the other things so we could stay in touch with them and solve problems. We also put in a video system between here and five really rural schools so that we could, you know, before there was a Zoom or Visual Link, we could route - it was called the electronic blackboard, you can actually write here on campus, and then Bath and Belle Haven and Pantego, they would see those words appear on the screen. And so we we had a person teaching physics - guy named John Spagnola - teaching physics to one and two kids in these little bitty rural schools, they never had physics teacher ever.

Alston Cobourn (49:52)
Right, right.

Charles R. Coble (49:52)
And so, so we began to do things like that it was like dessert on top of this other model, you know of how you were a better teacher. And it was, it was just fun. So it was a lot of fun being, especially the last five years, we had a machine going, you know, just in and also a lot of recognition for faculty for pulling these things off. And a handful of school so it was fun. It's good. So there's more to say about all that, but it's in the very much in the weeds.

Alston Cobourn (50:31)
Yeah. Well, I was gonna ask you, yeah, if there was anything else that you wanted to share about the history of the College of Education during your time here that you didn't already mention, if you happen to have thought anything else? If not, it's okay. But I figured I would ask.

Charles R. Coble (50:51)
I think there are a couple things. Okay. Alright. One of the things that also has happened, which I think has been marvelous, and that is every single one of the School - of the School of Education, Dean's of Education, I've stayed in very close contact with Marilyn Sheerer right up through [unintelligible] today. And so there's been a continuity of purpose and conversation. So that the refinement on the model is still going on, it hasn't been no one, not a single one of the five beings that have been there since I left has ever thrown out this, in order to do something -

Alston Cobourn (51:39)
Completely different.

Charles R. Coble (51:40)
It's always making it better and better and better. And Vivian Covington over there is running the clinical program right now, she walks on water, as far as I'm concerned. She was here sort of as a student, and experienced it, and then hired and worked and got her degree and kept going. And so I think there's been an absolute continuity of purpose and direction with the Dean's and my observation and working with different Dean's of Education across this state and across the nation. That is not the case. And so you get these disruptions.

Alston Cobourn (52:22)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (52:22)
And changes of directions. And that hasn't happened here. In all these years, so far. So I mean, that may be coming. And there may be a time in which that needs to shift.

Alston Cobourn (52:36)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (52:36)
Because of changing circumstance. I think this may be one of those times when the technology is shifting. And but anyway, I think that, and I think the so that the last thing sounds self-serving, but I take it as an example of something that the campus created. And that is, in 2002 I think it was, I received the highest award that anybody in teacher education can receive in America at an organization called American Association Advancement of College of Teacher Education. So they gave me their highest award, and I hadn't been dean since 1966. Okay, but they saw it continuing to unfold. And so the only other person who has that, who has that piece of crystal in their office in this state is Jim Hunt. But but, you know, I felt personally gratified by it I mean, Studs Terkel of all people gave me the, the piece of crystal, but I'm more I felt I felt a terrific pride for the campus of ECU and this faculty, because this, you know, I couldn't have done that they had to do it.

Alston Cobourn (52:36)
Right.

Charles R. Coble (54:06)
So anyway, it was for, you know, it was for the transformation in the way we prepare teachers. So it's recognized nationally as being an important - and since I happened to be the dean, I got to take the crystal home, you know, but so I think that's a real recognition of, of what happened at ECU.

Alston Cobourn (54:31)
Yeah.

Charles R. Coble (54:32)
Yeah. It's great.

Alston Cobourn (54:33)
Wonderful.

Charles R. Coble (54:34)
It's worth about $10.

Alston Cobourn (54:36)
No - that is, that makes sense though what you're saying about it being a reflection on everyone.

Charles R. Coble (54:42)
Yeah.

Alston Cobourn (54:43)
Well thank you -

Charles R. Coble (54:46)
Yeah.

Alston Cobourn (54:46)
For sharing all of that information with us about -

Charles R. Coble (54:50)
Thank you.

Alston Cobourn (54:50)
Like, you know, how how the college has changed and evolved over time. So I guess if you don't have anything else, we will just wrap up there.

Charles R. Coble (55:00)
Good, okay.

Alston Cobourn (55:01)
Okay.

Charles R. Coble (55:03)
Alright.


Title
Charles Coble oral history interview, June 23, 2021
Description
Oral history interview with former Dean of the College of Education Charles Coble conducted by University Archivist Alston Cobourn. Dr. Coble talks about the evolution of the College of Education and its programs.
Date
June 23, 2021
Original Format
oral histories
Extent
Local Identifier
UA95.22
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Contributor(s)
Subject(s)
Spatial
Location of Original
University Archives
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