Alumni shed light on the less-known – and often amusing – corners of campus history.
UMBC’s history has its quirky sides as well. Associate professor of history George Derek Musgrove ’97, history, tackled the task of examining them with gusto in a presentation entitled: An Unofficial, Totally Tongue in Cheek, Slightly Zany History of Campus Culture at UMBC.
Musgrove identified three key eras of campus culture, and invited alumni who were key student figures in those moments – Steven K. Fedder ’72, American studies, Shari Elliker ’83, interdisciplinary studies, and Oliver J. Myers ’94, M.S. ’96, and Ph.D. ’07, mechanical engineering – to give their unvarnished views of those years at UMBC. Punctuated with videos by Stephen Karolenko ’13, visual arts, the anecdotes shared had the audience in fits of laughter, and elicited uninhibited tales from the audience as well.
Below are edited excerpts of the presentation.
— Laura Lefavor ’13
Derek Musgrove: Some of you may be asking yourselves: Why are we doing a history of campus culture here at UMBC? UMBC has no campus culture. This thing is going to be over really quickly…. UMBC does not have rich nd storied traditions. We have no centuries-old eating clubs and secret societies. No ivy-covered walls beneath which students hold annual recitations of Shakespeare. Our much ballyhooed tailgating parties are about as nonexistent as our football team. But traditions are not culture. And free of the strictures of tradition, UMBC students, faculty, and administrators have exercised creativity, intelligence, and, often, a good deal of reckless abandon in their efforts to fashion a campus culture here out of whole cloth….
Steve Fedder, you get here to campus in 1969. What was the campus culture like?
Steve Fedder: There was no campus culture, but there were, I don’t know, groups of people who came together around different things. I was political. There were hippies. There were artists. There were lacrosse jocks. The twain didn’t meet very much, but the hippies and lefties kind of got together and we had a pretty good time.
Musgrove: Let’s talk about your group, the “lefties,” the hippies, and the political folks. We saw a picture of Homer Schamp. Could you tell us what “Homer eats pie” refers to?
Fedder: We had a fair amount of fun in those days, even though we were pretty serious. It was the height of the Vietnam War. There were a number of professors…who were, we thought, terminated by [founding provost] Homer Schamp because of their left-leanings. I don’t know whether we were right or not in hindsight, but we loved these guys. There was a room, kind of like this, more like a theater, and, one day, Steve Taylor, one of my friends, said “Hey, I got an idea. I’m working in the back of the thing. We’re going to shut the lights off and we’re going to take pies and shove them into Homer Schamp’s face because we’re angry at him.”
And that’s exactly what we did. The lights went out. The pie went in his face. We disappeared before the lights went on…. T-shirts appeared all over campus, “Homer eats pie.” The mathematical sign. He wasn’t very happy, but we weren’t very happy with him, either. Those were the kind of antics that were influenced by people like Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman…. We were kind of junior-league. [Chancellor Albin O. Kuhn], I think, said [we were] the JV team of the radicals. We did our best.
Musgrove: Shari Elliker…. What was the social life that you were introduced to when you got on campus? You must, by the way, tell – particularly the students who are here now – about The Ratt.
Elliker: Yeah, The Ratt…. The Rathskeller was up on this hill. I’d like you all to repeat after me. Okay? Remember, the drinking age was 18. That will come into play in a minute. The Ratt was a place, and it served beer, and you’d be rolling down the hill afterwards and everything.
I don’t know if Arbutus has become a rocking college town. Somehow I doubt it. But there really wasn’t anything to do. I mean, we were just stuck and had to make our own fun…. There was one night where somebody had a case of baby powder or toilet paper. We ended up throwing it on each other, and we had this massive, massive fight. We’re covered in toilet paper. We’re covered in baby powder. And there was this resident director who was the scariest person I ever met came busting through the door, and everybody else was more coordinated than me, so they all scattered, and I was the only one covered in baby powder and all that. And she said, “You have 30 minutes.” And I thought, “For what? Are you going to come back and kill me? What happens in 30 minutes? Will I be arraigned somewhere?” I had to get everybody together and nobody helped me clean up. But remember, the drinking age was 18. Yeah, that explains it.
Musgrove: Can you talk about where [the campus radio station] led you and what you tried to do once you got there?
Elliker: I was the assistant manager for a while and then when the manager graduated, I ended up becoming the manager. I was so bummed out because nothing at UMBC felt normal…. Being terribly unsophisticated as I still am, I hated jazz music and the campus was playing jazz. At a college? Come on! I hated that! Right? I know, I know, and everybody likes jazz. Okay. Whatever. I hated it and I said, “We gotta change this. Let’s do something. It’s the ’80s, man. We gotta have some hair bands and things like that.” Overnight, I changed it from jazz to this popular, hot Top 20 type thing. Half the people liked it. Half the people didn’t like it because they wanted to hear Miles Davis all day.
What came out of it was that we started to have concerts and we started to have things that were bigger events and one of them was, we had a Molly Hatchet concert…. We had Quadmania. My personal best was, I was a big Peter Frampton fan. Anyone? Anyone? Thank you. Peter Frampton…. We got Peter Frampton to come and do an acoustic thing. Then, the best part was they had to sign shirts and stuff, and he used my back to do it…. That was it, I was done. It ended up working out okay.
Musgrove: Well, on Peter Frampton, I will let you drop the mic and walk away. Oliver Myers, you come here to campus in 1988 for interview weekend. Tell us what you expected, and then how that matched up with what you actually encountered.
Oliver Myers: First, when I heard “Freeman Hrabowski,” I’m thinking of an Eastern European gentleman. Okay, this is somebody that’s going to be working on advancing their career, but they want to bring in African Americans for STEM disciplines, so he’s trying to advance his career. Then, I arrive on campus, and this gentleman greets me at the door…. In my mind, I’m thinking of a very Caucasian gentleman, and all of a sudden here’s this African American, with the mustache, at that time, and he’s quoting Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou. I’m saying, “Wait a second. This can’t be Freeman Hrabowski.”
Musgrove: I know a lot of Meyerhoffs, particularly early Meyerhoffs, speak about this paralyzing fear that they had of letting [Freeman] down. I would love it if you could talk about the study culture that you all bring to campus as a product of that fear.
Myers: We had a study culture such that even during our summer bridge programs, and even during picnics, we had our backpacks and we were studying. We had a hamburger in one hand and a pencil in the other, actually doing math problems on a picnic table. Doing chemistry and physics problems on a picnic table. We would get mad at each other when a drop of ketchup or mustard would fall on the paper because we had been working on this problem that traditionally by a professor’s standards only takes two lines, but it took us five sheets of paper. Then we had to go back and figure out what we had done. Friday night, it was not uncommon to see us studying in the lobby. Thursday night, everybody was watching The Cosby Show and A Different World, and that was our study break, then we would go right back to studying….
Musgrove: A lot more boring than the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s.
Myers: We were nerds, what can we say, you saw the pictures of our glasses. They were about this big on our faces.
Musgrove: I should actually apologize to you for this. I remember walking into Susquehanna on Friday nights and going past the common rooms and seeing you and some of the other Meyerhoffs in there and saying, “Nerds.”
Myers: Nerds get paid.
Musgrove: I do not believe my eyes, but we are on time, which means we have time for a couple of audience questions.
Beth Wells: My name is Beth Wells, class of ’74, so I lived in Dorm 1. I just want to tell you all one thing about that counter-cultural culture that was the nude run. Do you remember it? Picture this happening today. Bunch of guys, I don’t know, ten, twenty guys who lived in the residence halls wrapped in towels only, and maybe tennis shoes, would line up on the deck of Dorm 1 and, at the given signal, would run what there was of the loop, having dropped the towels at the bottom of the stairs. The campus police would give way, making sure none of them got hit. The really big scandal was the year that a woman decided she was going on the nude run, too. Watch An Unofficial, Totally Tongue in Cheek, Slightly Zany History of Campus Culture at UMBC in full at 50.umbc.edu/weekendroundup.