The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Former Macalester president JBD reminisces in JBD

By Jonas Buck

Several dozen people filed into the John B. Davis lecture hall on Monday to hear former Macalester president Dr. John B. Davis and four former students speak about their time at Macalester.Davis spoke humorously as he reflected on the many hardships Macalester faced during the 70s. He described the air of uncertainty surrounding his entry into the school; just weeks before he assumed his role as president, a group of students had taken over the main administrative building for twelve days in protest of the Vietnam War.

One panelist, Brett Gemlo ’78 reminisced about the takeover. Upon arriving on campus for his first day of classes he noticed a large group of people in the street holding signs. At first he thought it was a welcome party for incoming freshmen.

At the event, Davis thanked the students involved for taking good care of the building and “leaving it as they had found it.”

Davis also faced challenges with the school’s finances. When Davis came into his post as president, the budget was circling the drain. Faculty and administration wrote personal checks to the college to keep it afloat, Davis said.

“There was evidence that we were not good managers,” Davis said in reference to his predecessors.

Soon after the beginning of Davis’ term, he met with widely-renowned academic DeWitt Wallace, who had attended the school from 1907 to 1909. Wallace offered Macalester an incentive of $200,000 if it could balance the budget. Davis managed to do just that.

“John restored our institutional self-confidence,” said former Vice President for Finance Paul Aslanian.

Aslanian said Davis’ work is responsible for the school’s current endowment, which has helped build its reputation as one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges.

Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre called Davis “the man who saved Macalester,” or, in more figurative terms, “the Houdini of Macalester.”

Davis, in turn, directed his admiration and gratitude toward Wallace, whose extensive contributions to the school resulted in the library being named after him.

Davis was also responsible for relocating the library. He wanted it more centralized and accessible to students, referring to it as “the great resource for learning.”

He also recounted the difficulties facing the football team during his time as president. The team was almost cut in light of the financial situation, but Davis stood firm in keeping the team because most other prestigious colleges and universities had one.

“They played football, so why couldn’t we?” Davis said. “So we braved it out and finally got a victory.”

Some Macalester students did not rejoice in the team’s salvation, or its victory. After this particular game, Davis remembered, some chanted, “Grab the Bible, kiss the cross, an athletic victory is an academic loss.”

Panelist Howard Sinker ’78, now a visiting professor, recounted an incident from his own time at Macalester. On Hawaiian dining night, a live pig was going to be butchered and fed to the students. Before the pig was killed, however, two masked robbers ran through the dining area and escaped with the pig in hand.

The dead pig was publically displayed by the thieves several times over the next week. Pictures and a ransom note were published in The Mac Weekly.

Davis also expressed his love for the city of St. Paul. Davis served as Superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools before he came to Macalester, and remembered that crossing into St. Paul from Minneapolis was like “saying hello to God.”

As he crossed the river on his way home every day, he said, he would wave farewell to God and say, ‘I’m going to Minneapolis.’

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