Power Speaks Back

From Boyd to Pafford:

Physics professor James E. Boyd served as president of West Georgia from 1961 to 1971. During his presidency, the student body grew from around 1,000 to over 5,000, the school constructed nineteen new buildings, and several departments began offering Master’s degrees. When Boyd became vice chancellor of the university system, the administration replaced him with Ward B. Pafford, an administrator from Valdosta State University chosen as a response to the university’s spate of bad press after local drug busts and association with “occult studies” in the humanistic psychology department. 

President James E. Boyd. Courtesy UWG Special Collections

 Pafford was a poet, scholar of Romantic literature, and a conservative Methodist hired in response to West Georgia’s enrollment decline and perceived disciplinary problems. In one of his earliest public statements, he announced, “We are gonna get rid of all the punks and bums on campus,” immediately creating an antagonistic relationship with some of the student body. He made expulsions a common occurrence, resisted student initiatives, and created strict restrictions on the tenure process for faculty. At the same time, he answered every letter he received from parents and restored a positive relationship with the Carrollton community. He left the college in 1974. His successor, longterm president Maurice K. Townsend, pursued more open policies and a personal tone in his relationship with students.

Ward Pafford at his presidential inauguration. Courtesy UWG Special Collections

Response to counterculture:

The college first included drugs in its handbook in 1968, warning students that the college would discipline anyone engaged with illegal drugs.

They continued to include this statement for several years, but by 1971 concern had escalated enough to include a two-page statement on drugs, drug abuse, the marijuana legalization debate, and the college’s inability to protect anyone who broke the law. As the Vietnam War drew to a close and West Georgia entered the mid-Seventies, drug paranoia eased. In 1972, the year West Georgia began allowing alcohol in private rooms, and the handbook simply said the school would follow Georgia’s drug laws.

The school was equally concerned with student protests. These had started relatively small, like the 1968 “lie-in” on the lawn next to Maple Street when fifty students protested a ban on lounging there. At that protest, the Dean passed out Coca-Cola and had the college band play, turning the event into an innocuous party. However, demonstrations continued in protest of campus regulations, the draft, and more. In 1970, the handbook first included a Board of Regents’ Statement on Disruptive and Obstructive Behavior, strongly condemning protests that interfered with university operations.

The school went through several cultural trends in the early 1970s, including the streaking craze of 1974, in which nude students ran through the campus and past businesses in town, often drawing large crowds. The incidents drew complaints from Carrollton residents and West Georgia alumni who wanted strong punishments for the students, including one letter expressing a “fear that we shall have to share in the punishment from the Creator of our universe because of such incidents.” The craze was short-lived.

Protests only escalated, although not all were designed to disrupt the school. In 1971, more than 300 students demonstrated at the Carrollton city jail after the “Carrollton 22” drug bust. Love Valley saw a counter-inauguration during Pafford’s inauguration, as well as numerous fundraising and awareness concerts. Protests against the Vietnam War usually happened around the University Community Center (UCC), and students also traveled to Atlanta or as far as Washington, D.C. for larger anti-war demonstrations. In 1972, the handbook expanded its statement to several pages on the need for an orderly campus, making students and faculty subject to dismissal if they interfered with operations. The handbook continued to condemn disruptive protests throughout the Seventies.

Student Discipline:

President Pafford’s hardline stance against students was most famously shown in the “rocking chair incident” of 1973. Two students, Eve Pearson (20) and Cathy Hess (19), stole a rocking chair worth five dollars from an “abandoned” house outside Carrollton. The owner’s son called the police, and the two were convicted of first-degree theft with one year in prison. President Pafford strongly supported the verdict, saying “These people don’t belong to the college. They may have at one time, but they don’t now.” Hess was able to file an appeal, but Pearson chose to serve her sentence as a protest and successfully drew national attention to the case. Professors, parents, Governor Jimmy Carter, and reporters all wrote to oppose the result, and thirty-three unjustly-sentenced inmates (including Eve) were released in 1974. Students then elected her President of the Student Government in open support of students and defiance toward Pafford and the administration. 

The Sheriff comforted Eve Pearson after her hearing. Courtesy UWG Special Collections

West Georgia Faculty:

The Sixties and Seventies were a contentious time for faculty as well as students, with national debates about whether or not professors should be politically neutral. Like the student body, most of West Georgia’s faculty were not politically active. Some, like Leonard H. Carter of the history department, drew fire simply for teaching about Mao Zedong and communism. President Boyd defended him, noting, “We believe that ‘knowledge is power.’ We can’t defend America and our way of life by ‘sticking our heads in the sand.’” Both Boyd and Dr. Robert Claxton, who supported the alternative student papers, were members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Carrollton. This group engaged with anti-war activism and Georgia legislation concerning issues like abortion and segregation, and supported students like those arrested in the Rocking Chair Incident and the Carrollton 22 drug raid.  

Activist students had mixed feelings about the American Civil Liberties Union of Carroll County. The Paper, March 31, 1971.

West Georgia also had a chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which was founded 1961 and mostly concerned itself with scholarships and faculty procedural issues. In 1966, they participated in a case changing a Cold War-era professors’ loyalty oath to “swear that they will uphold the Constitutions of the United States and of Georgia, and that they are not now members of the Communist Party,” removing stronger language and questions about more distant Communist connections. The AAUP supported students’ expression but publicly condemned disruptive protests, and struggled to deal with “militant” students. The organization worried about faculty cutbacks in response to low enrollment after the school’s bad press.

The Psychology Department:

In the Seventies, West Georgia College was known as “Left Georgia College” and “the most liberal school in the state” in part because of its new humanistic psychology department — a field of psychology focusing on lived experience and that draws from eastern and western philosophy and science. West Georgia was one of very few schools in the region offering humanistic psychology, drawing students and faculty to the program from around the country. Local psychology students saw it as “not just an imitation,” but a contender in the field. However, those outside the department and in the community saw the department as offering “occult studies,” particularly with a faculty known as experimental and, to some, radical. Reflecting on the department’s connection to the counterculture at West Georgia, former chair Mike Arons wrote, “The Psychology program was receptive to cultural trends that liberated the farther reaches of human existence because they connected with the program’s own deep appreciation of a holistic understanding of human experience.”