Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Walter D. Huddleston, July 7, 2004

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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O'HARA: This is an unrehearsed interview with Walter D. Huddleston at his home in Elizabethtown, Kentucky conducted by Adina O'Hara on July 7, 2004. Senator Huddleston

HUDDLESTON: Yes.

O'HARA: In the 1962 Legislative Session, a community college bill was passed authorizing the UK Board of Trustees to establish a system of community colleges in Kentucky. What was your role in the creation of this system of public two-year colleges in Kentucky?

HUDDLESTON: Well, I joined in with, uh, many Elizabethtown residents in promoting a college idea for Elizabethtown. This was inaugurated by- -(clears throat)--Jim Collier of Elizabethtown, and, uh, I must say it 00:01:00met with a great deal of skepticism at first. Many people here even, uh, wondered whether Elizabethtown, uh, could get a college because there were other colleges not too far away but, uh, Jim Collier did such a great job of putting together facts and figures and, uh, selling the local community first on the idea, uh, that a good many joined in here. He also went to, uh, neighboring ci-, uh, cities and, uh, gave the same, uh, speech, the same information, and, uh, pretty soon we had a pretty good little movement going for a college in Elizabethtown. And, of course, the next, uh, step was to, uh, go to the General Assembly and convince the General Assembly and the Governor; the Governor being prime in the, in the case, and, uh, perhaps it could 00:02:00happen. So, we developed some sense of optimism and went to work.

O'HARA: And what year was this?

HUDDLESTON: This must have been, well, certainly before 1962. Uh, I would say at least two years prior to that. I'm not certain about the dates, but I know that, uh, Governor Combs was in office, uh, when we made our presentation there, and, uh, uh, he was receptive. Uh, we still were--(coughs)--very apprehensive whether the legislature would be interested in c-, in, uh, establishing a college in, in Elizabethtown. But, uh, I think Governor Combs and his, uh, uh, his staff worked out the, the final solution and the best solution. My friend, Wendell Ford, was an assistant to Governor Combs, and I had the opportunity to work with him very closely and, and, uh, be certain that 00:03:00our message was carried directly, uh, to the Governor, as it was, and, uh, Governor Combs being, uh, uh, of course, educationally inclined to begin with, and being a, a supreme politician, recognized that, uh, giving one town a college, uh, uh, would cause an avalanche, probably, of other cou-, uh, towns and counties wanting a college and so he developed the idea of establishing several at the same time, community colleges, including, of course, uh, Prestonsburg, his home town. And that, of course, made it much more palatable to the General Assembly because a lot more members had a direct interest in, uh, in passing it. And so, it was successful and, uh, we got the college.

O'HARA: Do you know if, um, Governor Combs had this idea already in mind 00:04:00be-, when he was campaigning, before he actually became Governor?

HUDDLESTON: No, I don't know. I know that, uh, that he was interested in doing something relating to higher education and whether it was a specific plan of this nature, I don't know. I like to think that we sort of originated it here in, uh, in Elizabethtown and, uh, while we were not thinking statewide, as it turned out to be, we, we, I think we planted the seed and, uh, made it, uh, possible for other communities to also get, uh, into the act.

O'HARA: While we know the outcomes of those talks about creating a community college system, we do not know how this agreement was reached, um, because you were a proponent of the, of having a state college in Elizabethtown in the ni-, in the early 1960s, um, can you 00:05:00explain how the recommendation for a statewide system of community colleges was discussed in Elizabethtown?

HUDDLESTON: Well--(clears throat)--I don't think those of us in Elizabethtown, in the beginning, even thought about a, a statewide system. We were thinking strictly of Elizabethtown and our presentations to the Governor and to the General Assembly related to Elizabethtown. I don't know, as you, as I've said, what Governor Combs' ideas were prior to that relating to higher education. I feel certain that he had something in mind, and I think maybe that he saw this effort and realizing that, uh, it would be very difficult to get one college passed, 'cause you only have a few legislators who would be interested in a college in Elizabethtown. It would be much easier 00:06:00to get, uh, get a program passed through the, through the General Assembly if other communities were involved, which would bring in other legislators who would be strong supporters. And, uh, uh, I think that was consistent maybe with his idea to begin with that he, his, he was not going to pick out one community in favor, he, whatever he did for higher education; he would try to do it on something like a statewide basis. So I'm not certain how the mechanics of it, uh, developed within the Office of the Governor and his advisors. I just know I went to Frankfort, uh, and they were still pushing for our own college and, uh, the first I had heard of the idea of a statewide was when Wendall Ford came out of the Governor's Office and told me that we were going to get our college, but then he explained to me so were a number of other communities; that they were going to make it a statewide system 00:07:00of community colleges. We'd started out, I believe, seeking a four- year college, and, uh, here, and it turned out to be a two-year, uh, community college but certainly we were very happy with that. And I think it was a stroke of genius on the part of the Governor because, uh, it, uh, it satisfied our needs to a great extent and, uh, extended education to many, many young people that might not otherwise have had college-type of training.

O'HARA: Knowing, as we do, what happened and how it happened, we need to consider why it happened. Would you recount the reasons why the UK Board of Trustees was chosen as the governing authority over a new system of public two-year colleges?

HUDDLESTON: I think, of course, I was, uh, that was a decision in the Governor's Office and, uh, and I think probably because in thinking 00:08:00of the administration rather than creating a new entity, it would utilize, uh, one already in existence, number one, and secondly, being associated with the University of Kentucky gave a lot of prestige to the smaller colleges, to the community colleges, uh, because, uh, uh, being from the Elizabethtown Community College graduate rather than from a, a part of the University of Kentucky, I felt would mean a lot more to students. And, uh, so I think maybe that entered into it.

O'HARA: Was there an economic issue with getting enough funding and appropriations for building possibly an independent board?

HUDDLESTON: Sure. There's always an issue--(laughs)--you know, when public funds are being spent and, uh, it took, I think, a good deal of effort by the Governor to convince, uh, uh, the General Assembly to, 00:09:00to dedicate that much money. But, uh, I think that's, there again, by spreading it out, uh, it made it a lot more feasible, a lot more palatable than it would have been if we had stuck with just the one college.

O'HARA: Governor Combs created a commission called the Commission on the Study of Public Higher Education in 1960, and, um, it was made up of five lay persons from across Kentucky as well as Council on Post- Secondary Education did play a role in it, and, um, there were five out-of-state consultants brought in from the South:

HUDDLESTON: Um-hm.

O'HARA: Mississippi, um, the Provost from the University of Mississippi, 00:10:00several members of the Southern Regional Education Board, um, a gentleman from, from Florida.

HUDDLESTON: Hmm.

O'HARA: I think he was both from North Carolina and Tennessee, and in the course of about a year, they made a study of, of, not just community colleges, but all of higher education to figure out, I think the purpose was to determine where the, there was need for additional facilities or additional colleges. And, um, the report to the Governor in November of 196, um, recommended that, two things: that a super board be created for all of higher education and a independent community college board be established. And, there was opposition, um, at least in the newspapers, from some of the regional--

00:11:00

HUDDLESTON: Um-hm.

O'HARA: --institutions, um, but it, it was just shortly thereafter that, that, uh, of course, Governor Combs proposed to the General Assembly--

HUDDLESTON: Right.

O'HARA: --his plan for the University of Kentucky. Can you enlighten me on what may have possibly happened?

HUDDLESTON: I, uh, I do recall that, uh, the regional colleges, they were, I guess, still colleges at that time instead of being universities, uh, did have concern and were, uh, concerned, number one, about the, uh, number of new institutions, which they felt would take away from their student base, and, number two, putting it, uh, in the hands of the University of Kentucky, 'cause there's always been a little contention between the regional universities and the University of Kentucky. And so, I know that was a problem that the Go-, that the Governor had to work out, and I'm not sure exactly how he did it 00:12:00except that he just simply got enough members of the General Assembly- -(laughs)--to see it his way. And, uh, that's the way it happened. We had, uh, I remember there were efforts by a couple of the other, uh, regional colleges, uh, to establish a, uh, sort of a community system of their own. Western proposed to put in a school up in Louisville. They proposed to buy a, a school that was established in Jefferson County by the Hightower family. It finally has been taken over by the University of Louisville. But, Western attempted to move in there and take that over as a branch of Western Kentucky University. So things like that, uh, were happening, and I think the, uh, community co-, I mean the we-, the other colleges, the other state colleges, sort of banded together a little bit to, uh, didn't offer real out-and-out opposition for the 00:13:00idea, but they did express concerns about it, and probably got some concessions. It might be the reason that they were all changed into universities. I don't know that, but that's certainly possible.

O'HARA: In oral history interviews, after asking a person why a decision was made, we often ask next why a different result did not occur. During the discussions did you at any time expect a different result here in Elizabethtown or statewide?

HUDDLESTON: Well I don't know whether I'd call it an expectation, but I think we were certainly, uh, steeled to the idea we may get nothing. Uh, we, uh, we knew it was an uphill fight. Uh, Jim Collier was so optimistic but, uh, that, uh, didn't spill over to everybody. They thought "Well, it's worth giving it a try but, uh, our chances can't be 00:14:00very high." Uh, so our expectations along that line were, were hopeful, but certainly not confident, and, uh, no, we, I did not, uh, anticipate that the whole--(clears throat)--program would be changed from an independent college here to a community college. That, uh, that didn't come available to me until late in the process, till the Governor had already made up his mind.

O'HARA: The decision to place the community college's system under the state's flagship and land grant university is considered unique across the nation. Some states developed independent community college boards, um, such as you'd see in Florida at the, in the sixties, um, or an independent community and technical college board, which North 00:15:00Carolina was in the process of merging two boards together.

HUDDLESTON: North Carolina was kind of a leader, weren't they, in the community college system? I remember referring to them while we were debating that kind of stuff.

O'HARA: Well, other states such as Indiana for example, chose to, not to develop two-year college systems. They developed university systems of four-year branches.

HUDDLESTON: (clears throat) But related to the U-, the Indiana University, didn't they?

O'HARA: Yes.

HUDDLESTON: And still are. They still are.

O'HARA: They were just like the four-year--(Huddleston clears throat)-- like a four-year branch--

HUDDLESTON: Sure.

O'HARA: --campus system. And you'll find that, um, or I've found that in several states. I mean it's, it's not an uncommon thing.

HUDDLESTON: Um-hm.

O'HARA: Um, what are alternative models that you know of were initially considered for the government structure of public two-year institutions in Kentucky? Like, did they ever consider having four-year branches of 00:16:00the University of Kentucky, or--

HUDDLESTON: Uh, not to my knowledge. Uh, I went into the General Assembly myself in '65, actually '66 Session, and, uh, and I don't recall then, uh, considering changing the system as it has been changed now. It was set under the University of Kentucky, and, and we felt everybody was pretty satisfied with that. Many of the students that I talked to about it certainly were. They appreciated the idea of being under the rim of the University of Kentucky. So I don't know whether the models were considered. Uh, of course, it's been fairly recently, they, that they took it out from under the University of Kentucky and set up a separate, uh, governing body. But I think maybe something 00:17:00that, uh, that led to that decision was the fact that we were also, uh, developing the technical colleges, technical schools, and uh, they thought maybe the technical part didn't belong under the University of Kentucky, the other did, so we put the two together--(O'Hara laughs)- -technical and community colleges. And, uh, and I, uh, I, I don't have any knowledge on how it's working. I know that a lot of the old schools still would like to see it under the University of Kentucky.

O'HARA: Critics have attacked the UK Community College System, um, since its conception. What were the benefits and the drawbacks of having one government structure for the state's flagship research university--

HUDDLESTON: Yeah.

O'HARA: --and a community college system?

HUDDLESTON: Well, I, I think one of the benefits, uh, was that, uh, 00:18:00it was almost kind of a feeder system for the University of Kentucky, and this is what the regional colleges were afraid of, because it was natural for a youngster, I believe, who graduated from a community college under the auspices of the University of Kentucky, if they were to, wanted to continue their education, that they would go to the main campus in Lexington. And, uh, I have no figures or anything to indicate, uh, what, uh, what the numbers were, but it would be my guess, a good many of them did just that. But they may not have. They may have gone to one of the other colleges that were closer to home or whatever. So, I, I don't know if anybody has developed figures on that, but it would be interesting to know. And, uh, I don't know what, uh, what drawbacks would be unless, uh, unless some might complain that 00:19:00the University of Kentucky was getting too much of the control over the higher education, uh, system of the state, uh, but, as far as I know, and as far as I was concerned, when I was interested in working in it, was that the, the system was right the way it was set up the first time.

O'HARA: Both economic and political factors played a key role in the decision to initially grant the University of Kentucky authority over the community colleges--

HUDDLESTON: I would think so. Yes.

O'HARA: --how did the debate over governance over Kentucky's community colleges change over time?

HUDDLESTON: Well, I'm not too certain about that, but during the seven years I was in the General Assembly, I don't think we had any major decisions relating to, to the relationship between UK and the, and the o-, the community colleges. So, I think there was always that 00:20:00underlying concern by some and this might have been from the influence of the other commu-, other, uh, colleges, regional colleges in the state. I'm not sure of that, but, uh, uh, I think there was always a little, little concern, maybe when the University of Louisville came into the system their being a big university. Maybe they felt they should be more involved and have more. So, so I really don't know how that developed. I was surprised when Governor Patton, uh, accepted the idea of, uh, separating the community colleges from the University of Kentucky.

O'HARA: Are there any questions I have not asked that you wish I had?

HUDDLESTON: Well, I can't think of any. You're a pretty thorough gal. (laughs)

O'HARA: Well, it's been a pleasure speaking with you Senator Huddleston.

00:21:00

HUDDLESTON: Thank you very much.

O'HARA: Thank you.

[End of interview.]