Earle McNeil Oral History Interview


Earle McNeil Oral History Interview
22 April 2022
29 April 2022
Earle McNeil
Susan Fiksdal
extracted text
Earle McNeil
Interviewed by Susan Fiksdal
The Evergreen State College oral history project
April 22, 2022
Fiksdal: This is Susan Fiksdal. I’m here with Earle McNeil on Friday, April 22, 2022. We’re here to get an
oral history from Earle, who was here in the early years of Evergreen. The very first year, as a matter of
fact. Earle, I’d like to start with your childhood, and understand a little bit about where you come from,
who your parents were, and where you went to college.
McNeil: I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My parents were in graduate school at the University of
Michigan at the time. When World War II started, my dad was in the Navy, and so we moved to Virginia
and lived on the naval base for a couple years, and then back and Dad finished his PhD.
When I was four years old, they moved to Pullman to WSU with my dad being a professor of
zoology. I lived in Pullman essentially my whole life until I moved over here to the West Coast; from the
time I was four years old until I was 24.
Fiksdal: Your mother was also a teacher?
McNeil: My mom was a research person in home ec. She was a research biologist. Of course, in the
early years, she spent most of her time raising us three kids, but she did go back and do a lot of research
after we got a little more independent.
Fiksdal: Were you the oldest?
McNeil: Yeah. I’ve got a brother and sister, but I’m the oldest of the three. It took her a few years
before she went back.
Fiksdal: I’m guessing that because you grew up in a family where your parents had gone to graduate
school that that was a foregone conclusion for you [to go to graduate school also—sf].
McNeil: Yeah, not only that, but we were in a small town with a big college.
Fiksdal: That’s right.
McNeil: Two-thirds of the population of Pullman were college people, either professors or support
staff, so my entire environment growing up mostly was faculty and some staff members that were in
and out of our house the whole time, so being in a faculty environment to me was nothing unusual. In
fact, being a faculty member to me was nothing more than just being another person.
Fiksdal: That’s very interesting.

McNeil: Which was always an issue for me when I came to Evergreen because I kept treating the
administration just as people.
Fiksdal: No, I think that was probably a good thing, Earle. [laughter] Tell me a little bit about how you
happened to choose your field, psychology?
McNeil: Starting back a little bit, I was a real science nerd through high school—though my dad was a
zoologist –I’m not quite sure why, but things like astronomy and physics and chemistry were my real joy.
So, I ended up with a physical science degree as an undergraduate.
Fiksdal: Was that at WSU?
McNeil: At WSU. I started out as one of the kids that the Home Ec Department kind of played with
when I was in nursery school and my mom was working at the Home Ec Department, so I was at WSU,
one way or another, from the time I was four or five years old and all the way up to graduate school.
I discovered, as I was getting toward the end of my undergraduate degree, that I just didn’t have
the mathematical abilities that were necessary for physics, for example, and I got tired of breaking
glassware in chemistry, so I decided maybe the sciences weren’t my thing. It turned out that as an
undergraduate, I was also taking a whole lot of social science classes. I found I was very, very good in
psychology and sociology. I just figured they were easy.
Anyway, it worked out really well. I was a research assistant on a grant for the Department of
Sociology doing research on delinquent gangs in Chicago.
Fiksdal: Was this graduate school?
McNeil: This was graduate school at WSU. The professor who had collected all the data had collected it
from middle-class kids and lower-class gang kids in Chicago, so he had all this collected data. I was one
of the graduate students who was hired to do an analysis of that data for my master’s degree.
But during that same period, I happened upon one of the other sociology faculty members, who
had gotten a whole lot of research on Alcoholics Anonymous members from the Seattle area. There
were maybe 100 questionnaires, very extensive questionnaires. The graduate students who had done
that work dropped out or something, I don’t know, but here was all this stuff that was already done, so I
decided to take that on and do that for my master’s thesis. We did analysis of the success or failure of
Alcoholics Anonymous. That was really the focus for me, all the way through till I got done at Evergreen.
My real specialty is in addictions and recovery.
But I really wanted to focus on social psychology, not just sociology, because the teaching of it
was so intertwined.
Fiksdal: Was that a field at the time?

McNeil: Not formally. What I had to do is, as a graduate student, I was majoring in both psychology and
sociology. My degree as an undergraduate was in physical sciences, but my master’s was in sociology.
But I was already taking the psych courses because this grant that I was part of was an accelerated PhD
program. You could get your master’s degree in one year and a PhD in two years.
Fiksdal: Wow.
McNeil: Which was really quite a fabulous prospect. I already decided, at the end of the first year when
I got my master’s in sociology, that I really wanted my PhD in psychology. I had taken all of the
coursework in psychology and all I had to do was do a dissertation. But I’d been going to school for six
years solid, including summer school, at that point. And second year sociology graduate students also
taught the intro sociology courses. I just burned out. I just couldn’t take it. I took a leave of absence
from WSU—essentially six months short of a year—for doing my PhD.
I applied for a job and got a job at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma in sociology. I was
there for four years teaching sociology. Also, I took a sabbatical leave. I had a choice to either go back
and finish my PhD—which probably would have been in sociology at that point, even though I did all the
coursework for both of these departments—or I could do a sabbatical grant. I just decided I wasn’t up
to going back to school that way. So, I did the research on middle-class students and delinquency as a
sabbatical leave, and then presented the paper on that when I got done.
I was there for four years in Tacoma. At that point, the University of Puget Sound had a policy
that for all those young people, they would not give us tenure. They kept us for as long as they could,
and then they’d get rid of us.
Fiksdal: For heaven’s sakes.
McNeil: I had to make a decision at that point, am I going to go back to graduate school—because I was
still on a leave of absence from WSU—or am I going to look for something else to do? It turned out that
the University of Oregon was doing a really good research project, again on delinquency, which I could
have done, but again, I just didn’t want to go back to school that way.
I ended up applying for a job as a caseworker for Public Assistance here in Olympia, and I got
that job.
Fiksdal: As a caseworker for Public Assistance?
McNeil: Right. I had families with dependent children as a caseload. That was the year prior to
Evergreen—it was the planning year—so I was here in Olympia already for the planning year. It sounds
like you were also.
Fiksdal: Yeah. Well, I’m from here.

McNeil: I didn’t realize that.
Fiksdal: Yeah.
Fiksdal: So, you heard about the college because you were right here in town.
McNeil: I heard about the college. I had planned to come to Evergreen, to try to get hired on to
Fiksdal: Oh, you did?
McNeil: During the period of time that I was at the University of Puget Sound. So ending up
mysteriously in Olympia anyway during that planning year, it was just natural for me to spend a lot of
time with the faculty and the administrators that were in trailers at that time.
Fiksdal: I did that, too, so you’d go out and visit and find out what they were thinking?
McNeil: It also turned out—again, these mysterious things that happened in my life timewise—that
Richard Jones—his wife’s parents are friends of my uncle’s family in Boston, so my aunt and uncle and
Suzi’s parents wanted Richard and me to get together, and here we were.
As you may remember, there were 7,000 people that applied to Evergreen in that first year.
Fiksdal: No, I didn’t know.
McNeil: The only way you got hired is if you had one of the faculty who was in the planning faculty to
be your sponsor. Richard agreed to do that for me, so Richard watched me come through the process.
Richard and I actually worked together downtown in one of the youth drop-in centers. We were
counselors down there at that time.
Fiksdal: Oh, so he was already in town also.
McNeil: He was on the planning faculty.
Fiksdal: I know he was on the planning faculty, yeah. That way, you met a lot of people.
McNeil: Yeah, and that’s how I got in. But there’s one more piece to this. I got down to the final 50 or
so that were to be hired—I don’t know how many were actually hired that first year—20, maybe—but
there were two of us that had essentially identical backgrounds, Carol Olexa and me. If you remember,
there were no women in the planning faculty.
Fiksdal: That’s right. I know that very well.
McNeil: So, they had to make a choice and I had to make a choice. I pride myself at saying, “Carol
needs to have this job. I’ve got other options of what I can do.” Carol got hired, but—another one of
these mysterious things—Mary Ellen Hillaire, who was also a sociologist, got a job in Washington, D.C.
with whoever the administration was, I guess the Reagan administration at that time. [It was the Nixon

So, all of a sudden, just before school started—just at the start of summer, actually, they did
planning [when they] went out to Pack Forest—there was a hole in sociology. I was sitting right here in
Olympia, and I’d gone through all the interviews, had done the whole thing. So, I got a call one day and
they said, “C’mon in. You’re hired.”
Fiksdal: For heaven’s sakes.
McNeil: After I’d already said I’m not going to get hired.
Fiksdal: Mary Hillaire must have taken a leave?
McNeil: She took a leave for two years.
Fiksdal: Oh, I didn’t know that. From my perspective, I thought she was always there. It’s interesting,
isn’t it?
McNeil: That’s how I got the job.
Fiksdal: My assumption is you didn’t teach together with Carol Olexa. Or did you?
McNeil: Actually, we did. We taught together the first year. It was a seven-person program.
Fiksdal: What was that program?
McNeil: It was called Individual in American Society. Willi Unsoeld was coordinator. Le Roi Smith, Bill
Aldridge, Carol, Peggy Dickinson, Pete Sinclair, me. There were seven of us. As you know, that first year,
we couldn’t start on campus, so that program with 120 students went off to the North Cascade
Wilderness to break trail for the Forest Service and live in tents out in the wilderness.
Fiksdal: One of the things I’m interested in knowing—I’ve interviewed Charlie Teske, but, as you know,
he was a dean—so how did you choose that area? Did you have to dream it up and figure out where
you were all going to go, or did someone give you a hand?
McNeil: Actually, that wasn’t my first-choice program. My first-choice program was to be in one that
was called Science and Art or something like that that Byron was the coordinator for. Because I have a
very strong science background, a very strong science interest, and at the time, it looked like the
multiplicity of my background would be a real hit for that program.
But all of a sudden, for reasons I can’t remember right now, I got switched over. I think it was
Willi that probably said he wanted me to be in his program, so I ended up in the program with him. I
don’t know how the original planning for that went.
Fiksdal: Oh, as he was the coordinator, maybe he—because he liked mountains. You were building
McNeil: This is funny. We’re going up there with people like Le Roi, who had never been out of
Chicago, never been in the wilderness in his life, and Willi, who, of course, was total wilderness.

Fiksdal: Lived there in the wilderness.
McNeil: We knew we were going to have a lot of students who’d never been out in the wilderness and
didn’t have equipment. Willi says, “Look, we’ll just run up to Camp Muir on Mount Rainier and pick up
the sleeping bags and stuff.” I said, “Willi, you can run up Mount Rainier. I’m not going to run up Mt.
Fiksdal: No. Who’s able to do that?
McNeil: I’m not sure how we ended up with all the equipment, but Willi made arrangements to get a
huge Army tent and enough small other kinds of equipment that we did all our own cooking and we
cleared trails for the Forest Service, and planted trees. Planted a lot of trees.
Fiksdal: How long did you do that?
McNeil: It was for two weeks.
Fiksdal: Wow, what an introduction. You retained LeRoi.
McNeil: That was Individual in American Society. We started out being out of society, and at the end of
the program, we went the other way where everybody had to do some 20-student project that was an
investigation really deeply internally in some social situation.
In my case, I took students and we hitchhiked to San Francisco and lived for a week in the
Fiksdal: You hitchhiked with your students down to San Francisco? [laughing] That’s really funny.
McNeil: Yeah. We had to get parental permission. We got the permission from the Attorney General’s
Fiksdal: To hitchhike?
McNeil: We went in pairs. You couldn’t hitchhike in Washington, so they dumped us off on the freeway
outside of Portland in pairs. Then we had to meet up. Not quite as random as it sounds because since I
knew we were going to do this, I took my family to San Francisco three weeks earlier and did some real
reconnoitering of how we would go about dealing with things and where we would meet up. It all
worked out quite nicely. We lived in the Tenderloin. We ate at the soup kitchens, and we did work for a
couple of churches, volunteer work.
Fiksdal: It sounds fabulous.
McNeil: Then we hitchhiked home.
Fiksdal: Then when you back to Evergreen, did everyone report out?
McNeil: Yeah, everybody reported back on what their experience had been.
Fiksdal: How was your retention of students? Do you remember at all?

McNeil: For the next year?
Fiksdal: For that whole—because it was a year-long program.
McNeil: It was a year-long program.
Fiksdal: It started rather oddly.
McNeil: Yeah, we started with 120 students. I don’t have a memory of losing enough students that it
counted. We still had most of the students. It was a pretty exciting program.
Fiksdal: You didn’t have a lot of time to plan it. Right?
McNeil: I’d gone to Pack Forest with the people who were doing the planning there. Willi had an
apartment over on the east side of Olympia. We’d meet in his apartment quite frequently during the
summer. That’s probably as much time as we normally had. Normally, for putting a program together,
you don’t get together until spring quarter anyway.
Fiksdal: Exactly.
McNeil: You may be talking to a couple people ahead of time.
Fiksdal: I know all that sounds like plenty of time, Earle, but you were all brand new to the college.
McNeil: Yeah, we survived by the seat of our pants and nobody cared.
Fiksdal: That’s right. I wanted to hear a little more about that. People who had been planning were not
agreeing on very much, and there were lots of different personalities.
McNeil: You don’t argue with Willi, for one thing. He had an extremely strong personality but an
extremely kind, gentle man who knows how to manipulate everybody to the nth degree. [laughing] I
don’t remember ever having any conflicts at any time within the nature of that program.
Fiksdal: That’s great.
McNeil: I remember it being a program that went along quite smoothly.
Fiksdal: He was the only one that had been on the planning faculty. Right?
McNeil: Bill Aldridge also.
Fiksdal: So, you had all these newly hired people, but ready to go because they were there because
they wanted to be, of course. I understand that. Both of us know that there were programs that just
fell apart.
McNeil: I truly do not remember a single conflict situation that we ever experienced.
Fiksdal: Wow, that’s so fabulous.
McNeil: We were given so much freedom to do what we wanted to do, individually and collectively.
We spent enough time talking about it. We had our book seminars together. We spent a lot of time
being in one another’s homes and apartments talking with one another.

Fiksdal: You were married. Did you have any children at the time?
McNeil: We had three children.
Fiksdal: Three already? Wow. That’s a lot going on.
McNeil: Well, Sue had a lot going on. [laughter] One of the worst aspects of that—Sue would have to
give you the actual information because I’m fuzzy on it—the program faculty had to meet in Seattle for
some reason before we went up to the North Cascades.
Sue and the kids went with me initially to Seattle. I’m not quite sure why. But our daughter was
really, really sick and had a very high temperature, and it was a very, very tough situation for Sue then to
have to come back and have to deal with a really sick child. And I was going to be gone for two weeks.
Fiksdal: Exactly, and you had to be.
McNeil: And not knowing what was going to happen. Completely out of touch. There weren’t any cell
phones back then.
Fiksdal: No. It makes you wonder how we managed, doesn’t it? It’s hard to remember all that. You
mentioned the trailers—and I remember that, too—as really muddy. Everybody was wearing flannel
shirts. There you are. [laughing] Earle just spread his arms because he’s wearing a flannel shirt. Earle,
you’re so funny.
In that first year of the college is when they actually started making it ready so people could use
it. I remember coming out one day and there was suddenly a lawn. I just hadn’t come out all day. You
were here in Olympia, but you weren’t out there during the planning year. What was that like
experiencing a campus—
McNeil: I watched the school being built. I was only with the Department of Public Assistance for a
year. It was another mysterious thing in my life. I came to Olympia. I was working for Public Assistance,
but I wanted to be at Evergreen. I was still working for Public Assistance at the point where Carol got
the job, and I didn’t. But I couldn’t stand the job in Public Assistance. It’s not my personality. Working
with Families with Dependent Children, there’s really nothing you can do for people. They get the
money that they need. At that time—you’re talking 1971-72—there really weren’t any resources.
We’re talking almost exclusively single-parent families with women. They could go to community
college but there was nothing else that was available that they could be supported doing with the
amount of money that they had that was barely enough to survive.
So, you ended up being a policemen. There really wasn’t anything else you could do. Your job
was to go and see whether or not their house was in decent shape and the kids were not being
mistreated. That’s about all you could do. That just wasn’t something I wanted to do.

I went back up to Evergreen and I said to Charlie Teske, probably, and Merv—I probably talked
to three or four different people—and I said, “I can’t stay working for Public Assistance anymore, and I
don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t have a job here, but I’m willing to come and do whatever I can
for free just to do something. Other than that, I don’t know. I’ll move back to Tacoma or something and
find something else to do.”
That’s what I remember now. It was at that point that Charlie said to me, “Mary Ellen Hillaire
just gave notice she’s taking a leave, so we want you back in the system.”
Fiksdal: You happened to be right there.
McNeil: Right at that particular moment.
Fiksdal: Wow.
McNeil: I don’t know if it was the exact day or not.
Fiksdal: Plus, you had just offered to work for free. [laughter] Good thing that they actually did hire
you. That’s really a coincidence.
McNeil: There were really a lot of pieces that came together.
Fiksdal: That’s really exciting. Good story. By then, they knew you quite well because you had been out
there talking to them, plus going through all the interview process. You were right there at the right
time. That’s wonderful.
McNeil: You were talking about showing up one day and there was lawn there. I remember when there
was nothing but a big hole in the ground where the library is. That whole area that’s on the parkway is a
big mound now with an ecological study site for years, but that’s all the tailings from the basement of
the library.
Fiksdal: I didn’t know that.
McNeil: To make that mound along the parkway. At that point, it was pristine clean. People who were
doing things in ecology-oriented stuff could look at that and watch what the plants and the animal
transitions were over the next 30, 40 years.
Fiksdal: I know that the whole area of the campus has been thoroughly studied. We’re lucky, because it
was a large chunk of land.
McNeil: What a lot of people don’t know is there used to be a couple of small streams that went
through where Red Square is. The way you know that the streams are still there even though technically
they were filled is you get these cracks in the brickwork that follow the old streambeds as they keep
Fiksdal: Now, I’ll have to go back out there. I’ve always seen those cracks.

McNeil: I’ve been there long enough to know how they’re filled.
Fiksdal: Very interesting. I didn’t know that.
McNeil: For years and years if you just look for a stream. i
Fiksdal: That’s a good story. What was Olympia like then? You were there already.
McNeil: Yeah, I was there in Olympia for a couple years before the school opened. It was a small town.
I don’t really remember much about Olympia. It was a small town. When I first moved to Olympia and I
was working for Public Assistance, we lived over by the military bases in a housing project over there.
For a short period of time, we were just renting. Then, when Evergreen opened, we moved to a house
where I could just walk from here. I had students to my home a whole lot for several years there, and
then of course here.
Fiksdal: Was that with potlucks?
McNeil: Yeah, potlucks and book seminars and things like that.
Fiksdal: Those were the good days when we used to do that a lot. When faculty got together, we would
do that, too.
SUE: Can I interrupt you?
Fiksdal: Of course. This is Sue, Earle’s wife, and she heard me asking about Olympia. She knew it better
because she was right here.
SUE: Right, with three young kids. Our youngest daughter is adopted, and she’s part black, so moving
to Olympia with a black daughter, we got many, many stares at grocery stores, and people really
standing back—not with their mouth open, but that’s the feeling you got. Some wanting to come over
and touch her and the whole bit.
Fiksdal: Oh, my gawd.
SUE: It was an experience that we had not expected.
McNeil: This was a very white town.
SUE: It was very white, and very conservative.
McNeil: Still is.
SUE: Again, our daughter even going through grade school and middle school, there were only three
black children in her class all the way through.
Fiksdal: I don’t know if you were here still at that time—in the ‘70s, they were still doing this—I did
grow up here and I didn’t know it until later on in life—there were for sale signs apparently that said “No
Negroes.” In my high school, there were none until I was a senior. There were no African American


people at all. The town was very conservative, and very white for a reason. [Real estate agents would
not sell to black people and some signs were explicit, I learned much later.-sf]
SUE: One of the young girls who was in Kerrie’s class was a Dolliver--their child had been adopted also
and they just happened to be the same age.
The other black girl, again, her mother had moved into Olympia, I think, for the State, and she
had married, but I think she was biracial. Those were the only ones going through on the west side.
Fiksdal: What an introduction for you.
SUE: We’ve learned a lot when we came to Evergreen.
Fiksdal: But you stayed, despite all of this.
SUE: Oh, yeah.
McNeil: Being in a first-year program was Le Roi, so at least it was a black faculty member with a black
child. That interaction was really a very valuable experience, too.
Fiksdal: And so good for him coming from Chicago to Olympia. [laughing] Thanks, Sue. That was great.
McNeil: I wanted to add one thing about having students to our homes. I was on the far-left end of the
political/social spectrum of the faculty. I was way out on the far-left end. I’d been a draft resistor and
all sorts of things. I[n fact, one of my students, Sandy Desner, made use of federal grant money and
remodeled several buildings downtown.]
Fiksdal: That is very interesting. I think that the faculty and the students really changed this town
radically in those early years.
McNeil: I’m kind of jumping ahead, but one of the reasons I decided to retire when I did—I was only 57
at the time I retired—I’d gotten my 30 years in. I don’t think I had quite 30 years in. I think Barbara
Smith said something about “If you don’t go for a couple more years, you won’t get full retirement” at
two-thirds or whatever, and I said, “I’m making more than I’m going to make if I kept going for another
two years, and I’m really, really tired of teaching. I’m finding students that are not wanting to do what
we faculty want them to do.”
I was in a core program with Pris Bowerman and Lucia Harrison. They had hired me into their
program because they had taught the same program the year before, and the students had just
rebelled, so they thought that maybe I could bring some stability to the program. The students just
rebelled. I couldn’t believe what was going on.
Fiksdal: A second time they rebelled?
McNeil: They didn’t want to do what we wanted them to do. They would complain, “It’s not in the
program’s description. This isn’t the program I thought it would be.” We said, “Let’s read the

description and see.” We’d read the description and it would be identical to what we were doing. They
didn’t want to do it.
Fiksdal: Did they expect something else? This has happened to me in more recent years.
McNeil: They thought that we were just nickeling and diming them to death. It was called something
like Autobiography and Literature. We’d taken the autobiographical works of two or three really
important, major people and—this is an example—we’d ask the students to break down into small
groups of two or three, and each one had sections of the book, and they were to look for what we called
turning points in the person’s life. What is this person writing about that you can see—sometimes big,
sometimes small—that made a real difference, that got them to where they wanted to go?
The students would come back with just nothing. Just nothing. “We don’t want to do it. It’s
just not worth doing. We don’t care what these people . . .” We lost 50 percent of the students. It got
to the point where at the end of the first quarter, the students had done so little—not all of them,
obviously, but 25 percent—had done so little, I wanted to cut credit. Pris and Lucia said, “We can’t do it.
We just can’t do it. We’ve got to give them full credit.”
Fiksdal: I cut credit all the time in the last years.
McNeil: As I remember it, we got into the situation—Evergreen as a whole—where you can’t cut credit.
You can’t say anything bad about a student. All you can say is, “The student has these kinds of things
that they need to study more or learn more about.” You can’t say they failed at anything.
Fiksdal: I just took the credit away if they failed. I didn’t talk about it. [laughing]
McNeil: I thought we weren’t allowed to do that.
Fiksdal: That must have been in the covenant or something. Or it was two against one, or whatever,
the decision.
Okay, so that’s good. Let’s think about those early years. Those students, I remember a lot of
them—maybe most—had already been in college somewhere else.
McNeil: Right, and they were coming to Evergreen because in many cases, they couldn’t make it
elsewhere. They needed the freedom of expression.
Okay, here’s what happened. The second year, I’m in a program. Carolyn Dobbs is the
coordinator. Mark Papworth and Charlie Lyons and Maxine Mimms.
Fiksdal: Wow. A lot of strong personalities.
McNeil: This is not a program that went smoothly. [laughing] It was called Learning About Learning.
We told the students, “We are awarding you 48 credits day one in the program. The only way you lose
credit is if you disappear, and we will prorate the credit up to the point at which you disappeared. We

will provide a curriculum for you, but you don’t have to do anything. This is your learning about learning
in the most pure way possible.”
You’ve got all of these radically different personalities and temperaments and views of life in the
faculty that are there. I had one student who, the whole first quarter, did nothing but sit in his room
and smoke weed. I gave him 16 Evergreen credits in contemplation.
Fiksdal: [Laughing] Oh, no! They didn’t even have to write about their learning?
McNeil: They had to write their self-evaluation, and he did. And he got so bored that he became one of
the best students that was in the program by the time we got done. I followed him for years after that.
We kept communicating back and forth. He became a social worker, working with kids.
Fiksdal: For heaven’s sakes. You just needed to let him be.
McNeil: That happened to a lot of the students in that program. We didn’t require them to do
anything. That same model, within years, when I taught with David Whitener and Rainer Hasenstab in
the Native American Studies programs, because the Native American philosophy is support and valuing
of the person. We would provide 50 percent of the curriculum and we would have the students put
together 50 percent of their own individual curriculum. Again, there was nothing required, but we did
provide 50 percent. I don’t remember ever feeling like it was a failure. People would come around and
do stuff.
Fiksdal: It’s amazing. Let’s go back to that Learning About Learning because I thought, from the
outside, that that was a fabulous program. You know why? I was in those early years trying to teach
French to whoever came, so I didn’t have to have a certain number, or I wasn’t told that I did. I didn’t
have stand-alone programs. I was just trying to teach French.
I had a student from that program, Daniel—that’s all I can remember is his first name—
McNeil: I remember Daniel
Fiksdal: He had decided that he would learn to see by taking off his glasses. He also decided he would
learn French. Not with me. I only met him a little later, maybe later that year or something. But he
decided he would learn French by just concentrating on it. He gave it to me—I have now this record
player—and he listened to records.
My whole thing at Evergreen that I would tell anybody who listened was total immersion. I
would speak French to the students. They would try and figure out what I was saying. We had books.
The whole idea was how I learned French when I went to France, by just hearing it all around me and
having to speak, and having to interact, and having to actually do things in French.


He told me his plan and I told him he was crazy. He left and went off. Came back with the most
amazing French you ever heard. Really good accent. I thought, no, you had to do something else
besides this program, and he said, “No.”
McNeil: He chose to do that.
Fiksdal: He was so motivated. He loved that program. He learned to see better. He practiced all these
eye exercises, and his eyes improved somehow, and then he learned French. I thought it was an
amazing program because he could choose what he wanted to learn, and then delve in.
McNeil: That’s what happened. Students came in. Some of them wanted to work the program, and he
just got bored, to the point where—
And we kept working with them. It’s not like we let them go and didn’t ever talk to them. We’d
sit down and talk regularly. “What do you want to do?” They would come up with little bits. “Well, do
that then.” That would lead to something else, and eventually, they would be fully immersed, either in
what we were doing, partly or wholly, or what they wanted to do.
Fiksdal: Did you have seminars and lectures?
McNeil: Oh, yeah.
Fiksdal: They could come?
McNeil: It was a wonderful curriculum.
Fiksdal: Oh, I see. So, they could do that or not.
McNeil: Right, it was their choice.
Fiksdal: It’s like having an individual contract with no contract written down.
McNeil: Right.
Fiksdal: And a program.
McNeil: Right.
Fiksdal: Okay, I understand now.
McNeil: That’s how it worked in Native American Studies, too, the same way. As you go through the
quarter, you and your faculty member are talking about what you’re doing, so that when we get to the
end—one of the things I really pride myself in is how I could teach students to write self-evaluations.
My students wrote very, very good self-evaluations, and I pride myself in thinking I did also.
Side comment here. The reasons my evaluations for the students were so well written—and I
just went back and read some; I’ve got a whole portfolio of stuff—
Fiksdal: Oh, you kept them. I wish I had.


McNeil: There’s a kind of box of mine over there. We’ve got a two-person bathtub in there. If you
want to look at it sometime, take a look. Sue and I would bathe together in the bathtub, and I would tell
her about my students. I would narrate to her and record my narration to her about my students
because there was no other way I could get to it. But doing that free-association thing really led to me
to being able to get into the breadth of my students’ activities.
Fiksdal: Interesting. Did you give them examples of self-evaluations? How did you get them to write
good self-evaluations?
McNeil: The first thing I did was I started out with some examples. Here’s the kinds of things you need
to look at. What do you feel really good about having done? What do you feel like you could have done
better? What kinds of things gave you trouble? Those kinds of things.
I’d have them write that up. They’d write a page. The week before evaluation week, I would
take them and basically correct them as an essay, and give them suggestions on where to go, and
wording and grammar and stuff like that. I’d give them back to them, and then they had to come and
read it to the rest of the students. We’d come here to the house, and we’d sit in that room [points], and
everybody would read their self-evaluation to the rest of the group.
Fiksdal: That must have been such a wonderful—
McNeil: It really was a motivator.
Fiksdal: They knew they were going to read it out loud. But also, that gives them complete ownership
when you have to read it out loud.
McNeil: That’s what I mean, it’s a motivation.
Fiksdal: It’s strengthening and motivation.
McNeil: In fact, one of the worst things I never had to deal with one student and the rule—it was
written down in the covenant of the program—you have to do your self-evaluation and read it, or you
won’t get credit. No matter what else you’ve done, if you don’t do a self-evaluation, you’re not going to
get any credit.
Fiksdal: Oh, you lose all of the credit?
McNeil: All of the credit.
Fiksdal: Oh, my goodness. That was daring.
McNeil: There was no content without that. If it’s not there in the record.
Fiksdal: But you have lots of evidence. You have their seminar participation [for an evaluation of the


McNeil: I had my evaluation of them in the record, but if the student doesn’t do a self-evaluation,
there’s this big hole.
Fiksdal: Oh, in that record. I see.
McNeil: There’s their self-evaluation in the formal record in the Registrar’s Office. One year, I had one
young woman that simply said she wasn’t going to do it and I said I won’t give you credit. Of course, the
program blew up. In the end, I think she did it. [laughing] It was a really nasty scene for awhile.
Fiksdal: Everyone you taught with, you put this into the covenant? After that first whatever couple of
years, you decided to do that and then it was always in your covenant?
McNeil: I don’t remember if it was always in the covenant, but it was pretty regular. I was a stickler
about that.
Fiksdal: I’m sorry I never heard about it. I had one program where that was in our covenant, I
remember. I had a student who disappeared in the last three weeks of the quarter, but he had done
just fine up until then. But it was in our covenant, and I struggled with it. I felt like it was this huge
ethical issue for me to work through. I talked to my colleagues, and they said, “We have to stick to the
covenant,” and I didn’t want to. But I did. I gave him no credit. Luckily, it was just one quarter, but that
was awful.
McNeil: I had the same thing happen. I did have that happen once. She was a good student. Did
everything up except I needed her self-evaluation at the end of last quarter. She was working at Home
Depot. She just disappeared, but I knew where she was working. I went and talked to her, and I said,
“Look, sit down with me and we’ll talk this through. I don’t want to not give you credit, but I can’t give
you credit if you don’t do it.”
A couple of other students in the program were friends of hers, and they also said, “She just
doesn’t want to do it. She’s not going to do it, and she doesn’t care whether she gets the credit or not.
She’s going to change jobs and become a person holding signs, a traffic control person at construction
sites and she’s going to get $40, $50 an hour.”
Fiksdal: It is well paying but it’s off and on.
McNeil: “She doesn’t care whether she gets the credits.”
Fiksdal: Wow.
McNeil: I really wanted to sit with her. “Just finish it up.” She was a good student. I liked her a lot.
Fiksdal: Yeah. We’ve talked a little about the first two programs. I don’t want you to go through every
program or anything, but let’s take a period of—I don’t know what would be easiest for you—five years
or 10?

Fiksdal: Okay, we’re back.
McNeil: What we have here for my retirement, Sue made up this list of all the programs that I had
taught, and the faculty that I taught with, and the name of the program.
Fiksdal: It’s a whole poster, a real poster.
McNeil: There’s Willi, Bill, Le Roi, Carol, Peggy Dickinson oh and Pete Sinclair. [Earle’s first program-sf]ii
Fiksdal: What can you tell me about Bill Aldridge? I had tried to interview him, but his memory had left
him. I would love to know more about Bill.
McNeil: Bill had a really, really awful experience at Evergreen, and it put him off so much—although he
kept teaching for a couple of years—that he came to the point where he wanted to have absolutely
nothing to do with anybody that had anything to do with Evergreen.
He and I had been absolutely the best of friends for 20 years. I don’t think he ever formally told
me to get lost, but we just drifted apart. Probably the last one, he and Tom Foote were really close and
they drifted apart, too. You don’t want to put this in your story but . . .
Fiksdal: It’s all right. I think we need to know.
McNeil: I’ll tell you what it is. He and I built a cabin for him–remodeled an old chicken coop—on 20
acres down by Littlerock.
Fiksdal: I’ve been there. That’s where I went to interview him.
McNeil: He and I built that or remodeled it. Bill was kind of known as a guy that was quite the lady’s
man. A woman charged him with sexual harassment—not one of his students, but an older woman that
he had been dating for quite some time actually—and charged him formally at Evergreen. The college
investigated and found he had done nothing wrong.
But the college was still running scared, so they told Bill, “We won’t do anything, but the one
thing you cannot do is you can never have a student in your office with the door closed. You must keep
your door open.”
Bill, being the psychologist that he is—I had the same kind of issues for me—“I can’t do my job
with the door open. The kinds of things we’re talking to students about are not things that can be
overheard by other people.”
It scared me, too. I’ve always closed my door anyway if I had a female student in there who was
telling me some really, really personal stuff. That’s what we did. But Bill tolerated it for a while until he
just couldn’t take it anymore and he left.iii


Fiksdal: I thought, too, that early on, he was hired the same year you were, in ’71, for the first year of
the college.
McNeil: Bill was in the planning faculty.
Fiksdal: Oh, he was in the planning faculty. I don’t remember exactly what it was that he wanted to be
able to do, but I think it had to do with counseling students; that that would be part of the job.
McNeil: Yeah.
Fiksdal: But people who are not psychologists didn’t want to handle that.
McNeil: Right.
Fiksdal: So, I understood that one of the issues early on for him was that he didn’t get his way—it just
didn’t get adopted—and he felt that it was really quite important. I think all of us—at least everyone I
knew in those early years—were all struggling, because I wasn’t trained to know—I didn’t have any
trouble having people talk to me, but what to say, and how to ease them out [of the office] sometimes.
They took up a lot of our time. Let’s just put it that way.
McNeil: Even at that, you were well along the line of being able to have that kind of communication
with students.
Fiksdal: Yes, I could.
McNeil: After all, language area, English area, all of the humanities areas, people tended to be pretty
good as interpersonal folks. Not entirely. [laughing] It’s quite a bit different than being a physicist or a
Fiksdal: That’s true.
McNeil: That’s where the real difficulties were. I don’t recall that actually being an issue with Bill, but
it’s certainly possible.
McNeil: So, we were looking at this poster [of my programs and teaching partners].
Fiksdal: Yeah, this is wonderful. Let’s look again. We could talk about this section first, until 1975. This
was really a time of maximum change, I would say.
McNeil: Yeah.
Fiksdal: Large programs still.
McNeil: There’s a whole strange piece of this [looking at the poster]. This is where I had my brain
Fiksdal: Oh, in ’76.
McNeil: Yeah, so my whole life changed right here—in many ways, anyway.
Fiksdal: Yes.

McNeil: This was an interesting situation, and then we’ll go back to here. In this program, one of the
students had asked me if I would be willing to teach a program that was very heavily centered on the
actual helping relationship activity. Le Roi was able to do that, but my training wasn’t really strong
enough to actually—I had a strong training in academic psychology, but in terms of actually leading
student teaching of counseling skills, I didn’t feel I was really strong.
Fiksdal: Was that Le Roi’s field?
McNeil: He was a clinical psychologist.
Fiksdal: I didn’t even remember what his field was.
McNeil: But one of the students back in this program had asked if I would teach a program that—50
percent of it would be hands-on counseling skills. I said, “Sure, why not?” By the time Christmas came,
toward the end of this first quarter, I was having brain surgery. But the college had allowed me to hire a
social worker to work with me. Le Roi had to do it on his own. Actually, there was a program where we
would have two parallel programs. We would do lectures together, but other than that, we were totally
independent. He had his 20 students, and I had my 20 students, plus I had—I don’t remember her name
right now.
Fiksdal: Some help. What happened with your brain tumor? You knew you had it, or was it sudden? I
don’t know the story.
McNeil: I just finished my autobiography about that. Do you want to read that someday? I’ll ship it to
you. It’s only seven pages long.
I had what was called an acoustic neuroma. It’s a very slow-growing tumor that grows out of
your acoustic nerve. And as it grows, it starts to incorporate the facial nerve, because the two of them
to through your skull at the same point. It’s on the inside of your skull. It’s considered a brain tumor,
although technically, it’s not on the brain. As it grows larger, it starts to affect your ability to swallow,
your ability to breathe. It starts to incorporate blood vessels in your brainstem. It can get really nasty.
When mine was discovered, I’d already been deaf in one ear for 15 years. There are all sorts of
stories there, too, which is in my autobiography. I had a hole in my eardrum for 15 years from an earlier
surgery that was supposed to correct it, and it didn’t, because they didn’t know much about acoustic
neuromas back then.
I had hired Sharon [last name?] to work with me in this program. In November, I didn’t even
know I had an acoustic neuroma at that point. But in February, I’d been swimming with my kids, and I
got water in the ear, and got an ear infection. I went to the ENT and he said, “We can patch that.”
Okay, but I didn’t go back in until November. [laughing]

Fiksdal: Oh, gawd. Okay, so November of ’76?
McNeil: ’76.
Fiksdal: Yeah, because that’s the Helping Relationship program. That was November of that program,
really early on.
McNeil: The first quarter of a year-long program. I went in in November and they said, “South Sound
Radiology just got a new X-ray machine, and they just got a new technician this last month, and they
need a head to X-ray to train the technician. I want to check out and make sure there’s nothing else,
because you’ve had that hole in your ear so long that the skin sometimes comes in and we’d have to
clean it out.”
The next day, I go in. They do the X-ray, and he calls me up and he says, “You need to sit down.
We need to talk. There’s this mass that’s just off the corner of the X-ray and we need to deal with it.
I’m going to have a neurosurgeon or a neurologist look at this, so I did the tests, which were just awful.”
At this point, we’re into evaluation week, and I just came out of the hospital having this supertoxic stuff that they used to use to do brain scans. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t walk hardly. Could
barely talk. I had a couch in my office that I had made years before that normally the students would sit
on, and I’d sit in my chair and talk to them. I had to lie down on the couch to do my evaluation
conferences with them.
Fiksdal: But you did.
McNeil: And I did it. As far as I can tell, it went okay. I don’t remember anything except laying on the
Fiksdal: This was after a brain scan, not the operation.
McNeil: It was after a brain scan, and I’m going to have the brain surgery done December 30. But
Sharon agrees I’m not coming back for winter quarter. There’s no way I’m coming back after going in
there for 9 ½ hours and scrambling my brains. She agrees to leave her job and teach my 20 students
fulltime, with Le Roi’s help.
So, having Le Roi there and having her there came together. As I healed during winter quarter,
I’d go back in occasionally. I was still having trouble talking and had facial paralysis. Still having trouble
walking, but I would go in occasionally. By the time spring quarter came, I was able to go back in.
Fiksdal: I really remember that. I remember seeing you, how we were all so happy you made it. You
were fine. You could do everything. That was so exciting.
McNeil: I’m okay.


Fiksdal: I guess I had thought it was a stroke. In my memory, I just must have forgotten what the
McNeil: It had gotten big enough that when I had the neurosurgeon look at it, he said, “We’ve got to
deal with this now because it’s starting to incorporate your brainstem, it’s incorporating some blood
vessels. I don’t know how long it will go, but sometimes it can go fast and sometimes they don’t, but
we’ve got to do it.”
It turns out when I went to the ENT and he told me that I was going to have to have this looked
at , it just so happens that that summer, the head of neurosurgery from the University of California at
UCLA has just moved his family to Olympia because he wants to raise his children in a safe environment,
and he’s an expert in dealing with these things.
Fiksdal: Oh, my gosh.
McNeil: It always makes me shiver every time I think about the timing of this.
Fiksdal: Yes, this is another piece of the timing.
McNeil: So, if I’d have gone in February, gawd only knows. They would still take out the tumor probably
waiting till November, and then getting the water in my ear back in February, because I had a hole in my
ear for those 15 years in between high school and then, when I went swimming, first of all, I didn’t
generally put my head under the water, but I always put an earplug in this ear because of the hole in my
ear. I knew I had it there.
That day, we came out to the college. We’d just built the bathroom. We had the toilet in, but
we didn’t have the shower or the bathtub or the walls insulated. We’re talking February, so it’s really
cold, so we’d go up to the college to swim and shower. The boys and I came out of the shower, and I
had the earplug in my left hand, and my older son says, “I challenge you to swim under water and see
who can swim the farthest.” I put the earplug in the wrong ear.
Fiksdal: Oh, no.
McNeil: I swam under water, and that’s why I got the water in the ear in the first place. If I hadn’t
gotten the water in the ear in the first place, I never would have known that that the tumor was there
until it was too late to do anything about it. If I didn’t wait until November. [laughing]
Fiksdal: Luckily, you waited, because you got the best surgeon.
McNeil: Yeah.
Fiksdal: You’re ready for your autobiography. Where is the turning point, Earle? Your turning points
are just very clear.
McNeil: My whole life is a series of coincidences.

Fiksdal: Going back. When you first came—’71-‘72—you taught with Le Roi. Had you thought you
wanted to teach again together, or you just happened to?
McNeil: We were really good friends. After all, he had a black child. We had a black child. We did a lot
of things together. We went to the beach together and the kids played together.
Fiksdal: Did you plan this that far out?
McNeil: We didn’t plan it from all the way back. There really wasn’t any planning on that until the
students here—“Let’s do this.” “Can you do this with us next year?” Then I talked to Le Roi and said,
“I’m feeling a little uncomfortable about this. I can do more of the social psychology part, but if you can
teach the more formal parts of psychological theory and personality, we can do a whole lot of things
together.” That’s how we got together. I’m glad I could hire somebody, and the college allowed me to
Fiksdal: You couldn’t teach, yeah.
McNeil: But we still need the backdrop here.
Fiksdal: Yeah, okay. We’re looking at the poster together and one of the things I’m really noticing is
that from ’71 to ’76—except for one year when you did contracts—you’re teaching these big programs.
Lots of faculty.
McNeil: Right.
Fiksdal: After that, I don’t see so many names.
McNeil: You do here. In Learning About Learning, there were—
Fiksdal: Here’s a big program in ’86, but basically, you’re teaching with one, two other people.
McNeil: I was academic advisor for three years here.
Fiksdal: Three years you did academic advising?
McNeil: I did academic advisor here.iv In this year, I was doing Helping Relationships [pointing at poster
of programs taught-sf]. I actually hired one of my former students for free to come in and work with
me. Here, I was on sabbatical leave.
Fiksdal: I see two years of contracts, one early on. Tell us about ’74-’75 contracts. What was going on
with that? I don’t remember people doing only contracts, but obviously, they were.
McNeil: I guess some of us had to.
Fiksdal: They asked you?
McNeil: They pointed out that there were all these students that are failing elsewhere. A lot of them
want to do stuff, but they don’t want to do standard stuff. They don’t want to be channeled. We’re
talking about students who were doing curriculum that was hard to pin down at that point. Fortunately,

for whatever reason, because we were doing these narrative evaluations, most of them got jobs, even
though their curriculum backgrounds were really strange. But you could see what this student was like
by all the narrative evaluations.
At that point, I don’t remember specifically, but I’m sure what happened is I just simply agreed
to go along with it. It was fine.
Fiksdal: You were probably asked to do it.
McNeil: I didn’t have any problems with it.
Fiksdal: I never did that for even one quarter, doing only contracts. I did contracts all the time, on top
of what I was teaching.
McNeil: Oh, yeah, individually you’d have one or two students.
Fiksdal: Always. Interesting.
McNeil: But those were full, 22 students doing contracts, and you’d have to track them, and you’d have
to make sure most of them—a lot of them were doing internships of one kind or another.
Fiksdal: You remember having 24 probably.
McNeil: Probably, yeah.
Fiksdal: Just wondering.
McNeil: They kept raising the total. I think 22.
Fiksdal: It did keep going up. I know. I think that we definitely started with 15 or something. Or who
cared? It just didn’t matter.
McNeil: Right.
Fiksdal: I don’t know if you want to keep talking. I’m just going to ask another question.
McNeil: I’m ready.
Fiksdal: I’m just interested in all of this. You’ll talk forever. [laughing]
McNeil: I can talk forever.
Fiksdal: Me, too!
McNeil: Heesoon used to get upset with me when she’d ask me to come do lectures about addictions,
because I would go on forever. “You’ve got to give me at least two days, two hours each or I don’t do
it.” [laughter]
Fiksdal: I can see in one way understand why they needed you for contracts for a whole year, especially
internships, because psychology has always been a very big interest.
McNeil: It was a major curriculum at Evergreen.


Fiksdal: We used to joke—I don’t know if you were joking, too, because you were part of it—that
basically we could run the college at an excess of students if we just hired more psychologists.
McNeil: I know. We used to argue that a lot. What did they do? They hired a psychologist—I can’t
remember her name right now [Carrie Margolin]—who is a statistical psychologist, who does
experimental psychology, and the students didn’t want to do experimental psychology. They wanted to
do counseling psychology.
Fiksdal: Yeah, that was the biggest thing was counseling.
McNeil: We kept arguing. “You’ve got a real problem here, folks. You can’t split the resources.”
Fiksdal: I remember it was hard to get Heesoon [Jun] hired, wasn’t it?
McNeil: There’s some interesting history there, too. If you look here—Human Health and Behavior with
Fiksdal: Here is 1989-90, yeah.
McNeil: What happened was that Heesoon was hired—she was teaching at Centralia Community
College at the time. I don’t remember if I went down there and taught for a year with her, and then she
came up here and taught for a year with me, or whether it was the other way around. I don’t remember
which way it worked right now. But we taught together for one quarter down in Centralia College and
one year at here.
Fiksdal: At Centralia you got to team teach?
McNeil: Yeah.
Fiksdal: I didn’t know that. I didn’t know they did that. Fabulous.
McNeil: Yeah. There was a Human Sexuality course was the title of it. Teaching at a community college
is really kind of touchy.
Fiksdal: I bet.
McNeil: Because I was teaching about homosexuality. I was teaching about transsexuality. I was
bringing stuff in that was really very graphic. I wanted to push the students. I’d been a trans-dresser
forever. [laughing] Not anymore.
Fiksdal: I didn’t know that.
McNeil: Yeah. One year—Sue? What was the event? Was it the big Halloween party when I was at
Evergreen cross-dressed? And George Freeman and I were having a good time together? [laughter]
SUE: No, George wasn’t involved. When you dressed up, you mean, and came down the stairs? No, it
wasn’t George. It was . . . who was the man who had a bald head?

Fiksdal: Was he a psychologist?
SUE: No. I’m trying to remember. I think he was on the staff, wasn’t he?
McNeil: I don’t remember.

But he came down as Jean Luc Picard, and he had a Star Trek shirt on and everything. Earle came

down dressed as a woman. They came down the stairs of the library.
Fiksdal: In the library lobby?
SUE: They started on the balcony. I think it was just a Halloween thing that they were doing. They had
a lot more parties and things like that in the early days.
Fiksdal: Yeah, in the early years, that’s really true.
SUE: Now, I guess they don’t even have the stairway there anymore is what we have heard.
McNeil: I crossed-dressed sometimes when I went to Heesoon’s class, too.
SUE: Yeah. Heesoon cross-dressed. Do you know her?
Fiksdal: Oh, yeah.
McNeil: A woman can’t cross dress.
Fiksdal: I know. She always looked fabulous. She uses her hands in a certain way, too. She’s very
McNeil: I walk and talk different when I cross dress. Heesoon says I carry a feminine side. For a while, I
had a beard. [laughing] Part of the year, when I went to Centralia, we both had a beard and cross
dressed. It really freaked the students out. But we worked them real hard.
Fiksdal: That’s interesting. First of all, I didn’t know that about you, and that’s great. Heesoon, I know,
always had her own private practice as well as teaching, so she was just a—
McNeil: She still has a private practice.
Fiksdal: She is just an amazing—has a huge capacity for work, when you think about it. Because to me,
teaching is really a lot of work on its own. You met her before all of this, and that’s why you taught
McNeil: I was her main advocate for getting hired after the year that she taught as an exchange faculty,
and after the year that I taught as an exchange faculty. That’s what happened.
Fiksdal: Oh, I’m remembering this exchanging. Barbara Smith started that.
McNeil: I don’t even know how it’s on there now. After that, then I was her main advocate for getting
hired. One year it was between her and George, and George got hired. Then the next year, Heesoon
got hired.


Fiksdal: I remember Carrie Margolin was against the hire because she wanted PhDs in psychology, but
this was a completely different kind of hire, but she didn’t see the value for some reason.
McNeil: Carrie was also quite unhappy with the rest of us because we’re all clinical psychologists.
[laughing] She wanted more experimental psychologists. She and George were actually pretty good
friends, but there was always this tension between—she wanted more students, and the students didn’t
want to go over there, so we tried to work her in around the edges.
Fiksdal: I taught with her one year in a full, year-long program. Psychology, we’ve always had, I don’t
know, not enough of the right kind of people. When I was a dean of Evening and Weekend Studies—
what was Parttime Studies back then—
I was in the deanery, so maybe you remember that from ’96 to 2001. Anyway, I had to make
sure there were enough psychologists to teach the three required course students needed to get into
graduate school.
McNeil: When George Freeman was hired, it took a year before he finally got his feet on the ground and
was able to do the job very well. He specialized in issues between races, conflicts.
Fiksdal: Yeah, he did fabulous work in that. For some reason, I just remember being in his seminar one
time. Probably I was observing because I did this big seminar study. I just randomly chose faculty and
asked if I could come in, and then recorded. But he taught me a lot by just observing. It was very
interesting work. He worked with the notion of allies, and I thought that was very good.
McNeil: I’ll give you one other little piece that was always a shock to me. It may or may not in its own
way fit in here. On the writing of evaluations for students, like I said, I felt that I did one of the best jobs.
Fiksdal: It sounds like it.
McNeil: And I worked with a lot of my faculty colleagues to help them get it right, too. The biggest
shock for me came when Charlie [McCann] became a faculty member. One day, I was talking with him—
I was in his office—and he was writing evaluations. I went there and talked to him and saw his
evaluations he had written for students. “This student either did or did not everything or most of what
this program description is about.”
That’s it. [whispering] “Charlie, what are you doing?” “Hey, it’s all in the program description. I
don’t need to say anything. I just have to tell them whether they did it or not.” That was it.
Fiksdal: Wow.
McNeil: I never quite recovered from that. [laughing]


When he interviewed me for the job the first time, I was warned by Bill and Merv, “When you
get in Charlie’s office and it appears that he’s fallen asleep, don’t think that he’s fallen asleep. He’s
really listening.” I was really on my toes and, yeah, he kind of blurs out particularly as he was hiring us.
He and I and some of the retired faculty and a couple staff members had breakfast—until this
Covid thing hit—once every month. Charlie was part of that until he passed away.
Fiksdal: I’m glad to know that.
Fiksdal: We should talk more about Charlie McCann, because I don’t know if anyone has interviewed
him. What did you think about him as the President of the college? How much did he interact with
McNeil: I always thought he was a good President. He wasn’t the kind of guy that was out there always
manipulating stuff. I think, particularly in those early years, you have to remember the main job of the
President was to keep the Legislature off of us.
Fiksdal: That’s right. And he did a terrific job.
McNeil: Between him and Dan Evans, those are the two that kept Evergreen going.
Fiksdal: Yeah.
McNeil: If we hadn’t hired Dan Evans, we’d have been shut down there, too. But Charlie worked to
keep the Legislature on track and do a whole lot with all the other schools in the state. That was his
main job was making sure that Evergreen was respected, and Evergreen’s curriculum was understood,
enough as it could be at that time. [laughing] Not so much with the faculty, but that really wasn’t his
job. He was supposed to be outside of the college.
Fiksdal: That’s a good point. That’s always the job of all of our Presidents, in fact. But in that planning
year, it was interesting because he envisioned the college to be mostly individual contracts.
McNeil: Hmm. I didn’t know that.
Fiksdal: He made sure that it was part of the curriculum. But when the rest of the faculty didn’t want to
do that, he apparently did not stand in the way, which was laudable, I think.
He was very shy if ever we would get invited maybe to his house. One time I went, my husband
went, too, and he said, “Well, I had a really nice conversation with a guy who was hiding behind a big
plant.” I said, “What?” He was telling me as we were leaving, and I turned around, and it was Charlie
McCann. [laughing] I thought it was really funny. He was comfortable talking to someone who wasn’t
on the faculty.
McNeil: At breakfasts, he was as much a part as anybody.


Fiksdal: That’s good. I’m glad that relationship continued. Who else do you remember in
administration in those early years? Who was the Provost? I can’t remember.
McNeil: Barbara Smith was Provost for quite a while.
Fiksdal: Before that.
McNeil: Let’s see . . . we had like four Vice Presidents and Provosts in the early years. I don’t remember
names that well.
Fiksdal: If they weren’t memorable to you then—
McNeil: Byron Youtz was early, early.
Fiksdal: Yeah, Byron was early, but not the earliest.
McNeil: He was not the earliest because he was a faculty member for several years.
Fiksdal: Right.
SUE: Merv Cadwallader.
Fiksdal: Oh, yeah, Merv. Thank you.
McNeil: Who were the other Vice Presidents in the early years, Sue?
SUE: Where was Shoben? There was a Shoben and Merv Cadwallader.
Fiksdal: He was a dean. He was a founding dean.
McNeil: Joe Shoben.
Fiksdal: Joe Shoben. That’s who it was. I think he was the first.
McNeil: Shoben got moved out. He was kind of extraneous to the college. [laughing]
Fiksdal: Oh, interesting.
McNeil: I don’t remember what all the situations were. I remember one year, all of a sudden, Joe
wasn’t there anymore.
SUE: Where did Patrick Hill come in?
Fiksdal: That was later. It just sounds like in talking to you that the administration wasn’t really a big
part of what you were doing. It was teaching, and all the colleagues, and the students.
McNeil: Right. It wasn’t until I became the Director of Academic Advising that I really had much to do
with the administration. At that point, it was mostly with Barbara Smith and with—Sue, who was the
Vice President when I was Academic Advisor?
SUE: Patrick Hill.
Fiksdal: Oh, Patrick Hill. Why did you become Director of Academic Advising?
McNeil: That’s what we did. Faculty rotated in and out of that position.
Fiksdal: As Director?

McNeil: Yeah.
Fiksdal: I don’t remember that.
McNeil: Yeah, we just rotated in. Russ Fox was in there for a couple years. I was in there for three
years. I don’t remember, a couple other people rotated in and out of there.
Fiksdal: Was that an enjoyable period for you? You were there three years.
McNeil: It could have been worse. [laughing]
Fiksdal: You weren’t teaching.
McNeil: There were two events. One was you had to deal with the faculty, which I never enjoyed very
much as an administrator, because my job as Director of Academic Advising was to manage the
academic fairs.
Fiksdal: Oh, so you had to get people to come.
McNeil: Your job was to make sure that the faculty were there, and the faculty were doing their job
talking with students, and there were faculty who just weren’t doing it. I had one faculty member that I
had to have it out with one time. I may be wrong about that. One of the faculty just didn’t show up.
I really got bummed out trying to get people there. At one point, Barbara Smith said something
to me about what I was supposed to be doing and how I wasn’t doing my job, and I got so mad at her. I
was standing in the hallway outside of her office screaming at her about how she didn’t have a clue
what was going on. Until she sat down and talked with me in person—she had no right to be talking to
me this way. We got through it. Barbara has been a friend for many, many years. When I was no longer
in Academic Advising and she was no longer a dean, we got along just fine.
The other was after my secretary for Academic Advising, Chris Labertie, got hired by Patrick to
be his secretary two weeks before the academic fair and wanted her to move up to his office
Fiksdal: Oh, no.
McNeil: I went ballistic. You cannot believe. This is a guy who grew up in a faculty/administrative
setting. Administrators, to me, are just people, and I don’t think about saving my job. First of all, you
don’t fire faculty anyway unless they’re having sex with their student, or don’t write their evaluations.
Fiksdal: Or don’t come to work.
McNeil: They might not come to work and still get hired. [laughter] I knew I was doing everything
really good as a faculty member all the way along, so there was no way anybody was going to fire me
without a big fight. Again, it’s one of these cases when I stood in the hallway in front of Patrick’s office


upstairs on the third floor and I just laid him out. And he rescinded. I don’t think Chris ever left. Did
Chris ever go up to Patrick’s office?
SUE: I think after the academic fair, yeah.
McNeil: Not while I was Academic Advisor. [laughing]
Fiksdal: Yeah, you have to have your support when you need it.
McNeil: But Patrick and I became good friends, too. [laughter] After I got out of that job, I was a real
Fiksdal: I can’t imagine you yelling at someone. I wish I had been around as a fly on the wall.
McNeil: I need to stop.
Fiksdal: You always seemed very calm—okay, let’s stop.
In the first years after the school moved administration and faculty offices from the trailers to the
library one of the trailers was converted to be used as the day care center (I think mostly for student
children? I don't know how it was staffed or run). At some point in the early 80s I think it was clear that
something larger and more suitable was needed. The college had an empty single-family house on
Driftwood road north of the campus. It had been used only for miscellaneous storage. So it was
decided to convert it into a daycare center. But there were several things that had to be remodeled to
bring it up to code. One big room had only one door and had to have two. There was only one exit door
and there had to be one added to the rear of the building. Various electrical things, like new baseboard
heat, had to be added. A fence needed to be added around the yard. The wiring was all hired out but
with my home building experiences I could do all the physical structural remodeling. So I cut a new door
between the big room and the hallway, cut open the back exterior wall and added a door. The fence was
a big job. For reasons I don't remember, I asked Pete Pugh - I don't remember what his job on the staff
was at Evergreen - if he was interested in helping. He was. One weekend he and his wife and children
and Sue and ours spent the time digging post holes and stringing wood and wire. i don't remember how
we got the supplies. I think the building is no longer used for daycare but have no idea when it was
changed nor what it has been used for since.
In the first few years we did not give anything resembling course credits. The narrative evaluation was
supposed to give anyone who wanted it enough information to make the translation. Didn't work. We
ended up having to write letters to schools, graduate programs and professional groups our students
wanted to transfer to or get hired by. It was a real stretch to think someone on a selection committee
would be willing to read many pages if narrative and try to figure out how the student's work related to
traditional needs. It was amazing it worked as well as it did but was very cumbersome and time
consuming. one day in some sort of discussion Merv, I think jokingly, said "Why don't we just do the best
we can and add what we consider course equivalences at the end of the evaluation". Initially we
resisted. It just felt like selling out the whole core philosophy of the Evergreen model. But, I think the
administration said we just had to do it. So....It worked ok even if I had to sometimes give credit for "
Evergreen experiential experience".
iii At some point in the early 80s it became clear that occasionally a faculty member would run afoul of
the administration for some reason. If the administration decided to do some sort of investigation or
legal action, they had the power of the State attorney general's office to call on at no cost to the college.
On the other hand, a faculty member had no recourse for even checking out possibilities of legal
defense without paying for it themselves at a cost of a couple hundred dollars. At that time there was no


faculty union or other peer support. So a small group of us decided to try to raise money by asking
faculty to voluntarily donate to a legal fund. I only remember two of the others - Craig Carlson and John
Filmore. Over a couple of years, we had maybe 25 faculty donate. We raised, I think, a thousand or so
dollars. We made no judgement on the nature of the faculty’s behavior or the issue. We had only one
point in our written position statement and that was to provide the cost of one attorney interview
to help the faculty member assess options. I think we had two cases we helped. I don't recall the issues.
When I retired, the faculty was starting to develop the process for creating a faculty union. I turned over
the leadership and the money to John Filmer. I think once the union came into being he gave the money
to them.
iv For reasons I don't remember except that as a sociologist who had done some research, I had some
skills. I ended up writing two accreditation reports for the social science area. One at tenth year and one
the year I retired. In fact, my last quarter, spring of 1999, I had already formally retired. But my winter
quarter students needed someone to teach statistics and personality theory to finish a psychology
"major". I added that teaching half time and Barbara smith hired me half time to do the accreditation
report. I had to develop a questionnaire to give students in several selected programs. Also interview
faculty in history and psych - I was the only sociologist there by that time - all together to tell the
committee what we considered the strengths and limitations of the curriculum and make suggestions
for changes. Having done the same for the first review I could compare the two. Turned out little had
changed over all the years in terms of issues. Not enough counseling psych and especially no way for
students to be sure what they needed one year and program to the next would be available since faculty
were expected to move around and not just teach in the same academic area every year. Remember
how Heesoon had to fight the deans to stay teaching psychology, often by herself, to give the students
what she knew they needed? Of course, there was no sociology except what little I provided.


Earle McNeil
Interviewed by Susan Fiksdal
The Evergreen State College oral history project
April 29, 2022
Fiksdal: This is Susan Fiksdal with Earle McNeil for his second oral history interview on April 29, 2022. I
wanted to start with a discussion about your amazing woodworking. I brought a piece for you to see
McNeil: It is an amazing piece. I didn’t remember this.
Fiksdal: It is gorgeous.
McNeil: Fortunately, it has my initials on it, so we know it’s mine.
Fiksdal: Yes, I was pretty sure it was yours. It’s a cake stand that’s made out of the most beautiful
maple. I bought it from Earle years and years ago. He showed me his initials on the back, so now we
know it’s authentic, and also, he’s in love with how it looks. We’re both very pleased.
Earle, how did you start your career in woodworking? Talk to us about the mace at Evergreen.
McNeil: Starting a little earlier here. My father was a college professor, but he also was a lot of handson kinds of things, as was his father. I grew up in a household in which there was a lot of stuff made,
including [that] my dad contracted with a housebuilder that was adding an addition onto our house, and
worked with him, and taught me a lot about carpentry. That’s where I started out was carpentry.
In high school, among other things, I got a major in industrial arts, which was house design and
furniture building. That was the kind of thing I did then.
I didn’t do any lathe-turning until a few weeks after my acoustic neuroma surgery. I had been
building some furniture for the house over the years, just for us, but not much else. I wasn’t sleeping at
night, so fortunately, Doug Hitch, who was the head of the woodshop, was a close friend of ours. For
reasons I don’t know, I asked him if I could borrow the key to the woodshop so I could go up there in the
middle of the night and do stuff. Amazingly enough, he said yes.
Fiksdal: I am surprised he said yes. [laughter] That was his bailiwick.
McNeil: From 11:00 at night until maybe 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, I was in the shop. This is part of
the story I just wrote [for my family], it’s so amazing to me. I walk into the shop, and I pick up a block of
walnut. I’ve done metal lathe before when I was in high school, but I didn’t do any woodworking on a

lathe. I put the wooden block in the lathe, I picked up the lathe tools, and I just intuitively knew how to
do it. It was just there. I turned out a rather nice walnut vase in the middle of the night in my recovery.
What I found out somewhere in there [was] that my grandfather was an accomplished wood
turner. In fact, I have a couple pieces of his. I could show you later if you’re interested. But he was not
trained either. He was a math teacher in high school. He would go into the high school shop after
school and turn these wonderful, wonderful things out. My dad did a little bit also.
My grandfather would pick up these salvaged walnut logs that were taken down for their burls
to make gunstocks from, and then he would salvage the rest of the walnut. That’s what I’ve been doing.
I use salvaged wood, and that was what I did there. All of a sudden, I was telling Sue this, and she said,
“Wow, your grandfather is living in you. His spirit and his love and his skills are still there.”
Fiksdal: Do you have any memory of watching him use the lathe?
McNeil: I never saw him do that. I watched him and Dad do rebuilding of the old farmhouse and things
like that. I never saw either of them actually doing woodturning, although I have some pieces of his. I
never thought about that at that time. It never would have dawned on me until a long time after that.
That’s how I got started in the woodturning. Then Sue and I went to New York to the Museum
of Modern Art. Sue had bought me a metal kaleidoscope as a gift for Christmas, and when I was in New
York, I saw another kaleidoscope in the museum there. Because I’ve got this physics and chemistry
background from college, I knew about the physics of the kaleidoscopes, and I knew about the polarized
light—that I don’t have to get into at the moment—I thought these two kaleidoscopes had really
interesting things that were very different, and I could put them together and produce a new kind of
kaleidoscope from that merger.
I started not doing woodturning. I just used cardboard tubes with cloth on them. But at some
point—1983, ’88, somewhere in there—Paul Sparks and I were teaching. This is one of these examples
where I learned from somebody else. The way Paul and I set up the program was that it was a twoquarter program. For one quarter, I would do all the teaching and he would be my student. For the
next quarter, he would do all the teaching and I would be his student. We did run our separate seminars
and those kinds of things, but we were one of the students.
Fiksdal: But you gave each other time.
McNeil: And I was teaching the students woodworking in the shop. They did some amazing, amazing
things as part of that quarter that I was teaching. I was trying to figure out how to drill a hole down
through a block of wood to make a kaleidoscope. Paul said All you really need to do is just cut some
strips and taper them and make a hexagon out of them, and you’ve got the hole automatically there, so

my early kaleidoscopes were hexagonal kaleidoscopes. There’s a piece that was learning from Paul’s
just looking at my work and making suggestions. That’s when the kaleidoscopes really took off.
Fiksdal: That’s so interesting, because he was so used to 3-D thinking.
McNeil: Yeah, so it evolved enormously since then over the last 40 years, 35 years. From time to time,
a bit of the programs that I taught, that was working as a four-credit component in it. I’ve done some of
that over the course of time. There was a point for several years, those kaleidoscopes up there [points].
Fiksdal: Those are yours?
McNeil: Those two kaleidoscopes up there are part of a series that a friend of mine collaborated on.
Fiksdal: They’re amazing.
McNeil: He did the glasswork inside. I did all the woodworking. Those were selling on the East Coast
for $1,900, $1,800, and we did two styles. A series of 25 each. I was making more money building
kaleidoscopes—we had national galleries—than I was teaching, so I would take spring quarter off
without pay for two or three years in a row and just make kaleidoscopes.
Fiksdal: Because you also enjoyed it.
McNeil: I enjoyed making kaleidoscopes and it was a break from teaching. Teaching, for me . . . [sighs] .
. . it was never my chosen profession, in a way. I mean it evolved organically with all my family on my
dad’s side being teachers. And living in a college community, it was about the only thing I knew,
although at one time, I wanted to be a fireman. But with my loss of hearing and everything, there were
a lot of jobs I would have liked to—I would have liked to have been a pilot, for example, and I took
pilot’s training and all that. But being a teacher, I could hear well enough back in the old days [laughing]
that I could do that.
To me, there’s so much energy in teaching, it kind of disappears into a black hole someplace.
You don’t really know a lot of what the outcome is. I really felt that I needed some right-brain kinds of
creative activities to balance that. Because when I’m working on the lathe, for better or worse, at every
moment I can see exactly what the outcome is.
Fiksdal: I can see that.
McNeil: So, it’s the balance between the intellectual academics of teaching and the right-brain, creative
art of the woodworking—or gardening, for that matter.
Fiksdal: Yeah, that makes sense. How did you happen to be chosen to create the Evergreen mace?
McNeil: I don’t know the timing exactly, but I had made an arrangement with Byron Youtz that I would
make things for each retiring faculty member as a gift that Byron was paying for, for paid work. But
what I would do was I would interview, quite extensively—like you’re doing right now—each of the

faculty members I was to make something for and make something for them that represented their
teaching history and their personality.
Fiksdal: Wow.
McNeil: I did that for quite a few years, actually. Also, a couple of the college Presidents—and I’m not
sure exactly when that started—Byron hired me to make kaleidoscopes in a box that would go on a desk
that the President was giving to big donors to the college. They were paying for those, so I was making a
bunch of those. Somewhere along the way, I don’t know who started the idea of making a mace, but it
was certainly Byron who approached me and said, “We would like to make a mace. Can you think of
what you could do?” So, I did.
Fiksdal: You created all the symbolism?
McNeil: Yeah, it was entirely my own decision about what to do and how to do it. How could I do
something that represents the best of what I think Evergreen represents? So, I designed it both with a
European and a Native American combination of things. The crown at the top is the European piece,
which got me in trouble a few years later. [laughing] We can talk about that.

But the mace is the four

colors for the four directions in Native American life. If you read the description of it, you’ll find that
built into the design. [The mace is in a glass case in the Admissions Office and has a plaque detailing the
The other piece was I really wanted to capture Evergreen’s history in a very special way, so the
crown of the mace is hollow, and there’s a glass vial in there. The idea was that every year, one of the
graduating seniors would write one page about what the most important events were that had occurred
at Evergreen during that year and have that microfiche to put into there.
Fiksdal: It’s a time capsule.
McNeil: Then, 10 years after that one was done, some senior would take it out and have it put back into
hard copy and read what had been the highlight of Evergreen 10 years before. Unfortunately, Arnaldo
[Rodriguez] had absolutely no interest in doing that at all, so it never happened.
Fiksdal: Oh, really? One person decided that.
McNeil: That was absolutely the most disappointing thing that I’d ever had experience in at Evergreen..
Fiksdal: That’s very disappointing. And I’m a little surprised.
McNeil: Because he didn’t feel that he wanted to put that burden on anybody, I guess, or that they
wouldn’t write anything significant. I don’t know. He absolutely stonewalled that.
Fiksdal: The woodworking has continued, and I assume you’re still doing it?

McNeil: Oh, yeah. Right now, I’m just finishing a run of six kaleidoscopes and several bowls. This was
last week. My shop is a mess. I just finally got things swept up a little bit this morning.
Fiksdal: Are you still selling the kaleidoscopes?
McNeil: I have kaleidoscopes at two galleries right now, Childhood’s End downtown, and a brand-new
gallery that opened up in Yelm, oddly enough, little town that it is. She’s really starting to try to do
something special down there. There’s a lot of rather fancy, expensive homes being built in the Yelm
area. It’s growing very, very rapidly. She’s feeling that there’s a future at least there for some pretty
high-level work.
Fiksdal: I’m glad to hear that.
McNeil: They’ve got a nice gallery started just within the last year or two. So those two places. Other
than that, everything that I’m doing now, I’m either giving away as gifts for almost everybody, or I am
doing it for fundraisers for social service and charity groups. I’ve got several pieces now that will be in
the auction for the Children’s Museum in June.
Fiksdal: That’s terrific.
McNeil: Let me just pick those up. I’ve got one more piece to go to them.
Fiksdal: Sounds like you’re really quite busy with that work.
McNeil: It goes in spurts. [laughing] I get to a point where, oh, I’m so tired of this. I don’t even want to
look at this stuff anymore. Maybe I should sell more of my tools and get on with something else. Then
Sue says, “No, you don’t do that. You always do this. In two months, you’ll be back out there like crazy
again, obsessed with stuff.”
People give me wood from all over town. I’m known all over town that I belong to the Thurston
County Woodturners. There’s always trees that are being taken down. This last year, for some reason,
in this neighborhood, there were four or five different species of trees. They’re just marvelous. Maple,
oak, birch, dogwood.
Fiksdal: Cherry? No.
McNeil: And I get these pieces, and I look at them. One of Sue’s brothers is a rockhound, so he knows
how to look at a chunk of stone and have a sense of what’s inside of it. I can do the same thing with a
piece of wood. When somebody says, “I’m taking a tree down,” or, “I’ve got something you want to
take a look at,” I can look at it and get a sense. That’s the kind of thing I’m looking for is in your plate
Fiksdal: This is an extraordinary piece of wood. I’m so pleased that I bought it. [We’re looking at my
cake stand.-sf]

McNeil: Kaleidoscopes. I belong to a national kaleidoscope association, so I have some friends that do
it professionally. That’s their entire income. They do hundreds of kaleidoscopes in a year, but in order
to do that, they have to do a run of, say, 100 that are absolutely identical.
Fiksdal: Oh, I see. That’s not as much fun.
McNeil: For me, every single kaleidoscope, I have to look at the wood and decide this is what I want to
make the kaleidoscope out of. We can look at some of those a little later.
Fiksdal: That’d be great. I’m a little surprised you’re not on this weekend’s studio tour. You should put
yourself on that sometime.
McNeil: Right after I first started making the first wooden hexagonal kaleidoscopes, I was part of a
Smithsonian show. The Smithsonian had kaleidoscopes and sold them for a while. I have friends, like I
say, who do this professionally, and they do tours. I used to go to the National Kaleidoscope Association
meetings—in fact, we had one in Seattle, and I was part of putting it together—but somehow, I just
don’t have the motivation to do the kinds of things that you have to do to keep going that way. To me,
it’s the making of the objects rather than trying to get out there and promote myself that’s really
Fiksdal: I understand that. I think part of Evergreen’s philosophy has been to devote yourself to
something. In our case, it was teaching, and teaching was the important thing. The people that were
attracted to Evergreen were people who did not want to publish or perish, who were sick of that world,
and we got a lot of people in their mid-forties who really wanted out, and they helped influence a lot of
the way Evergreen was formed and then kept going. Although, I have to say, after getting my PhD, I did
do research, and I enjoyed writing and then seeing it, so I understand your [point of view].
McNeil: I did a couple sabbatical leaves and I did a complete write-up from those, too. That was fine. I
did sabbatical leaves on things I really was interested in. I did a very large research piece when I was at
the University of Puget Sound on middle-class juvenile delinquency. Again, it’s one of these things, I
never went out and got it published, but I did give a presentation of it after I got it finished.
Fiksdal: I’m sure you drew on that study in your teaching, too.
McNeil: Yeah, it helps.
Fiksdal: Going back to the folks you taught with, you had mentioned how Marilyn Frasca influenced a
couple of beautiful plates that I just saw, and Paul Sparks’ influence in helping you with thinking about
design of your kaleidoscopes. Are there other faculty that you taught with whose ideas or disciplines
influenced you in your teaching? [When Paul and I were teaching together, his quarter was teaching
photography. He really made a great difference in the quality of my seeing photographically-EM]

McNeil: Absolutely. The most significant one in that sense was David Whitener. I taught with David in
the Native American program either two or three different times. There was supposed to be one time
when he and Rainer Hasenstab and I were to do it together, and David got quite ill, so here are these
two white guys, Rainer and me, teaching in the Native American Studies program.
But fortunately, the Native American Studies program was not about Native American history. It
was the philosophy—the philosophy of teaching, the philosophy of relating, the philosophy of
association, of support. Because Rainer and I were already on the left end of education anyway, we fit
very nicely.
We’d taught with David twice already anyway, so we already had the sense of how the program
was structured, how it ran, how we were to associate with students, students with us, all of that. It
wasn’t exactly that we were flying by the seat of our pants. But David definitely, with the Native
American philosophy of support and relationships, it just fit very much with what I had already been
playing with for a long time in terms of my own teaching style.
Fiksdal: And, in fact, your own discipline, because you made up the social psychology degree that you
had. Now, it’s a discipline, but it wasn’t then. Maybe I’m leaping.
McNeil: In terms of my education or the way I created it for Evergreen? Because I created it for
Fiksdal: I’m interested in how you created it for Evergreen. I was talking only about your education
because I know that part.
McNeil: I made up my own educational—I started off as a physics major. I was a science nerd—a total
science nerd—and I ended up with this funny undergraduate bachelor of science in general physical
science. I’d switched to chemistry by that time because I couldn’t handle the math in physics, although
physics is still my first love.
But my degree technically is in general physical sciences—chemistry—but I also ended up,
because I found it very easy to do, with a minor in sociology. If you want to look at it realistically, I was
going for a pre-med major. I was thinking of being a doctor at that time, so everything I did was the
advanced introductory classes in zoology, bacteriology, chemistry—all the way through chemistry—all of
that pre-med kind of stuff.
But then, as I hit my master’s, chemistry wasn’t doing it for me. I find chemistry interesting, but
not really that intriguing in terms of actually doing the research. I did find—and this is a piece you may
or may not want to include—that I was asking some very serious questions about my own personality
and my own behavior, psychologically and sociologically, because I was a thief. I told my students this

so there’s nothing secret about this. It’s part of what I teach. It’s who I am, and this is where I came
from. I was a thief through most of my adolescence, but I was a very clever thief. I did everything on my
own. I did everything very carefully. Never get caught.
Fiksdal: Did you steal things you really wanted, or just things?
McNeil: I stole things that I really wanted. I always had enough money. It wasn’t a matter of not being
able to pay for it. I only stole from mostly businesses where I knew that it was just part of their trade.
There was a certain amount of stuff being stolen, so why not me? It was easier for me to steal
something that I wanted, and if I had the money for something else, I’d have money for something else.
But it was curious to me why I was doing this, because I certainly didn’t grow up in a household
where this was okay. It’s certainly nothing that my parents would have been happy about at all. So,
going into sociology and psychology, an important part was motivated by trying to understand my own
I’m sorry to say that I found enormous numbers of rationalizations, which was what my research
that I did at the University of Puget Sound was all about: middle-class juvenile delinquency. There’s a
whole sociological philosophy about the rationalizations for people’s behavior, which is really quite
interesting, so I explored that at depth.
Fiksdal: I assume you grew out of your . . .?
McNeil: Mostly. [laughter] After I got married, it was very clear that it wasn’t something I wanted to
get caught for and eventually, I might, so there were some motivations. I look at it as an addiction.
That’s my specialty, after all, is addiction and recovery, and I see addiction in a very broad sense.
Fiksdal: It had to be a thrill to get away with it.
McNeil: Well, it wasn’t even a thrill.
Fiksdal: It wasn’t even that?
McNeil: It was just, okay, I want this. I know how to get it. Take it, and nobody will even know that it’s
gone. They certainly won’t know that I’ve got it, so I’ve got it. It was total flat. It’s just what I do. It was
a little bit embarrassing, I suppose, to me as I got older, but like most addicts, if they’re going to recover,
something has to happen in their life that is enough superior to that behavior that it stops that behavior
from happening. Getting married and having children was what it was for me.
Fiksdal: That’s very interesting. So, you talk to your students about it. Getting back to your teaching,
were you able to talk to your students about it when your colleagues were present?
McNeil: I don’t know.
Fiksdal: That sounds so personal to me.

McNeil: I wasn’t trying to keep it secret. For me, after I taught at the University of Puget Sound for four
years, and I was teaching the most standard core classes in sociology, including criminology, social
psychology, introductory sociology and family—but it was strictly academic, out of textbooks kinds of
stuff, standing up and lecturing three hours a week for each of these classes—I made a decision when I
came to Evergreen that I wasn’t going to teach anything that I didn’t personally have some identity to;
that I knew I was talking about something honest.
The one thing I did at the University of Puget Sound to get close to that was that when I was
teaching a social problems class, after the first year or so, instead of my just standing up and lecturing
about prostitutes and drug addicts and thieves and so forth, I wanted the students to have real-life
experiences. Not that I was going to take them out and have them steal things. [laughing]
So, I made arrangements to schedule one of the sorority chapter rooms, which were very large,
well-decorated lounges, where I could have my students meet, and I would get three or four people that
represented the particular area that I was going to lecture on during that week, and the people would
come in and they would sit in the four corners of the room. I would do a half-hour lecture about the
topic, and then I would have the students go and sit with these people. The students were free to
exchange who they talked to, questions they asked, and these people knew they were going to be asked
very serious questions.
It worked beautifully. What kind of got me in trouble was that I had decided that as long as I
had students that were there all the time, I would ask them what grade they thought they deserved.
Most of them deserved As and Bs. Right? So, my grade curve was very high, which upset my
departmental chairman to no end, because students were coming to my classes. [laughing]
Fiksdal: Flocking to your classes.
McNeil: It’s probably one of the reasons, though probably not the final reason, they decided I probably
didn’t need to be there anymore. I would say the main reason was that they were keeping us for four
Fiksdal: That sounds like the main reason, because you were going to become expensive.
McNeil: They didn’t want to give us tenure.
Fiksdal: No, they didn’t want one more tenured person.
McNeil: They didn’t want a tenured person doing this kind of stuff. After all, I was the same age as my
students at that point. [laughing] I was only about 25.
Fiksdal: When you came to Evergreen, I think we were all attracted to Evergreen because of the
theories that were being talked about so much and explained to all of us in various ways. Then probably

we all just did whatever we wanted. I feel like we were doing the same thing. I studied seminars, and
people were seminaring all over the place, except in the sciences, but that was happening. I think this
notion of the student being at the center and that we were more peripheral—more as guides,
mentors—that, I think, in the early years, was true.
I was wondering, what about that philosophy struck you and remained with you? One, you’ve
already said to me—this was strong in my early formation at Evergreen as well—that we were supposed
to do what the students were doing. We were supposed to be co-learners. I have to say, that dropped
off after a while, when some things were really hard for me.
I couldn’t learn computer programming, for example, and I didn’t care enough to do it, so I did
give up on a couple of things. But mostly, I tried. Your experience with Paul Sparks was amazing. I was
just wondering where that happened? Do you remember certain parts of this philosophy and how . . .?
McNeil: As I said last time we talked, my introductory . . . what do you call it when you have to write
something up to get a job?
Fiksdal: Your c.v.? Your resume?
McNeil: Yeah, your resume. For Evergreen, as you know, we had to give our philosophy of education. I
was really out there on the left then. For me, historical education is a big business. It’s there to try to
make money, although the money goes mostly to the administrators and a little bit to the faculty. But it
was producing a product - the students, and I wrote all of that up when I gave it to Charlie [McCann] and
the deans who were doing the hiring at the time.
The whole idea of the students being the center of their own learning and being able to control
a lot of what went on, and to have an education that wasn’t an academic book-learning education. But
to the degree that we used books, which we used a lot, obviously, it had to do with the personal
discussion of what those books were about, and their meaning to the students, both personally and
educationally. That’s always been with me.
Fiksdal: So, you moved away from the textbooks that you had been using?
McNeil: Right. I don’t know if I ever used textbooks again once I came to Evergreen. We’d read a lot of
books, but a lot of them were autobiographical material, a lot of historical material, a lot of novels. Greg
Portnoff and I wanted to use through the whole quarter just a series of science fiction novels called
Ender’s Game, which is very intense in terms of what happens to the human species once they
encounter an alien species they’re in a war with, and how do we deal with that?
To me right now what’s happening in Europe [Ukraine war—sf] is almost like two species, that is
to say Putin and his attitude. I’m afraid we’re going to have a nuclear war here before we get done. If

we get through this year, I think we’ll be really lucky. It’s almost like two species in conflict, and neither
of them can see the other one’s side. There’s no compromise.
Fiksdal: It’s especially ironic when they share so much culture, folklore, languages are close. All of that.
McNeil: That concerns me a lot. I wanted to have an education in which the students were very
personally involved. Greg and I never did pull that one off. We thought about it very seriously.
Fiksdal: Oh, you planned it, but you didn’t do it. I see.
McNeil: We thought about it very seriously. We could have done it. Evergreen was always open. I
never ran into a conflict of wanting to do something and being told I couldn’t. I always put things
together. At faculty meetings, I never had a problem with anybody in a faculty team. There’s some
faculty members who are maybe not doing their entire job, but as far as interpersonal relationships, I
also managed to do well.
Fiksdal: You’re very lucky. I had one difficult program, but everything else was fine.
McNeil: I had to end up writing the evaluations for one faculty member for his students. [laughing]
Fiksdal: Oh, no. That’s horrible.
McNeil: He left Evergreen without finishing the job. During the year, there was no issue.
Fiksdal: What about some of those faculty who left? Do you remember very many of them? Like the
one you just talked about?
McNeil: There’s a funny little piece to this. I don’t know if you remember this. You’ve been here
essentially as long as I have and you lived in town, so you knew Evergreen was coming into being before
anything happened. In the early years, by and large, the faculty who left under fire were minority
faculty. Several. [Darrell Fair?]. I think Jose Arguiles. I think he stayed for a long time.
Fiksdal: I don’t think he left under fire, did he?
McNeil: I don’t think Jose got fired.
Fiksdal: I think he got snatched up.
McNeil: Yeah.
Fiksdal: Cruz Esquivel is one.
McNeil: Yeah, Cruz. When Evergreen Parkway was done and the road behind the school—which I can’t
remember the name of now—and the entryway wanted to be named, I proposed the names of all the
faculty who had been fired. [laughter]
Fiksdal: Charlie Lyons must have gotten fired.
McNeil: That didn’t go over very well. [laughing]

Fiksdal: He wasn’t a minority.
McNeil: Because I felt those faculty members were teaching some very significant things, which they
were teaching from a culturally different point of view.
Fiksdal: Right.
McNeil: I can’t remember. Sue?
SUE: Yes?
McNeil: Who was the Central American faculty member that we stayed friends with for a long time—
no, maybe it was one of the Native American faculty members—who was taking on contracts and doing
all sorts of things with students well beyond what he was supposed to be doing?
SUE: It wasn’t Medardo?
McNeil: No, it wasn’t Medardo. Medardo Delgado was another one who got fired because Medardo
had to do with the Evergreen farm.
Fiksdal: That’s right.
McNeil: He wanted to plow. Was it [Darrell?]
SUE: [Darrell Fair? 00:39:00]. No, that doesn’t seem right. Again, who was the black guy who was
doing—he didn’t have his PhD or something?
McNeil: Maybe that’s who I’m thinking of.
SUE: He was an ex-con.
Fiksdal: Oh, Jim.
SUE: Jim?, was it?
McNeil: He was teaching really good stuff.
Fiksdal: I can’t remember his last name but Jim, but he was an ex-con. He taught with an attorney, a
SUE: Right.
Fiksdal: Whose name is escaping me right now, but he was a friend of mine. Hap Freund. But I heard
later that Jim had actually stolen from the college. Perhaps it was program budget money. I don’t know
about that story.
McNeil: I don’t know about that story.
Fiksdal: I don’t know, but I was really sorry when he left. He was the nicest person. I talked to him all
the time.
McNeil: The students loved him. Just loved him. And I know—quite aside from the theft possibility—as
a fact that he got into a lot of trouble with the administration because he kept taking students on as

contract students. He would end up with 25, 30 students. They’d say, “You can’t take any more
students.” But if somebody came to him and really had something they wanted to do, and he was able
to give it to them, he would take them on, so he kind of violated a rule.
Fiksdal: That seems like-we had so many [faculty] that did the opposite that we needed him all along.
SUE: Right, and I think they used that as—there were faculty—I saw a lot when I was [a staff member]—
that were using money that was very inappropriate, but what can you say? We don’t have any power.
McNeil: Something that a white guy like me might have been able to get away with. But they were
getting rid of minority faculty.
SUE: Right and left.
McNeil: Every year.
SUE: Of course Dumi got fired, but then Dumi [Maraire] deserved to get fired. [laughing]
Fiksdal: I remember Dumi. He was African.
SUE: Yeah.
Fiksdal: I didn’t know he got fired, actually. People sometimes just left, and you don’t know.
SUE: Right, I don’t know that he got fired. I just think they didn’t renew his contract. But he went off
out of town.
McNeil: But Dumi went on to be the Secretary of Cultural Arts for Zimbabwe. [laughing]
Fiksdal: Amazing.
SUE: I took the Bill Brown and Dumi’s class on African history way back then.
Fiksdal: What was Dumi’s last name?
SUE: Maraire or something like that. It started with an M.
Fiksdal: I just didn’t recall it. Thank you.
SUE: But we had an actual African goat roast here.
McNeil: Slaughtered the goat right out on our back porch.
SUE: They slaughtered it. They made goat stew, one of his wives. [laughing]
Fiksdal: Isn’t that something?
SUE: He had a couple wives, but one of his wives, we went out and picked pumpkin blossoms out of the
garden. It was quite a festive occasion. All in our back yard.
Fiksdal: That’s wonderful. Thank you.
McNeil: I always have made a statement that some people really bristle at. I believe that every white
person is racist. It’s built in. It’s baked into our lives, into our culture. It’s just there. You can’t help it.

You can do an awful lot to minimize the way you react, but some issues of fear, some issues of—I’ll give
you an example. Our daughter is African American. In high school, if she and a group of students—and
she was the only black kid in the class—were standing near the door when class is supposed to start and
they didn’t come in right away, and maybe there was a little bit of laughter, the teacher would always
say, “Kerri, you and your friends need to get in here.”
Fiksdal: Singling her out.
McNeil: She was just a little bit darker.
Fiksdal: There is, of course, a lot of research on that in the schools.
McNeil: She was a little bit darker, you know. There was an amazing program I don’t know if you ever
watched, Survivor, on TV. It was a program where people were on an island together.
Fiksdal: I didn’t watch that.
McNeil: Usually, it’s mostly white folks, but this time, they had four African American people in their
group of survivors. They were being voted out, one after the other. And when two of them were left
and two of them got voted out in a row, and it was real clear that the other two were going to go—they
were going to get voted out. They came on. It was so beautiful. “We’re not calling anybody racist, but
the fact of the matter is if we do something just a little bit wrong”—and women have this all the time.
You talked about your history at Evergreen. All the time, if you do something just a little bit wrong
compared to a white male, you get nailed.
Fiksdal: That’s right.
McNeil: And that’s what was happening at Evergreen.
Fiksdal: You have to be better. And you have to think about it at all times.
McNeil: You have to.
Fiksdal: In the ‘80s, I was on the Hiring Committee, and it was after I had come back with my graduate
work in linguistics. We were looking at candidates, trying to decide which of the candidates were going
to come to the campus. I made a little speech. [laughing] I was just so fed up with so many things. I
talked about [Erving] Goffman’s approach to performance. I said, “Let’s look at these candidates one
more time, thinking through your notes, thinking through what jumped out at you, and think about
performance of self, and try and realize that what you are really wanting is yourself. You want someone
like you who’s gone through maybe the traditional kinds of schools you have”—or, we had staff always
on those committees. “Let’s just imagine a different world where people can stand out because of who
they are.”

We hired more people of color that year. They didn’t all make it because it wasn’t a welcoming
community, as you know. But that little speech worked. I could say it much more clearly then, but I
think it was just so helpful for people to realize that so often, you just think, “Oh, Yale! Great! Let’s get
him!” It has nothing to do with—
McNeil: It was the same with the students. Evergreen made a big push to try to get students of color
for several years. The only thing that saved our ass, in a way, was that we had the Tacoma Campus with
Maxine and Joye and a couple of other people going up there. Because when we brought the black
students to our campus, their educational history and their behavioral history was just enough different
from the white students, they couldn’t make it on our campus. Even though we tried to give some
special help, it was white people doing it.
Fiksdal: That’s right. We didn’t have enough people of color on the campus.
McNeil: We didn’t know what we were doing.
Fiksdal: In staff or faculty positions.
McNeil: It was really, really hard on those black students to be on our campus.
Fiksdal: I agree.
McNeil: It just wasn’t—
Fiksdal: And Olympia itself, as you’ve pointed out, wasn’t very welcoming at all. It’s been a huge
problem, and it still is, actually.
We knew Evergreen more when it started, and we worked really hard, and we carried out most
of those philosophical traditions for a long time. Evergreen has really changed now, and I know that
you’re aware of some of those changes. I’m just wondering if you have any suggestions or advice to give
to Evergreen now?
McNeil: We’ve gone culturally—not just Evergreen but the American culture—through several stages of
evolution since Evergreen opened, so Evergreen, and [the] Evergreen style of fulltime, full-year, full
faculty, student seminar, hands-on kinds of stuff made perfect sense in the early ‘70s.
Fiksdal: Face-to-face. Right.
McNeil: Young students who had come from the East Coast and were here to live their education, and
we lived together in all sorts of ways, in their education and in ours. We had to learn from the seat of
our pants, too, as faculty.
But as we moved through the eras, somewhere in the middle, we came to a place—and I’m not
quite sure how it evolved—where we evolved all this Parttime Studies stuff. You know about that.
Fiksdal: I helped evolve it. [laughing]

McNeil: I know, so you can tell me . . .
Fiksdal: I’d be happy to explain that to you.
McNeil: . . . why that came about. But that was a relevant and important addition to what we were
doing with Evergreen. My understanding, from the outside—because some of the classes in psychology
were an important part of that—at least [in the area of psychology, we couldn’t provide every year all
the pieces that the students needed to get the degree that they need to go on for whatever they were
going to do. The only way to deal with that was to have these pieces sitting out there, and those of us
who were teaching a program and didn’t have those pieces available, as Heesoon would say, “The deans
don’t want me to be teaching the same thing all of the time, but I’m the only one that’s teaching it. If I
don’t teach it, the students can’t get what they need to go on to graduate school.”
Fiksdal: Exactly.
McNeil: So, the Parttime Studies program helped, among other things, fill that out. That was an
intermediate stage.
Fiksdal: It was also responding to the fact that we needed to reach out to working adults.
McNeil: That was the other piece I was going to say.
Fiksdal: That has just become bigger and bigger with everybody working. Back when we had students,
they weren’t working. We could say, “This is a 40-hour program.”
McNeil: “We’re going to go off to the wilderness for four days.”
Fiksdal: You can hear David Marr saying this. And people would go on these long—and I would take
students to France. You can’t have a job and do that.
McNeil: I took them to San Francisco on the freeway.
Fiksdal: That’s right. Things changed.
McNeil: During that period, Bill Aldridge and I taught maybe the only fulltime program that’s ever been
done. It was called Adult Life Education. It was specifically for people coming back to college after
having been out of college for a long time.
Fiksdal: No, it wasn’t the only one, Earle. I taught in a program and worked with other women for
women to come back because they were uncomfortable coming back, I guess. I don’t quite remember
it. But we taught women half-time in the evenings. This was before Parttime Studies.
McNeil: We were teaching them how to be students again. [laughing] They were well-educated people
in their professions.
Fiksdal: Yes, exactly.
McNeil: So that’s where we had to start.

Fiksdal: Somehow, we were aware.
McNeil: Yeah. Getting to study books, to read, to be in seminars. It was all brand new, so we had to
start slow and easy. It worked pretty well. That was a really important middle part.
The other thing that happened is the younger students more and more wanted to make their
own decisions about what they wanted to do in ways that even though my educational philosophy
initially was really open, I still felt that I had some sense of how things ought to happen. There were
students that I got into more conflict situations with in the last couple years that I was teaching that
simply didn’t want to do what I wanted to do. They would be angry about all sorts of things, and they’d
take it out in class; take it out on one another or they’d take it out on me.
Fiksdal: This was in the ‘90s?
McNeil: This would have been the late ‘90s, ’95 to ’99. I remember the worst case that I ever knew
about wasn’t my case, but Paul Sparks had a student who tried to light him on fire with a newspaper.
Fiksdal: Oh, my gosh! I never heard that. In class?
McNeil: In class.
Fiksdal: He got so angry with him?
McNeil: He came after him with a lighted newspaper. I don’t know what the issue was. I had a couple
of students I did contracts with who just simply weren’t able to talk to me about what they were doing,
so when we got to the point of my having to do an evaluation, I’d have to say, “You know, you did this
well, but you could have avoided that.” And they’d be so angry. “You don’t tell me how I was supposed
to… Well, I tried.
I had one student who was working for one of the big department stores in Tacoma on an
internship, and when he finally got all done and he wrote his self-evaluation, what he’d learned, one of
the things I said to him was, “It sounds like a PR piece for the company. I’m a social psychologist. I
expected you to be able to dig under the surface, like an ethnographer.” That’s what I expected him to
be was an ethnographer.
Fiksdal: Exactly.
McNeil: And to get some idea of what was happening in terms of how the business was dealing with
addictions, with mental illness, with physical illness of their employees and the employees’ families.
That’s what it was supposed to be about, what was it like to be a member of this business in the kind of
low-level of administration.

He just didn’t do it, and he was so angry, he challenged it. He took me to Larry Stenberg, who
was dean at the time, and Larry did a—what do you call it when two people have an intermediary trying
to get them to negotiate?
Fiksdal: I can’t remember this second either what it’s called, but I did that myself as a dean.
McNeil: When I finally got done and wrote this guy an evaluation, it was actually more damning than
the original. [laughing]
Fiksdal: I would have just withdrawn a lot of credit.
McNeil: I didn’t want to, necessarily. I tried to be kind the first time.
Fiksdal: Right.
McNeil: But the second time, I just said, okay, I’m just going to say it straight out. I had another
student, a Jewish student. At the start of the school year, we were going to go to that place in Shelton
that we used to go to—a YMCA camp or something—for a few days.
Fiksdal: For our retreats?
McNeil: Yeah. We were going to go there for two days as a program to get people doing things
together, do seminars together, get to know one another. It happened to be during Rosh Hashanah.
She said she couldn’t do it because she had to take one of the days for meditation. I said, “It’s okay.
We’re going to have plenty of time for people to do self-contemplation and all of that, but if you just
can’t do it, I think you’ll miss a lot because there will be a lot of things going on there where people get
to know one another.”
Next day, the President of the college—I don’t remember who was President at the time—called
me at home one evening. He said that the student’s father had called him to tell him that I had told his
daughter that she couldn’t be in my program if she didn’t come; that my anti-Semitism was just
unthinkable.” I said, “I didn’t have a problem with it. I’m Jewish.” [laughing]
Fiksdal: I didn’t know you were Jewish.
McNeil: I said “I think there’s some miscommunication going on here.” She left the program. She
actually came to my office a couple days later, I guess to sign out—I don’t remember why—and I said,
“I’d like to talk to you about that. I never intended for you to have to leave the program. I was quite
aware of what you needed and wanted to do.” She said, “I don’t want to do it. You’re not a person I
want to have to deal with for anything.” “Okay.” Things like that started . . .
Fiksdal: . . . to happen a little more and more often.
McNeil: It never would have happened in the early days.

Fiksdal: I do think that we never had the support we needed for students who needed counseling.
Quite possibly, they had mental health issues that were undiagnosed, or we couldn’t deal with. Those
both sound quite strange to me. I feel that part of it is that.
We were talking about Evergreen today. Any advice you have for this period we’re in?
McNeil: I wouldn’t want to teach now. I’m really happy that I’m retired. Once the students got really
angry, and the anger takes place, of being just really negative about all sorts of other people rather than
being able to talk with one another and try to find some common ground—because there’s always more
common ground than there is difference. There may be some difference, but “What can we do to deal
with these differences?” Once it no longer was that way, which is what’s happening now—fortunately, I
was out before any of this happened other than the last three years—I don’t know how to deal with
Look at our former President. His whole attitude was to be negative and angry at people, and
he’s still doing it. Trump.
McNeil: That President. I mean, c’mon. He’s fed the whole nation on this anger, negativity. “I’m totally
100 percent right and you’re totally 100 percent wrong.”
Fiksdal: “It’s okay to do what I’m doing.”
McNeil: I have some friends who are very conservative and sometimes, we can talk a little bit about
that. Mostly we just avoid it. When you really get down talking about “What’s really important to you?
What’s really important to me?” you find that underneath, there’s that common ground, and there’s
just some points up here we will disagree with and would like it to happen differently, but we don’t
need to hate one another.
Fiksdal: Right.
McNeil: But that’s what’s happening. I don’t want to deal with that.
Fiksdal: You see that filtering in also to teaching.
McNeil: Yeah.
Fiksdal: I see that. You had said in your first interview that you taught for 30 years, and you thought
that was enough. You’ve mentioned that teaching was never your first love in the first place. [laughing]
McNeil: Yeah.
Fiksdal: So, you’ve been doing a lot of work in the community, so I thought maybe you could talk to us
a little bit about that.
McNeil: I go back again a little bit into my acoustic neuroma surgery. I was in the hospital for 10 days. I
got out, and the first night that we were here in the house, I had the most intense panic nightmare—my

heart was beating so hard that it woke Sue up—that I was a warrior in this battle between the light and
the darkness, and I had to somehow be a hero on this side of the light.
The doctor had told Sue that this could happen; that the brain has no pain receptors, but it goes
crazy if it’s been manipulated through surgery, so sometimes it’ll just do weird stuff. Not just dreams, it
goes nuts. He said, “Call me anytime this is happening.” Sue called in at 2:00 in the morning and he
said, "Yeah, I told you it was going to happen. Tell him it’s okay. It’ll be okay.” [laughing]
Fiksdal: That’s all he would do?
McNeil: Sue said, “Doctor said this.” God, I was so angry. “I,m a psychologist, for god’s sake! All you
had to do was tell me that this could happen, and I’d have been able to deal with it.”
Fiksdal: Well, not necessarily, but you could think about it.
McNeil: I wouldn’t have been freaked out by it in the same way that I was at the time. Anyway, the
whole point of that story is that ever since then, there’s been that image in my head, and this idea of
being part of the healing of the earth.
That’s where my woodworking comes in. I’m taking dead trees, trees that are being killed, for
one reason or another—I don’t take them down, for the most part, although a couple needed it in my
own yard—but I’m trying to resurrect them, if you will, into something beautiful. So, any piece of tree
that anybody gives me, I always give them something back. A finished piece.
That’s how I tried to be as a teacher at Evergreen. What can I offer you to be part of the light of
your life? When I fail I get miserable about that from time to time, but it’s an image. So, when I decided
to retire—and I actually started a bit before retirement because one of the last years, when Pris
Bowerman and Lucia Harrison and I were teaching together, even though it was a freshman program,
we had all our students doing some kind of internship. A couple included the Food Bank.
I had been doing some minor things at the food bank already at that point since 1998, so I
already had an association with the food bank. So, when I retired, I decided to work more for the food
bank. For some reason, I also got hooked up with the Senior Center doing Meals on Wheels and working
their coffee bar. Then I started doing emergency services with the Red Cross, and I’m still doing park
maintenance for Olympia Parks and Recreation Department. And my woodworking that I’m now giving
away or doing for auctions and so forth. Those are all part of that original image of who I want to be
and what I want to bring to the world. i
I beat myself up over my failures. I see Ralph Nader and I say, gawd, I’m not doing anything
compared to Ralph Nader. [laughing] Things like that. Or I look at Colin Kaepernick, who kneels on the

ground, and then he can’t get a job being one of the best quarterbacks there ever was, and I’m not
doing anything compared to what Colin’s had to deal with in his life, but I’m doing the best I can.
Fiksdal: You’re not doing things that are highly publicized, but that doesn’t mean you’re not living a
good life. I’m wondering how much of this work that you’re doing might reach back to your Jewish faith.
I know that you’re relating it to this one nightmare, but how much does it relate back to being Jewish
and having that faith?
McNeil: [Sighs] I don’t know. I was raised in a strange household. My mother was Jewish, and my
father was Methodist. My grandparents on my father’s side were fairly strict Methodists. My
grandparents on my mother’s side were kind of ethnic Jewish. [laughing] So, I grew up in this dual
religion household.
What I do know, however, less from my mother’s side, the Jewish side, but actually from my
father’s side, the Christian side, interestingly enough, is that my mom and my dad and my grandparents
were also always very much in touch with wanting to do good deeds. The one thing I remember
multiculturally growing up is, for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, my dad would have the African
students—that were his students—come to our house. They had nowhere to go. So, there was a bit of
a piece there.
My dad was always volunteering to do things around the neighborhood, and Mom was always
very much involved in the activities and taking care of everybody that was around. So, I grew up with
that. My sister and my brother are the same way.
Fiksdal: That all connects. You sound really busy. [laughter]
McNeil: Of late, I’ve slowed down a whole lot in my external activities with the Senior Center and the
food bank, partly because of the Covid thing. But even right now, I’m spending a lot more time in my
own yard and my own garden. We’ve got half an acre here. It takes about as much time as we can
possibly put into it.
Fiksdal: I know all about that. I’m with you there.
McNeil: But we raise things and we put them out on the street. I’ve got blueberry bushes. I used to
have a garden along the front bank out there with tomatoes, and I had blueberries out there and other
kinds of stuff and I wrote a sign: Feel free to take whatever you want. We have a library out there for
Fiksdal: I saw your little library.
McNeil: It’s bits and pieces. I think that’s where the making of the mace came from. It’s where making
the things for faculty when they retired came from.

Fiksdal: You remind me that the box I received [when I retired] was probably made by you. I have a box
that you can only open by sliding. Do you remember making those? And it’s got a burnt image of a—
McNeil: The boxes were actually made by a friend of mine, Dale Baird.
Fiksdal: Oh, yeah. I have some of his pieces, too.
McNeil: Dale and I collaborate. In fact, that’s a box I made over there.
Fiksdal: Wow, that’s a big one. Dale does very nice work. He’s gotten a lot better, too, over the years.
McNeil: Oh, yeah. He scares me really at the moment. He’s doing these things with 10,000-volt
electrical probes. They put them in the top of your wood that’s going to be the top of your box, and you
turn this transformer on, and it burns chaotic patterns into the top. There was a thing in the paper the
other day about somebody that just killed themselves doing that. You want to be really careful because
you don’t know where the sparks are going go.
Fiksdal: I usually see him at the market, and I haven’t been down there for a little while, so I’ll have to
go down.
McNeil: Look at his burned-top boxes.
Fiksdal: Yes, very interesting.
McNeil: They’re really, really nice.
[I asked if he had kept up with Rita Cooper because I would like to interview her—sf]
McNeil: The only person in Human Resources we kept up with was Charen Blankenship.
Fiksdal: Yeah, she was a friend of mine.
McNeil: Charen was actually a student of mine.
Fiksdal: Oh, she was?
SUE: She’s gone now.
Fiksdal: Yeah. She married Ralph Blankenship, who I graduated from high school with.
SUE: Are you doing Tina Kuckkahn-Miller? or anybody from the—
Fiksdal: She’s not on my list, but I can check with Sam to make sure she’s on our list. She would be very
important also to interview.
SUE: She really made the Native American Longhouse and all of that over there, and all of the stuff that
they’ve got. She and Laura. Now, I think Laura’s in charge because I think Tina’s gone.
Fiksdal: Yeah, Tina’s gone.
SUE: Laura Grabhorn—is that her last name?—took over Tina’s position, I think. She was assistant for a
while. But again, you know it’s expanded so far.
Fiksdal: It’s been amazing, the work that they’ve done.

SUE: As a matter of fact, we hadn’t been on campus for a long, long time. We went up for somebody’s
memorial, I guess, and we went over and saw the Carving Studio. We were fortunate because his sister
and brother-in-law are in New Zealand and we have been to New Zealand, and gone to the Māoris and
the whole bit, and seen all of that. To see the Māori carvings on the Longhouse we thought that was
really special.
Fiksdal: Especially because you knew about—and then, with Earle’s understanding of woodworking.
That’s great.
SUE: Evidently, the Weaving Studio—we looked in the window but there was nobody working—
Fiksdal: But that’s continued. That’s really good to hear that it’s continued after Gayle.
SUE: Yeah, I think so. I don’t know who’s taken it over.
Fiksdal: We paused for just a moment. Earle would like to talk a little bit about Super Saturday.
McNeil: Super Saturday started out in a very different sort of way. The first time it wasn’t Super
Saturday. What happened was—and again, I don’t know who suggested it—somebody said to me, “We
really need to have a picnic at the end of the year where the staff and faculty get together.” The idea
was that we were all part of the same community, and yet, there’s this distinctive difference. Staff,
faculty and administration are three tiers, and then the students fit in there somewhere.
The very first year, I put together a picnic where the staff and faculty got together. It didn’t
work out very well. It was just really hard for people to associate with one another, so faculty were in
one group and the staff were in another group, and we all sat around the table, and everybody had a
potluck. I don’t even remember where we were now. But that was the first year.
The second year, somebody said, “That didn’t work out so well, so maybe what we should do is
have an academic fair. At the end of the year, the programs that have either been researching
something, which meant the sciences for the most part, or had some major literary thing where
somebody was doing something special that they could do a reading. Those programs would spend
several hours in succession, where the sciences would have their microscopes and their chemistry stuff
and their biology stuff set up, and people could go through.”
We advertised around the community so people would come. After all, Evergreen was in really
bad straits in terms of the way the community saw us—that we were a bunch of outsiders that were
doing hippie things with dogs pooping in the halls and had all these strange students here. Fortunately,
over a great many years, most of the students became people who owned businesses downtown.
Fiksdal: That’s right.

McNeil: The town changes everything.
Fiksdal: But it’s true that at the beginning, there were hippies.
McNeil: Maybe for two years, we tried that. It kind of worked, but it was kind of boring, and it was
really hard for programs when they got done at the end of the year to come up with anything that
would really be very exciting, very interesting.
Larry Stenberg said to me at one point, “We just need to have a big party where we advertise it
for downtown and do the kinds of things that will bring people here, at least be on campus, and see us,
see us doing things and who we are just as people and as a community part of the town.”
He put together a group of people, and I was in the core group, and was in that core group for
11 years—maybe longer than that—and I was in charge of arts and crafts. That was my job. After all, I
was an artsy and craftsy person, so I was the one who was in charge of getting all of the arts and crafts
people there and having them set up. We would come as families, husbands, and wives from this group
of eight or 10 people, faculty and staff, and the faculty and staff were working together. Larry was the
linchpin of the whole thing.
We would meet starting in early February and would meet more and more frequently as it got
on toward the end of the school year. The very first thing early in the morning, we’d get together and
have breakfast together, and then we’d go and and help set everything up. I did that for as long as
Super Saturday existed, as long as I was there. Then Larry got fired.
Fiksdal: Larry Stenberg got fired?
McNeil: Yeah.
SUE: No, he didn’t get fired.
McNeil: Well, it depends on how you look at it.
SUE: He didn’t get his contract renewed.
Fiksdal: Oh, he just didn’t get his contract renewed, but that’s the same thing.
McNeil: If it wasn’t renewed, what do you call that? You call it getting fired. What happened was that
Joe Olander had taken over as President. You’ve got to remember Larry and I came from the same
school. Larry and I and Ted Gerstel all came from the University of Puget Sound. Larry was part of the
first administration that existed. He was there before any of us. In the administration, he was one of
the very earliest administrators.
After he had been there for 20 years, and never had taken any time off, he finally took a year
leave of absence. During that period of time, Gayle Martin was made the Dean of Students or whatever
it was that they were down there. Dean of Students. There weren’t very many women in the

administration at that time, so Joe decided that since Larry’s contract was up, Larry was gone, and Gayle
had the job.
Fiksdal: Oh, my gosh!
McNeil: Larry came back from being on leave of absence and he came back with no job.
Fiksdal: He had no idea? No clue?
McNeil: I don’t think he really knew what was happening until they told him he wasn’t going to be
rehired. At that point, we lost the main spirit of the operation. It struggled on for several years with
various attempts to get people involved by mostly assigning staff members the job of doing it, which
was outside of their normal workload. They were perfectly happy to volunteer as long as we were all
doing this as a fun party.
Then it started to get more and more difficult because all of a sudden, you started to have
various kinds of licenses for the beer garden, and you had to start worrying about the cost of the liability
insurance, and then the campus police and the campus building and grounds started charging for their
services, all of which had been volunteered in the early years. It just became unmanageable.
Fiksdal: It was a wonderful time, though.
McNeil: It was. It was very, very large.
Fiksdal: I loved going. I loved taking my kids. I loved getting my palm read. I loved watching the
medieval jousters or whatever they were. It was a good time. Lots of good music.
McNeil: I was glad to be a part of that and follow through.
Fiksdal: It’s too bad because we don’t have anything like that that brings people out to the college. I
think that was a brilliant idea. And I’m really sorry to hear about Larry. I didn’t know of that. And Gayle
never would have wanted that.
McNeil: Things evolve. Things change. You can’t expect things to go on forever.
Fiksdal: No.
McNeil: The same thing happened to me. Did you ever go to the Pie Fest downtown?
Fiksdal: No.
McNeil: There was a group of us that got together to have a party to raise money for Senior Services
and the food bank. We would have pie contests. We’d have baskets that were donated from stuff from
all around town. Then we would have a Saturday, a Pie Day, if it was the first Saturday in March.
Fiksdal: Whatever Pi Day is.
McNeil: We’d have a big party and invite the whole community in. Sell slices of pie. SPSCC, the
community college, made 50 pies for us. We had people volunteering making pies. Then we had people

bring pies in for the contest and all of that. It ran for 10 years. But again there was a core person who
was the heart and the spirit of that, and after 10 years, she just got tired of doing it. It struggled on for a
couple years after that, and then Covid hit. That was the end of that. I don’t think it’ll ever happen
Fiksdal: But that’s a good point. It’s true. There has to be a motivating, charismatic person.
McNeil: There needs to be a spirit that sits at the pinnacle.
Fiksdal: Thank you for telling me about that. I’m glad to know you were a part of it. And Parttime
Studies, I remember being interviewed on the KAOS Radio [during Super Saturday], and I was standing
there thinking, what? I can’t do this. I was the dean and our PR person at the time said, “This is what
your job is, and we need you, and you can do it and you’ll be great.” Handed me the mic. It was
however many people listened to KAOS in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.
But we did whatever we could to attract students because Parttime Studies was not just
courses. We did have some courses, but we had halftime, very interdisciplinary programs. In fact, our
programs were more interdisciplinary than Evergreen was by then, because people started teaching on
their own a lot, people started just teaching with their friends. You could get more things of what you
needed for graduate school than—sometimes it depended on the year and how tough the Curriculum
Dean was. But it was a welcome addition, I think, to the college.
McNeil: I know I have mixed feelings about certification program that’s going on now. Again, I see it as
a rather desperate effort to get more students. But then, maybe this is the era we’re in. It feels like
community college all of a sudden. It doesn’t feel like a real university anymore to that extent, but I
know how hard it is. I can’t imagine the last two years trying to do stuff online. I couldn’t have done
Fiksdal: The faculty had to take crash courses in how to do it because, of course, we were against it for
so long. I think a lot of good things have come out of it because I think people now are more versatile
and can do this kind of thing.
McNeil: There are always good things that happen. It’s just that old people . . .
Fiksdal: Yeah, it’s harder.
McNeil: Like my daughter said about a seven page paper I sent her “You need to print this out. I can’t
read it on my phone.” [laughing]
Fiksdal: I think we always hired Luddites somehow. They were always sprinkled in generationally.
McNeil: You think we’re finished?

Fiksdal: I think we are.
McNeil: Okay.
Fiksdal: Thank you, Earle.
One year I taught two quarters with Craig Carlson and Meg Hunt. A lot of social psych, developmental
psych, literature and art. At the start of the program in the fal,l we gave each student a number of
narcissus bulbs. We told them we wanted them to serendipitously and secretly plant them in highly
visual spots all over campus. But not in the lawns or where they would get trampled. We told them we
had a reason for this related to the eventual program ending but would not reveal it until the end of
winter quarter. Toward the end of winter, flowers were popping up in some of the most unexpected
places. What we evolved in the program was the concept of transition and growth through stages of
moral, spiritual, artistic and community connection. We ended the program using the myth of Narcissus
and the growth from the egotistical self to adding to community beauty. I don't think many of the
flowers are left now but were for several years though for a few years I did add a number of flowers to
the big planter on the lower level going into the admissions area, as did someone else. [I include this
story because Earle was known for bringing daffodils and leaving them on staff member’s desks after he
retired. Also, those daffodils in unexpected places were beautiful and such a nice surprise every spring.sf]