Chuck Nisbet Oral History Interview


Chuck Nisbet Oral History Interview
26 July 2021
30 July 2021
Chuck Nisbet
Eric Severn
extracted text
Chuck Nisbet
Interviewed by Eric Severn
The Evergreen State College oral history project
July 26, 2021

Severn: This is Eric Severn, and I am talking with Chuck Nisbet. It is July 26, [2021]. Chuck, you are in
Chicago, correct?
Nisbet: I’m actually in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, today.
Severn: Okay, talking with Chuck from Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. I am in Seattle, Washington. Chuck, to
get us rolling, if you want to just give some basic where you are from, early Nisbet life stuff.
Nisbet: I think about somewhere between five and 10 years before Evergreen opened, I’d heard a
rumor that there was going to be a new college built in Washington. I believe the rumor came from
Mervin Cadwallader because he was teaching at San Jose State at this time, and I was teaching in San
Jose Community College. Years went by and one day and Mervin called to say there was going to be a
new college. That’s when I first became interested in finding out about Evergreen.
Severn: Let me backtrack just a little bit. You were at San Jose State teaching.
Nisbet: No, Mervin was at San Jose State. I was at San Jose Community College.
Severn: And you were teaching there?
Nisbet: Yes.
Severn: Just a little bit of academic background. Prior to that, you had finished your grad work where?
Nisbet: I graduated in ’58 from Kalamazoo College. There was a minor recession going on then, so I
decided to keep going and applied at Northwestern and at Indiana. Indiana offered me an assistantship
in the School of Business, so I went to Indiana.
After getting my MBA at Indiana, I went to California. I was looking for a job and just by chance,
I walked into the office of the President at the community college in San Jose. This was about a month
before school was going to start, and they just happened to have an opening that they hadn’t filled.
They practically horse-collared me into the office because it was good for them, and it was good for me.
I went to Berkeley right away and got a teaching credential so I could teach in a community
college. I taught there for two years, and after two months of teaching in the community college, I knew
I wanted to teach, but not in a community college for my lifetime.


I had to get a PhD, so I applied at the University of Oregon. After receiving my PhD at the
University of Oregon, I went to the University of Wisconsin on a visiting professorship. In the meantime,
I’d accepted a position at UCLA. After the visiting semester at Wisconsin, I went off to UCLA and I taught
there for four years.
In my fourth year, that’s when Mervin called me and wanted to know if I was interested in
Evergreen. Eric Larson, who is also a faculty member at Evergreen, and his wife, Pat, and my wife,
Sandy, were both students of Mervin Cadwallader at San Jose State. I was often at Pat Larson’s father’s
house, which was sort of a meeting place of liberal, radical, Democratic professors from San Jose State,
and one of them was Mervin. That’s how I got to meet Mervin. Our wives already knew Mervin and the
husbands got to know Mervin by sitting around their house and holding these all-night meetings
planning Democratic strategy for elections in the state of California.
When Mervin called, we—meaning both Eric and I—would come for a faculty visit at Evergreen
at the same time to check out the place. On the way to campus that morning in a borrowed car with
bald tires, we had a flat tire just before arriving at Evergreen. [laughter] So, we were a little late for our
interview—not too late, a little late. We had a very productive and exciting interview and the result was
I told Mervin, “If you want to hire us both, we’ll both come. If you don’t, neither one of us will come.” It
was kind of a bluff.
Severn: But it worked.
Nisbet: But it worked.
Severn: I want to go back to these nights that you talk about at Larson’s house. But as an economist,
how did you come to wanting to be an economist? You have a particular interest in economy that,
within the context of Evergreen, you were kind of an outlier. How did that arise for you?
Nisbet: I’m trying to figure out what part of the multifaceted question . . .?
Severn: How did your interest in economy—
Nisbet: You want to know how I got interested in economics?
Severn: Yeah.
Nisbet: This is a true story. When I was at Kalamazoo, I was taking economics from Sherrill Cleland,
who was a young assistant professor from Princeton. He was looking for a babysitter. He kind of
announced it to our class, and I raised my hand—I applied. I went over to their house and his wife was a
nurse and they had two small children. I would babysit for them once a week.


Over that period of time, I thought they were such a wonderful family, I decided, I’m going to
major in economics. Then I could have a life like this. That may sound corny, but that’s the truth about
why I decided at 19 to major in economics.
Severn: I don’t think that sounds corny at all. I think in a lot of ways, we come to our interests by
recognizing people that we want to be like and recognizing that their interests could possibly also be our
interests. I think that makes sense.
Nisbet: At the same time, I majored in economics and I minored in philosophy, about as far apart as you
could get. My minor was with a very elderly man, highly serious, highly professional, who was so
interesting. I majored in philosophy because the man was so distinguished and interesting, I thought I
couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend time in seminars at his home.
Then I went to Indiana and obtained my MBA. I took a job after my MBA, and within three
months, hated it and decided this was not for me. I had no idea what I wanted to do.
I was married, and went to California where my wife was from. [On a lark I took a job making
pizzas to pay rent until I could find something better.]1 One day I walked into the administration
building at San Jose Community College and asked if they had any openings. [laughing] They said, “What
can you teach?” I said, “I have my MBA from Indiana University.” The president came out of his office
and hired me on the spot. I taught accounting and economics at the college level.
I’m not sure I answered everything you asked about, but that’s the trajectory.
Severn: That’s great.
Nisbet: When I decided that I really liked teaching, I’d found something—by the way, as a footnote to
that, I have always tried to support the idea with students of trial and error, and never keep doing
something they don’t like, because that’s how I found something I really loved doing by trial and error,
and not sticking it out - quitting and starting looking again.
When I decided I needed a PhD, I wanted to go back and get it in economics, so I applied to
Oregon. When I went to Oregon, the very first day—I went a summer earlier to make sure I knew where
the library was. I took graduate courses in the summer to get ready for fall quarter. The chairman of
the department called me in and told me if I shave my beard [laughing]—this is a true story, I thought
you might like this—he’d think seriously about offering me a teaching assistantship. [laughter] [This was
another older, serious academic who didn’t coddle hippie looking young people,] just a different time—
1960— so, I shaved the beard, of course, got the assistantship, and ultimately received my PhD.


Bracketed sentences are those inserted by Chuck Nisbet after interview.


At Oregon, I had a summer Ford Foundation scholarship at Stanford. [Then I was awarded a
Fulbright to do my dissertation in Chile.]
Severn: When were you in Chile?
Nisbet: Very interesting time. I was there when Salvador Allende was elected President. I was sent
back there by the government—this is disjointed maybe—in the spring quarter of 1973, I did a 10-week
worldwide lecture tour with the Agency for International Development on agricultural development.
After that was over, they sent me back to Chile, where I’d done my dissertation. What it really
amounted to was when I got back to Washington after the Fulbright time, I was asked a lot of questions
about Allende. I didn’t know there was a coup coming, but it was a month before the coup.
Severn: Wow.
Nisbet: Some of the Evergreen people thought that I was a CIA agent. I wasn’t. [laughing]
Severn: Did they really?
Nisbet: Yeah.
Severn: I love that.
Nisbet: The fact that I could leave campus for a quarter and be gone all that time raised suspicions
about me.
Severn: I’m sorry, Chuck. Bear with me. I want to get the timeline straight, just so we have some of
these plot points nailed down here. You meet Merv when you’re teaching at the community college in
San Jose.
Nisbet: Correct.
Severn: You have not yet gone to Oregon to get your PhD.
Nisbet: Correct.
Severn: But you decide that you want to teach, so you go to Oregon, you get your PhD. At this point,
you’re on communication with Merv. Is that right? You have somewhat of a relationship?
Nisbet: Wait. I don’t think there was any real communication with Merv because there was this time
before Oregon where there was a rumor of a college. I don’t remember the timeline in years exactly,
but I think I went all the way through Oregon without any contact with Mervin. I actually had my PhD by
the time I heard from Mervin.
I was at UCLA teaching when Mervin called and said, “I’m a dean at Evergreen State College.” I
think I discussed this in my writeup that there were three deans. Mervin Cadwallader for social sciences
was a smart man, an exploratory thinker and very organized. Don Humphrey was a low-key science
dean who put together a terrific science faculty. Charlie Teske, arts dean was an interesting, talkative

character and talented musician. I think they did a remarkable job of hiring people the first and second
It’s my impression, or my recollection, that when Charles McCann received the mandate to
build this new college, he didn’t have a model in his head, other than he didn’t want to replicate every
other college in Washington. He wanted to do something different. It’s my recollection—I could be
mistaken, but I think you can probably find this out with other people—it was Mervin who had the
rough outline. It was Mervin who was the thinker about the model of the college. Even in our first and
second year, Mervin was writing little essays—memos—and sending them out to all the faculty having
to do with “What do you think of this idea about Evergreen, doing this and doing that?” He was a real
ideas man.
Severn: Do you remember some of the more salient ideas that were being passed around? Is there
anything that really stood out for you coming to Evergreen that Mervin was passing around that you
were particularly interested in?
Nisbet: By the time I was hired, there had already been a year of planning faculty. The planning faculty
and the deans had ended up with the “Evergreen model” by the time I got there. What happened after I
was there was not formulating Evergreen, but there were ideas about, should we have multiple
colleges? Should we break up into like three different components, or should we stay as one? But by
the time we got there, it wasn’t like, well, what are we going to do?
Severn: They were already there and doing it.
Nisbet: They already had that figured out. I would assume any founding faculty members that you
could interview would verify that, that it was formulated with them and Charles McCann.
I feel like I’m digressing, but there were so many things unique about Evergreen in the early
years, and one was Charles McCann. He used to invite faculty—I was never really one of them, I think,
not much anyway—but he invited faculty to his office for open-ended discussions in the first couple
years. They just sat around and talked about the college.
Beryl Crowe was always one of those faculty members. David Marr, I think, was another. No
other President of Evergreen after that ever did that. And he was a listener. He was not a talker. In
fact, we wished he’d talk more, but he wanted to participate in all of this discussion and get feedback of
how things were going and recommendations for hiring new faculty and every possible issue.
There’s something like a disconnect after that. Presidents were administrators but they weren’t
connected to the heart and soul of what the pedagogy was at the college.


Severn: The way you’re talking about these discussions, that is very much what I’m hearing, and that’s
very much in keeping with the ideal spirit of what Evergreen set out to do. This idea of part of what is
being cultivated in an academic program, in a seminar, is this sense of being able to listen to one
another, to talk with one another, and listen to ideas, and be receptive to a diverse array of opinions
and thoughts.
Nisbet: Yes. Maybe I should start talking about this first page I’ve got here because otherwise I’m going
to repeat myself.
The first section I have is called “traditional education vs The Evergreen State College.” I believe
that in those early years, almost all the hires had experienced teaching elsewhere before coming to
Evergreen, so they knew orthodox education. One of the reasons they came here is because they
wanted to do something different from that.
For example, because we came with teaching experience, we knew what being an assistant
professor was. We knew the class society of orthodox education. You’ve had assistant professors,
associate professors, full professors. Assistant professors keep their mouths shut. Assistant professors
listen to full professors who run the department, who grant tenure. They don’t talk, or they talk very
carefully. They bide their time. I, for one, didn’t like that at UCLA. I wanted to talk. I always wanted to
talk, but it was not the right thing to do.
There’s a department chairman and he’s your boss. At Evergreen, you don’t really have a boss.
Your department chairman dishes out penalties and favors, so you have to get along with your
department chairman. When I say chairman, in 1971, there were no women chairmen [and] not just in
my field, economics. In fact, there were no women—period—except token as adjunct professors. They
paid them pitifully little. They had no benefits. They had nothing except they could keep the costs
down in their department by having this one older woman teach regularly when I was there.
Orthodox education has academic deans who administer. Depending on how big the school is—
there could be an academic dean of sciences or social sciences, a different one in the arts faculty. There
could be multiple academic deans. Once you become an academic dean, you don’t teach anymore.
You’re a pure administrator.
The academic deans hold enormous power because they have the control over budgets of
various departments. They have the power over whether a department will get hires or won’t get hires.
For me, and I think for others, when we came to Evergreen, we didn’t want to have that kind of
structure where there was an academic dean who wasn’t a teacher and had that kind of power.


Academic deans were so removed from teaching faculty and their departments, they could
make hard decisions. My classic example is Berkeley. They did away with the Geography Department.
They just eliminated it. I can’t tell you the year this was, but that’s a drastic action. You have professors
of geography who all of a sudden, after how many years of service, they do away with your department.
They could do away with that because they weren’t teaching buddies of the geographers. They weren’t
daily connected to them. There’s a reason why traditional education has that kind of separation. When
we come around to talk about Evergreen, we’ll see what happens over the years when it’s just the
reverse, and maybe results in unintended consequences.
Creators of the Evergreen model wanted to do away with the class structure in conventional
education. One way to do away with that is I was never called “Dr. Nisbet” or “Professor Nisbet,” nor
was anyone else. I was called Chuck. Eric Larson was called Eric. It would be unheard of at UCLA for
anyone to call me by my first name, or at Wisconsin. That generates the classness, the separation.
Professor—student. They’re not equal, they’re different levels.
At Evergreen, we wanted to have students challenge us, and the only way for them to feel
comfortable challenging us is for them not to feel so separate. Obviously, we were separate, but not to
have that hammered over their head that they’re just students and we’re the knowledge holders here.
It simply worked at Evergreen. You had to be on your toes more at Evergreen than I would have to be at
UCLA where students were reluctant to question their professors.
Severn: You had to be ready for pressing questions in the way that you wouldn’t have to be in a
conventional [structure].
Nisbet: Yes, because Evergreen, like anywhere else, had some really smart students. If you didn’t take
your job seriously, you’re going to get embarrassed. I was not about to get embarrassed. I like that I
couldn’t just blow something off. I had to be prepared. I think that new faculty/student relationship
was something that attracted many liberals to Evergreen.
My good friend and teaching colleague, Alan Nasser, a radical leftist, didn’t mind students asking
questions because he was so confident in his ideas and himself it’s like, go ahead, fire away. So, not just
liberals came, but some radical leftist also were interested. But conservatives didn’t come.
Conservatives—and this is just my opinion—in traditional academia, they like the classness. They like
the separation. They would object to be called by their first name. They wanted the prestige and
separation of Dr. or Professor. At least that was my point of view.
At Evergreen, the deans were drawn from the faculty. We all liked that. We were for that, I
should say. The idea of the administrator right above us was one of us, it seemed they would have a

better understanding of what we’re doing at the teaching level. They came from us and they’re going
back to us after a few years of administration.
However, there was an unintended consequence of that, which was that the kinds of faculty
that came into the deanship were generally not type As, but type Bs.
Severn: How do you mean?
Nisbet: [Generally, the faculty picked “Type B’s” to serve as dean. That is, low key, soft spoken,
sensitive, good listeners, etc.] But one example was “Type A” Ron Woodbury became a dean and he
tried to fire Sandra Simon. We’ll talk about her later.
Severn: What year was this?
Nisbet: I can’t pinpoint exactly the years, but there’s a record of when Ron Woodbury was a dean.
Beryl Crowe, who was a very respected academician at the college, was a mentor of Sandra
Simon, and he and his friends pushed back on that process that was going after Sandra Simon, and Ron
Woodbury had to back down. It ushered in the notion that firing people at Evergreen was going to be a
problem. The problem was you were not going to put deans in there who were likely to take painful
action against one of their own.
Interestingly enough, Ron Woodbury left Evergreen shortly after that and he spent the rest of
his career on the East Coast as an administrator. I think he was made out to be an administrator in the
more conventional sense. Ron was a decent Type A guy type. [But he wanted all faculty to follow the
rules. If you didn’t there should be consequences.] There was nothing strange about him, but he did
not really fit well at Evergreen, as everyone else chosen as dean.
Severn: When you say fit, it seems like part of what you’re getting at here is just a sense that a kind of
hierarchy, where decisions are made from the top—decisions like firing and that sort of thing—where
there is a kind of distance from those decisions, like you’re talking about deans having distance from
departments in a conventional academic setting. You’re sort of talking about the general antihierarchical structure of Evergreen, in a way.
Nisbet: Yes.
Severn: And how that is baked into the institution itself.
Nisbet: We didn’t know that. When you think of any of the conventional schools, the academic deans
don’t party with the faculty. They party with other administrators. They party with their own. At
Evergreen, faculty in those early years, there were lots of parties. How do you have a party when you
have some faculty member walk in, who’s currently the dean, and he’s just fired someone, and here are
all the friends of the people that he’s going to the party with? Very uncomfortable.

Severn: And this was unexpected for you. Coming to Evergreen, you didn’t have a clear sense that it
was going to be like that.
Nisbet: No, because it’s not possible to think through all the unintended consequences of a very
different academic model —even if you were able to think through some of these outcomes, it wouldn’t
be well received because it’s like you’re taking the energy away from something that hasn’t even been
tried yet. They’d argue, “Let’s try it, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll change it.” You’re caught in a kind of
catch-22 here, where you can’t go either way.
The enthusiasm was to try our innovative model. We’re going to take on administrative
responsibilities because we think we can do a better job of protecting teaching and not have it torn
apart by someone who doesn’t even teach anymore.
By the way, another little footnote here. Bridges is part of the faculty now. It’s a conventional
safety net. When you appoint someone President, the worst thing that could happen to him or her is
teach. Charles McCann went back and taught after he stepped down as President and I taught with him.
He was the same person. He was not a talker, and he was not charismatic, but he took the job of
teaching seriously and earned the respect of all his colleagues. [I taught with him several times in the
Management and Public Interest program.]
I think part of why he did such a good job is because he was the father of this new college. He
was part of the birthing process, so even after he wasn’t President anymore, it’s not like he could just
head for Florida. He had to finish off his commitment to the college as best he could as a teacher, and
he did just that.

Another thing about why we were excited about coming to Evergreen. When you teach at any
university, they couldn’t care less what you wanted to teach. Their curriculum is practically set in
concrete. It’s all these different courses in any department whether history, economics or philosophy.
Only occasionally will a new course be proposed. Then it has to go through so many committees, from
inside the department to the department, to the academic dean, to the provost and or academic vice
president. It could take years to get that done. Years!
What I loved about Evergreen—and I’m sure many others did—you could create a new
academic program in the spring and then teach it in the coming fall. When Bill Clinton became
President, one of the first things on their agenda was to be healthcare for all Americans. Thus, in spring
quarter, I put together a fall quarter program on healthcare with one faculty, myself. Hillary Clinton
headed up the formulation of that original healthcare plan. So, fall quarter, we followed daily

everything that was taking place in Washington D.C. on healthcare planning in real time. The students
loved it, I loved it. You could never do anything like that at traditional colleges.
Every faculty member at Evergreen could sit around and think about what they wanted to
teach? It was exciting to call up other faculty members and three of you sit down and brainstorm about
a program you could do maybe not in six months, but maybe in a year from now. [Something that
would excite the students and yourself.] You could do this year after year after year. That was a huge
attraction, to me and incoming students as Evergreen had a living in real time curriculum.
Severn: It’s interesting to hear you talk about it like this because, on the one hand, what you’re saying
obviously is about this tremendous freedom. But on the other hand, part of what you’re implying is also
a tremendous responsibility, because you’re offering freedom to really investigate and invest in a
student’s time, and what they want to learn about. But with that comes all these responsibilities and
obligations to build these learning communities as they come up, and to make them substantial. That’s
got to be difficult, too.
Nisbet: Well, yes, but one advantage of the team-teaching approach, in contrast with my one quarter
on healthcare, is you’re not alone. You can have a team of diverse disciplines, backgrounds and
personalities, and as a team, you can draw on different strengths and compensate for any weaknesses.
You may have three, four or five faculty members taking the responsibility to deliver what you’re talking
about. If you’re all on the same page, you can deliver a terrific program.
You must have heard of Jeanne Hahn.
Severn: Yeah.
Nisbet: Jeanne Hahn was probably the most dedicated, the hardest working, one of the best professors
ever at Evergreen. She gave her life to this place. [She wrote the best student evaluations. She attracted
the best students. She put in long hours. She was a terrific colleague.] I’m not suggesting that all
faculty should have been Jeanne Hahn. But she’s the perfect example of what made Evergreen a firstrate liberal arts college.
Severn: Sure, but she was good at [unintelligible 00:43:51].
Nisbet: She was a terrific hire and a faculty member at the college. I’m going to cover this later, but
there were so many bright, dedicated faculty. It was an inspiring place to be. It was a place that raised
you to a higher level, in my opinion.
Now, [keep in mind that Evergreen had a normal distribution of faculty and students just like
everyplace else]. Evergreen had some not so good students and not so good faculty But the good news


is they didn’t have that much of either. They had some, but that was unavoidable. [With our “free
market” curriculum the good students and good faculty selected each other and visa versa.]
I think I sent you something today—oh, I have a people at Evergreen list that I sent you, a
spreadsheet, that I’m going to talk about. At the end of the people list, I have tried to write down the
hires in the sciences, because one of my mantras is that the strongest part of the college from day one
was science, even though I’m totally a non-science person and I’m looking at this from the outside. You
look at the hires made in science for ’70, ’71 and ’72. Incredible, in my opinion. There was not a single
one in the sciences that was problematic or weak.
Severn: You’re talking about the people. These are incredible hires. But do you think that the structure
of Evergreen in some particular way facilitated something about the sciences that leads to a kind of
Nisbet: That’s a good question. I don’t think so. I think that they made it. [chuckles] I never thought
about the question you’re asking, but I don’t think their facilities were unique or special.
Severn: Chuck, the reason I ask is because it seems like you hear discussions about the sciences a lot at
Evergreen and how Evergreen, as an institution, does have a kind of anti-hierarchy, just like you’re
talking about. That is part of Evergreen. But built into the sciences is a kind of hierarchy. There is builtin scaffolding to the sciences. I do wonder if there’s something in that relationship between an
institution that allows for freedom, and how even within that freedom, the constraints of the sciences
can somehow operate in a more creative way because of that context, but at the same time, the
scaffolding keeps something coherent and together about it.
Nisbet: I don’t know. For example, Evergreen, while I was there, had only two graduate programs.
One, the environmental science. Two, public administration. The main reason for the Master’s of
Public Administration was we were in the State capitol. Public employee of the state, if they came to
Evergreen at night and got their master’s in public administration could qualify for pay raises.
It was very obvious there was a market there; that if we offered this program, we were going to
get students. Not like Grays Harbor. The college opened a campus in Grays Harbor, they didn’t attract
sufficient students. You might guess why that was going to be the case.

Let me get back to what I was talking about. Because faculty could generate new programs at
Evergreen, it didn’t have what you saw in traditional education—the students sitting in class, and there’s
the professor up at the podium, and his notes are yellow and worn. There may be some shes, too, but
in the 50’s and 60’s is was primarily hes, teaching the same thing for so many years that he just kind of

laboriously goes through these notes. You didn’t see that at Evergreen because we were constantly
teaching new programs. Every time you taught in a team program, your read new material, and you had
to create new lectures.
Severn: And you seminar that material with your colleagues, too.
Nisbet: Yes. That’s another reason why this college appealed to some people.
Severn: When you came to Evergreen, did you have sense of what that aspect of teaching would be
like? Did you come knowing that you, as someone who was going to be team teaching, would actually
be seminaring materials with your colleagues? Or is that something that when you got there, you
Nisbet: I think we had some kind of idea, but not as much as ultimately came forth. We all knew that
first year—I knew I wasn’t coming to teach introductory economics. We knew we were going to teach
with a team, and the team would be made up of—like in my case—Larry Eichstaedt was the coordinator,
and he was a marine biologist. Phil Harding was an architect. Caroline Dobbs was an urban planner.
There was an excitement in the air that you were actually going to be working with a group of
people that had a totally different expertise and that you could learn something besides what you
already knew. But how you were going to do that, you may not have known as much. It wasn’t that you
knew you could create programs every year, but you knew that there were going to be different
programs every year. You didn’t know how much you could be a part of this, but it was going to
happen. For me, teaching Principles of Economics, or any economics course year after year, was chilling.
It was just dreadful.
What kind of people came the first year? I think very confident. Primarily, very confident
people. Why? Because they were leaving the comfort of certainty and entering into an arena of
Severn: They had to have a degree of confidence to do it.
Nisbet: Had to have a degree of confidence. If you’re going to walk in a room and be subjected to
questions by students, and even your colleagues, you’d better have some confidence.
Severn: Also, I would imagine—correct me if I’m wrong—something of a clear sense of mission, too, a
kind of orientation toward the school and teaching that has its own sense of why it matters. If you don’t
have the scaffolding of convention is what I’m saying.
Nisbet: Yes, I would agree with that. There were all kinds of different approaches by different faculty.
For example, one of my favorite stories—Steve Herman, science faculty. Students loved this man. They
respected him. He had an 8:00 program that he taught by himself.

Severn: At Evergreen? That’s unheard of. Eight in the morning?
Nisbet: It turned out he was an early morning person. [laughing] You know what? Steve Herman was a
type A guy. He wanted to teach at 8:00. If you wanted to learn anything from him, you could damn well
show up at 8:00. You know what he did at 8:00? He locked the door.
Severn: Oh, wow. Also, not quite in keeping with Evergreen.
Nisbet: No, so I’m saying, there were all kinds of different approaches here. He locked the door. I
actually saw a student banging on the door one morning. He never let the student in. Guess what
Severn: The student wasn’t late again.
Nisbet: They all showed up on time. And they loved and respected Steve Herman. Sometimes a bit of
type A authoritarian stuff gets you in trouble, but somehow his delivery of it, how he went about it,
students accepted.
I’ll tell you another Steve Herman story. In the fall of every year, there were leaves all over the
campus, Red Square, and the Maintenance Department, when you walked on campus at 7:30 in the
morning—I’m an early morning person, too—there they were with their gas-powered leaf blowers
blowing these leaves into big piles and all that. Steve Herman was offended—absolutely offended, so
we went out and bought a dozen rakes. Not the morning that he had his class [but] he had his students
raked Red Square. They kept doing that for I don’t know how long, I don’t exactly remember, but he
made his point that it was noisy, there was no reason for them to use mechanical equipment. He was
very unorthodox, which was true about many of us.
Third story about Steve Herman. Fieldwork was a huge part of his work in the sciences. In the
early years—which I’ll cover later—budgets were huge. Unbelievable, in retrospect, the budgets we had
in the first five or six years. Later, we had little to no money.
When Steve first started taking field trips, there were motor pool cars and vans he could take
and charge it to the program budget. When the big program budgets days where a thing of the past,
what did Steve do? He bought an old, yellow school bus. When I came on campus in the morning, there
was that yellow school bus, the students all lined up with their notebooks, backpacks and whatever, and
[they] piled onto that school bus. Steve drove them around to complete their field studies. However, it
was not that long—maybe a year, I’m not sure—and then ultimately, they closed him down because of
liability concerns. The college wouldn’t allow him to use a private vehicle to do that.
I think this paints a picture of a unique faculty member. Steve was also a falconer. He had a
falcon cage in his backyard for his pet falcon. He was diversified and a hard worker, but he wouldn’t

comply with certain responsibilities that everyone else did. The college had to bend and accept because
he was so good at what he did. [Here is where a Type B dean came in handy.]
At Evergreen, there was no tenure, just revolving contracts. But in practice, there was a kind of
tenure. After a few years, there came into existence what they called a probationary contract that
didn’t exist initially. A so-called three-year period of your first contract, you’re put on probation. I don’t
know if there was a single person ever terminated after the first three years. There may have been,
especially maybe in the last 29 years, I don’t know, but not in the 30 I was there. [When faculty
unionized in 2006 (?), I doubt firing was made any easier.]
After your first contract, there was a series of revolving contracts. I think there were three- to
five-year contracts. All they did is they just revolved, essentially. The irony was supposedly, this was
going to be a no-tenure place, which all of us thought was a great idea—the faculty, some faculty
anyway, for me and Jeanne Hahn and others. Why? [People would have to stay involved, stay sharp.]
We wouldn’t have old deadwood, these old faculty members who are burned out, they’re tired, they
have no more energy. We liked the idea of no tenure, but it never worked out that way because of
these revolving contracts, problematic faculty evaluations and Type “B” deans.
There would be no letter grades, just pass and fail. The narrative evaluation, which I think we all
liked because if all you can give a student is a A,B, C or F what does that really mean? When I taught at
UCLA, there was a knock at my door, the only time a student ever came to my residence in the four
years I was there. When I opened the door, I didn’t know who it was. He said, “Professor Nisbet, I’m Soand-So and I’m in your Latin American Economics class.” I said, “Oh.” He said, “I need a
recommendation for graduate school. Could you please write me a letter of recommendation?” What
could I write? I went to my gradebook. All I could look up was letter grades from the work he turned in.
I knew nothing about this young man.
Narrative evaluations, we thought, were terrific. The thing we underestimated is the time it was
going to take to complete them for 18 to 20 students each quarter. Very early on, the faculty separated,
where people like Jeanne Hahn and Nancy Taylor—a whole laundry list of others—spent hours and
hours, me included, and wrote a full page narrative evaluation of a student. Not just saying, oh, they
were a good student or that’s a great paper but providing details of what kind of paper they wrote, or
what kind of contributions they made in seminar. When somebody would look at that letter, you knew
something about the student, not just they were a quote great student. How were they great? What
did they do that was great? [What areas of improvement were needed?]


We were excited about narrative evaluations. Not all faculty took those evaluations that
seriously. Macro evaluations started to appear over time, where you filled in blanks.
Severn: You mean like a form evaluation kind of?
Nisbet: Yeah, kind of. It was okay, but I just think that some faculty couldn’t compete with the likes of
Jeanne Hahn in devotion and energy. She was a single woman. If you’re a faculty with three children,
you didn’t have the same kind of hours to put in that she did, so you didn’t try to match her. But you
could still do a good job. If you had 20 students eventually, how many hours can you spend on each
student at the end of the quarter?
I was going to talk about when the college opened. I spent the entire era of the Vietnam War on
university campuses—University of Oregon, University of Wisconsin, and UCLA. By the time Evergreen
opened in the fall of ’71, the public was tired of the war and tired of campus protests.
While it is true that campus protests were instrumental in helping to bring about an end to the
war, it came at a cost to higher education in the years ahead that I never anticipated while I was a
participating anti-war protestor. The taxpaying public watched years of campus demonstrations,
damage to property, and even campus deaths. There was a bombing in Science Building at the
University of Wisconsin. It killed one student, one of my fellow students at Kalamazoo College years
earlier. You had Kent State shootings.
In the years ahead, after Vietnam, the public asserted its unhappiness with higher education by
lessening its financial support. It took decades for the public to come back together with academia
because the public, in many ways—or some segment of the public—resented the fact that we college
professors and college students were spending our time not in the classroom, but we were out raising
hell. So, when the college opened in ’71, we opened in Thurston County with a skepticism and a
concern from the public who saw faculty looking like hippies and students looking like hippies—
Severn: Can I ask you something about that? You had mentioned that there was this speculation that
you were a CIA agent. You had just done this work in Chile. I’m just curious if you could fit that in—your
experience with that, why that came up within this cultural context you’re talking about, but also
specifically Evergreen? What was that about?
Nisbet: The very first year of Evergreen, everybody taught in a team-teaching program and two faculty
members took individual contracts. I cannot remember one of the faculty member’s names, who didn’t
stay there very long, if I remember correctly, but the second one, Robinson. I’m forgetting his first
name. Peter Robinson! That’s it. Peter was here and then he was gone. He was here and then he’d


disappear. I’m telling you, people thought he worked for the CIA because everyone else was here all the
time in those early years.
People didn’t live in Seattle or Tacoma much in those early years. Everyone was in Olympia and
on campus three or four days a week. They were there for faculty meetings, they were there at parties.
It was a real community. Peter was invisible, and nobody could find out what he did, what his
background [was]. He was a mystery man. The minute he became this mystery man, then [came] these
rumors starting about, oh, maybe he works for the CIA, or maybe he’s a secret agent. [laughing]
Severn: Were you a mystery man, too, or was there something else?
Nisbet: I don’t know about that. I think that . . . well, one of the things that was also a puzzle for me at
Evergreen is that there was a bit of a conservative image of me, but I think it had more to do with my
being type A—where that came from. Mainly because when I came, I came as an economist, and
economists [laughing]—all my years at Evergreen when we had parties and there were community
people there, people would want to know “What do you do?”
When I would tell people I was an economist, I got two responses. One was, “Do you know
where the bathroom is?” [laughter] Second response was, “I think I need to refill my glass. I’m going
back to the bar.” People don’t want to talk to you when you tell them you’re an economist. Even
businesspeople, who you’d think—they don’t want to talk to you. They don’t want to ask you anything.
At one point in my life, I tried telling people I was a sex therapist, and that worked about as well
as an economist. I couldn’t pull it off somehow.
The fact that the government was paying me to go for an entire quarter around the world
lecturing, and that was in ’73 or ’74, I’ve forgotten, that stood out. Nobody else was—how come the
government is paying Nisbet to go off all around the world? So, I think that’s where some of that—I’m
not saying it was pervasive, but it came up.
Severn: Sure. It’s hard not to [unintelligible 01:12:07].
Nisbet: I wasn’t hippie-looking, but I didn’t have a crewcut either. I didn’t wear sportscoats. Nobody
ever wore a sportscoat at Evergreen.
Another funny story. I loved fall quarter. I loved it. What I loved about fall quarter is going the
first day to class. All these new faces, and then looking at these faces and conjuring up in my head who
these people all were. One day I walked on campus in the fall quarter and there was this young man
with a white Oxford shirt with a button-down collar. I said to myself, when does that shirt get thrown in
the “free-box?” Sure enough, in about three weeks, I saw him again and he was entirely different.
That’s all I can offer you up about the rumor about the CIA. I don’t know.

Severn: You had also mentioned in our initial talks about just some of the papers that David Marr and
Rudy would write and send around, and you all would talk about that during those first couple years.
What was that like, the sense of discussing and debating these ideas about the college?
Nisbet: It was invigorating. They called them manifestos. The M&M Manifesto 1 and M&M Manifesto
2. I never really got to know David Marr very well. He was very reserved, or I saw him as reserved. He
had a very nice wife. Just a decent man. Pensive person, I always thought. I knew Rudy a long time and
got to know him.
No one in traditional education asks you what you think about what they’re doing. [laughing]
Here, they’re asking. “What do you think about this idea?” I should say that not all faculty participated
in this, but a large number.
Severn: Yeah, and it was available. It was something that you could do.
Nisbet: That’s right, so you didn’t have to come, you chose to come. You elected to come, and most
people elected to come. It was invigorating. It was a way to get to know how someone thinks. It was a
way to have a stake in the place. In other words, when David and Rudy put themselves out there, they
were not just responding, they were putting themselves out there. Somebody would say, “That’s a
terrible idea.” They were willing to do that.
I hope this isn’t going to throw us off base here. Look what happened in 2016-2017. If there
was ever an opposite to that, when you have an equity plan that you can’t even comment on. When we
were talking about my experience and then this happens to my college, it’s like, what in the hell? What
a difference between then and now.
Severn: I do want for there to be room to talk about the now, but it seems that part of what you’re
getting at about the then, though—when you showed up—is there was all this room to take what were
preconceived ideas and to question them. There was a lot of room for debate, there was a lot of room
for different ideas to circulate. That was foundational for those early years.
Nisbet: Yes, it certainly was. After a certain period of time, it was over. There were no more position
Severn: What do you think happened? What do you think caused that shift?
Nisbet: Because these were papers on the big picture, and after a certain period of time, the big picture
was there. Then you dealt with micro issues, small pieces of the picture but not the big picture.
Severn: Yeah. I don’t want to get you too far off track here, but it sounds like you’re saying that there
was a question about what Evergreen is in those early years.
Nisbet: Yes.

Severn: That question was ultimately answered.
Nisbet: Yes.
Severn: Fairly early on.
Nisbet: Yes.
Severn: Then after that question was answered, the discussion shifted to stuff within the smaller
question within that question.
Nisbet: Yes, or even actions. For example, there was a faculty member—one of the unintended
consequences of faculty evaluations was—and is, and there’s been no rectifying this in the big picture—
that faculty evaluations assume everyone will be honest and direct; that everyone is comfortable being
honest and direct with their colleagues. What was overlooked is human nature. That was too much to
expect. Jeanne Hahn could do it; I could do it, and a lot of other people could do it, but there was a
significant number of people who couldn’t bring themselves to do it.
Severn: What do you mean by human nature?
Nisbet: I mean confrontation. Here you are at the end of the quarter, and you’ve written your selfevaluation and your evaluation of your fellow faculty members, and you’re sitting together at a table. If
one of your colleagues didn’t read the books, didn’t show up on time, didn’t do a good job writing
student evaluations or holding student conferences and you cite this in an evaluation, this is going to be
very uncomfortable.
Severn: Right.
Nisbet: It’s bad enough that you actually write it down, but you have to look at the person when the
person reads it. Human nature, not everyone is comfortable doing that and being there, and you cannot
force them to do it because they can’t do it.
My best friend couldn’t do it. I didn’t know until it actually happened at Evergreen. He couldn’t
do it. The only thing he could do is search for some positive things to say. When you talked about the
good parts and you just left off all the problems, and that went to the dean, you couldn’t fire anybody
and maybe more important you couldn’t lay out details for self-improvement. It was a real dilemma.
Severn: Yeah, I see what you’re saying.
Nisbet: It was hard enough to do with students. You had the same situation. You should see a
student’s face when they read some of this stuff. It’s not that they don’t know it’s true. They just didn’t
think you were going to write it. [laughter] Or they were hoping when they walked in, oh, maybe he’ll
just go easy on me. In most cases, the students didn’t like it, but they knew it was true, so they couldn’t


wait to get it over and get out of your office. That was an unintended consequence, and a serious
problem, but no one ever found a way to change it, improve it, get around it.
Because of that, one quarter there was a faculty member—Paul Marsh—that the college
wanted to get rid of, and they never had enough solid evidence to get rid of him. What did they do?
They put him in Political Economy with Tom Rainey and Chuck Nisbet, knowing that we would write
honest and direct evaluations containing enough deficiencies to fire him. That’s exactly what happened.
Severn: Wow.
Nisbet: That’s not a good outcome. That’s not a good way to rectify the system, and I don’t know of
any other case like that because I think that if you suspected that faculty were being set up to fire
someone, they would not be happy about that.
[Here is another change that took place over time. In the late 80’s if you had written a poor evaluation
of a female student, you left the door open while the student was in your office for the end of the
quarter conference and in some cases you also had a program secretary sit outside your office to listen
in so there couldn’t be a he-said, she-said compliant filed by the student because you had a witness.]
Severn: A lot of what you’re saying seems to be pointing toward how both these great ideals about
Evergreen have led to some really wonderful stuff, but built in, too, are some difficult conflicts that can
arise under the same ideals.
Nisbet: Yes, we’ve identified two of them right away so far. One is that the deans coming from the
faculty [and returning to the faculty will find it difficult to make hard decisions on their fellow
colleagues]. [The same outcome comes through on faculty evaluations. Some faculty won’t give the
deans honest information about the fellow colleague that could lead to his or her termination.]
Should I talk about the very beginning, Pack Forest?
Severn: Yeah, let’s do that, and we’ve been recording for about an hour and a half, almost two hours.
Why don’t you give me a little bit more and then we can wrap up the first session and we’ll just jump
right back in where you leave off?
Nisbet: Okay. I don’t know whose idea it was, but there was going to be like 60 of us, the planning
faculty and the first-year hires. They took us to Mount Rainier National Forest for a retreat.
The idea was team building and trusting, I suppose, getting to know each other, because it was
kind of awkward for all these people to all of a sudden be plopped down in the middle of the forest. We
didn’t know anybody. But my friend, Eric Larson, was there, so I had one person I knew.


One of the first things that happened that never happened ever again at Evergreen, we
academics played touch football in the afternoon..
Severn: That’s hilarious.
Nisbet: You know what? It was a hugely successful thing. Dick Nichols was the communications
director. I’ll give you his full title, I don’t know what it was. He was a local sports announcer, and
everybody in the community knew Dick Nichols, so he was a good guy for the college, a good buffer. I
think it was Dick Nichols who said we ought to do this.
There was a large amount of the males that wanted to do this. Of course, the first year, there
were mostly males by a big margin. I threw two touchdown passes to Fred Tabbutt, and we probably
had limited contact for 30 years after that. But we all remembered that day, Fred and I, and we would
make reference to it now and again. What a distinguished person and faculty member was Fred
The second thing that happened at Pack Forest that was good was directed by Willi Unsoeld. I
don’t even remember how this happened, but we had a lot of free time at meals where people sat
together and introduced themselves. Little groups of people met each other, and probably made
friends there for a day. You know who Willi Unsoeld is, right?
Severn: Yeah.
Nisbet: All of a sudden, he’s marching us all off into the woods. We stop in this one spot, and he hauls
out this long rope, and he says, “Okay, we’re going to rappel over the edge.” I knew nothing about any
of this. I think we were all kind of standing around looking. I think Pete Sinclair, probably, who is a
climber, and a couple people must have volunteered. They could see them rappelling off the edge. I
don’t think it was terribly long. Willi held the rope while you were—and there was no safety [belt?
01:28:55]. It was just one big rope.
The funniest thing about that whole thing was Charlie Teske. Willi didn’t say, “Get dressed for
outdoors,” and Charlie Teske had some nice pants and Oxford shoes. [laughter] Here’s Charlie Teske,
who was not particularly athletic, had his shoes on the edge. It just was a total non-picture of what
someone should be looking like rappelling. It was just crazy. I’m sure there were some people who
didn’t do it, for good reason. But Willi had a lot of command, and if he said we were going to do this, I
said to myself, I’m going to do this. I think it was a good thing because again it was a trusting Willi and
team building.
Pack Forest was a wonderful first beginning, as opposed to just showing up on campus to your
team and start teaching.

Severn: Also, kind of emblematic, too, just this notion all these different faculty and deans and
everybody going off the edge.
Nisbet: Yeah. We never did that again. We never rappelled and we didn’t play touch football. Never
Severn: Let’s end this one right here and then we can pick up where we left off.
Nisbet: Okay, sure.


Chuck Nisbet
Interviewed by Eric Severn
The Evergreen State College oral history project
July 30, 2021
Severn: This is Eric Severn with Chuck Nisbet. Chuck, you’re in Chicago. Correct?
Nisbet: Correct.
Severn: It is July 30, [2021], and we are picking up where we left off. We were in Pack Forest and we’re
picking up there with a story from Chuck right away. Let’s hear what you’ve got.
Nisbet: I’m jumping ahead to the mid- ‘80s. Today we’re going to start with 1971, but I wanted to tell
this story because I’ll probably forget it.
In the mid- ‘80s, I think it was, I came down with a case of shingles that was around my waist. It
was very painful. Tom Rainey, who I’d taught with several times in the earlier years—who was a Navy
medic or had some kind of medical experience with the Navy—he came in and told me, “You drink too
much coffee, Chuck. You’ve got to cut back on the coffee.”
I did more than cut back. I stopped drinking coffee. Guess what? My shingles went away.
From that day forward to the present, I’ve never touched coffee. I thank Tom Rainey for his great
medical insight.
Severn: It’s good that this is on the record because you never know when Tom Rainey’s going to need a
little boost. [laughter]
Chuck, we left off with the Pack Forest retreat.
Nisbet: That’s correct. I’m going to start fall quarter of 1971. We walked on the campus with mud all
over the place. It had rained, the quarter was opening, and what I’m calling the Seminar Building, does
that ring a bell to you? I think it’s now called Dan Evans Library Building.
Severn: Yes.
Nisbet: The main building I believe at that time we called the Seminar Building. When I use that term,
that’s now the Dan Evans Library Building. There were no buildings finished to my recollection, so when
we walked to the Seminar Building, it was almost finished but not quite.
Severn: There was just like a bunch of trailers around, right?
Nisbet: There were a lot of trailers around. What that meant was that the programs for fall quarter in
’71 had to take refuge anywhere they could with 70 people, including the faculty roughly, with four

faculty members. I can’t remember where all the other places were. They were in churches. They were
anywhere they could get in.
Our program, Environmental Design, which Larry Eickstaedt was the coordinator, and it included
Carolyn Dobbs, Phil Harding, and me. We went to Camp Robbinswold, which is a Girl Scout camp up the
peninsula in the forest, in the trees. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. When the first-year faculty
arrived, and I’m using the figure 45—it can’t be off by too much—they arrived on campus and they knew
it was a different campus, but they were just trying to figure out what different meant, and the college
was trying to start explaining to them what it meant.
We had terms like “innovative.” At UCLA, they didn’t talk about innovative, or the University of
Wisconsin. That was a term that needed explanation or comment. Finally, there was the term “book
seminar.” I had only a vague idea what that term meant.
Over the course of that first quarter, and even, I think, the first year, various faculty members—
and the one I think I remember the best was Dick Jones, who was a psychologist—gave workshops on
running a book seminar. A major effort that first year was making everyone comfortable with what a
book seminar was, and not just comfortable but productive, so they could run a seminar properly to get
the most out of it.
There was excitement in the air that first year. The idea that we walked through the rain and
the mud with backpacks. No one was complaining about the weather we’re walking in. They were too
focused on—as the students were—that this was something brand new for all of us.
Severn: Can I stop you for a second? I have a question. This idea that you come to Evergreen and
you’re unfamiliar with a book seminar and what that is supposed to look like. Do you remember how it
was presented to you as an incoming faculty? What was the model like that you were handed?
Nisbet: In traditional education, professors talk, students listen. What they were trying to drive home
was now we want students to talk and professors to do more listening. By the way, as a capstone to
Evergreen, one thing that the Evergreen model did a remarkable job is its students, by and large—the
vast majority of them—when they graduated after four years from Evergreen, they could talk. They
were not shy, or they weren’t as shy. They were articulate. They were confident.
Too often, in traditional education, you can spend four years in classes of 100 to 400, and all you
do is take notes and pass tests and take exams. You can graduate and you’re da-da-da-da-da. You’re
tongue-tied. That’s something that I think is known, but needs to be emphasized, that that was a real
byproduct of [an Evergreen education].


The second thought on that is that team-teaching with different faculty taught the faculty and
the students how to work in groups. Here’s what happens when people graduate. By and large, or in
many cases, they don’t just graduate as an individual, go to a job and work as an individual. They have
to work with other people. That gave students an advantage over, I think, others’ conventional
education. They had some experience with working with others, particularly others that are different
than them, different in academic background.
And at Evergreen, as the college became more diverse, you had to learn how to work with
people that weren’t exactly like you—didn’t look like you, didn’t have a background like you. That was
the second, I think, unbelievable strength of the value of Evergreen education.
The third is writing. There was nowhere except on an individual contract where you could
escape writing. The book seminars had writing, sometimes writing every single week. There were
papers that students wrote, so they did a lot of writing. That’s the third strength, as I see Evergreen, all
the years I was there, and I presume it probably is still there.
Severn: Even just the whole idea of a seminar paper, coming to seminar with a paper that can be
anywhere from an outline or your notes to a more thesis-driven essay.
Nisbet: Yes. Now, back to your question. There were various people that helped about running a
seminar, so I can’t speak for everyone. I’m sure there were differences. But the one difference was that
in a seminar, you weren’t supposed to lecture. [laughing] You assigned a book, and then the real
expertise of seminar leader was to instigate a discussion and keep it going, or stop it when it’s not going
anywhere, without offending a student or making someone feel bad. That’s a real skill.
Let me stop just a second because I’m thinking of something else. One of the things that I did
way late in my career at Evergreen, which is pretty simple, but I should have done it years ago. You
come into the seminar and what I experienced is that it was rare that all 18 students read the book
carefully, or even read the book. I was always offended by that and put off by that, and you could tell.
You had to be creative as a seminar leader. Some students at the very beginning would bring up
something that was in the first 10 pages of the book and were silent the whole rest of the seminar. They
were trying to fake you out that, oh, yeah, they read the book.
What I developed was a 10-question quiz. The questions were programmed over the course of
the book. They were real simple questions, like “What was the setting of the novel?” Or “Where did it
take place?” I mean, stupid, simple questions. “Who was the main character?” Questions that you
could easily get if you read the book.


It took only 10 minutes class time to complete. It had a penalty to it, mainly, you knew when
you came that there was going to be a quiz. You knew every week. And the same kind every time. The
students who were good students and did their work, they weren’t one bit concerned about doing this
because every time, they’d get 10 questions right. But if you didn’t read the book, you knew that you
could guess at some things, but it showed up. They maybe answered two out of 10 correctly.
I’m sure some people—faculty—wouldn’t have agreed to this, but I found it very useful to just
provide more incentive—it could be negative incentive—to do more preparation at least, and not just
Back to the seminar. The key thing was to try to get students to start talking. One of the
questions that I tried early on was “Why did the author write this book?” I had to stop asking that
question because too often, one or two students said, “To make money.” [laughing] That didn’t exactly
further the discussion.
Severn: To an economist, no less.
Nisbet: Yeah. [laughing] It wasn’t helpful to promote a discussion, so I had to stop doing that. You had
to think of something that kicked the discussion off.
Severn: I want to keep some sense of this linear trajectory that you’re on here, while also maintaining
this discussion about seminars, just because I think the two are interesting together. It’s fall quarter.
You’re out in the woods at this camp place with your students, and you all are learning how to seminar.
You’re doing that. You’re figuring that out. You don’t really have a classroom to do it in.
Nisbet: Yeah, that’s a very interesting question. Fall quarter was completely unique to my time at
Evergreen. There isn’t anything close to it. Some days, we were sitting outside. Some days, we were in
a cabin. It was raining outside and damp. You’re sitting on the floor. I’m not sure the pedagogy was
advanced in that fall quarter. I’m not so sure.
That was more of a quarter where—actually, we got along. I’ll tell you. You can delete this if
you want, but at the end of the fall quarter, something happened that never happened again. The
students organized it. They brought in a live band and a keg of beer. The four faculty and the students
drank beer, danced, partied together. I was given the nickname “Dancing Bear” at this final—they called
it a celebration, and it was, that somehow, we’d got to know each other, we had developed an
enthusiasm and an interest in this new college. But in terms of learning, I think the learning was in
second place to coping with the total unusualness of the setting.
Severn: Yeah, that’s interesting, Chuck. It makes sense what you’re saying, but I also do find myself
wondering, we’re talking about this as if the two are easy to separate. Some of the things that you’re

saying about that communal atmosphere that developed, it seems like that, in its own right, has become
embedded in the Evergreen pedagogy, in a certain sense. Do you know what I mean?
Nisbet: I’m not sure because I’m going to develop this as we go along here. If there ever was the sense
of community, it was that first year. All this talk about community thereafter was not like what
happened that first year. There was no tension. In some sense, you didn’t know everyone well enough
to complain about each other. [laughter] We were unknown, so it was totally different, totally unique.
I don’t mean to say there wasn’t learning because I’m sure there was, but I have no data to
establish anything one way or another. I’m just guessing that we had to cope with stuff, and so we were
interrupted, or it was segmented, the teaching we were doing. I really suspect that some of the faculty
had to be quite innovative in what they had to try to do to keep things going because of the difficulty.
Severn: Right, so that all changed after that first year is what you’re saying. There was a sense that the
community that was established that first year shifted quickly the second year? Is that what you’re
getting at?
Nisbet: All I can say is that after that first year, then things started to diminish or to—I don’t know what
it did—it wasn’t as powerful as we are all in this together sense of community. There started to be
complaining. Not a lot, but I can say very definitively that this atmosphere only lasted somewhere
between three to five years, that first half of the 1970s.
This is jumping ahead, but I should say this. I think it was in the very second year—and there’s
data on this you’ve got to know—there was a call to have a racism workshop. I don’t know who called
it. I don’t remember that.
Severn: This is your second year, so we’re talking about ’72-ish?
Nisbet: Exactly, 1972. I don’t know whose idea it was, but the idea was—keep in mind, we had money
then. In those early years, we had very ample budgets. In addition to our academic budgets, the college
funding—there was just more money around the college in its entirety.
The idea was to bring in an outside firm to run a workshop on racism. The only thing I really
remember about this is it was awful. There were two practitioners or whatever you want to call them
that came on campus. The whole faculty was together, and by then, instead of 45, we were like 90. The
first two years were big hires.
It was an awful experience, and it was a strange experience. What was awful about it, first of
all, you have a liberal faculty. You don’t have a diverse faculty of conservatives, far left, and the middle.
It was basically a center-liberal group of people. They came in and lectured the hell out of us at this
session. When we took a break that first morning, there were very unhappy people. Harsh. It was

harsh. It was domineering. The idea would have been to enlighten us about something about racism
that we—for example, institutional racism would have been easier to talk about because we were a
brand- new place. That was something that, from that day forward, anything that had to do with race
got more and more tense at Evergreen. We were sort of gun shy.
I guess I might as well bring this up while we’re talking. I’m going to use names and you can
delete them. We’re totally able to do this without names, but I want to say names.
Severn: Go ahead.
Nisbet: Someone can look at what I had to say, and if they disagree, they can disagree. After that
outside racism workshop, the very next racism workshop (in 1973 or 1974) was run by faculty member
Maxine Mimms. Maxine Mimms is one of three faculty—black women who were hired over time—that
all had one thing in common. They were what some people would call “street smart.” I came from a
little town in Wisconsin and I sure as hell wasn’t street smart. I knew nothing about cities.
Maxine had this workshop, and we all went up to Fort Worden or someplace. It wasn’t on
campus. It was up the Peninsula. Again, I remember very little about this workshop except I was called
on by Maxine to come to the middle of the room. She proceeded to humiliate me. She proceeded to
tear me to shreds as a white, liberal male. A type A male. Type A males at Evergreen were out of favor
in preference to Type B males.
Type B males—and a primary example in my opinion is Don Bantz. That doesn’t mean there’s
anything wrong with Don Bantz at all. It just means he is nonthreatening, soft spoken, sensitive, good
listener, etc.
I never forgave Maxine for that awful experience, because she exploited me to drive home her
point of the workshop. That was completely foreign to this idea that we were a community that came
the first year. Nobody was embarrassing or humiliating anybody that first year. I’m going to come back
to this, I think, a little later, but that’s a kind of breakdown of—actually, you know what? Let me take a
break from this and go back to my outline, and then I’ll come back to it. We were talking just about fall
One other disjointed thing that I think is important. The first two faculties, the first two 80 or 90
people, I think they really felt they were the creators and builders of the Evergreen model. Maybe it
included the first three years, I don’t know, but very soon, the model—what we did—was done. We
weren’t trying new things. There was the format: the evaluations, the three options that you had were
in place.
As we moved into the late ‘70s, the job market for academics got really tough.

Severn: Yeah, for faculty.
Nisbet: Yeah, really. What I felt I don’t think I ever talked about it explicitly, but I certainly felt, is that
some of the hires that came later—clearly, I’m going to talk about terrific hires that came all along my
30 years—some of those hires were people that weren’t joining Evergreen faculty because they’d heard
about the idea, and they liked the idea. They were desperate for a job, and they took it anywhere they
could get it.
Those first 90 people—it was like their college, they created it—or the first 100, a certain critical
mass. They were all on the same page in terms of putting forth effort. Working. As the college
progressed, the faculty as a group changed. Now there were, in my opinion, lazy faculty.
By the way, let me say something about lazy. When we first were hired at Evergreen, everyone
negotiated a contract with the deans. I negotiated a contract that was pretty favorable because I had
other job offers. Some people hadn’t ever negotiated or didn’t know about or didn’t know how to
negotiate, and some people arrived and discovered that they were being paid way less than others. It
was very early on—maybe in the third or fourth year—that this was a source of tension, a friction, that
why were some people getting this amount and other people that amount when we were all doing the
same thing? And presumedly, all working as hard as anybody else.
They changed that, and they froze, for example, my salary and others’ that were high, and then
they raised the lower ones up until we were all at the same pay scale with a year of service difference.
In other words, the more years of service you had, you were in a grid, so when you had more time
served, you got an increase. That was the equality. If you’d been teaching there for 10 years, you had
the same salary as somebody else.
When they did that, that was the end of meritocracy. Almost everywhere, differentials in
salaries presumably are based on outcomes. Betty Kutter was a very well-known scientist, and if she
was someplace else, it wouldn’t be unusual at all if she was paid more money than somebody else who
didn’t have a national reputation.
With the end of meritocracy—for me—it meant everybody oaring the boat. I think I was a
hardliner on that. It offended me when most people were working hard, doing a great job, and some
people, maybe not many, damn near doing nothing.
In the fall quarter, no one thought about what someone else was making and whether they
were working hard or not. Very early, there were these factors that changed things—the introduction of
racism, the hiring of more faculty, some of which—while I’m pointing out some of them might have just
taken the job just to have a job, clearly there were plenty who were different.

People who came later may not have been creators, but they could have been protectors. Do
you follow what I’m saying? In other words, they were interested in seeing that this model stayed
viable, healthy. I’m not trying to say that the builders were the only important people here—the
creators. People who came later down the line were very important to help things stay together.
Because there were so many factors going on during the ‘70s, all during the ‘70s, the college was
under terrific threat of closure. Every time the State Legislature met, primarily the legislators from
Eastern—the Cascades divide Washington into east and west. In the east, they were conservative
people. The whole idea of Evergreen was so foreign to them, they just thought it was crazy.
Furthermore, there was a competition for where to locate this new college. There was no
competition about whether one should exist or not, and the fact that it never got located in Eastern
Washington was a sore spot. Some of this crying about Evergreen was because the minute they didn’t
get it in Spokane or wherever, they were not happy. But we were under tremendous pressure those
early years to avoid being closed down. I’ll come back to that.
I’m trying to build this mosaic of tension, problems, worries. If I remember this right, we had
faculty meetings at the beginning of the year [where] they were basically asking the faculty to recruit
students to help build enrollment. That’s what a lot of the criticism was that we weren’t getting any
freshman students from Thurston County. We didn’t the first couple years, but then gradually, we
started to get students from the local high schools, and gradually, we started to protect ourselves. By
the time—I don’t know exactly what year it was, but I would say sometime maybe in the early ‘80s—
there wasn’t any more talk of closing the college.
Severn: Right. It was there.
Nisbet: [Unintelligible 00:34:22]. By that time, we had graduates, like Denny Heck, who went on to be a
Congressman, and Dennis Karras who was in local government—I’ll come back to him—[as] the Director
of Human Services. Very nice man. He was an Evergreen graduate and a good friend of mine, actually,
because he was one of the neighbors. Anyway, we had graduates that went into the community. That
helped solidify Evergreen in the eyes of local Olympians.
The faculty that came later were protectors, maintainers, tweakers. I’m sure I’m totally
unaware of many faculty who came in the 80’s and 90’s. There were things that were done by an
individual faculty member later on that became part of Evergreen, part of what went on.
Fall quarter. Here’s a story for you. I was baking bread. Those first years, we were doing it all. I
baked bread fall quarter and never baked bread in my life after that. [laughing] I was baking sourdough
bread. I called Governor Dan Evans’s office and I got his secretary or staff person. I introduced myself

and said, “I want to invite the Governor to come to Evergreen for lunch from 12:00 to 1:00 to speak to
our program, Environmental Design. We have a lounge. If he will come, I will tell no one that he’s
coming so he could come on campus, no one will know he’s there, and in an hour, he’ll leave.”
Furthermore, I said, “I will fix his lunch. I bake bread and I’ll make a sandwich for him and bring a soft
drink.” She said to me, “I’ll have to speak to the Governor. We’ll call you back.” She called me back and
said, “He can come on such-and-such a date.” I said, “Perfect.”
On that day, I was at the doors that look out on Red Square towards the little circle where cars
drive up. I was there ahead of time. He showed up about five minutes to 12:00. He was driven up by a
driver. Door opened. Dan Evans starts walking across the Red Square towards the building.
Just at that time, President Charles McCann came by and said hello to me and “How are things
going?” He looked out and he said, “What! What is he doing here?” [laughter] I said, “He’s just coming
to a short visit and then he’s leaving.” Apparently, Charles was going someplace with purpose, so he
just walked away.
Dan Evans came on the campus. I introduced myself. The Environmental Design was right on
that first floor of the Seminar Building. We walked back. The students were waiting. He came in and
sat down in a chair and I gave him his brown bag with his sandwich. He proceeded to open it because
students were eating at the same time. He just proceeded to talk and eat his sandwich. I don’t even
remember what he talked about, but the students were very attentive. He thanked me at about 10
minutes to 1:00. I escorted him to the front door. His driver was waiting for him out in the circle, and
he went away.
Severn: That’s wild.
Nisbet: That was just one of the little things that we could do then. Of course, I’m sure you’re aware
that when his term was up as Governor, he became President of Evergreen. I’ll come back to that.
Severn: It’s interesting, Chuck, just that there are so many tensions that arise within a community being
established. I think oftentimes the trajectory is establishing the community is a time of coherence and
reciprocity and people working together. But then, once the community is established, you get a lot of
the tensions that you’re talking about.
I think it’s easy to overlook that. That was such a process, a foundational process, for Evergreen,
and not so much—you’ve got like a conventional institution where you’re not trying to define all this
stuff. You’re not trying to establish this sense of community around what it even is, around an idea. The
particular sets of conflicts that you’re talking about, it seems like it’s so much part of establishing any
community, in a certain sense. Do you know what I mean?

Nisbet: Yes, of course.
Severn: It’s interesting.
Nisbet: In that first year—no, I’m still on fall quarter. The first end of the first quarter, the faculty all got
together to discuss evaluations of students as a group. We’re sitting there at this table, the four of us,
and Carolyn passes out a piece of paper with very few with very few lines on it for us to read. I read it,
and it was a poem. I said to Carolyn, “Carolyn, this is not a self-evaluation. This is just poetry.”
I don’t know if you ever knew Carolyn Dobbs, but Carolyn was small in stature, she was soft of
speaking, but she had a terribly strong inner self. She looked at me and she said, “Chuck, there’s more
than one way to write an evaluation.” That was the end of it.
I told this story at her memorial, and after I finished the line about “Chuck, there’s more than
one way to write a self-evaluation,” I said, “And we never taught together again.” Everybody laughed
because they knew the difference between the two of us. They were laughing because they were
probably saying, “The two of you teaching together has to be really crazy,” because we’re so different.
The irony of that is that Russ Fox, Carolyn Dobbs, Sandy Nisbet, my ex-wife, and myself were very good
That was another example of learning at Evergreen; that my concept of a self-evaluation was a
strict narrative. You had to understand that in our model, there’s going to be all kinds of different ways
of doing things—running a seminar differently—so I had to adjust to that. I had to learn to expand my
own view of how things were done. That learning is something that took place very early on, or if there
was learning, it was early on.
Severn: And yet, there have to be limits. Right? It can’t be a free-for-all.
Nisbet: No, of course not. I think what we’re really saying is that almost all the students wrote the
same kind of self-evaluation. Some spent more time in it than others, some were more analytical than
others. But there were still outliers of how you could do it, and poetry wasn’t a form of how 20 percent
of the evaluations were going. It also showed you the openness of the faculty. Faculty had to be ready
for something coming at them that was a little unusual.
Severn: While we’re on this theme, we’re talking about differences in pedagogical approaches, and how
there must be room for adjustment in your learning experiences as you adjusted your own idea of what
is an important pedagogical approach.
What about your discipline, your background as an economist? You came in with a particular
background, a fairly conventional one, as an economist. Did you face challenges on that front, too?
What kind of things did you learn on that front, just in regard to your discipline?

Nisbet: Boy, I don’t know quite how to answer that, except what’s interesting is that when you study as
an undergraduate, you’re exposed to different perspectives—theories—of explaining whatever it is, and
you learn a pedagogy of attacking problems.
Severn: Yes.
Nisbet: What’s interesting is that at Evergreen, I discovered that the easiest way for me to deal with a
curriculum is for the curriculum to be centered on a problem, or around problems, because there’s
almost no problems that can’t use economics, or that if you don’t know economics, you’re at a
disadvantage, because it’s embedded in the problems. Not only is that true about economics, it’s true
for almost all disciplines.
Severn: The discipline you’re talking about.
Nisbet: The discipline. I don’t care what your discipline is, take communication—Virginia Ingersoll, her
degree was from the Communications School at the University of Pennsylvania. She had no problem
inserting her specialty into a program with problems. That’s the main way that I was able to take my
discipline —and it taught students that when they left Evergreen I need to know how to work with
For example, it could be an academic problem. They took a job at another college or university,
and universities deal with fundraising, or dealing with how to attract students. That’s a problem. How
do we increase enrollment? Well, how do we address that problem? There’s no one specialty that deals
with that. I obviously was different. When you teach economics, you have to start with principles and
then you take intermediate theory, and then you start going into different specialties—money and
banking or public finance or labor economics or whatever.
For example, you might have some economists that came whose field was labor economics.
That person would probably like to end up dealing with problems that had something to do with
humans as workers, whether union or non-union. I think when you learned about what Evergreen was
about, if you were willing to make that opening in your head about, what validity does your background
have to play here?
Severn: Yeah, yeah. Right.
Nisbet: Then you can do it. But if you come thinking, oh, well, you can’t do anything about this problem
until you’ve had four courses in economics, this is the wrong place.
Severn: That’s right.
Nisbet: If a student just learned about the simplest principles of economics, which is how markets
operate—supply and demand—when it came to recruiting black PhDs, if you didn’t understand that

problem—which many people did not, such a simple problem as that—then you get all messed up about
why we’re not hiring more PhDs. Because the fundamental problem is lack of supply. There’s very few
black men or women in America who are currently enrolled in a PhD program in economics. There’s a
lot more today than there ever was in 1971. We could never, in my 30 years in Evergreen, ever get a
black PhD to even apply, let alone be considered. What was that? It was a supply and demand problem.
When I was teaching at UCLA, only one student that I had in over four years was black and
received his PhD. When he was finished with his PhD at UCLA, he had multiple offers. Multiple. If you
add to that income, if you’re in short supply of anything, you command a higher price. Evergreen was
not bidding for anybody. Because we had this fixed grid of salary, they were basically offering the same
money. That meant if you were a person of color from a prestigious university, or even a good
university, Evergreen couldn’t possibly compete with price for you.
The result was we had a very hard time finding people of color. We did find some, but they
were few and far between. Then you have a quality issue. No one wants to talk about this, but it’s just
straightforward that if you’re a person of color and you are not high quality, you may find it difficult to
land a good job in corporate America, and you will not be able to land one in top tier academic
institutions. But if you keep looking and you come down in quality of institution, you will eventually find
someplace that will hire you. That kind of discussion, we never had that at Evergreen because then you
get people who won’t understand that or won’t accept it. They’re saying, You’re just not trying. You’re
not doing your job. You’re not out there really looking really hard.”
That’s the answer that always got the credence. And it’s still true to this day in many fields.
English literature has an oversupply of PhDs. Therefore, it’s very difficult to find a job. My first teaching
job was in a community college. There are plenty PhDs in literature teaching at community colleges
today. Not four-year. Not even at a low-quality four-year. They’re teaching in community colleges.
Severn: Yeah, right. It’s interesting what you’re saying about disciplines. I do think that the way that
you are describing . . . it’s almost as if . . . and correct me if you see it in a different way, but it’s almost
as if part of what you’re getting at is that Evergreen—your experience coming these first couple of
years, there was this idea that disciplines didn’t offer themselves as the only way to attack a certain
problem, but more as a certain set of tools that can work along with other sets of tools to look at
different sides of any particular problem. That was one of the foundational views.
Nisbet: Yes, and to Evergreen’s credit, there are a lot more institutions today that adopt that
interdisciplinary approach today.


Severn: Right. I think it’s the kind of thing where it’s like we’re kind of at a place now where that almost
seems obvious. Interdisciplinary studies, that’s accepted. But it seems like part of what you’re really
getting at here is that there was no blueprint for this kind of—there were, there were some pedagogical
ideas in the air, for sure, that pointed towards these kinds of things. But the real practice of it, you all
were trying to do that. You were trying to figure out what it would look like to actually have an
approach where disciplines were given to students as tools to solve problems that worked together.
That was a really radical thing at the time.
Nisbet: Yes, it was. Now, the end of the first year, we had a graduation like no other graduation ever.
[laughing] I’m sure there’s video of it. If you could see some prints of what it looked like. When you
come into the Seminar Building, there’s a big, flat area, and then there’s stairs that go up on the left. If
you come in the building, to your left there are stairs that go up, and there’s a flat area on the stairs at
the top, then you turn the corner and there are more stairs up to the second floor.
On that flat little area of the first stairs is where Charles McCann and different faculty members
stood. Phil Harding was dressed in some gawd awful gown with a crazy hat or something on his head. It
was almost like—what’s the Brazilian festival? Not like New Orleans—it wasn’t quite that bad—but
everyone was dressed in funky things. It was a very small graduating class, so they could do everything
in this raised area, and all the audience were in chairs on the main floor.
Because we had students who obviously dropped out of other colleges just shy of graduating,
they came for their final year here and then graduated. I only mention it because you have to see a
picture to see how unusual it was. It’s hard to describe something that never happened again.
I think that’s the end of the first year. Now I want to shift to talking about the early ‘70s. I think
I mentioned the Chile Symposium last time, so I don’t want to go over the whole thing again. But there
was one thing about the Chile Symposium I don’t think I told you. The floor of the Library Building was
packed with people. We only had one corporate person that was willing to come and speak. All the rest
were academics, half of them friends of mine from previous places.
When the corporate guy got up to speak, he wasn’t five minutes into his presentation, and some
people from the audience—they could have been students, but they could not have been, there were so
many outside people here—jumped up and started shouting and screaming to disrupt his talk as a
capitalist pig or whatever. Tom Rainey jumped out of his seat, raised his arms, and screamed
“Provocateur! Provocateur!” Tom Rainey’s such a big guy, it was really imposing.
Guess what? Silence. Those people shut up and never said a word again. That was a wonderful
thing about Tom. Everybody knows Tom. It was a perfect moment for him to do something like that.

Severn: Explain that a little bit. Why was the moment so perfect for that?
Nisbet: Because Tom was an example of myself and others at Evergreen that where we’re a part of an
institution that allows so much freedom, then one of the freedoms is freedom of thought, and freedom
of listening to different people. Not that we were the only faculty wanting to hear a range of views.
There were all kinds of faculty who ascribed to that.
Since he was one of the tallest, and he could speak really loudly if he needed to, he was the right
person to shut down the hecklers. If it had been someone else, they may have not been listened. He
was not only physically the right person, but he was showing that Latin America was not his field, Russia
was his field—the Far East—that you could bring someone from another discipline to support other
people’s disciplines from having the freedom of thought and the freedom of ideas.
Actually, the guy’s speech was not bad. I think at the time I was impressed that he gave a very
low-key explanation of dealing with the coup and American business abroad. It was valuable for
students to have all that. That’s the end of the one piece that I didn’t talk about the Chile Symposium.
Severn: That’s interesting, though.
Nisbet: During those early ‘70s, there were really unusual things once I looked back on the 30 years
there. Here’s one for you. Don Chan. Have you ever heard anybody mention Don Chan, the faculty
Severn: Not off the top of my head, no.
Nisbet: Don Chan was one of the first people of color—Asian—he may have been the very first. His
field was music. He was in the Arts faculty. I had no contact with this man. I was off in my little
program. I was never in an Arts program or Arts faculty. He put together a pop orchestra. It was an
orchestra that consisted of anyone who cared to come and audition. You play, and he decides if you can
play well enough.
Severn: Tryouts?
Nisbet: Yeah, tryouts. Anyone could come tryout. He had this orchestra that had faculty—Alan Nasser,
Charlie Teske, Will Humphreys, and I’m sorry to say, I bet I’ve forgotten a couple of others. In other
words, part of his orchestra was faculty. He had some students that turned out that came to Evergreen
who were very good musicians. They came and tried out. They were included. He had community
people. He had this incredible, diverse group of musicians.
He wrote a lot of the music that they played, which was varied music. It was in the floor of the
Seminar Building, the bottom, the entryway lobby. People were around the upstairs. They played at


night. I don’t know how many concerts he did, but they were only occasional. People loved it. They
were really good.
There’s something I should mention now about Don Chan. You can Google Don Chan. It’s really
easy. He’s so much older now that I can recognize him, his face. He’s had a storied career, an
incredible, wonderful career.
He’s the example of two faculty of color at Evergreen that we lost after a very short period of
time. I would say that he couldn’t have been here for more than three, four years. Why did we lose
him? Because he was so good. He could command money, and he could command prestigious offers. It
all makes sense. This ties into my telling you about recruitment problems of people of color. Retention
then was another thing.
There’s another faculty of color whose last name, I believe, is [Jake?] Romero. He’s Hispanic. I
cannot remember his first name. He was in the sciences. He only lasted her about three or four years.
Boeing got bid away from us. I’m sure Boing multiplied his Evergreen salary many times over.
Back then, there was a problem of diversity. Not as hot as it is today, but it was there. We lost
two really terrific persons of color because we cannot compete with the rest of the world. If you’re
independently wealthy—some Evergreen faculty were—you could ignore that, and love Evergreen and
stay here.
Malcolm Stilson in the ‘70s. He was I don’t know if they called it the Dean of the Library, but he
was the head of the Library then. His son [Randy] later—I can’t remember his first name—was also
head of the Library. Malcolm Stilson wrote musicals from scratch. The musicals incorporated faculty
and staff. They had to sing. Once a year in the spring, it had a funny name—oh, he wrote the Gooey
Duck Song, Malcolm did. Every spring there was this celebration at night. People mobbed to it to laugh
and have fun with the participants of faculty and staff singing and doing funny dancing. Malcolm was
very talented.
I’m citing these things as bonding, as cementing the community. It was so healthy for the
community because of—I should jump into this right away. The Evergreen staff was critical to the
success of Evergreen. The staff didn’t always know or understand what they were supporting
(academically) because their job was staff, like running the bookstore, the library, security or in the
Finance Department. But the faculty—for example, too many faculty thought they could park anywhere
they wanted to on campus because they were faculty. There were signs up all over the place. “No
parking.” Some faculty were outraged when they were fined for illegal parking.


The faculty were a bit elitist with the staff . Maybe I should say special, not elitist. They didn’t
turn their work on time to program secretaries, and that made life difficult for the secretaries. They had
to do all this work quickly. They were running around asking for more money. Do you know about the
supply room?
Severn: No.
Nisbet: Okay. In the basement of the Seminar Building was the supply room. That was the room that
held all the supplies that you dealt with—pencil and paper, notebooks, anything that you needed.
There was one guy down there forever. He was down there by himself. He was a quiet guy,
and I’m sorry to say, I can’t remember his name. You had faculty running through there all the time.
“Oh, I’m out of this, my students need this!” He didn’t say, “I’ll get them for you two weeks from now.”
He gave them to you now.
Staff bent over backwards to help us. The bookstore. Perfect example. You’re supposed to get
your bookstore order for books at a certain time so they can order them. Some faculty were
consistently tardy. But the staff graciously put up with it. The woman who ran that bookstore in the
‘70s—again, I’m sorry, I don’t remember her name—did an incredible job under difficult circumstances.
It must be said somewhere in our history that the staff in its entirety was instrumental in our
success. We couldn’t have done as well as we did without all their support.
The Library. There’s an array of people who worked in the library—many of them women, who I
can’t remember their names—that I worked with the library and my students. I had the Library put on
workshops for my students. It was an honor to be with these people.
Severn: That’s great.
Nisbet: Even at the very beginning, Dean Claybaugh is a figure. He was the very first Vice President for
Finance. His secretary was terrific. Charles McCann had a long-time secretary (Rita?) who was honored
by the Board of Trusties when she retired. These were just amazing people, in my view. They just can’t
be thanked enough.
We’re going forward with the ‘70s. We’re still in the ‘70s. All kinds of things happened unique
in the ‘70s. For example, Carolyn Dobbs and the Organic Farm. She was the one that got the Organic
Farm started, and it started our first year here. Guess what? It’s still going, and it’s bigger than ever, as
far as I can tell.
Phil Harding, who was one of the four in Environmental Design, was an architect. He had
students build a treehouse. It shouldn’t be called a treehouse because it sounds too trite. He had


students design and build and use a mammoth structure, in the trees. The project went on for several
Severn: What came of that?
Nisbet: It didn’t last more than a decade as the college had it torn down because they felt it was a
liability. It wasn’t done to code. Didn’t have inspections like a regular structure, so it’s gone. No one in
the ‘90s or today knows it ever happened.
Can you imagine telling a group of students, “You can design this, and we have the money to get
the supplies for you to build it.” That’s what Phil Harding could do because there was money in those
early years. He didn’t design it; he just oversaw it. If a student had a structural design that he felt
wasn’t going to work, he would tell them to go back and do it different, make it stronger. The students
loved that.
Severn: That’s kind of the ideal learning experience.
Nisbet: Exactly!
Severn: You’re exploring, but you have a guide to keep you from getting too off the rails.
Nisbet: That’s exactly right. As an architect, he loved that. He wasn’t trying to create career architects.
It’s the enthusiasm and confidence that someone can say, “I can do this” when it’s all finished. And “If I
can do this, maybe I can do something else not even related to architecture.”
Another thing that happened the first year. Somebody—I can’t remember who—rented a kayak
mold from the University of Washington for 24 hours. It came as a flat fee. I think it was $500.
Evergreen was on a large plot of land with various old structures. The campus itself is only a small
square footage of the total acreage that they have here, so there were other buildings on the Evergreen
campus, a couple of them right down in the water.
There was this tiny, little garage-shaped building with nothing in it, and whoever got these
molds went into this building. It had very poor ventilation and you’re dealing with fiberglass.
They announced to the faculty “We’re going to rent this kayak mold. Anyone who wants to
build a kayak, get in your, I don’t know, $100 deposit or something,” and then they would schedule your
time. They had more than enough faculty, staff to agree, and they booked the place full for 24 hours,
cranking out these kayaks. I was one of them that got a kayak. It was also an interesting experience
doing this. However, it wasn’t very healthy because we were sniffing in all these fumes in this tiny, little
building with poor ventilation. That happened once only in 1971. Never again did that ever happen.
Another thing the first year. Some men, faculty and staff, discovered a basketball hoop in the
steam plant. I never saw it, but Phil Harding did. Apparently, the staff of the maintenance people put

this basket up there, so some of these men—faculty and staff—started regularly playing basketball at
night in the steam plant as a faculty-staff getting together, knowing each other, playing together. That
went on. That was also stopped in the ‘70s because it was supposed to be locked up and somehow,
they found a way to get in the building at night.
Severn: Chuck, I don’t want to cut these stories off of the first year, but you were kind of moving into
the ‘70s and it seemed like you were going to get at some of the changes that were happening after
those first couple years. I just wanted to make sure that we do get to some of those.
Nisbet: Okay, here’s another one. This is mid- ‘70s or late ‘70s. A student knocked on my door. It was
a young woman that I recognized from a previous program in the early ‘70s, and this was mid- ‘70s, late
She walked in and she said, “Chuck, I’m going to apply to law school. I’d like to have you write
me a letter of recommendation.” I said to her, “I can’t do that.” She said, “Why?” “I can’t write it
because you were not a good student, and if I point out why you were not a good student, this is not
going to help you get into law school.” She turned around and bolted from my office.
In about 1980, there was a knock at the door. I said, “Come in.” She came in, walked up to my
desk, and she said, “See this?” It was her law degree. It’s one of the happiest stories that I had at
Evergreen because even negative incentives can work. That woman walked out of there and said, “That
sonofabitch, I’m going to show him.” And she did.
It’s where you tell someone the truth and they do something about it. We all have the capacity
to do a lot more than we think we can if we just put forth the effort and work at it. To me, that’s all she
did, and I was damn proud of her. That’s a great story.
Severn: In your experience, do you think that Evergreen facilitates the ability for faculty to do that more
than other institutions?
Nisbet: No, not necessarily, because in some sense, you establish much more rapport with students at
Evergreen than you do elsewhere. There’s something about that rapport that means you won’t be
mean to them; you won’t be as hard on them. There’s something about that.
Severn: Yeah, there’s something about that teacher-student hierarchy that breaks down a little bit and
it might make it a little harder to . . .
Nisbet: Yes. There’s got to be all kinds of variations of that. I had another case very similar with a
graduating senior—a man—who was showing me his application, again for a law school, and it was filled
with spelling mistakes and grammatical mistakes. I looked at it and what I said to myself was, you’ve


been here four years and you don’t even know how to write properly. I said, “I can’t write a letter for
you.” I never heard from him again.
I think all these faculty that I’ve talked about with you previously, like Jeanne Hahn, they would
be perfectly honest with the students, but there was a minority of faculty at Evergreen who were not,
and the students that couldn’t write worked with some of them. If you’re not honest with them and
you’re just trying to get along with them, be buddies, be friendly, you are doing students disfavor.
Now, we’re going to turn this on its head. Over time at Evergreen—my last decade at
Evergreen—if I had a woman who I was writing a critical evaluation of, I kept the door open and had a
program secretary sit outside the room in the hallway. Why? Because the whole gender war was so hot
then that if I had written a bad evaluation of a student, they could turn around and write a bad
evaluation of me, and even accuse me of being sexist or whatever. Why was the program secretary
siting outside my office? So she could hear the conversation, and if there was a discrepancy later about
what the young female student would say, it wouldn’t be he said/she said.
Things changed a lot over the years about tension, and about leverage. The leverage came from
gender, and it came from race. After I left, it didn’t get better. It just escalated.
Severn: Do you think, Chuck, that . . . how do I say this? . . . if these are tensions that to you feel like
they’re salient, do you think there’s something about the Evergreen model that exacerbates them?
Nisbet: Oh, absolutely.
Severn: What is that?
Nisbet: It’s not complicated at all. It’s something I didn’t understand when I came there. I wasn’t even
thinking of this. I was thinking of us all in the same boat. We’re all thinking the same. I’ll tell you
exactly what I think. Over my three decades, the college hired smart, strong, street smart black women;
Maxine Mimms, Angela Gilliam, and Naima Lowe. [All soon discovered they could exploit “white guilt
“of the left learning liberal faculty to their advantage. The first step was getting women behind them or
at least not openly disagree. It proved relatively easy to silence Type A white males and Type B white
males were never a problem.] 1
At the beginning, we were all individualists. The men stayed unorganized to the very end. They
weren’t part of a group. There was no men’s group or men faculty meetings or men gatherings. There
were friends of men who got together, but there was no community of men. That made it easier for
these three women to pursue their agendas.


Bracketed sentences are those inserted by Chuck Nisbet after interview.


White men, like myself and others, we harbor liberal guilt. I consider it a failure of my
generation of white males. I will be 85 soon. We failed our children, our country, to deal with racism
substantially. It’s definitely improved but it’s not enough. It’s not anywhere close. So, we carried guilt
that we haven’t done what we should have done or could have done. Therefore, when you carry that
guilt with you, when someone suggests or accuses you of being racist, you just collapse. You fold up.
And you shut up. That’s the first thing that happened.
The second thing that happened at Evergreen is when the college was trying to increase the
number of women at Evergreen—because it was small, zero in the founding faculty, and it was small all
over the country—it took time. As it took more time, the energy to do something got stronger. The
woman faculty did something the male faculty didn’t do. They started to coalesce. They started to
meet. There’s nothing wrong with this. This was no conspiracy. I think women faculty academically had
always been token for too long. They were the ones who couldn’t talk, not because they were told not
to talk. Because they were not encouraged to talk in departments loaded with white males.
When they got to Evergreen, I think there was an interest to be an equal partner, not be a minor
partner. If you were one of these female Evergreen faculty members who came from a background
where you didn’t speak up, all of a sudden, you’re in a background where you were encouraged to speak
up and encouraged to talk. But rather than speak as individuals, the women met and discussed ideas
and reached a kind of consensus among themselves about positions. I don’t mean all the time or 100
percent, but they came up with a critical mass of what was acceptable to all of them.
So, when we held a faculty meeting, one or two women would present something and three or
four more would second it. In the room, you could feel it that the women are for this. One guy standing
up and saying he’s against this, it was weak.
[My 30 years at Evergreen seem a stark contrast to the troubling years of 2015-2017 when
students tried to block a convocation speaker’s lecture to open the school year, when] no discussion or
feedback was solicited or allowed on the equity plan written by a few faculty that had their own selfinterests in mind, when students & faculty publicly demanded a faculty member be fired for speaking up
and to the “wrong” people. How far we’ve come from the birthing model of the college in the ‘70s when
the meetings were open, when discussion was encouraged, when no one was excluded. Have we
progressed as an institution of higher education with an innovative model, or regressed into a postmodern place of identity politics where self-interest and control was not challenged because of white
liberal guilt that allowed itself to be pressured into submission for fear of being called a racist? If you’re a
white liberal, the worst thing that can happen to you is to be called a racist, or even to be implied. Not
even to be called, but to be hinted that you’re a racist. In a contemporary scene now, it’s not just being
called a racist, but how about a white supremacist?


That was the Achilles heel of the model; that we attracted white liberals and white liberals
weren’t willing to stand up early on to things that should not have happened in the area of sex and race.
A footnote to this. Rudy Martin was a very important black faculty at Evergreen. In my opinion,
he did the best he could to work with white faculty and black faculty. He didn’t take sides. He was
trying to build bridges. He was trying to do the best that he could.
One of the hypotheses that I have is that over all these years, you will not find male of color that
ever took on the role of the three black women. In other words, assertive, tactical, getting liberal white
faculty in line to follow their agendas.
I’m not suggesting that Maxine didn’t make a positive contribution at Evergreen. [She was
responsible for creating and administering the Tacoma Campus. But oversight was almost non-existent.]
She took in faculty like Richard Brian—a mathematician who was sick and tired of teaching math —and
she protected him the whole rest of his career. She surrounded herself with a team of people that did
Maxine’s bidding and she in turn protected them..
There have been student protests at Evergreen throughout its existence. Many of them
encourage and or lead by Peter Bohmer. He was a rather mild-mannered guy, but single-minded. Peter
was always supporting protests, but his protests were generally about national policy and national
outcomes. They weren’t directed internally. [One of his protests took students to the state capital and
it didn’t end well for Evergreen. The Daily Olympian displayed a front-page picture of Peter standing on
the desk of a state legislator. It took some time for us at Evergreen to heal that wound.]
Severn: Oh, wow.
Nisbet. To my knowledge, there was no one on the faculty in my 30 years that would have turned
students lose on campus to threaten another faculty member. When I saw video of May 2017, it was a
George Floyd moment! You don’t have to know a great deal—just look at the video and hear the
audio—and you’re seeing things on that campus that were never close to happening in the 70’s, 80’s
and 90’s. It made me incredibly sad, unbelievably sad, to see what happened to my/our college.
Anyway, I’m getting a little carried away, but the question you asked, did the model contribute
to that? The answer is yes. It’s called unintended consequences. I don’t think there should have been,
but if [we had been stronger and willing to speak up and not evolve into that “silent” community, it
might not have ended with the very existence of Evergreen being threaten. Maybe it wouldn’t have


ended that way if we were more of a heterogeneous community. But we were pretty homogeneous in
our feelings, in our politics, in our empathy, and therefore, we were too vulnerable.
That’s why I’m trying to talk about the college in a period that was so robust, was so healthy,
even though it was under siege from outside in the 70’s. I still think despite all these problems that the
college still produces a product, a good product. I’ll give you one example.
I came back to the college—I can’t tell you the year exactly, but I’d say it was seven years ago,
something like that—and it was the end of the year. Arts students had a gallery opening of their
products for the year and Jean Mandeberg took me to the campus to see it. I was stunned by the
quality of what I saw. Unbelievable to me.
And what I mentioned earlier, about Evergreen teaches students to talk, the whole gallery was
manned by the students themselves. They took turns keeping gallery hours. They were there to talk
about their work, and they were so clear, so articulate, so full of confidence and satisfaction in their
yearlong projects. It was the best thing in art I’ve ever seen. It was far better than anything I ever saw
in 30 years.
I’m saying somehow, despite all the things that have been happening, there still has been
something very good going on at that college to produce a product, and the product, in this case, was
To cap it off, Jean took us over to the Lab Building to show the new facilities that somehow, she
and others had been able to get money to do. We met a couple of other students working there. It was
just a thrilling day for me.
Severn: That’s great, Chuck, and I think this is a really good place to draw this session to a close. You’re
highlighting a really positive note about Evergreen, and also making, I think, relevant criticisms. I think
that’s great. You leave us with a nuanced moment of where Evergreen is now which I appreciate.