This is the work of George Woodard Houston, born in New York City and for thirty-six years a faculty member in the Department of Classics of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  My goal in these pages is to set down my memories–buttressed by diaries, letters, and various documents–of the Department of Classics and its home, Murphey Hall, during those thirty-six years.

The reason for doing this is simple enough: to preserve for future generations a picture of university life in the second half of the twentieth century, from a faculty member’s point of view.  This seems an appropriate moment for such an endeavor.  Higher education in the United States, never a static phenomenon, is currently evolving and changing at an extraordinary rapid pace, prompted and enabled by changes in technology and by various social and political pressures.Others have analyzed these changes and offered predictions concerning the future of higher education.My interest, however, runs in the opposite direction, to what we are leaving behind.  This is not a plea for a return to, say, pre-computer days, nor is it intended as an argument against the changes that are currently in progress; but American universities of the twentieth century were a remarkable phenomenon, and I believe it is important to preserve a record of how they were organized and functioned.  If I present details of university life here, I do so in the expectation that such details will be of interest and use to future historians, and in the belief that they are not readily available elsewhere.

This is not a memoir.  I will draw largely upon my own experiences, but the focus is not on me or my life, and I will present no coherent picture of my own professional or personal life.  Instead, the focus throughout will be on Murphey Hall–the home of the Department of Classics–and on what happened in that building, from formal classes to casual events, during the second half of the twentieth century.3  It should be clearly understood also that this is not in itself a history or analysis of American higher education.  No broad generalizations can be made on the basis of what is preserved here, which depends, after all, on what was seen and recalled by one teacher in one department of one particular institution.  I would hope, though, that this book might provide useful material for more comprehensive studies.  It would simply need to be combined with similar accounts from other faculty members, students, and administrators.

The book can be viewed as a kind of oral history, but an oral history that from the start was written down.  It is like oral history in several ways: it depends largely upon memory; it is organized by topics and is episodic rather than chronological; and its usefulness will be greater if it can be combined with other such histories and stories.

Readers will soon notice another aspect of the book.  I tend to draw examples and comparisons (as well as an occasional digression) from the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.  These may seem obtrusive, but it is natural for us classicists to use such examples, since we work with the languages and cultures of antiquity for years or decades and have them well in mind; as for the reader, I hope that he or she will see such materials as affording both diversion and instruction.  If the reader learns something he or she had not previously known about the ancient world, that will be a good thing.

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Acknowledgements. I wish to thank several people for their help at various stages in the preparation of this document.  Philip Stadter and James Rives read the entire manuscript and made numerous helpful comments and suggestions.  William West and Peter Houston (my brother) read earlier versions of it, and my wife Jean read and critiqued many section of the work, some of them repeatedly.  Others, among them Jane Phillips and Cecil Wooten, gave me help on individual matters.  L.E. Alexander, in the Department of Classics office, converted the text from paper to digital form.  To all, and to any others whose names I here omit through some unwelcome lapsus memoriae, many thanks.


In Quest of Other Materials. Many of those who read the text this year (2018) or within the next few years may themselves have studied or worked in Murphey Hall in the years 1950-2000, and they may have information or observations to add that would improve the historical value of the text.  If you are such a person and wish to provide an addendum, please send it to us at lealex@unc.edu.  We will eventually create a second document consisting of such contributions and add it to the Department of Classics website alongside this one.


1 I have in mind such things as distance learning, for-profit institutions, collaborative learning and research, globalization, and a general decline in the level of state funding for public universities.

2 Thus, for example, Kevin Carey, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere (New York 2015); Ryan Craig, College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education. New York 2015); Goldie Blumenstyk, American Higher Education in Crisis? What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford 2014); and Jeffrey J. Salingo, College Unbound: the Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students (New York 2013). In addition to books, professional journals, especially the Chronicle of Higher Education, report regularly on new developments.

3 My career in Murphey Hall, from graduate student to professor, extended from 1963 to 2005, so that I was physically present for much of this half century.