The Mighty Pen

On May 9, 1962, sophomore Jim Dinsmore penned a column, “Cluttered Heart Cries for Expression on Issues,” in The Auburn Plainsman. The column wandered over a variety of topics. One paragraph would ignite a firestorm.

That was it. A single paragraph on integration that turned out to be accurate in its forecast.

But meetings and statements and letters later, Dinsmore would step aside from the newspaper staff for a year. He would be disqualified from running for editor, probably because of that column. And The Plainsman would be suspended from summer publication for the only time in its history, perhaps because of that column.

When the article came out, the AP quoted President Ralph Draughon as saying Dinsmore “has no limits on extremism. He doesn’t represent the thinking of the institution.” Dean of Students James Foy described Dinsmore as “highly intellectual, and highly confused.”

The Publications Board (predecessor to today’s Board of Student Communications), met on Friday, May 17, to discuss how to respond to the column. The chair, Foy, was also concerned with the sentence that followed the integration paragraph: “On the state of Alabama: At the present time it can only be characterized as a haven of general ignorance, prejudice, and narrowmindedness.”

Paired with the fear-inducing mention of integration, it had the Publications Board running scared — of the Board of Trustees, and even the Alabama Legislature.

Professor Paul Burnett, who taught journalism classes within the English Department, “reminded the Board that the Trustees considered last spring the discontinuance of the newspaper” (after a pro-integration column by editor Jim Bullington), according to meeting minutes.

Burnett was afraid that the Trustees would suspend Plainsman publication for the next academic year if the Board did not take action.

He was not overstating the hazard. The year before, after Bullington’s pro-integration column, the board had stipulated that before any article “having a bearing on the good name of Auburn University” was published, the editor would advise Dean Foy.

Draughon took the board’s action to mean that Foy could direct The Plainsman editor not to run such an article, and the editor would have to comply. In other words, the board and Draughon said Foy was empowered to censor The Plainsman.

Draughon told Foy to inform Bullington that if he failed to follow this directive, he would be removed from office as editor. (Bullington never submitted an article to Foy for review and would step down as editor shortly before the end of spring quarter 1962 and before the board could remove him.)

In addition, Draughon warned, “If further instances should occur, The Plainsman would have to be discontinued,” Foy wrote to Bullington in a letter that is included in the archives with the Publications Board minutes. So Burnett’s fears were strongly founded.

(In the letter Foy, trying to begin with a conciliatory tone, informed Bullington that his ODK shield signifying his membership in the honorary would be arriving soon. Then he dropped the presidential beatdown.)

The Board voted to reprimand Dinsmore for writing the article and Bullington for allowing its publication. They did not suspend Dinsmore from the newspaper staff, however, because they didn’t have to.

During the debate, incoming Plainsman editor Charles McCay “stated that he hoped he would not have to bring this up, but first of all Jim Dinsmore and he thought that it would be to the best interest of everyone concerned if he would not write for The Plainsman next year,” the minutes noted.

So The Plainsman editor half-suspended Dinsmore, and Dinsmore half-suspended himself. But in fact he did not write for The Plainsman that next academic year.

At its meeting the week before, the day the Dinsmore article came out, the Publications Board had noted that no qualified editor candidates had stepped forward to edit the summer edition. Two candidates had applied, but the board considered them unqualified, whether by lack of experience or lack of coursework.

So the board voted not to publish The Plainsman for summer quarter 1962. No provision was made to wait and seek a more qualified candidate.

Did the Dinsmore column firestorm cause the Board to seek a cooling down, Plainsman-free summer quarter, with the candidate situation providing a convenient excuse? The minutes don’t say; still, this is the only time that happened. The Plainsman has produced a smaller issue, in print or later online, every summer since.

This drama had its epilogue in spring quarter 1963. Dinsmore tried to run for editor, but his application was disqualified because it had arrived a day late.

In a letter to the editor that ran in the March 27, 1963 edition (whether by Foy’s permission or not is uncertain), Dinsmore explained that he had spent spring break at home for minor surgery. His mother had mailed the application before the deadline, but it had arrived after.

Dinsmore acknowledged his procrastination in the letter (an eternal theme with college students). But he noted that late applications had been accepted in the past and he argued that he had “submitted” the application before the deadline, as stated in Publications Board policies.

His mistake, of course, was giving the Publications Board a quick and easy excuse to reject his application without having to address the column of the year before.

Dinsmore would go on to make one more statement about integration. At the beginning of winter quarter 1964, the day Harold Franklin was allowed to register, students were warned to leave him alone as he walked from his dorm room to the library.

But two members of The Auburn Plainsman staff approached him as he left the library and welcomed him to Auburn. They were detained and questioned by police and released. One was Bobby Boettcher, yet another pro-integration columnist.

The other was Jim Dinsmore.

 

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The Foy Fix

Auburn folks believe in honoring the legacy of Dean of Students James Foy, if response to my blog post on the topic is any indication. Both readership and comments reflected respect and affection for the Auburn icon.

With that in mind, I wanted to do more than complain (as much as that seems to be the SOP for someone my age). So here are some ideas on how the Foy Sportsmanship Trophy ceremony–and other things on campus–can reflect the man who served for 28 years as an advocate for students on campus.

1/Put ODK, not SGA, in charge. The two schools’ SGA leadership inserted themselves into the event after it was started by Omicron Delta Kappa, the senior leadership honorary that was so important to Dean Foy during his years at Auburn.

Not surprisingly, this also coincided with the addition of president speeches and the singing of the fight song, and the degeneration of the event into a rude boo-fest.

Glenn Richey, a faculty member in the Harbert College of Business, witnessed it firsthand when he served as ODK faculty secretary at Alabama. “I remember being on the court with Dean Foy and enduring a group of fans in Coleman Coliseum booing heavily during the trophy presentation,” he told me in an email exchange.

Auburn fans responded the same way in the most recent “ceremony,” even with a Foy family member present.

Returning it to ODK leadership would be the first step in restoring the ceremony’s original focus–honoring a man who graduated at Alabama, led Auburn’s student affairs office for nearly three decades and sought to keep the rivalry from, well, what it has become.

2/A film tribute to Dean Foy. Rather than speeches and a fight song, use the time for a film tribute. As with many Auburn traditions, my guess is that the students don’t know who Dean Foy is and what he stood for, and the SGA president speeches have done little to inform them.

When Auburn honors a former athlete, they often do so with a brief film that incorporates highlights of the athlete’s career.  Certainly a similar informative film could be produced to let viewers know about what Dean Foy means to Auburn.

That would also set an appropriate tone for such an observance, compared to the current conduct at the ceremony.  “It became an big enough issue that the Alabama Athletic Department and Coach Saban became very unhappy as they considered it poor sportsmanship to put the Auburn students on the spot,” Richey said. “They even suggested the event be moved to A-Day or the team not attending the event at all.”

To avoid that happening, Richey said, the two SGAs compromised, and the “tradition” of the other SGA president leading the singing of the fight song was eliminated. So while Auburn’s SGA president handled the singing correctly, it symbolized a program that has spiraled far from its original intent.

3/Keep it simple. After the film, the ODK representatives of the school that did not win the Iron Bowl presents the Sportsmanship Trophy to the ODK chapter of the school that won, with the Foy family representative accepting it on behalf of the school. The winning school can perform its own cheer.

And we’re done.

A simple ceremony, with a touch of school spirit but centering on an individual’s legacy at rival schools.

And since we’re on the subject, let me add one final talking point:

4/Once and for all, can we name the Student Center for Dean Foy? That requires too many sub-points to explain here, but it’s always worth mentioning.

He deserves it.