SCARPINO: All right, so our primary is up and running. My name is Philip Scarpino and this is the third recording session with Richard Couto. Today is January 30, 2016, and we are in his study in his home in Mechanicsville, Virginia. I said it wrong yesterday too, didn’t I? So, even though this is a continuation of our recording sessions, I’m going to ask your permission to record this interview, to have the interview transcribed, to deposit the recording and transcription and related materials with the IUPUI Archives of Special Collections, the Tobias Center and the International Leadership Association with the understanding that they will share those with patrons, and that may include posting to the internet.
COUTO: I give my permission for all of that.
SCARPINO: Thank you. All right, so yesterday, as we wrapped up, we were talking about James MacGregor Burns, we talked about his book on leadership, we talked about your work on his book on leadership. I want to ask you one more question that’s tangentially related to that. Most people would probably agree that on the must-read of books on leadership if you’re studying the topic is Burns’ book Leadership. What two or three other volumes would you say would be essential must-reads for somebody that’s interested in leadership?
COUTO: You know, when I first went to Jepson, that was one of the questions on the job interview. They listed 10 books and that question was: What should all undergraduates have read by the time they finished the Jepson program? They had Plato and they had Plutarch. I said, “Well, I wouldn’t start with any of those, very iconoclastic.” And they said, “Well, what would you require?” I said, “I would want to make sure that all the students were familiar with story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, speaking voice to power, and then I said I would also want to make sure that they knew the Sermon on the Mount. So, then as we prepared to start teaching the program, I became more aware of the literature, I quipped, and unfortunately got quoted in some embarrassing cases, where half the literature in leadership seemed like it was written to be read in airports, and the other half read like it was written in airports. But since then, we’ve had marvelous, marvelous studies. One of the most recent ones that I would recommend without hesitation is Joseph Nye’s work, The Powers to Lead, a wonderful synthesis. Brad Jackson and his colleagues put together a book called A Fairly Short, Inexpensive, Rather Interesting Book—a title something like that, which is a very good synthesis (Note: the title is A Very Short Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Leadership, by Brad Jackson and Ken Parry). Peter Northouse offers a wonderful synthesis of the field, as well. So, in order to get some kind of background on what are the confines of the field, books like that I would recommend. Margaret Wheatley’s work, Leadership and the New Science is now somewhat dated, but it’s still a good place to start. Mary Uhl-Bien and her colleagues, who have looked at complexity and chaos, is a much tougher row to hoe, but it is Leadership and the New Science updated. Then I think classics that I would recommend to anybody would be Ron Heifetz’s work Leadership Without Easy Answers, Howard Gardner and Emma Laskin’s book Leading Minds. Those are the ones that jump out.
SCARPINO: So, speaking of books, we just happen to be sitting across from each other at your desk where you work, and I selected one of your books to rest my microphone on, Lifting the Veil: A Political History of Struggles for Emancipation. That came up yesterday as we spoke, but when we had the recorder off, you were telling me about how you did the research for this book and some of the people you met and a particular story about an individual who had documents that he passed to you. Could you lift the veil a little bit on what you did in order to produce the book Lifting the Veil?
COUTO: Sure. I was finishing the book Ain’t Going to Let Nobody Turn Me Round and I was aware that there was a pattern in each of these four communities. I was trying to find more information about a lynching in Brownsville, Tennessee, in 1940. So I went to…
SCARPINO: And who was lynched?
COUTO: Elbert Williams was lynched. I went to the National Archives and pulled out the records of the Brownsville NAACP in 1940, and they were just loaded with correspondence from this man, Elijah Davis, who was one of the leaders of the Chapter. They began to inquire about registering to vote for the 1940 election. That set off a reaction in the white community where a mob, led by the sheriff, went on several nights to the houses of the NAACP members, pulled them out, warned them to get out of the county, and most of them fled. On the last night of those raids, they went to the home of Elbert Williams. He might have given them some lip or something, but they took him and they beat him to death on the banks of a river, and that was a lynching. Now, I got involved in the story because of Elijah Davis and found an address in Niles, Michigan. I was going up to Michigan for the Kellogg Program, so I went over there to visit with the Davis family. That was an incredible story. I mean, these people lived underground for months for fear of the mob. They didn’t know where their father was. He was living underground and then took off to Michigan. They fled the county in a truck covered by vegetables. I mean, they were in fear of their lives. So I got up to Michigan and there were maybe 20 cars parked outside. The whole family had assembled. As an oral historian, you would appreciate this; I had my tape recorder out and I started asking questions and six or eight people would start answering at the same time, one correcting the other. All I could do was laugh, and then we finally got it down to one at a time, and they were so into it. I remember one of the daughters telling me, “Now, if Daddy knew you were coming, he would have lived to see this day.” And then they said, “We have get him in touch with Uncle Milton.” Milton Mitchell had been an underwriter for insurance in the area. Because he traveled around, and because he dealt with a more successful working class African American group, selling insurance to them, he also encouraged them to join the NAACP. So, they said, “We have get you in touch with Uncle Milton.” So, I got a call one evening and he explained who he was, and I said, “Well, it’s good to hear from you.” He said “Well, I have all of these documents from that time and I want to send them to you. I’ve been carrying them around in a trunk, they’ve survived floods, I moved from place to place, I still have them, and the depositions from lawyers, Justice Department and all the rest.” And I said, “Well, they seem to be very, very valuable documents; why don’t you send them to an archives and I can visit there?” He said, “Oh no, I’ve been carrying these around for 40 years. You are the Moses who has come to deliver them from the wilderness.”
COUTO: Yes, amen. I used that material to put together a short 60-page account of the repression of the NAACP chapter. The University of Tennessee Press was interested in it, but they wanted more. So, I went back to the Freedmen’s Bureau and Reconstruction in the county and I brought it up to date with some of the work that we had been doing with some of the community organizations in the region. It became a whole book, tracing almost a century of the pursuit of racial equality.
SCARPINO: Remember when we started this, one of the words that you brought up was “redemption”?
SCARPINO: I thought about that when you were telling that story.
COUTO: I’ve been thinking a lot about that. I know where that came from now.
SCARPINO: Where was that?
COUTO: The Jewish virtue of Tikkun—T I K K U N, I think that’s the term—and it means our responsibility for healing the earth.
SCARPINO: Do you feel like you did that? I mean, there’s been someone you mentioned who has sort of taken up the work and moved it forward.
COUTO: Yeah, we’re bringing attention to that. I’m a family member of the Davis family, invited to their reunions. So yeah, I’ve been welcomed into that family and that family has documentation that they can take a lot of pride in, in that their family members—going back to what we said yesterday—the book provides them the material for free space. No matter what is said in a derogatory way about African Americans, they can open this book and say, “What set of Americans do you know who have done more or suffered more for basic liberties?” That story is now on the printed page and it wasn’t before.
SCARPINO: How does that make you feel?
COUTO: It makes me feel great. And also to find a photo like this which tells more than a thousand words, and the pride—it just makes me feel honored to be part of the efforts of people like this to bring about change.
SCARPINO: As a scholar, this is you combining the creation of a free space with your scholarship.
COUTO: Yes, my own free space. There are times that I’m writing and I’ve asked a fiction writer friend of mine, “Do you ever feel like you’re channeling?” She said, “All the time.” Sometimes I’ll be writing and words are appearing on my screen and it’s almost like I could stop and that the words would keep going, that I was simply channeling from somewhere through me through the keyboard onto the screen. That happened especially with the book To Give Their Gifts. I had 12 community health activists who had won awards and did interviews with them and were writing them up. I was determined not to turn them into Mount Rushmore figures; heroic, etc. Then I started writing it and I felt like I was writing the lives of the saints, a very Catholic thing, that these were just extraordinary, extraordinary people.
SCARPINO: What is the name of the man who has sort of taken up the cause of investigating the lynching?
COUTO: Jim Emison.
SCARPINO: All right, as promised, we’re going to talk about your time at the Jepson School. In 1991, you made a huge change, moving from Kentucky and accepting a position at the University of Richmond’s brand new Jepson School of Leadership Studies. We talked yesterday about how the interview is actually one of the pivotal events that caused you to realize that you actually had been doing leadership yourself and studying it. You are a founding faculty member of the Jepson School, serving as Professor of Leadership Studies from 1991-2002, and the George Matthews and Virginia Brinkley Modlin Chair in Leadership Studies from 1998-2002. I want to start with two bookend questions. The first one is: What attracted you to that job?
COUTO: The job description was just—I mean I couldn’t believe it. The school was aimed at the moral, as well as the cognitive development of students, a heavy emphasis on experiential education, interdisciplinary. Now, I never thought of myself as—these were all the things I was looking for, but generally I was looking for them in maybe peace studies, maybe community organizing, but never leadership, because I had this bias that leadership was something that goes on in hierarchies, bureaucracies, military forces, etc., and that’s not what I was looking for. I was looking for social change efforts, etc. But everything else was spot-on and I was ready to move from Nashville. I wanted to stay in the south, I wanted to be in a state’s capital, I wanted to move closer to family, and my wife’s family is close by. So, Richmond had everything that—it never occurred to me, I always thought Atlanta—but Richmond had everything I was looking for, including more proximity to the ocean and the mountains. The job was just tailor-made. It was like I had written the description of a dream job. I came here for the interview and we drove to Jepson Hall and it was a hole in the ground with iron piers coming out of the ground. So, it was an opportunity literally to build a school from the ground up; no curriculum, no schools, no building. There just wasn’t anything not to like about the opportunity.
SCARPINO: So, on the other end, why did you leave in 2002?
COUTO: Things had played out. I’d had a lot of success with teaching. I won a teaching award, an endowed chair. I minimized the importance of financial security at that time.
SCARPINO: (Laughing) It’s amazing what it’ll do, isn’t it?
COUTO: When I turned 60, I signed up for adult hockey leagues and I started playing hockey again at the age of 60. So, it was a very important turning point and for me the thought was, if I don’t make changes now, when will I make them? And I ran afoul of the president of the university. He fired the dean, who was just about the best boss I ever had.
SCARPINO: That was Dean Prince?
COUTO: No, that was John Rosenblum. Howard Prince had left by that time. John was just the best boss I had and we were doing remarkably well. He had applied for the job of president and the new president didn’t want him. They didn’t get along. I intervened in the sense of encouraging faculty to protest the dismissal. Students came to me for advice about what to do. All of that ticked off the president a little bit. Then when he started making comments in the press about John, I wrote the Chair of the Board of Trust and a couple other people, saying, “Everybody understands that he has a right to his own team, etc., but he doesn’t have the right to undermine somebody’s professional career and suggest wrongdoings.” And so, evidently somebody yanked his chain because it stopped and I had a target on my back after that. So, the question was, do I hang around here pretty much impotent in terms of making any more change? Apropos, the president had—he didn’t call it strategic planning, but he was encouraging new ideas, and so I proposed a Center for Civic Engagement. It was going to be everything that I been working towards, encouraging faculty and students to integrate local problem solving into coursework. I wrote it up and proposed it at a meeting, and the faculty member who was coordinating the meeting said, “Dick, that’s not going to happen!” And he said it as firmly; it was like, “How many times do we have to tell you, you’re thick as a brick wall.” So that wasn’t going to happen. I left, and the year after I left, they started a Center for Civic Engagement. So I was in the way of getting some things done, and I got a call about that time; Antioch was recruiting for faculty for its new program. So, the timing wasn’t perfect, but the timing was pretty good.
SCARPINO: It was a doctoral program in leadership?
COUTO: It was a doctoral program in leadership below residency.
SCARPINO: So a lot of the work was done online?
COUTO: We met four times a year, and the rest of the time was done online, right.
SCARPINO: So, I actually looked up Jepson School’s official website and this is the statement about your leaving: “Dr. Richard Couto, a member of the early faculty, announces he will become a member of the founding faculty of Antioch University’s new PhD in Leadership and Change.” One sentence, that’s what they said.
So, I was originally going to talk to you about the trip that you and James MacGregor Burns and Georgia Sorenson took to the south, but we talked about that yesterday at great length. So I guess I’ll simply call the attention of anyone who’s just listening to this part of the interview to the fact that we talked about that yesterday, and it’s a very, very useful story and they should go and listen to it. But, if you step back from that trip for a minute, when you look back on all the years you spent working in Appalachia that went all the way back to the time you taught high school, what stands out in your mind about that experience? What really stays with you?
COUTO: I wrote a book called Appalachia, an American Tomorrow. I saw in the work that I was doing within the region, and I saw within the region events that were a decade or two ahead of events in the United States. You have within the Appalachian region this curious rural industrial economy, and you have the steel industry concentrated in the Appalachian region and you have the coal industry, and they are undergoing changes, foreign competition, product substitution, new technologies, etc., and how does the American economy react to those? Largely, by lopping off labor costs as much as possible, including benefits. I mean, the coal miners had the best health care in the country by contract in the 1950s, and almost immediately they started cutting back because they had woefully underestimated the dimensions of the problem, the number of paralyzed and disabled miners, for example.
SCARPINO: Black lung.
COUTO: Yes, right. And black lung is one of the few occupational diseases recognized, and it had a history of generous benefits, low thresholds and then very high, it went back and forth. And it wasn’t so much policies aimed to solve the problem as policies aimed to contain costs. Some of that involved blaming the victims for their own personal habits of health. So, what I carried away was that if you want to know what’s going to happen in this country 20 years from now, look at what’s happening within the Appalachian region right now. It’s also a place where you can look and separate race somewhat. There are African Americans in the Appalachian region. Their status is lower in many cases, but it’s not that significant population that we look at the inner city and say, “Well, it’s race that’s causing these problems.” No, there’s something else. As I mentioned yesterday, and this is straight out of Adam Smith, we will only pay as much or as little for labor as is required, and he says this very clearly, that when the demand for labor drops, wages will drop to the subsistence level where the supply and demand of labor is brought into balance. In other words, infant mortality is one means of regulating the labor market, according to Adam Smith, and he saw this in Scotland. So, the only reasons that we don’t have this savage form of capitalism are some of the progressive legislation of the early 20th century and some of the New Deal. And we’re engaged in taking that away because we don’t need the labor force; we have a bipolar labor force which you can see in the Appalachian region as well, an erosion of the middle class which you can see in the Appalachian region. So, for me, the Appalachian region was a precursor or a region that foretold what the rest of the nation was going to be experiencing.
SCARPINO: Do you ever regret leaving there?
COUTO: Um… Yeah, like I said yesterday, I write for three reasons and one of them is, what am I curious about, and I was very curious, I wanted to know about race and race relations, and so I had to go outside of the Appalachian region to do that. I also had laid what I thought was the best foundation that I could on Appalachian studies. Vanderbilt gave me an entree into the community where I wasn’t a visitor from outer space. I came in there with a role and that role extended to documenting the efforts of which I was part. When I went to Tennessee State, I was working in six different communities, not all of which were in the Appalachia, some of which were in west Tennessee, Memphis. Then, coming to the University of Richmond, it was too far a reach, but I had a new pool to swim in. I mean, here I was in a city, I had a tenured position, I had a school mission that talked about teaching for and about leadership; a very important combination. So, on balance, yes, I regretted leaving but I also was very happy with how the field was developing and degrees in Appalachian studies and new people coming along. My wife would comment that I was like a rock star when I went to the Appalachian Studies Conference. People recognized my name and they had read my stuff. So, I felt I had provided a legacy.
SCARPINO: It is my understanding that Jepson was one of the first leadership studies programs in the country.
SCARPINO: West Point had been teaching leadership.
COUTO: They had a department but this was the first school.
SCARPINO: Just for the benefit of anyone who doesn’t know about this, in May of 1987, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Jepson, Jr., announced to the university that they were going provide a $20 million challenge gift to develop a leadership studies program, and they did that. Mr. Jepson was involved in writing a kind of founding document that went through at least four drafts, and I think I read the fourth draft. Jepson’s website currently posts that fourth draft. It’s titled “Notes on the Founding of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies: An Abridged Draft Number 4.”
COUTO: If you’ll excuse me.
SCARPINO: Let me hit pause here for the record.
SCARPINO: All right, let’s see if I can make this work again. So, I had just mentioned the fourth draft of the document creating this program and you were saying how you went back to that fourth draft.
COUTO: It was a wonderful statement of undergraduate education, its purpose, and the whole university and the faculty took part in that. Some faculty were happier with the decision to adopt it than others. There was a threat over the faculty that the administration said, “Look, if we don’t get in this game and do this, we’re just going to remain small ball and you know, it’s time to put on our big boy pants and get into this.” And there was that argument, well why do we need a school to do this since we’re doing it—this is what we should be doing already anyway. It was a very important argument. And the faculty of the Jepson School found, in that fourth document the clearest statement and our best ally with the rest of the university that we’re on the same page in this regard.
SCARPINO: Did either Mr. Jepson or his wife play any role in the development of the curriculum or the hiring of the faculty or shaping of the philosophy of the school?
COUTO: Uncle Bob would come in…
SCARPINO: That was Jepson?
COUTO: Bob Jepson, and keep the pulse, “Are we happy? What do we need? What’s going on?” Nothing heavy-handed. His guiding principle was that what he got from student government and what he got outside the classroom and what he got by participating in other parts of the university were as formative of his success in business as anything he learned in the classroom. So he wanted a school that was deliberate in bringing this in; he didn’t want a department. He was very aware that he wanted something with enough autonomy to stand on its feet. So, he wanted a school. The only things that I can ever remember talking to him about was his concern that we had what we needed to get our goals done. I don’t remember his ever pushing for one policy or one person over another.
SCARPINO: Did you ever ask him when he decided that he was at a point in his life where he could afford to contribute $20 million, why did he pick leadership as opposed to the business school or anything else he could have funded?
COUTO: That’s an interesting question and it’s a little bit hazy in my mind now. The provost at the time had a background with leadership. His mentor from Buffalo, I think, had just become president of the Center for Creative Leadership, the CCL. So, he knew of leadership and I think he might have had a hand in shaping that gift towards an explicit attention to leadership, but I don’t know why. I’m not sure that his view was much broader than business, I’m just not sure.
SCARPINO: I also found a document perusing the university’s web page called “Notes on the Founding of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies,” and there’s some really interesting statements on this. I want listeners to have a flavor of this. One sentence said: “The fabric of democratic civilization depends upon citizens who understand that leadership means service and that their very citizenship carries an obligation to lead when circumstances demand.” That’s the opening sentence. The last sentence is, on the last page: “The primary task of the school is to provide a rigorous and disciplined education with a focus upon ethical and responsible leadership.” And it goes on in that vein. Now, it sounds like you could have written this. You didn’t, I don’t think.
COUTO: No, no.
SCARPINO: So, clearly this seemed to be a good fit for the way you look at the world.
COUTO: Absolutely. And seeing that this was the faculty welcoming us with open arms.
SCARPINO: I also looked at a document, basically the history of the Jepson School, and it starts in the late 80s, but 1990 through ’92 was when a lot of the groundwork was laid. So they hired the dean, Howard T. Prince, who came from West Point. On the face of it, a man who comes from a military background doesn’t seem to be a good fit with you at all. How did it actually work out on the ground?
COUTO: Pretty lumpy. We ended up in couples’ counseling.
COUTO: There was a question about my promotion and staying on, and it was decided that I would, but it was also decided that the dean and I had to work out some of the conflicts between us. So, we met in sessions until we could formulate a way that we could work together. That lasted a year and then he stepped down, and then he stayed on a year as a faculty member and then went to the University of Texas where he has been very, very successful. It think it was a much better fit for him. I was a pain in the ass, too.
SCARPINO: But he was then replaced by a dean who was intellectually a much better fit with you.
COUTO: Right, right.
SCARPINO: So, also in that 1992 period, the first four faculty; there was yourself, of course, and then Joanne Ciulla—C I U L L A—Karin Klenke—K L E N K E—and William Howe—you began to design the curriculum. Was there a mechanism in place for deciding who they were going to hire? I mean, did they have a search committee? Was there job descriptions?
COUTO: We had job descriptions, we had areas that we were looking into, we had a hiring schedule. I think we hired maybe two people the year Gill Hickman came in, Tom Wren came in. I think those were the next two hires. We wanted a historian.
SCARPINO: And which one was the historian?
COUTO: Tom. Gill was public administration.
SCARPINO: Okay, and of the first four, you had been trained in political science, but my assessment is that by the time you went to Jepson, you weren’t doing political science anymore. How do you feel about that?
COUTO: I was public administration at Tennessee State. The things that interested me in political science were still there; public issues, local change efforts. This was my perspective on political science and I found it pretty consistent with what I wanted to do at Jepson. There was very little attention to political leadership. Political leaders, yes, but political leadership not so much. It was a very hard course to teach and to find teaching material.
SCARPINO: What about Joanne Ciulla? What was she?
COUTO: She’s a philosopher, an ethicist.
SCARPINO: And Karin Klenke?
COUTO: An organizational psychologist.
SCARPINO: And William Howe?
COUTO: English major.
SCARPINO: So, how did that group of four, in the beginning, go about developing a curriculum?
COUTO: Add two more; the assistant dean, Stephanie Micas, who had more experience at the University of Richmond than any of us, and then Howard. We sat in a windowless room for two and three hours at a time to develop a curriculum. Howard wanted a curriculum that at any time, 11:15 on a Tuesday, he’d be able to point to the wall and say, “Our classes are teaching this right now,” and so each of us would have a curriculum and a syllabus which you would go in and this was the day that we would cover this or that. It just struck me the wrong way.
SCARPINO: I can’t imagine that. (Laughing)
COUTO: But it had the advantage of making a core curriculum, because otherwise we were going to have four to six faculty who were just going in and making this field up as they wanted to.
SCARPINO: So you did end up with a core curriculum?
COUTO: We ended up with a core curriculum and I think that has dissolved a lot towards what is the preference of each faculty member, which Howard wanted to avoid at all costs, which I thought was the way we were going to go. How am I going to put together an Introduction to Leadership course? I was going to use the sharecroppers in Arkansas, and that’s how far afield I think I was from building a curriculum. I think Howard was very, very correct on that. He was also very correct on the mode of teaching, although we agreed a lot; tables and loose chairs, nothing was attached to the floor. So if you went in and we wanted to have a small group discussion, we would have set up six tables with four people around them, and that’s how we held the class. Everything was modular and could be moved around. Television cameras in the classroom, so that we could record presentations. He brought a lot of really good experience about what the actual pedagogy should be and how the school needed to be set up. I think the emphasis on context, we agreed to the nature of the courses and then we started drilling down into each course and what would the material be in that. Then we got into silly petty fights as to whether to use this person’s work or not to use this person’s work, and a lot of intra-faculty intrigue and fighting and voting on this and voting on that. That got too petty.
SCARPINO: Did the founding group have the ability to agree on any definition of leadership?
COUTO: No, and that was the thing that surprised me because I knew so little about leadership and Karin was probably the best-read on leadership, and Howard also the best-read on leadership. Both of them came out of organizational backgrounds, however, and we would have discussions and for me it was a seminar, I was learning. I would learn things about charismatic leadership on Tuesday and then come in and learn that everything we learned on Tuesday was no longer accurate on Wednesday about charismatic leadership. It was also the old dodge; well, the literature says—and so it was always this appeal to authority that if you didn’t know something, then the literature says. Well, I wasn’t familiar with the literature, so I was taking people’s word. But the more you got into it, the more you realize that, yeah, the literature says that, and the literature also says the opposite. There were a few people who knew a lot and the rest of us were spending time catching up. As I explained yesterday, it was almost a whole year before I started reading Burns’ book as a serious introduction to leadership.
SCARPINO: Of course, you actually knew the man before you read the book.
COUTO: That’s right.
SCARPINO: Looking back on those first few years, did those initial faculty members actually engage in interdisciplinary collaboration?
COUTO: Not as much as we could have, but yes, the construction of that curriculum was interdisciplinary collaboration. We visited places like the Center for Creative Leadership.
SCARPINO: And where was that located?
COUTO: Greensboro, North Carolina. We had visitors coming in.
SCARPINO: Do you remember who some of those visitors were?
COUTO: Once the courses started, a Wall Street Journal reporter came in. People from Maryland, Susan Komives came down. We had people who were interested in starting leadership programs come in and visit with us. We went to the American Council of Education in D.C. and made a presentation on the program. We were the new kid on the block and there was a lot of interest in what we were doing. You know, the first question is: Well, if we wanted to start a school of leadership studies, where do you suggest we start? I would say, “With a $20 million gift.”
SCARPINO: That would be a good start. So, jumping ahead a little bit, 1992-93 was a big year; Jepson Hall opened, you had General Norman Schwarzkopf speak at the dedication, the first class entered. How were those students selected? How did they end up in that first class?
COUTO: They applied as sophomores. So, we had a little bit of their first and second year, I think, to go by. They wrote an essay. We wanted to hold to a 50/50 split of men and women. We didn’t have a serious minor, so we took 40 majors and then something like 15 minors or something. Some of us just used grade point average. We had this intricate matrix that we put this and that and we weighed things, but then you could see a pattern in some of the faculty; at least one faculty member that, “At the end of the day, what was a grade point average?” And those were the people who got selected. I looked at the essay that dealt with some significant challenge that they dealt with; a sibling with developmental delay or physical handicap, loss of a parent, things like that, how had this person been tested. And a very good friend of mine, Bob Innes at Peabody College, ran a very, very successful undergraduate program, just one of the best in the country, organizational personal development. He said the thing that he looked for was the pursuit of excellence; had this person pursued excellence in one field? And it didn’t matter what it was. If this guy kicked the point after touchdowns and he worked at it and he was successful, that was the kid that he wanted. So, I looked at that also. Where’s the pursuit of excellence in your life?
SCARPINO: How you face adversity and pursuit of excellence.
SCARPINO: That 1992-93, that’s when Gill Hickman and J. Thomas Wren joined the faculty and you founded the Learning in Community Settings program.
SCARPINO: The Jepson website now describes that as “a symbol of Jepson’s commitment to service and a forerunner of the Campus Community Partnership.” That was you putting into practice what you’d been doing in Appalachia? What you learned to do? Service learning?
SCARPINO: Susan Komives—K O M I V E S—told me that you had your students introducing legislation.
COUTO: I know that at TSU, it wasn’t students, but we got a school nurse bill passed. I’m not sure what she’s referring to. She may remember it. I know that we helped start the newspaper that the homeless in Richmond printed and sold. I can’t think of the legislation.
SCARPINO: What other issues besides homelessness did you have your students engage with?
COUTO: We worked with a lot of fledgling organizations; the Virginia Breast Cancer Coalition, the Virginia Mental Health Association, domestic violence, SCAN—Stop Child Abuse Now, homeless, family shelters, food and hunger, housing. After several years, we pulled together a breakfast meeting of community partners that we had, and we had like 65 people show up representing agencies and organizations. It was a pretty broad band of needs and services within the region. Environment was included. There was very little that wasn’t included. If it was a community group, if it was effective, if it was working for social change of local residents, if it had a good degree of representation and participation, those were the partners we were looking for.
SCARPINO: So, in 1995, just looking ahead a little bit, you coauthored and published an article titled “The Fruits of Our Labor: Experiential Education in a Leadership Curriculum.” You had a couple of coauthors, Marc Swatez and Anne W. Perkins. First, who were your coauthors? And then I want to ask you about the article, but who were those two people that you coauthored with?
COUTO: Anne was an assistant dean and Marc was a faculty member.
SCARPINO: So they were involved in—(pause…)
SCARPINO: All right, let me see if I can get this thing back on. There we go, so it’s now running. We were talking about an article that you published titled “The Fruits of Our Labor: Experiential Education in a Leadership Curriculum,” and it appeared in the National Society for Experiential Education in the winter of 1995 and you asked me if I could locate it and the answer was no. But, the question I wanted to ask you was, what did you want to tell your readers about the fruits of your labor?
COUTO: I think for an undergraduate program in leadership studies, you have a very different challenge than leadership education and development for adults. At Antioch and later at Union and in workshops and training sessions with adults, what you’re trying to do is get to a point where they can reflect on their experience and get to a higher level of generalization and abstract thought about their experience. That’s what they’re looking for. They have this realm of experience. How do they make sense of it? With undergraduates, you have to construct experience for them to reflect on. Either that or you’re talking about fraternities or sororities all the time. That’s their organizational life and that’s what they know. So, that’s the importance of service learning, that’s the importance of internships, and that was the importance of group projects within the classroom, to give students a chance to work together, learn collaboration and conflict, but then also make the boundaries of the classroom permeable and bring experience back in there and give students a set of experiences that they wouldn’t have before. So with older adults, you’re helping them interpret and reflect upon their experience. With undergraduates, you’re trying to construct experiences upon which then can reflect.
I had a student, for her group she was working with a labor union. The labor union was protesting the policies of a particular oil company, so they had a picket line at a gas station. Now, I never required students to go into—they had to select a group, but there was always a variety of a group and I never asked them to join a group with which they disagreed. So, she went into this labor group not knowing much about labor, but also voluntarily. So she’s standing on the picket line and they’re holding signs, “Honk if you support us,” and damn it if some truck drivers didn’t honk, and that just gave her chills. I’m sure she couldn’t say this, and I didn’t even think of it until now, but there was an initiative on behalf of shared values and this guy shared the values that she was expressing. She didn’t know him, and she didn’t know what background he brought to that, but there they were sharing a bond. All the stuff that she had heard about, she felt in the blast of that person’s horn. There were so many powerful reflections.
There was one kid who took care of children while their parents attended Stop Child Abuse Now meetings. Now these were parents who were under some court order or something else because they were at risk or had abused their children. And this kid is reflecting on his work with two twins, African American kids, identical in every way except the pink skin on the hands of one of the twins, which was a remnant of the burn that the child had when the parent put the hand in boiling water. And the kid writes about a parallel universe, that these are things that they had no knowledge of. Other kids went down to the family emergency shelter…
SCARPINO: So you were pushing the students outside their comfort zones, on purpose.
COUTO: Yes. The three kids went down to the family emergency shelter and they’re getting an orientation to the family emergency shelter. It’s a cold day, it’s a winter day, and as they are talking to the volunteer coordinator, the phone was ringing and she’s explaining that they have no space. And then they drive back and the kids, the kid’s reflection was, “This was one of the rare times that I left campus other than to go to a bar and we went to the emergency shelter. And we sat there and in the course of 20 or 30 minutes, we learned that there were three families in Richmond that had no place to sleep that night. Then we returned to campus where my classmates drive $40,000 cars, and we asked ourselves, ‘What are these worlds, how do they compare?’” And that’s exactly where we wanted to go.
I had a student and we were working, two or three years ago we were trying to get to a point where she could write some on her experience in the CIA. She was relatively new there and just happened to be sitting at the Iraq desk when all hell broke loose in Iraq. She was a point person and she was interested in writing about that. So, we started talking about that experience and we started talking about other things at Richmond. I asked her, “Tell me about your service learning experience.” And she said, “Oh, you mean so-and-so,” and she remembered the student’s name. I said, “Tell me what we read in that course,” and she said, “Oh, I have no idea.” But the exchange and the interaction with the student was still primary. When I was there, that’s the thing I insisted on. We lost some students. They were really talented kids. So let me go in there and write software for them. No, you have to have face-to-face contact with a client of these services.
SCARPINO: And did they have to do this for a certain number of hours?
COUTO: Yes, there were 15 hours in class and 30 hours—would that have been right? It was a one-credit course, so however that works out.
SCARPINO: But they did some reading or planning or something in the classroom.
COUTO: They did reading…
SCARPINO: They had to go out into the field and…
COUTO: …And journals, they kept journals, and then we also had discussions about central questions. Robert Coles’ work was excellent to use in this, The Call of Service, and the National Society for Experiential Education had developed several good books of readings that we used also.
SCARPINO: So, we had been talking about what you were doing in 1992-93, and one thing I noticed that in that time period Jepson aligned with the Pew Partnership for Civic Change. Do you remember that?
COUTO: Suzanne Morse.
SCARPINO: Was that a significant development?
COUTO: Not as significant as it might have been. There wasn’t enough integration. John Rosenblum, I think, was part of that effort, but Suzanne taught courses. Suzanne offered students internships. We had a chance to make that into a really major thing and we didn’t develop it as well as we could, I don’t think.
SCARPINO: So, the next year ’93-94, the school awards its first Bachelor of Arts degrees and the W. K. Kellogg foundation grant supported the first Leadership Education Conference. How did that Leadership Education Conference work out? I assume you were a participant.
COUTO: Right. That was the first of several years of discussion. Jim had this idea of the Correspondence Committee that preceded—was it the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution? But he wanted scholars to be engaged.
SCARPINO: The Declaration of Independence.
COUTO: He wanted scholars to be engaged in writing back and forth about the field of leadership studies, etc. Well, that didn’t happen, but we did manage to get people in the same place in small groups at first and then groups up to 30 or 40. There was a consistent core, Bernie Bass, Ron Heifetz, Barbara Kellerman, but then we would have people coming in and out also.
SCARPINO: And yourself?
COUTO: Yes, and Joanne Ciulla.
SCARPINO: Now, those met in Maryland?
COUTO: We met in Maryland, we met at Harvard, we met at Richmond, the smaller one at Richmond. Did we meet anywhere else? I can’t think of anywhere else that we met. My father was a welder, as I explained to you, and one time he had to go into Cambridge to fix a boiler at Harvard. When he came home he said, “Mac, when you grow up, you just tell everybody that your dad went to Harvard.”
COUTO: And so when I was making my presentation at this leadership conference at Harvard, I told that story.
SCARPINO: I bet that went over well. So, Larraine Matusak was the grant officer at Kellogg at that time?
COUTO: Yes, yeah.
SCARPINO: How would you assess the significance of Kellogg in promoting leadership studies and leadership scholarship?
COUTO: Kellogg has a terrific bias against research. It comes out of the land grant traditionally, I think, where everything should be applied, and I can’t tell you how many times I heard from them. We already know enough, so the question is: How do we apply it? So their work was—I mean it’s curious, within the Fellowship, it was all: come to an interdisciplinary understanding. So, we went to Brazil for 10 days.
SCARPINO: That’s when you were a Kellogg Fellow?
COUTO: Kellogg Fellow, ’82-85. And I said we lived like the rich and we looked in on the poor, and after 10 days we came to an interdisciplinary understanding, on the whole, the rich have it better, but the poor make better music. I mean it sounds like a nonsensical summary, but Kellogg was—that program was very intent that people not come to closure or demand action on what they saw. So we went to California, spent a week looking at agriculture. But if you start talking about let’s fashion an agriculture policy, or let’s write a letter on behalf of this or on behalf of that, they didn’t want any of that.
SCARPINO: Again, this is when you were a Fellow?
COUTO: When I was a Fellow. Now, fast forward to Castle and the leadership education effort, Larraine was pushing for a better understanding of where we are. Larraine would come back several times, and it’s a question that a lot of people have raised, within the ILA now it’s a refrain: “Leadership for what?” Now, that underscores the place of values in leadership. Larraine just got impatient with, you know, like 40 senators from 40 different districts coming in and each of them boosting their adjective of the day for leadership, or their metaphor. She wanted more of a synthesis and an understanding of where we’re going and what are the processes to get there. So eventually on the closing session, the women caucused and started working on a booklet, “Leadership for the Twenty-First Century,” which was the best work that I think the group did.
SCARPINO: And this was the closing session…
COUTO: Closing session of the Kellogg Leadership Studies Project.
COUTO: Then they got some more money and they went to Arizona and had a retreat and finished that publication. She asked me to step outside of the session we were having and she said, “Go outside and do the synthesis.” And people said, “That’s crazy, you can’t do that.” And she said, “Give him time.” So, I came back and that’s when I had the change conflict and collaboration values initiative inclusiveness and creativity, I think I had. Anyway, it was that 12-cell thing, and that was the closest we ever came to integration.
SCARPINO: That’s also part of the process that eventually resulted in the International Leadership Association that we talked about.
COUTO: Castle first and then the International—I’m going to have to excuse myself again.
SCARPINO: Let’s hit pause now.
So we are back on. You and I, as I mentioned when we started, are sitting in your office in your home. Yesterday we began talking about Lawrence and the 1912 Strike or the Bread and Roses Strike, and I notice that you have a poster of that right over your computer in your office. And we talked about your Portuguese heritage and there’s a button up on your bulletin board that says “Portuguese Power.”
COUTO: A very difficult button to find.
SCARPINO: (Laughing) I’ll bet it is. We also talked yesterday about Highlander and Myles Horton and I notice that you’ve got a drawing up on the wall and there are some pieces in the ground and it says “Our job as a gardener or as an educator is to know the potential is there or will unfold. People have a potential for growth. It’s inside, it’s in the seeds.” And it’s signed Myles Horton, 1990. And I think that’s what you were referring to yesterday.
COUTO: Yes, yeah. The other thing, somewhat similar to that, I do this with my grandkids all the time so they’d be able to show you, but if you cut an apple not lengthwise, but across, there’s a star in the center of every apple and so I use that to indicate that if you go to the core of who you are, there’s a star.
SCARPINO: So, what do these things say about who you are?
COUTO: Well, we talked about the uniqueness of my grandmother’s part in the Bread and Roses Strike. I would have loved for her to be standing in the Commons next to Mother Jones, but she didn’t. She lived that strike authentically according to her values, but she couldn’t support the strike at that time because of her marital relationship and the needs of her family. It was a very significant strike. People worked across language and ethnic divisions and developed bonds. It was also significant because it just receded into a collective, almost repressed memory of a whole town. It wasn’t until the Village Voice article that people realized that, hey, we might make some money on this; we could every Labor Day have a Bread and Roses Festival and that’s what they started doing. I went to the first one and they had Odetta and they would bring first-rate names in, and it was a two- or three-day festival and it’s down to one day, but it’s always very enjoyable and it’ll bring the Cambridge group into Lawrence. It just reminds me of what I took for granted as a kid, and now come to value, and it took me a while to uncover that.
SCARPINO: You sort of lived your grandmother’s legacy, didn’t you?
COUTO: How so?
SCARPINO: Over the course of your career, I mean you worked in labor issues and she, because of her own shared values, didn’t join the picketers, but there’s the strike that was a pivotal labor action. And there’s Myles Horton, each one bracketed by them in your office here with all the other mementos of your career that relate to similar themes. I mean, you’ve got the cover from Making Democracy Work Better on the wall, and then on another wall you have Ain’t Nobody Gonna Turn Me Round.
COUTO: That’s Square Morman who my wife talked about, and that’s my daughter. And we were leaving Tennessee, so I wanted to go down to Rossville to say goodbye to Square and I wanted her to come with me and she was a good sport and did that. So we went to church services on that Sunday morning. We came in an hour or two late and we stayed an hour or two. I mean, they were genuine church services down there.
SCARPINO: So, what you have here is a framed copy of the cover of your book and right next to it within the frame is a picture of your daughter and the man is…
COUTO: Square Morman. And that’s—God, he’s a world famous French photographer and that photograph on the left cost me something like $600 to—it cost me all the royalties I ever made on the book—but it is literally a picture that says 10,000 words with two African men sharing a bench and a white man spread out across the space of a bench and both of them against the background of a pretty dilapidated store.
SCARPINO: Did the photographer take that for you, or did you buy it from him?
COUTO: I bought it from the archives in D.C.
COUTO: The one over there, Together For Peace, is a poster I took back from Iraq in 2003.
SCARPINO: I notice in the materials that you’d been in Iraq. What drew you there? It’s not exactly a vacation spot.
COUTO: I had a chance to go with about 40 other academics at the invitation of the faculty of the University of Baghdad. We went in January to see if we could start a dialogue that might forestall the invasion. We made friends, we spent maybe a week there. I went to Babylon, stood in the hall where Daniel saw the writing on the wall and interpreted it. It was fascinating. We made friends, and then after the invasion in June, we went back, a smaller group, 12 or 15, to see if we could help in the reconstruction. There were health professionals and educators, and so we talked to people in higher education and we talked to people in health care. And, as you well know, we did a hell of a job in preventing the invasion, as well as the success in reconstruction. But that was eye-opening.
SCARPINO: What did you learn?
COUTO: It was pretty clear to us that there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction. It was pretty clear to us that it was a very repressive regime. The reconstruction was just a horrible mess and it was so convoluted. The president of the University of Baghdad went back to his health practice and one day gunmen showed up at his clinic and shot him dead. So, I asked people who were better informed than I was, “Who did this?” And they said, “Who knows? He was Saddam’s private physician so Saddam may have sent someone to kill him because he would know some of the locations that Saddam used. It could have been some rival.” And I thought, a disgruntled faculty member over tenure? And they said, “This is Iraq, this is the Middle East, there are just numerous explanations for these things.” And the burning of buildings, they would say, was then to cover up the looting from Saddam’s invasion earlier. I wrote a report that I think is one of the best pieces that I did, “The Incidental Liberation of Iraq.” It was very clear to the people there that liberating Iraq was only incidental to U.S. foreign policy goals, which was financing its Middle East ventures with Iraqi oil, which never happened. It was amazing, the thing that I became sensitive to. When you spoke to the political scientists as we did in January, and we asked, “What do you think the reasons for the U.S. policy is? He said, “There are three reasons; Israel, Israel, Israel.” And then if you read Bob Woodruff’s book, or if you read any number of analyses of our getting into Iraq, it was never mentioned. I mean, it’s just a real blind spot, that we were intervening to take down the Middle East’s largest armed forces, perhaps next to Iraq or equal to Iraq, but we were changing the balance of power, vis-à-vis the Muslim nations and Israel. The terrific resilience among people—we were there for the first graduation from the art school post-Saddam, and the art that was coming out of these graduates were just compelling stuff. And it was again what happens in that free space where people had maintained their memories and then all of a sudden the repressive container is lifted and there is just a burgeoning of expression and life which is remarkable. This goes back many hours ago to our conversation about leaders and followers. It’s not that these people were following somebody, they were taking their own initiative as artists, etc. I don’t know if you saw the cover of that report or not, but it’s brilliant. The Square where they took down Saddam’s statue, the pedestal was still there. So a collective of artists went in and put up another statue of a female figure with a quarter moon, and it’s very symbolic and representative of Islamic art. And on the pedestal somebody had spray-painted graffiti that said “All done, go home.”
SCARPINO: Which of course, didn’t happen.
COUTO: Yeah. The other thing I learned is that had George Bush run for mayor of Baghdad in June of 1993, he would have received 95% of the vote. People were ecstatic about the liberation, and that’s how they regarded it. But they were also—I mean, I’d be standing at the hotel, the hotel reception counter, and there’d be shooting across the street. The guy at the counter would lean under the counter, pull out his automatic weapon, run out in the street, start shooting at people. It was the Wild West. People said, “We have our freedom, for what? I can’t visit my sister, we don’t have telephones.” They asked, “How can the United States, with the technology to kill a seabird sitting on a rock in the middle of the ocean, not be able to restore electricity to a city like Baghdad?” They pointed out that Saddam had electricity back within days all the time. It was very, very clear that the de-Baathification and the disbanding of the army were very, very bad moves that we made and it was clear as early as June.
SCARPINO: Kind of a failure of leadership or vision.
COUTO: It was the hubris. I got interested in Heifetz’s framework. He says there are clear problems and clear solutions, unclear problems and unclear solutions; and when you have a clear problem and a clear solution, it’s a technical matter. You go in and here’s what we do, we fix it. When you have a clear problem and unclear solutions, it takes adaptive work. And then you have unclear problem and unclear solutions, it takes adaptive work. But that leaves an empty cell, you know, a two-by-two grid, and the remaining cell is where you have an unclear problem but a clear solution, and that was what happened in Iraq. Rumsfeld said it very, very well when he said, “Well, we had to shift from Afghanistan to Iraq because Afghanistan didn’t have targets big enough for us to use.” We knew what the solution was, we had a clear solution, but the clarity of that solution obfuscated what the problem was.
SCARPINO: That’s an interesting analysis. I’m going to switch back. Like I said when I started this conversation, it is interesting what a person puts in their office that says about their life. You do have an interesting juxtaposition up there. You’ve got the peace poster for Iraq and then right next to it MIHOW.
COUTO: MIHOW, yeah.
SCARPINO: That stands for?
COUTO: Maternal Infant Health Outreach Worker.
SCARPINO: You went to a meeting of MIHOW at one the prettiest places in Indiana, Clifty Falls State Park.
COUTO: Is that right?
SCARPINO: Well, that’s what it says up there; Annual Conference at Clifty Falls State Park, Madison, Indiana. I love that place.
COUTO: Oh, who knew?
SCARPINO: Just a very beautiful place. So, we started this, we were talking about Jepson, and just a couple more questions. Skip ahead a few years, 2000-2001, you were awarded the Independent Sector’s Virginia Hodgkinson Research Prize for your book, Making Democracy Work Better, which we’ve talked about. 2001-2002, James MacGregor Burns rejoins the faculty, and he and Georgia Sorenson coedited a four-volume Encyclopedia of Leadership. Many of the faculty, including yourself, worked on that.
SCARPINO: You did contribute to the encyclopedia?
SCARPINO: What do you think the significance of that volume is?
COUTO: It was a marker in the development of the field. I think every once in a while in the development of the field, you have certain milestones. In this case, we had a critical mass, we had all these terms, we had different perspectives, we had a collection of authors; how do we put all that together into some kind of compendium? And I think it would fit Jim well in terms of the, again, as a member of the enlightenment to go back to the encyclopedias of the French period, just before the revolution of people coming together and trying to codify the knowledge that we had about something, and I think it was a very early effort at that. We’ve had several brilliant collections since then as well, including the SAGE collection on the reference handbooks on leadership in different areas, and environment and any number of other areas.
SCARPINO: And your own recent two-volume work.
COUTO: Yes, Civic and Political Leadership, yeah.
SCARPINO: So, also in 2001-2002, you received the first annual Servant Leader Award presented by the Jepson Student Government Association. How do you define servant leadership? What is a servant leader?
COUTO: Well, I put a lot of thought into this because, of course, Greenleaf is the person that we identify with servant leadership. For Greenleaf, servant leader means a person who acts as the trustee of an institution or organization, that is willing to take initiative on behalf of the shared values of an institution. He bases that concept on the character Leo in Hermann Hess’s book Journey to the East, which I think is all wrong, but I didn’t like Leo much at all. I loved the book. For me, servant leadership is helping a person discover the leader and leadership within that person. Now, that’s very consistent with being trustee of an organization. It’s also very consistent with that field of followership that goes away from dependence and subordination and emphasizes more the need for people to exercise autonomous judgement and critical thinking. So, the servant leader is the person who helps others understand their capacity to stand up for values, understand their values, first of all, and then take initiative on behalf of that and then perhaps even how to be effective at taking initiative. If we go back to some of the books that are essential for leadership, I would add Milgram’s book on authority, because it’s the very, very strong antidote to a shallow concept of followership. This idea of people, the more socialized roles, the more education we have, the more the buffers we have between our own values and what is right and what is wrong. So, those people with the most education were more likely to go the triple-X warning on the voltage board. You’re familiar with Milgram?
SCARPINO: Yeah, yes. It’s the pain test thing, yes.
COUTO: Right, right. There’s a movie out now about it. We had to read several review—internal review—what do you call them? Institutional Review Board?
SCARPINO: Yeah, yeah, Institutional Review Board, yes.
COUTO: Well, Milgram would have never passed at Yale.
SCARPINO: (Laughing) No.
COUTO: Yet it’s one of the most insightful experiments that anyone ever did, I think. I think that is such an important part of leadership studies and where I would say facetiously, students should know the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, Milgram is telling that story in so many ways. And I think that goes to servant leadership too, to strip away things so that people can see what the reality is, not only themselves, but others and to act upon that.
SCARPINO: In 2001-2002, and that was the year that you left, and we talked about that. You held a Fellowship, James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership, University of Maryland, Senior Research Fellow in Higher Education from 1996-98, and I assume you must have been resident there at least part of the time?
COUTO: No, I think I commuted. I commuted all the time. We have Amtrak service just up the road in Ashland, so it was three hours exactly from my door to Taylor Hall at University of Maryland.
SCARPINO: You were studying Kellogg Fellows and so on as part of that, or maybe I should back up and say what were you doing?
COUTO: I think I was codifying what higher education efforts were going on and we came up with a grid and a website that in the course of an afternoon you could construct your own leadership program with courses, extracurricular activities, and have a whole list of sources of schools around the country and contact people, where you could go and understand, well, how does cross-country hiking fit into a leadership program? And there you would have programs that were doing that.
SCARPINO: You went to Antioch, a founding faculty member 2002-2008, where you talked about it a little bit early, PhD program that was partially residential. Other than you were ready for a move, what attracted you?
COUTO: The Antioch brand.
SCARPINO: That is, the reputation of the university you’re talking about?
COUTO: The reputation of the college.
SCARPINO: College, yes, in Ohio.
COUTO: I had been there to interview Arthur Morgan. I knew something about Antioch College. I was just ecstatic to be part of one of the finest traditions in American higher education. Morgan was a visionary, a cantankerous visionary. All of us found a way to alienate his closest admirers.
SCARPINO: A few words on who he was for people who might not know.
COUTO: Yeah, he was the Chair—well, he was a self-taught engineer, one of the most brilliant engineers of the 20th century, very critical of the Army Corps of Engineers. He was a person who believed in engineering as a way to social fulfillment. He wrote a book called Utopia: Nowhere Was Somewhere, where he did his best to trace the European writings on utopia to the Incas and their engineering. He was on the Board at Antioch and then they selected him president. He instituted cooperative education. He had the idea of having a college at the center of the village and then ringing around the college, industries where students would go to school for a semester and then work in the industries for a semester. Berea College has tuition-free education and every student is employed, so they don’t step out of school as they did in Antioch, but there’s some similarities there. So, it wasn’t entirely brand new, but certainly it was the first major cooperative education effort program in the United States. And out of that came this brilliant faculty and these amazing students who were expected every semester just to pick up, move to a new town, find a place to live, go to their work, and thrive for four to six months. I was sending students into the community. These students were doing labor organizing in the ‘30s in the South. They were fighting McCarthyism in his home district. Just incredible things. They were the epitome of what I thought the interaction of higher education and community could be. A lot of them worked with Highlander, and Myles and Arthur Morgan were friends. Morgan lived in east Tennessee and Myles knew them. Myles honeymooned in Arthur Morgan’s cabin in North Carolina, I think.
SCARPINO: So that was then the intellectual and experiential context for the college’s move into a PhD level leadership program.
COUTO: The college and the university had come to bitter disagreements, of which I did not know, so that the college was independent from the university by the time I was there. So, the university had campuses in Seattle, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and Keene, New Hampshire, also in Yellow Springs and MacGregor. The university wanted to expand into adult education looking for revenue streams. The college did not want to do that for a whole lot of reasons. I’m being terrible to the conflict, and anybody who was engaged in it will pick up immediately that there were many more nuances that I’m not touching upon. Gene Rice was Provost of Antioch College, I think, and his wife was Dean of MacGregor, I think, which was across the street, and people say that they were the only two people in the Antioch system that spoke to each other. The divisions were pretty severe. Nonetheless, the PhD program enjoyed the marketing benefits of the Antioch brand. It gave me a chance to work with really distinguished people who had graduated from there in the golden years. I did a very small book called Courses in Courage, and it had six people who recounted their undergraduate years at Antioch and the difference that it made.
SCARPINO: So, at this point, when I had my plan, and you actually talked at the beginning that you can start with a plan and it doesn’t always add up. I was going to talk to you about scholarship at this point, but we’ve done most of what I wanted to cover. I just want say for the record, and I hope that my math works here, by my count, you published 14 books and 73 articles and book chapters between 1975 and 2015. As we mentioned yesterday, your first book was Poverty, Politics and Health Care: An Appalachian Experience in 1975. We talked about your third book for which you’ve got the cover on the wall behind me, Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round: The Pursuit of Racial Justice in the Rural South for which you won the Outstanding Book by the The Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in 1992. For anybody who might not know, what’s the significance of that title?
COUTO: It’s one of the popular songs from the Civil Rights Movement. The other significance is that it’s another lesson that authors don’t get to choose their titles. My title for that book was Sick for Justice which was Square’s comment and the editor, Mike Ames, now at Vanderbilt, did not like that title at all.
SCARPINO: I did talk to him, by the way.
COUTO: He wanted something that was right out of the Civil Rights Movement. I think it’s a dreadful title, it’s just too long. And then there’s a subtitle, which I tried to avoid most times.
SCARPINO: Just again, for the benefit of somebody who’s going to use this interview, you looked at four communities in Haywood County, Tennessee, Lee County, Arkansas, Loudoun County, Alabama, and the Sea Islands in South Carolina. You did oral history, on-site investigation, and so on.
SCARPINO: Part III of that book is titled “Hope” and the final chapter is titled, “Process: Race, Leadership, and Change.” Why did you end that book with a section on hope?
COUTO: Because I think when you look at the political archaeology of these places, there are periods of change and then periods—there are waves and change comes and goes and it depends upon the context. I was talking with a person who had been active in the resettlement administration and she was now school superintendent in Loudoun County, and I was calculating that every 30 years there was a period of progressive change; the ‘30s, the ‘60s. So I said, “Wow, the ‘90s are going to be a great period of change.” That didn’t work out. So, there went my—who was it - Toynbee who had the cycles in history that went along. Also, because I came to identify that there were three significant agents of change; the community of memory, the local people, who in their minds as the last refuge of free space, keep alive an alternative history, an alternative view of themselves, etc. Then there are a set of redemptive organizations with the theme of redemption again, and within race, they were trying to redeem the country from the original sin of racism, slavery. Then the third agent of change is heroic bureaucracies. They come along in unusual circumstances and they bring about very, very profound change, a whole new standard, and a willingness to invest public goods and more resources in people, regardless of the status of the labor force at this time, but in people as members of community and as members of a democratic community. So, looking at history, I have hope that those three forces still remain alive. It depends upon context, they’re not always entirely predictable, and good thing, because if we could predict them, people with power would prevent them.
SCARPINO: Or co-op them or…
COUTO: Exactly. So, it’s precisely because of chaos and complexity and because things are not always predictable that things will come along and just generate change that people thought was impossible. This fruit vendor emulating himself in Tunisia sets off a fire across the Middle East. Who was going to predict that? These were strong men. These were presidents who’d been in there for a lifetime and there was no foreseeable end to them, and then all of a sudden, goodbye, they were on the skids. And then we have this God-awful Civil War in Syria that’s still going on.
SCARPINO: So, I’m going to do my best to make sure I stay in the time period. You published Political and Civic Leadership: A Reference Handbook and we’ve talked a little bit about that. But, what I didn’t ask you is, how did you get selected to be editor?
COUTO: Again, people worked their way down the food chain.
SCARPINO: (Laughing) That’s hard to believe.
COUTO: I mean it happened at Mount St. Michael when kids wanted to go to Appalachia and it happened at SAGE when they were looking for an editor. I never asked, but I was sure that several people had passed on it. The acquisition editor came to me, we met in Washington. As I said, teaching political leadership was the most difficult course because I couldn’t find material. So, I was very happy to work on this book because I would be bringing together material to teach political leadership and to gather in one place enough material to fashion courses, both at the undergraduate and graduate level.
SCARPINO: Did you have the freedom to pick the authors, and so on and so forth?
COUTO: A great deal of freedom. I put together a five-person editorial committee that helped me identify topics and suggested authors, and we came up with maybe 40 or 60 with them, most of them Jepson people. Georgia helped me out on that and Georgia’s suggestion was…
SCARPINO: Georgia Sorenson?
COUTO: Yeah, make this your own, have fun. Al Goethals, Thad Williamson, I’m blanking on one woman’s name, but we went for the very top, you know, who’s the best in the field in this? And as I mentioned yesterday, if I wrote somebody who was premier in the field, chances are I would hear back from them in hours saying, “Can’t help you, no, but here are some people you might consider.” And it was just wonderful. And there I am writing to the president of the University of Pennsylvania on deliberative democracy because she and her partner are the best in the field. And she said, “Sure.”
SCARPINO: Which would say many of them did not say no.
COUTO: Yeah, I got many more yeses than nos, some out of personal friendship, like Ron Heifetz and a lot of people in leadership, and then others out of the goodness of their hearts.
SCARPINO: So, I’m going to ask you just a couple of wrap-up questions and we’ve spent a fair amount of time off and on talking about…
COUTO: Can I just go back to a couple of those things?
SCARPINO: Absolutely, yes.
COUTO: We started off with 40 and then I would have conversations and got some great ideas. I mean, I never thought of deception as a topic for political leadership, and I knew I wanted to do something on humor. It was hard to find someone with that background, especially in political and civic leadership, and that’s one of the things that I want to continue to follow up. But deception, there were a number of topics that people suggested to me that I would have never in my wildest dreams thought of. So, it became a nice collaborative effort with people making suggestions that I just jumped at. I think we ended up with 118 or 120 chapters, quite a few.
SCARPINO: In two volumes?
SCARPINO: We’ve talked off and on quite a bit about leadership studies and so on, and it’s an area, after you discovered you were doing it, been involved in for many years yourself. What are the two or three most important things to your mind that remain to be done in that field?
COUTO: Leadership studies?
COUTO: I think we need to continue to give more attention to leadership outside of the formal organization framework. If you look at the major journals within the field, most of the contexts are hierarchical formal organizations, most often business corporations and things like that. I think we need to open that up much wider. One of the founding texts of the field is Jim Burns’ Leadership. As we mentioned yesterday, the gravitational forces within the field of leadership studies are so great that people turn that into an organizational study and almost integrate the emphasis on collective action for social change. That is the primary focus of the book. So, that’s one thing. I think one area of terrific hope for the field is in leadership development, especially students. There’s some real excellent work being done by the non-faculty people in the leadership development programs around the country. God, they’re so informed, and they know so many small group activities. A friend of mine, when she was in charge the program, would invite me down to the University of Tampa, and she would have programs of swimming with the manatees and sailing and all the rest to teach this group of kids collaboration and give them experiences upon which to reflect. Those people have profound insights. I did my best. It’s difficult enough to do interdisciplinary work at a university or college, but when you start crossing the boundaries from the curriculum to the co-curriculum and you start talking about student activity people and how they integrate with your course work, etc., boy, I mean, that’s strange people in a strange land, it’s almost like we don’t have much to do. Those staff members who are sitting down with students who are in violation of some fraternity or sorority thing or have broken the honor code or something, they’re dealing with profound leadership moments and they have a much better feel than we do as faculty members who, we have lots of protective coats on that. I think one of the things that needs to be done is trying to recognize the instructional import of those student activities people. Dennis, Denny—I forget his last name, but there are people who have done excellent work in this field. Then, I think going back to my earliest training, I think there’s a lot of need for phenomenological approaches in the study of leadership. How is it that we come to understand leadership? What are the words we use? The work of Foucault, which is now just beginning to appear in the leadership field. Steven Lukes and his work on the three dimensions of power and how power is embedded in language and other features of society. We need to be uncovering that; the very words “leader” and “leadership” and being more precise in what they mean and not letting those terms slip to be synonymous with authority.
SCARPINO: As you think about your career over several decades, what are you most proud of?
COUTO: That barn in Gray Hawk, Kentucky, is still standing, that dairy farm, the barn on the dairy farm. The difference that some of my students went on to make, especially because of the service learning opportunity or because of internships. A woman who become an attorney and was the staff attorney for the Virginia Mental Health Council said, “I would have never done this except for that internship that I had at Jepson.” Going back to my Catholic roots, I mean I’m really attracted to the paradoxes of Christianity, and one of the greatest paradoxes is Judgment Day. Allegedly, the Lord will say, “Come, because when I was hungry, you fed me; when I was thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was naked, you clothed me,” etc., etc. And the response was not “Well, I’m glad you recognized that, Lord.” The response was, “When did we do these things?” And I guess I take as an order of faith and hope that I’ll never know many of my students’ greatest achievements. This former student just stopped by about a week or two weeks ago, and you have this experience all the time too, and they’ll say, “I’ll never forget when you said…” and you don’t remember saying that and sometimes you even doubt if you said that.
SCARPINO: “Did I really say that?”
COUTO: Yes, and, “Boy, I’m sorry you took it that way.” But it’s that little thing that we contribute and we don’t know how they’re going to develop. So if I say, what am I proudest of, it would be some of the written words which are very tangible and they occupy places on shelves and you can find them online and people will respond to them, and I like that a lot. I’m also proudest that I think I’ve created educational and leadership development opportunities for a whole set of people who then go on and carry on themselves. One of my first students at the University of Richmond that I had was also one of their very best, a Truman Scholar, who is now running the Truman Scholar program. He worked for the gubernatorial candidate in Delaware who got elected and worked with him as liaison to state legislature. He then went to Yale, wrote a book on think tanks and their influence on the public agenda. He then went to Wake Forest and was very successful as a teacher there. And I said, “Well, what’s the secret?” He said, “I’m just doing what you did.” And he was a senior here the only class we had together and he said, “Well, your class was very different from all the other classes.” I said, “How?” He said, “I knew everybody’s name.” This is a little arts college. The class has 20, right? And they would go through a whole semester in a class that size and not know each other’s name. He said, “You learn some names when they hand back papers.” But I always did two things at the beginning of every class. I called the roll, then I had somebody else call the roll, then I took the roll away and asked the person to go around the room and call everybody’s name. We did that day after day until everybody in the room…
SCARPINO: ..knew everybody’s name.
COUTO: …could call everybody’s name. Then the other thing I did was to ask them to draw a picture of leadership. Now, Paulo Freire, in dealing with literacy, would go from pictures to words and bring people to a consciousness or an awareness of what their situation was like. But when you have literate people and you ask them to use words, it goes on forever. So, I would ask them to draw a picture and then we would talk about what we saw in the picture. That broke down a lot of barriers. It was fun. In fact, I still have—these are from some of the very earliest sessions at Antioch and that article in Change, “The Art of Teaching Democracy,” I did that at the American Political Science Association. If you can imagine getting political scientists to sit around a table and draw pictures of what it means to teach democracy, that was fun. Jim didn’t think it was so much fun, and Jim was a very, very serious person, but he did a good one. It had to do with concentric circles, I think.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you the same question, as you look back on your career, only this time, what would you do differently if you could pick one or two things? What would you change? Where do you want a do-over?
COUTO: I would take Jackie Reed’s advice about conflict and look at conflict as a prelude to collaboration and I would not be as adamant about conflict as standing up for principle and almost an end in itself in terms of espousing principle, but being more open to conflict as an invitation to collaboration.
SCARPINO: Do you consider yourself to be a work in progress?
COUTO: More so than I did before. This old body is just reminding me that it has its limits. But I’ll tell you, I have far less contact with young people, apart from my grandchildren, but if there’s a place where I am still a work in progress, it’s in my interaction with them. I love to see them gaining their sense of humor. I love to see they’re enjoying my humor. It was freezing cold out here for the longest time, and one of the kids had left a piece of their clothing and I tried to kick it to get it up and it was frozen solid to the driveway. So, when my granddaughter got off the bus, we’re walking up the driveway and I said, “Isabelle, would mind picking up that glove for me?” So she leaned over and (sounds of struggling), it was frozen solid and she just stayed at it and pulled it off and then said to me later, she’s nine, she said to me later, “That was pretty funny, Poppy.”
SCARPINO: (Laughing) What do you consider your legacy to be?
COUTO: The largest part of my legacy will always be unknown. Those are the seeds that we deposited and that people nurtured on their own. Sometimes there’s a wonderful opportunity to come back and share, and some of my students do that. But I also trust that others are nurturing those seeds on their own. So, I’m not sure, I’m simply not sure. I think as I established things at Jepson and that there’s still an influence—my influence can still be felt at Jepson. When I go back to Jepson, there are two things that stand out, and these are just anecdotes, but they’re also part of a legacy of just thinking outside the box that just leaves students in wonderment. Number one, we were doing a participatory action project and there were only about six of us in the class. I was ready to get started and one of the students wasn’t there and another student said, “Ah, she turned 21 yesterday, so she had 21 at 21,” so she was sleeping it off. We had telephones in the classroom, so I called her and then I said, “Hey, we’re in the classroom and we’re about to get started. We’re just wondering are you coming in?” And she said, “Who is this?” I explained who I was and she said, “Okay, be right over.” I said, “You’re not coming, are you?” She said, “No, I’m not.” So I said, “Okay, we’ll come over to you.” So the five of us walked across campus, and went to her dorm room and had class there. So students will always ask me, “Are you the one who went to…” I said, “Yeah.”
Then another time when I was leaving, as I mentioned, I very, very rarely brought things together, closed off the different elements of a class. So, here I was teaching a course on critical thinking and we were talking about how artists see reality. We had just finished talking about systems thinking and paradigm and paradigm shifts. So I said, “How do I bring all of this together?” And the thought occurred to me, a hot air balloon. So, see that picture at the top there? That’s the first line from Hermann Hess: “It was my destiny to join a great experience.” That’s the class standing up against the hot air balloon. I had some money that I had to spend, so I brought in Captain Jacques and his crew and the students went on tethered hot air balloon rides above campus. It combined the artistic expression of green lawn, blue skies, white clouds, and this colorful hot air balloon. And it was a system, every part of which was heavier than air, but when brought together was lighter than air. And it brought them to a new place where they could see things differently in paradigmatic shifts. And they got it. One of them carefully explained that to a newspaper reporter who showed up, and fortunately it wasn’t just “University of Richmond rich kids show their advantage once again,” but she could explain what was going on pedagogically. So, those opportunities where we could do creative things like that, work legacy, and I hope that they inspired students to think like that, also; what are the opportunities that I have to do things differently, different than others, different than their own experiences? This is the question of legacy, right?
SCARPINO: Yeah, so I’m going to use that as a segue into my last question.
COUTO: All right.
SCARPINO: Here it is. Is there anything that I should have asked you that I didn’t, or anything that I didn’t give you a chance to say that you’d like to say?
COUTO: No, I’ve just been amazed at the amount of work and preparation that you put into this. Certainly, no one has ever paid that much attention to me. (Laughing)
SCARPINO: Well, look at it this way; I worked for two weeks, you’ve worked for 50 years. So, before I shut the record off, I want to thank you on behalf of myself and the Tobias Center and the International Leadership Association for spending this much time with me. Thank you very much.
COUTO: Oh, what an honor, are you kidding? I’m just so grateful that you would go to this effort, and I know that this is going to be a wonderful gift for my kids and their kids.
SCARPINO: I hope that they enjoy it. Thank you.
COUTO: Thank you.