SCARPINO: The recorders are on and as I said when they were off, I’m going to start with a brief introduction. Today is January 6, 2009 and I have the privilege to be interview Father Theodore Hesburgh in his office in the Hesburgh Library Building on the campus of Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. My name is Philip Scarpino. I’m a professor of history at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and Director of Oral History for the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence. Father Hesburgh, I want to thank you very much for agreeing to do this and I also want to ask your permission to record this interview, to have the interview transcribed, and to deposit the recording and the transcription in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives for the use of the patrons.
HESBURGH: I’d be happy to agree to all three of those.
SCARPINO: Thank you so much. Again, as I said when the recorder was off, I’m going to start with just a few simple demographic questions.
SCARPINO: The first one is when and where were you born?
HESBURGH: I was born in Syracuse, New York on May 25th, 1917, right in the middle of World War I.
SCARPINO: Who were your parents?
HESBURGH: My parents were Theodore Barnard Vincent Hesburgh, my father, and my mother was Ann Marie Murphy Hesburgh.
SCARPINO: Where did you attend high school?
HESBURGH: I attended high school in Most Holy Rosary High School run by the Sisters, the Immaculate Heart of Mary out of Scranton, Pennsylvania and was part of Most Holy Rosary Parish in Syracuse.
SCARPINO: As you think back on the years when you were a young man in high school, were there any events that took place that influenced your views on leadership or the leader that you later became?
HESBURGH: Not really. I didn’t really think much about leadership. I was like most students. I was vice president of my graduating class and the president had a bit of a speech defect so I had to give the commencement address even though I was salutatorian, not valedictorian of my class. I can’t think of anything spectacular that happened except that I had 12 years of wonderful education. We took all of our exams from the New York State Regents exam schedule and all of our marks were not just monitored by the state but proved by them. Matter of fact, the nuns were pretty tough markers. So when you got the marks back from Albany, the capital, most of our marks had been elevated from the ones that the nuns had given us.
SCARPINO: They were harder than the official graders.
HESBURGH: Very much so.
SCARPINO: Again as you look back to those early years, were there any individuals who you met or who you knew about that influenced your views on leadership?
HESBURGH: Well, when I was in seventh grade we had a parish mission which meant that priests came in from, in this case from Notre Dame, and there were three of them and they put on a two week’s mission—one week for the women and one week for the men and of course additional talks for the students in the high school. In that group was a father, Tom Duffy, from Rhode Island, a Holy Cross Priest who was pretty much in charge of the older boys during the two weeks of the mission and he used to spend a good deal of time talking to the boys while the preacher was out there giving a little hell and damnation. They thought it was a little too tough for us to listen to I guess. Anyway, Father Tom Duffy asked me what I was going to do when I grew up and I said I’m going to be a priest and he said do you want to join the diocese here and I said no, I’d rather belong to a religious order. He said well you ought to look into Holy Cross Order, Congregation of Holy Cross at Notre Dame. I kept in touch with him over the ensuing years. He wanted me to come out here for high school but my mother said no way. He’s going to high school right here and be in the family for the next four years and that was it.
SCARPINO: When did you know that you wanted to be a priest when you grew up?
HESBURGH: I never thought of being anything else, a matter of fact. When I got to the point where one starts being more conscious of life and its meaning, I always thought I wanted to be a priest when I grew up and that was my original inspiration if you will and I stayed with it all through high school. Had a very normal high school existence. I mean we dated and we danced and we had a lot of fun in high school. When it was over I decided to apply out at Notre Dame and I did and I came here in 1934 as a freshman. Joined the congregation of Holy Cross and have been here pretty much off and on ever since.
SCARPINO: That was actually one of the questions I was going to ask you was how you got to Notre Dame but you were here from 1934 to 1936 and then you went on to the Gregorian University in Rome to study theology.
HESBURGH: That’s right. It was actually a year longer. I was here ’34–’35 for the freshman year and ’35–’36 I spent a whole year at Rolling Prairie, Indiana at St. Joseph’s Novitiate. It was a very tough year. We could only speak two hours a day—an hour after dinner and an hour after supper and the rest of the time we were supposed to be in a state of meditation and silence. That was a pretty tough year, worse than boot camp I’d say. Somehow, especially at that age, to be quiet and meditative for a whole year was something else but that’s the way they prepared you for your first vows in the community. After a year at St. Joseph’s Novitiate becoming a real farmer because we had to clear 650 acres of land and plant corn and build a silo and all that sort of thing. It was a pretty tough year but a good year. I came out of there lean and strong and fully prepared to come back to Notre Dame for my sophomore year which I did after taking my first vows for three years—vows for poverty, chastity and obedience—and came back here for the beginning of the school year in 1936.
SCARPINO: Do you think that there has been any connection between your theological training and your views on leadership?
HESBURGH: Not really. In philosophy you’re, when I returned to Notre Dame for my sophomore year, I was just a regular and taking regular undergraduate courses. We had two years of philosophy for the junior and senior years but instead of doing them here I was assigned to Rome. Matter of fact, they assigned me to Rome for eight years to do two years of philosophy, four years of theology, and then to stay on for a doctorate in theology. As a matter of fact, World War II came upon us and after three years in Rome at the Gregorian University—having gotten my undergraduate degree in philosophy and was finishing up my first year in theology—when the Germans invaded Belgium and France we were ordered out of the country. So we got the last boat, the USS Manhattan, out of Genoa in 1940 and we had a quick trip across the Atlantic because there were twice the capacity aboard the ship because one of the diplomatic families were aboard. We saw a few periscopes on the way but we were a very fast ship and we were able to outrun them. When we finally got to Florida then we came up the coast and as we were coming in the New York harbor we had the radio on and Franklin Roosevelt was giving his famous speech about the stab in the back when Italy attacked France from the south while the Germans were attacking it from the north.
SCARPINO: So you crossed the Atlantic while there was an active state of naval warfare going on.
HESBURGH: That’s right. We were not at war but we were, we kept thinking of the Lusitania, you know. America got into World War I when they sank the Lusitania, a passenger ship, off England and it was something we didn’t want to repeat.
SCARPINO: You were ordained at Notre Dame in 1943.
HESBURGH: That’s right. When I came back to the U.S. I continued, I [word inaudible] three years of theology at Holy Cross College in Washington, DC which was a college operated at Catholic University by the congregation. We had our own philosophy and theology teachers there. And that was a good three years. In 1943, June 24th as a matter of fact, I was ordained a priest at Notre Dame. After that they said what do you want to do and I said, there’s a war on, I want to be a naval chaplain. They said you’re going back to Catholic University for the next four years to get a doctorate. That was quite a blow but I had the vow of obedience so I swallowed hard and went back there. I tried to hurry things up because I got my doctorate in two more years. When I had the diploma in my hand I returned to Notre Dame and talked to our Provincial who made all the assignments. I said now I’ve got the degree, can I now go in the Navy as a chaplain. He said this is July 3rd, 1945 and he said tomorrow, Sunday, is the Fourth of July and on Monday, the fifth of July you’ll begin teaching six classes in philosophy, in theology. Actually, I never taught before except kind of the informal thing once that I was going through. So it was a new experience, not only starting out but starting out with six classes virtually in the same part of theology.
SCARPINO: Did you enjoy teaching?
HESBURGH: I enjoyed it very much. It was my first experience and we began, at that time the war was winding down so we started to get veterans. So I became head of the association of all the veterans at Notre Dame until it turned out that over 80% of the returning students were veterans. So we collapsed the veterans’ club. But I had done a good deal of student activity during that time as well as teaching and I also wrote a book on my course called God and the World of Man. It was one of the first textbooks in teaching theology at the collegiate level and it was fairly important in the sense that there were no such books at that time and I did one in dogmatic theology—the first of three as I proposed. Another of my colleagues, Father Sheehy, did the one on moral theology. Mine was on dogmatic theology. And another young priest, Father Cavanaugh, did one on kind of introduction of philosophy and theology. They were good years. You’re starting out and you’re learning your craft. Fortunately, I’d had a fine background in education so it was no great deal. I taught for the next four years and four years later I had finished my first of three volumes—Teaching Theology at the College Level—and I was into my first chapter of the second volume when we had an annual retreat in June. I was really expecting to go on doing what I was doing but when I picked up my so-called obedience piece of paper with your job for the next year on it, it said in four words or three words—Executive Vice President. So I jumped from teaching into administration because at that time the current president, Father Cavanaugh, who had only three more years to go—he was trying to reorganize the place and he set up a new organizational with four functional vice presidents. One for student affairs, one for academics, one for fundraising and another one for alumni and I was the—I asked him what does executive vice president mean. He said well you’re vice president in charge of vice presidents so you have to write up a table of organization and articles of administration for each of these four separate functions but you’re going to be my assistant. You’re going to be my executive vice president so you organize all of them and the same time help me in my job as president. And I have to say the next three years were very, very busy. He worked me very hard, not only here but around the country with the alumni. At the end of that time I didn’t know what was going to happen but I went over after the annual retreat to get my job for the next year and it simply said on the piece of paper, President of the University of Notre Dame.
SCARPINO: Did you know that you had been under consideration?
HESBURGH: No. I had no idea at all. I expected, I was only, at the time I think, about 45 years of age and it seemed like quite a jump at that time to get that kind of a job.
SCARPINO: I mean one of the questions that I was going to ask you was to talk about your really remarkable rise through the administrative ranks and ask you if you had any idea how you became the candidate for president. What had you done to bring yourself to the attention of the people who made the selection?
HESBURGH: I don’t know. I came back and did what I was assigned to do. I still had six classes. By that time I was head of the department. I’d just completed my first book on the material I was teaching, had two others in mind, and out of the blue I suddenly am the President of the University of Notre Dame which at age 35 seemed like quite a responsibility.
SCARPINO: Right. And I gather, given your vow of obedience, saying no was not an option?
HESBURGH: That’s not an option, really. Theoretically it is but practically you’ve taken a vow of obedience so you take the jobs that are assigned to you.
SCARPINO: I read that in talking about being the president of Notre Dame University, you said the job of chief executive of a major university is both similar to and different from that of a CEO of a for-profit corporation. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how being a university president is similar to and different from being CEO of a corporation.
HESBURGH: Well, if you’re a CEO of a corporation your big concern is having a successful business or making money. At a university your job is to help the university grow academically, which I took as my main job. Also I was responsible for raising the money to do that. When I became president, we had a budget of only six million dollars a year and I had an endowment of only seven million dollars a year.
SCARPINO: That’s for the entire university?
HESBURGH: For the entire university. That was in 1945. Today we have a budget that’s past a billion dollars a year and our endowment, before the stock market just went down, was over seven billion dollars. So it was quite a jump during those years. Also, when my six years was up I went back to find out what I was going to do because all the presidents since World War I has served only six years. And when I went over to get my job this time, it said continue President of the University of Notre Dame and that was quite a shock. I didn’t realize it but I was destined to go around that six year term six times. So, it cut my life exactly in half. I became president at 35 and I retired at age 70.
SCARPINO: How did you go about identifying and working with the various constituencies as chief executive officer of the university?
HESBURGH: Well, the first thing I was very fortunate. I had an executive vice president named Father Ned Joyce. He was a Notre Dame graduate who had gone out, became a CPA, and was working in South Carolina in his native state. Then he came back after five years of working it that way and joined the Order and he was a young priest and actually he was four months older than I was. We were both just 35. And having him there was a terrific boost and I was able to pick up four other very good vice presidents and I just had to launch forth. Given that budget and that endowment we had a long way to go. But I could never have dreamed that today we’d have a budget of over a billion dollars and an endowment of over seven billion dollars and that was something that happened over the next 36 years, if you will.
SCARPINO: Well, that’s actually the next thing I wanted to talk to you about. When you became president, I read that there were no endowed professorships at Notre Dame.
HESBURGH: That’s right.
SCARPINO: And by the mid-1980s, according to my count, there were about 60, each endowed at about a million dollars each.
HESBURGH: Well, today we have over 200 endowed professorships and of course they grow because the money is invested in the board of trustees. One of the things I did during my time was to persuade the Congregation of Holy Cross to take the university lock, stock, and barrel which we had been operating since 1842 when Father Sorin, our founder, arrived here and I persuaded the Order to turn that whole corporation over to a lay board.
SCARPINO: And why did you want to do that?
HESBURGH: Well, it struck me that the laity had all kinds of qualifications that priests didn’t necessarily have, even the priests in education, and it seemed to me it would give us a very strong base because we picked outstanding leaders from all over the country to be members of our board which was about 30 people at that time and they were on regular terms as well. And it seemed to me to give us a better foundation for future growth and a much broader view of administration since all of them brought their administrative experience into the university. They were top flight lawyers and doctors and heads of corporations and they’re also very generous. That’s why they got very interested in building up the endowment which is a basis of all good universities. You take the ten top endowments in the country or the top twenty, you’ve got the top 20 universities more or less. Today we rank number 14th in the country or in the world for that matter.
SCARPINO: How did you go about exercising leadership as a fundraiser?
HESBURGH: Well, the first thing I did was to get my predecessor, Father John Cavanaugh, to return to the university. When he retired he moved out to California and was teaching Great Books out there and I persuaded him to come back after six months on the job and he got together with a young man named Jim Frick who became the managing director of our Notre Dame Foundation and together they set the basis for fundraising which over the years has increased. There are several hundred people working in the foundation today but they’ve had enormous success having jumped from a budget of six million to a budget of over a billion and a endowment of some seven million to over seven billion.
SCARPINO: But you must have been the person who had the vision that people were contributing to.
HESBURGH: Well, I tried to enlarge more and more what is the vision of a Catholic university in the modern world. You have to be a university in the full sense of that word. Same as all secular universities, like your own in Indiana, are great universities and they’re mostly operated by a board of trustees and they help you bring in the support to grow the university and we did that through the Notre Dame Foundation. It’s amazing that as we began to get professors endowed, of course we’re now in a position to attract much better professors because we had the money to do it and to attract them from other great universities. So the faculty grew in prominence and competence as a result the university grew with them. I don’t take any personal credit for that. It was a, except to assemble a good team and let it work.
SCARPINO: But is that the mark of a good leader is assembling a good team and letting it work?
HESBURGH: That’s right. You have to give leadership. On the other hand they do the, what you might say, the footwork and the, without them you simply couldn’t move forward. Today we are, by far odds, the most highly endowed Catholic university in the world. I think the closest to us probably is either Georgetown or Boston College. We have seven times more endowment than either of them.
SCARPINO: I read an article that you wrote in a book called What Works for Me: Sixteen CEOs Talk about Their Careers and Commitments that came out in 1986. And you said in there that the most critical internal affair during those years was the student revolution. It looked to me as though the whole establishment was going up in smoke. How did you go about exercising leadership during the student revolution of the late sixties?
HESBURGH: Well it was a national phenomenon that grew out of the dissatisfaction with the Vietnam War and the students of course were in a privileged position. They didn’t have to go to war. They all were exempted during their time in college or graduate school. They really kicked up their heels and they got so unruly that at one point in time over 250 of my colleagues—presidents of colleges and universities—had to resign or had been fired and the whole country seemed to be up for grabs. So at that point I decided that someone had to say halt. And I wrote a letter to our students. I managed to write it at Easter time when they’d all be home and their parents would get a chance to read it too. I told them that there was a very simple rule for peace at the university and that was they could protest the war all they wanted and I would join them in that. I wasn’t afraid of having marches or demonstrations or I had noticed articles in the student paper against the war. But at the same time they had to respect the nature of the university. I said if anybody deliberately obstructs the work of the university, the work of faculty and the teachers and other administrators running residence halls and the rest of that, that I would give them six minutes to reconsider and if they were in the middle of a protest that was preventing other students from going to class or having peace in the classroom, they would be given six minutes to cease and desist. If they didn’t cease and desist in the six minutes they’re going to be out for the rest of the semester.
SCARPINO: Did you enforce that?
HESBURGH: Well, I knew that once I laid the challenge out there, given the radicalism of the time, it would be challenged. So one day or one night—I used to have to work late at nights because that’s when the students were up and around—and my office lights were always on and my door was open. I was doing a lot of work in different parts of the country but at the same time when I was home I was in the office and I was there until two and three on the morning. I remember one night about 2:30 in the morning, knocked on the door, in comes a student. He said I am the head of or chairman of our protest committee of about 12 people and we’ve been trying to stop students from applying for jobs at the Center for Employment where seniors would go in and talk to representatives of different corporations. Whoever was in charge of scheduling those people did what I thought was kind of a crazy thing. He had both the CIA and the company that was producing Napalm in for interviews on the same three days and the students, led by this gentleman, the chairman that came in to see me were, decided to make their point. So they lay down in front of the door going into the employment office and prevented students from going in to interview for jobs. They had been walking up and down with signs for two days in a three-day protest and no one was paying much attention to their signs because the students obviously were interested in setting themselves up for good jobs after graduation. So after two days of walking up and down with signs in front of the office, about a dozen of them, they decided to do something more stringent if you will and he came in to inform me that the next day they were going to lie down in front of the door. That anybody going in to see the CIA or the companies making Napalm would have to walk over their bodies. I said, come on now, no one’s disturbed you protesting. You can protest till the cows come home but if you lay down in front of the, lie down in front of the door, you’re obstructing other students for doing what’s their right to prepare for jobs in the future. I don’t particularly like the idea of the two particular job offers that are going on at the moment but they’re legitimate and they’re legal in our country and you have no right to keep the students—if they’re interested—from seeking employment there. So he said well tomorrow at eight o’clock we’re going to lie down in front of the office door. Well I said, no student’s going to walk on human bodies to go in to get a job. You know that. That means that you’re obstructing their rights and I’m in charge of the rights of everybody here and if you do that you’re going to be confronted with what I had in my letter to you—that your parents know about and everybody else knows about. The letter was so timely it was carried in full, even though it was about five pages long, in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal which says something about the anxiety at the time.
HESBURGH: So everybody knew about it. I assume the country was watching us because they also knew this was going on and sure enough, I said if you do that you’re going to get time to reconsider as I said in my letter. If you’re still there at the end of ten minutes you’re going to be told to go home for the rest of the semester and you’re going to be given five more minutes to get up and leave and if you’re still there in defiance of the law after that ten minutes, you’re out for good. You’ll never graduate from Notre Dame. Well, as might be imagined, the next day they’re lying down in front of the door and the students aren’t going in. So the Director of Discipline here walked up to them and said look, you read Father Ted’s letter. You know exactly what the results are. I’m telling you now to get up and leave and if you don’t you’re going to be out for the rest of the semester. And they didn’t move. They just stood there glaring at him so he said well I’m going to get lost for ten minutes. Actually, he stayed away about 15 minutes to give them more time. And he said when I come back if you’re still here blocking the entrance, you’re out for good. That’s what the letter says and you’ve had time to think about it. But as for now, he said, I want your ID cards and you’re out for the rest of the semester unless you get up and leave right now. Well they wouldn’t move. So he picked up their ID cards and walked away and came back about 15 minutes later and they’re all gone. So they were all out for the semester but when they left, you can image where they left for, they all came up to my office and they said you can’t possibly toss us out of school because our legitimate protest. I said look, you know the rules of the game. They’re clearly outlined in the letter I sent every student at Easter time and you’re toothless tigers. You want to be fierce but when things get tough you expect me to cover for you and let you off the hook. I said I’m not going to that. You’ve broken the law and you knew the law and you were given time to obey it and you didn’t, so you’re out for the semester. I said, I thank God you finally got up after that warning and your cards were picked up because if you were still there ten minutes later you’d have been out of the university for good. And so they growled a bit but they had no choice and they all went home but they all returned and they all graduated to my knowledge.
SCARPINO: Do you think that your actions prevented the kind of violence that took place on other campuses?
HESBURGH: Well, I think it was a clear cut thing. Over 250 of my fellow presidents had retired or resigned or had been fired. One of them actually died during one of those confrontations at night in his office. He died of a heart attack and that was, shows you how serious the thing was. But that was the turning point in the student revolution in America because, of course, the word of that got out immediately in all the newspapers and somehow the other presidents stiffened up their rules and that was the end of the student revolution at least during that period.
SCARPINO: In 1972, Notre Dame began admitting women to undergraduate programs.
HESBURGH: That’s right.
SCARPINO: What were the leadership challenges to you of that, making that dramatic change in the undergraduate student population?
HESBURGH: Well, you can imagine we have a university that was very masculine, to put it mildly. They were big in football and that made it even more masculine if you will. And the idea that we’re going to introduce women, for most of the alumni it seemed to be a desecration of a sacred thing. But I said listen fellows, I’m in charge of this place and we happen to be emerging as the Catholic university in the world. It seems incredible to me that Catholic women can’t come to a Catholic university simply because they’re women. We’re going to start admitting them next year and we’re going to admit more every year and occasionally and eventually we got to a point where 50% of our students are women. We’re going to hold that 50/50 proportion from now on. We’re a better university from every aspect since that happened. I think that you have an all masculine situation, it gets to be a little raunchy at times. The language goes down and at times it’s not just masculine but too masculine if you will. But having 50% of the students women made an enormous change of spirit in the whole place. As I say, the women we accepted of course were as bright or brighter than the men and women tend to mature intellectually before men do. That happens mostly in high school but when they get here of course they’re pretty equal. But having the two of them here, I did put in one rule. I said we’re not going to be like most universities. We’re not going to have mixed dorms. We’re going to have women’s dorms and men’s dorms because this is a residence of the university and if we have women here you guys tend to take over and there’s no problem of visiting the dorms during the day and you’ll be with women in class and that’s a perfectly normal thing. But there comes a time in the evening when they ought to have a life of their own when they can get in their PJs and sit in the bed and do women talk. And they can’t do that if you guys are all through the hall and asserting yourselves. That was a very tough decision to make. I don’t know of any other university, offhand, that does that.
SCARPINO: Does Notre Dame still have that policy?
HESBURGH: We still have that policy. We have half of our student body are women and they have their own residence halls. We’re still building a few more halls. But we have kept that policy and even though it was, there were many cries of outrage when I put it in, that’s the way we started and that’s the way we’ve continued. I think I can say that we have a much better deal for women here because women have a world of their own, especially as they’re growing up and maturing. It’s important that they have some woman time together not obstructed by the presence of men who tend to dominate.
SCARPINO: But you did meet some resistance when you decided to . . .
HESBURGH: Oh, resistance. I had more calls, more letters, and more people protesting. They thought I was anti [word inaudible] or medieval or something. And of course the great cry was everybody else is doing it why can’t we it and I said because this is Notre Dame. We’re not everybody else. Well that didn’t wash very well in the early days but as time went on and people got used to the situation and women liked it of course because it gave more women their own for half the day and night. So that became, I said you have your meals with women, you’re in class with women, you have sports with women, you have drama with women, you have all of the normal activities with women but it just happens that both you and the women are unmarried and that, you’re in a formative time, and you want to be able to develop your own mystique, your own philosophy in life. You do that the way the men do by being together in the halls and women have to do the same thing and have that opportunity. It was a tough decision. I don’t know of any other school that did it but we have stuck with it and I think it’s been very productive.
SCARPINO: I’m going to read a few lines from something that you said about all the activities that you had going on, professional activities, while you were president and then I’m going to ask you to comment on it. You said, there are many years that I have been concurrently, that I have concurrently been on the National Science Board, the Civil Rights Commission and some other government job outside of that plus being on the Rockefeller Foundation Board, the Institute of International Education, and a whole variety of private endeavors. Ten years as Chairman of the Overseas Development Council, 21 years on the Rockefeller Foundation Board and six years as its Chairman, seven years on the Chase Manhattan Bank Board with a meeting every month concurrently. I am Chairman of the Immigration and Refugee Select Commission. And the question is, how did you exercise leadership across all of those responsibilities?
HESBURGH: Well, they didn’t all happen at once. And if you take them on one at a time and you make time for them. I didn’t have any much of a social life myself except through these activities. I didn’t have much time for golf, in fact I don’t play golf. I didn’t have time to sit around playing Bridge. I had not many of the things that you would normally have because it was a tough job and I was working both sides—the inside and the outside. But I learned a great deal and because of my position on those different organizations, I learned a great deal about science from the very beginning of the Science Foundation which Vannevar Bush really inspired with his book Science: The Endless Frontier. He was the president of MIT. And in 1950 they established the National Science Foundation and four years later I was asked to be a member for the next six years—a member of the board.
SCARPINO: Do you know why you were asked to be a member?
HESBURGH: No idea but when I got a call from the White House, the president’s assistant said that the president wanted me to be a member of the National Science Board, I said I think he’s got the wrong Hesburgh. My whole background was philosophy and theology, not science. Although I know something about science from being president of the university with a college of science and a college of engineering. And he said, well President Eisenhower thinks there ought to be a philosophical and theological point of view on the science board and I said well, that will be good for me. I’ll learn a lot about science and they might learn something about philosophy and theology. But it’s a unique kind of an organization and it’s the top science board in the world so I’d be very happy to serve under those conditions. And it was really something. Every month we had a meeting. We had agenda books two or three inches thick. We covered all the beginnings of fundamental science in this country and eventually I was able to include social science which the physical sciences tend to look down on. But I said, look you have their method and they have theirs. They’re a respectable operation. If we’re going to have a Science Foundation—a National Science Foundation—for the whole country they ought to have their part and their kind of support and understanding as well as the physical sciences. So that was probably the contribution I made to them. But they made a tremendous contribution to me because I was sitting around the table with Nobel Prize winners. I could stand in the hall outside a meeting and get clued up on the problems of the extraterrestrial elements that Glen Seaborg had discovered and added a whole new line to the table of elements. When you hear it from the guy that discovered them and got the Nobel Prize for it, that’s a pretty good kind of education. I needed it and I had it in spades.
SCARPINO: Do you think that associating with people of that caliber influenced your own ideas on leadership?
HESBURGH: Well, of course because they were all leaders in their own fields. They were all very good people. I never had the slightest problem sitting in a room with them. I did a lot of listening of course but gradually when we, they were a little tough on biology at first. They said that’s not a real science. I said now wait a minute. Science is defined also by the object of the search and it happens that life, and that’s what biology is about, is a pretty legitimate scientific endeavor and you’ve got to respect them as the way they respect you in physics or chemistry or math or biology. So we were able to have that effect and today I think the National Science Foundation of course is decades old now. It was only started in 1950 but when I went aboard we had a budget of about four million dollars. Today we have, there’s a budget of billions of dollars annually and it’s had a revolutionary effect on the growth and firmness of science in America.
SCARPINO: But you really helped to shape the growth of the National Science Foundation.
HESBURGH: Well, by pushing for biology and pushing for social sciences it changed the face of it somewhat.
SCARPINO: When you got ready to retire as Notre Dame’s president in 1987 you gave an interview to Time magazine and I’m just going to read one line from that. You said that the very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet. What was your, as you got ready to step down as president, what was your fully articulated vision of what this university should be?
HESBURGH: Well, I think a university is interested in all forms of knowledge by whatever legitimate means. It has to be divided into things like physics and chemistry and biology and so forth but it also is affected by literature and art and philosophy and theology. Fortunately, this kind of university, Notre Dame, I was able to push on all of those levels so they respected each other but they grew according to their own vision, their own means, and their different philosophies you might say of science, depending on where it’s pointed to—the physical world, the world of life and biology, the world of calculation and mathematics, etc. I thought one ought to have a universal view of knowledge in the university because that what university means. Universitas means a totality of knowledge, not just this or that science.
SCARPINO: How did you go about conveying that vision to your various constituencies?
HESBURGH: Well, first of all you have to understand what they’re all about. You have to be sympathetic to their goals and the way they’re achieving them. You have to be an apostle of freedom because every time a science or knowledge is being pushed forward there are people that think it’s not to their liking or they’d rather do it someway else. The philosophers don’t always like the scientists and vice versa but all of knowledge is legitimate as long as it’s pursued with legitimate academic procedures and that’s what a university is all about. Universitas means the universality of knowledge, not just this or that particular kind of knowledge.
SCARPINO: I mean if I think about what it might be to be a president of a major university and you’ve got an independent-minded faculty, you’ve got undergraduate and graduate students, you’ve got alumni, you have parents, you have people in town. . .
HESBURGH: . . .and you’ve got trustees.
SCARPINO: . . .and the trustees. How do you keep all those balls in the air?
HESBURGH: Well, you try to listen to all of them first of all. You have to sympathize with their own points of view. You have to bring unity out of diversity which is always a tough thing to do. You have to try to develop the means for them to develop along their own lines and that means building up an endowment. You have to push scholarship in whatever form it takes. But you have to be open to knowledge, that’s why, Universitas means everything not just this or that thing.
SCARPINO: I’m going to switch gears here and ask you some of the standard leadership questions that I sent out to your assistant but there’s one question that I’m dying to ask you and I want to make sure I do this before our time together ends and I noticed we’re in a rather impressive room in your office complex here. You have a number of models of jet aircraft in here and I read somewhere that you flew off the deck of a carrier in a jet, you flew in an F14, and you’ve flown in other supersonic military aircraft.
HESBURGH: I flew in the supersonic aircraft which is the SR71. There’s a model of it right over there.
SCARPINO: I saw that on your shelf. How did you manage to get a ride in that SR71?
HESBURGH: Well, it’s an interesting story. I was, I think during Jimmy Carter’s presidency he called me in one day and he said Father Ted, he said, I’ve got these two folders here and they represent problems that are driving me crazy. I just can’t seem to get to the bottom or make them come out even and the thought struck me maybe you can do it. You have a different background than mine. Would you please take them and work on them and I said Mr. President, it’s yours to command and it’s mine to obey. I said of course I will. (laughing) Well I came back two or three weeks later in the Oval office, just the two of us, and I handed the folders back and I said Mr. President these are matters that are solved and you’ll never hear from them again. As a matter of fact, you can throw those two folders in the fire if you want because they’re out of, you’re not going to hear from them again. They’re solved. And he went over and looked out at the Rose Garden for a minute and he turned around and he said, I can’t tell you what a load that takes off my mind. Then he said, by the way, you’ve really helped me. Is there anything I can do for you? I said yeah, I would like to break the world’s speed record which at that time was around 3.25 Mach. Although there was only one airplane that was credited with that and that was the SR71. There were many other supersonic military planes of course, most of them would go beyond one Mach which was about 750 miles an hour. They had a few that would go two Mach and 2.1 Mach but that was about it. The SR71 was very special. And when I said that to him that I wanted to break the world speed record he immediately came back and he said you’re talking about the SR71 and I said yes sir, I am. He said, we don’t even let people see that airplane. It’s always kept in guarded hangar and its flights are secret. I said, Mr. President, may I remind you you’re not just President of the United States, you’re Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and if you call up that four star Air Force general over at the Pentagon and tell him you want me to fly in the SR71, I don’t think he’s going to argue with you. He may argue with me about what I got to do to achieve it but that’s legitimate. He said, well let me think about it and I said okay, you’re the president. So I left him with that. A few weeks later I got a call from the four star Air Force general in the Pentagon and he said understand from the boss that you want to fly in the black bird which being translated is I understand from the president you want to fly in the SR71 and I said yes sir, I do. Well he said you’re going to have to pass the test the same as the astronauts do. You’re going to have to pass the astronaut test. You’re going to have to be able to get in the back seat of the airplane and operate all the equipment, beginning with seven radios and a lot of electronic gear and he said you also have to pass the rather rigid physical, that we don’t want you dying up there. And I said, sounds legitimate to me general. Where do I start? He said, you come out to Beale Air Force base in Sacramento. It might be Bryan but I think it’s Beale. That’s where we house the SR71, he said. You’ll be put through the astronaut test and you’ll have to operate the back seat of that airplane in the model. If you pass everything you can fly. If you fail anything you can’t fly. Well I only cheated once in that. I tested myself and I found I had a hard time holding my breath more than a minute. I knew that would be part of the test, how long you could go without oxygen because you’re in a very precarious place back there. If you’re out of oxygen you can’t operate and you’ve got all this gear there and you’re the only one who has it. The pilot has what he needs to fly it, you’ve got everything else. So I, in the course of the test I put on the astronaut’s suit and I laid out on a La-Z-Boy and breathed pure oxygen, 100% oxygen, for about three hours. And so when I went to take the test that was the part where I was not going to be able to make it normally but with three hours of oxygen in my lungs I got into this mock up of the airplane about 80 feet off the ground and I had a medical doctor who was also an astronaut on the ground. We were connected with a radio of course. And going through these tests and finally he said, well now we’ve got a tough one. See how you can do without oxygen. He said just pull your visor up. So, an astronaut, when you put the visor up, there are little holes all around the periphery of your vision there and they’re putting out oxygen. When you put the visor up it shuts off the oxygen. So I said okay, let’s start. So he set the clock. I pull the visor up and boy, that thing goes around very slowly it seems for a minute. But by the time we got to a minute he said, how are you feeling? I said fine. He said great, go two minutes. So I got through the second minute and still fine. By golly, I had about 80% oxygen I think in my blood at that time. And we got to two minutes he said are you ready to yell uncle and I said not really. He didn’t know I was a priest because I was dressed as an astronaut up there. And he said okay, smart ass, he said, try three minutes. So the old clock, boy it goes slower and slower. But by the time it got to three minutes I still was perfectly at ease because I had so darn much oxygen in my blood I wasn’t being worried about running out of it. So when we got to three minutes he said triumphantly, now are you ready to yell uncle? And I said, not really. Okay, he said, pull your visor down. So I pulled it down and the oxygen started up again. That was the one test I knew was going to be tough. The rest of the stuff I passed okay and so I got to fly.
SCARPINO: Did you break the world speed record?
HESBURGH: Yup. We went up to, first about 30,000 feet. They have their own radio on that, on the aircraft. All around the world they have their own radio connection. So we get up about 30,000 feet and we’re only going about .9 Mach which is a little under 700 miles an hour and I had a pilot named Joe and the guy on the ground said Joe, I got you at just about 30,000 and .9 Mach, is that correct and Joe said, yes sir. Well, he said hold it for awhile, I’ll get back to you. And I said, in my impatience, I said Joe I thought we were going to go fast and he said Padre, we’re flying over a ski area in California. If we go through the Mach 1, he said, we’re going to cause a sonic boom and that’ll cause an avalanche and a lot of skiers are going to get killed. Do you want that? I said, I’m sorry Joe—my big mouth. And I shut up and about a few minutes later the guy came on the radio again and he said okay Joe you’re all set. Take it away and do what you’re going to do. So Joe said, Padre, we’re going to roll over and come straight down until we go through Mach 1. You won’t miss it, it will be an enormous boom. Then he said we’re going to haul back and go straight up and he said around 60,000 we’ll go through Mach 2 and there’ll be another boom. Then somewhere above 80 we’ll go through Mach 3 and that’ll be a further boom. And then he said we’ll see what this bird’ll do. So we did that. We went, delve over and big boom for Mach 1, went straight up, about 60,000, Mach 2, to about 1400 miles an hour or 1500. And then we kept going straight up and now we’re flattening out a little bit because the air gets thinner and about 3.25 I think it was—I’m watching an old air speed indicator and it gets to Mach 3.25 which is the world speed record and we kept on going. We finally got to 3.5 which is about 200 and some miles faster than the world speed record and then just hovered there at 3.5 but we’d already done what we came to do and we held that for the rest of the flight in about just under 90,000 feet. But in that 45 minutes we were up we went from Sacramento, California to Denver to Salt Lake City to Seattle to Portland and back to Sacramento in under 45 minutes. We were really [word inaudible.]
SCARPINO: So at 90,000 feet you were on the edge of space.
HESBURGH: Well, you can see the curvature of the earth, you can see the stars as you do at night here. Black sky, we were above all the interference and it was just a beautiful ride and then we came in and landed and that was that.
SCARPINO: Amazing. I’m going to ask you some of our standard leadership questions and the reason we do this is so that there’s some ability to compare from one interview to another.
SCARPINO: So, the first question is, what do you read?
HESBURGH: I read very widely and everything. I read philosophy and theology because I, well let me preface it all by saying I don’t read at all anymore because I’ve got macular degeneration and for a guy that’s read thousands of books in his life, that’s a great cross not to be able to read anymore. So what I do I have students pop in—the library’s full of students during school time and I just walk out and grab one of them and say can you help me for awhile and they always say sure. And they’re wonderful. I’ve never had anybody say no. They come in the office and I really have three basic things I try to keep up to date on. One is the New York Times, one is Time magazine, and the third is the local student paper, The Observer, so I know what’s going on locally. In addition to that I always have two or three books on tab and if we finish that then I have them read me chapters in these books. So I’m constantly involved in two or three books and also have plenty of time to ruminate but I always discuss it with the readers so the kids are learning something too. If there’s some word they don’t know or some concept they haven’t had. Will you excuse me for just a minute?
SCARPINO: Yes, absolutely. (short break) Okay, that one should be live as well.
HESBURGH: Okay. I put a p.s. on that SR71 ride. I’ve always been interested in space since it’s one of the great phenomenon of our time, the scientific as well as the intelligence for that matter—learning more about the world. And the inevitable came along one day when I got a chance to ride in the SR71 and that’s as close to space as you can get in a modern airplane—the modern airplane—but I had an even wider view than that because I got a note one day asking if I would be, would consider getting involved in their effort to send a civilian into space. As you recall, they had a program for women and a program for men. I said of course I’d be delighted. So I had to pass the astronaut thing which was simple since I’d already been through it with the SR71. Then we were, we had a lot of people in the program and as far as I could find out—it was all fairly secret at the time—I was in competition with Jim Michener who wrote the famous book on space and also Chet Huntley who I think commented on all the space takeoffs from Cape Canaveral, etc. and I knew I was in it and I had an impression we were pretty well even-Steven but I knew that both of them had had a little bit of a problem with the heart down the line. Nothing serious but I felt in a competition I’d probably come out on top because I didn’t have that problem that they had had even in a miniscule kind of way. Going into space you got to be 100% on. Well of course the women’s program was completed quicker than the men’s program. So the first one in space was the woman and of course she had about ten seconds in space and then they had the terrible tragedy.
SCARPINO: Christa McAuliffe.
HESBURGH: Christa McAuliffe, and they were all killed. Boy, the moment that happened it was like drawing the curtain down. I never heard another word from NASA. But at one point in time the, I got a call one day—I was at Harvard—trying to, say you’ve got to get to Washington right away. And I said right away? I’m at a meeting of the board of Harvard University and I can’t just pick up and go to Washington. On top of that I’ve got a meeting in Boston and one in Chicago and then we’re having the annual meeting of the Rockefeller Foundation board meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia and that’s the next two or three days. So they were constantly calling. I said look, I’ll be loose, we finish the Rockefeller Foundation annual meeting in Williamsburg at 12 o’clock tomorrow. If you want me to come to Washington, send a plane down. So, NASA sent a plane down. This is all, all of this going on. Well as soon as I finished at Rockefeller Foundation there at Williamsburg, Rockefeller had done the renovation so we had our annual meeting there. I was chairman so I had to be there and I went out to the airport and they had a special plane there and they flew me to Washington and I got out. There was a limo there and I get in this big, black limo and we go tuning into Washington and pulled up in front of the new space agency building there, about a ten story building, modern building in Washington. The guy meets me at the door and takes me over to the elevator, we go up to the tenth floor which is the top floor and I go out and there’s the director’s office. Now it happened that when NASA used to be under the National Science Foundation which I was serving on at the time and so when the program came on to go to the moon they decided they’d break NASA loose and make it an independent agency not under the National Science Foundation. One of our members of our board was put on as the first director. The vice director was a fellow named Bob Seamans from MIT, vice president there. Well then they had that terrible accident where three astronauts were killed on the pod because of lack of diligence. The emergency door didn’t open. When it didn’t open they couldn’t get out and they all burned to death. Lyndon Johnson, when the Kennedys were president the only job they gave him was NASA which they probably thought was setting him off in the pasture but for him it was an exciting thing. So when he became president under the unfortunate assassination of John Kennedy. He now is president of the United States but he’s still the guy that is the closest to NASA. When that accident happened he was so upset at the two deaths or three deaths which were unnecessary if that emergency door had opened, he fired the director and the assistant director or vice director of NASA and, but he didn’t announce it. He just told the director to put out a program to find a new director. Well they had the Cray computer at that time—the best computer in the world in Washington—so he gave them the Cray computer and the NASA guys put in all the requirements they needed for a new director. Of course the thing ground around and chewed through probably thousands of names. When I arrived there and found my old friend from the Science board, the current director I thought of NASA in his office, I said what in heck is this all about? They’ve been chasing me all over the country. He said well, you don’t know it, nobody knows it but when they had that terrible accident, he said, the president fired me and he fired Bob Seamans, the vice chairman, and then he told us before it would be announced he didn’t want a gap there. He wanted to get a new director. So he would give us the use of the Cray and we can put all the names we want in there and take care of an infinity of decisions and turn it on and see who popped out as the new director. We wanted a list in order. And he said, you don’t know this but your name popped out first.
SCARPINO: As director.
HESBURGH: Yeah. And when he said when he told the president he said okay get him down here and I’ll appoint him. So he said that red telephone on my desk, when you pick it up the president will be on the other end and he’ll offer you the job as Director of NASA. And I said, by golly, that’s something I would dream about but let’s stop for a minute. I said I think I’ve had about 15 different top jobs in government and heads of various endeavors and agencies like civil rights and National Science Foundation and so forth but I said, this one is a little bit special. I said, I happen to be a Catholic priest and I’ve served in government but I’ve never had a single problem with religion. But I said, this one could be different. I said, you’ve just started the Apollo program to go to the moon. They had the first, Apollo 1 had taken place. And I said, you know, eventually we’re going to get ready to go to the moon. That’s going to be a contract to build a space ship and to test it in space and then eventually get people on the moon and try to get them back home in one piece. I said at that point we’re talking a contract of probably over a billion dollars to do this work. Now let’s assume that we just put out those contracts for bids and obviously the number one bid—and it’s clear enough that this is number one—is a guy named Murphy at MIT. The second bid is a guy named Spencer who’s down at Atlanta. It happens that Murphy is a Catholic and the other guy is a Presbyterian and I give the contract to Murphy, the Presbyterian is likely to say that damn priest up there gives the contract to a Catholic. Which it wasn’t true, I gave it to the top guy in bidding but you can’t argue that in a public arena because he just puts it out there and you’re labeled as using your priesthood to help a fellow Catholic and I said I just can’t expose the priesthood to that. So I said, confidentially I’d love to have that kind of job but it would mean a lot of other things that I haven’t even thought about but in any event this one thing I said would, I think, prevent me—I haven’t turned down a government invitation yet but I’m going to turn this one down and I said so you can pick up the phone and tell the president that I appreciate his confidence and I would normally do it but I feel as a priest I might get into a bind that would cause a problem for priesthood and I don’t want to do that. So that’s a little addendum.
SCARPINO: Was it hard to say no?
HESBURGH: Well, I would have loved to have do it.
SCARPINO: Did you ever imagine when you were a young man in a Catholic high school that some day you’d be offered the head of a space agency position?
HESBURGH: Well, I’d had a lot of other jobs. I was head of the Rockefeller Foundation which is a pretty big—it was the third largest foundation in the world at that time. Cy Vance was my predecessor.
SCARPINO: Cyrus Vance?
HESBURGH: Yeah, and he got, we were just starting a meeting one day and the secretary come in and said Mr. Vance you’re wanted on the phone and it’s urgent. It’s President Jimmy Carter I think it was and he said, he excused himself and we all sat there and he came back in a few minutes later and he said, I’m sorry guys, I just had a call from the president. He wants me to come down and be his Secretary of State and I’ve got to leave immediately for the White House. There’s a plane waiting for me. He said who’s the oldest member from point of service on the board here and nobody knew so they sent the secretary out and she came in with her sheaf of folders. She said, Father Ted’s the oldest in service on the, you know Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation Board. So he said okay Ted, you take this meeting and the next meeting you better have a regular election and see who the board elects because the board elected its own chairman. So I ran the meeting for that meeting and we came back for the next meeting in the spring. We set up a procedure for the election and four of the members were nominated to be the chairman of the board for the Rockefeller Foundation. We all left the room and we were out for almost 45 minutes. So I said boy this is getting into a battle and if it were just a simple solution it would have been done. So, finally they came in and called us back in and they said Father Ted, you won the election so you’re the next chairman if you accept this. I said, okay I accept. I had that job for some years. It was a wonderful chance to distribute money. We had Conquest of Hunger and we literally by genetic approach to food production—especially rice, wheat, corn, and potatoes—we were able to up the, without increasing the volume of food, by genetic approach to making the food more nutritious we were able to lift up the world food supply several times over without increasing the number of farmers or the land cultivated, just by getting better genetic project. Matter of fact, in the case of potatoes, it was Purdue University that came up with a breakthrough. Or no, they did it in corn, not potatoes. Potatoes was a different story.
SCARPINO: I want to go back and ask you a follow up question and then come back to these standard leadership questions but I think I interrupted you.
HESBURGH: That’s alright.
SCARPINO: Okay. You mentioned that this whole business of breaking the supersonic record began in the Oval Office when President Carter handed you a couple of folders and asked you to solve some problems for him.
SCARPINO: Can you say what it was he asked you to solve?
HESBURGH: No, I can’t.
SCARPINO: Okay. Alright. What did you think of Jimmy Carter, President Carter as a leader?
HESBURGH: I thought he was a good guy. I think he was, you know, when you’re a graduate of the Naval Academy and you’re a fairly young man and you’ve had fairly limited experience, it was a tough job but I think he gave it all he had and I thought he was a good president. I came to love his wife. She was a marvelous lady and we gave them one of Notre Dame’s highest decorations but we didn’t just give it to him, we gave one to him and one to his wife and I was with them on that occasion out here and I got along very well with him. I found he was a very dedicated guy. As a matter of fact, we both were involved in turning the Panama Canal back to the Panamanians. We ran it from the time of Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, up to the recent years. In fact, we just had a big celebration down there on the turning over of the canal some 30 years ago to the Panamanians. Since I was deeply involved in that they invited Jimmy Carter and myself down to be there to be honored at that occasion.
SCARPINO: Did you go?
HESBURGH: I went. They flew me down and flew me back and on top of that we saw the big explosion that was the beginning of a new canal. It’s going to be able to take the largest ships in the world which the current canal can’t handle.
SCARPINO: What was your role in returning the canal back to the Panamanians?
HESBURGH: Well, it’s a long, involved story. I’m not sure you are all that interested but I happened to be making a tour of alumni in Latin America and my last stop was Panama and we had a big dinner with the alumni and at the end of the dinner a fellow said General Torrijos wants to speak to you tomorrow morning in his summer house up the coast and you can pick up his helicopter at his residence here in town and they’ll fly you right there. I said well I’ve got to get back to the States. I’ve been all through Latin America and I’ve got a 12 o’clock flight out of Panama. Well they said, he said you can pick up the ’copter at seven o’clock and fly an hour or two up the coast and then have the meeting and then fly back. So when I, I said okay, as long as he gets me back on time. So I flew up and it turned out that he said I think Carter’s going to be elected president—it was during the campaign—and I said I think that’s a pretty good bet. He said well I’ve got, I want you to be my agent. You know, I don’t want to be the agent of this dictator, you know.
SCARPINO: (laughter) So, Dictator Torrijos asked you to be his agent.
HESBURGH: Yeah. I said what’s on your mind? And he said well I want you to tell Jimmy Carter that I will not interfere in his campaign—we could cause a lot of trouble in Panama and that would reflect badly because he’s in favor of us—and I want you to tell him personally that if he will listen to me because I want to talk to him after he’s elected president. It has to do with turning the canal back to Panama. I will make sure there’ll be no fuss going on in Panama during the election. I’ll put a lid on the place which he can very well do. So I said, well it sounds like a good proposition but I said, I want you to do something for me and he said what’s that? Well, I said, we have an alumnus here. I mentioned his name, and I said I agree, he’s a bit of a big mouth and at a party, a Notre Dame alumni party one night he said some rather nasty things about you, the dictator, and he was picked up the next morning and flown to Ecuador, Guayaquil, and dumped off the airplane. You’re lucky he didn’t dump him in the ocean because that’s what happens to a lot of people down here. When I arrived in Panama yesterday, I said, his wife was at the airport with a couple of her teenage kids. She was crying and she said their department store which they own was going to pot because the brothers, her husband’s brother was involved and he was not being honest about the operation. Her whole life was falling apart and her husband had been gone for nine months and he couldn’t even contact her. So I said, I’ll take care of your business if you take care of mine. He said, which is? And I said, I want him back in Panama Monday morning with no conditions except that he’ll keep his mouth shut. I can take care of that. So he said, okay. Now I mentioned to the archbishop of Panama, was a colleague of mine, Mark McGrath, and Balladares, who was one of our alumni who became president later on. They flew up in the ’copter with me that morning and they were at this meeting. I told them in the ’copter going up, I said, he’s going to ask me to do something. I’m going to ask him to do something and they said like what and I said, get our alumnus back in the country. He’d been in exile for nine years down there and his wife is all upset. They said oh, you can’t bring that up to the dictator. He just isn’t used to being told that kind of thing. I said look, if he asks me to do something, that opens a way for me to ask him to do something. And they said, well don’t do it. It’s the archbishop of Panama and the prospective next president of Panama. We’re saying you shouldn’t do it. And I said, well you run your business, I’ll run mine. So at the end of the meeting I brought it up and laid it out and they were like this, you know. This guy’s going to get thrown in the brig or something. But by golly I got out at the airport. Oh, at the end of the meeting he said, by the way what time does your plane leave? I said I’m on, I think a noon plane. He said, what airline? I said, Air Panama. He said, that’s no problem. He goes like this and this flunky comes in and he says call Air Panama and tell them not to take off until Father Ted’s aboard. So I got there about 15 minutes in his helicopter after departure time. The plane’s standing there and the door is open and everybody’s grousing and I get in and they have me in seat 1A and I sat down and we took off. But it was that kind of a country and that kind of an operation.
SCARPINO: So Torrijos, he did what you asked.
HESBURGH: The guy was back Monday morning and he did keep his mouth shut.
SCARPINO: Is that how you met Jimmy Carter was carrying this message to . . . ?
HESBURGH: Yeah. Well, no, I knew Jimmy Carter before that but I did, I carried the message back to him and he said I’ll go along with that. As a matter of fact in about October, as I recall, after he was inaugurated he had a wonderful dinner at the White House or dinner, it was a breakfast, but an incredible breakfast meeting. We had the Secretary of State, the Vice President, the Secretary of the Navy, everybody in the industry that was anything. It was the most distinguished group in the East Room in the White House for this formal breakfast. But Jimmy Carter wasn’t there. He was in the next room meeting with some black leaders which I thought was not exactly where he ought to be at that point. So we had this marvelous breakfast and the Vice President gets up and says this is about Panama. We’re going to send a delegation down there. We’re going to consider turning the canal back to them. President Carter is very much in favor of this. He’s behind it and he’ll be in at the end of the meeting. And so there was a bunch of discussion. I remember we all had name tags in front of our places and it was a beautiful old English script on it. About towards the end of the meeting Jimmy Carter walks in and he said I’m glad you’re all here and I wanted to have the Secretary of the Navy and the Vice President and the others say they’re in favor of this move giving the canal back but it’ll have to go to Congress. But I need support and I think all of you are in a position to help me, which they were, was the biggest most concentrated movers and shakers I’d ever met. And having said that he turns around and starts to leave so I stood up and I said Mr. President and he stopped at the door and turns and Father Ted, what’s up. I said you have in this room the greatest collection of movers and shakers that I’ve seen in my lifetime. And I said you’ve put to us a proposition which I’m fully in favor of—giving the canal back—but I said it’s not going to be an easy political battle because many people are going to object to it and it would be nice to know, in this great room of movers and shakers, who’s willing to help you. I said, I am for one, but you don’t know who else is. So I said, I suggest there’s a very simple solution. Those that are willing to help you on this effort just turn their name card over and sign it on the back. I said, they all want to see Lady Bird—she was at the head table at dinner—and I said let them all go up and give their, if they sign it, give it to Lady Bird and then you’ll know who is on your team. And he said, it sounds like a good idea. Fine. Then he turned around and went out. So everybody that wanted to do it, Lady Bird wound up with a stack like this of name cards with signatures so it was all he needed. And it was that kind of help. I was also in Washington when they had the final vote and they got down to the final vote. It was tied. A vote either way would solve it. Don’t turn over the canal or turn over the canal. The final vote was in favor—turn over the canal. They won that by one vote.
SCARPINO: And this was a vote in the House or the Senate?
HESBURGH: Yeah. Senate . . .
SCARPINO: . . . Senate.
HESBURGH: . . . Senate had the vote on, and they handle treaties.
HESBURGH: And this was turning back something that Teddy Roosevelt had done years ago. So when they had their 30th anniversary this year, the Panamanian ambassador to the United States happened to be a Notre Dame grad and he called me up and said the government’s going to fly you and Jimmy Carter down to take part in a ceremony when we’re going to announce the new canal and have the, and commemorate it. Jimmy Carter’s giving the main speech but we want you on the stand. So I flew down. I had a pacemaker put in on Monday of that week and I flew down there on a Friday. We attended the meeting and I had met with the head there for all our alumni. We had a great group. About 250 alumni showed up and that’s a great club down there and I flew back. But that’s an interesting story.
SCARPINO: It certainly is. I’m going to go back to some more of the leadership questions because I have to ask you and I did ask you what you read and I do recall you saying that you . . .
HESBURGH: . . . universal.
SCARPINO: Do you think a leader should read?
HESBURGH: I think you have to read. One, first of all, knowledge doesn’t stand still and you have to keep up and advance as the knowledge. I read especially, of course, in things I was most interested—higher education, science, space, foreign relations, civil rights. You tend to read, I think, things you’re involved in and I was involved in most of the big issues of our times—human development, food, you name it. And so I couldn’t keep up on those things. First of all being involved in I had to read a great deal but there’s also a lot of background reading you have to do and I do try to keep up on current events.
SCARPINO: Did you ever read about other leaders?
HESBURGH: Oh, occasionally you have a biography or something of that sort. I didn’t go out and look for them. But in the course of events you do get to know other leaders and so we had a lot of leaders on the Rockefeller Board. We had a number of them on the Chase Manhattan Board. We had the heads of all the top corporations in America on that board. So you get to know a lot of leaders.
SCARPINO: That actually leads to my next question. I realize that this is kind of a broad question but who do you think are important leaders and why? I know you’ve met a lot of leaders but. . .
HESBURGH: Well, I think the important leaders are the ones that are involved in important problems in the country and in the world. We’re no longer just talking about America, it’s the world. So it’s important to keep up at least your knowledge of or about world leaders. You start maybe with the president of the United States, the leaders in Congress, the leaders of the great corporate world which is America, leaders in higher education which is a very important group of people, leaders in civil rights which is important area of American life, and leaders in philanthropy, etc., and then of course world leaders. I served for 14 years representing the Vatican on International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and I helped write the charter. Matter of fact, what’s happening right now goes back to that charter. I was helping write it in New York in 1956 at the U.N. General Assembly room and I put a phrase in there that if you belong to the International Atomic Energy Agency you had to be open to inspection and control of your facilities for atomic energy because it’s quite possible that some nations some day may say they’re working on nuclear power for development but what they’re really working on in the back room is a nuclear bomb and if you belong to this organization, which all the great nations of the world eventually are going to belong to, it ought to be part of our charter that the president of the IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency, ought to be able to inspect and control the facilities of any member nation.
SCARPINO: And that phrase in that, was your idea.
HESBURGH: Right now the only guy that can go to the president of Iran and say I want to inspect your facility is the president of the IAEA in Vienna. And he’s done so and he’s been there a couple of times already.
SCARPINO: And that provision was your idea.
HESBURGH: Yeah. I put it in under great objection from Russia, China, India, Pakistan. None of them wanted it because they never want to, they wanted, if they haven’t got the bomb they’re going to try to get it. They don’t want you looking in saying they can’t but part of it is your commitment to the peaceful uses. You want to belong to that, you’ve got to commit not to be trying to build a bomb. Well, right now, the only guy that can go to Iran and say I’ve got a right in international law to do it is the president of the International Atomic Energy Agency which, because of that one sentence in the charter. We had a special vote for that and I won it in New York at the U.N. in 1956.
SCARPINO: Were there any leaders who you’ve met in your long career who particularly inspired you?
HESBURGH: Well, I don’t know. I certainly have met a lot of great leaders. The world is full of them. I met some of them on the international scene through the International Atomic Energy Agency. I met a number of them through the Rockefeller Foundation. I meet, of course, educational leaders through the various organizations of university bodies and I think I probably have, in my high point, knew practically all the top leaders in the world for at least enough I could call them up or write them a letter and have something happen. Not all of them, but I even knew some on the other side. I had a, the head of the Russian Atomic Energy Agency, [word inaudible] a very dear friend of mine. In fact I talked to him the day before he died in Moscow. I happened to be in town.
SCARPINO: Were there any individuals who particularly helped you along the way as you developed as a leader?
HESBURGH: Well, every time you’re in an important body you spot the people who are leaders and you also can discern, if you’re eyes and ears are open, why they’re leaders and how they exercise leadership. So I would say if you say to me how did you learn about leadership, I probably learned from more than a hundred people who are leaders in their own rights and different areas and each area has a different kind of leadership. Military leadership is one thing. Educational is another. Diplomacy is another. They all have different rules for leadership.
SCARPINO: Did you ever have anybody that served as a mentor?
HESBURGH: Well, Father Cavanaugh when I was a young priest. He was my boss and I learned an awful lot from him during those three years I was his executive vice president. After that you learn from being on these various bodies. You see who are leaders and who aren’t and why.
SCARPINO: Have you ever mentored other developing leaders?
HESBURGH: Not really. Not in, I may have done it indirectly through things I did. Actually, if you’re on a body of six people that are concerned with civil rights in America, you’re going to learn from them and they’re going to learn from you.
SCARPINO: Do you think that networks play a role . . .
HESBURGH: Oh, a very important role. Very important role.
SCARPINO: In what way?
HESBURGH: Well, if there’s a particular problem and you’re in a position to do something about it and you happen to know personally the five or six people who know more about it than anybody in the world and you know them well enough to be able to call them up and get their help in the matter, that’s what leadership is all about. You don’t lead in a vacuum.
SCARPINO: So did you deliberately cultivate and create networks?
HESBURGH: No. It happened but I never sat down and said I’m going to create a network. I never thought about it that way. I just wanted to get the job done and this was part of the job so I did it.
SCARPINO: I’d like to ask you some questions about your service on the Civil Rights Commission.
SCARPINO: And, because this is, this interview is going to end up in an archive and maybe be read or used by people who don’t know all that much about civil rights, I’m going to give a little bit of background.
SCARPINO: And I don’t want to insult your intelligence, I just want to get it in the record.
HESBURGH: Go ahead.
SCARPINO: I’ll begin by saying that you’ve been recognized by at least 16 presidential appointments which have involved you in a wide range of social issues including civil rights and you’re a charter member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights created during the Eisenhower administration in 1957. You chaired the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1969 to 1972 and you were dismissed by President Richard Nixon for criticizing his administration’s civil rights record. Congress, or the U.S. Civil Rights Commission was created September 9, 1957 when President Dwight Eisenhower signed the first civil rights act passed by Congress in over 80 years and as you know that was a tough battle in Congress.
HESBURGH: All summer long they argued, day and night, June, July, August, September and finally they did what Congress always does. They can’t solve a problem they set up a commission to solve it.
SCARPINO: I mean isn’t that where Senator Strom Thurmond engaged in a marathon filibuster?
HESBURGH: Oh, yeah. It went on all night. It went on day after day, month after month, all summer long.
SCARPINO: In the context of those times, which was the late 1950s, do you think Congress exercised leadership by passing a civil rights act?
HESBURGH: I think it did the one thing it could do. It passed a group to, you couldn’t pass substantive legislation so they set up a group to hear the problem. We had only one power of subpoena. We could subpoena the president of the United States. I even subpoenaed the attorney general of the United States. He didn’t want to show up and testify under oath but he had to because I said you do it or go to jail. You’ll have to impose jail upon yourself since you’re the chief legal officer and that’ll be a rather tough thing to do. So he came but he was a lousy witness I might add.
SCARPINO: Which attorney general was that?
HESBURGH: The one under Nixon.
SCARPINO: Oh, okay.
HESBURGH: John Mitchell, I think it was.
SCARPINO: Yeah. In the, going back to 1957, in the context of those times, do you think that the Eisenhower administration exercised any leadership on civil rights?
HESBURGH: Well, Ike was not a big crusader but he was an honest man and he knew it was a real problem and when the Congress said to him okay, set up six people, he set up six rather interesting people. He had three southerners and three northerners which was his idea. The law called for three Republicans and three Democrats. I happen to be an independent but they already had three Democrats on and they had two Republicans so I was put on as a Democrat but at other times I was a Republican. But I was really an independent and I told them frankly, but they said well you’ve got to have a tag there to get on. So that’s the way they did it.
SCARPINO: Why do you think President Eisenhower asked you to serve as a charter member of that commission?
HESBURGH: I think he sincerely tried to get six interesting people on that board. It was up to him to appoint them and so he appointed the former, ah, well the head of the Southern Methodist Law School.
SCARPINO: Robert Storey?
HESBURGH: Yeah, and the head of the governor of Florida several times.
SCARPINO: Doyle Carlton?
HESBURGH: Yeah. The former two-time governor of Virginia.
SCARPINO: John Battle.
HESBURGH: John Battle. President of Michigan State University.
SCARPINO: John Hannah.
HESBURGH: The only black judge in Washington.
SCARPINO: Ernest Wilkins.
HESBURGH: Wilkins and myself. And what happened was when we finally had the hearings all over the country and we’d amassed a whole stack of, the hearings were verbatim. We could subpoena anybody under federal subpoena. We recorded every, you know, that old funny little machine they used to have.
SCARPINO: Oh, court recorders.
HESBURGH: Yeah. And we published a book so we had almost a hundred books of civil rights hearings. Once we’d canvassed the whole country—north, south, east, and west—and had the problems down, we put out our first report and that’s a kind of story in itself that, we were having our final hearing in the first two years in Shreveport, Louisiana. The federal judge down there was a racist. I arrived, I’d been fishing up in northern Canada and I missed my plane because the float plane couldn’t land on the river because it was foggy so I missed my plane in [word inaudible] which is the furthest north of Canada airport there. I finally pieced my way together and I got to Shreveport about five in the morning and when I got to the, we couldn’t stay at any hotel because they were all segregated and we had a black guy on the commission so we weren’t going to split ourselves. So the first hearing in South Carolina, we just couldn’t ever get a hotel or go to a public restaurant because in the south there were all segregated. And the schools were all segregated by law. So anyway it was a tough thing to put together but we picked our places and this was our last hearing. We subpoenaed about 30 or 40 mostly black people to testify under oath and they were test, and I would give a little speech at the beginning of each hearing. I’d say, I know there are a lot of people in here that feel violently about testimony that might be given. I just want to let everybody realize our witnesses have no choice because we have subpoenaed them under a federal subpoena and they have to show up or go to jail. So we’re putting them under oath so they have to tell the truth or be convicted of perjury. They have a special protection because they are testifying under these conditions and most of them are black. They have no protection here in the law but they do under this federal law. So I’m just telling everybody in this room that if anybody so much as sneers or does anything to harm or harass any of our witnesses, you’re going to go to jail for ten years and it’s going to cost you a whopping fine. That’s the federal law for interfering with a federal subpoenaed witness and we never had a single witness touched. And I had to give that little speech to scare them at the beginning of every hearing.
SCARPINO: What attracted you to serve on that commission?
HESBURGH: I had no choice. I was just appointed without—they did call me from the White House and say would you accept it and I said I’ve always been interested. Of course I’ll accept it.
SCARPINO: What do you think that you brought to that commission as a Catholic priest?
HESBURGH: Well, I brought a moral compass that I think was shared by, the other members were certainly moral people. We had different points of view because I was the Yankee, if you will. There were three southerners and three Yankees, if you will. We got along because they were, the three southerners were perfect gentlemen, intelligent people, and in time we became very close friends even though we had different philosophical points of view on civil rights. And we had this final hearing in Shreveport when I showed up at, we couldn’t stay in any hotel, we couldn’t eat in any restaurant because we wouldn’t split up our commission. And of course the black judge had a black lawyer, you know, we all had an assistant lawyer. I had a guy named Harris Wofford became senator of Pennsylvania later on.
HESBURGH: Anyway . . .
SCARPINO: Pretty good company.
HESBURGH: Yeah, he was a great guy. Still is. He’s a big Obama organizer now. Anyway, what really came out of that was that at this final meeting in Shreveport we were going to have a three-day hearing with witnesses coming under oath—mostly black—and then we were going to spend three days there writing our final report on the basis of all we’d heard over the past two years. When I got to the air base—you couldn’t stay at any hotel. We had to stay at federal air base. There was a [word inaudible] base there so we went in their BOQ which also when we first went on the road to South Carolina, we couldn’t get into a hotel so we went to the local air base, federal air base.
SCARPINO: So you were staying in Bachelor’s Officer’s Quarters on military bases.
HESBURGH: And they wouldn’t, they said we can take in the five white guys and your assistants, we can’t take the two black guys. And John Hannah blew a fuse and he called up the president and he said, Mr. President you gave us a tough federal job and now we’re at a federal air base and they won’t even accept one of the members you appointed. They wouldn’t give us entrance to the BOQ for room and board. And the president said John, who are you talking to there and he said Captain so and so and he said put him on the phone. He handed the phone to the captain and the captain says get me the general pronto. So the general, of course, the president of the United States calling on the phone, and he said general, it may not have occurred to you but ten years ago we segregated the armed forces of the United States and we’ve desegregated everything else and I had to appoint a commission to pull it off and they show up because they can’t, any hotel or restaurant because they put a black member on the commission and they come to a federal facility that’s been ten years desegregated by law and your guy tells them they can’t get in—their two black guys. He said let me tell you something general if they don’t have room and board in the next five minutes, you’re going to be in Afghanistan tomorrow morning. Bang! And that was the end of that.
SCARPINO: I take it that worked.
HESBURGH: But from that time on we had to go to federal bases. They still wouldn’t take us anywhere in the south.
SCARPINO: What surprised you most or what stands out about the hearings that you held in the south.
HESBURGH: I think one thing was the courage of the black people to get up in a very hostile atmosphere, a federal courtroom with the toughest white protagonists for segregation in there, sitting there, judges and others, to come out and fearlessly testify under oath. Just tell us the truth. And that record was, is all a matter, it’s all in the congressional hearing records and it’s, one thing I noticed was that once we laid down the law at the beginning of each hearing, we never had a witness touched. People didn’t like us but on the other hand they didn’t hurt us. We got threatened at times. They’d call up and say we’re going to bomb your room and you’d have to report that and of course we had to get out of rooms and get back in. It didn’t happen too often but it did happen. But we never were afraid of them and we did what we had to do. I learned something about the majesty of the law and it’s the law of the country. That’s why I was so happy when Lyndon Johnson, when he became president, knew he could only do one thing probably to get renown forever and that was to desegregate the most segregated civilized country in the world. And by golly he did it because we had had these hearings, we wrote the law which Eisenhower passed our recommendations on to the Kennedys. The Kennedys knew if they came out hot for a strong civil rights they’d never get reelected because the Democratic Party was mainly in the south, or the majority of them, so they kind of put it in the bottom drawer. They figured, I think Jack Kennedy figured, I get reelected and I’ll do something about it. If I get, do something about it now I won’t even get reelected because I barely got elected the first time. But Johnson came in and he figured he’s only going to be president for a year and a month so he might do something to go down in history and by golly he picks up this civil rights law which is the roughest, toughest thing we can handle and everything across the board. You know, voting, housing, education, administration of justice, employment, it was all in there. Eisenhower just passed it on to Kennedy. Kennedy bequeathed it to Lyndon and I don’t think any president since then, beginning with President Bush down to the current Bush, none of them could have gotten that law through. But Lyndon Johnson was such a consummate politician. He had a little notebook with him, all the members of Congress and their foibles. What he didn’t know, he could have had [word inaudible] come over for a scotch at night and fill him in and [word inaudible] had a whole, wasn’t supposed to look at our own legislation but he had a file in his cabinet in his office locked all the time and when things got hot he had a room at the basement of his house. But the fact is that Lyndon Johnson personally, beginning with the guys, when they passed, proposed the civil rights act for the new Congress, it was there on the table but he had to push it or it wouldn’t have come up even. He had his first meeting with the Congress and he walks in and he has one thing in his hand and that’s our civil rights proposed bill. He said ladies and gentlemen I just want to tell you you’re all going to vote for my law and he slapped the bill down on the table.
SCARPINO: This is the legislation that you drafted in 1959.
HESBURGH: Yeah. And it was just, there was no way on earth that, even we’d added to it later after the hearings, we toughened it up in all these areas. But that bill covered the works. You don’t need any more bill after that one. And by golly he comes in and he says you’re all going to vote for my bill. I’d guessed that [word inaudible] or optimistically the, he didn’t have more than a third of the votes in that room—the Senate or the House. Yet he knew them all personally because he’d been chairman of both bodies and he’d been vice president. And he just threw that challenge out. You’re going to vote for my bill. Then he started to call them up and he wouldn’t call them during office hours, he’d call them at three o’clock in the morning and wake them out of a sound sleep and say you’ve got the senator from Mississippi and he’d pick up, hear the phone ringing at three a.m. and he’d, uh, and the voice on the other end said this is your president and the guy’d say president of what and he said president of these United States. Mr. President are we at war? And Johnson would say yeah, I think you could say we’re at war in a way—a war about human rights and what kind of a country America is going to be. He said I just called you up senator because I understand you’re not going to vote for my bill. And he said Mr. President, Lyndon, he said, I vote for your bill and I’m dead in Mississippi, you know that. He said let me tell you something, if you don’t vote for my bill I’ll kill you. And the guy said, Mr. President, that’s no way to talk to your senator. He said, well let’s back up a little bit. Suppose there’s a headline in the Washington Post next Thursday and it’s about you Mr. Senator. And it says what is Senator X doing at 9:30 every Monday night in Room 543 of the Mayflower Hotel. Is he up there [words inaudible] with some young lady? The guy said, my God, they’d kill me. He said, you got it right. Better vote for my bill. Bang! And that’s the way he got the votes, one by one.
SCARPINO: So do you think that was effective political leadership?
HESBURGH: Well, he, no other way would that bill have ever been passed. Once the bill was passed, we don’t need anything else. It covered it. There was a little tickling around the edges for the next year but that was only on one aspect of the bill.
SCARPINO: I read that when your commission, toward the end of its first two years was getting ready to do its final report, that you arranged a retreat at Land O’Lakes.
HESBURGH: Yeah, well what happened was we arrived in Shreveport. We’re all given summons. We can’t, we’re enjoined from having a hearing. We can stay nowhere in town except the federal air base. So I call up our, I said this is, the plan was three days hearing and three days writing the final report. So I said this isn’t going to wash—this terrible atmosphere here—so I called up one of our trustees, I. A. O'Shaughnessy, and I said I, can I have your plane today? He had a DC3, a private plane, and he said what do you want it for? And I said I’ve got the Civil Rights Commission in Shreveport, they’re ready to hang us or lynch us, and I got to get them out of here and I want to take them up to Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin so we get our final report written and peace and quiet. I said, it’s about 95 degrees here and it’s raining and everybody’s glaring at us. Okay, he said. Well, I said, have them land at the civilian airport and fuel up and then come over. I’ll get clearance for them to land at this SAC base which a civilian plane couldn’t normally do. So the DC3 got filled up and came in and we got aboard and flew five and a half hours. The other guys had been up all night with the ruckus in Shreveport and they couldn’t sleep and the air base planes taking off every 15 minutes, carrying atom bombs in those days. And they all got, the other five guys, commissioners got on the plane, went up front where the easy chairs were and sat down and went to sleep for the next five and a half hours. I sat on the floor in the back of the plane with all our staff lawyers—each one of them had a staff assistant—and we put through the final ten recommendations which were the heart of our report after two years of hearings. We agreed on the wording and these were all young, eager lawyers, you know. I had Harris Wofford as mine. But the other guys are sleeping. They don’t know what’s going on. So we get up to Land O’Lakes and it’s just the opposite of Shreveport. It’s cool. They could have a drink if they wanted and then they had baked potatoes. I called ahead and had them bake some potatoes. We had steaks. They could all broil them on the griddle and as well as they wanted or as little as they wanted. And they had apple pie à la mode and it was just a wonderful meal. Then at the end of it, about seven o’clock at night—a beautiful sunny night—I said any of you guys like to fish and five hands went up right away. Senators are all avid fishermen. So I said well you’re in one of the best fishing spots in America. I got three boats lined up so two to a boat, each boat will have a guide that knows the lake and so let’s go fishing. So boy they all jumped in the cars and went out and went fishing and it was the best fishing they ever had in their lives. I think the Lord was on my side. They caught more fish and bigger fish than they ever had in their lives.
SCARPINO: (laughter) Maybe He was.
HESBURGH: And we come back about 9:30 at night and the moon’s coming up across the lake and it’s a beautiful cool night and pine scented air. And John Hannah was a very smart guy. He said, Father Ted this is a wonderful ending to what started out as a lousy day and he said, I know while we were sleeping you guys, all these bright young lawyers and you were in the back of the plane putting this report. What does it come down to?
SCARPINO: I said John, ten resolutions. If we pass them we’ve got a report.
HESBURGH: He said, well you’ve done all the work. So he said, you chair the meeting tonight. I’ll be one of the members. So we sat down at this long table—the six lawyers and the six commissioners—and everybody was in such a mellow mood that by golly the first nine passed unanimously and they were the toughest resolutions. The southerners all voted. We got to the tenth one and Governor Battle of Virginia said Father Ted, would you hate me if I don’t vote or I vote against this. It was integrated education.
SCARPINO: So number ten was to integrate public schools.
HESBURGH: He said I just can’t picture black and white kids together in kindergarten and that’s maybe my culture but he said there it is. But would you hate me if I vote against it. I said John, I won’t hate you whatever you do. I said just vote your conscience. He said hell, I know what my conscience is, trouble is I can’t do it because I just can’t have that picture in my mind. I said John, just go ahead and do what you want to do and don’t worry about it. Who’s going to hate you. So the last one was five to one. Everyone else, six-0. And Eisenhower was so amazed when he got that report and he called us all to Washington. We all went in the Oval Office—our commissioners—and he said gentlemen I put this commission together and I screwed it up by not just putting three northerners and three southerners but I put three Democrats and three Republicans on it and he said, I didn’t think you’d agree on anything and you come up with this real tough report. He said, how did it happen? I said, Mr. President you didn’t put on three Republicans and three Democrats, you put six fishermen on this report and we wrote it in the Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin after a terrific night of good fishing. And he said well, I guess I’d better start putting more fishers. By the way Father Ted, he said, could I go up there fishing? I said, you could go anywhere in the world fishing, you know that. So he said well I’ll get my brother Milton and my father-in law to go up with me, they’re good fishermen.
SCARPINO: Did they ever go?
HESBURGH: They were all set to go and when Ike got called to Europe on one of those NATO things, emergencies, but the father-in-law and Milton Eisenhower did go up and they caught a lot of fish and they cleaned them and brought them back and Ike cooked them all in the White House kitchen himself.
SCARPINO: What did you think of Dwight Eisenhower as a leader?
HESBURGH: Great guy. Wonderful. Well, after all, he led us through World War II. What do you want? Worst war in history.
SCARPINO: How did he strike you personally when you met him? I mean what was it like?
HESBURGH: Very good guy. He was no flaming liberal. I’ll put it that way. But he was an honest man. He knew we had a problem. It was the national problem for America. He put six good people on. I’ll say that.
SCARPINO: Did you see any irony in the fact that this was in a cold war where the contest between democracy and communism and a democratic nation was living in apartheid?
HESBURGH: Yeah, of course. It was obvious that everything was wrong about it but no one could, had the courage or the means of changing it. It had been around since we began. The roots were slavery and the slavery went out under Lincoln but it didn’t really go out as a mindset. And the slaves were no better off—the ex-slaves when in our time than were when they were let go. They all had menial jobs. They had no money. They had no decent housing. Education was segregated by law backed up by Plessy v Ferguson, the Supreme Court.
SCARPINO: Late 1890’s, separate but equal.
HESBURGH: Yeah. Separate but equal. So anyway, it was a bad situation but it got solved.
SCARPINO: You frequently spoke out on the subject of civil rights and you often challenged Catholic audiences to end their bigotry and I read at one point you said, there is the matter of the mythical body of Christ and the divinely revealed truth that all man, regardless of race or color, have the same origin, the same human nature, and the same eternal destiny. Also, you added, heaven is not segregated. What kind of reception did you get from Catholics when you said things like that?
HESBURGH: Generally the Catholics won’t argue the principle. But many of them won’t follow it in practice, especially if they’re southerners and good people. My executive vice president was a South Carolinian and I think he never could quite understand my gung ho but he never spoke against it. He never blocked it. He never criticized it because he knew I was right, morally.
SCARPINO: Do you think that the Catholic church exercised leadership in the area of civil rights?
HESBURGH: I think I never had any criticism from the Church. I think the Church’s doctrine on civil rights is very clear. The practice isn’t always clear because people don’t always follow the law. That’s pretty much obvious. I mean there’s a law—Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery. That doesn’t mean people don’t commit adultery. It’s there. But I must say in general I felt supported because in principle I was right and they knew it.
SCARPINO: During one of the commission hearings in Mississippi, you participated in a seminar with religious leaders from Mississippi and you told those at the seminar, you said, these acts of murder, arson, and brutality were committed by those who attended your churches and synagogues. Why cannot you get together and speak out against this perversity? And then one of the local churchmen said if they did speak out they’d all be expelled from Mississippi. Do you think that southern churches exercised leadership in the area of civil rights? I mean how did they wrestle with those issues?
HESBURGH: They went their way. And that’s why we confronted them and we invited the top leaders in and put it right to them. They knew they were wrong morally but on the other hand they had to live with the people and America’s a pretty democratic kind of place and they knew they’d be out on their rear if they didn’t go along with local customs. And it proved when integration came it wasn’t easy but it took moral courage on the part of everybody that engaged in it. And a few people got killed for it.
SCARPINO: Do you think that moral courage is part of leadership?
HESBURGH: Oh, it’s at the heart of leadership. Without that you’ve got no leadership.
SCARPINO: We’ve been talking for right at two hours which is what I say. . .
HESBURGH: Okay, I got work to do too.
SCARPINO: I know you do and I’m going to thank you for participating and then when I turn the recorder off I’m going to make a request but before I turn the recorder off is there anything that you’d like to add that I didn’t ask?
HESBURGH: No, I think you covered a lot of ground and I’ve tried to be honest with you.
SCARPINO: And I appreciate it very much on behalf of myself and the Center. So let me make sure I get these turned off. We’re back on and let me find my place in here.
HESBURGH: I won’t be as long-winded.
SCARPINO: No, this had been extraordinarily interesting and I obviously asked you things about flight and so on that I hadn’t originally intended to do but that were very enlightening. So we’re going to talk through some of these standard leadership questions and the first one is, what do you think are the qualities that distinguish effective leadership?
HESBURGH: First, vision; secondly, courage. And if you’ve got the vision to see and the courage to do that’s leadership. Plus the art of leadership which is more than just being full of courage. You’ve got to know how to act in a humane and understanding and decent, human way.
SCARPINO: What are the criteria that you personally use to define successful leadership?
HESBURGH: I think getting a tough job done.
SCARPINO: How do you go about getting a tough job done?
HESBURGH: You look at the variety of possible solutions. You pick out the one you think is the most ethical and the most compelling and the most—not necessarily the easiest one—it’s often the most difficult one. But once you decide what is right then you work for it. You don’t compromise and you don’t cut corners.
SCARPINO: How would you characterize your concept of leadership?
HESBURGH: Well, I think leadership is just knowing there’s a job to be done and you’re prepared to take it on and do it.
SCARPINO: Thinking about that concept, what has worked well for you over your career?
HESBURGH: Understanding what the problem is at its roots. Not fighting a ghost of a problem but the real problem and then having adequate means to do it and having people to associate with to help you do it. You don’t do anything by yourself. And leadership also involves the ability to pull other people into that endeavor. But if you’ve got people that share the vision and they are courageous you get the thing done.
SCARPINO: Is there anything that has not worked well for you over the years as a leader?
HESBURGH: I don’t think so. I think I haven’t always been as successful as I would like to be but leadership has to realize is a gradual resolution of things. Age long problem like slavery, don’t get solved over night by some bright idea. It’s a long, tough grueling, grudging, commanding job.
SCARPINO: When you look at something like civil rights, I mean as you look back on all the work that you did on that commission, are you satisfied that you made a difference?
HESBURGH: Well, no question that we made a difference. It’s a, I have classes up here with 30 or 40 kids in it and I think of the day when I came as a student—not a single black in the whole bloody school. I came back with a doctor’s degree and I started teaching one student because the Navy made a mistake and gave a black guy a offer of a commission and he was here with the Navy. One out of 15,000. Obviously the problem’s been there a long time.
SCARPINO: Do you see a distinction between leadership and management?
HESBURGH: I think management is a kind of technique and leadership I guess in its own way is a kind of technique. The two merge at times because you obviously can’t manage well unless you’re a good leader and you can’t lead well unless you know how to manage. They’re not exactly the same thing. Management is more hands on. Leadership is more ideas I think.
SCARPINO: As you look back over your career as a leader, is there a particular event or a particular incident that best demonstrates your style of leadership?
HESBURGH: Oh, I think the one I told you about during the student revolution where the place was up for grabs in all the great universities in the world. It happened at Harvard and Yale and all the Ivy League presidents were run out of office.
SCARPINO: A lot of the literature that relates to the study of leadership argues that oftentimes there’s an event or a crisis that helps an individual forge their view of what it means to be a leader. Was there any event or crisis in your life?
HESBURGH: No, but there were a lot of little things you know that, this is a real tough, moral problem. There’s a right and a wrong thing to do. You’ve got to be on the right side and you have to have the courage to do it. Even though you’re going to—that was the Civil Rights Commission. Half the country thought we were out of our minds when we came up with solutions but eventually those solutions are all part of the law today. But what I started to say, you get all these kids in a classroom today and you look around and three or four of them are black. And you’re talking about this problem and they think you’re talking about fairy tales. The country couldn’t possibly have been like this. They think it’s always the way it is today, that’s the way it was. And to tell them that when I came here not a single black student in the university. Then came back years later and only one. That ought to say something. Today we’re spending more time trying to get black students than white students. We’ve got white students coming out our ears.
SCARPINO: Do you think that leaders are born or made?
HESBURGH: I think that to some extent they’re born. Put it this way that they have the essential ingredients of understanding, courage, analysis, things that go into leadership. But I don’t think they’re born ready-made. I think you have the potential there and you have to develop it. I think leaders are developed over time by facing different crises and solving them pretty much in the right way. Each time you solve a tough crisis you exercise leadership and you learn more about it.
SCARPINO: Do you think that it’s important or necessary for a leader to have a positive reasonably well supported set of goals and [words inaudible]?
HESBURGH: Yeah. Without goals you’re lost.
SCARPINO: Do you think that it’s possible for a person to be a great leader who pursues goals of questionable utility or questionable morality?
HESBURGH: There are no leaders who are perfect. And we’ve had certainly great leaders who have made mistakes in particular areas—maybe because of a special sectional prejudice or whatever. But generally speaking I don’t look upon the world being made up of saints. It’s really made up of sinners and we’re all sinners, certainly at the. . .
[end of recording]