The MEXICO CITY
COLLEGE Story: The History:
By 1956, of all Americans enrolled in schools of higher education outside the US, “more (911) attended MCC than any other institution in the world. Besides Mexican and United States nationals, 69 students representing 37 countries were in residence during the summer of 1957.”2 One-hundred fifty eight colleges and universities were represented on the MCC campus during the summer of 1960. The international student body of MCC, with its heterogeneous intellectual composition, did not resemble the student body of a small American college.
Because of the international composition of the student body and teachers, there were also a “small group of ‘cold-war agents’ (CIA, FBI, KGB) pretending to be students,” checking out the social and political lives of students and faculty, and the cold-war repatriates and international refugees.16, 19
MCC history professor Robert L. Bidwell wrote, “There are few places in the New World in which one is so constantly reminded of the roll of centuries, of the unknown peoples who preceded him, and of the tapestry of cultures about him . . . the juxtaposition of cultures and ages . . . as in this Valley of Mexico.” (The Collegian, October 30, 1958) Note J
Mexico became part of the school’s classroom. Mexico City in the 1950s has been compared to the Paris of the 20s “where ideas, art, literature and revolution could be discussed” on and off campus, in the classrooms, the sidewalk cafés, and the all-night parties. Life along the Paseo de la Reforma has been compared with the Champs Elysees.16 Some of the Bohemian scenes of Paris for the movie, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, were shot in the old quarters of Mexico City in 1956. A few MCC students served as extras, not only in this movie but other American and, when a “gringo” was needed, in Mexican movies.
Several MCC students studied bullfighting at the Rancho del Charro, and performed in the Arena. Most notably was Kansas City student John Patrick Jacobs who received his “Ole’s.”
Maria Elena (“Elenita”) Quijada, bursar for MCC and teacher of Spanish, reflected in the February 16, 1961 issue of The Collegian, “We had some unusual students. One of the ones we still talk about is the fellow who walked around campus with one gold earring in his ear and a parrot on his shoulder.” This was 1953, the year before the college moved to Km. 16. He was still on campus after the move to the new campus, which prompted one alumnus to write, “MCC was the first place I had ever seen a guy in a robe, beard and Jesus sandals with a parrot on his shoulder. Better than anything Berkeley ever dreamed of, even with Ginsberg and Mario Savio sneaking around.” Another alumnus speculated that the parrot, sitting on his shoulder next to his ear, fed him the answers during exam week.
The Explorer’s Club offered students the opportunity to discover remote vistas of Mexico one would never have expected to exist, much less to visit. Bill Stewart was the founder (1955) of the Explorer’s Club, and Brita Bowen was the academic advisor. Between quarters or on weekends, students climbed Popocatépetl or forded rivers on “roadless” roads. Many students, on their own or through the Explorer’s Club, would travel throughout Mexico, and some south to Guatemala before there was a road connecting the two countries, into the Yucatán Peninsula, accessible in the ‘50s by rail only, (“Cancun” was an unnamed isolated beach), and into the many villages accessible only by trail or river boat. In 1954 students Craig and Shirley (last name not recorded) rode their bicycles (via bus and boat, where necessary) from Mexico City to Mérida, in the Yucatán Peninsula. In 1956 six Explorer’s Club students embarked on a six-month expedition along the 500-mile course of the Coroni River in Venezuela, into a vast, relatively unexplored jungle. Indeed, education for the MCC student in Mexico extended far beyond the campus for those whose minds were receptive.(See 16)
The three key administrators were President Murray, Vice-President and Dean of Faculty John V. Elmendorf, and Dean of Admissions and Registrar Elizabeth Thomas de Lopez. Their “commitment, both professionally and vocationally, are total.” Dean Elmendorf, Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina had a background as professor of Linguistics. Mrs. Lopez (M.A., St. Louis University), was the first full time staff member, hired in 1947.2
Since 1950 the College has been chartered under the laws of Mexico as a nonprofit corporation, Associatión Civil, or A.C. The early ‘50s growth was such that in September, 1956, Drs. Cain and Murray established a distinguished Board of Trustees of local American business leaders and a few Mexicans (along with a 10-member Honorary Board of Advisors mostly of US based academia).2 In effect, this move eventually took absolute control out of Drs. Murray and Cain’s hands (and, ironically, eventually led to President Murray being ousted by this very Board).
Members of this Board included Drs. Cain and Murray; Lic. Germán Fernández del Castillo, legal council of the College; Dr. Pablo Martínez del Río, Director of Escuela National de Antropológia e Historia and a noted Mexican scholar; Fraine B. Rhuberry, General Manager of the Ford Motor Company in Mexico; and William B. Richardson, first Board Chairman, and retired executive Vice-President of the National City Bank of New York and former manager of the Bank’s branch in Mexico.2, Notes G & H
The college move to non-profit status and the formation of a Board of Trustees were prompted in part by the necessity for full U.S. academic accreditation and to take advantage of available U.S. foundation and governmental funding. Veteran enrollment had dropped to less than half by 1957, but enrollment remained high, “suggesting that a student body of viable size can be maintained in the face of declining veteran enrollment. As the percentage of veterans dropped, the proportion of women in the student body has risen. A more ‘traditional’ and ‘feminine’ student body also has meant a more stable, less transient, student population. Whereas full-time students accounted for only about 55 per cent of the summer school enrollment in 1950, they comprised 85 per cent during the summer of 1957.”2
Senator Wayne Morse, Democrat from Oregon, was the guest speaker at the fifteenth MCC commencement on June 11, 1959. The Senator has shown a keen interest in Latin American affairs and in MCC and the work the College is doing in Latin American Studies.
The College was changing, foreshadowed no doubt by inconsequential events that began to appear between 1959–1961: the offhand questioning of the relevance of the slogan, “The American College South of the Border,” the introduction of a Sección Españoda column in The Collegian (May 13, 1959), the decreasing enrollment of Americans (especially Vets) countered by an increase in Mexican enrollment, and the short-lived publication of the alternate (underground) student newspaper, The Gadfly.Note I
The fifties came to a close with a lingering, growing reputation that MCC was a college of bearded, sandaled (if not barefooted) pot smoking beatniks (with some faculty included), publicized, no doubt, by an early ‘50s incident involving several MCC students with William Burroughs and the death of his wife. At the time, “a sizable number of (the Veterans) were less interested in their studies than in wild parties and nightlife.”10, Note B, pp. 17,42; Note I This “reputation,” magnified by an insignificant few, is far from being supported by the large number of ‘50s and early ‘60s graduates who have gone on to establish themselves as successful leaders in their chosen field, both in business and academia. Professor Richard Wilkie notes, “Throughout the US, there are at least 25 to 30 professors, or more, most with doctorates, who have been students at MCC during the high-water years of that institution between 1954-1962. For a small college, that is an impressive record.”16
The sixties opened with tempestuous winds that endangered the college. In 1960 much of the College financial reserves were embezzled; in 1961 William Richardson, Chair of the MCC Board of Trustees was forcibly deposed (some say, an action that came too late); and, in 1962, President Dr. Paul V. Murray was forced into retirement.
Financial disaster struck on January 27, 1961 when the college business manager-treasurer, Juan Hernández Avila, born in Texas and a Mexican citizen, (hired in the summer, 1951) absconded with college funds ($100,000 to $250,000, depending upon the source). He was picked up in Washington State, February 10, 1961 (13 days after flying to Los Angeles from Mexico City), trying to cross into Canada, minus the money, and was returned to Mexico. Hernández was not prosecuted. He promised to sell his home in Cuernavaca and repay MCC, but later “he reneged.”4 The school, “as a privately financed venture,” was now “$497,000.00 in debt and on the brink of scuttling.”5,7,9
"On January 29, MCC officials met at the home of Board Chairman William Richardson to discuss the seriousness of the problem created by Hernández. The possibility of closing the school was discussed. The co-founder and former President Dr. Henry L. Cain, who had retired June 11, 1953, was appointed Acting Business Manager along with William E. Rogers as Assistant Business Manager. On February 18, Gorden Sweet, Executive Secretary of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) visited the campus to discuss the grave situation created by Hernández. According to Dr. Paul Murray, Sweet suggested to him that he resigned."9
Dr. Paul V. Murray retired as president of MCC, effective May 1, 1961.Note F
The Board of Trustees had established a Committee on Internal Reorganization, and the Mexico City College Administrative Council (L.L. Stafford, Elizabeth López, Mildred Allen, and María Elena Quijada.9), upon Dr. Murray's resignation, acted as collective president of the college until the Board of Trustees named a new president. Six subcommittees were formed to study Mexico City College problems.20 ("Committees Proposed Changes to Trustees.")
William Richardson resigned as Board President, May 29, 2961. At the time, one individual noted to the President of Tuffs University, “Mexico City College had made its greatest stride forward in years by forcibly deposing Bill Richardson from the board of trustees. The general feeling, however, is that the action came too late and that Richardson’s leadership has been so misdirected and yet so strong that the college will probably go under in the next year or so.” Note H
Two months later (July 22) Dr. Henry L. Cain was appointed as interim-president. In December, Dr. Cain and Russell Moody (William Richardson's replacement as Board of Trustees president) attended a SACS meeting where Gorden Sweet introduced Dr. Ray Lindley, presidernt of Texas Christian University. One month later, in January, Dr. Lindley was invited "to 'name his price' to become president of MCC."9
Dr. Ray Lindley, a “tall, iron haired”7clergyman, took office as the third president of MCC on July 16, 1962. Dr. Jacinto Quidarte became the Dean of Men, replacing Vice President and Dean of Faculty John V. Elmendorf who earlier had moved on (January, 1961) to Brown University (Providence, RI) as Vice President. Dr. Richard Greenleaf was appointed Academic Vice-President of MCC.
With a broom in one hand, administrative academic credentials in the other, and a “revivalist” attitude, Dr. Lindley set out to (1) rid “the institution of the stigma of being a college of beatniks;” (2) to raise the student proportion of non-Americans to 50 percent; and (3) the Board of Trustees to be reconstituted with no more than half the trustees Americans and the remainder Mexicans, and “with the staff also divided 50-50 between US and other countries.” [Author’s note: Was this the premature birth of Affirmative Action?]
Beards and barefoot sandals were prohibited. There was one infamous casualty to Dr. Lindley’s reforms—“a student who duly shaved his beard but refused to put on shoes.”5, 13 As recalled by an on-the-spot MCC alumnus, “The casualty was (a student) who had his feet/sandals inspected by Jacinto Quirarte, Dean of Men, who then gave him a note pronouncing that he had permission to wear huaraches. This famous ‘Foot Sniffing Certificate’ was promptly posted on the school's main bulletin board, and when discovered by one of the administrators, (the student) was expelled on the spot.” He returned to Kent State in Ohio to finish his degree. 6, 13, Note I
The consequences of Dr. Lindley’s reforms eventually resulted in transforming what was until now an American college for Americans in Mexico, into a Mexican college in Mexico for Mexicans. By then most all of the VA students were gone and a new source of student population was appearing. His campaign was successful: Mexican student enrollment jumped from 117 in 1962-63 to 425 in 1963-64, slowly filling the gap left by the vanishing Veterans.5
The extraordinary MCC era had ended. Within a decade and half later, the MCC philosophy of a true liberal arts education had completely disappeared. [For a brief summary of how UDLAP was changed by President Macias Rendon (1975-76), from a liberal arts institution into a technocratic institution to provide job training for engineers, and the decade long battle to reverse the trend, see 16, p. 95].
On March 19, 1963 Dr. Lindley and the Board of Trustees changed the name from Mexico City College to the University of the Américas, with the school officially achieving university status the same year. The new president managed “to reduce the debt from $550K to a (manageable) $180K.” By July, 1964, the school’s debt had been eliminated, the outstanding note being burned at a special on-campus luncheon.9
Plans were announced for a ten million dollar fund raising campaign.5
A new university seal was approved in July, 1965. It consisted of a jaguar and eagle and the Latin Moto "Americanarum Universitas," meaning American women's university. Class rings were ordered with this error. This error was not discovered until 1970, when the official seal was changed to read "Americarum Universitas," and new class rings ordered.9
However, there was predictable resentment to Dr. Lindley's sweeping changes by some long-term students, some faculty (some resigned), and a few American trustees. “The focus of most resentment is . . . Dr. Ray Lindley,”7 accumulating in “a series of protests published by students (in) ‘The Gadfly,’ a very irreverent newspaper which publicized the ‘foot-sniffing expulsion,’ ridiculed Dr. Lindley’s reforms, and poked fun at some of the actions and some individuals in the Mexican government.” 6, Note I
MCC campus had always attracted unique, free spirited, adventurous individuals, both in its faculty and student body. Dr. Denton Ray Lindley, who served as President until 1971, was a former clergyman with an extensive Southern religious background, who had served as educational administrator in various religious schools in the South. One former MCC student described the campus as “always moving, always searching.” The type of student and faculty population President Lindley sought would not function well – even on a short term basis – as “expatriates.” The value of the expatriate ambiance as an asset may have escaped Dr. Lindley, or his conservative approach determined his actions. Regardless, the school’s atmosphere of adventurous freedom slowly changed under his tutelage.
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Quinn. March 1, 2006