Undergraduate at Ohio State

In the first part of 1949, Bill Lyle was planning to go to graduate school and in some way had settled on Ohio State. I probably talked to him about his decision, but I do not remember what he said. At any rate, Bill had planned to travel by bus from Pittsburg, KS to Columbus, OH to visit, perhaps to be interviewed, and so on, and he invited me to ride along. The trip seemed like a splendid adventure, and I jumped at the chance. It was a very long trip by Greyhound, I remember, but I was young and fairly carefree.

Ohio State University was just about the biggest, most impressive thing I had ever seen. I am sure I walked around with my mouth hanging open. At that time, Ohio State had an enrollment of about 19,000; KSTC had about 2000. I made up my mind on the spot that I wanted to attend Ohio State. That was a fateful decision. I do not remember anything about the application process, but I was accepted for enrollment in the fall of 1949, and I had the “GI bill” so I did not have to worry about tuition, and that sort of thing. So I began to plan to transfer and did so, arriving in Columbus in the fall of 1949. I made another fateful decision during that fall. I applied for, and was accepted into, the local Marine Corps Reserve Training Unit. I did receive a modest payment for my participation, which was not unimportant, but I think I was still simply “Gung Ho!”

I got a real boost as an undergraduate at Ohio State because of my good relationship with Bill Lyle. He showed me the ropes and introduced me to other graduate students, making me feel generally comfortable, accepted, and confident (in an unthinking way). My first undergraduate adviser was Paul Fitts, an eminent figure in human factors.[1] I buckled right down, in a way I never had managed before, and did well in my academic work. I took a class in History of Science, the text for which was by Dampier, and it was both challenging and interesting to me. On the other hand, a class in philosophy was dreadful—to me at least. I simply could not deal with so many words, words, words, bereft of any concrete connections. Later I came to know another undergraduate who had studied at the Sorbonne, and he tried to explain existentialism to me with similarly nil results. I was not well prepared to deal with abstractions.

The highlights of my first year at Ohio State were three required courses. The psych department had a fairly rigorous curriculum for undergraduates, including, notably, a course in “Conditioning and Learning,” the text for which was by Hilgard and Marquis, and a course in “Human Learning,” for which the text was McGeoch and Irion. Neither of those texts was “dumbed down” at all for undergraduates, and both courses were at, more or less, the sophomore-junior level. I was incredibly fortunate to have had graduate students as instructors in both of those courses! Those courses, which provided me with perspectives and a foundation, that influenced my entire career, were extremely well taught by Al Riley, later a professor at Univ. of California at Berkeley, and Evelyn Perloff, eventually a professor at the University of Pittsurgh. The recollection of those courses always caused me to doubt that undergraduate students are necessarily disadvantaged by having graduate students as instructors. The third course, incidentally, was Sensation and Perception, taught by Philburn Ratoosh, a newly minted assistant professor. That course was also excellent; so good that I later took a graduate course in the same area from Ratoosh.[2]

In the spring, I enrolled in a class in social psychology, taught by a young assistant professor named Donald T. Campbell. I do not remember much about that class, but the text was by Krech and Crutchfield, and Don was an inspiring teacher. One of my friends and I decided to collaborate on a project of some sort, and we submitted it at the end of the semester. Whatever it was, it did get some attention from Don, and, although the class was fairly large by the standards of those days, perhaps 40 or 50 students, I did talk personally to Don on one or two occasions, and he at least knew who I was.

Then in June, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, and the United States responded immediately. So did the USMC, and my reserve unit was put on notice for an early call-up. At some point during that summer I was walking on campus and met Don Campbell and told him that I would not be returning for the fall because of the Korean War. He expressed his regret, wished me well, and said he hoped I would return to school eventually. I was not to see him again for 10 years. He left Ohio State the following year for the University of Chicago and then for Northwestern University.

[1] Also fated to die prematurely of a heart attack.

[2] Ratoosh also left Ohio State after a few years for a position at a California campus where, under the strange influence of that culture he became a psychoanalyst! Nonetheless, he was a fine teacher.