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UWM and the Peace Corps: Young University Played Key Role
UWM and the Peace Corps: Young University Played Key Role
UWM and the Peace Corps
Young University Played Key Role
UWM was not yet five years old when President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961. The concept of international service by young Americans was not original with Kennedy, but Kennedy made the idea a reality when he appointed his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, the director of the Peace Corps with the mandate to make it operational as soon as possible.
The national response to this new program was very enthusiastic, especially among university students who were to be the primary source of volunteers, but problems inherent in making the Peace Corps a successful experience for the volunteers and the host countries were substantial.
One of the most difficult problems was training volunteers to function effectively in the developing nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Shriver decided that universities, especially those with strong area studies programs, would be the logical place to do the training. Many major universities responded to this challenge, and competition soon developed to be selected for Peace Corps training.
Chancellor J. Martin Klotsche, strongly committed to the Peace Corps concept, in the fall of 1961 appointed a faculty committee to assess UWM's strengths and weaknesses related to Peace Corps training. The committee reported that (1) UWM had the faculty resources to staff a training project, especially for Latin America; (2) it would be appropriate and beneficial for the university; and (3) UWM capabilities should be augmented by those of UW as a whole and other resources in the Milwaukee area.
Klotsche approved the committee's recommendations, and designated Professor Donald Shea (political science) to be in charge of training programs and to undertake discussions with Peace Corps officials. A series of meetings with the Peace Corps Training Division in Washington culminated in a meeting in Milwaukee between top Peace Corps officials and key university faculty and administrators. Klotsche stressed UWM's strong commitment, and Fred Harvey Harrington, then UW vice president, pledged the total resources of the University of Wisconsin to a UWM training project. Peace Corps officials were very positive; they concluded that UWM would be a very good site for Peace Corps training.
After several months of discussion, the Peace Corps formally requested that UWM devise a 10-week program, beginning in January 1963, to train volunteers to develop savings and loan operations in Peru. UWM had its Peace Corps project, but now faced the challenge of organizing a successful program. The contract required 600 instructional contact hours, with nearly half devoted to intensive language training. Professor Henry Hoge (Spanish and Portuguese) became the language coordinator and assembled a very strong teaching staff.
Other components of the training program were area studies, technical studies, American studies, world affairs and communism; physical training and recreation; health; and Peace Corps orientation. UWM faculty provided most instruction but were supplemented by specialists from other UW units, local financial institutions and Peruvian nationals. The program concluded on March 23 with 26 trainees sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers.
Although the project staff identified areas where training could be improved, the Peace Corps judged the program a success and requested UWM to undertake six more training projects in 1963 and many others during the rest of the decade. Included were contracts to train volunteers for work in rural cooperatives and agricultural extension in Panama and Colombia; in mathematics/science teaching, home economics and nursing education in India; and finally, for Ecuador, Brazil and India. The initial commitment by Harrington of all UW resources to support Milwaukee's training program enabled Shea to utilize the expertise of UW Madison and UW general and cooperative extension to staff key components of the programs. This collaboration became one of the great strengths of UWM's training.
In 1963 the Peace Corps entered into a long-term training contract that designated UWM as a year-round Peace Corps Training Center, one of only three universities so recognized and the only one that would undertake training for world regions. For the first time, UWM was able to make long-range plans and commitments for administration and instruction; significantly improve foreign-language teaching laboratories and library resources; recruit foreign nationals from the host countries to enrich the programs; and arrange permanent housing for the trainees in Purin Hall.
In 1964 UWM trained six additional groups of volunteers for Peru, India, Kenya and Brazil. Also in 1964, UWM received its first million-dollar federal grant when the Peace Corps signed a long-term contract to renew the training relationship.
In the following years, UWM's Peace Corps partnership was extended to include federal funding of faculty research and overseas travel; development and publication of innovative foreign-language intensive instructional materials; evaluation of training within the context of volunteer performance overseas; and training by UWM faculty in the host country. UWM assisted the Peace Corps in recruitment throughout Wisconsin and was among the first universities to authorize academic credit for Peace Corps training and service and to establish special fellowships and assistantships for returning volunteers.
UWM trained over 2,000 volunteers in 42 separate programs in the 1960s, funded by more than $4 million in federal grants. The training relationship was phased out in 1970 when the Nixon Administration shifted the focus of the Peace Corps to fewer and more experienced recruits who would be trained largely by the Peace Corps itself.
The UWM-Peace Corps relationship was highly beneficial to UWM. UWM and its faculty received national and international recognition for their strength in international studies. The Peace Corps connection facilitated faculty recruitment; improved instructional resources, especially in the foreign language area; enriched the student body (and faculty) with returning volunteers; and led directly to foundation awards and to additional federal grants such as one for a Center for Latin America. It also strengthened UWM's reputation in the Milwaukee area as a vibrant and high-quality institution, and demonstrated that autonomous units of the University of Wisconsin could work together under the leadership of the Milwaukee campus.
(Professor Emeritus Shea, former chair of the Political Science Department, director of the Center for Latin America, and dean of International Studies, prepared this review for "Looking Back.")