Matters of Conscience
Sterling M. McMurrin and L. Jackson Newell

Chapter 3.
Friend of Great Teachers

[p.65] Sterling, you had a remarkable experience as an undergraduate through the quality of friendships you developed with your professors. It isn’t just that they befriended you out of goodwill, but you genuinely became their colleague. Let’s focus for the moment on two of your finest teachers, Waldemer Read and Milton Bennion.

Yes. Let me mention Milton Bennion first. He was dean of the School of Education at the University of Utah and Milton Bennion Hall is, of course, named for him. He was also professor of philosophy. Education was his main area, but he gave attention to ethics and religion. He offered a course on citizenship, which I didn’t ever have occasion to take, but I taught it for him when he needed a substitute. I did, however, take Moral Teachings of the New Testament and the philosophy of religion from Milton Bennion. As far as I know, this was the university’s first course in the philosophy of religion. It was probably 1935-36—not my first year. He used William Kelly Wright’s text, a rather conservative but very good book.

How did the course come about and why was it so late in its arrival?

Ericksen, who was chair of the department, told me that he had been trying for a long time to get President Thomas to let them teach a course in the philosophy of religion. Now Thomas was a very wise man and had tremendous influence on the history of this university by working for its independence from the Mormon church, but he knew a thing like this had to be done carefully. And, of course, in those days the president was the boss. They didn’t have as many committees and as much bureaucratic rigmarole as we’re accustomed to now. Ericksen said he’d ask about that course every year, and every year Thomas would tell him, “No, you can’t have such a course now. I’ll tell you when you can.” And this had gone on for several years before he finally said, “Well, now you can have that course in the philosophy of religion, but you can t teach it. You can have that course only if Dean Bennion teaches it.” Bennion was a prominent Mormon, but also an able social critic and reformer.

[p.66] President Thomas needed to avoid problems not only with the Mormon church but the Protestants and the Catholic church as well. They probably all worried about how such a course might be taught at the university.

Yes, Bennion was safer on a thing like that as far as the churches were concerned, so he taught it. Ericksen was too much of a skeptic for any of the local religious leaders to find comfort with him. Milton Bennion’s office was in the northwest corner on the main floor of the Park Building, now the office of the president. He was looked upon with the greatest respect by everyone in the state and the university. The portrait of him that hangs in Bennion Hall was being painted when I was his student; on two occasions he invited me down to the artist’s studio in the old Zion’s First National Bank Building. I met him there twice to observe the painting—a very interesting process. He gave me a photograph of the painting. I had it framed and on my desk when I was sharing Ericksen’s office.

The next year when I was teaching LDS seminary in Richfield, I still kept Dean Bennion’s portrait on my desk. One day in walked Lynn Bennion, the church’s seminary supervisor, and here was his father’s portrait on my desk. It worries me right to this day that Lynn may have thought that I put that portrait on my desk because I knew he was going to show up.

Did your interest in moral philosophy stem from your association with Ericksen and Bennion?

Yes, although I have less interest in moral philosophy today than I did then, and my father was probably the most important influence on me in that area. Dean Bennion was quite conservative in his religious views—but very progressive in his political and social views. He and Ericksen and Read got along very well. They were less conservative than he was. Bennion was highly respected in the LDS church and became general superintendent of the Sunday schools after his retirement. When I came back to the University of Utah to teach, he phoned me on several occasions to ask my opinion about books they were considering for a Sunday school library they were creating.

Do you recall specific titles that you recommended?

Oh, I remember he asked about Ralph Tyler Flewelling, who was head of philosophy at Southern California. So Bennion was very active right up to the time of his death. I still regard him as a great man.

Who else shaped your thought and the intellectual climate of the university when you were an undergraduate? Was one of the major figures Ralph [p.67] Chamberlin, the professor of zoology, with whom you had some association?

Yes, he was one of the great figures in the university. As a matter of fact, Chamberlin was the university’s most celebrated scientist, world famous in entomology. I think his specialty was spiders. Now, I mention Chamberlin not simply because he was important as a scientist, though he certainly was, but because he was tremendously important in the intellectual life of Utah. He was at the center of the 1911 hassle over evolution at the BYU, in many ways the most important dispute in the intellectual history of Utah. He left BYU, went to Harvard, and later returned to the University of Utah. He taught a course in evolution which was one of the most popular classes in the institution. I took that course and it was absolutely first rate.

After Chamberlin’s retirement, he devoted considerable attention to writing the history of the university. He was working on that history when I joined the faculty here in 1948. An earlier and very influential book was The Life and Philosophy of W. H. Chamberlin, his biography of his brother who had died as a comparatively young man in the very early ’20s.

William Henry Chamberlin was, with Ralph, at BYU in 1911 when all hell broke loose over the teaching of evolution, wasn’t he?

That’s right. He was a mathematician and philosopher who joined the BYU faculty in 1910 after a year at the University of Utah. Joseph and Henry Peterson, another set of brothers, also came under pressure from the BYU board of trustees for teaching evolution. They were all told they had to behave or be fired, but W. H. Chamberlin’s major offense, apparently, had to do with higher criticism in biblical scholarship.

They saw it as an issue of academic freedom. The Petersons and Ralph Chamberlin resigned but, in effect, they were fired.

The interesting thing is that W. H. Chamberlin remained there, I believe, until 1916, taking a more moderate course. But he was gradually deprived of the courses in philosophy and the Bible that he went there to teach and was left only with mathematics. He was competent in that area, but he wasn’t interested in teaching mathematics so he went back to Harvard in 1916, intending to complete a doctorate in philosophy. Josiah Royce, the great absolute idealist, had been his mentor when he had worked earlier at Harvard; but unfortunately, he died just before W. H. returned to Harvard. Chamberlin did biblical studies at the University of Chicago and philosophy at Berkeley under George Holmes Howison. Howison’s philosophy appealed to him because, except for William [p.68] James among contemporary American philosophers, Howison’s position was most like Mormonism—a pluralistic type of metaphysics.

W. H. produced a doctoral dissertation on evolution and idealist metaphysics, the thing that Royce was himself much interested in; but with Royce out of the picture, he failed to win the approval of his committee.

You must have read that dissertation. What did you think of it?

When I was a student in Ralph Chamberlin’s course on evolution, he loaned me a copy of his brother’s dissertation and two or three other things W. H. had published. I read them with a great deal of interest and received an hour of credit in biology for reading the dissertation. It was a great favor to me—I needed a little more credit in the sciences to graduate. But Ralph Chamberlin also knew that I was interested in his brother’s philosophy.

Many years later, when I was on the Utah faculty, Ralph Chamberlin had retired but still had an office and I think a laboratory on campus. He was also working on his history of the university, which was published in 1960. I then became quite well acquainted with him. I was interested in writing an essay on W. H. Chamberlin’s philosophy. I asked Ralph if I could borrow that material again, and he very graciously loaned it to me. It took me a long time to get around to writing the essay, in fact I haven’t done it yet, but each time I went to return the material, he would say, “Oh, just keep it until you’re through with it.” Ralph’s son, Elliot Chamberlin, approved my sending the W. H. Chamberlin dissertation to the Special Collections of the Marriott Library, after his father’s death.

What will be in this essay that you’ve been planning to do for forty years?

It was to be an essay in a volume entitled Five Mormon Philosophers. W. H. Chamberlin fully deserves a place in such a volume. In many ways he was Mormonism’s foremost philosopher—treated very shabbily by the church. He is now virtually unknown.

Who will the other four essays be about?

Orson Pratt, B. H. Roberts, E. E. Ericksen, and Waldemer P. Read. I now plan to add two more: P. A. Christensen, a major figure at BYU and for many years head of its English department. He was a rather strong idealist with inclinations along the line of the American transcendentalists, Jack. You would have liked him. The other essay will be about someone close to both of us, Obert Tanner, a genuine philosopher-statesman and a major figure in Mormon intellectual life.

I hope you will complete it. A very worthwhile undertaking. Where are you [p.69] now with the project?

Well, I’ve written the essays on B. H. Roberts and Ericksen and Read, and I’ve done quite a bit on Tanner and some things on Orson Pratt. So actually, the thing is at least half done. I really intend to do it. If I weren’t so lazy, it would have been done long ago.

It sounds as if both Chamberlin brothers were an intellectual influence on you, one directly and one indirectly?

When W. H. left the BYU in 1916, it was a sad thing. He had a hard time making a living. From 1917 to 1920 he taught for the Extension Division of the University of Utah. In 1920 he received an appointment in what is now Utah State University in Logan, but he died soon afterward. Chamberlin had great talent and ability and taught any number of the leading intellectual figures in the state, most of whom I knew rather well. Their testimonials to his memory appear at the end of Ralph Chamberlin’s book on W. H.

Who were some of these people?

E. E. Ericksen, Arthur A. Beeley, P. A. Christensen, John C. Swenson, BYU’s leading sociologist; Heber C. Snell, the church’s leading Bible scholar; W. H. Hendersen, a person of very considerable influence in Logan; Thomas L. Martin, science dean at BYU; and BYU psychologist M. Wilford Poulson. At any rate, here you have in William Henry Chamberlin, a very devout Mormon, a man of tremendous potential influence on the intellectual life of the Mormon church, and the church simply turned its back on him. It’s really a tragic story. He could have done great things for the church, and desperately wanted to. But some of his students became the great teachers in Utah during the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s.

So he died, prematurely and rather unappreciated. Makes you wonder if there was a connection between his spiritual struggles and his physical demise. It sounds as if his life and thought paralleled Ericksen’s.

Exactly. W. H. Chamberlin was a more competent philosopher than Orson Pratt or B. H. Roberts. I wonder what would have happened to the philosophy department at the University of Utah if he had taught here for several years—Chamberlin and Ericksen together. What a combination! Ericksen was primarily a moral philosopher with an interest in ethics, while W. H. Chamberlin was very much interested in metaphysics. He was the best chance the Mormon church had for cultivating a philosopher who wanted desperately—I mean, desperately—to develop a meaningful philosophical position for the Mormon people.

Ralph Chamberlin, as a scientist, didn’t have the same interests. How did [p.70] he come to write his brother’s biography?

Spiders are different from metaphysics, and I think Ralph was not such a devout Mormon. But after W. H.’s death, some of his students organized the W. H. Chamberlin Philosophical Society to honor him and commemorate his work. Their major project was getting Ralph to write The Life and Philosophy of W. H. Chamberlin. I’m not sure they did much beside that. The fact that the book adequately and persuasively presents W. H. Chamberlin’s philosophic thought shows the philosophical competence of Ralph Chamberlin. I must confess that I sometimes wonder whether Ralph Chamberlin’s description of W. H. Chamberlin’s philosophical views is a full description of his brother’s views or his own.

But W. H. Chamberlin’s importance to you is that you’re one of his students once removed—through people like Ericksen, Heber Snell, and others. Can you describe his philosophy?

He called it personal realism. I would call it personal idealism, though some idealists refer to their position by the term realism. W. H.’s views were more like the leading American idealists who taught me as a graduate student than they were like the views of Ericksen and others with whom I worked as an undergraduate. The difference is that, although there’s a strong pragmatic element running through W. H. Chamberlin’s philosophy, Chamberlin was not a pragmatist of the stripe of Ericksen and Read. One of the reasons I was attracted to studying philosophy with Ralph Tyler Flewelling, for instance, a leading figure in American idealism, was the strong attraction I felt for W. H. Chamberlin’s idealism—which, you must remember, he called realism. I’m not so inclined toward that metaphysical position today—

You’re not so much an idealist now as you were, and W. H. might have moved away from it if he had lived longer. Who knows? Is the Chamberlin biography still in print?

You’re quite right, this book had a considerable impact on me, and I was more an idealist. I was younger then! The book was still in print in my student days, and I purchased my copy at the Deseret Book Store. It had been published by the Deseret News Press, a church-related publisher. I have recently been very much interested in attempting to get it republished. It deserves to be republished. Some of Orson Pratt’s writing is being republished—some of B. H. Roberts’s and some of Ericksen’s work.

Now, you’ve mentioned Waldemer Read several times. What was his [p.71] influence on your development?

As strange as it may seem, I had only one class from Waldemer; and that was after I had received my bachelor’s degree. He was away part of the time that I was an undergraduate, finishing up his own graduate work for the Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. I actually met him in a French class! I was taking it as an undergraduate, and he was taking it to pass his Ph.D. exam in languages.

Fellow students then?

Yes, we sat by each other and that’s how we got acquainted. Read’s office was next to Ericksen’s, both on the lower level of the present Cowles Building. We became very close friends during my last year at the university, when I was working on a master’s degree and helping Ericksen with his volume on social ethics. Waldemer was working on the same project, so we spent many hours together, at the university and in his home with his family. After I left the university, I often returned to visit, always with Read and Ericksen.

As a student at the university, you had few friends among the students, but many among the faculty.

That’s true. Read was an excellent critic of my master’s thesis on medieval philosophy, and I learned a great deal from him about philosophical criticism. Of course, when I joined the Utah philosophy department in 1948, we were brought together as colleagues as well as friends. Read was a confirmed pragmatist, which I was not, but I learned a great deal from him in moral philosophy.

You’ve also mentioned Stephen Tornay on several occasions.

Yes, Tornay, now deceased, was an interesting person, a Hungarian. His name was actually Stephen Chaktornay, but he anglicized it when he came to this country. He made “Chak” his middle name and kept Tomay as his surname. He was a defrocked Catholic priest, not a member of any special order, as far as I’m aware. He had been a parish priest in Budapest and had liberal leanings that, as he told me, got him into some trouble with the Vatican. A cardinal who had taken very great interest in him arranged to have him transferred to America, where it was thought he would have less trouble with the church.

So they sent him to Utah?

No, to somewhere else in the United States; but it didn’t help very much and he ended up being excommunicated. He then married a former nun and they had two boys and a girl. She died before he came to Utah. He had a doctorate in sacred theology from the University of Vienna and was a medieval specialist—concentrated on the work of [p.72] William of Occam.

Tornay was a man of many talents and absolutely self-confident, so he did all sorts of things. Tornay and I became very good friends, and he used to tell me in detail the story of his quite fascinating life. Following the First World War, when there were revolutionary activities in Hungary, he said everybody else was shooting so he got a couple of pistols, stood on the front steps of his parish church, and just shot into the air.

He wanted to be a part of the thing!

Yes, he didn’t want to be left out, and he never was. After his excommunication, he worked as secretary to a wealthy American for a while, and then he became an ordained Presbyterian minister. Well, Tomay finally decided to turn his attention to teaching. He was a brilliant teacher, but I think I’m the only one at the university who fully appreciated his talents. Although he already had a doctorate in sacred theology, he went to the University of Chicago to get a Ph.D. in philosophy. He met Waldemer Read there when Read was at Chicago. Waldemer recommended Tornay to fill in for him at Utah while he was on leave for 1935-36. Ericksen hired Tornay for the one-year appointment, and he was so successful as a teacher and impressive as a scholar that he was kept on.

You wouldn’t have known him long, though, since that was your senior year, yet he had a large influence on you and on the community, didn’t he?

Yes, but I stayed on another year to get my master’s. Tomay was eloquent and very interesting. He spoke English with a heavy Hungarian accent, and the ladies’ clubs all thought he was great. He was a colorful speaker, very popular. President Thomas had a session with Tornay and told him that he was in competition with the university by going out and taking pay from all these women’s clubs. He told him to do his lecturing through the University Extension Division. Tornay was also a very brilliant classroom lecturer. I took his classes in metaphysics, epistemology, and aesthetics.

Just having a former priest with three children would have been pretty racy in Salt Lake City in the 1930s. What eventually became of Tornay?

During the war, Tomay wrote manuals on gunnery for Hill Field. He would take on anything, anything. It used to annoy Ericksen terribly that Tomay thought he could do anything. He was never popular with Ericksen and Read and was more than a little careless in some decisions involving honesty. The plain facts are that he was dropped here after about a decade. After leaving Utah, he came to Los Angeles and got in [p.73] touch with me. As a matter of fact, he married a Mormon woman—wanted me to perform the marriage but that was out of the question. He and I remained really very good friends and were until his death a few years ago. He deserves to be remembered for the shot in the arm he gave the philosophy department. Nobody here knew much about medieval philosophy. Read had very little use for it, Ericksen had none, and here came Tomay with a great deal of talent in that field. I should write a book about Tomay because I think I was as good a friend as he had. He had a capacity for alienating his friends, but I liked him in spite of his foibles.

Well, I shouldn’t go on talking about Tomay, but he’s one of the more picturesque figures in my experience. He was quite well acquainted with Natalie; and one day as she left the two of us, he said to me, “Natalie has a transparent soul.” I was never quite sure what a transparent soul is, but it is something wonderful and I agree Natalie certainly has one.

So your undergraduate years were filled with contacts with unusual people. Sterling, wasn’t Levi Edgar Young on the faculty here in your student days?

Yes, he was and he certainly deserves mention. Levi Edgar Young was a member of the First Council of the Seventy of the LDS church.

Like B. H. Roberts and your grandfather…

Yes, and he was also a professor of western history at the university—a one-man department. His office was in the Park Building on the main floor. In those days, incidentally, before the university bureaucracy became bloated, as it now is, three professors not connected with the central administration had offices on the main floor of the Park Building—Young, Frederick J. Pack, chair of the Department of Geology, and Dean Milton Bennion. Levi Edgar—that’s what everyone called him—was a very genteel, highly cultivated, very sensitive, aesthetically oriented person. He’d studied at Columbia University, had a master’s in history and did considerable writing in western history. He was not a major scholar, but he was a great figure in the church, in my opinion—too liberal for some of the general authorities.

How did that work out, mixing high church position with the duties of a professor? That is a rare and ill-advised combination in my view.

He divided his time between the university on one hand and the church on the other hand. Some people in the university weren’t happy about that even then, and it’s obvious that some people in the church weren’t either; but that’s what he insisted on doing. From things he told [p.74] me, I think he was under some pressure from the church to give up his university affiliation—certainly he was the only general authority who was at the university—but he didn’t want to give it up and he had enough prestige and status that he stayed with the university until retirement age.

Levi Edgar was a major figure in the state. For many years he hosted important visitors because he knew the regional history so well and could explain it so persuasively. He entertained President Warren G. Harding on the president’s last visit to the West—accompanied him on a trip through Zion National Park.

Well, as long as I’m at it, I think I’ll tell you the story of the visit of Arthur Conan Doyle in the late 1920s that Levi Edgar himself told me. Doyle was coming here to address the Knife and Fork Club, a local lecture group, if I’m not mistaken; and his wife came with him. As usual, Levi Edgar was appointed to meet them at the station, accompany them to the hotel, and generally entertain them.

How was Conan Doyle received here? After all, he’d recently written that Sherlock Holmes mystery A Study in Scarlet. It wasn’t appreciated much by Mormons.

Oh yes, all about girls being forced into polygamy and murderous Danites and so on. Blasted the living hell out of the Mormons. But what he knew about the Mormons he had simply learned from reading British newspapers, you know—all those editorials about the evils of Mormon missionaries coming over and seducing the English women.

Well, as Levi Edgar and the Doyles drove from the station, they passed the Tabernacle and the temple. Doyle asked, “Now, your name is Young? …. Yes.” “There was a Brigham Young. Are you related to him?” Levi Edgar said, “I’m a grandson of his brother.” Conan Doyle continued, “Well, now, all of this Mormon stuff—it’s all a thing of the past, isn’t it?” Levi Edgar explained to him that it was not a thing of the past, “that there were Mormons all over the place.” Well, when he was saying goodbye to the Doyles at the Union Pacific Station, Conan Doyle was somewhat repentant. He said the Mormons didn’t look quite so bad to him now and confessed to Levi Edgar that he had “written a scurrilous book about the Mormons.” He said, “When I get back to England, I’m going to do some more writing and retract what I said about the Mormons.”

Did he do it?

I think so. I’m quite sure that I read an essay by Conan Doyle in which he indicated that he regretted having written A Study in Scarlet. It was well known that Conan Doyle and his wife were heavily involved [p.75] in psychic research. Levi Edgar said he had dinner with them in their Hotel Utah room, and the table was laid for four. The fourth place was for their son who had died.

Amazing story.

Well, Levi Edgar Young was a great character. He was a small man, kind of delicate in his make-up. As a general conference speaker in the Tabernacle, he didn’t have the force and the power of some; but he emitted a kind of grace, love, and liberality that far exceeded most of the other general authorities. Some of them didn’t like that very much.

You maintained some association with him right up until his death?

In 1936 or 1937 when I was a graduate student, my mother came to Salt Lake City; she had some piece of church business to take up with Levi Edgar. I accompanied her to the Church Administration Building to call on him. He wasn’t there; but as we were leaving, we encountered J. Golden Kimball, who had succeeded B. H. Roberts as senior president of the First Council of the Seventy. He saw us through the door, got up, and came out in the hall. He knew my mother and asked if there was anything that he could do for us. Now, you know, J. Golden was tall and thin and Levi Edgar Young was quite short. I said we were looking for President Young, and J. Golden said, in that high-pitched monotone of his, “That little shrimp. He goes around here carrying water on both shoulders, and he’s afraid to lean one way or the other for fear of spilling some of it.”

An apt remark, given Levi Edgar’s dual career as cleric and scholar!

Well, that was J. Golden Kimball for you. It was said in good humor. Levi Edgar Young was a marvelous person. In the 1950s when I was here on the faculty, I would encounter him downtown, usually on the comer of South Temple and State Street where he caught his bus. He would have just come out of meetings with other general authorities or from an afternoon of church business, and on more than one occasion, he said to me with a groan, “Oh, you have no idea, Sterling, you have no idea what I have to go through in that building.”

Needed to unload his problems with a trusted friend. He envied your freedom, Sterling, I’m sure.

I imagine. And since my grandfather had gone through the same thing, he thought I had a pretty good idea of what he meant. I have to tell you, since we’re being personal, of my first encounter with Levi Edgar, my first day at the University of Utah. I registered for his class; and I think there were fifteen people in it. We met in the L Building. When the bell rang, he came in, took a good look at us, shuffled through [p.76] his registration cards, and said, “No one is supposed to register for my classes without my permission.” I think he wanted to get rid of some of those students. Later he proceeded to cut the class down to about five students—I was one of those whom he kept—and then he moved the class into his office. I think I had three courses with Levi Edgar, and we always met in his office. These seminars were delightful. Some of our current faculty have greater expertise in western history, but he was just a marvelous human being. Everyone held him in high respect, even his critics.

What kind of a teacher was Levi Edgar?

I don’t think the average Mormon ever fully appreciated him because, to be frank with you, they liked those who spoke dogmatically and knew the answers to all the questions. He wasn’t that type of person. To give you a sample: he came into class the first day and said, “No one knows anything about the origin of the American Indians.” Then he turned and pointed his finger at me—this was a characteristic of his, a bit dramatic—and said, “Did you hear what I said, McMurrin? I said no one, and I mean no one, knows anything about the origin of the American Indians.” Well, I sat there astonished. I had no idea he knew who I was, and this was the first time I had ever seen him. From that day on, I sensed a feeling of friendship.

This rapport continued to grow?

Yes. In one of the later seminars, when he had just returned from a trip to San Francisco, he gave me a book and said, “I saw this in a bookstore, and I thought you would like it.” It was The Story of Religion by Charles Francis Potter. It was a very good book and it included biographies of such leading religious figures as Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad. One of the chapters was on Joseph Smith. Levi Edgar inscribed the book, and as he handed it to me, he said, “I want you to pay special attention to that opening paragraph on Joseph Smith.”

And what did it say?

The first sentence said something like: “The remarkable thing about Mormonism is that such a reputable religion would spring from such a disreputable person.”

That certainly reveals Levi Edgar’s confident attitude toward his religion, doesn’t it? And his robust attitude toward ideas.

Oh, yes, and you can see why some of the general authorities didn’t take too easily to his brand of Mormonism.

Very different from the kind of attitude projected by, say, Joseph Fielding [p.77] Smith, who was his contemporary, wasn’t he?

Couldn’t have been more different. Let me just give you a quick illustration. Years later, in the early 1950s, I was involved with Heber C. Snell in a session with Joseph Fielding Smith, who was then president of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Apostle Harold B. Lee, about Snell’s book on the Old Testament. Now, the church Commissioner of Education had officially asked him to write the book, but the church had decided not to publish it. Snell was naturally confused and wanted to know why. In the course of this session, Snell produced several letters from church authorities praising the book.

Those were the days.

We were meeting around Joseph Fielding’s desk, and Heber handed over letters from Levi Edgar Young, Joseph F. Merrill, and John A. Widtsoe. Joseph Fielding Smith read through the letter from Levi Edgar Young praising Snell’s book. He said, “Well, I’m not surprised.”

Lets you know what he thought of Levi Edgar Young!

Well, he didn’t think much of the others, either. When he read the letter from Apostle Merrill praising the book, he said, “Well, we shall have a few things to say to Apostle Merrill.” And then he read the one from Widtsoe. He got right up out of his chair, walked across the room, turned and walked back, and said, “And we shall have a few things to say to Apostle Widtsoe.”

You and Obert Tanner swapped a lot of Levi Edgar Young stories, didn’t you?

Sure, and Obert, as you know, had a genius for impersonation. He did marvelous impersonations of Levi Edgar Young giving lectures on the history of the Mississippi River or the Southwest.

That was a rare treat. I’ve heard him do that too.

I should tell you one other thing before we leave Levi Edgar. He told me that he once called on William James—I assume while Levi Edgar was doing some work at Harvard (though he got his master’s at Columbia). He may have had classes from William James. I’m not sure. Anyway, he told me that he had presented William James with a copy of the Book of Mormon, inscribed as a gift. I believe James told him he would eventually give the book to the Widener Library at Harvard. In any event, Levi Edgar visited the Widener years later and discovered James’s presentation copy in the library. Of course, it would be a rather prized possession if it was given to them by William James.

Sterling, I have also heard you mention Gail Plummer and George Fellows.[p.78] What about their influence on your education?

Gail Plummer was a wonderful person and a very dear friend of mine. He was not very old when he died. It was an untimely death and a great loss to his friends and to the university. He was a professor of speech and manager of Kingsbury Hall. This was before the university had a theater, so he was responsible for all of the productions put on at Kingsbury Hall. He brought some wonderful things to the university. When I was dean in the 1950s, he used to come and see me about his work there. We had remained in close contact since my student days. Speech, ballet, and theater were in the College of Letters and Science when I was dean, so I was associated with him in that connection.

Kingsbury Hall had a major role in the city’s cultural life during the 1950s and 1960s, didn’t it?

You bet your life. That’s where all of the major lectures took place, the operas, all of the dramatic productions. In the 1950s, Ballet West and the Utah Symphony performed there. Plummer was a close friend and associate of Willam Christensen in ballet, Maurice Abravanel at the Symphony, and Lowell Lees and his predecessors at the theater. Up until about 1961, theater and speech were in the same department. Ballet, too.

What I want to say about Gail Plummer is that he would bring excellent things to the university. He had a tie with various traveling companies. Did you ever hear of the San Carlo Opera Company?

No, I haven’t.

Well, San Carlo Opera was made up of former professional Italian opera singers. They were good, you know. Not Metropolitan stuff, but they sure sounded good in Kingsbury Hall. It was a semi-commercial operation. Gail introduced me to its head—an Italian fellow. I had a couple of interesting conversations with him. This sort of thing was good for Salt Lake City in those days. They’d bring a few orchestra people and then pick up some locals—and they’d put on good stuff!

Meat and drink to an opera lover like you, Sterling.

You bet. And another of Plummer’s great contributions to this community was the Salt Lake Public Library. He was chairman of the board when the present library on Fifth South between Second and Third East was built and the old public library was transformed into the Hansen Planetarium. Gail Plummer, more than any other person, was responsible for that whole project. The dedication of the library occurred after Gail died; I was asked to pay tribute to him at the ceremonies. I was very moved on that occasion. The chief speaker was John Kenneth [p.79] Galbraith, the lanky economist from Harvard, and he offered an excellent address.

Now, how had you met Plummer?

Well, in those days, every Mormon kid was supposed to be able to make a decent speech. I certainly felt that way. I don’t have those feelings any more because you hear very few decent speeches these days, so there isn’t the drive to achieve in that field. The church itself was heavily involved in offering its own speech classes for the youth. During my first quarter at the University of Utah, I registered for a course in speech which happened to be with Gail Plummer. He was a marvelous person and first-rate teacher. The main thing that I learned was that a speech should be an expanded conversation. More speeches would be worthwhile if that’s what they actually were instead of the rambling, ranting, and raving that we hear these days.

A conversation? That suggests an intimate interaction with the audience.

That’s quite right. Of course, if the audience is large you may have to raise your voice a bit. But more than a great teacher, Gail Plummer was a marvelous friend. We became very close in that first quarter and remained friends for the balance of his life. Even when I was living out of state, I’d always call on him when I was visiting. When I was discouraged and homesick as a student, Gail was very concerned about me. I’m not subject to depression; but I think I became somewhat depressed at one point and came close to leaving the university. He spent considerable time trying to talk me out of it. And of course, all it took was visiting California and having the breathing difficulty come back to clinch matters. Everyone in this university in those days held Gail in the highest regard. His is a name that should not be forgotten in the history of this university. Wonderful human being.

And how about George Emory Fellows?

Now that’s a different kind of case but very interesting. As I mentioned before, I was interested in international law and diplomacy with the view in mind of entering the foreign service. So when I first looked at a catalog of the University of Utah, the thing that immediately caught my attention was two classes taught by George Emory Fellows, one in international law and the other on the history of American diplomacy.

Fellows was then chair of the Department of History and Political Science—in those days a single department—was he not?

Yes. I didn’t, at that time, know anything about Professor Fellows, but I was soon to learn. He had been president of the University of [p.80] Maine before he came to Salt Lake City and joined the faculty of the University of Utah, largely in an attempt to find a place where his wife’s health would improve. He was getting along in years, very impressive in appearance and in the quality of his conversation and certainly in his scholarship. He is one of the important figures in the history of this university, and one whose memory has been virtually lost. His specialty was the French Revolution, and I’ve always been sorry that I didn’t take his courses on French history. But I was more interested in political thought then than I am now and less interested in history than I am now.

At any rate, his were upper division classes; and because I was a sophomore, I had to get his approval to take one of them.

And that’s how you met Fellows? You called on Fellows in his office?

Yes, and he very kindly said, “Oh, no, you can’t register for my class. You’re not advanced enough.” I was disappointed, but fortunately he continued, “For instance, what would you say if I were to ask you a question about Grotius?” And I said, “Do you have in mind Grotius the Greek historian or Grotius the author of De Jure Belli ac Pacis?” I thought I’d just spring a little Latin while I was at it, and he almost fell off his chair. From then on he and I were good friends. Just a good streak of luck that during the previous year when I spent so much of my time sick in bed, I had read Grotius’s great work on international law and I knew a little Latin.

And that did the trick.

You bet. Fellows was one of these people who makes a university. He was like Chamberlin in the sciences and Ericksen in philosophy. He was a man of great stature and a good friend to me. He lived on U Street, just beyond South Temple. He had a marvelous library; and before he moved back East after his wife died, he invited me to come over and take whatever books I would like to have.

A marvelous invitation for a young scholar. I’m sure you made the most of it.

Yes, and I still have two or three things on international law that he gave me that spring day. He had a very large library and gave a lot of his books to the university library, then more things to me, some of them quite rare. As a matter of fact, I put a couple of them in the philosophy library at USC. One of them was a very early publication of Sir Isaac Newton’s work on eschatological elements in the Bible, Newton on the Apocalypse. Newton liked to fool around with things he didn’t know anything about in biblical scholarship, but historically it was quite an important work.

[p.81] You also knew two university presidents when you were a student, George Thomas and Leroy Cowles. We’ve talked some about Thomas. How about Cowles?

Leroy Cowles was then dean of the Lower Division, which was later known as General Education and still later under you, Jack, as Liberal Education. He was very kind to me in countless ways. I’ll just give you an example. During my second year here, I lived with my Uncle Ezra Moss in Woods Cross (West Bountiful) and milked cows for my room and board. He had inherited this farm when my Grandfather Moss died. My grandmother was still living, but she spent most of her time with her daughters in California and traveled a good deal.

Uncle Ez was my mother’s youngest brother. He’d developed a very prosperous dairy farm of registered Guernseys and had already invited me to live with him. Guernsey milk sold for a higher price than the Jersey milk. Arden Dairy marketed it as “Golden Guernsey.”

The second year at the university, I accepted his invitation because I thought I ought to be working for a living. Though this was an arrangement which I liked, it consumed a lot of my time. Cows have to be milked every morning and every night, weekends included. I had to get up before five, milk cows, ride into Salt Lake with someone who had a car, take the streetcar up to the university, and then return to Bountiful without fail every afternoon—either by bus or by the Bamberger, the electric interurban train.

How did things work out?

It was a very rough year. I didn’t mind the work, but it was very, very cold and there was a lot of snow that winter. At times we’d go out to carry these ten-gallon milk cans; and if you didn’t have gloves on, your hands would stick to the metal. It’d be so cold you couldn’t let go of them without ripping the skin off your fingers unless you could get somebody to throw water on your hands.

Well, it was a rough year from the standpoint of work and time. President Cowles lived right across the street from what is now Gardner Hall; and he knew the struggle I was having with my schedule. He was so kind as to offer me a room in his home. He said, “We have a room in our basement, and you won’t have to go clear out there to earn your board. Just come and live here with us. You’ll have your own entrance to your room.”

Rent-free?

Yes. Well, I was overwhelmed by his kindness; but I simply couldn’t accept it. I just didn’t think I should. But he was that kind of person, [p.82] you know—very, very generous toward me. He hired me, however, to work on a couple of projects for his office. When he became president we continued our friendship. I wrote to him, reminding him that I had told him once I was sure some day he would be president of the university. He wrote a nice letter back and said, “I’m sure it was your faith in me that was the cause of my being made president.” When I came back to the university as a faculty member, he had been retired for two years; but I occasionally saw him and Mrs. Cowles.

He was president during the war years from 1941 until the end of 1945. But the way Cowles became president of the university is especially interesting.

Yes, George Thomas stayed a year longer than he wanted to because there was a big hassle over his successor. The heir apparent was Adam S. Bennion, a man of very great talents and a civic leader. He became an apostle in the LDS church in 1953, when he was sixty-six, and died five years later. I was a pallbearer at his funeral.

Adam Bennion had been a professor of English, a man held in very high regard; and I knew him by reputation, of course; but he was a man of many talents and he left the university before I came here as a student to take an executive position with Utah Power & Light Company. As I recall, his work involved public relations; and he was the ideal man to do it because he was so highly respected.

At that time, some towns had their own power and light systems. I would pick up this inside stuff from Ericksen, Read, Cowles, Beeley, and others. Ericksen would always include me when he gave a luncheon or a dinner for some visiting person, so I’d sit there and keep my mouth shut and hear things that kids weren’t supposed to hear.

Well, Adam Bennion represented the power company which was trying to consolidate its public; but there was a strong preference in university circles for independent civic companies. I don’t know how much of that was in the background of the problem between Bennion and George Thomas; but Thomas was determined that Adam S. Bennion was not going to succeed him as president. The Board of Regents split right down the middle. As Cowles told me the story, the regents were up in the Park Building trying to decide on a president with this big split over Bennion—

Did Bennion want the job?

I think so. Cowles had gone to bed—it was late at night—but somebody came to the door and told him the regents wanted him to come up to the Park Building. So he got up, got dressed, and went to [p.83] the meeting. He thought they just wanted to ask him some questions; but when he walked through the door, the chairman said, “Leroy, you’re the new president.” He hadn’t thought of himself as a candidate at all. Told me it had never, never occurred to him.

He made a fine president, by all reports.

Well, Cowles was the kind of person whom everybody respected. I’m sure that he didn’t have an enemy in the world, highly competent. He ran this university during World War II, a difficult time. I wasn’t here at the time, but I’m sure he was very successful. You know he wrote a book, The University of Utah and World War II, which is a valuable piece of history, after he was replaced by A. Ray Olpin in 1946. Cowles was really a wonderful person and a great friend to me. He would go out of his way to do things for me when I was a student that simply took your breath away. For instance, the university had a scholarship to give—not very much money but anything was a lot in those days. It wasn’t anything you applied for—I didn’t even know about it. President Thomas sent me a check once, out of the clear blue sky, and said I had been awarded this small endowed scholarship. I had a feeling that Cowles suggested me for it.

What about your dealings with President Thomas?

He was always very friendly, but he didn’t have the personal warmth of Cowles or Plummer. I became rather friendly with Thomas when I was one of the university’s candidates for a Rhodes Scholarship. Thomas was chairman of Utah’s Rhodes Scholarship committee and very encouraging.

I didn’t realize you were ever a Rhodes candidate.

My bronchial condition eliminated me. I suppose I would have been eliminated anyway, but a person’s general health and ability to live in England were part of the condition of the award.

Now you served as the first historian of the university under George Thomas, I believe. How did that happen to an undergraduate?

During my senior year, 1935-36, Thomas and Cowles had a session with me, told me there’d never been a history of the University of Utah, and hired me at twenty-five cents an hour to start accumulating materials. This was during the first Roosevelt administration, and I believe that these funds for student work came from the NYA, National Youth Administration.

Do you know why they selected you?

Well, possibly they had inflated ideas about my organizational ability [p.84] and productivity. I’d already done another task for them. Cowles was chairman of a faculty committee that had made an extensive survey of American universities to determine degree requirements and length of service for appointments and promotions in terms of degrees. They’d sent out a questionnaire to numerous institutions and had received a great sheaf of replies. Dean Cowles and President Thomas asked me if I would take this stuff and put it in some kind of order. I worked on it for quite a while and drew up a rather complicated chart which tabulated the replies.

Do you remember any of the results?

Well, yes, and some of them were astonishing. They showed an amazing contrast between two great institutions. The University of California responded that it was its policy to not appoint a person to the faculty who didn’t have a Ph.D. degree or equivalent. And Harvard said that a person’s degrees just weren’t a major consideration in making appointments. They had some faculty who had no degrees.

So they took opposite positions. But, let’s see, weren’t you already working for Ericksen?

Yes. Beginning in my junior year, I graded papers for some professors in history and philosophy. I read papers for Harold Dalgliesh, who was a new professor in political science and European government. I also read papers and did some research for Andrew Love Neff, who was later chair of the Department of History and Political Science.

So you weren’t living with your aunt and uncle in Bountiful?

Yes, I was, but for my senior year I lived in Federal Heights close to the university for the first half year. I received room and board in a very fine home in return for chauffeuring R. T. Harris, who was president of the Gunnison Sugar Company. It was then owned by the Wrigley Company, the chewing gum manufacturers.

It’s quite interesting. Mr. Harris had been working for the Bank of America but severed his association to go back east. He passed the Utah-Idaho Sugar Factory just south of Gunnison on Highway 89. It had been recently closed because the sugar beet industry was faltering, and that gave him an idea. In Chicago he met P. K. Wrigley, who had inherited the company, at a social gathering. Do you know what P. K.’s are?

Never heard of them.

They were little thick chunks, almost cubes, of chewing gum.

[p.85] Like chiclets?

Yes. Anyway, Wrigley complained to Harris about the price of sugar and fluctuations in the price, so Hams suggested to Wrigley that he ought to acquire his own sugar factory. The idea appealed to Wrigley, so he financed Harris to come back to Utah and buy the Gunnison Sugar Factory. There used to be a big Wrigley electrical sign on it, but the building is gone now.

And you were his chauffeur?

I certainly was. Their house in Federal Heights had a very awkward driveway that curved and went uphill. It was cemented on both sides with ledges, just barely wide enough for the car. They could drive into the garage, but they couldn’t back out. So they sent over to the university looking for a student who knew how to back up a car; and Myrtle Austin, then dean of women, told me about the job.

That was very gracious of her.

I certainly thought so. She knew I was living out in Bountiful and getting up long before daylight to milk cows. It was certainly a change of work! Once in a great while I would drive Mr. Harris down to his office on Main Street or pick him up at the Alta Club, but as many times as not he would just call a cab. And often Mrs. Harris and her daughter would just leave the car out on the street rather than putting it back in the garage.

You lived with the Harrises?

I had a room and bath on the lower floor off the garage. Their cook, a young Swiss LDS convert, would turn out the most elaborate meals, so I was really living the life of royalty. She was a delightful person, very interested in discussing religion. Her brother headed up a sort of dissident sect—believed that everyone was supposed to kneel during the administration of the sacrament, so they’d meet in a separate group and have their own sacrament. They were ardent temple workers but would go all the way to the Canadian temple because the president there, they felt, was much more spiritual than the Salt Lake temple president. It was interesting for me to see this version of Mormonism.

You say you did this for the first half year?

Yes, then my younger brother, Harold, who was still in high school in Los Angeles, decided to finish up at East High School in Salt Lake City. My mother came with him, and the three of us set up housekeeping in an apartment in Federal Heights, again within walking distance of the campus. A cousin, then a freshman in college, joined us. He was B. H. Roberts’s grandson, Vaughn Moss.

[p.86] And during this same year, you kept on working for Professor Neff.

And Ericksen in the philosophy department. Neff was making a survey of the condition of records in various counties. I spent some time evaluating the records of Salt Lake and Davis Counties. I kept on reading and grading papers during the next year, as well, when I was writing my master’s thesis. At twenty-five cents an hour, that was pretty good money. I must say I don’t know where I found the time to do all of these things. During my graduate year, I also worked on the history of the university for President Thomas and Dean Cowles.

Where did you live the next year as a graduate student?

My mother went back to California; but Harold, Vaughn, and I rented two different apartments during the year 1936-37 and batched. Nothing palatial, but we managed.

What about your summers?

Summers were kind of rough. I didn’t want to go back to the ranch, even though my brothers and cousins were up there, because of the impact of my grandfather’s death. So I spent my summers in Los Angeles. And every summer the bronchial asthma would come back. So I didn’t work while I was in Los Angeles during the summers. I did a lot of reading. During one of those summers, I tried to teach myself to type; but I gave it up as a bad job and I haven’t touched a typewriter since. I should mention that the last summer I was here, the summer of 1937, I stayed on after receiving my master’s degree and did some additional graduate work.

Tell me more about your work on the university history for President Thomas.

Well, I’m the first university historian that I know about. I didn’t come across any historical materials that had been written or compiled by an earlier historian. I had a number of sessions with President Thomas. One day he sent for me and said in his typical gruff, crusty way, “I just wanted to tell you, Sterling, that you’ll have to have a session with old Kingsbury.” Kingsbury was the third president of the university, after John R. Park and James E. Talmage. Kingsbury retired in 1915 but still had an office there in the Park Building, right next to Cowles’s office. I used to see the old man. He was quite friendly and would greet students as they passed, so I knew who Kingsbury was. Then President Thomas said, “But I want to warn you that Kingsbury doesn’t know that anything happened around here before he was president and he’s not aware that anything has happened since.” I had a couple of sessions with Kingsbury and they came off very well.

[p.87] So you had an early experience doing oral history. What else did you do?

Well, I didn’t have any particular skill and certainly no training in historical research methods, you know. And of course we had no recording equipment. I had to work things out myself, kind of making it up as I went along. I just put all of the information on note cards with complete citations, so that the whole batch could be turned over to someone else when I left.

What happened to your note cards?

I actually took the cards with me when I left the university and started teaching seminary for the LDS church. For some weeks I kept working on the stuff that I had and then turned it all over to Dean Cowles and President Thomas. I had hundreds of cards with dates and events from the university’s history on them.

Did Chamberlin use them in his history?

I really don’t know. I didn’t ever ask Chamberlin about it, and we never discussed his history. I had some conversations with him about other matters, and I have a feeling that if he did have those notes, he might have mentioned it to me. I went through all the old catalogs and documents and all the newspapers that were in the library. Frankly, I don’t know who was supposed to be taking care of the archives. I just rummaged around and found things. But I read every page of the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News—quite an education to read about the battles between the Tribune and the church. I well remember, for instance, a Tribune article reporting on a general conference in the Tabernacle. The headline read: “Big Doings in Mormon Hippodrome.”

This must have been about the time you read the story about Marshal Collin shooting your Grandfather McMurrin?

Yes, the university paid me to read that, I suppose. Then I shifted my attention down to the Church Historian’s library, and I must tell you that was an experience.

Joseph Fielding Smith was then the Church Historian. His office was in the southwest corner of the top floor of the Church Administration Building at 47 East South Temple. And just off from his outer office was the church’s historical library. It’s much more expansive now, but it was a magnificent collection even then.

Well, I presented myself at the front counter and there was Alvin Smith, Joseph Fielding’s brother, who was the librarian. He asked me what I wanted. I introduced myself and told him that the president of the university had assigned me the task of working on the history of the University of Utah and that I’d like very much to have access to library [p.88] materials dealing with the University of Deseret in the early days before it became the University of Utah. He was very gruff, actually mean, in his reply. He wasn’t about to let me use the library. He said, “There’s nothing in this library that has anything to do with that university.”

So with that statement alone, you knew there were some good things to be found there!

You bet your life. That was a preposterous thing for him to say. I think he was a very ignorant man, frankly; he knew little about history or his own collection; but he knew that he was lying to me. I tried to reason with him a little but made no headway at all. He didn’t order me out of the place but he almost did—said very brusquely that there was nothing they could do for me and that was that. I wasn’t about to take that kind of a reply, and I knew that Joseph Fielding Smith was over him.

You were going straight to the top, eh?

Yes. B. H. Roberts had died in 1933, and then Joseph Fielding Smith came into his period of greatest influence as the church’s leading scholar, and of course he was Church Historian and over the library. So I simply went next door and asked Joseph Fielding’s secretary if I could make an appointment to see Apostle Smith. She said, “He’s here now,” and ushered me right in.

And what was that experience like?

Well, I’ll have to say it was the best I ever had with Joseph Fielding. He was very gracious, asked me to sit down, and wanted to know what he could do for me. I didn’t tell him that I had been rebuffed by his younger brother. I simply started all over and told him what my research needs and interests were. He immediately reached over and pressed a button. In a matter of seconds, Alvin came in, I stood up, and Joseph Fielding introduced us. We shook hands—and this was a kind of ridiculous thing—we both pretended that we’d never seen each other before. Joseph Fielding said, “Now, Brother McMurrin is here to work on the history of the University of Deseret. You see that he is given every possible consideration and provide him with all the pertinent materials the library has in its possession.” Alvin assured him that he would. I thanked Apostle Smith, and Alvin and I went out arm in arm, so to speak. He was obviously mad at me, but I certainly couldn’t complain about lack of cooperation. I got decent treatment after that—cool, but decent. He didn’t turn me loose with the collection, but he had someone locate stuff dealing with the university, so when I went down there, I always got a good deal of material. And there was a lot there.

[p.89] Your time was somewhat limited at that point, but do you recall anything specific that you uncovered about the founding of the university in 1850?

One of the most interesting sources I worked in was the Journal History of the church. Fascinating. It was a kind of daily scrapbook, consisting of newspaper clippings pasted in and typewritten material—typed newspaper accounts, correspondence, minutes of meetings, and so forth. They were pasted in long volumes—maybe fourteen or eighteen inches tall. They would bring me various volumes with certain items marked that had to do with the university. I was supposed to read those and forbidden to read anything else, but it was all bound together.

And that posed a practical problem in ethics for you?

Oh, I didn’t even try to resist that temptation. I wasn’t any too honorable in such matters. They gave me a little cubicle, and I read a lot of the stuff that I wasn’t supposed to read and it was obvious to me why I wasn’t supposed to read it. I remember one item—a kind of epistle from Brigham Young to mission presidents. There had been some Indian depredations around Tooele, which, Brigham Young said, he solved—it was in first person, but he wasn’t there, of course—by ambushing the Indians. “They killed off all the men and distributed the women and children among the Saints.” Signed, “Yours in the bowels of Christ, B. Young.” I believe those were the exact words.

Appalling. Your father had had you read Frederick J. Pack’s book when you were young. Was he still here when you were a student?

Yes, he was and well deserving of mention. He was head of the Department of Geology and, like Levi Edgar Young, had his office on the main floor of the Park Building. I got very well acquainted with Frederick J. Pack. I had a paleontology course from him and a course in physiographic geology. He was an outstanding teacher, but he was also a personal friend of my mother’s, so we had a mutual admiration for her in common. As you can guess, he took a strong stand in favor of evolution and still maintained high status in the church.

Now how did he do that?

Well, I don’t know whether it can be done today or not, but in those days it could be done as long as you didn’t teach at BYU. James E. Talmage took a strong stand in favor of evolution, too, and so did B. H. Roberts, but he kind of garbled the thing by mixing it up with a lot of nonsense about pre-Adamites. The Mormon church, as far as I’m aware, has never taken a formal stand on evolution one way or the other; but Pack was all for evolution in his courses.

[p.90] Do you think an undergraduate student today would have the opportunity to rub shoulders with as many fine scholars as you did?

I’m inclined to think that a typical student today would probably have a more specialized association, within a department or college. In my case, you see, I had association with faculty in philosophy, history, and political science, western history, and even the sciences. Not only Frederick J. Pack, but personal conversations with Angus Woodbury, the biologist, who was Ericksen’s next-door neighbor. I had far more conversations, actually, with faculty than I ever had with students. My time was limited, and I was thrown into the company of faculty more than students. Actually, I was somewhat anti-social and had little in common with any but a very few students.

Well, you certainly got an extraordinary liberal education from this broad exposure to faculty.

I think so, and I learned far more from my personal conversations with faculty members than I ever did in classes.