Culture Clash and Accommodation
Frederick S. Buchanan

Chapter 8
“Caught Up in a Whirlwind”
The Administration of Arthur C. Wiscombe, 1969-73

[photo: p.190]

Arthur C. Wiscombe

Arthur C. Wiscombe, 1969-73

[p.191]Lynn Bennion’s quarter-century at the helm of the Salt Lake City school district typified the social calmness, stability, and upward mobility of the post-war years. The brief, tumultuous, four-year tenure of his successor, Arthur Wiscombe, reflected another national reality; the Wasatch Mountains were no barrier to the urban issues that surfaced nationally with the civil rights movement and protests generated by the Vietnam War.1

While Salt lake City did not have the urban underclass of Chicago or New York, it was changing socially and economically Between 1950 and 1960 the overall population grew by four percent to 189,000 and the schools experienced rapid enrollment increases peaking at more than 42,000 in 1959. During this period some 20 new schools were built. In contrast to this “age of expansion,” after 1960 the city’s population began to decline. By 1980 it had dropped by fourteen percent to a low of 163,000 with a corresponding decline in school enrollments.2 Between 1950 and 1970 the district lost 6,000 students and a dozen schools closed—seven in Wiscombe’s first year as superintendent. In addition to the overall decline in enrollments was the realization that Salt Lake’s population was becoming increasingly heterogenous.

In contrast to the bedroom communities that sprang up around it, Salt Lake City had a higher percentage of people of color and citizens living below the poverty line. Although the numerical decline and ethnic and social change in the city’s population had begun during Bennion’s years, it did not become a matter of public debate in the schools until after he retired. The stirrings of unrest barely visible in the early sixties, became more and more pronounced as Arthur Wiscombe began to carve out his own niche in the history of the Salt Lake City School District.

The Social Conscience of an Intellectual

Like his three immediate predecessors in the Salt lake superintendency, Arthur Clark Wiscombe had his roots in the soil of rural “Mormon Country.” [p.192]Born in Roosevelt, Duchesne County, where his father was a farmer, a justice of the peace, and the bishop of the local LDS ward, Wiscombe graduated from Alterra High School, Uintah County, in 1946. Following high school, he studied social studies education at Brigham Young University where he received a Bachelor’s degree in 1952. His first professional position was teaching American history and other subjects at Piute High School. In 1953 he began a Masters in Educational Administration at Columbia University. To say the least, the difference between Circleville, Utah, and Manhattan Island required an enormous adjustment for Wiscombe, his wife, and five children. Living at Harlem’s edge, exposed to a large African-American population, probably helped shape the responses he would later make to minority issues in Salt Lake City.

Continuing his quest for knowledge, Wiscombe received a Master’s degree in the historical and philosophical foundations of education from Harvard University in 1955. Over the next few years he taught history and philosophy of education at Brigham Young University, served as principal at Uintah High School, and also was assistant superintendent of Uintah School District. Between 1958 and 1961he was Secondary Curriculum Consultant in the Los Angeles County Schools, followed by a one-year appointment as assistant professor of philosophy and history of education at the University of Utah. In 1962 he was appointed assistant superintendent of the Salt Lake City schools. The following year he completed an Ed.D. dissertation at the University of Colorado, entitled: “Eternalism: the Philosophical Basis of Mormon Education.”3

Wiscombe has attributed his interest in education to his life-long involvement in the Mormon community. Public speaking, involvement in community affairs, seeking an education, and even the development of a rational perspective were actively encouraged as part of Mormon youth. He did not see any incongruity between his interests in philosophy and his commitment to the LDS church. Nevertheless, his philosophical disposition may have heightened the tensions with the board of education and some school patrons, many of whom were his co-religionists. He freely acknowledged his basic interest in philosophy of education, rather than in the details of administration. He did not actively seek the position as superintendent; when Bennion first offered his resignation in 1968, the board designated Wiscombe as his heir. On Bennion’s recommendation, Wiscombe was appointed as the city’s ninth superintendent, beginning 1 July 1969.4

The System Contracts:  Schools for Sale

In the early 1960s, Salt Lake’s city council recognized the problems the city would face as its population dwindled. Addressing the physical and economic deterioration of the city’s west side and central city areas, a program of urban renewal and revitalization was proposed. By making the central city area more attractive to residents and requiring property owners to take care of their [p.193]buildings, the council hoped to stave off the uncontrolled urban sprawl that had become endemic in the nation’s larger cities. By 1965, “a majority of the city commission and most representatives of the business community favored urban renewal under federal grants,” but other businesses and politicians opposed the proposal. Among the latter was J. Bracken Lee, mayor of Salt Lake City, who formed a coalition with some business leaders and forced the commission to submit the issue to a citizen’s referendum. A “scare campaign” that pitted traditional Mormon values of personal liberty against the oppressive power of federal funding helped defeat the revitalization proposal by a margin of six to one.5

While other efforts at revitalization did succeed (a new city library and new city courts were built) the city lacked an overall “master plan,” and Mayor Lee continued to resist all attempts to produce one. By the time “Jake” Garn became mayor in 1972, a report on the city’s condition concluded that Salt Lake “had changed from a planned community to a metropolis of blighted neighborhoods.” The report identified three major reasons for this: complacency in enforcing municipal codes; denial on the part of citizens that a problem existed; and the LDS church’s hesitation to “take a lead in the urban improvement movement for fear of being accused of interfering in the affairs of the community.”6

Art Wiscombe did not need a special report to convince him that the city, including its schools, was changing for the worse. Many schools had been built during the post-war years as the city expanded. Now, as the city contracted, Wiscombe faced conditions over which he had no control. As he identified them, the major issues he had to confront were: the continuing depopulation of the central city area; the rise of de facto race- and class-based segregation in central city schools; the lack of an overarching plan for the city’s schools; and the need to adjust the curriculum to benefit children of a new age. Some have characterized Superintendent Wiscombe as distant and abstract in handling school affairs. However, he was also a person of astute social insight and considerable personal courage in refusing to ignore the situation he had inherited. Wiscombe later reflected that the issues he faced were “agonizing and painful and the setting to make any superintendent quite lonely.”7

Wiscombe’s first concern was to balance the money being spent on schools with declining populations and the lack of funds for ongoing programs. This required closing certain schools. Unfortunately, the board had no firm policy on how to go about this, although it had fully supported Bennion in closing some ten schools during his superintendency, seven during his last five years. Four of these were closed because of declining population and two were replaced with new buildings.8

Bennion’s success in closing schools without public protest may be attrib-[p.194]uted to the fact that the closures were spread over a longer period, located in politically weak areas of the city (i.e., not on the East Bench), and at least two closures were accompanied by building replacements. In addition, the pace of depopulation had been not as great during the early ’60s and the mood of “public protest” less strident. Bennion also had long, personable relationship with the board and the public to back him up. In contrast, Wiscombe was new and still had to prove himself. His personal detached manner and analytical style, making him able to articulate the issues very clearly, also alienated him from the board and patrons.

In the early months of his tenure, Wiscombe sought the advice of “prestigious community leaders” on the issues facing the schools, including school closures and the plight of minority students. His advisers warned that, as pertinent as these issues were, he could deal with them only at great political risk. He would do best, he was counselled, to inform the community about issues and wait for power pressures in the community to “emerge and force an accommodation” to one alternative or another. This meant that teachers, demanding higher salaries while money was wasted on empty schools, would be forced to strike. The board, in turn, would have to give up some schools to satisfy teacher demands. Wiscombe refused to sit back idly and watch the situation deteriorate. Other people, some of the “most powerful people” in the Utah legislature, reassured him that he could do nothing to prevent the closing of schools. Still, if he attempted to get ahead of public sentiment he would end up out on a limb.

In spite of the risks, Wiscombe took what he considered a “statesmanlike” approach, refusing to be “indifferent to the improper expenditure of hundreds of thousands of hard-to-come-by taxes and [to] what’s happening to the children through this process.”9 By December 1969, the district’s school population had dropped to 34,000 (7,000 fewer than its peak in 1958) while the operational costs mounted. By 1984, it was predicted, enrollment would dip to 28,000. Wiscombe reported that the district was planning to consolidate some twelve schools. He began to educate the community about the schools’ problems. Barely six months into his term, Wiscombe spoke to the Salt Lake Kiwanis Club and outlined his plan to improve the district, including the need to close more schools. In addition to declining population and deteriorating buildings—some from the 1890s and early 1900s—was the escalating cost of running the system, which had risen from $200 per pupil in 1960 to $2,100 in 1970.

By closing six elementary schools, Wiscombe told the Kiwanis, between $270,000 to $395,000 could benefit other schools in the district; failure to close schools would eventually bankrupt the whole system. Other proposals included the possibility of shifting the sixth grade into “middle schools” and the ninth grade out of junior high schools. These middle schools would ring the central city area and busing would make most efficient use of the schools —transporting students into and out of the central city area. School boundaries would be set in a pie shape so that each would have an equal mix of central city populations and [p.195]those from other geographic areas in the city. This arrangement, he believed, would prevent the city’s black and Hispanic students from being segregated in central city schools.10 A week later Wiscombe reminded the board that “people cannot have their cake and eat it too.” With the district facing teacher demands for higher salaries and parent demands for better programs, Wiscombe reaffirmed the need to close six schools: Hamilton, Longfellow, Garfield, Onequa, Curtis and Grandview.

By a margin of one vote (6-5), a divided board approved the Superintendent’s recommendation to close the schools. Immediately citizens called meetings to protest the decision. Two hundred irate parents met at Curtis Elementary School, one of the smallest and newest schools, situated on the East Side around Fourteenth South and Twenty-Second East. Wiscombe bluntly reminded parents that this was only the beginning of the long-term project to close many schools. Eight had been closed in the past ten years, he said, but it would be necessary to close three each year for the district to break even. The information was hardly the kind to endear the superintendent to his listeners.11

Some parents argued that move-ins would replenish the Curtis area shortly, but others acknowledged that the district had, in the past, given in to pressures from neighborhood groups and had built unneeded schools. At an ensuing board meeting parents argued against the closures, claiming they had not been properly informed. They said the wrong schools were being closed and that revised boundaries would help some schools have larger populations. Wiscombe was accused of not answering questions adequately. His claims that larger schools and team-teaching should be implemented were challenged as unrealistic.

The protest meeting at Curtis Elementary School was the beginning of the end for Arthur Wiscombe’s superintendency In the audience of patrons was a Salt Lake attorney, John Crawford. He had not intended to attend the meeting, and was convinced, with Wiscombe, that declining populations would cause schools to close. He attended mainly to support his wife, Marilyn, who had organized the meeting. Although he agreed with Wiscombe’s arguments, as the meeting continued Crawford became increasingly disturbed by Wiscombe’s and board members’ responses to questions from patrons. They seemed, in Crawford’s view, arrogant and unresponsive. Wiscombe especially seemed insecure and defensive, and his responses did not satisfy attorney Crawford. That night John Crawford woke from his sleep, told his wife that he hadn’t liked what he had seen at the meeting, and decided at that moment to run for a position on the school board. His election later that year was in fact a referendum on Arthur Wiscombe’s superintendency.12

At another board meeting, before a group of angry petition-bearing parents, [p.196] the board voted to close five of the six schools. Those opposed to consolidation, the board said, had not come up with any alternatives. One defensive board member said his colleagues would not capitulate to threats or be intimidated by teacher, staff, or parental demands. However, one dissenting board member expressed the view that what was needed was an educational philosophy that would favor smaller rather than larger schools.13 In spite of the protests, the schools were closed, a decision the Tribune praised as the best alternative, although the editorial criticized the lack of communication between the board and the patrons.14

In August, John Crawford was one of a number of people who put themselves forward for the following November’s election. In his platform Crawford focused on what he perceived to be the district’s major problems. He took issue with excessive use of funds for non-teaching functions, with closing schools, and with busing children to consolidated schools. These things were being implemented under the “thin veil of economy,” but Crawford believed they secretly reflected a desire to correct racial or social imbalance through social engineering. He wanted to “use his energies in charting the future course of our school system.”15 In November he got his wish, although his vision of the future collided head-on with the superintendent’s.

The Expansion of Diversity

As Crawford suspected, Wiscombe’s plans to close costly, unnecessary schools were related to his belief that racial minorities in the central city were not being well-served by the schools. Wiscombe was convinced that something should be done to give Hispanic, African-American, and disadvantaged white students the same opportunities offered in more affluent schools. The East/West dichotomy was not new to Salt Lake, but by the 1970s it had rigidified. The board’s twelve members tended to represent the interests of small, privileged enclaves rather than a broad spectrum of city interests. The board was also entirely Mormon and highly representative of east side interests.

Historically, Salt Lake City was primarily composed of persons with roots in New England and in Scandinavia, Germany, and Great Britain. At the turn of the century only 61 black students attended Salt Lake City’s schools—a minuscule number compared to over 15,000 Caucasian students. Eighty years later in the state as a whole, African-Americans formed only 0.6 percent and Hispanics only 4.1 percent of the entire state population, although Salt Lake City had 44 percent of all blacks in the state, 52 percent of all Hispanics, and 23 percent of the state’s Native Americans, the “highest concentration in the state of those groups traditionally most discriminated against and with the least training for available, well-[p.197]paying jobs.”16

As Art Wiscombe prepared to assume office in 1968, the Salt Lake Board of Education published a survey entitled The Urban Picture, which squarely faced the fact that Salt Lake City was not impervious to the urban crises gripping other parts of the nation. Quoting John H. Fischer of Teachers’ College of Columbia University, showing that someone in the district was serious about racial issues, the preface argued that it was not enough that equal education be provided to enable everyone an equal chance in the race of life; many runners were not equally matched, and “equal treatment of unequals produces neither equality nor justice.” Schools, therefore, must, in Fischer’s words, provide “unequal, exceptional education as a matter of deliberate public policy to every child who needs it.”17

The Urban Picture noted that Sputnik had promptly focused America’s attention on deficits in science and mathematics education. Now civil rights protests had brought attention to problems faced by minority children, but the response was slower coming. Among the factors the report identified as contributing to this were prejudice, inertia, lack of community interest and the fact that “insights, attitudes and types of competence” required to deal with the human issues were all too often simply lacking in the community Salt Lake’s problems of “depopulation, deprivation and other peculiarities” led to a special “urban factor” that would have to be addressed.18

Uppermost in the minds of those who prepared the report was the inescapable fact that finances were thin. With the population shrinkage came an absolute loss of its resource base. The high overhead of small, unoccupied schools was costing $1.7 million; poor attendance in central city areas led to a loss of some $25,000 in state funds; dropouts cost the district $280,000. Paradoxically, the highly trained teacher corps, which required some $800,000, added to the problem. The district required almost one-half million dollars “just to offset the anticipated loss in students.” “[T]he financial picture is bleak,” the report warned.19

In addition to financial problems, human issues regarding the city’s poorer children were of great concern. The basics in most middle-class communities, such as regular health check-ups, were for a large segment of the central city inhabitants non-existent. Only 37 percent of central city children had such care compared to 64 percent in the city at large. The central city had 35 percent of its people on welfare, compared to 11 percent for Salt Lake. Test scores for children in the central city schools were much lower than the city norms. For example, IQ scores in central city were 95.6 compared to 105.4 for the district; achievement scores in standardized tests were also lower. Although the central city schools made up less than ten percent of the overall school population, they ac-[p.198]counted for 23 percent of children who did not attend school. The same ten percent also experienced a much greater degree of instability; children changed address one to two times each year, compared to the city average of one every five years. Only half of the children lived in homes with both parents, compared to 80 percent in the city. Over 10 percent used other than English as their primary tongue. Fourteen out of twenty-seven new cases of TB in the state were central city residents and some schools contained more than 50 percent minorities (principally Hispanics).20

These realities made Wiscombe want to reorder the system to address the problems faced by the city’s minority and poverty-stricken students. When he suggested to the board that he start dealing openly with the issue, Wiscombe reported that he met resistance. The board did vote to authorize him to deal with the issue, but only by a margin of one vote. That five members of the board were unwilling to authorize the formulation of a policy distressed Wiscombe. In his view, these members were in denial that Salt Lake City had any race problems, and even those who saw a problem did not think the time was right to deal with it. The large minority on the board seemed to think that the community would not tolerate the board stirring the waters of racial unrest. The publication of The Urban Picture, just cited, should have been a warning that the issues facing central city schools were a problem that would affect the entire district.21 Apparently the board did not take the warning seriously—a common fate of educational reports that convey unwanted conclusions.

An Ongoing Problem:  Racism in Salt Lake City

To keep things in proper perspective, it is important to recognize that Salt Lake City was not free from intolerance and racism. In 1945 M. Lynn Bennion had encountered the problem as supervisor of LDS seminaries. He had arranged to have a number of young Mormon girls who worked in the Church Office Building help at a USO canteen serving soldiers stationed in Salt Lake City. When President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., of the church’s First Presidency heard of the arrangement he ordered Bennion to cancel it because he considered it inappropriate for the LDS women to serve black soldiers.22

In 1949 Allan M. West, Executive Secretary of the Utah Education Association, invited a distinguished black educator from the University of Chicago to address the UEA annual meetings in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on the topic of IQ tests and discrimination against minority children. The professor accepted the invitation, but wondered out loud if he could fill the assignment when there was a policy against blacks speaking in the Tabernacle. West did not believe that this was the case, but agreed to check with Presiding Bishop Thorpe B. Isaacson on the matter. Much to his chagrin, Isaacson told him that there was such a policy [p.199]and that a black speaker should not be invited. In a follow-up letter Isaacson said: “I feel very confident that you will be able to get an outstanding educator to speak to you instead of the Negro speaker you had previously mentioned to me. I am confident that we have many great educators in this country from which you can choose.”23

In another instance, West had made arrangements for a black high school student in the business program at one of the local high schools to assist at the Hotel Utah in registering UEA members. The assistant manager at the hotel called West, demanding that the young woman be released from her work because “[s]he is black and black people are not welcome in this hotel and the management wants her expelled at once.” West refused to dismiss the student and threatened to re-locate the UEA in another city hotel; the management backed down.24

Before Lynn Bennion left office, a shop teacher at Horace Mann Junior High, who operated a printing press in his home, printed a derogatory poem about blacks for another person. When the order was not paid for, the teacher sold the poems to students to recoup his losses. The local NAACP organized a march on the board of education offices, demanding that the teacher be fired. Bennion suspended him, and the teacher apologized to the faculty and student body as he “wept with shame and remorse.” He later transferred out of the district. In reflecting on the incident, Bennion commented that the teacher was probably not intentionally racist, but, like many others in the valley he was “simply naive… [as are many] provincial people. They are victims of their own environmental training and lack exposure [to] and lack association” with diverse peoples.25

Bennion’s assessment also describes what Art Wiscombe encountered when he attempted to get the board to confront minority issues. Some board members were apparently oblivious to racial issues in Utah. One member, however, manifested more intense racism when, in response to Wiscombe’s suggestion that a certain school be closed, he said that the school should be kept open because the children attending it would be future community leaders. If a school had to be closed, he told Wiscombe, it should be one serving black and Hispanic children, “because they will never become community leaders.”26

In the midst of Wiscombe’s campaign to address the plight of minority students, an incident at West High sparked minority community protests that overshadowed, for a time, the controversy induced by closing schools. A highly respected West High music teacher, James D. Maher, had an altercation with four black students in April 1970 that led to a mutual exchange of insults in which the teacher called the students “niggers.” The local NAACP, headed by James Dooley, demanded that the board dismiss the teacher. The prejudiced attitudes of teachers, Dooley claimed, helped explain why so many black, Mexican-American [p.200]and poverty-level white children dropped out of school.

More confrontational in his approach to the board was Dr. Charles Nabors of the University of Utah, who represented the Utah Non-Violent Action Committee. Nabors argued that the board had ignored its own established policies against teachers using derogatory comments to students. The plan to investigate the issue was insulting to the minorities in the community, who were once again put off by “another round of promises, committee meetings and administrative paper shuffling.” When board president Waldo Anderson pledged a study of both sides of the issue, Nabors retorted that Anderson probably did not know both sides. In an emotional response to the board one person, Tallie Cavaness, charged that if a white child had been called a “honkie” by a black teacher maybe the board would understand how serious the issue was. Cavaness told the board that a new day had arrived for minorities in Salt Lake City: “We’re not going to beg you one more time to be nice to us.”27

Wiscombe, during this heated exchange, tried to be as dispassionate as possible and to convince the protesters that something concrete would be done. He refused the NAACP request that the teacher be dismissed—to do so would simply exacerbate the situation. He also suggested that there may have been provocation on both sides. For Wiscombe, the best resolution would come from a sixteen member task force, headed by Robert Freed, Utah Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which had the responsibility to investigate the issue and report to the board. While Wiscombe was sensitive to the issues being raised by the black community, he did not hesitate to challenge wrong assumptions, such as one black student’s charge that he had been kept out of a sports activity because of his race. In reality, the district policy was that a student had to be in the district for at least a semester before he could play on a school team. Wiscombe also worked closely with the NAACP and took seriously their recommendations that: teachers who insult students be punished; a study of overt and covert racism in the Salt Lake schools be made; sensitivity classes for teachers be mandated; more black personnel be hired and schools be informed that derogatory comments would not be tolerated.28

The Tribune saw the incident at West as a means of turning an unfortunate occurrence into a “positive gain.” Reminding its readers of the difficulties blacks face in a community in which whites hold all the power, the editorial said that “in an era of increased social justice and awareness … old patterns can no longer prevail, white officials cannot ignore minority complaints.” At the same time, it rejected the call from the Utah Non-Violent Action Committee that the board should “fire and fire summarily” the West high teacher—both sides in the dispute must be examined before a judgement is rendered.29 The editorial ended [p.201]praising Art Wiscombe and James Dooley for a good example of resolving difficult issues.

Already some of the NAACP’s suggestions were being implemented in the school district. The special task force met for the first time on Friday at 4:30 pm and continued in session until 2:30 am Saturday Later that day the board of education announced that the music teacher would be temporarily suspended with pay The four students would also be suspended from school (although they would be tutored at the district offices) pending the outcome of the task force’s investigation.30

Also during this period, police were called to quell a disturbance at West High, after a special meeting with the school’s thirty-five black students, parents, administrators, the superintendent and the president of the board. This altercation, involving shouts and obscenities, pushing and threats of violence between police and two young men (who were not students at the school), had nothing to do with the original incident. But as a result, police were stationed at the schools in Salt Lake City as they were in other urban centers. During the week in which these events took place, reports from throughout the nation of bombings, boycotts, sit-ins, and destruction of college bookstores appeared in the Salt Lake newspapers.31 Many citizens assumed that the real problem was one of outside agitation.

When Superintendent Wiscombe arrived at his office on Monday morning, 27 April, he was met by 100 white school patrons with a petition demanding that “uniform rules of discipline for all students” regardless of race be adopted. Complaints were made about a general lack of order at West and that black student infractions carried no consequences, although white students had been punished for breaking the same rules. They also demanded that Maher be allowed to continue as vocal instructor, some parents even insisting on his immediate reinstatement.32

Two days later, some seventy people representing the minority communities met in the Central City Community Center and drew up a list of demands they wanted the board to hear at a special meeting to be held in the central city In addition to calling for Maher’s dismissal (as well as that of any teacher committing a similar offense), the group specified general areas that needed attention in the district. The representatives demanded that suspended or expelled students be permitted to return when they wanted to; that all grading procedures be abandoned; that regular meetings be held between students and principals for airing grievances; and that graduation be guaranteed to every student. In addition the group demanded more leisure time in school, relaxation of truancy laws, more leeway for principals in organizing the curriculum, and longer class periods and [p.202]lunch breaks. They also called for a recognition that the West High incident was not caused by outside agitators.

On 31 April nine members of the board attended a meeting at the Central City Community Center. Originally called to discuss more minority representation in the schools, the meeting boiled over into a “scalding attack” on the schools in general, the suspended teacher at West, and on the teachings of the LDS church with respect to race, including a ban that prohibited black male members from ordination to its lay priesthood. There was free use of four- and twelve-letter obscenities, board members were referred to as “pigs,” and one speaker said that if Salt Lake were Chicago the Tabernacle would be in flames; and perhaps it should still be burned down: “Salt Lake is way past due for a riot.” The board was criticized for not implementing a Black Studies curriculum and not increasing the number of black personnel in the schools.

When someone suggested that a black be seated on the board, Jesse Sawaya responded that he had tried to get elected to the board a few years before but only 25 people supported his attempt. One black woman, Ruth Ross, promised to run in the fall election (she did, but lost). Mary Adams called herself a conservative and said she had sent her children to private schools so they would not be confronted with the “Mormon syndrome.” Many Utah teachers, she claimed, were influenced by the Mormon belief about black inferiority. They had therefore, no compunctions in using the term “nigger” when referring to blacks. This religious doctrine, she claimed, shaped the responses of local residents towards non-whites.33

Whether indeed citizens who were members of the LDS church were more biased because of their church’s teachings about blacks and the priesthood would be difficult to prove. The fact remains, however, that many minority citizens perceived that to be the case, contributing to community tensions. Superintendent Wiscombe himself felt a special responsibility to make sure that his church’s teachings on race, with which he found himself at variance, did not interfere with his professional, civic, and moral responsibility to promote equal educational opportunity. After leaving Salt Lake City, when he was being considered for an appointment in a mid-western school district, Wiscombe told those who wondered if he were “encased in the Church’s position” on race that for him it was not a theological issue at all. His purpose as an educational leader was to transcend the biases and prejudices he had been taught and give all people “a higher sense of dignity and worth.” He was disappointed that the Mormon church as an institution, and so many community leaders who were LDS, shied away from the issue of race. If they had wanted to, Wiscombe believed, they could have taken the lead and used the church’s moral and political “power [and] influence in this valley to create a model racial program that [could have] been held up as an ideal to any city in this nation.” Many were “aware and sensitive to the problems,” but very few were willing to run the risk of appearing to side with [p.203]those who were critical of the community and its value structure.34

Wiscombe was not, however, unwilling to risk himself in such a cause. He was convinced that a coalition of groups such as school PTAs and LDS ward Relief Societies (the Mormon women’s auxiliary) in the central city could help provide services to impoverished children and thus help schools do their work more effectively In an effort to explore such cooperative possibilities, he sought a meeting with a younger member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, Gordon B. Hinckley, as he had been advised that he would get nowhere with older members of the church hierarchy He met with Hinckley on 21 January 1972 to review the possibility of some sort of church-school alliance to combat the growing racism in the community and plight of central city school children. He did not get the extended discussion of the issue that he wished, however. The church leader gave him only fifteen minutes and told him that he had not yet had lunch. Before terminating the meeting, Elder Hinckley told Wiscombe that the Mormon church “never gets involved in political issues.” According to Superintendent Wiscombe, Elder Hinckley saw no way in which the Church leadership would want to become involved with the Salt Lake City School Board in dealing with, in Wiscombe’s words, the “challenge of racial segregation in our schools and in our city.”35

Through the efforts of Preston Robinson, managing editor of the Deseret News, a few weeks later Wiscombe succeeded in meeting with Belle Spafford, the head of the church-wide Relief Society. He presented to her his concerns and raised questions about how the Relief Society and the schools might work together to secure clothing for children or in tutoring needy students. President Spafford, while apparently sympathetic to the need, concluded her response to the Superintendent with “regret that the membership of the LDS Relief Society units are not composed of socially conscious women.” Besides, any such cooperative venture would have to be approved by the Church’s First Presidency—something, she implied, that would not likely be forthcoming. Ironically, as Wiscombe left the Relief Society building he noticed a plaque quoting Joseph Smith’s words at the founding of the Relief Society in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1842: “This is the beginning of better days to the poor and the needy… [.]” He felt defeated and saddened; the institution that had nurtured in him empathy and concern for children now seemed unwilling to face the issues of the day with “moral resolve, courage, and vision.”36

His analytical skills and understanding of modern education aside, Wiscombe was still in many ways a Mormon romantic. It perplexed him that the people of Utah who had built strong communities under adverse circumstances could not or would not apply their same skills to the problems of the twentieth-century cities. As the foregoing instances attest, he made a considerable effort to mobilize the “power elites” of the valley to resolve the issues the city was begin-[p.204]ning to face as its minority populations increased. By interviewing between 150-200 of the “most prestigious people in this valley” (including an LDS Apostle, bankers, educators, and politicians) he hoped to come up with some concrete plans for dealing with the issues of race, minority relations, and equality of educational opportunity. He delivered hundreds of speeches to church groups, civic organizations, school groups, and TV boards of directors in an attempt to “represent the case for educational improvement, to build community understanding and support for … our schools, and to communicate effectively, with the public at large, the challenges and hopes of urban education.”37 However, his efforts were submarined because the board of education itself seemed unwilling to move aggressively in the needed direction—unwilling, that is, until confronted with the reality of racial hostility and frustration directed at the board at the Central City meeting.

Racial hostility was by no means limited to minorities; eventually a white backlash developed at West High. When Wiscombe attended a special assembly, ostensibly to hear student points of view, some 600 students walked out, to protest his refusal to reinstate immediately the suspended music teacher. The student body president of West High, Clayton Christensen, claimed black students were using this one incident to level general charges of discrimination against the school. In Christensen’s eyes, “no discrimination exists in the school.” Black students, he claimed, were welcome to participate in school functions, but most of them chose not to. His response was typical of the white majority—racism did not really exist, and what problems did arise were due to minorities refusing to become involved.

Over the next month or so the task force, headed by Robert Freed, met in several “secret” sessions. By mid-June the group had issued its report on the incident at West High, concluding that the teacher and the students had been deeply affected by the event and that no purpose would be served in punishing them further. The task force reinstated the teacher and the students and announced that the teacher had apologized personally to the students. For their part, the students acknowledged that they had used offensive epithets when they reacted to the teacher. Prior to the incident the board had put itself on record as favoring improvements in the instruction and treatment of minorities. The altercation simply underscored the need to proceed in that direction. The board also began consideration of new policies designed to govern the relationship between teachers and students, insisting that it would not condone “disparaging racial remarks” on the part of teachers. Nor would it countenance student use of obscene language, intimidation, baiting, or threats against teachers.38

The Salt Lake City board was not alone in its unwillingness or inability to face the realities of the day—prior to the West High episode, the State Board of Education issued the report of a survey requested by the city board as a means of [p.205]identifying problems in the schools. Based on interviews of 1,237 teachers, 84 administrators, 5,000 parents, 9,200 students, business, civic and legislative leaders, this April 1970 report concluded that the city’s schools were on a par with national norms in terms of achievement scores, enjoyed considerable public support, and had a high level of parental satisfaction. On the negative side, very slow and very fast learners were being ignored; costs per pupil were higher than in surrounding districts; a lack of relationship existed between vocational programs and the jobs students took (an old issue); teachers needed to be more involved in planning the curriculum; some complaints had resurfaced about LDS doctrine being introduced into classroom teaching of Utah history; and school leaders suffered a lack of positive communication with the public. The state report hoped that the district would use the survey to develop “a district wide system of measurable, accountable objectives” which apparently did not include any measures of minority dissatisfaction. Nowhere was there any specific reference to minority issues—the district had to learn about that through direct experience.39

Coming as it did during Wiscombe’s first year, no doubt he may have viewed this report as a valuable resource. However, the cultural revolution outlined above did not allow him this luxury. By the fall of 1970 new members had been added to the board, bringing new challenges to the superintendent’s plans. The revolution took on an added urgency with the rise in awareness of the city’s largest ethnic minority—Hispanic peoples.

Ethnic Confrontation:  Precursor to Change

Responding to the suggestion that the public should be more informed and involved in shaping the aims and purposes of the schools, Wiscombe in the fall of 1970 initiated a series of public forums, involving him and his staff in open exchanges with patrons, students, and the general public.40 Designed to obtain input on the best ways to handle the many problems the schools faced, these forums also increased the sense among many that the schools might not be able to cope with the flood of change that threatened to engulf them. Having been denied so much of the traditional American dream for so long, minorities became increasingly furious when their consciousness had been raised and they realized how much had been denied to them. It appeared to him, in retrospect at least, that the more he worked with minorities, the less they seemed to appreciate what was being done to change the situations they complained of.41

Under these circumstances, even policies that might have been seen as neutral with respect to ethnic origins or race took on more sinister denotations. For example, discipline of rowdy students, appearing time and time again in the history of education, resurfaced in the 1960s and ’70s with a more than normal degree of deviance from social standards. In Salt Lake City, school dress codes were [p.206]challenged in 1969 when 126 girls were suspended from Northwest Junior High for wearing pants to school and were not permitted to return to school until they had dressed “properly.” The principal, who according to district policy, had the authority to set dress codes, said he refused to “go along with the trend to do away with standards and I cannot go along with the idea you have to give in every time someone protests.”42 These years witnessed an increase in reports of students smoking in schools, loitering in the halls, assaulting teachers, and in general reflecting the age of which they were a part.43 Predictably, the more challenges to authority that arose, the more school boards adopted regulations to deal with the challenges. In 1971 the board adopted a policy on discipline designed to bring order to disputes between teachers and students. Under the new policy, a teacher might inflict “reasonable corporal punishment”—excluding paddling—but even then it was to be used only as a last resort.44

In response to the discipline policy, a group of west side parents appeared before the board to protest what they saw as a plan that would be used more against minority children. The delegation demanded that the board rescind the policy, remove all vestiges of racism from the schools, and remove police patrols from all schools. The parents refused to give way to the board’s need to consider budget items at this particular meeting and forced them to adjourn to another room.

The debate continued in a special meeting convened a few weeks later. Some one hundred parents voiced their disapproval of the discipline policy by making specific charges of brutality against three of the city’s teachers. The board responded that while the policy in general did not forbid corporal punishment entirely it did discourage paddling and that teachers guilty of abusing disciplinary measures would be dismissed. Until charges could be substantiated, the policy would be maintained.45

While the issue of discipline caught the headlines, in the long term it was complaints about how poorly the schools were serving the minority students that began to stimulate change. Hispanic citizens organized their own lobbying group entitled the Spanish Speaking Organization for Community Integrity and Opportunity (S(S)OCIO). In January 1970 this group presented Superintendent Wiscombe with a list of recommendations for improving the education of Mexican-Americans in the Salt Lake City schools. The main problems were, in S(S)OCIO’s view, an “astonishingly high” drop-out rate, sixth graders who were two to three years below national norms, and the trivialization of Spanish language and Hispanic culture, as well as the problems of poverty in general. Given that Mexican-Americans made up a large portion of the students in Salt Lake City, special programs to meet the needs of this substantial minority were justified.

[p.207]Richard Gomez, the chair of S(S)OCIO, went on to list specific recommendations, including: the formation of a Coordinating Council on Mexican-American Education; the appointment of a recognized Mexican-American educator to serve as a consultant to the schools on establishing bilingual-bicultural programs; and an increased attention to research on the needs of Mexican-American students. Gomez also asked that no schools serving Mexican-Americans be closed before S(S)OCIO was consulted; that special inservice training be given to teachers who deal with minority students; that teachers unable to work with Mexican-American students be transferred; and that the University of Utah and the district should work together to identify and support Mexican-American students who might wish to follow a career in education. Gomez concluded by asking that Wiscombe’s staff develop a response to the recommendations that should be “presented to [S(S)OCIO] as soon as practical.”46

S(S)OCIO also met with the State Board of Education in early 1972 to explore ways in which the board’s “educational philosophy might be modified to meet the needs of Chicanos, the state’s largest minority.” As a result of this meeting, arrangements were made to schedule regular meetings between S(S)OCIO and the State Board. Impetus was also given to the appointment of native Spanish speakers to key positions in the Utah educational agency so that the Hispanic community could have input on the development of educational programs.47

Dr. Lionel A. Maldonado of the University of Utah explained why the Hispanic community believed the schools were not working for them: half of all Chicano students were dropping out, not necessarily in proportion to the educational achievement of their parents. Chicanos who got a negative response from the school tended to drop out earlier. Contrary to the notion that language was the problem, Maldonado pointed out that most Hispanic homes in Salt Lake were in fact bilingual. While Hispanics made up some ten percent of the total elementary population, they only accounted for two percent of graduates. The major cause of the failure to meet the needs of minority students lay, he said, in the “reliance on an outmoded assumption inherent in the concept of the ‘melting pot’ that only a monolingual monocultural society is acceptable.” Such an assumption, Maldonado claimed, led inevitably to a loss of talent in society at large—a loss that was unacceptable either pragmatically or philosophically.48

The issue of dropouts was longstanding, and part of the problem was the inability to determine the exact number of students dropping out of school. (Indeed an accurate assessment did not become part of the district’s student accounting procedures until the late 1980s.) Some felt that the district was even dishonest in reporting statistics to protect its public image. However, the minority community had an almost intuitive sense that they were losing more of their young people than the schools were willing to acknowledge.

[p.208]The dropout rate may have ranged anywhere from three to twelve percent of the minority population—depending on how the problem was defined. For example, those students who married or joined the army were not included in calculating the dropout rate, but they nevertheless were real school “dropouts.” Whatever the precise attendance and dropout figures, it is evident that minorities perceived the board of education to be dysfunctional with regard to minority communities. Most glaring of all was the absence of African-American and Hispanics teachers, administrators, or central office personnel. One of the first—if not the first—Hispanics to teach in the district was Robert “Archie” Archuletta. Reflecting on the issues confronting the community in the early 1970s, Archuletta concluded that the board’s inabilities were a major reason for the large number of minority children who failed, were suspended, or were classified as in need of Special Education. Archuletta acknowledged some dysfunctional aspects to minority families (single parent, low income), but he attributed the disproportionate numbers to the schools’ built-in tendency toward bureaucracy, sexism, classism, and racism.

For Archuletta the solution was to individualize instruction, something often talked about, but seldom implemented. The school was more inclined to see itself as a socializing agency to promote conformity rather than individual worth. The tragedy, in Archuletta’s view, was that teachers who could teach well invariably had jobs in affluent areas—they failed when it came to dealing with the “culturally different” learner, including the children of poor white families. Too many teachers wanted to wipe their hands clean of the children of poverty and minorities, more interested in keeping them quiet than in preparing them for life.49

The protests, confrontations, and meetings between minority representatives and educational leaders did not take place in vain. During Wiscombe’s superintendency, schools responded to the needs of minority and poor children with the appointment of some 20 Hispanic teachers and administrators. African-Americans increased from one to ten. Immediately after the West High fracas, a noticeable increase in the school system’s commitment to education for and about minorities was evident: texts were improved, cultural awareness classes were organized under district auspices; the historical experience of African-Americans was integrated into history courses and electives in minority history were offered for the first time.

Dr. Darlene Ball, Assistant Superintendent, has been credited with much of the groundbreaking work in minority education in the district. In June 1970 she reported that establishment of federally funded Title I programs was well under way and that Salt Lake City was estimated to have about 12 percent of its children entitled to receive such assistance. At the classroom level, the Head Start Program was probably the most successful, partly because it provided additional teaching supplies. Some evidence indicates that the money made available for lunches, educational experiences, and recreational activities did make a differ-[p.209]ence in the lives of children. Targeted to help low income families, the program began at the Matheson School in the fall of 1970 and lived up to its name in giving Salt Lake City’s disadvantaged children a “head start.”50

Board Elections as Referenda on the Superintendent

Wiscombe’s attempts to get community support for his innovations in minority issues met with, if not outright resistance, then a disturbing degree of apathy This, as noted earlier, was coupled with the warning that if he persisted in closing schools, he might end up out on a limb. One sign that the superintendent’s base was about to be eroded was the election in 1970 of John Crawford, who had made his platform a refutation of many of the things that Wiscombe was staking his future course on.51

By June 1972, it was clear that Wiscombe did not enjoy the necessary support of the board. An executive board session met until midnight, apparently unable to reach a consensus as to whether Wiscombe should be retained as superintendent. The only public indication that there had been a problem came from a brief mention in the Tribune that after a long session Wiscombe had been retained by a vote of 6-4, with two members absent. Leading the “nay” vote was John Crawford, who would campaign for his second term on the board in November 1972. He began that campaign saying that he favored more accountability in management of schools and supported a reduction in the number of board members from twelve to seven. Crawford also wanted to develop a long-range master plan for the district, including rebuilding East High School, which had burned the previous spring. He did not mention Wiscombe by name in his statement, but made it clear that he was opposed to “the indiscriminate closing of schools, the busing of students to accomplish a social and economic mix and to any wholesale experimentation with the curriculum in the schools.”52

The election of a new seven-member board meant that the entire board had to seek reelection. This meant that Wiscombe could no longer be sure of support from at least half of the old board. It appears that the issues of school closing, minority affairs, and teacher relations with the central administration played a major role in the campaign. The old, twelve-member board was seen by one candidate as deeply divided along political lines: between those who supported Wiscombe and those who opposed him, although all of them were Mormons.

The decision to rebuild East High added fuel to the conflict between East and West. According to the candidates, East was rebuilt not because of educational needs, but because of East side political domination of the board. Unlike Crawford, most candidates did not “take on” the superintendent’s tenure as an issue of the election. Those who did not make it an issue favored a slower, less [p.210]confrontational approach to resolving the issues with which the superintendent had become identified. Another candidate, June Chapman (a district school teacher) reportedly challenged her opponent, Mervin Jones, to taking a position with respect to the removal of Wiscombe, which he refused to do on grounds that he was not privy to all the facts in the case. Chapman had campaigned with the support of the Salt Lake Teacher’s Association, which interviewed all candidates for the board on the issue facing the schools, reportedly asking where candidates fell on the issue of retaining Wiscombe. Without detailed information on the election campaign speeches or literature it is difficult to determine the exact role played by the teachers in ousting the superintendent. Mervin Jones, however, attributed his loss to Chapman (300 votes out of almost 11,000 cast) and to organized teacher opposition to the continuance of Art Wiscombe as superintendent.53

Not only did this election turn out to be a referendum on the superintendent, it also made history in another way: it was the first time in the politics of Salt Lake City that an African-American and a Mexican-American ran for public office, although in the 1890s a number of European and British immigrants had been elected to the board. Ruth C. Ross lost in the primary election, but Dr. Eugene Garcia survived it and went on to defeat incumbent Glen A. Lloyd by fewer than 90 votes. Garcia’s election was certainly a sign that no longer could the white majority assume that the board would reflect only their complexion and ideology.

In a late-1971 meeting with other members of the Mexican-American community, including veteran teacher Robert Archuletta, a decision was made to organize a campaign to give the minority community a voice on the board. While Archuletta was discussed as a possibility, he felt that the group needed someone with more credibility in the community; Garcia, a Ph.D. who taught at the University of Utah, was chosen because he would appeal to many Mormon voters whose support was essential if the campaign were to succeed.

Early in the campaign religion became an issue when rumors began to circulate that a local LDS stake president had commented that “Mormon Chicanos” supporting Garcia were not “good” members of the church. Orlando Rivera, an active Mormon and social activist, arranged a meeting with Garcia, the stake president, and a number of Mexican-American Latter-day Saints, including local leaders in the west side wards. The stake president agreed to send out a letter to all bishops in his stake requesting that anti-Chicano discussion should cease, which it apparently did.

For probably the first time in Salt Lake school politics, spot announcements on rock and roll radio stations took campaign messages into the homes of the [p.211]people, as Garcia spoke to the need for minority representation. Another strategy, an “under-the-table” coalition with the Wayne Owens campaign, gave financial support to the Garcia campaign so Mexican-Americans would register to vote (most would also vote for Owens, a Democrat). Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy arrived by helicopter at a rally of 2,000 people at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on the West side, announcing his support for Garcia’s election to the board of education, as well as Wayne Owens’s bid for Congress.

Until the results were announced, few on Garcia’s staff thought they would win. Before the election Garcia had found out through a poll that 90 percent of the residents did not even know who the superintendent was, quite apart from what he did. They were more interested in what was happening to their children in the schools than in school politics. Garcia felt that his campaign had raised awareness that could change schools regardless of election results. Eventually Garcia was declared the victor by some 84 votes out of 10,000 cast, making him the first ethnic minority to sit on the Salt Lake City Board of Education.54

Garcia was not opposed to the kinds of initiatives Wiscombe was trying to implement. Wiscombe’s tenure was not part of his campaign, although he thought most other candidates had made this one of their major themes, and the new, streamlined board seemed decidedly against Wiscombe, who certainly was aware that he was at the center of the election storm. After the election Wiscombe renewed efforts to gain support from influential figures in the community. For instance, one of his admirers, E. C. Zajac, a retired employee of Mountain Fuel Supply Company and later Director of Computers for the State of Utah, saw Wiscombe as standing apart from other Utah educational leaders, with their “muddled morass of theory and gobble-de-gook,” because he made decisions for the schools on “the basis of sound business principles.” Zajac wrote to former governor J. Bracken Lee asking him to use his influence to prevent Wiscombe from “being relieved of his duties by a group of economic illiterates”—the newly elected board. Lee responded that he would do what he could to see that their “mutual friend Arthur C. Wiscombe … is retained in his present position.” However, in a recognition of his much reduced role as an opinion maker in the city and state, the former feisty, conservative governor of the 1950s reluctantly admitted that he didn’t know what he could do apart from speaking to some of the board members he was acquainted with. The strange alliance between the academically oriented superintendent and the nemesis of Utah educators, J. Bracken Lee, illustrates how pressured Wiscombe was at this particular time.55 Wiscombe also received support from the Board of Governors of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce.

A few days before the newly elected board was scheduled to meet, the chamber issued a statement urging them to “delay any decision affecting Dr. Arthur C. [p.212]Wiscombe” and become thoroughly familiar with the problems facing the district. The president of the chamber, Warren Pugh, who was also president of the Utah Senate, cautioned the board of education that it should not assume that the replacement of an administrator would automatically solve the district’s financial problems.56 L. H. Curtis, president of KSL, the Mormon church-owned radio station, weighed in with an editorial urging the new board to stop “squeezing the Superintendent, whoever he may be, between a Board which sets policy on the one hand and a public which may not like that policy on the other.” Hardly an endorsement for Wiscombe, it was still a pointed reminder to the new board that the district’s problems were not all of Wiscombe’s doing. As the year drew to a close, both the Deseret News and the Tribune ran lengthy editorials recommending a cautious approach to change. The real issue, said the News, ran much deeper than the question of retaining the superintendent; the board had to face up to the difficult financial problems as school enrollment continued to plummet along with revenues. The patrons of the schools should forget the campaign promises (apparently to get rid of Wiscombe), opined the Tribune and get behind the superintendent and the board in their efforts to get the schools out of the “financial doldrums.”57

In spite of such high-powered support, immediately following the election John Crawford made Wiscombe’s continuance an issue the new board had to face. After being elected as chairman of the board he set the agenda for ridding themselves of Wiscombe. The first private executive meeting of the board Eugene Garcia attended focused on the inevitable question: “How do we get Superintendent Wiscombe out?” Crawford had apparently already been negotiating with Wiscombe. He proposed that if Wiscombe would agree to step down as of 1 July 1973 the board would pay him one year’s salary plus insurance premiums. Wiscombe had no alternative but to accept the offer.

On 6 February the board went through the formality of accepting Wiscombe’s “forced” resignation and the president of the board, John Crawford, announced that it was based on a compromise over the differences of opinion that had risen between Wiscombe and the majority of the board. The vote to accept the resignation was 6-1, with Dan Bushnell (who had challenged Crawford for the presidency of the board and favored a slower approach to dealing with the issues) casting the lone dissenting vote.

“All My Energies are Burned Up”

John Cummins, education writer for the Tribune, asserted that although it had “been almost common knowledge” that Wiscombe and the board had been having recent troubles, the problems reached back to the superintendent’s first [p.213]year, when he was given a mandate from the board “to develop a plan aimed at revitalizing and revamping the city school district.” This led to the campaign to consolidate schools so that money could be used where it was most needed: special programs to address minority needs, the reorganization of fifth through eighth grade students on a non-graded basis, and other “innovative programs.” These departures from traditional schooling drew intense fire from many sectors of the community, but the closure of six elementary schools in 1970 and a junior high in 1972 was more than the board and community would tolerate—even if all the evidence pointed to the inescapable conclusion that there really was no financially sound alternative.58

In a sense, Wiscombe was a victim of the very revolution he had championed and which was engulfing America’s urban school systems in the 1970s. It exacted a tremendous toll personally and professionally on those charged with leading education in a society that seemed, to many, to have lost its moorings. Art Wiscombe visualized himself as “caught up in a whirlwind of so many deep negatives that are so volatile, so political that virtually all [my] energies are burned up just dealing ,with fires and emergencies and the politics involved in these kind of situations.”59

Although the president of the board, John Crawford, had easy access to Wiscombe and had negotiated his resignation, he never gave the superintendent a precise reason for not being satisfied with his professional leadership of the district. Other members of the board, however, told Wiscombe that Crawford felt that he did not communicate clearly and that the superintendent’s “excessive liberality … was too much for him.” Lacking any specific details, Wiscombe interpreted this to mean that “I have some views on race that he does not share.” Ultimately, Wiscombe felt that the board president simply saw him as “the wrong man for the job” and that the harping on Wiscombe’s lack of communication skills was an example of “people who don’t like the message, will attack the messenger.”60

Wiscombe ended his tenure disappointed that he could not carry through to fruition his many plans. At the same time he felt some satisfaction in bringing a greater awareness of the need for equity and justice in Salt Lake City’s schools. He was confident that he had “worked long hours [and] served as well as any man could be expected to serve. I’m willing to let the future determine whether or not these issues that we have underscored are indeed real issues that could better have been met a long time ago for a better future of this city.”61

Of course, they were real issues; it is precisely because they were real that they led to friction within the community As of the first week in February, Arthur Wiscombe was effectively no longer superintendent, but the melody to [p.214]which he had danced lingered on. Within a few weeks of submitting his resignation, Wiscombe listened as the board in solemn session declared that Salt Lake City schools had a problem: there were too many buildings with too few students. The “lame-duck” superintendent simply lowered his head as those who had criticized him for closing schools, now considered it a real problem. John Crawford congratulated the board for doing what the old board refused to do—close schools.

More importantly, however, Crawford also announced criteria that would be used in closing more schools: keeping them as close to the community as economically possible; consideration for the safety of children; minimum travel for students; and retention of new buildings over old. Crawford was, of course, doing what some observers felt Wiscombe should have done all along: he was making the board define the issues instead of making the closing of schools his own personal crusade. The Tribune’s John Cummins could not resist pointing out that the board’s new policy contradicted one of the reasons given for Wiscombe’s forced resignation—the disagreement over the need to close schools.62 In May 1973 the Salt Lake Board of Education proceeded to close four elementary schools, with hardly a murmur of protest in the community.

After leaving Salt Lake City, Arthur Wiscombe was appointed superintendent of public schools in Downers Grove, Illinois. He served there until 1979, when he became president of the Robert Crown Center, a private education institution in Hinsdale, Illinois. He retired in 1983 and now resides in Bountiful, Utah.


[p.191]1. “Troubles of America’s Major Cities Showing up in Salt Lake City,” Salt Lake Tribune,2 May 1972.

2. Thomas G. Alexander and James B. Allen, Mormons and Gentiles: A History of Salt Lake City (Boulder, CO: Pruett, 1984), 278.

[p.192]3. Arthur C. Wiscombe, Oral History, 28 June 1973.

4. Ibid., 28 June 1973.

[p.193]5. Alexander and Allen, Mormons and Gentiles,279.

6. Ibid., 279-80.

7. Wiscombe, Oral History, 28 June 1973. In addition to the oral history, I have used information gleaned during an informal conversation with Arthur Wiscombe in May 1992.

8. Data based on table of school closures since 1953 in files of Salt Lake City School District Office.

[p.194]9. Wiscombe, Oral History, 20 June 1973.

[p.195]10. “Wiscombe Cites ‘Renewal’ for S.L. School System,” Salt Lake Tribune, 24 Dec. 1969; “S.L. Eyes Plans to Close Six Grade Schools,” Salt Lake Tribune, 16 Jan. 1970; “Chief of S. L. Schools, Dr. A. Wiscombe, Presses Merger Plan,” Salt Lake Tribune,22 Jan. 1970.

11. “Board Acts to Close 5 Schools,” Salt Lake Tribune,18 Mar. 1970.

12. John Crawford, Oral History, 26 May 1992.

[p.196]13. John Cummins, “School Officials Defend Closure as ‘Start,'” Salt Lake Tribune,3 Feb. 1970; “Panel to Investigate Complaint About Horace Mann, Jr. High Curriculum,” Salt Lake Tribune,6 Mar. 1970; “Board Acts to Close 5 Schools,” Salt Lake Tribune,18 Mar. 1970.

14. “Dealing With Realities Cause School Closings,” Salt Lake Tribune,19 Mar. 1970.

15. “Four More Candidates Seek School Positions,” Salt Lake Tribune,8 Aug. 1970.

[p.197]16. Alexander and Allen, Mormons and Gentiles,298.

17. Cited in The Urban Picture (Salt Lake City: Board of Education, 1968), i.

18. The Urban Picture,2.

19. Ibid., 19.

[p.198]20. Ibid., 4–5.

21. Wiscombe, Oral History, 28 June 1973.

22. Recollections of a Schoolman: The Autobiography of M. Lynn Bennion (Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1987), 117–20.

[p.199]23. Allan M. West, My Life As An Advocate for Utah Schools (Privately published, 1988), 151–53.

24. West, My Life As An Advocate,153–-54.

25. Bennion, Oral History, 10 Apr. 1974.

26. Conversation with Arthur C. Wiscombe, 22 May 1992.

[p.200]27. John R. Cummins, “Blacks Charge Racism in S.L. School System,” Salt Lake Tribune,22 Apr. 1970.

28. John R. Cummins, “S. L. Hopes for ‘Positive Gains’ in Racial Situation in Schools,” Salt Lake Tribune,23 Apr. 1970.

29. “Gain from Bitterness,” Salt Lake Tribune,24 Apr. 1970.

[p.201]30. “Parents of West High Pupils Ask Teacher Return, Single Policy,” and “Board Faces Challenge over Schools,” Salt Lake Tribune,28 Apr. 1970.

31. “Both Non-Students: 1 Youth Flees; 1 Arrested in West High Altercation,” Salt Lake Tribune,25 Apr. 1970.

32. “Parents of West High Pupils Ask Teacher’s Return, Single Policy,” Salt Lake Tribune,28 Apr. 1970.

[p.202]33. “Minority Ire Boils Over at School Meet,” Salt Lake Tribune,1 May 1970.

[p.203]34. Wiscombe, Oral History, 28 June 1973.

35. Arthur C. Wiscombe to Frederick S. Buchanan, 14 May 1992.

36. Ibid.

[p.204]37. Ibid.

38. “School Board Approves Budget, Reinstates Teacher, 4 Students,” Salt Lake Tribune,17 June 1970.

[p.205]39. John R. Cummins, “State School Study Advises City Goals,” Salt Lake Tribune,3 April 1970.

40. “Forum, Quiz Slated on School Views,” Salt Lake Tribune,4 Nov. 1970; “Students to Quiz SL Schools Chief,” Salt Lake Tribune,1 Dec. 1970.

41. Wiscombe, Oral History, 28 June 1973.

[p.206]42. Salt Lake Tribune,12 Dec. 1969.

43. Salt Lake Tribune,25 Sept., 3 Oct. 1969; Board of Education, Minutes, 25 Mar., 30 Mar. 1971.

44. Board of Education, Minutes, 4 May 1971; “Corporal Punishment Protest Disrupts Board Meet,” Salt Lake Tribune,2 June 1971; “Salt Lake Board Votes to Continue Policy on Corporal Punishment in Schools,” Salt Lake Tribune,23 June 1971.

45. Salt Lake Tribune,2, 23, 25 June 1971.

[p.207]46. Richard Gomez to Dr. Arthur C. Wiscombe, 9 Jan. 1970.

47. “Chicano Needs Cry Out for Educational Program Expansion,” Salt Lake City (10 Sept. 1972).

48. Ibid.

[p.208]49. Robert Archuletta, Oral History, 11 Feb. 1992.

[p.209]50. John R. Cummins, “S.L. School Panel Pledges to Meet More Needs of Minority Students,” Salt Lake Tribune, 10 June 1970; Wiscombe, Oral History, 28 June, 1973; Archuletta, Oral History, 11 Feb. 1992.

51. “Four More Candidates Seek School Positions,” Salt Lake Tribune,8 Aug. 1970.

52. “School Aide Seeking 2d Term,” Salt Lake Tribune, 26 Aug. 1972.

[p.210]53. I am indebted to the following persons (who agreed to be interviewed over the phone on the 12 and 13 Mar. 1992) for insights into the dynamics of the 1972 election: C. R. Child, Wayne Evans, Mervin Jones and R. C. Wheeler. Some people who ran could not be contacted, others did not respond to my request for information. See also Lavor Chaffin, “Enrollment Dip Hurts Whole City, Wiscombe Says,” Deseret News,14 Nov. 1972; “S.L. Must Face up to School Problems,” Deseret News,15 Nov. 1972.

[p.211]54. Information on Eugene Garcia’s campaign was obtained in a telephone interview with him on 5 Mar. 1992. Garcia was then Dean of the Social Science Division of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

55. E. C. Zajac to J. Bracken Lee, 24 Nov. 1972; Lee to Zajac, 29 Nov. 1972.

[p.212]56. Douglas D. Palmer, “S.L. Board Asked to Delay Changes in Administration,” Deseret News,27 Dec. 1972.

57. L. H. Curtis, “School Boards,” KSL Editorial, November 12/13 1972; “Additional School Closing Only Sensible as Population Drops,” Salt Lake Tribune,17 Dec. 1972; “Why S. L. Should Close More Schools,” Deseret News,30 Dec. 1972.

[p.213]58. Eugene Garcia, telephone interview, 5 Mar. 1992; John Cummins, “Wiscombe Quits S. L. School Helm,” Salt Lake Tribune,7 Feb. 1973; “A New School Chief, Old School Problems,” Deseret News,7 Feb. 1973.

59. Wiscombe, Oral History, 28 June 1973.

60. Ibid.

61. Ibid.

[p.214]62. John Cummins, “S. L. Board Okeys Plan to Close More Schools,” Salt Lake Tribune, 21 Feb. 1973; “4 More Schools to Close,” Salt Lake Tribune, 2 May 1973.