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Rearview Mirror: The New Normal

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Two presidents, just chilling.
Georgia Tech Archives/Georgia Tech Photography Collection (

With the commerce school yanked haphazardly up the road to Athens, there was much to be done back on campus to keep a sizable potion of the student body on campus, and, just as importantly, paying tuition. In this sense, it truly was a matter of keeping Tech open and running at all. And it fell, as many crises before had, squarely on the shoulders of President Brittain.

This column is interactive. To prove my point, I’ll need you to grab a shovel and find a place in your backyard you don’t mind digging up.

Found it? Cool.

Alright, now dig a decent hole. Not too big, but noticeable. Pile all the dirt in one mound next to the hole. Survey the scene, and ask yourself: does that dirt I took out of the ground look like it could refill that hole? It should. Now fill it in.

It doesn’t fill the hole does it? We’re all smart here at From the Rumble Seat. Filling the hole obviously packs the dirt down blah blah blah blah, suffice it to say, the hole isn’t quite full anymore, even with the same amount of dirt in it. Got the overly drawn out metaphor? Perfect. Let’s get down to business.

Sometimes, your best just isn’t enough. No matter how hard President Brittain and the Rest of his staff and students fought to keep the Commerce School, in the end, all of their efforts just came up short. Commerce moved under the umbrella of the Athenians, and ultimately back to Downtown to become what is now Georgia State.

In the meantime, Brittain’s idea was to invent a general science degree out of thin air, which, as Wallace noted, consisted of two years of only electives. Somewhere along the way, the School of Economics came about, but Brittain’s ultimate solution was the invention of the Industrial Management Department. Consistent political pressure to abolish the program wouldn’t subside for decades, even though, by 1960, it had grown to be the biggest degree-granting department in the undergrad system. A true heir to the commerce school. Eventually, the M-Train evolved into what we now know as the Scheller College of Business.

All this “brush with death” stuff forced the Institute to take a good long look at the future of the school, which was, ultimately, probably good for the school. With the advent of the University System of Georgia, Tech tasked the dean of general studies, William G. Perry, later immortalized with a freshman dormitory named after both him and the library maniac named President Kenneth G. Matheson. Seeing as the degree program he was overseeing was, admittedly, a stopgap measure until Tech found a more permanent solution to the commerce dilemma, he had both a vested interest in seeing the Institute evolve past the interim solution, and a lot of free time since his program was described in writing as a sham of electives.

The “Aims and Objectives of the Georgia School of Technology” ultimately had such a profound affect on the future of the institute over the next two decades that it outlived the name of the school at the time. By the time Perry’s report was no longer relevant, Tech had been called the Georgia Institute of Technology for almost a decade.

In his report, Perry noted that the economy of the state can be divided up into three parts: agricultural and forestry resources, mining and manufacturing products, and the output of its societal organizations. Tech directly influences the final segment, he noted, but also indirectly interacts with the first two. After this brief introduction, he delved quickly into what was still, almost fifty years after its founding, the biggest misconception about the Georgia School of Technology: the difference between a trade school and an engineering college. Whereas a trade school imparts limited knowledge of a single industry on its students and exports a finished product,

“The purpose of an Engineering School is much more complex...[imposing] such a school three such objectives:
Imparting a knowledge of the facts, theories, and laws of Nature, with the development of the scientific technologies for the control of natural forces and energy and the utilization of natural materials;
Imparting a knowledge of human relations and a development of the technologies for organization of human effort to control the forces and utilize the materials of Nature;
Imparting a knowledge of the methods of business and of the facts, laws, and theories of Economics, with the development of the techniques necessary for appraising the results of these efforts to control and utilize the energy and materials of Nature.
The graduate of Engineering School is not a finished product. His development should continue throughout his natural life, and his advancement to positions of technical and administrative responsibility should be limited only by the possibilities of the field in which he works,” (Wallace, 198).

The report goes on to emphasize the classes that are absolutely vital in the general curriculum of Georgia Tech students. These include mathematics, drawing, chemistry, physics, language, English, composition, public speaking, economics, and business. Other classes, dubbed liberal sciences, like geology, psychology, history, and literature are deemed necessary but supplemental to a crowded curriculum. The elective tracks were as important then as they are now to compliment the general studies of a Georgia Tech student.

The specialized training of each branch of engineering must also yield, they determine, not just a trained engineer bright in their respective field, but an engineer of high character and virtue who is consistently striving to achieve the greatest results in their community. Modern Tech alumni might recognize this as the core meaning of “Progress and Service.” The Georgia Tech engineering experience is about more than just being a generally well-informed person of science, but rather, it is about fulfillment, certain truths, and the advancement of the human condition. These ideals were set down from the start, sure, but reinforced in this time of transition for the school.

Perry’s report goes on to describe the need for two facilities that go seemingly hand-in-hand: a graduate school and a research station. These two facilities, one which is staffed by cheap but inquisitive minds, and the other by professionals, each seek to further the individual, via additional education, and the advancement of society, through groundbreaking “work and investigations.”

Tech had already been approved to have a research department for more than a decade and a half, but never had the funding to advance the cause of the Engineering Experiment Station. Tech also had the inquisitive faculty and students to delve into graduate education, but, again, lacked the money. However, these two functions were essential to solidifying Tech’s place in higher education, and, indeed, strengthening the value of the undergraduate educational experience, seemingly paradoxically.

At the end of the day, though, the commissioned report most sought out the improvement of the young men of Georgia Tech, first and foremost. The nitty-gritty of the engineering education came second to that, but, in reality, was the very vehicle in which the students were to be improved. By defining Tech’s core values, as they did from the outset of the report, and setting attainable goals on how they reach them - like through the creating of graduate education and the research station - Georgia Tech proved that, even in the face of great hardship, like the loss of one of its keystone programs, it would ultimately overcome. Engineers are resourceful. Just look at how they had managed to keep the lights on for so long before this, and it becomes clear. Tech had faced similar challenges in the past, and, against long odds, President Brittain had set Tech up on a healthy path to long-term success.

A special thanks to Dress Her in White and Gold, Engineering the New South, and the Georgia Tech Archives for the background information and images used in writing this column.

If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below and I will be sure to look into adding it to the schedule, as the column is only planned out through this very column. What is old is new again, or at least liable to be featured in the future. Thank you for reading this latest edition of From the Rumble Seat’s Rearview Mirror.