Murvin Perry, Oral History
Recorded April 18, 2008
Interviewed by Robin Katz
Transcribed by Craig Simpson and Robin Katz
[Interviewer]: You are listening to an interview for the May 4 Oral History Project at Kent State University. Today is April 18th, 2008, and I'm Robin Katz. Could you please state your name?
[Murvin Perry]: I'm Murvin Perry. I was Director of the School of Journalism and Associate Dean of Fine and Professional Arts at the time that the event happened. I'm not sure I can add much to what's already been said and written about the shooting. I was not on the campus when it happened. Dr. Flower and I and Elmer Novotny had taken a prospective faculty candidate for the School of Art to lunch at a restaurant out in Brimfield, and we had just completed the--we were finishing our meal and paying our check at the cashier's desk when we heard the report of the shooting over the radio.
[Interviewer]: Over the radio?
[Murvin Perry]: Yeah.
[Interviewer]: And what did they say?
[Murvin Perry]: Well, they said students had been shot, and there was confusion and they didn't have much of any detail in the report. We came back to the campus by a back road, Cline Road, and back to Taylor Hall. When I got to Taylor Hall they were still thrashing around out in front, and in the men's restroom next to the Daily Kent Stater office a group was ripping pieces off of the hand towels and wetting them and tying them over their faces, and they were trying to organize a new push against the Guard. I remember Glenn Frank was in the area out in front on the Blanket Hill with a bullhorn and trying to tell them [to] get out there. And I remonstrated with probably a half a dozen students, "Look, they have guns. You have nothing. There isn't anything you can do." And at that point the jeep with an official sound system began touring the area saying, "The campus is closed. Get your gear and go home as rapidly as possible." And it was later in the day before we were able to get a full account of what really had happened.
Looking back, people kept saying it was such a surprise that anything like that happened. Actually I, at the time, said, "Why are you surprised?" The kind of conduct that everyone was engaging in was bound to fire into violence. There was no escape from it. I felt it was unjustified that Kent State should be the place where this occurred. Kent State was an open campus, a very free attitude. Dr. White was very fair to students and there really wasn't any keeping-a-lid-on kind of thing that got it to a boiling point. It was very unfortunate.
I have always felt that the young man named Terry Norman, who pretended to be a photographer for the yearbook, had probably triggered the shooting response. We knew that he was not a photographer for the yearbook. We did not know for certain that he was employed by the FBI; but we thought he might simply be an eager or overly ambitious young man trying to score points and volunteering information to them.
At one point, sometime during the fall before the shooting, we had a young lady who lived with us and tended the kids--we had five children, she helped Rita, kind of a live-in babysitter, a co-ed--
[Interviewer]: She was a student at Kent State?
[Murvin Perry]: She was a student, yeah. I don't know whether you want her name or not--
[Interviewer]: If you want to share it.
[Murvin Perry]: --probably she'd prefer not, because she was embarrassed by the circumstance afterward. He made a trip to Washington, D.C., flew into Washington, D.C. And in those days--
[Interviewer]: This is Terry?
[Murvin Perry]: Pardon?
[Interviewer]: This is Terry who made the trip?
[Murvin Perry]: Yeah, Terry. And in those days it was possible for a business traveler to take a secretary or a wife or whatever along without additional fare, I believe. And he invited her to accompany him to Washington on a flight. Whether she flew as his wife or what, but she went with him, and as I say she was somewhat embarrassed afterward for having done it. But she was probably nineteen years old and had not been away from home much, and the adventure of a flight to Washington appealed to her. At any rate, she said they flew to Washington, he took a taxi to the front of the FBI building and left her sitting on a bench out in front while he went inside and was in the building for 45 minutes to an hour, came out, and they flew back to Kent. Like I say, she was embarrassed about it afterwards, and of course raised some questions about what was going on. We knew the fellow pretended that he was a photographer for the yearbook but as Director of the School of Journalism and familiar with the Stater people and the Chestnut Burr people I knew he wasn't on the staff, that he didn't belong there. However, I didn't interfere with his taking pictures. Far as I was concerned, anybody that wanted to take pictures could take pictures. Then there was, at the--he was chased off the hill and took refuge amongst the officials with the Guard--
[Interviewer]: This is on May 4th?
[Murvin Perry]: Yeah. And he turned his gun over to one of the campus policemen, and my understanding at the time was that the policeman looked at the gun and said, "My God, it's been fired. What do we do now?" And then he turned the gun over to someone else, and later it was denied that the gun had been fired--officially denied that the gun had been fired. And it was left that way. Now Joe Sima said that he saw a piece of video of the event that included that dialogue I just recited to you, but when he attained a copy of the news report the beginning of it was not available, was not with it, and that was not cited. He has since indicated that he's found a copy of the original film that shows that taking place.
Since that time, Janis Froelich, who was editor of the Daily Kent Stater in 1968 and currently is a journalist on, I think it's the Tampa Tribune in Florida, investigated the story that he had fired the gun, partly because someone--she comes from the same area where Norman came from and knew the family, and some acquaintance back and forth mentioned they thought Terry had actually caused the shooting. And she spent the better part of two years interviewing, with her professional free time, interviewing members of Norman's family, and came up with a story that says essentially Norman's parents and uncles and folks who were close to him concede that he fired the gun and that's probably what had triggered the Guard's shooting response. The story was published in the Tampa Tribune, it was available on the Internet, and I assume you have a copy of it by now, because it really was an excellent piece of reporting. The young woman had done a very good job.
Looking back on the thing, I think we made some mistakes. I think there was a terrible naivete on the part of students who thought that they could rampage through the town, trash buildings and get away with it. Not be punished for it. It started with the--there was a sit-in, and I think it involved the discrimination issue in, I believe it was the Personnel Office. A group [was] arrested. Photographs were taken, and a group that were identified in the photographs were arrested and charged; and then they argued that since all couldn't be identified that it wasn't fair to charge the ones that could be identified, and the administration yielded to that argument and turned everybody loose.
[Interviewer]: Do you remember when this was?
[Murvin Perry]: Well, it was in the Fall before the shooting occurred, as the acrimony was building up. And it might have been a whole year earlier. This is thirty-eight years ago, I've been gone from the campus since 1979 and engaged in another university. I can't remember the dates on it. But I argued at the time--and of course I was considered a very conservative person on the campus. I wore my hair, when I had hair, I wore it in a G.I. Marine Corps haircut, and in fact I had to let my hair grow before I could talk to some of the people at that time. But I argued that, look, you've got three robbers, you catch two of them, you don't let them go because you can't catch the third one. The argument didn't sell. And things went on and built up.
And as I look back, there are a couple of lessons regarding civil disobedience that the students obviously--and not only the students, everyone--seemed to miss. Start clear back with Henry David Thoreau who was thrown in jail for not paying his taxes, and when Ralph Waldo Emerson asked him why he was in jail, he said, "Waldo, why are you not in jail?" The implication being that if you engage in civil disobedience, you take the punishment. And of course that was part of the problem in the civil rights dispute that preceded Kent State's problem. People who violated the segregation laws were jailed and oftentimes abused; but when the whole issue was over, most of the people who had been sentenced under what were obviously unjust and unfair laws were forgiven and their sentences--they were released from punishment. And I think that students felt that this resistance to the war was equally or a parallel to the civil rights problem, but it wasn't as clear that laws that said you don't tear up downtown and trash windows were as unfair as the law that said you have to ride in the back of a bus. I think that lesson has not been learned yet as far as I can see. People don't understand if you engage in civil disobedience, you have to be prepared to pay the penalty. And, of course, because of what happened in the civil rights problem, the officials discredited themselves to the point where law and order was a dirty word at that time. To stand up for law and order was a dirty word.
That's what I've come to after contemplating it for many years.
[Interviewer]: Just to back up a little, where are you originally from?
[Murvin Perry]: I grew up in South Dakota.
[Interviewer]: South Dakota?
[Murvin Perry]: I started teaching in South Dakota in high school in 1947. And I taught in total 51 years before I finally packed it in in '98. My eyesight was failing and my hearing was so bad it was uncomfortable in classes and I thought I'd better quit while I was ahead. [laughs] I attended South Dakota State College in those days, started before the war, and I spent four years in the SeaBees, and came back and finished degree at South Dakota State on the G.I. Bill. And then went on to the University of Iowa, where over a course of ten years, partly as a graduate assistant, partly as a faculty member, and partly as a student. I eventually received a PhD. Then I taught four years in Kansas at Kansas State University, and worked summers with the Cedar Rapids Gazette as a newsman. And at that point, in 1963, I was invited to come to Kent as Director of the School of Journalism.
At that point, the School of Journalism had less than a hundred majors. They estimated they had a hundred; I counted sixty-eight when I got the class rolls. We began to build the school. Of course, in those years, journalism became a very popular--communications became a popular discipline.
[Murvin Perry]: Before I left, when we built Taylor Hall, we planned for three hundred students, that it would accommodate three hundred. And we were in probably two hundred and something, and we figured that was where we'd wind up. By the time we got to where we had to put a lid on it, we had eight hundred and they were clamoring at the door to get in.
[Interviewer]: What was the department like before 1970?
[Murvin Perry]: We had received accreditation. There were about eleven or twelve faculty members. We had a good national reputation. I was on the National Accrediting Committee and had visited most of the other accredited schools of journalism. Had a good grasp of what it took to offer a good program, and we were doing pretty well. Taylor Hall was an excellent facility for us. We didn't get the photo labs filled--er, finished in '64 when we moved into the building. There was a shortage of money, and rather than curtail the size of the space I opted to leave the space unfinished until we could afford to finish it. Took ten years and it cost twice as much as when we cut out, but eventually we got it. It was an excellent facility.
[Interviewer]: How did the department manage to finish up the [quarter] after May of 1970?
[Murvin Perry]: We really did a lot of patching up. I had a graduate seminar that I was teaching, and we met on my back porch. I lived down on Harvey Street, just beyond Crain Avenue, and we finished on my back patio, meeting once a week in the evening. Several courses we made assignments by mail, and students mailed them in and we finished them up. Photography was a little difficult because we didn't have access to the photo labs. But for the writing courses and things it was possible to do it.
And I suppose there was considerable patch-up--none of the students complained that they felt short-changed with what happened. In fact, the students who were involved at that time covering the events and things have a camraderie about them that exists to this day. In fact, I think next month they're having a reunion here on campus for the students who were involved. By and large, the journalism students have always been a close-knit group and very enthusiastic. I've maintained contact with several of them over the years.
[Interviewer]: What was your involvement with the Daily Kent Stater--our newspaper--and the Chestnut Burr--the student yearbook?
[Murvin Perry]: I was chairman--I think this was kind of an ex officio position as chairman of the school of journalism--actually the title was director--I chaired the student publications policy committee and we employed faculty members to serve as advisors. That was part of their faculty assignment to serve as advisors. Charlie Brill was the advisor to the Chestnut Burr, had an excellent rapport with students. He was a young man and very likable and hard-working and devoted his life, literally, to the [unintelligible]. He came to Kent in I think about '64, having a background in newspaper photography and loved what he was doing and worked very dilligently. [He] obtained some national recognition for the documentation of the Chippewa Indians up on a reservation in Minnesota where he had grown up. Students worked very well with him. I think Murray Powers was serving as advisor to the Daily Kent Stater at the time. Murray was managing editor of the Akron-Beacon Journal for nigh on to thirty years and in retire--well, he taught part-time for us all of the years that he was there. When he retired from the newspaper he came with us about three-quarter time to advise the paper because in that period we went from building a little sheet that was set in a shop down on Main Street to a daily publication printed by offset modern methods that we had to take off to Sandusky for printing. It took a lot of organization to get it going. In fact, Murray muttered to me more than once, "I ran a metropolitan daily newspaper with less problems than I have doing this job."
[Interviewer]: What can you tell us about how the events of May 1970 were covered in those two publications?
[Murvin Perry]: Well, the students in photojournalism did an outstanding job. In fact, John Filo won a Pulitzer Prize. Walker--what was his first name?--Earle Walker had [been] honored by Life magazine for the work that he did. In total, eight journalists who were either students at the time or had previously been students won Pulitzer Prizes for the coverage that they did. They distinguished themselves and were a great credit to the school.
[Interviewer]: Were there any decisions that you were a part of about how to cover it, how to discuss the events in, say, the yearbook or the newspaper?
[Murvin Perry]: No, they went on their own. I have to say that in '70--or in 2000, when they had a thirty year anniversary of the event, I came back to the--literally almost the first time I had been back to the campus and they were having a get-together down at the bar and as I came in a huge, burly man gave me a big bear hug and said, "Dr. Perry, without you I could never have done it." It was Paul Tople who has won three Pulitzer Prizes since that time for his work in news photography. I am very proud of the students.
[Interviewer]: Great. What changed after 1970 on campus?
[Murvin Perry]: Things got pretty bitter around here. First off, we suffered severely budgetary problems and then acrimony amongst the faculty because some had aided and abetted the student revolts and some had tried to resist and there was considerable acrinomy and it became a very bitter place. As a matter of fact, it was five, six, seven or eight years before things really settled down and they really didn't--I left the campus because I was in disfavor with the administration and there had been three scandals in the business school and either recent graduates who were working for the local paper or students on the Daily Kent Stater exposed him and as a result, the dean of the business school resigned and [laughing] I went to the reception they had for him when he left and he refused to shake my hand. I realized he blamed me for the fact that they had covered him.
One of them involved a foreign professor who developed what he called a computer model for economic forecasting. And he and faculty members in the school of business, including the dean, formed a company to sell the forecasts. There was some question about whether it was appropriate to be using the university's computer for that kind of activity, but the worst part of it was the computerized program that he had developed didn't run and since he'd already sold forecasts, they found that he was copying the forecasts from the Harvard Business Review and selling them. It was pretty messy.
Then there was the son of a very wealthy family from [Puerto Rico] enrolled as a PhD candidate and several members of the business school faculty were sent on consultancies which turned out to simply be junkets to [Puerto Rico] for relatively lucrative consultancy fees and there was question raised about that. And then there was a question about his dissertation. It never was quite spelled out what the problem was but a faculty committee investigated it and said it was alright, but the problem didn't go away and it came up again. And this decision I was involved in. One of the editors of the Daily Kent Stater came to me and said, "Dr. Perry, we have a tip about this dissertation, but we can't verify it because the dissertation has been removed from the library." And I knew from my accrediting work that all dissertations are filed with University Microfilms at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and you can obtain a copy of them from Ann Arbor for, at that point, it might be more now, for ten cents a page. So I authorized the paper to spend thirty bucks getting a copy of the dissertation. They brought it up and laid it down, compared it with what they had and found that seventy-six pages of the dissertation had been copied from documents in the Puerto Rican Studies Center at New York University and no attribution. There was some talk about, Well, the original manuscript was written in Spanish and the footnotes were lost in translation, but it was phony. And at that point, I really don't know what the disposition of that dissertation project was, but the administration was furious that the newspaper had spelled that out.
And then as things went on, there were other clashes with--Glenn Olds left and we got a new president who was going to bring order out of the situation here and he was in terrible distress with the kind of publicity the school was getting. He called me into his office one day and on the radiator over in the corner he had a file of clippings and he went over and he said, "Now, here's two clippings about Youngstown University. And here's six or eight about Akron University and there isn't a single thing about Cuyahoga Community College"--or whatever the one [unintelligible]. And he said, "There are thirty three clippings about us! Why won't they leave us alone?" I said--
[Interviewer]: Were they clippings--what were the clippings about?
[Murvin Perry]: They mostly were critical [laughs]. And I said, "We really ought to be able to turn that to our advantage." But that didn't please him at all. And then the editor of the Stater made a mistake. I don't remember the story, but she had an embarassing story and following good procedure she went to him and asked to verify it. And he said, "I'll tell you off the record." And she erred at this point in not telling him, "I don't want it off the record. I've got the story, I just want you to confirm it." And she went back and printed the story. And he was furious. He thought that she had broken the promise to keep it off the record and I tried to argue that she had had the story before she went to him, but he refused to accept that. Things like that built up, and eventually, he declared that I was persona non grata, put me under administrative review, and ran me off the campus. I looked around and was invited to go to Tennessee and establish a new program at East Tennessee State.
I went down there--well, I stayed as chairman of the school until I had the program organized and got accreditation in nine years, and then I retired--I was sixty-seven years old at the time--and after they got a new chairman and things running smoothly, I went back and taught part-time for another nine years. Like I said, I packed it in in '98. And they did me a favor. This was a very stressful place and I was experiencing the beginings of some health problems. I had heart surgey in 1981, one of the early quadruple bypass patients and got back on my feet. We've enjoyed living in Tennessee very much, it's a very pleasant place. The school had done well, it's the combined school of communications now, includes journalism with its branches in advertising, public relations, the department of speech and the department of theater. And all of journalism, public relations and advertising and theater have all accomplished national accreditation. And they let me the privilege of being an elder statesman when they have special events. It's been a very rewarding experience.
[Interviewer]: This is kind of jumping back a bit, but when you were at the restaurant on the actual day of May 4 and you received the news, what was your reaction?
[Murvin Perry]: Well, it was almost unbelievable. Although we knew the Guard was on the campus. In fact--Friday night, when they burned down the ROTC building, I walked up--I was only three or four blocks from the campus--I walked up to observe and of course I stayed back in the dark to see what was going on. And it was pretty bad disorder and at one point, the Guard was clearing the students and the protestors away from the area and there's a--my recollection of the names of the buildings is a little hazy at the moment--there's a stairway goes down near the education building. The hill is kind of steep, it goes down to the drive there. And they were backing the students up and there was a female student just giving this Guard [unintelligible]. She's slapping at his face, she spit on him, and he was pushing her back with his rifle until she got to the edge of that hill and of course, as steep as it was it caused her to stumble and she had to turn around to get herself down the hill. As she turned around, he let her have it with his G.I. boot right there [laughing]. That kind of conduct was bound to result in resentment and student--the poor guys in the Guard were supposed to retaliate against that. At one point leading up to this, there was something--a bunch sitting in the hall in Taylor Hall and I don't remember the details except one really straggly looking buzzard with a reddish beard said to me, "We know where you live." And I said, "Mister, I don't know where you live, I don't care where you live, but if anything happens to my wife and kids, you can bet I'll find out. I didn't serve in the Marines, training in the SeaBees for four years for nothing." And I let that go, but I think that as I looked at the list of people who were injured there were a couple who obviously were totally uninvolved. But most of the others had been out front in the provocation really making life miserable for the Guard. I don't know, it's probably extreme to say that some of those young men deliberately tried to wound them, but the fact that several were wounded in the legs suggests that perhaps they were.
[Interviewer]: What was the reaction of the visiting candidate who was interviewing?
[Murvin Perry]: I don't think he ever came back [laughing].
[Interviewer]: Yeah. This was part of an on-campus interview? You were taking him to lunch?
[Murvin Perry]: Yeah, he had been talking to the faculty members and administrators around the campus and then we had taken him out to lunch.
[Interviewer]: Did you ever fill that position?
[Murvin Perry]: Yeah, eventually. I can't remember the details anymore. The position was in the school of art and I was involved only because I functioned in the dean's office as well as the school of journalism.
[Interviewer]: And about the Terry Norman issue, why do you think he would have fired the gun?
[Murvin Perry]: The students spotted him and knew what he was doing and they got after him. They were going to trash him. He was threatened, there wasn't any question about that. That was his comment when he turned the gun in. "I had to shoot, they were going to--" I don't remember whether he said "they were going to kill me" or "they were going to beat me up." They obviously threatened him.
[Interviewer]: Do you have any other thoughts about how campus changed or how your department changed after 1970?
[Murvin Perry]: Well, we tried to put--the journalism faculty by and large were a pretty conservative group, too. Probably not because of me, I ended up being conservative, but most of them had, in addition to academic experience, had worked professionally as journalists and by and large they had a realistic outlook on what was going on.
[Interviewer]: Sort of a newsroom culture?
[Murvin Perry]: Yeah. And I think some of the faculty did not have a realistic--there were faculty members who, when they got a group on the upper floor of the Music and Speech Building one time to protest, and the security people were taking them out and identifying them one by one, some faculty member used his key to the elevator to get several of them out from the building. And there were faculty members who insisted that it was okay to let them dodge the draft by coming to school whether they made grades or not. There were some who gave easy grades to make sure they were protected. So there was different points of view amongst the faculty.
[Interviewer]: Were you part of any of the faculty meetings immediately after?
[Murvin Perry]: Yeah, after they closed the campus we gathered for a meeting over in a building at Akron University. And John Flower and I went over there to see what was going on. And as the place was closed up, there were about a dozen of us authorized to come on the campus and tend to things to keep things operating, so I was one of the dozen or so who had permit to come through security onto the campus.
[Interviewer]: And what kinds of things did you do?
[Murvin Perry]: Well, we had chemicals in the photo lab that needed to be secured. And some correspondence and phone calls and things. It wasn't really much to do in the event. One amusing incident: John and I came in and put a tea kettle--we had a burner in the dean's suite there--put a tea kettle on to make a pot of tea and then got called away and got outside the campus and, literally, it took us more than an hour to get back into the room and shut that tea kettle that was boiling off [laughing].
[Interviewer]: Because of the security?
[Murvin Perry]: Yeah.
[Interviewer]: How did you have clearance to enter? Did you have a badge, or--?
[Murvin Perry]: I can't remember, I think I must have had like a card that I carried in my pocket. Like a pass. They issued passes, the campus security issued passes for journalists and things at some point, so I can't remember exactly what we had.
[Interviewer]: What was it like to come back in the Fall?
[Murvin Perry]: Kind of a sigh of relief. Let's get this back together and make it go away.
[Murvin Perry]: Yeah.
[Interviewer]: How long did you stay in Kent, then? You said until 1979?
[Murvin Perry]: I beg your pardon?
[Interviewer]: How long were you in Kent?
[Murvin Perry]: Sixteen years, I came in the fall of '63 and I stayed until the summer of '79.
[Interviewer]: '79, right. And how does it feel to be back now, in 2008?
[Murvin Perry]: Don't recognize the place [laughing]. I couldn't get in the building here. We drove up here and I couldn't get out, we drove down there and I finally walked around and got in. I thought we could drive up front close by, but my daughter was driving me and we couldn't find the entrance to get in here so I walked around the building. I'm not that mobile anymore, you notice I walked in with a cane. I'm eighty-six years old.
[Interviewer]: Do you have any other thoughts you'd like to share?
[Murvin Perry]: Well, that's mostly my reaction. You know, the memories get dim after a while. You remember the good things, sometimes you remember some of the bad, but only if they stand out, I guess. Frankly, Kent State was a good place. It was very ironic, people used to say to me, Why did you go to Kent State? This was before the revolution occured and I said, "I thought it was where the action was." The school had grown. When I came in the fall of '63, the first edition of the Stater headlined "School Passes 10,000 Enrollment." It had been braced for the fact that the enrollment was going to reach ten thousand, it had never been that much before, but had it grown so spontaneously that actually, that when they got the enrollment counted, it was twelve thousand. It zoomed right by the ten thousand mark. And really it was a dynamic place. New programs and new faculty and things were really booming. Until things went bad, it was an excellent place. We--I added four faculty almost immediately in journalism and had excellent faculty.
[Interviewer]: How much does May 4 play into your memories of Kent? Where does that stand?
[Murvin Perry]: I try to dismiss it. Like I said, I felt badly about being dismissed but the new opportunity proved to be a godsend for me. My health was protected. The stress that this job held would have killed me, my wife was convinced. And I made friends with an excellent cardiologist on the campus, the medical school down there, and he's the one who guided me through surgery and recovery and made it possible for me to have another twenty five years of productive life. He remains a good friend today. In retirement, we commiserate with each other.
[Interviewer]: Do you have any closing thoughts?
[Murvin Perry]: Well, I appreciated being invited back for the dedication. I was almost overwhelmed when I came back for the reunion of the students. When I was introduced at the banquet they gave me a standing ovation. I had not anticipated that.
[Interviewer]: Well, thank you so much for coming back today and for sharing your story and coming back to Kent.
[Murvin Perry]: I hope that's helpful.
[Interviewer]: Definitely. Thank you very much, Dr. Perry.
[Murvin Perry]: Thank you.