Ernie Mort, Dean of Students at Revelle College, would have been a Koala if he hadn't been born human. The following is an exclusive interview with him about no drugs, no sex, and very little rock and roll at UCSD. Rather, it is the views of a dedicated man that are exposed on the following pages.
Koala: When did you come to UCSD, Ernie?
Mort: 1966, it was September 8th, 1966. I came out from Ohio State.
Koala: How were you lured away from Ohio State to come to sunny southern California?
Mort: Well, I was involved in the campus ministry at Ohio State. I was the director of the Catholic student center and I came out because there was some interest on the part of the campus ministers here in having a fulltime professional campus minister. Somehow the word got back to the people who were my supervisors. They suggested that we open up a new foundation at UCSD. I wasn't even sure where UCSD was at when I came out here. It finally became clear to me that this was a new campus. .
Koala: So you arrived in 1966 and set up the Office of Religious Affairs?
Mort: Well, I did. It evolved. When I first came, the campus of Revelle College was fairly well built. We had six mudhuts, the Humanities Library, Urey. Hall, Bonner Hall, and the Undergraduate Science Building. The provost's office was located down in the bottom of HL.
Koala: How many students were here at the time?
Mort: Oh, we had about 800. There weren't a lot of the social sciences departments at the time, but we had chemistry, biology, physics. Muir hadn't been built yet. Muir lust started I think being planned in 1964. I believe that by '67 they had some of the first students down at Muir.
Koala: Were you still involved in the Office of Religious Affairs by then?
Mort: Yes. What happened when I first came out was that there were no off-campus facilities except the Lutheran church, and that tradition of using the facililies at the university really hadn't happened then. There were a lot of questions about the controversy of whether religious groups had the right to use the facilities on campus. I met with the newly appointed dean of students George Murphy, who had just come from Berkeley, two weeks afterI1 got here, and I explained to him what I was going to be trying to do with the college students as, a counselor. I explained the situation of facilities to him, and he agreed to discuss it over lunch. And so over lunch, in .the beginning of October, I told him a little bit about the way Ohio State had a position, it happened to be a salaried position called the Coordinator of Religious Affairs, and the university provided an office for that person. I thought it would be very helpful that if the university was going to develop a campus ministry that could work with students, that it ought to provide some place on campus where students could meet. So our discussion over lunch involved an idea that turned into the Office of Religious affairs. At that time, the state constitution clearly spelled out the separation of church and state. The restrictions of religious use of university property were clearly spelled out. But after some discussion with the Chancellor, John Galbraith, we were given a small office half the size of my present office. It was a start, and we began to contact the various groups. We had a general approach to the campus ministry, and our early discussions tended to center on Israel. There was even a group set up which was a graduate committee on religious life. There were Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, and Lutheran representatives who formed an ad-hoc committee of students interested in religious life.
Koala: How long did you remain associated with the Office of Religious Affairs?
Mort: Well, when we got this thing a little better organized in late 1966-67, and the graduate committee was really active, we got a movement toward a broad based office of religious affairs which would represent all religions. It took off, and then my own life changed somewhat, end 'by the way, part of it was that the university was so new and it hadn't really set up a good counseling department, As part of the campus ministry, I was doing an awful lot of counseling, academic advising, draft counseling for Vietnam conscious students, and I was just looking through some old files and saw that I was on a committee that set up the plans for our student center.
Koala: So what exactly was it that precipitated you leaving the campus ministry to move into a position with the UCSD administration?
Mort: I think part of this was that I was doing a great deal of programming. There were some problems in the residence halls at that time (1968), and I felt that I would be interested in working with the students. We didn't have a particularly large residence halls operation, and so I was asked if I would. be interested in being the assistant residence dean. At that time, Argo and Blake halls had been built, and the resident dean had just resigned. I was brought in as an assistant, and a faculty memeber from the AMES department had been recruited to be resident dean. The faculty member had lots of problems, and I was used to it, so in May of 1969 I was asked to become the resident dean. I became resident dean at Revelle in July, 1969, and stayed there until July, 1972, when I became dean of Revelle College.
Koala: You've now been here 16 years, the last 10 of them as Dean of Revelle College. You came here from Ohio, but you weren't originally from there, were you? Mort: I wasn't. I was born in Nebraska, in a little town called Nebraska City, south of Omaha.
Koala: Is a lot of your family still there?
Mort: Yes. Quite a few, although now we're a little more spread out. I grew up in a little midwestern town. We had a high school, a public high school, and I went there for two years and then finished up in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Koala: I know that you've been on a "roots search" for the last few years. How is that going?
Mort: Well, my search is not atypical of a lot of people in the Midwest or all across the country largely because of the development of that interesting television production "Roots." There is a great interest among people to discover their background.
My interest was sparked by my grandfather. When I grew up he was kind of an austere gentleman and the only thing we really knew about him was that his ancestors were from England. That's about all we knew. My father didn't know all that much except that he was a very fine contractor. He was kind of unusual in that he had gone to the University of Nebraska and got a degree in Latin. You don't find a lot of people in the midwest who are Latin scholars spending their evenings reading Cicero and Caesar the way my grandfather did. I thought it was kind of strange and I asked questions about it. Later, I took courses in Latin and did miserably in it. But he rend Latin endlessly, That was an interesting part of him, but for the most part I knew more about my mother's side of the family than I did about my father's side.
A few years ago I was driving through this part of Nebraska and I stopped in a little town about 50 miles away from Nebraska City and I was curious. I looked inthe phone book there were quite a few Morts. When I got home to San Diego I called the home of an Ernest Mort and a very elderly lady came on and told me that he had passed on. I asked her it we were related in some way, and she said she was sure we were. She said that her memory wasn't as clear as it used to be, but she had a granddaughter over in Iowa, and along with her and some other people who had done some work on the family history up in Seattle, I was able to put together about a lour generation history of the Morts tracing them back to a little town in Western England called Risley in the county of Cheshire, near the Wales border.
I found the home where the Morts grew up and where my great-great-great-grandfather is buried. And it was his son, Jonathon Mort who came over to the United States in about 1844.
Koala: Was your surname always spelled M-o-r-t?
Mort: Originally it goes back to the French extraction. We suspect the Mats were originally Heugonauts. The Mats came to the US so they could practice their religion more freely. Johnathon Mort came over on a ship with his future bride. The ship sailed from Liverpool and arrived in New York on June 19th. They were able to get to Wisconsin, partly by rail, partly by boat across the Great Lakes, and they ended up in Springgreen, Wisconsin where Jonathon married Mary Payne on October 1st, 1844. They lived there until about 1870; but the winters were much too severe for them and they went to this new country called Iowa with about five or six families in covered wagons.
Koala: Have you written any of this history out?
Mort: I am starting to. I put together a newsletter which I send out to third and fourth, fifth generation.
One of the things I've found is that they also know a lot about out family. So it's opened up a number of new relationships with people in the Midwest, Northern California, Seattle. It's fairly easy now to get information.
One of the amazing things is that we find pictures. There are quite a number of family portraits. That was a big thing in the early years. There's a certain seating wish all these families, with the patriarch and matriarch sitting in the middle, no smiles. Now all the history is waiting for compilation. I'm just so busy on campus.
Koala: You had mentioned earlier that you did quite a let of counseling during the Vietnam era. What kinds of organizations were active on campus during that era?
Mort: There was one group called the Students for a Democratic Society. They were part of a national group that spoke out against Vietnam, setting up demonstrations and mobilizing students. They were very idealistic and very well organized.
Koala: Did anything humorous happen during that time period?
Mort: Well, there was one incident. That was a terrible time. (Former UCSD Chancellor) Bill McGill comments on it in his new book. There was one event, though, that seemed to have taken months and months to occur, but it really happened within a few weeks. I remember bee very well the day. It's really a sad event followed by a rather humorous one. I'm speaking, of course, about George Winne and that whole thing. I can't forget the day. I was resident dean at the time. I heard screaming off of the fourth floor of Blake Hall. Some girls were up there studying, and when they screamed I came running. At the same time, SDS was having one of its meetings. George Winne was a student who lit himself on fire in protest out on the plaza. He walked out, poured gas on himself, and then lit it on fire. The police responded unusually fast, and one of the SDS members actually ran out and tackled George, setting himself on fire. They were both burned, and George died about ten hours later in the hospital.
This was on the national news, and coupled with the involvement in Cambodia and the events at Kent State, there was a lot of trouble on campus. One day I got a phone call. The person said he was from the White House. I said Oh, sure, thinking that it was someone over in Argo Hall making a prank call, and I hung up. Finally, after the third call I realized that it really was long distance. It was someone on Mr. Haldeman's staff, and he wanted to send a representative out to several of the more troubled campuses to talk to a cross-section of the students about the political situation.
I put together a panel of students. We had some SDS members, a couple of RA's, and we had some students from the left, the right, and the middle. While they were quite different, by the end of the day it was crystal clear that they were: very opposed to our involvement in Vietnam. I sat in on the discussion, and I continued to have some correspondence with the representative afterwards. Later the Scranton Report came out, and it really examined some of these issues. Anyone Interested in learning about the period should really find this and read it.
Koala: I've been in the Revelle Resident Dean's office, your old hangout, and I noticed an old fraternity scrapbook. What is the history of that, and of (frats on campus?
Mort: We did have fraternities in the beginning. They tended to be more social flats, as they are now. One of their activities was to set up the Book Exchange. And, it's still going. One of our early Dean's of students, Ted Forbes, who is still on campus, incidentally, was advisor to them.
Koala: Was there any particular reason that the fraternities faded out?
Mort: No. They really were like student organizations. They were a fraternity, but for some reason they just went kaput. It was at the same time that fraternities nationally were losing ground. I think they were just out of touch with the issues on campus.
Koala: What do you think of the return to this campus of frats?
Mort: I'm not sure what to say. I'm in favor of student fraternities on campus. Clearly it's a much more complex kind of system than we had during the 60's. Whether or not we'll have the type of fraternities they have at UCLA, I don't know, but having houses on campus and the like is probably not our destiny.
Koala: What do you feel about fraternity housing as an alternative to the housing crunch?
Mort: I think they could add a great dead to this campus. I dike the social fraternities. I think they need to evolve further, but there is a dot of discussion about the possibility. Right now there's a lot of separation of the frats from the main-stream students, and the college system at UCSD is supposed to serve as the social environment-bridge. It does fulfill that need.
Koala: As I understand, UCSD used to have an intercollegiate football team.
Mort: Yes, there is that very brief period, and there was that...well, someone ought to sit down anti get the exact story, because I've heard so many variations ions. But we did have a team which we were trying on an experimental basis. The students felt very strongly about it. One of the teams we played was Cal Tech. They were working on a 17 year losing streak which we broke. It seemed to once and for all kill the idea of us being a great national football power.
Koala: Enrollment is now well over 10,000 here now. What are the prospects for getting a learn in the future?
Mort: I just don't know. I really support the philosophy of education here. A football game is just a time for a college or university to get together like at USC. But there are a lot of problems with it. UCSD tends to rally around things like the Watermelon Festival and recreational sports. We don't have the great football game where half the student body turns out, but we do have an incredible amount of student participation in other programs. We simply don't have the money right now to support intercollegiate sports adequately.
Koala: It seems that the university just doesn't have a lot of money. We're now facing tuition. The professional schools will have tuition next year. What are your feelings on this subject?
Mort: I think it's terrible. We're just now starting to get a good representation of a real student body. When I was to my first year, Black and other minority students were few and far between. I think we had only 10 Blacks, and I knew all of their names. If we start to cost more for education, we'll move away from the minorities to a more elitist crowd. That's not good for the university.
Koala: What is the goal of the university now? Is there an intent to keep the four colleges?
Mort: The four college system is here to stay. It's changed a lot over the last few years. As you know the original plan was to build twelve colleges. If that had been done, we'd have a big mess. But the way it is now is very good. There's always been discussion about other colleges because of demography changes in the nation. But the forecasts for UCSD were way too high We haven't had as rapid growth as was predicted. If we had developed as fast as they had planned, I don't think the college system would have lasted.
Koala: You must have had a lost of contact with Dr. Roger Revelle in your years as Dean of Revelle College. What has his influence been on you?
Mort: Actually, during most of my time here, Dr. Revelle was at a little place back east called Harvard. But he brought a tremendous faculty to UCSD, and he set up a curriculum that has been marvelous. He's really been willing to share his enthusiasm with its. Much of the Revelle curriculum, as well as that of the other colleges, is due to his influence. He feeds that the purpose of higher education is to teach people to learn how to learn.
Koala: There are now about 3,000 new freshmen here who wild be undertaking that Revelle curriculum at their respective colleges Do you have any advice for them?
Mort: I do hope they catch the spirit of the place. We're still so young we're only about 18 years old. Most institution, are so old. But we even have a founder still teaching. We have a long way to go, but there are quite a number of ways for students to get involved at UCSD. They can change the shape of the university. About 10 years ago we had maybe seven or eight students who were active, leaders. Now we have150 at Revelle alone. In the early years we didn't have a newspaper. We only had one dance. But there was a radio station out of Galathea. It was some kind of a coffee can setup that one of the students did by himself. I remember he used to broadcast all night. He'd put on stereo broadcasts of all kinds of music, end I remember one night he was telling everyone what kinds of things would be expected to be in a humanities paper for Dr. Andy Wright's class.
But there were very few students who took the initiative to get involved then. Now, it's surprising when students don't want to do something. I hope the freshmen will have that same spirit too.