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2004-07-09 Interview with William B. Sturgill, July 9, 2004 2004OH104 KH 689 0:31:32 CC001 Community Colleges of Kentucky Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries University of Kentucky. Community College System William B. Sturgill; interviewee Adina O'Hara; interviewer 2004OH104_KH689_Sturgill 1:|9(1)|16(3)|25(1)|31(10)|44(5)|58(2)|66(12)|74(13)|83(6)|91(6)|102(12)|112(2)|125(4)|139(5)|149(5)|161(3)|172(9)|183(7)|192(2)|204(2)|218(3)|228(13)|247(4)|264(9)|274(8)|286(2)|296(1)|305(5)|314(11)|331(11)|358(7) audiotrans Legit interview O'HARA: This is an unrehearsed interview with William B. Sturgill at his office in Lexington, Kentucky on July 9 2004. Mr. Sturgill, in the 1962 legislative session, a community college bill was passed authorizing the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees to establish a system of public two-year colleges in Kentucky. What was your role in the creation of community colleges in Kentucky? STURGILL: Well first, I have long felt that if Kentucky was to get ahead economically, and otherwise, we had to improve our educational system. And why--I had gone to the university, and knew of the progress that it was making, I welcomed the news that we were about to embark on a community college system attached to the university. So my role is a rather limited, but I did have the opportunity on a couple occasions to encourage Governor Combs that I felt that was a step in the right direction; because it would provide education in the four reaches of the state to young people who otherwise would not have an opportunity. I supported it then, and I supported it throughout the time it was going through the legislative process; and I have organized what today is the Hazard Community College, more recently changed to the Kentucky River Valley or some other name to include all the adjoining regions other than Hazard. But in the beginning, it was the Hazard Community College. And it was, uh, the one I know the most about and why I embraced the purpose of--of the community colleges. I, of course, was interested in those that was going to serve east Kentucky and Appalachia. Following the enactment of that legislation, uh, effort was put forth by, by people in various communities. The legislation did not provide any funds to acquire property on which to build the community college, so the respective locations, some successful in getting and some not successful, put forth effort to raise funds to acquire property and then work with the Governor and the university in attracting a, a community college. And I'm acquainted with Prestonsburg because Governor Combs prior to his being elected governor lived next door to my family in Prestonsburg; and the site that was picked to establish Prestonsburg Community College was de-, directly across the street from those properties. And I think that I'm correct in saying that under the terms and conditions of that legislation, Prestonsburg was the first community opened. They acquired the Ashland, old Ashland Junior College, and made it part of the Community College, and they acquired the Paducah Junior College; and where that was, uh, in the early days or i-, i-, in the, the mid-time effort, uh, that happened-- O'HARA: Um-hm. STURGILL: --but it was not from the basic legislation that was passed in '62. Since I know more about the Hazard Community College, I will to tell you how we went about facing the obstacles we had. O'HARA: Please do. STURGILL: We organized the Hazard Independent College Foundation. And through that vehicle we raised whatever money was necessary to acquire the property and get ready to announce to the university that we were ready to assist and do what we ca-, co-, could to immediately move a, a school to Hazard. O'HARA: What year was that, approximately? STURGILL: Approximately, it was '64. Uh, I don't remember what year we opened the community college, except I do remember, very vividly, that we did not, after we jumped all the hurdles, we did not have the building finished, and we had to go and te-, take and, uh, consolidate a building that was, uh, vacant by the public school, city school system and re-, renovated, re-conditioned it to allow the first students who went to Hazard Community College to go there while we finished the building, what was going to be the permanent Hazard Community College. The big hurdle we had to get over was to overcome a commitment that Governor Combs and Governor Breathitt, who was then Governor, succeeding Combs, had made to Senator Archie Craft and to Harry Caudill about designating Whitesburg as a site of the Kentucky River Valley Community College. And we felt that Hazard was the center of the activity of, of business and, and banking. Uh, and we felt as though, or I did, that it should be in Hazard, so I told Combs and Breathitt, and they failed to be sympathetic to that effort and felt very strongly that they had a commitment to these two fellows from Letcher County. So I went ahead with the plans to raise the money, bought the site, and Dr. Oswald, who was then president of the university, uh, came to Hazard to my assistance, looked at the site, and we had a couple of sites, and he selected one. And then I went before the trustees, the board of trustees at the university, to plead my case for Hazard being designated as the location of the so-called Kentucky River Valley Community College System. So after much squabbling, and, we finally, the university, finally decided that they'd put it in Hazard. So we, we were delighted. And I think that, uh, having recited to you about reconditioning that building, I think we opened in '66, but I'm not sure of the date. Uh, I have followed with interest, uh, through the foundation; I stayed on as president, even after I moved my, my residence to Lexington. Uh, I was in the coal business in, in Hazard, i-, in the Hazard field, and I stayed on as president several years after I came here, of the foundation. So I have, up until the last few years, been very actively involved, uh, with the growth of the Hazard Community College. And I think today they have over three thousand students, uh, enrolled in, in various, uh, uh, lines of study at the school. O'HARA: It really has blossomed. Speaking of your conversations with Governor Combs, um, did, did you, at any time, expect a different result in the government structure in the community colleges? Did you, at any time, think they may not possibly be put with the University of Kentucky? STURGILL: Never had the, the thought that they would be anywhere else but the university. And while I was on the Board of Trustees, uh, I have and insisted that they always stay with the university. I felt there was a governance there that, that lent support the way it should be for the future and for the growth, and I think that proved to be true; because it's a time that, uh, Governor Patton dismantled the governance from the University of Kentucky. There are fourteen community colleges throughout Kentucky, and forty-four thousand students registered, and I looked it up after Governor Patton and I came to differences about it in this very room-- O'HARA: Wow (??). STURGILL: --and it's the first I ever heard of anybody wanting to disassociate the community colleges with the university. I don't know whether I've under a barrel, or, but I had never heard it from anybody until, uh, he--he had called and said he'd like to talk to me, and we met here, uh, one morning before Kentucky-Tennessee basketball game. (both laugh) O'HARA: The decision to place the community college system under the state's flagship and land-grant university was considered unique across the nation. How did Kentucky's development of public two-year colleges compare to the expansion of other two, two-year colleges in the United States, in the 1960's? What made it unique and set it apart? STURGILL: Well, I don't guess I have any knowledge about other states having developed a, a community college system, or a junior college system. We had some junior colleges in Kentucky, Campbellsville and, and Lindsey Wilson, uh, I don't remember whether Owensboro had a community college at that time or not. But there were other--but I, I felt as though thi-, this was a move in the right direction and being part of that growth during its infancy. O'HARA: Um-hm. STURGILL: I saw real signs of growth. I saw participation by the university that probably would not have occurred with any other school, even though the so-called regional universities, like Eastern and Morehead and Western and Murray, growled about their not being considered or not being thought of in the term of having a location of the community college near their site and near their location, uh, and could better administer the affairs of it than the university. Uh, I think that the university was and should have always be the force to direct the community college system. O'HARA: One of my questions you, you, um, you, you were addressing just a second ago, and, uh, it has to do with the regional institutions, I've been able to find documentation leading up to that decision that is very informative, and a historian can reconstruct how the issue was emerging. But the records are blank when it comes to explaining how the issue was resolved with the regional colleges. Since you were there, how was the issue resolved? Were, were they, did Governor Combs, um, compromise and, and provide them with something else when they wanted community colleges? STURGILL: As I recall, there was no committee; there was no roundtable discussions about whether we were gonna be that involved with regional universities, or the regional colleges at that time. Uh, Combs decided they were gonna be where they were gonna be, and that was at the University of Kentucky, and that was final. I don't think he discussed it with, with anybody but the university. Uh-- O'HARA: In oral history interviews after asking a person why a decision was made, um, we often wanna consider when the decision was made. Because the timing is worth knowing, would you explain when you think Governor Combs made this decision? Was it something he brought into his campaign, and campaigned on it before he was governor, or did it emerge as an issue later in his governorship? STURGILL: I, I, I don't recall it ever being mentioned, and I think, in Combs' mind, it was decided from the get-go. At the time he initiated the legislation, I think he knew where he wanted to direct that they built. And under his governance it would be built. Uh, I think it was Combs' decision and Combs' alone. O'HARA: What were the benefits to having one governance structure for this state's flagship and land grant institution, and a system of community colleges? STURGILL: Well I guess the big advantage was the resource that the university provided, both in teaching and in researches it advanced, in all phases of the word "research". And then with becoming a medical school, uh, which is in '62, '60, '62 area, uh, that even enlarged the opportunity, because healthcare is Kentucky's biggest problem, then and now. Uh, and I think the university's resources dictated that the community college to be there more than any other, after it got going and after it blossomed, I don't think that was the immediate thought, but it certainly proved to be the on-going thinking in, in the minds of those who were responsible for enlarging the community college system. O'HARA: Would you consider the community college system a part of UK's land grant mission to serve all reaches of the state, a service mission in the sense of, uh, of being a land-grant institution? STURGILL: Well, the, the, the, the best way I think I could answer that is: at the--(clears throat)--time we went to the chancellor system and created a chancellor for the university campus, and created a chancellor for the med-school. We created a chancellor for the community college system. And I think that was an indication that those who were, uh, in charge of the university could recognize the importance of giving it the kind of leadership that it rightly deserved. O'HARA: Recognizing its potential and its-- STURGILL: --yeah-- O'HARA:--significance-- STURGILL: I don't, I--I--I, just don't remember, other than Prestonsburg and Owensboro or Henderson, uh, how the other colleges fell in line in the, the geographical location in the state. O'HARA: There were five extension centers that UK operated prior to the community college legislation act and UK recur--uh, UK referred to them as extension centers and, but they prim-, primarily offered the first two years, um, and one of them was in Covington, the very first one in 1948, uh, and then Ashland Junior College was converted and, um, Henderson was one of, one of those. Um, Fort Knox, although it did not become a community college, it stayed as an extension center after the legislation 'cause of its unique position with the military. And the other one was a Cumberland extension center that I would assume has, was transformed into one of the community colleges, probably. STURGILL: I, I had forgotten about Cumberland--(clears throat)--uh, being an extension center. I remember it being because Harlan had put up a big hue and cry for a community college. And they already had the ground work at Cumberland and it was just picked up and put there. O'HARA: Those were the easiest-- STURGILL: --and Harlan, Harlan rallied behind it. O'HARA: Oh. Part of the legislation in '62 transformed those four of the five into community colleges, and like you said, the groundwork was already there, so, I don't think in those cases the land or location was as much an issue, because they were already existing. STURGILL: ----------(??). And I think the city, in the instance of Ashland and Paducah, had something to do with the financing, helped them with the financing. O'HARA: They had a, a junior college, uh, legislation went through, I think in 1936, that, uh, provided for local city taxes. Now how that was incorporated, I think that changed once they became a part of the University of Kentucky; I'm not sure there were, there were negotiations in there to determine if the local tax support would continue. STURGILL: I can remember the Ashland's, but I have a complete blank about--about Paducah. O'HARA: Paducah didn't actually enter the system until 1968, but they had been under negotiations for, since the mid, early to mid-fifties trying to become a part of UK. But they wanted to do it on their, their own terms. (laughs) STURGILL: Um-hm. (laughs) O'HARA: (laughs) So it is, it's a fascinating, fascinating system. Both economic and political factors played a key role in the decision to initially grant the University of Kentucky control of the community colleges: economic in the sense that you can already branch extension campuses created. Um, and they also had the money and the flexibility to create a statewide system at a time when there was not money appropriated directly for a community college system. And then, how did the debate over the governance of Kentucky's community college system change over time? STURGILL: I think the influence of the regional university played more of an impact in recreating a discussion--(clears throat)--about the governor--(clears throat)--than any other economic or, or, uh, educational factor. It later became an economic factor that caused Patton to take the universiti-, community college away from the universities. A few people who had moved plants into Kentucky and have gotten into a political position convinced them to take the technical school, which at that time was twenty-eight in number, and merge them into the community college system and create whatever they call it now. That was a factor, but it came in a later time than the pressure that was brought on by the regionals. O'HARA: From-- STURGILL: Particularly Dr. Martin, who was at Eastern, Dr Doran, who was at, uh, Morehead, Dr Sparks, who was at Murray, they, they were all people of importance in the political world in Kentucky and had moved into academic and were, were powered (??) to keep this alive, uh, this discussion alive that, that used to call Dr. S-, cause Dr Singletary great worry. You mentioned one thing about money; Dr Singletary always said, "Kentucky, Kentuckians and Kentucky are asking us to provide education, but they're not willing to pay for it." That was one of his great lines. O'HARA: (laughs) There's a lot of truth to that. (laughs) And I, I, uh, I'm gathering in my discussions with you and others that Governor Combs found a way to create a community college system that was very economically feasible, but it also, um, UK gave it the political protection to allow it to grow and, and not become a regional war between who gets what. STURGILL: Well, Dr Singletary came here in, in '69, -8 or -9, I've forgotten which, and he was immediately attached to, to a community college system, and he wanted it to grow, and he provided a budget for it to grow, uh, and, and in my di-, time there with him I was chairman of the board eight years, and I used to say, "Professor, we are reducing the amount of income and appropriations that we get from the state of Kentucky and the public fund dollar each and every year that we adopt this budget, and yet you want to protect the thing I want to protect, the community colleges." But as, as he looked at the medical school, as he looked at the University campus, and you could see the buildings that are growing on the campus every year, still growing, and it was a lot of his mission (??), uh, he got Singletary's prints all over that campus. Uh, h-, he was very mindful of the community college at all times. And maybe the, if he had, if they didn't have a strong person, if we didn't have a strong person as he was, with a commitment to the community college, it might not have prospered as well. O'HARA: Um-hm. STURGILL: Uh, and, and certainly, certainly if Singletary had been president and Patton wanted to move the community college, and --- -------(??)--, and remove them from the control of the governance of the university, and Singletary was president, it'd have been a bloody battle like you've never seen--(laughs)--'cause, 'cause he wouldn't have gone down easily ----------(??) Wethington. O'HARA: Are there any questions that I've not asked that you wish I had? STURGILL: Y-, y-, you're, you're better informed about the, the, the system, the community college system, than anyone I've talked to. O'HARA: Well, thank you, thank you very much for your time. And-- STURGILL: Oh I, I hope I've helped you. I've rambled on quite a bit today. O'HARA: Oh, you've helped me tremendously. You've, uh, y-, it's been a real pleasure to speak with you. STURGILL: Now, uh, if you wanna, i-, i-, in you searching around, if you want to go see Marvin Jolly, I, I'll, I'll make the necessary arrangements for you. O'HARA: I would be, it would be my pleasure. I would appreciate that; 'cause I, I like to follow every lead, and, like I said, it, it's just a pleasure to get to talk to people about the community college system and where it came from. STURGILL: Now there's a, there's another fellow that was in Hazard that, uh, he was such, during some of his growth periods; his name is Ed Hughes. O'HARA: I am familiar with that name. STURGILL: And, and he's in Northern (??) Kentucky now. O'HARA: That's what I thought. I thought-- STURGILL: And he would be, uh, one that would, Marvin could tell you more about the beginning. O'HARA: And that's what I am focusing on. STURGILL: But, but the expansion, uh, Ed Hughes would, could, can give you an update. O'HARA: Oh, I would, I would appreciate anything you could do to, um, to help me meet, um, Mr. Jolly, and, um; so I look forward to that. Thank you so much for your time. STURGILL: Yep, well-- [End of interview.] In this interview, William Sturgill, a member of the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees, discusses the evolution of the statewide community college system over the decades. Sturgill also comments on the merger of the community colleges and the state's technical schools into the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. insert here