History Lesson: The Social and Technical Assistance Program

History Lesson: The Social and Technical Assistance Program

With the outbreak of the Korean War, Haverford launched what would be its most recent foray into graduate education: the Social and Technical Assistance program, which ran from 1951 to 1956. The College had experimented with service-related graduate training previously, with its World War II-era Relief and Reconstruction program, and the new educational experiment was founded on the belief that “the development of a peaceful world society depends on large-scale social, economic, and political reorganization in many regions and over a long period of time.” Thus, the one-year co-ed program aimed to train its students to become the competent administrators of those international development efforts.

The Social and Technical Assistance curriculum (whose advisory committee included philosophy professor and Quaker thought leader Douglas Steere, who led Haverford’s Relief and Reconstruction program), was taught by Haverford professors, including Holland Hunter ’43 (economics), Ira De A. Reid (sociology), and Theodore Brinton Hetzel ’28 (engineering). It featured courses on contemporary cultures, human relations, and world relations, and offered electives in fiscal management, natural sciences, and engineering. A nonacademic component emphasized skills in administration, auto mechanics, and first aid. Once they completed their classes, students also needed to undertake a final three-month work project in the field to receive a degree. (Tuition, according to a 1951 brochure, was $600 for the academic year.)

The innovative program attracted a diverse student body, including a Japanese architect, a German engineer, and a woman who had been a U.N. translator. One of its graduates, Hester A. Davis ’55, went on to become a legend of public archaeology, and another, Maurice D. Bean ’54, was named ambassador to Burma by President Jimmy Carter. But Social and Technical Assistance never truly took off.

A tongue-in-cheek 1952 Haverford class yearbook entry characterized the undergrad perception of the grad students as “a rather odd, dull and clannish local arm of the American Friends Service Committee … a hopeless crew learning to dig latrines …” But the writer went on to rebut the undergrads’ dim view, saying, “In point of fact, the graduate program is both bold and worthwhile.”

By 1956, however, only three people were enrolled, marking the program’s final year of existence. According to a biography of Gilbert F. White, while Social and Technical Assistance was one of the reasons he agreed to become president of Haverford, White acknowledged later, “We didn’t get financial support for it, and we didn’t have the power of our convictions as to the success of the effort.”
—Eils Lotozo

Photo: Social and Technical Assistance program grad students and professors in 1954.

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