Tom Montville Interview
Tom Montville, Professor of Food Science, Cook College (CC '76).
Date of Interview: November 5, 2004
Interviewer: Rob Teeter
Transcriber: Anthony Roselle
Q: Tell us something about your experience with the new Cook College ?
TM: I guess the context for everything is the incredibly turbulent era. The people had just ended the war in Vietnam , Watergate was coming around. I was a freshman in 1971 living at Rutgers College in its last year as an all male school. So I got to see it go from all male to co-ed between my freshman and sophomore year, and then went from the Rutgers campus in my sophomore year to here (Cook) in my junior year. Living on these two campuses gave me very, very different experiences. I remember the first time I saw the Newells; before they were redone they looked like shoeboxes. I drove out to campus during the summer to see them and thought, “Wow, they're going to be really nice when they take them out of the shipping crates.” But the shipping crates were the apartments. They were wood on the outside and looked like crates. But that was the finished exterior of the building.
Q: We've heard through other interviews about a large marijuana bust, does that ring a bell?
TM: There was kind of like this “indwelling of true Aggies” because everyone at Cook had been scattered amongst Livingston , Rutgers and Busch. When the Newells first opened, all of the sudden everybody from Cook was in the same place and it was a very, very heavy experience. So a lot of people started using their agricultural skills to grow marijuana and became pretty flagrant and open about it. You could just walk down the Newells and just see all the plants in the windows were pot plants. Finally there was just a big bust because it was too flagrant and I think 30 people got thrown out of housing.
Q: Were there any other interesting student actions around this time?
TM: There were a couple big streak fests at Cook, a bunch of kids just streaking around campus. There were a lot more watchers than doers.
Q: Was anything else changed with the new Cook?
TM: I remember them installing the parking meters along Lipman Drive . It used to be free parking. My roommate and I were horrified that there were parking meters on Cook. It was sacrilegious. We had this big plan to paint over the parking meter window in purple so that it couldn't be read. We'd already bought the paint when we realized that there was a very fine line between civil disobedience and hooliganism.
There was nothing here except the Newells. Food Science was the only new building on campus. This was it, no Marine coastal, no bio tech, no student center, or no Cookie Jar. There was just the Newells without any support as we know it.
Q: You sound like you've had more then a few intriguing experiences. Do you have any other fun stories for us?
TM: We used to penny people into their rooms. Everyone was living together for the first time and boys and girls would put the pennies in the back of the doors so people would be jumping out of their second floor windows to get out of their apartment.
In my senior year, my roommate was a pretty tall guy. When we moved into our apartment our senior year he got a short mattress. It was new, wrapped in paper but it was short. We put on work boots and t-shirts and got a clipboard. We went to Housing and copied the list of freshman women apartments. We went to their door and said, “Housing, new mattress!” Then we dumped the short mattress on them and took their long one.
Q: Were you involved in the actual change from the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences to Cook?
TM: As a student I was pretty clueless in terms of the politics and Cook and the confederated college plan. I was just trying to get through my courses.
Q: To summarize, what do you think was the biggest change?
TM: I think the big thing for me was just the difference between living at Rutgers College and living at Cook. It was just two entirely different worlds. This (Cook) being the kinder and gentler one.
Q: Nowadays the weekend lots are empty, did people travel home as much back when you were an undergrad?
TM: I didn't, so I…yeah. I couldn't really say that. I do know that back in those days the weekends did not start on Thursday. When I came back here I was like “Where is everybody? Why are there parties on Thursday?” Well, because it's the weekend. Of course, 20 years before my time, there were classes on Saturday morning. So we retrenched over time. Twenty years and then there's no Saturday, then no Friday, now no Thursday. If it keeps going this way, in twenty years, there will only be classes on Wednesday.
The drinking age then was 18, so there was a pub on campus in the Douglass Student Center. Ag Field Day was, I hate to say, a drunk fest, but…. They had the big beer trucks with spigots coming out the side and you could buy a mug and all the beer you could drink for $5. All you could drink for $5 is pretty different than the Ag Field Day rules of today.
Q: Dr. Bonnie McCay told me about a story you may have involving Elizabeth Stier, do you recall what she's talking about?
TM: Actually this is Libby Stier's office. She was my undergraduate advisor. She was, in her day, a kind of a pioneer woman. There weren't many women on faculty. This was before the era of political correctness. She was the only woman in the department of 19 men. She used to talk about whether the plumbing was on the outside or inside, and would describe her colleagues as being “full of piss and vinegar”. Rutgers was her whole life. She'd have student s at her house for picnics. One of the departmental functions was that they'd have a field trip up to Brotherhood Winery. They'd charter a bus and just get loaded. It was very different then. Much less political correctness. One professor would call all the guys honey, sweetie, and darling. Oh God, and the Douglass women smoked. You'd be taking a class on Douglass and they'd think they were real cool because they were smoking all the time. The profs thought they were cool for letting the students smoke. And I couldn't breath.
Q: What was your major here on Cook?
TM: Food Science, and then I went to graduate [school] at MIT and was totally taken back at how well prepared I was. Because, as you could imagine, they had people from everywhere, really top-notch schools. My preparation was absolutely as good as any of theirs. I tell people I never would have gotten into MIT from high school but I got in from Rutgers .
Q: Did classes or titles change with the college's change with regard to course requirements and your degree?
TM: No, it was just a name thing. I could have put either CAES or Cook on my diploma. It was just a renaming of the place with a new curriculum. You had your choice of which one to follow. I do think students took their coursework more seriously then they do now.