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John U. Monro

Uncommon Educator

Toni-Lee Capossela

Publication Year: 2012

In 1967, John U. Monro, dean of the college at Harvard, left his twenty-year administrative career at that prestigious university for a teaching position at Miles College—an unaccredited historically black college on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama. This unconventional move was a natural continuation of Monro’s life-long commitment to equal opportunity in education. A champion of the underprivileged, Monro embodied both the virtues of the Greatest Generation and the idealism of the civil rights era. His teaching career spanned more than four decades, and, as biographer Toni-Lee Capossela demonstrates, his influence reached well beyond his lifetime. In addition to being a talented administrator, Monro was a World War II veteran, a crusading journalist, a civil rights proponent, and a spokesman for the fledgling Peace Corps. His dedication to social justice outlasted the fervor of the 1960s and fueled bold initiatives in higher education. While at Harvard he developed a financial aid formula that became the national template for needs-based scholarships and earned him the title “The Father of Modern Financial Aid.” During his decade at Miles College he spearheaded a satellite freshman program in the economically depressed Greene County, then went on to help design a literacy program, a senior research requirement, and a writing-across-the-curriculum program at Tougaloo College. When hearing and memory loss drove him from the classroom, he moved his base of operations to Tougaloo's Writing Center, working with students in a collaborative relationship that suited his personality and teaching style. Only in 1996, after struggling with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s for several years, did he retire with great reluctance. John U. Monro: Uncommon Educator is a tribute to this passionate teacher and an affirmation of how one person can inspire many to initiate positive and lasting change.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Southern Biography Series

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-xii

John Monro had a way of changing people’s lives, and I am no exception. Reading his obituary in the Boston Globe triggered my decision to take early retirement, and writing his biography has provided me with a decade of inspiration, surprises, frustrations, and stimulation


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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. 1-5

Dateline New York City, 9 March 1967. Reporters from across the country are gathered at the New York Hilton. Facing them are two men, one black and one white. Both are tall, imposing, middle-aged figures....

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1. Family Background and Childhood, 1912–1930

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pp. 6-23

The Monro family name has been linked with challenge, adventure, and the dramatic contours of the Scottish landscape since 1891. That year Sir Hugh T. Munro finished identifying and charting...

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2. Undergraduate Years, 1930–1934

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pp. 24-35

Monro began undergraduate life in Smith Hall, where he shared a top-floor dormer suite with Arthur T. Hamlin and George W. “Cat” Caturani (Hamlin 1). Fortunately for posterity, Hamlin...

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3. Interim Years and War Years, 1935–1945

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pp. 36-53

After commencement Monro was in limbo. Dottie had graduated and was hoping to open a school with a friend in September, and his buddies from the Journal had gone home or had begun working...

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4. Administrator Monro, 1946–1958

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pp. 54-65

Monro spent the first few months of civilian life in South Freeport with Dottie and the girls, repainting the cottage, stoking the woodburning stove for heat, and working sporadically on what he jokingly...

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5. Dean Monro, 1958–1962

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pp. 66-82

If you are looking for a clear description of Monro’s duties as dean, you will not find it in the official Records of the Dean of Harvard College, even though they stretch back to 1889. Instead, you will get a motley list of roles the dean is expected to fill: “teacher, friend, counselor...

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6. Moving toward Miles, 1962–1964

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pp. 83-106

Returning from Cranbrook, Monro wasted little time mourning the absence of the Peace Corps training program at Harvard; instead, he flew to Miami and attended a weeklong conference of the American Teachers...

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7. Final Years as Dean, 1964–1967

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pp. 107-126

Monro returned to New England when the summer workshop ended, but as the 1964–65 school year began at Harvard, the matters that demanded his attention paled in comparison to the issues taking...

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8. New Home, New Challenges, 1967–1971

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pp. 127-158

Monro was so eager to begin his new job that he begged Phil to drive him to Logan Airport the moment commencement festivities were over. In the car Dreyer listened patiently while Monro, preaching to the choir, insisted once again that going to Miles was an enviable opportunity rather than...

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9. Going It Alone, 1971–1978

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pp. 159-180

The summer of Pitts’s departure, Monro went to Evanston to help Phil, Janet, and the children move to Atlanta, where Phil had accepted a position as assistant professor of psychology and educational studies...

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10. This Looks like the Place, 1978–1984

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pp. 181-204

As Monro became more uncomfortable at Miles, he was drawn to Tougaloo for a multitude of reasons. The first was its leadership role in the civil rights movement, which can be understood only in the context...

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11. Weathering Changes, 1984–1995

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pp. 205-226

On 1 June 1984 J. Herman Blake became president of Tougaloo, stepping down as provost of Oakes College to do so. It is easy to see why the search committee found him attractive. He was a scholar in his own right...

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12. Final Postings, 1995–2002

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pp. 227-232

Sutton’s death heightened Monro’s awareness of his own declining powers, although he had suspected for some time that his memory lapses were due to Alzheimer’s. In fact, the disease may have been...

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pp. 233-236

Like his father and brothers before him, Monro was cremated, but figuratively speaking, his remains are widely dispersed. Every year, as college application deadlines loom, countless high school seniors...


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pp. 237-244


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pp. 245-262


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pp. 263-285

E-ISBN-13: 9780807145579
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807145562

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Southern Biography Series