A history of the federation, the creation of The Observer: A uniquely CWRU story

The Reserve Tribune covers the impending Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University federation, pointing to the merge resulting in a better use of resources while retaining an equal partnership.
The Reserve Tribune covers the impending Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University federation, pointing to the merge resulting in a better use of resources while retaining an equal partnership.
Courtesy of the CWRU Archives

The last week of the semester is known amongst the Case Western Reserve University community as Legacy Week, a time to look back on the history of CWRU to inform its future. Anyone who has looked at the full name of CWRU, a four-word behemoth, might ask how this institution came to acquire such a long name.

The Federation was a result of the slow integration of two separate universities: Western Reserve University (WRU) and the Case Institute of Technology (CIT). While this process has roots dating back to the 1880s, it occurred in the summer of 1967, resulting in CWRU.

Janice Gerda, associate vice president for student affairs and CWRU’s in-house historian, noted the significance of the federation, saying, “We are simultaneously almost 200 years old and not yet quite 60. I think today we still see the way that CWRU sub-units build strong and innovative communities within the whole, balancing autonomy and innovation in one part of the university with the core mission and direction of the larger whole that binds us together.”

This is uniquely different from an all-out merger. The report that started the push for the federation, known colloquially as the Heald 2 Report, “rejected merger because it concluded that it should find a more creative pattern that would encourage imaginative efforts to preserve the important values, the historic traditions, the strengths and the potentialities for contribution not only of the Case Institute of Technology but also of the several component parts of Western Reserve University.”

As a result, when it was announced it was still a large deal. The Reserve Tribune, WRU’s  student newspaper, ran the headline “CWRU, WRU PLAN ’67 FEDERATION.”

At the time, students’ reactions varied dramatically because the Heald Commission only involved leaders from CIT and WRU, with no students.

The federation was not predestined, but it was far from unexpected. Since 1888, both schools had occupied neighboring plots of land, and by the time the Heald 2 Commission started, the biology, physics, chemistry and math departments were already being merged between the two schools.

“In retrospect, the Federation might seem inevitable—two strong and complementary institutions separated only by a fence, working together in many ways even as they were rivals in student life,” Gerda said. She draws on an 1882 speech at the opening of Adelbert Hall that encouraged WRU to work closely with other educational institutions, including the one a few yards away.

“But I also know that coming together in 1967 was organizationally traumatic at the time, and forced deep introspection about purpose and what was important,” Gerda said about the long-run effects of the federation.

The process was far from smooth. In October of 1967, the Reserve Home Concert was held in the Emerson Gymnasium—today part of the Veale Center. However, the head of CIT’s “physical department” restricted gym usage, claiming that Philip Heim’s responsibility was to CIT undergrads, not those from the now-federated institution. The Tribune then asked, “Why should those 2,500 students be deprived of the only concert facilities on the campuses because activities for the Case student discontinued for their weekend?”

An opinion column from The Case Tech, CIT’s student newspaper, called CWRU’s Blue “magnificently unsatisfactory.” This led one opinion writer in the Tribune to note that the Tech “are in reality out to sabotage the Federation.”

This is not to say all students from CIT were against the federation. In December 1967, an opinion column in the Tech noted that “a large number of students paraded onto the campus and proceded to stage a filthy exhibition of stupidity. They carried signs smeared with smut, cursed, taunted Case students, and made a general nuisance themselves.”

This all took place during the Vietnam War.

With the merging of two institutions came the merging of the two university’s newspapers. The original plan was for the two papers to merge at the start of the 1969 academic year. According to the results from a student government survey, 56% of CIT wanted the Tech to remain independent, a percentage high enough to keep the paper going for the 1968-69 year, but it was not enough to keep the merger from eventually happening.

“It appears that the Case students are dissatisfied with the Tech and that they view a merger of the papers as a solution to their dissatisfaction,” noted the then Editor of the Tech, Ed Pershey.

In October of 1968, the Tech accused the Tribune, claiming that it “falsely projected itself as the student newspaper of the university.” This was in response to their letterhead saying that they are the paper of Case Western Reserve University.

That same day, the Tribune noted that a mutual decision was reached to keep the two papers separate, sarcastically saying that the “Tech should become more of a newspaper.”

In March of 1969, it was announced that the two newspapers were set to merge to create one university newspaper. The Tribune’s editorial staff voted unanimously to create a new paper, with a 6-3 majority of the Tech’s staff as well. However, this plan ran into organizational complications, as the Tech could only be dissolved through a referendum per the bylaws of the Case Board of Publications.

This kicked off a frantic series of campaigning led by former CIT alumni who noted in one advertisement printed in the Tech that “A determined effort to preserve what is rightfully yours, your own Case Tech newspaper, must be made now.” Many students and Tech staff members responded to those claims noting that times have changed and that they have a duty to the much larger CWRU. In an editorial printed before the referendum, the Tech asked students to “support the staff who have demonstrated responsibility and not the retention of a mediocre Case Tech.” One letter to the editor mentioned how the Tech’s staff were working day and night to keep the paper afloat but were branded instead as “a small minority, who are out [to] manipulate the students of Case.” The CIT student body elected to keep the Tech. As a result from 1969, there was both a university-wide paper and the Case Tech, which only claimed to be a paper for CIT. This is after the two newspapers then merged the majority of their staff.

The two papers’ decision was met with ridicule and confusion. A graduate from the Flora Stone Mather College for Women—a part of Western Reserve University—asked, “How does this newspaper have the unmitigated gall to exist?”

While the vote over the Tech’s existence was occurring, there was also a competition to name the new university paper, which is where the name The University Observer was suggested by then student George Siekkinen and was changed by the Editorial Board to become The Observer.

Other names suggested included The Harvard Midwest Review, The Federater, The University Circle Sun, the Union Informer, the Euclid Crosswalk, The Daily Reamer, The Newspaper, The Caserver, the Case Reserve Tribtech and The Poets and Plumbers New Old Fashioned Red Hot Scandal Rag Newsgram.

For his work, Siekkinen was awarded a Polaroid camera.

This raises the question, what happened to the Tech between now and then?

A November 1979 article from The Observer analyzed the source of newspaper funding for both the Observer and the Tech and found that the Tech was financially dependent on the Undergraduate Student Government (USG). This did not bode well for the Tech’s more satirical and humorous style of reporting, covering everything from actual news to reporting on rumors.

On Jan. 24, 1980, the Tech was suspended by the Case Board of Publications due to financial problems. Its last publication was at the end of November 1979.

Come February, The Observer proposed, again, another merger, with the Tech becoming a monthly satire magazine, and all the journalistic functions of it being transferred, again, to The Observer.

On Feb. 19, a faction of the Tech opposed the merger and republished across the university with the title of “The Interim News,” a four-page newspaper, with an editorial leading its front page claiming that they have supporters and are printing what students want. Those behind the group claim that The Observer was a one-sided paper and wanted to preserve CIT’s voice in CWRU’s affairs. It was partly founded by the Case Alumni Association.

By the end of February, the Tech became a monthly satire magazine, with the editor of interim news claiming that in March they will publish under a new name.

The Interim was published twice in February and once in March under the name of “The Construction,” as the university did not approve of its new header that featured the university’s name.

In the next academic year, the Tech faced more criticism, including potential boycotts and a lawsuit. This stemmed from pieces that targeted the Women’s Center, Afro-Am and the Gay Student Union. Its articles were cited as being racist, sexist and overall bigoted. It even inspired protests at its office and outside of its end-of-semester fundraiser, where members of the organization joined and chanted “we are evil.” This protest was organized by the anti-draft committee and the National Lawyers Guild. The Tech printed one issue that academic semester.

The Tech was renamed “The Satyr” and died in April of 1982 at the hands of USG with only a handful of issues to its name. The current satire magazine, The Athenian, has no previous connection to the Tech. Its birth was a result of an Observer column gone rogue in the early 2000s.

In all, that is the brief and overly complicated story as to how The Observer came to be, a publication that arose from federating both a university and also a student body. This is something that CWRU students ought to take pride in.

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