Schmitz to Write History of Whitman

Nick Maahs, Staff Reporter

Professor David Schmitz, the Robert Allen Skotheim Chair of History, will soon begin writing the third volume of the History of Whitman College.  The book’s last volume was published in 2000 and covered the College’s history up to 1975.  Now, Schmitz has been asked by the college to bring that history up to the modern day.  

Work remains in the very early stages.  Professor Schmitz, who has written ten books over the course of his career, is presently at work on an eleventh, a history of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s foreign policy from 1933-1935.

Though the college history remains a second priority until the completion of his current work, Schmitz has performed some research, having hired a research assistant for the purpose last summer.

“I’ve done a few oral histories, interviewed a few people about their time at Whitman, their role at Whitman, but until I finish the FDR volume I won’t turn myself fulltime to it,” Schmitz said.

Generally, he intends to explore the relationship between national and local trends in higher education.  For instance, the diversification of the college board, student body and faculty.

“I have a picture of the Whitman board in 1975 with President Skotheim. So it’s President Skotheim and nine white men. Then I have a picture of the board with President Murrary. It’s larger, it’s more diverse, you have a woman president, you have women on the board, minority members,” Schmitz said.

Coming closer to contemporary times, Schmitz pointed to the changing distribution of academic disciplines as an area of interest, specifically citing the growth of STEM.

“You can track the largest of the three divisions of the faculty. It’s still humanities, but that at a certain time also represented where proportionally the student body was. Now, STEM is much stronger. 25 percent of the graduating class last year was basically biology, BBMB, etc.,” He continued, “So why has that occurred post ‘08 with the crash of the economy, computer science coming in. It’s a reflection of what’s going on regarding the importance of computers in our society.”

As the bulk of Schmitz’s work is within the field of U.S foreign policy, he expects this undertaking to provide a welcome challenge. That was part of his motivation for accepting the responsibility of writing an approximately 350 page history, a task he estimates will take him a year.

Additionally, Schmitz spoke to the importance of history as a deciding factor.

“As an institution I hope it helps give a roadmap of where it’s been, how it’s moved forward and what types of decisions were made, be them good or bad. I believe that if you take yourself seriously as an institution that you need to have serious examinations.  That was really in many ways the most persuasive reason.”