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Barry University Oral History: Paul James Villemure, Sr.


        Sister Paul James


        Sister Paul James Villemure

Today is June 13, 1988. I am Sister Eileen Rice in the Barry Oral History room and I have with me Sister Paul James Villemure. 


Sr. Eileen Rice: Sister Paul James, where were you born?

Sr. Paul James: I was born in Newberry Michigan in the upper peninsula of Michigan on November 28, 1928.

Sr. Eileen Rice: How many people were in your family?

Sr. Paul James: There were 14 children and I was the seventh.

Sr. Eileen Rice: Tell me a little bit about your parents.

Sr. Paul James: They were both born in the upper peninsula of Michigan and the grandparents on both sides were born in Canada. They both spoke French before they spoke English. Both of them came from rather large families, my Dad from a family of five and my mother from a family of seven. 

Sr. Eileen Rice: What did your father do for a living?

Sr. Paul James: My recollection of him was that he was a foreman at a factory in Newberry. During the depression he was out of work for a while and then he was the manager of the liquor store and then he received an appointment to be the post master.

Sr. Eileen Rice: Where did you attend elementary and high school?

Sr. Paul James: In Newberry. There was no Catholic school at that time. The Adrian Dominicans taught catechism during the summer and later two or three taught during the year. I went to Siena Heights, our own college. 

Sr. Eileen Rice: What degrees do you have?

Sr. Paul James: From Siena, a Bachelor of Arts and from Notre Dame University in 1954 a Ph.D in Mathematics.

Sr. Eileen Rice: When did you come to Barry? 

Sr. Paul James: I came to Barry in August 1959.

Sr. Eileen Rice: How would you describe Barry when you arrived?

Sr. Paul James: The atmosphere on campus, happy, friendly, positive; the role of the Sister faculty was an integral part of the college. The governance of the college was certainly in the hands of the Sisters. I do recall that in the early years we did meet to discuss problems, e.g. if a student's average was low, we could speak for or against them. Or if they felt that they should not return, or somebody who also had been a discipline problem, should we keep that student? When I came to Barry I was the only full-time person in the department. As a matter of fact, just one course was being taught by someone else. The department at that time had about 12 students as math majors. Six seniors/one junior, three sophomores and three freshmen. 

Sr. Eileen Rice: What about the students? Would you comment on them?

Sr. Paul James: In general, I was impressed by the students. They were mature, their goals were set about accomplishing. They were in the student government, and also the campus queen, responsibilities, that I felt, they turned out very well. 

Sr. Eileen Rice: Would you comment on the lay faculty?

Sr. Paul James: My recollection is that there were only three, Peggy Hartzell, Gloria Klee, and Adela Quinones. The first two were in physical education because at that time everyone had to learn to swim. I think the other person was in Political Science at least that is the course she taught. 

Sr. Eileen Rice: Would you talk about the curriculum?

Sr. Paul James: When I came, the curriculum was pretty prescriptive the first two years, There were requirements in theology, philosophy, everybody had to take a language, a history and they had to take a science course too. Many of the young women at that time were going to be teachers and the state certification required a science course.

Sr. Eileen Rice: What was the perception of Barry by the Miami community?

Sr. Paul James: I believe that, at that time, they thought of us as a convent school, or they thought our students were going to be Sisters. We did have a few women who entered the convent but that is not what we were about. If people had come to see us, I think it would have been evident that is not what we were about. Not long ago I read a comment somewhere that in the early days we were educating women to be good wives and mothers. I think that was not true, certainly not in 1959. Those young women had some kind of profession in mind. Some did get married but when they left college they were ready to assume a professional role.

Sr. Eileen Rice: How would you compare the atmosphere on campus today?

Sr. Paul James: Well, I still think that it is happy and friendly. You could stop almost anybody -if a stranger was on campus, they could stop almost anybody and they would get help. But in term of meeting students, when I first came, we knew practically everybody. When you met someone, they would look at you and smile and give a greeting, whereas now you meet more people whom you don't know. Now, if I have seen someone several times I stop and ask who they are and where they are from. But now I think they try to avoid you as they go by so there isn't that openness that there used to be. 

Sr. Eileen Rice: What about your department today?

Sr. Paul James: Well the department has grown from one to seven full time people next year, with myself being the only full time religious faculty. We still do not have too many math majors. It has grown from 12 the first year I came to less than ten but now has grown up again.

Sr. Eileen Rice: Would you comment on the students?

Sr. Paul James: I must say they do not impress me in terms of my first year here. Then they were mature and knew what their goals were and what they had to do to achieve them. Now I believe we are getting a number of students who do not want to be in college but are here because they have to be and so you meet an element of immaturity; it is just like high school where they did not have to do much homework. Basically, math is not a spectator sport. You become proficient in math by practicing. We tried to do that analogy with some of the students by asking how they would become good in a sport. They are going to be good in math in the same way by putting time and effort into it.

Sr. Eileen Rice: Do you want to comment on the lay faculty first in your department and then across campus?

Sr. Paul James: In my department there will be seven full-time members next year and I am still the only religious faculty member. In the lay faculty, three of whom have Ph.D.'s, two of whom are working on doctorates, and one of them has a master's degree. They are competent, like to teach, interested in the students, and definitely interested in fulfilling one of those goals of the college. Every one of them is interested in helping that student as much as that student wants to be helped.

Sr. Eileen Rice: What about faculty across campus?

Sr. Paul James: Well, now that there are so many, if you serve on a committee with them, you get to know them, they are friendly, some more than others. But I feel that generally, the faculty are a dedicated group of men and women. 

Sr. Eileen Rice: Then they compare favorably to the Sisters.

Sr. Paul James: Oh yes. And as a matter of fact, I'll tell you that their dedication has impressed me. In a sense, one, I don't know if this is being chauvinistic in terms of religious life, but one would expect that the Sisters would be willing to go the extra mile or be available or whatever, but I think that's true in general about the lay faculty as well. At least those that I am aware of.

Sr. Eileen Rice: Now, how has the curriculum changed since you came here? 

Sr. Paul James: Back and forth. We went from the earlier days of strict requirements in Religion and/or Theology and Philosophy and History and Science and learning a language to, did we ever go to no requirements? I don't think we ever did that, but we do still have requirements and we're not so specific about the courses. In those early days students had to take these courses in Theology, had to take these courses in Philosophy and so on. We have, when the distribution requirements were changed, the number was reduced and there was more latitude, sodalitude. The kind of thing that happened was the students had to take Theology and/or Philosophy, they could take History and/or Behavioral Science. And after a few years, and probably a little bit of study on a lot of people's part, we went back to saying that students ought to have Theology and Philosophy. They ought to have History and Behavioral Science. They ought to have language and literature and some fine arts or humanities, math and science. That's where we are now, but I think that even now, those distribution requirements are studied by the distribution committee and the study of arts and science in terms of maybe increasing the requirements. 

Sr. Eileen Rice: What about the perception of Barry by the Miami community? How has that changed?

Sr. Paul James: Well, I think that has changed quite drastically. I think that certainly we aren't regarded as a Catholic school anymore. I think more people are aware of us. As a matter of fact, a candidate whom I just, this is not the Miami community, but a candidate whom I just interviewed whose finishing his work at the University of Florida in Gainesville, in his letter to us, he said, "We're all aware here at the University of Florida of all the good things that are happening at Barry University." So, I thought that was certainly a plus.

Sr. Eileen Rice: Do you think these changes are positive or negative?

Sr. Paul James: I think they're both positive. I think that people who liked us as a Catholic school probably look at some of the changes in a negative way and look at some of the things that have happened, for instance speakers on campus, in a negative light and don't look at us as a University and the necessity of in a sense academic freedom.

Sr. Eileen Rice: What time frame do you see the greatest changes at Barry? Now, you were here when you came, you were with, who was the executive vice-president when you came?

Sr. Paul James: Sister Mary Alice Collins.

Sr. Eileen Rice: When you came in '58?

Sr. Paul James: Yes, yes.

Sr. Eileen Rice: That's right. You were not here then when Sister Gonzaga came. 

Sr. Paul James: No.

Sr. Eileen Rice: I see. Then we had Sister Dorothy and Sister Trinita and Sister Jeanne. As you look back at each of them, what do you think they contributed to the college? Let's take Sister Mary Alice for example. Just think about it, what did she contribute?

Sr. Paul James: I really think that I am going to have to think about this. 

Sr. Eileen Rice: Yeah, think about their style too. What about your accomplishments at Barry? What are the things that you have done since you came here?

Sr. Paul James: Well, I would say possibly the main thing I did was update the curriculum in the math department and try to keep it updated. In this period math in a sense is declining in the high schools, trying to maintain a level of integrity and being able to bring students where they ought to be in order to achieve at a college level. 

Sr. Eileen Rice: Well, I think the very growth of the department speaks also for you. You started out with one or two and you now have seven full-time people. 

Sr. Paul James: Right, but remember, at least three of them are remedial math. Although, I said to someone not too long ago, if they weren't in those remedial math courses, they'd have to be taking some other course so in order to accommodate them, we would probably still need as many people as we have. Part of what, too is due to the fact that the School of Business for instance, in the beginning did not have a math department. Then when they changed their curriculum, they asked for more math. The School of Computer Science asked for more math, but almost every program except a few programs of Liberal Arts, is specifying some math. Now we are in a sense dialoging with Computer Science and the School of Business because our perception is that the math requirements are weak, especially in the School of Business. We don't have to say that, but they were weak in the School of Computer Science, but just recently that school has put somebody in charge of the Computer Science degree and someone else in charge of the Computer Data Processing, and so the math requirement has changed. We've always been willing to accommodate those people in terms of providing them with good solid math courses. Again, trying to maintain the integrity of the courses and so if their students aren't prepared, then they have got to be prepared before we are going to change our courses.

Sr. Eileen Rice: Do you recall Concour? You were here at the time of Concour, weren't you?

Sr. Paul James: Yes. Other than the fact of what it was and that's the time that which we went from rather stringent requirements to a latitude in choosing it would seem to me, the whole idea of concour was good in terms of sitting down and really discussing both faculty and students about the requirements and possibly even the outcome because I am sure that across the country the same thing has happened in other schools. That those distribution requirements have gone from being prescriptive to not so prescriptive and now what one reads is that they are going to have to make prescriptive requirements.

Sr. Eileen Rice: Right. Describe the place of religion when you arrived on campus and how you would describe it today. 

Sr. Paul James: Well, I have to say that I don't feel I could discuss the role today. I can say a few things, but certainly not about the role. When I came on campus I feel that the religion was central and that the philosophy courses were required. There were a number of students who attended daily Mass. It wasn't required at that time, although a lot of people think that it was. It certainly was not, but a number of students did attend Mass and I don't know, just seemed to be interested in things related to religion. I see that now certainly an effort has been made to accommodate students by changing Mass times, by making things available through Campus Ministry, in a sense promoting things that happened in the early days by virtue of the smallness of the institution. That for instance, the things I'm thinking about, the Campus Ministry suggests that the students come over and take a study break and so on. Those things happened in the early days by virtue of the lounges that were on each floor in the dormitories. So my perception I guess is that what the Campus Ministry is working to achieve now, we had by virtue of arrangement on the campus. Certainly their job is harder because there were so many students than there are now and we've gone through the period in general across the country that students felt they didn't have to attend religious functions and that religion wasn't important. I think that the fact that we have as many as we do participate is a good thing.

Sr. Eileen Rice: Do you think we are fulfilling the mission as stated in the catalog?

Sr. Paul James: Well, I hadn't gone to that one, so I'd need to look at the mission again and think about that one. I certainly as I said earlier, Barry is a caring institution, I do think that that is being fulfilled. I'm sure that you could find a few students that feel that they have been left out in the cold, but my inclination is to say that they themselves haven't made an effort to be part of things.

Sr. Eileen Rice: How would you evaluate Barry's strengths and weaknesses?

Sr. Paul James: Again, because of our expansion, it seems to me that it would be hard to say what Barry's strength is. I'd be inclined to say that not enough emphasis, and this is probably a weakness, in terms of expanding, that maybe we haven't been really looking to quality education. I think that individually, you know we can say things, it's hard for me to really say things, but I can say this is a strength of Barry. Unless you look at the accomplishment of that goal of being a caring institution as a strength. I know that I am reading files for a program that we call the entry program. Students whose qualifications are admittingly marginal and almost without fail in the essay that a student writes or a recommendation that a counselor writes, there is some delusion to the fact that they know the students will get the help they need at the institution. I don't know if that's a good thing or not because, is that what college is about? Working with many students who are going to need this extra help? But, certainly, as I say that's a special program that we have.

Sr. Eileen Rice: Do you have any humorous stories that you recall.

Sr. Paul James: Well, I do, but I'm not sure that it would be a good thing to tell on tape. One Sister who was rather absent minded, a story that they told about her was that she got to class and at that time we were on our belts a little container that held your pen and pencil and possibly your watch. She was lecturing and to emphasize something she was going to write something and she went to pull her pencil out and it happened to be her toothbrush. Then again, another Sister, I used to have a young lady come and visit me because she had swimming class prior to a class with this Sister and the Sister was not a bit understanding and so locked the door. So she'd come down and visit with me because she knew where to look. We won't mention any names. But, at that time both, well we could get away with that. I don't know whether we could get away with that today. Although I must say that I'm tempted in my eight o'clock class when somebody is repeatedly tardy, to lock my door. But I guess my philosophy is I'd rather not because I'd rather have half the class than not at all.

Sr. Eileen Rice: Anything else that you consider important that we haven't brought up? 

Sr. Paul James: Well I do think that, and I'm sure you're going to consider this in the history, Sister Kenneth's role of accommodating the professional Cuban people who came in that first wave in the early sixties. I think that Sister Kenneth, we can't spare her because she certainly was part of us at that time played an important role in helping those people to acquire the English they would need in order to work in some kind of profession that was equivalent to what their preparation was. Sister Kenneth organized it, but a number of Sisters helped out.

Sr. Eileen Rice: How would you evaluate the growth of the Board of Trustees? Do you think the college has changed under them?

Sr. Paul James: Well, I guess that's another thing I'd have to think about and so I guess that's it.

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