The history of a historian

Sophia DiBattista

     Who would’ve thought that Ursinus College was once a junglegym? All the towering buildings, scattered sculptures, and sinuous pathways would undoubtedly appeal to a young child’s imagination. Ursinus was once a personal playground for one current history professor, Dr. Ross Doughty (Ursinus ’68), who remembers exploring the campus as a boy and later attending the institution as a student with the same sense of familiarity.

     “I had cousins who lived on both sides of the Ursinus campus –-one family lived in what is now Omwake Hall and another lived on Glenwood Avenue across the street from Clamer Hall. We pretty much considered it a playground especially when the classes were not in session. I also played tennis on what were then the clay tennis courts located where the Kaleidoscope is now and scrimmaged with my high school football team against visiting high schools who had football camp at Ursinus. So, when I arrived as a freshman in the fall of 1964, I was on familiar ground,” Doughty said.

     Having relatives close by and a familiarity with the campus made the transition to college feel like a reunion with an old friend–if that old friend was a school consisting of hundreds of people. But Doughty had a somewhat different campus experience than most students. Usually students live on campus, but Doughty was a commuter. He explained that because he was a commuter, he could not participate in various campus activities such as sports or small excursions.

     Nevertheless, Doughty found ways to be involved at Ursinus. “I still played intramural sports and worked as a manager and scorekeeper for the football and basketball teams. I got to travel with the teams and meet a lot of people through sports. I also helped organize a political commentary magazine called Focus which lasted a couple of years.”

     Doughty’s networks expanded even though he was busy balancing a lifestyle few at Ursinus experience. “Although I didn’t join a fraternity, I had a lot of friends in Delta Pi Sigma, which was an all-commuter student fraternity at the time.”

     Doughty also took advantage of the numerous travel opportunities available to Ursinus students. “During the summer between my junior and senior year, I joined an Ursinus student tour group for Europe and made friends that way . . . I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of old friends [from that experience] at [the class of 1968’s] 50th class reunion in April 2018.”

     Of course, there were differences between the college back then and now; Doughty noted key distinctions from when he attended. “Well it was much smaller–only about a thousand students–and cheaper. The tuition was $1400 a year when I was a freshman and only about $2500 by the time I graduated. [The students were] a lot more politically conservative . . . and [campus was] less diverse, racially and culturally. There was one African-American, two Asian-Americans, and one Latina in my graduating class. The overwhelming majority of the students came from the Philadelphia area.”

     Doughty continued, “Academically, there were far fewer majors than there are now, and there were no minors at all. The only available foreign languages were French, German and Spanish. French was by far the most popular language. Although there were individual courses in sociology, music, art history, and drama, there were no majors in any of those subjects, nor did media and communication arts, neuroscience, and theater and dance exist as majors. But biology, economics, and psychology were the most popular majors as they are today.”

     One of Doughty’s own professors, Dr. Maurice Armstrong, first recommended that Doughty consider teaching as a career. Armstrong was the history department’s chair in the 1960s, which is the position that Doughty currently occupies.

     Doughty’s eventual decision to become a teacher was solidified during his year studying abroad in Scotland. The knowledge and awareness he acquired while living within a different environment, plus a dedication to education, prompted him to make the final decision to become a teacher.

     Said Doughty, “When I came back to Ursinus in the fall of my senior year and told Dr. Armstrong about my plans, he was very supportive and helped me get into graduate school.” From Ursinus, Doughty earned a master’s degree and doctorate from Harvard University.

     If given the opportunity, Doughty said that one of the things he would change about his time at Ursinus would be to rethink his decision to commute and instead live on campus full-time. He feels that he missed many events by not being a resident student, but still was fortunate to get the experience of living on campus while residing at St. Andrews in Scotland when he studied abroad.

     Regarding Ursinus in the present, if he could change anything, he would improve a pressing academic issue.

     “I would add history as a core requirement,” said Doughty.

      There is a rich history between Ursinus and its alumni, so much so that some return to be in its family of faculty. Doughty is a shining example of this relationship. He anticipates fruitful futures for current students and looks forward to one day finally having history as part of the core curriculum.