‘This opens up an opportunity to hire a younger historian,’says Mike Salevouris
(Webster Groves, MO, April 21, 2011) Mike Salevouris, a history professor at Webster University for more than 40 years, has
witnessed the evolution of the university and its student body. After many years of guiding students and helping Webster become what it is today, Salevouris is now retiring.
Salevouris said he hasn’t worked anywhere else.
“Webster is my job,” Salevouris said.
When he graduated with a Ph.D from the University of Minnesota, he was worried he wouldn’t find a job, especially being a history professor.
“History jobs were at a real premium — there weren’t any,” Salevouris said.
Despite his concern, he found find a job in 1970 at a small, private liberal arts college in Webster Groves, Missouri.
“Webster University, which I hadn’t even heard of, had a job opening in British history,” Salevouris said. “There were maybe two or three jobs in the country in what I had graduated in. So I was really lucky to get a job. … Anybody who had jobs in the early ’70s tended to stay where they were because there weren’t any possibilities of moving. But, that said, Webster to me was perfect.”
Salevouris said he remembers the first few years of working at Webster being times of uncertainty. The Sisters of Loretto installed a secular school board of directors for Webster College in 1967, right around the same time Webster became co-educational, Salevouris said. He also said he faced the university’s financial problems when he first came in 1970.
“The Webster I came to was on the verge of bankruptcy,” Salevouris said. “When I came here, I didn’t know … that the school was within six months of bankruptcy, and they just barely averted that. So, it was small, it was struggling, but it was a very intimate and exciting environment.”
Salevouris said that he witnessed the results after Webster College made national news in the ’60s when the school abolished the general education requirements.
“The philosophy was students are adults that can plan their own education better than any scheme can plan it for them,” Salevouris said. “The aftermath was very exciting because you had all of these students who were here to do their own thing in their own way. This was the spirit of the late sixties and early seventies. This was a very self-confident student body, and very non-conformist.”
He said this generation of students differs from that of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“One of the major differences today is many of our students are very conformist, with respect to fashion, style. They want an education to be able to get a job,” Salevouris said. “In the seventies, students weren’t here to get jobs. They were here to get an education.”
However, Salevouris said he understands why students are concerned about their job prospects after college in this economy. He said back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, students didn’t have to be as worried as students are now to find a job. Salevouris said there were plenty of jobs.
“They knew that if they came out with a college degree, even a liberal arts degree, they could get a variety of different opportunities,” Salevouris said. “That is a difference — there is a much more vocational focus with a lot of our students.”
Salevouris said other details of campus life made the school seem much smaller.
“Our graduations were held in the Loretto-Hilton,” Salevouris said. “That was the entire graduating class, the entire faculty and all their parents and friends all in Loretto Hilton. Today, we’re using the dome downtown, or the Muny in Forest Park, which holds thousands of people.”
He said most of the classrooms were in Webster Hall, and there were no business, management or communication programs.
“The current Webster is not only much bigger, but it’s much more diverse,” Salevouris said. “The programs are broader.”
He said President Elizabeth Stroble will witness the evolution of the school like he has regarding certain issues.
“She inherited an international university that’s an identifying characteristic of this place,” Salevouris said. “The current debates about the revised general education program … is how do we become more global? How do we make our students citizens of the world more effectively? She’s still adapting to it, and there’s going to be changes down the road I’m sure because the old order is disappearing.”
Salevouris said he feels this is the right time to retire.
“Why not (retire)?” Salevouris said. “Add it up — it’s 41 years doing the same thing. At a certain point, everyone has to decide that they’re going to do something different now. This opens up an opportunity to hire a younger historian, which is a good thing. What I tell people is I want to quit while my colleagues and students are laughing with me and not at me. I think Webster’s a great place; a great place to work. I’ve worked with a lot of great people, made a lot of good friends, met a lot of great students. I’m going to miss a lot of that. But again, you can’t do it forever.”
Kelsey McCarthy, a senior history and English major, said Salevouris is one of the best professors she’s ever had.
“I’ve been at Webster for three years and I make it a point to take two to three classes with him a semester,” McCarthy said. “I’m a Salevouris groupie.”
She said she is very sad that he is retiring.
“I’m really depressed,” McCarthy said. “I’m going to miss him.”
As for what Salevouris plans on doing after his retirement, he’s not sure.
“I don’t know,” Salevouris said. “I enjoy traveling and reading, and I’m sure I’ll start doing some volunteer work, but I don’t know what sort yet.”
Salevouris said he will teach a few classes next year, but only part-time.