June 13, 2007

Home sought for KSU's Olds papers Man tries to submit former president's papers to Yale for safekeeping

Matthew Fredmonsky
17 hours ago

By Matt Fredmonsky

Record-Courier staff writer

One man's fight to get a deceased Kent State University president's papers a permanent home at Yale University has become more of a challenge than some people expected.

Paul Keane is a Yale alumnus who worked with Peter Davies, author of "The Truth About Kent State: A Challenge to the American Conscience," seven years after the May 4, 1970, campus shootings to get Yale to open a special collections archive for retaining evidence and documents archiving the shootings.

Keane, along with Davies, felt KSU, as a state-funded institution, could not house such information impartially and keep it open to the public.

For Keane, that same fear remains evident in his voice today.

He is petitioning the Yale libraries to re-open its Kent State collection to accept the personal papers of former KSU President Glenn Olds. Olds came to Kent in 1971 with the challenge of helping the university recover from the tragic events that unfolded May 4 and in the years following. Olds died in March 2006 and left behind documents and an autobiography titled "The Making of A Man," detailing events in his life not officially recorded and kept at KSU.

The papers currently are in the possession of Olds' widow, Eva. Yale University President Richard C. Levin has not responded to Keane's requests to accept Olds' personal papers, a request supported by Eva Olds. Levin could not be reached by press time.

Yale keeps its Kent State archive open to the public, but not for new submissions. Keane said Yale library officials have urged him to submit Olds' papers to KSU. Yale University Librarian Alice Prochaska did not return calls seeking comment.

But Keane, as a creator of the Kent State archive there, said Yale should be honoring his request to accept Olds' personal papers.

"He was a Nixon aide," Keane said. "And we know very little about what was going on behind the scenes when he was president of Kent State.

"You can't recreate the fear and anxiety and hatred that existed then," Keane said. "I simply don't want to put the documents at risk. I know enough about archives that once paper is lost, it's lost. The point is to preserve them for future use."

Olds' tenure as president lasted from 1971 to 1977. Before his departure, he became embroiled in the controversy over the gymnasium annex, which drew nationwide attention and more unwanted publicity for the university. The protests continued as he left office in July 1977.

There are two relevant questions regarding Olds' papers and their acceptance into Yale's Kent State archive: Do the papers have enough relevance to the May 4 shootings for admission to Yale's archive, and why isn't KSU, 37 years later, capable of adequately retaining the documents?

Keane believes KSU is still susceptible to political influence, which to him ultimately means the preservation of Olds' personal papers could be in jeopardy there. And he is not alone.

Gregory Payne, an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, prepared a dissertation on the shootings and wrote a book titled "Mayday: Kent State." Payne, too, is convinced KSU may not be the best home for Olds' papers.

"It would appear to people who don't have an understanding of the paranoia that surrounded Kent State that (Keane's request) would seem like an extreme concern," Payne said. "I don't think given the history of what has happened at Kent that his concerns are off the wall at all."

Payne said after the shootings a general sense of concern remained about keeping crucial documents, recordings and other evidence at KSU, where the tragedies occurred. Olds was privy to behind-the-scenes conversations and dealings regarding the shootings, which makes his personal papers a relevant addition to the Yale archives.

"There were attempts early on from Olds and others to shed light on the fact that something was not quite right in terms of the shooting and the investigation," Payne said.

A collection of Olds' administrative papers created during his tenure at KSU is kept in the university's library there.

Cara Gilgenbach, head of special collections and archives at KSU, said the university would have to consider if Olds' personal papers are appropriate for its collection.

"If they did get here, they would be catalogued and made available to researchers," she said. "We have for very many years been making the May 4 collection available to researchers.

"It is one of the most heavily used archives," Gilgenbach said. "We feel we are maintaining it in a responsible manner and making it as open and accessible as we possibly can."

But Keane's concern that Olds' papers could be susceptible to political desires to conceal the documents has him pushing Yale to accept the papers. He sent numerous letters to Levin requesting Yale re-open its Kent State archive but has not received a response.

Yale's lack of desire for documents that could provide insight into the turmoil following the May 4 shootings has raised some concerns for Keane and Payne as well.

Payne said he can understand Yale's hesitance to accept submissions for its Kent State archive, but believes the university should make an exception for Olds.

"I think Glenn Olds' papers are probably an incredible source of insight," Payne said. "They give an idea of a college president at the fulcrum of a major historical event during that period. For those people who say, 'What's the brouhaha,' it doesn't really begin to appear until you start to think about it."