Trouble, however, was brewing for using the Wisconsin Plan at other colleges across the country. And early Peace Corps Evaluator Dave Gelman was warning that unless the Peace Corps gave priority for quality over quantity, the Peace Corps would not only acquire too many “high-risk” applicants but also “drink dry the well of potential recruits.” (Remember when the agency had those–High Risk/Low Gain–Trainees?)
Gelman felt Gale’s method was wrong and warned about the “evils of excess” and the grave danger of becoming over-eager to ‘sign-up’ people for two years of service.
One young applicant expressed his disappointment at the Wisconsin Plan style this way: ‘I thought we were something special. Then I saw that they were just pulling people off the street and testing them later.”
Dave Gelman was a bright and tough son-of-a-bitch. I did not know him, but I watched him in the hallways of the building. He always appeared to be in a bad mood about something. I never once saw him smile. I kept my distance. In fact, if I saw him on an elevator, I won’t get on it.
He had come to the Peace Corps from the New York Post (the old Post, not what you read today) and had been one of three early Peace Corps staffers from what was called the “Post’s Corner” at the Post: Bill Haddad, Ben Schiff, and Gelman. A wonderful writer, his reports of projects were like reading a novel. His evaluation of Somalia I is something of a classic.
Besides, Gelman, newly RPCVs were just as hard on the ways Washington was recruiting PCVs and selling the agency. Early Peace Corps advertisements, for example, depicted Nepal as The Land of the Yeti and Everest. Remember, Peace Corps Goes to Paradise? That was the first recruitment poster for Micronesia. I remember reading that ‘one’ while still in Ethiopia. PCVs and RPCVs were angry about all the: “you-too-can-be-a-world-saver” come-ons. Evaluators, as well as in-country staff, were hearing protests from PCVs, and HQ was hearing it first hand from RPCVs. The criticism was taken seriously. By ’63, the Peace Corps began to create posters that stressed sixteen-hour days, monotony, and mosquitoes. One new poster of a host country showed two photographs and was entitled Before Peace Corps and After Peace Corps. It was the same photo.
Volunteers, however, kept applying. Between 1961 and 1964, about 112,000 Americans filled out the questionnaire. In those early years, only about 20 percent of all applicants were deemed of a high enough caliber to be invited to training. Quality was given preference over quantity. Dave Gelman could stop worrying and try to smile.
Nevertheless, from 1964–when forty-six thousand applicants were received–the level of Peace Corps applications steadily declined. By 1965, Bob Gale admitted that “With few exception, we are coming back from schools with fewer and fewer numbers. Results from team recruiting are down 22 percent from last year.”
Then the world changed. LBJ increased the troops in Vietnam; college graduates were looking for places to spend time “out of the draft.” Over the next few years, the Peace Corps increased dramatically. In 1963 there were 6,646 PCVs and Trainees. Three years later (1966) there were 15,556, the highest number of PCVs, ever. The average age was 24, with the highest percentage, over 86%, under 26. All because of the draft and the war in Vietnam.
And all the while, Bob Gale, the Prince of Partying, and his Gang of Recruiters–now RPCVs home from the Third World–were Partying On!