RPCV Jeremy Black and staff member Dr. Robert Textor: A Peace Corps Story

(Thank you to John Coyne and Marian Haley Beil for their advice and editing)

Decades separated the Peace Corps service of Dr. Robert Textor (PC staff 1961-62) and RPCV Jerry Black (Comoros Island 1992-94, DC staff: OIG 2010-21). But they shared a special commitment to Peace Corps Sadly, neither are still with us. But their contribution to Peace Corps endures.

Dr. Textor, age 89, died January 3, 2013. Tragically, Jeremiah Black was killed, caught in urban gun violence crossfire, in Washington, DC. June 29, 2021.

 

Their story begins

In February of 2011, the Peace Corps Office of the Inspector General announced it would evaluate “Impacts of the Five-Year Rule on Operations of the Peace Corps.” The Five Year Rule is unique among Federal Agencies because it limits employment with Peace Corps to Five Years, with some critical exceptions. This evaluation was conducted under the direction of Jim O’Keefe, Assistant Inspector General for Evaluations and by Senior Evaluator RPCV Jeremy Black (Comoros Island 1992-94).

The original memo proposing this policy was written by Dr. Robert Textor, cultural anthropologist, and pioneer member of the early Peace Corps administration. In his proposal, entitled In, Up, And Out,” Dr. Textor argued for limiting tenure at Peace Corps to eight years to ensure there would always be opportunities for newly returning Volunteers to work within the agency. He envisioned a time when RPCVs would staff the entire Peace Corps agency.

Dr. Textor’s idea morphed into the Five Year Rule which limited Peace Corps staff to five years employment, with some exceptions. There was no mention of the role of RPCVs in the 1965 legislation establishing the policy.

 

Fast forward to June of 2012

The Office of the Inspector General of the Peace Corps announced it would publish its yearlong review of the “Five Year Rule” within the next two to three weeks.

Fifty years earlier, Dr. Robert Textor authored the original “In, Up, and Out” memo that morphed into the Five Year Rule. Unfortunately, he was scheduled for surgery on June 29th. He made a reasonable request to be allowed to see the final review before his surgery. The Office of the Inspector General of the Peace Corps considered the request for two days and then denied it without explanation.”

Senior Evaluator RPCV Jerry Black was not deterred. He convinced the “powers that be” that Dr. Textor’s input was essential to the evaluation. Jeremy Black interviewed Dr. Textor for the report and included it in the final evaluation. Prior to the scheduled surgery, Dr. Textor was able to review and comment on the policy he helped institute. The Evaluation documented many problems, but in Section E: There was this statement.” Jerry Black wrote:

Interestingly, the original author of the in-up- out policy idea recently offered his view as to whether five years was the most appropriate limit for Peace Corps appointments. Here are Dr. Textor comments:”

I believed then that five years would be too short. I believed that the RPCV who is recruited to work in a substantive staff position must be there long enough for her or him to (1) to learn the ways of federal bureaucracy, and (2) on the basis of excellent performance, rise to a position of influence; and then (3) still have a few years left in which to wield that influence with genuine effectiveness…. And eight years, of course, is precisely the number of years recommended in my original In-Up-Out memo. Given this fact, one cannot help wondering whether, if there had been an “Eight Year Rule” in force from the beginning, perhaps many problems might have been averted.”

Read the final report here.

Dr. Textor reviewed the report and emailed Jerry Black:

Jerry: I think you have done a fine job. Here is a copy of my brief input to Carrie, which had been requested. If I can help after my recovery, I would be happy to do so.

 

Sat June 23, 2012

To: Ms. Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Deputy Director, Peace Corps

Fr: Robert B. Textor, Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, Stanford University

Re: The Final Evaluation Report: Impacts of the Five-Year Rule on Operations of the Peace Corps (IG-12-05-E) – Textor Comments and Recommendations

Dear Carrie:

As requested, here are my comments and recommendations.

OVERALL REACTION

Overall, I believe the document deserves commendation as being clear, thorough, fair, and unbiased.

LIMITATIONS OF MY ABILIITY TO COMMENT

My service to the Peace Corps occurred many years ago. From June 1961 to January 1962, I was the in-house cultural anthropologist in PC/W. From then until June 1966, I did a lot of training of PCVs bound for Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines, at various American universities, usually for two- and three-day stints. I did 24 such stints and reached about 1600 PCVs. Then, in 1966, I stopped accepting invitations from the universities, so that RPCVs could take over.

Thus, during 1961 I believe that I had a pretty GOOD understanding of how PC administration worked. Then, during 1962–66, I had FAIR understanding. Since then, however, I have had virtually NO contact with PC administration. This severely limits my ability to comment meaningfully on the current evaluation report.

FRAMING

What I AM an “expert” on, though, is the intention and reasoning behind the original In-Up-Out idea and policy since I wrote the original In-Up-Out memo. Given all this, here is my reaction to the current report.

The report is framed as an evaluation of the “Five Year Rule.” I understand why this is so, but I think it is the wrong framing.

The report should instead by framed by two questions:

    • Does PC want to continue using the In-Up-Out policy in some form or other? I believe most RPCVs would vote, “Yes.”
    • If yes, what form should that take? I believe that a reasonable answer would be, “with an 8-year, not 5-year, limit on employment.”

ORIGINAL INTENT AND RATIONALE

When I wrote the original In-Up-Out memo, I naturally asked myself the question of: What is the magic balance between number of years of allowed PC service that would:

    • Be SHORT enough to PREVENT the key PC staff from developing administrative sclerosis, AND
    • Be LONG enough to PERMIT the PC to develop a robust institutional memory and allow RPCVs a maximal opportunity to earn merit raises to positions high enough to actually impact PC policy and practice?

In answering the first question, I felt that ten years would be too long, but that anything up to it would be OK – although nine might seem “a bit too close to ten.”

In answering the second question, it did not even occur to me that five years would be long enough. I recommended eight years. Frank Williams then lowered it to six. Then Sarge and others lowered it to five.

For my documented account of this entire early history, please see: The Peace Corps’ “In-Up-Out” Policy: Reflections On How It All Happened.

I thought in 1961, and still think, that five years is much too short, assuming that we want to get the “crème of the crème” of the RPCVs into positions powerful enough so that they can actually impact and IMPROVE policy and/or practice. It takes TIME for them to work their way up, to propose and advocate for improvements, and to actuate those improvements.

RECOMMENDATION

For this reason, my recommendation is that the leadership of the current Peace Corps proceed according to Recommendation No. 1 (page 55), and seek a change in the Peace Corps Law, specifying EIGHT years, not five.

Perhaps, at the same time, the Director would seek to simplify or terminate the current arrangement by which some individuals return to PC employment again and again, each time after remaining outside for a period that is longer than their previous service, etc. However, I make this suggestion tentatively, since this is a complicated matter that I do not understand well enough to take a firm position on.

I have consulted with one former PC Chief of Staff who knows the organization well. He is a strong supporter of In-Up-Out, and independently, on the basis of his own vast experience, had come to the same conclusion: eight years is the right number. To this he added: no extensions, no exceptions. Since I don’t have this individual’s permission, I cannot cite him by name.

…oooOooo…

Since I will be having open heart surgery next Thursday, June 28, this will be the extent of my input for now. After my recovery, perhaps as early as July 10, I would be happy to consult further if my input is needed.

Sincere best wishes,
BobTextor

 

Jerry Black had been kept informed of Dr. Textor’s declining health. When Dr. Textor died . . . Jerry sent the following email:

 

“Good Morning,

Thank you for sharing that news with me. I will let others here know as well. He was very highly regarded here by those who knew of his contributions. I feel very fortunate that I was able to interview him, and get to know him a little bit. He played a key and profound role in shaping the culture and direction of Peace Corps.

I’m going to re-read his intro to Cultural Frontiers now.

Have you read the original memos he wrote to Franklin Williams in the fall of 1961? Here is one of my favorite passages from his memo on selection criteria for Peace Corps representatives (Country Directors):

The candidate . . . should be the opposite of ethnocentric. He should start out with a genuine humility toward other peoples’ way of life. It should be an article of conviction with him that he has much to learn from the culture of the host country. He should be prepared, at a level deeply within his psychological make-up, to learn as well as to teach . . .. The candidate should have a deep realization that the value judgment is a dangerous weapon and that the local culture must be carefully and sensitively learned first, before one has earned the right to prescribe change.

That whole memo is amazing, really.

He will be missed.

Peace, Jerry

______________________________________________________

The description serves well to describe the qualities for a Peace Corps Volunteer. Ones Jerry Black represented so well. He will be missed.

Peace Jerry

 

2 Comments

Leave a comment
  • Thanks John and others for posting this article about Robert Textor and the Peace Corps’ ‘In, Up and Out’ policy. The story touches me both professionally and personally, first, because I was directly affected by the policy, and second, because of my friendship with Bob Textor here in Portland, Oregon.

    That policy and the way it was implemented had a profound impact on my life. As a first step in its implementation, Sargent Shriver decreed in 1964 that no one under the age of 30 would be assigned to an overseas post with the Peace Corps unless they had served as a Volunteer. I had started working in Peace Corps headquarters in 1962, first as an intern and later as the Liberia Desk Officer. After a couple of trips escorting newly trained PCVs to their assignments in West Africa, I was dying to get out of Washington and to join a field staff. However, because of Shriver’s edict, everyone in the agency was afraid to buck him by nominating me for an overseas opening. After missing out on a couple of hoped-for field assignments, I left the Peace Corps in frustration in 1965, my wife and I joined the War on Poverty and headed to Eastern Kentucky.

    Four decades later, I attended a lecture Bob Textor was giving about his role in establishing the Peace Corps’ ‘In, Up and Out’ policy. After his presentation, I approached him and described how his memo to Franklin Williams in 1961 had completely changed my life. Instead of pursuing a career in the international economic development field — the only skillset I thought I had at age 21 — his memo redirected my focus toward a lifetime of work on domestic social and economic justice issues. We quickly became friends, and he invited me to join a salon-type group he had started in Portland.

    By 2005, Bob Textor had retired from teaching anthropology at Stanford, and had moved to Oregon, where he had formed “The Thirsters”, a world-wide network of Textor’s friends, including former students, colleagues and other academicians, and numerous RPCVs who had served in many countries and every decade since the 1960s. Those of us in Portland would meet weekly at a local tavern for drinks, camaraderie and lively conversation. Each week an timely topic would be presented by a Thirster, with Bob presiding at the head table. While I know that Bob was proud of his role in helping to shape Peace Corps policy, I think it was also a little amazed to see first hand how his memo had affected the lives of me and others. David Raphael

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Copyright © 2019. Peace Corps Worldwide.