Who Was The First PC Trainee De-Selected?
This coming November Rutgers University will honor the PCVs who trained at Rutgers and went to Colombia with the first group of Volunteers. The Rutgers College Avenue Campus will host a program of guest speakers on November 4, beginning at 7:00 p.m. The next day, a commemorative plaque will be unveiled at 11:00 a.m. at Hegeman Hall in New Brunswick. Thirty-five of the 62 (men only) Colombia One RPCV are planning to attend the cerebration.
Recently the Rutgers Magazine, interviewed Harry Kranz, a 1945 graduate of the College, who was instrumental in getting the Peace Corps Training Program to Rutgers, about his involvement and those early Volunteers.
Kranz was with Shriver on June 25, 1961, when Shriver came to Rutgers to see what “real PCV Trainees” looked like. Kranz, who had been an assistant to Walter Reuther, head of the United Auto Workers Union, had contacted Harris Wofford about going to work at the agency and Shriver hired him to find training sites. Kranz arranged (of course) for Rutgers to train the first volunteers; he then coordinated the orientation activities, and managed the training site.
The magazine interviewed Kranz shortly before his death in July about his involvement in the Peace Corps. What interested me in the interview what this exchange:
Rutgers Magazine: What do you remember about the training at Rutgers?
Colombia One PCVs are endlessly boring about ‘being first’ in the Peace Corps, so now they can claim that they also had the first Trainee De-Selected. But the question now is: Who was that Trainee?
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The deselection process for early groups that were training for Tunisia was a travesty, in the opinion of many of us who served in Tunisia in those years. Perfectly good people who probably would have been good volunteers were de-selected while a few people with severe psychological problems got through this process successfully and were sent to Tunisia. Later on, some of those disturbed individuals either quit or went home, but not all of them. Just as disturbing, many of the shrinks who ran these deselection programs were themselves often of dubious psychological stability. Furthermore, these shrinks tried to have prospective volunteers turn on each other. Fortunately some, but not all, among us resisted this effort.
All in all, the early de-selection process was terrible, at least in the Tunisia program. In talking with later volunteers, it seems that, training in Tunisia, was a much preferable approach. Those who didn’t want to stay could leave – without the onus of having some so-called psychologist declaring that he or she was unfit for service.
Although I served for two years in Tunis – and obviously was not “de-selected” (what a god-awful word) – I still feel strongly that the de-selection process was ill-advised, unjust, unfair, and morally repugnant.
I entirely agree. When I arrived in the Philippines as deputy CD in 1971 I was horrified at the very notion of ‘deselection,’ especially the FYB part where trainees had to rank their fellow trainees from top to bottom. (I’ll let you figure out what FYB means.) When I became CD shortly thereafter PC/P did away with all that nonsense and we swore ‘trainees’ in just a few days after arrival in country for training. Our emphasis was on making them successful, not weeding them out. I wonder what goes on these days?
As a 1965 Berkeley grad in training at the University of Utah in the summer of 1965, I thought I might get deselected when I got called in during the last part of training. I had talked about my experiences at Berkeley that past year as a participant in the Free Speech Movement, the first major student protests of the ’60s, and they thought I might get too political in Ethiopia. I somehow convinced them that wouldn’t happen and went on to serve three years over there. As I look back on it, I agree that the whole deselection process was silly and flawed.
In my experience as overseas staff, it was obvious that a PCV had to have a healthy range of motivations for serving…sense of adventure, desire to serve and help, desire to learn about other people and one’s self, a sense of wanting to explore other traditions……but I escorted one Volunteer home because his overwhelming motivation was that he believed God told him to serve. But when he reached ground overseas he could reconcile what he experienced with what God wanted him to do.
If one’s motivation, of whatever nature, is single and primary, the chances of success is sharply limited.
The irony is Shriver later fired or demoted Kranz after he became a “pain in the ass” to the trainees , who in turn reported him to Shriver!!!
The ability to select and de-select was the result of the variations in the quality of professional psycologists and psychiatrists (I married the only daughter of the later and got a great educaton). Psychologist s did the testing and managed selection of the Trainees. Some trainees were called in by the psychiatrist for a session, if there was some concern on the part of the psychologist based on test results.
My training project de-selected about 20 of the 320 or so Trainees after the first four weeks. All of us took de-selection seriously and we were greatly relieved when we were allowed to continue training after the initial four weeks. One de-selectee was told that in his case, it was based on the test where we were asked to put down the names of other Trainees. No one listed him; but, he was quite an outgoing guy to the point of being obnoxious, so who knew the real reason? Another Trainee was deselected, supposedly when he arrived late to one of the few group sessions with a psychiatrist. When the psychiatrist asked him why he was late, he became hostile, which the psychiatrist noted to the rest of us, and that was later given for his de-selection. I remember being called in to see a psychologist regarding my answers to one of the numerious tests that we had to take. He wondered why I sounded so “radical” in my political positions and asked me if it was because I was really conservative in my views. Having been the president of my college Young Democrats Club, I said that I supported socializing medicine. He said no more.
Our project was one of the ones, in which we were tested during training about our beliefs, and then again toward the end of our service. I have always wondered how our/my beliefs had been influenced by Peace Corps service. I recall when asking for the evaluation of my project was, I learned that because of the Freedom of information Act, the Peace Corps library had to destroy them, even though hames had already been expunged from the reports.
Upon my return from country, I trained two projects, one for Brazil, the other for Turkey. No one was dropped from the first one and I have to say that both the psychologist and the psychitrist were outstanding.
On the second project, one of the best trainees was de-selected because it was learned that she had given her boyfriend an ultimatum, get married, or she would join the Peace Corps. Only one other was held in “limbo” (being selected, but not being allowed to leave for an assignment until cleared) because of the incompleteness of her background check.
Limbo caught a number of Trainees, particularly if they had lived abroad since the FBI checks took commenserately more time to complete. One Trainee in our project had lived in Japan where her parents were in the diplomatic corp. She was cleared and got to in-country training after a week of in-country training, but refused to get off of the bus at the training site. Having come directly from the airport, and getting only a brief glimps of the country, demanded to be returned home. I don’t recall what happened in her case.
My wife served in Peru. Being the daughter of a psychiatrist, she “knew what they were looking for!;” so she was careful not to reveal too much. Her project was trained at Cornell and was a near disaster: 120 Trainees came to training, 20 were selected out and at the end of two years, only 40 remained. This was partly attributable to the its being 1) a community development project, 2) their Corp Puno counterparts were not assigned, and 3) in a number of cases, the Peruvian supervisors said that they had nothing for the Volunteers to do. Being in the alto plano, the Peace Corps could never get a director and family to live at 11,000 feet in such an isolated city to oversee those volunteers assigned to these remote regions, and serve as their advocates.
In any case, Jack Vaughn came to country for the exit meeting with the remaining volunteers because it was such a disaster.
In my wife’s case, she found a job teaching English at a Catholic girls school and restarted, successfully, a weaving and potting coop that had been started by earlier PCVs, eventually selling crafts in the US, a great success. However, she would never have know that except that 15 years later, while visiting the Brooklyn Museum, these crafts were being sold in theMuseum gift shop (she had stopped by the commercial attache on the way out of country and mentioned it because the attache were looking for handicrafts to be sold for export.
I met my future wife when she walked into the Turkey training project by mistake. She was looking for the first Teacher Corps project for 27 RPCVs. She encountered my Director standing at the door who informed her that she had to go elsewhere, but casuallly mentioned that his assistant had served in the Peace Corps. She was but four days out of country at the time. So, I asked her to lunch, being the first live RPCV in my two years after coming home. That was a Friday and on the following Tuesday, she asked me to marry her. I said that I had to think about it, but it was not all that long after that we were married. Some years later, while relating this story at a dinner party, someone asked her why she had been so impulsive. She replied that if it didn’t work, we could get a divorce! I was guite surprised and when asked why I married her, I said that I had figured out that she must have been in that fifth category of selection, called high risk/high gain. In any case, the marriage has lasted nearly 44 years.
The psychiatrist analyzing my group at Columbia University in 1965 confided in me that he would have a difficult time with “the girls.” This was because it was normal for young men to want to sow their wild oats, but abnormal for girls to want anything but a husband, home and children. The only way I could prevent myself from picking up his paperweight (a gilded rock with the sword Excalibur sticking out of it) and smashing his head in, was to invited him down to the Brass Rail for a beer so we could discuss this further. Once in front of our bottles, he confided in me that he was jealous of the men in the group and made to feel impotent by the girls because here he was, A MAN!, and he would never in a million years have the chutzpah to do what we were doing. I enjoyed my free beers,and in the end whatever I said to him must have comforted him because my three fellow trainees (out of 38) who were deselected should have been: one was a missionary’s son and he wanted a free ride to visit his parents; one had a really bad skin condition and she agreed that it would be too risky for her to be without regular medical attention; and the third spent all her time in training making jewelry out of fossils–some of the “fossils” were chunks of asphalt that she’d picked up on Broadway.
As a member of Colombia V (63-65, I felt that many trainees were de-selected because it was felt they would have trouble with the language. I felt this was ill-advised and that motivation and other factors should have been considered. I’ll always remember Ed Earl who arrived speaking very poor Spanish but because a native speaker within six months.
Also recall that we were required to shave off our beards and goatees because it was felt that we were viewed as Castro-sympathizers…
My experience was similar to dsearles, above. When I did training at the Universtiy of New Mexico from 1963 to 1966, the returned volunteers on the training staff, who lived with the volunteers-in-training, were frequently shocked by the decisions of the de-selection board.
When I became Country Director in Ecuador in 1970, we eliminated the de-selection process. I simply delegated the decision to accept a volunteer-in-training (which I had as Director) to the volunteers in training. We made sure the volunteer-in-training had the information they needed about Ecuador and available jobs by sending them every weekend to a different part of the country and to see every job they thought they might like to perform. We also offered counsreing to all volunteers-in-training. Finally, we let the volunteers choose their own job (or create a new one). A small number of volunteers-in-training resigned. All the rest became volunteers. Over the three years that we used this approach, I was forced to send one volunteer (of roughtly 300) home. Over the same period, the average length of stay of all volunteers increased from 21 months to 27 months.
So when we are asked “who was the first person to be de-selected” we are really being asked who was the first victim of a failed system
Mary-Ann’s story brings back many happy memories. My group was all women and we were frequently invited with the “Let me buy you a beer” to tell training staff or DC staff incountry for conferences what we “really” thought. We also have some stories on how we “worked the selection system” which will remain, even now, part of our Group secrets..
I found one part of Mary-Ann’s recount intriguing. I remember one DC staff member (non RPCV) who came down to Bogota for our termination conference. He wore a red vest and that is what we called him. He did the “let me buy you a beer” invitation and his spiel was that he envied us and that his wife back in Arlington didn’t “understand him” and he thought we were so adventurous.
I have two serious questions. Would anyone know about the following?
1) The CIA funded a group of student leaders from the National Student Association to travel to Helsinki for a conference in the early 60s. The funding was “top secret.” But, PC Trainees who had leadership positions in NSA, were “selected out” because of the remote possibility that they might have been involved or aware of this connection. These Trainees were not told the real reason, of course, but we given the bizarre reasons such as “too abstract for field work.” Does anyone know if this is true? I don’t remember where I got this idea. The CIA funding was revealed sometimes in the 70s, I think.
2) When I worked with a summer Vista program back in the 60s, one of the members of my group identified as a Vista. After the program, it was revealed that she was actually a OEO staff member and was in the group to monitor the program. I have ofter wonder since then, if PC/DC had people deliberately placed in training groups for the same reason and then used the selection process to remove them. Again, I have no idea if this could be true or not.
Finally, does anyone remember T-Groups?
Joey, Ramparts magazine “outed” CIA funding of NSA, if not placement of actual Operatives, as detailed in a new book on the history of Ramparts by Peter Richardson, “A Bomb in Every Issue: How the short, unruly life of Ramparts magazine changed America”.
I “served” [literally, as a mixup in PC’s arrangements with AID auditors managed to cut off our promised Per Diem, the only compensation received, during any time spent at HQ] as a fulltime Recruiter during the infamous Summer of ’63, ironically including a trip to Indiana for the NSA Convention (lotsa prospective Vols from small Liberal Arts Colleges in the MidWest). We were given explicit guidelines to discourage anyone with a so-called Intelligence Background, incl. Military; it was OK to state this to the prospective volunteer. Most are aware that this was one of JFK’s agrements with Shriver, along with the notso sly wink to male RPCVs of the time about the Draft (That only lasted a couple of years as, progressively, GradSchool, then marriage, then children became the threshold for deferment.
As to the latter, I was an AID Advisor (via SRI contract) in Puno about the time Dave Gurr’s (longg Post above) wife would’ve been up on the Altiplano, and several Vols made it clear that Vietnam was a major motivation of theirs. As to any working conditions that might’ve been ameliorated by better planning, organization, or presence of PC Staff: It’s harsh (cold, rarified air, no heating to speak of), and a lot tougher to organize CD projects than, say, Colombia where we had an existing “infrastructure” of both a Gov’t CD program and the Cafeteros, however paternalistic.
Furthermore, I think Puno was covered by the PC Rep in (cozier) Cuzco, also an RPCV from Colombia I, and a denizen of these Boards.
Sidelight on those little Dolls and such sold in Museum Gift Shops: As Small Industry Advisor to CORPUNO, I had a brush with that program, which had its own advisors thru Artesanias del Peru, and met the Zagars, Irwin and Julia, erstwhile “starving” NYC Artists who’d morphed their design talents into Llama and Alpaca Wool products, right down to Egg Cozies. One of their motivations, esp. for re-upping, was the MONEY, all such things being relative. I suspect it might’ve been a Zagar-ed design there in the Museum shop.
Side-side note: Julia’d always had a flair for language, as she related an incident from 4th Grade when the NYC teacher needed to send a note to the mother of a recently arrived Italian child. She asked if anyone spoke Italian, and little Julian jumped right up. Her “translation”: Take-a this-a note and give it to-a yer Mama.
As a PCV in Bolivia (63-65) who trained at the University of
Washington and went through the whole deselection process I
have to agree with those who found this a very flawed process.
By the time I went to work for the Peace Corps in Washington (68-69) the PC had fortunately, for the most part, moved to the self-selection model. My interest in this subject is a slightly different one. Given the huge (generally positive) impact on our lives as a result of our PC service I have recently wondered what the effect of being deselected had on those who were asked to leave. What about that first deselectee? Has anyone ever done any kind of a follow-up to see what happened to those folks? In my group seven out of 35 trainees were told to go home. Two of them had such interest in travel and the PC that they ended up visiting Volunteers in Bolivia anyway. Also I wonder if my brush with the psychologist in training had anything to do with my ultimately working in the field of mental health?