My educational activities on a national scale also included participating in the development of educational television. In the early days of television, there was little interest on the part of either the general public or the nation’s educators in public or educational television. However, the officers of the American Council on Education (ACE) early believed that television could offer an important educational and cultural resource, and accordingly the Council invited six other national organizations to join with it in forming the National Committee on Educational Television. An executive director was appointed, and the committee began an effort to have channels set aside for noncommercial use. The committee was soon joined in its work by the National Citizens for Educational Television, and the two groups had the support of most of the professional organizations with any conceivable interest in the field, including the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, the National Education Association, and so on. Largely as a result of their efforts, the Federal Communications Commission was induced to reserve in April, 1952, 242 television channels, 80 in the VHF band and 162 in the UHF band, for noncommercial, educational use.
The national effort of these two committees was supported by the Fund for Adult Education, which had been created by the Ford Foundation in 1951. The fund had an effective president, Scott Fletcher, and Robert B. Hudson, an able pioneer in the educational television field, was the professional consultant. It was reasonable for the fund to provide much of the early financial support for the promotion of the movement. The staff of the fund was active in spurring station activations throughout the country, and the fund’s vision helped to establish from the beginning the concept that American educational television should provide an informational and cultural service for persons of all ages, as well as instructional aid for public school classrooms.
As part of the ongoing movement, in 1954 the Educational Television and Radio Center, later to be known as National Educational Television (NET), was organized and began weekly cultural and informational service to a small number of fledgling stations throughout the country. Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, it too was supported in its first years by the Fund for Adult Education. Its prestigious first president was Harry K. Newburn, who had moved from his position as president of the University of Oregon. Since the center had neither a production staff nor equipment of its own, in the very beginning it was conceived basically as an exchange center, with most of its programming to be produced by the member stations or to be borrowed from any source that produced worthwhile programs and with the center acting as a distributing agent.
The organization was still in its formative stage when I was invited to join the board in 1959.1 The board had strong leadership in the person of Ralph Lowell as chairman, who was the retired chairman of the Boston Safe Deposit and Trust Company of Boston, Massachusetts, and the godfather of the excellent WGBH-TV in Boston, one of the early important public television stations. I found participation in the board useful and stimulating for several reasons. In the first place, I had interest in the field; in the second place, I found the board of exceptional quality, and to meet with them was always an exciting intellectual experience; and in the third place, Indiana University was deeply involved in the distribution of educational films, some of which had originally been programs on the NET network. The influence and effort of NET paved the way for the creation and development of PBS.
In the beginning few realized the necessity for a noncommercial broadcasting network. As the quality of its programs and the size of its audience grew with time, almost spectacularly, the public network came to be rightly seen as an irreplaceable national asset. After the board moved to New York, Everett Case, the president of the Sloan Foundation, became its chairman, and Norman Cousins, its vice chairman and later chairman. John White, who succeeded Harry Newburn as president, gave to the organization dynamic and creative leadership comprising experience, originality, sparkle, and great energy. He now is the president of Cooper Union.
I learned to admire Norman Cousins. He certainly is one of the most interesting and attractive intellectuals in America. I also met on this board for the first time Mortimer Fleishhacker, chairman of the board of Precision Instrument Company in San Francisco, and found him to be a businessman of remarkably broad intellectual and cultural interests. Newton Minow, who had been prominent in Washington circles in the Kennedy administration and who was at the time practicing law in Chicago, was another member of the board whom I found stimulating, as was Peter Peterson, then chairman of the board of Bell and Howell and since that time active in both financial and governmental circles. The board was also graced by the presence of James B. Reston, the well-known Scotty Reston of the New York Times, who always added immeasurably to the discussion. In fact, every member of the board was outstanding, and I benefited much from my association with each of them. Their belief in the importance of public television and their unselfish efforts to overcome the public apathy, even antagonism, toward the medium were a decisive factor in the long struggle to establish the fourth network we enjoy today.
From the beginning of NET there was a debate over its function, whether it was to provide classroom instructional material and public-affairs broadcasting and, if so, in what proportions: how much energy was to be devoted to one and how much to the other? The matter came to a head in 1962. At that time the NET management was asked by the Ford Foundation to present a ten-year budget projection. Two projections were submitted, one for the general service, that is, the evening service that later became public television; the other, unsolicited by Ford but submitted anyway, a ten-year projection for a second and parallel school service. The Ford Foundation after reviewing the projections stated that an additional grant for NET would be made only if NET would divest itself of the school service broadcasting and devote its energies solely to public affairs and cultural programming.
This decision on the part of the Ford Foundation, which carried a grant of six million dollars a year, resolved the debate within NET. NET proceeded to divest itself of the classroom instructional responsibility. Although events have demonstrated since then the wisdom of the Ford Foundation’s requests, NET’S record had been excellent in the production of classroom materials. As a consequence, in 1962 the U.S. Office of Education made a grant to NET “to demonstrate the educational desirability and economic feasibility of a national agency providing recorded instructional television programs.” This experiment was operated by NET in New York for three years; then in 1965, the demonstration was expanded and relocated here in Bloomington. Edward Cohen, an Indiana University alumnus who had been in charge of the program in New York, came to Bloomington to head the project. With this move, a new entity called National Instructional Television was created, and Dr. Cohen was made its executive director.
At the conclusion of that contract, still more time was needed for development of the idea, and the Indiana University Foundation advanced a substantial amount of money to keep the project going during the years 1968-70, after which it was believed the service could be supported entirely from earnings and over a period of six years could repay the advance made by the Foundation. In fact, the service was able to repay the Foundation ahead of schedule. The crux of NIT’S achievement of self-support while continuing to strengthen its product was the recognition that it could not change immediately from entire economic dependence. Rather, a transition stage was necessary in which declining amounts of borrowed capital would complement increased earnings.
In time the chief state school officers of the United States became interested and indicated their willingness to assume sponsorship of the project. As a consequence, in 1973 the entity was renamed the Agency for Instructional Television (AIT) and continues today under the sponsorship of the Council of Chief State School Officers with Edward Cohen as the executive director of the enterprise. The key element in its success has been the leadership of Dr. Cohen, who has given it brilliant and successful direction. The organization, still located in Bloomington, continues to flourish. Thus Indiana University, by providing hospitality and encouragement to this enterprise, saved a program of quality instructional television of national significance.
1. The board had a provision in its constitution that its members could not serve longer than two consecutive terms. I served from 1959 to 1964, but, to my surprise, after a year I was again elected and served from 1965 to 1970, when the organization was absorbed into the national PBS.