Federal Aid: The Head of the Class

  • Share
  • Read Later

(8 of 11)

Even more difficult to deal with is racial imbalance in Northern schools. Right now, Chicago is the big headache. Its school system is a mess. After investigating complaints by civil rights groups that some Chicago schools are maintaining segregationist practices, Keppel shut off about $30 million in federal aid. As it happened, the Commissioner moved too precipitously; technically, he was not authorized to act independently on such matters. Chicago authorities did agree to change some practices and re-examine others, and so the money was released. But Keppel himself was hauled into the White House for a lecture from Lyndon Johnson.

From Montrose to Washington. Such setbacks do not deter the single-minded devotion to the job that is an essential part of Frank Keppel's character. The youngest of five brothers,* he grew up in Montrose, N.Y., a country town 43 miles north of Manhattan. His father Frederick was the sort of man, recalls one relative, "who loved to think big thoughts while the roof was leaking." He was a Columbia College dean and an Assistant Secretary of War in World War I. From 1922 to 1941, Frederick Keppel was a self-styled "philanthropoid—a man who gave other people's money away." He, like Secretary Gardner, was president of the Carnegie Corporation.

Keppel sent his first four sons to Exeter. Frank went to Groton—a fact that he sometimes pencils out of official biographies because he thinks that it sounds too aristocratic to the ears of public-school men. At Harvard later, he managed mostly B's and a few C's, earned his B.A. in 1938. Roommate Donald Straus, now president of the American Arbitration Association, recalls that Keppel was "an early egghead," who could have racked up A's, but who chose instead to throw his energy into becoming a "campus executive." He did, in fact, become president of the Harvard Student Council in his senior year.

After a brief try at sculpting—a pursuit that he has since given up altogether—Keppel returned to Harvard, at President Conant's behest, to become an assistant freshman dean. He left Cambridge once again during World War II, served with the Joint Army-Navy Committee on Welfare and Recreation, helped draft plans for the G.I. Bill. At war's end, Keppel was back at Harvard, and at 32 was appointed by Conant to be dean of the foundering School of Education. It was a daring move. Not only did Keppel lack a graduate degree; he had never even taken a course in education, and Conant wondered aloud "how he would wash with the trade."

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11