Only Constant is Change

Michelle Willard, The Murfreesboro Post, August 28, 2011

Students gather in 1969 outside of Kirksey Old Main, one of the four original buildings for the 1911 grand opening. (Photo courtesy of Shacklett’s Photography)

When college sweethearts Sarah and Ed Barlow were students at MTSU in the late ’50s, signing up for classes wasn’t as easy as logging onto a computer.

“When we registered for classes, they would set up tables in the Tennessee Room of the James Union Building. Professors would sit at the tables, and we would sign a sheet for the class,” Dr. Sarah Barlow explained.

“And the professors would hand out cards to the students,” Ed Barlow interjected. “And when the cards were gone, the class was full.”

Sarah, who also taught biology at the university for more than 30 years, said registration eventually moved into the Murphy Center as the student body grew in size and, at that point, was renamed the “Card Bank.”

By the mid-’60s, the university had started using computer punch cards to register students in classes.

“You would pull computer cards for each class,” explained Tommy Francis, a 1972 MTSU graduate. “There were a limited number of those cards, and when all those cards were gone, the class was full.”

The punch cards were fed into mainframe computer banks, housed in the basement of Cope Administration Building and stored all the students’ information. Schedules were printed from there.

“It was a big day,” Francis said. “You had to be at the right place at the right time to get the classes that you wanted or had to have.”

From the Card Bank, registration moved to TRAM, where students called in and registered for classes over an automated phone system.

Now students can simply log onto their accounts through MTSU’s website and sign up for classes in a matter of seconds.

The registration process isn’t the only thing that has changed in MTSU’s 100-year history.

MTSU opened with 247 students in 1911. Forty-four years later, it had grown tremendously.

Ross Spielman was one of nearly 2,000 students when he graduated in 1955. The number was only up to about 2,300 when the Barlows graduated in 1959.

“Back then I only knew one other person who was from a good distance away,” said Spielman, who grew up in Maryland. He said the other student was a man stationed at the former Sewart Air Force Base in Smyrna.

“And he was from Pennsylvania,” Spielman said, explaining a majority of the students were from Middle Tennessee and those from out of state generally came from Kentucky and Alabama.

“Now they’ve got foreign students and others from far away,” he said.

By the time the Barlows were at MTSU, the university has added one foreign student from Tehran, Iran.

By the late ’60s when Francis walked the campus, the student body had grown to close to 10,000 and diversity grew with it, he said.

“In the late ’60s, it was pretty diverse. … There was so much going on at that time,” he said, explaining his freshman year in 1968 was “pretty exciting” with the civil rights struggle and opposition to the war in Vietnam, among other things.

“Despite all that, usually everybody got along,” he said about a time known nationally for protests and political strife.

While the rest of the country was fighting, students mostly knew growth on campus at that time, Francis said.

The growth has continued at a steady pace since then, and by 2010, MTSU had grown into the largest undergraduate university in the state, counting a student body of 26,430.

And while a majority of students were still from Tennessee, more than 1,200 are from out of state and 465 are foreign, which totals almost as many as were at the school in Spielman’s day.

As the student body has grown some alumni have seen a growing disconnect between the student body and surrounding town, and even within the student body itself.

“You knew everybody – the band members, football players, basketball players – you knew everybody,” Spielman said.

The Barlows agreed, having met in the dining hall, where the whole student body could fit at the time.

Both the Barlows and Spielman also remember a close relationship between the student body and people of Murfreesboro.

“I knew a lot of people then from town,” Spielman said. “Today I doubt the student body has that kind of connection.”

Despite the changes in the university and Murfreesboro as a whole, these alumni still harbor fond memories of the school that shaped their lives.

“I met my life-long companion there,” Ed said. “What more could you ask for?”

Top 10 things you should know about MTSU

As MTSU prepares to celebrate its centennial, there are a few things every student, alumni and neighbor should know about the state’s largest undergraduate university.

1. MTSU is a destination school and is the No. 1 choice of undergraduates in the state of Tennessee.

2. The Honors College, with its prestigious Buchanan Fellowships—the highest academic scholarships awarded at MTSU—was the first Honors College established in Tennessee.

3. PhD programs in English, economics, human performance and public history have been called programs of the “highest quality” and the programs in economics and public history are unique in Tennessee.

4. Nationally recognized programs in aerospace, recording industry and concrete management attract students from around the world.

5. The College of Liberal Arts sponsors national award winning programs in debate, mock trial, model United Nations and theater.

6. One of the finest teacher preparation institutions in the Southeast, MTSU initiated and now sponsors the Tennessee Teachers Hall of Fame, a statewide entity which recognizes lifelong achievements of those in the teaching profession.

7. The Center for Popular Music is nationally recognized as a repository of music, has one of the largest sheet music collections in the country.

8. A member of the Sun Belt Conference MTSU competes at the highest level in all 17 sports. Many Blue Raiders have gone on to success in both the Olympics and the professional ranks.

9. Student extracurricular activities include more than 200 student organizations, like honor societies, service clubs, and an active Greek system of fraternities and sororities.

10. The student body is 54 percent female, 12 percent minority, and with students from around the world.

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