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Living, Learning, and Loving It: The Legacy of Ralph Collins


On the corner of Tenth Street and Woodlawn Avenue stands a paradox: an innovative, experimental community, still young at nearly thirty, housed within the Gothic walls of the oldest residence hall on campus. This is Collins Living-Learning Center, a dorm with a one-of-a-kind spirit. Ralph Collins did not live to see the LLC program established. He led the center in another time, a time when its rooms were filled with football stars and Navy troops — but that community, and Collins' own values, already hinted at the amazing things to come.

Considering the atmosphere of the community that now bears his name, it seems appropriate that Ralph Leonard Collins was born in a small town called Eclectic, Alabama.1 The son of Leonard Alfred and Mae Ruth (Harrington) Collins, he was born on November 19, 1907. He had one sister, Inez. The Collins family eventually relocated to nearby Montgomery, where Ralph graduated from Sidney Lanier High School in 1924. He went on to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, from which he graduated in three years, and in 1933 he earned his Ph.D. in English from Yale University.

Collins' first employment was doing editorial work for Atlantic Monthly during the Great Depression.2 He then taught English for a year at the University of Tennessee before coming to Indiana University in the fall of 1935. He was promoted to assistant professor in 1939, associate in 1947, and became a full professor in 1953.3

Collins had been a theatre critic in graduate school, and drama was his specialty at IU.4 He taught undergraduate courses in Shakespeare and Modern Drama, as well as a graduate course on George Bernard Shaw.5 "For him the drama was… an intense presentation of man's behavior, a projection of the gestures of man's mind and heart," said Dr. Richard Moody, a colleague of Collins'.6 In addition to teaching, Collins served as director of the Indiana University Writers' Conference, a post he held from 1941 to 1949.7 As a professor, Collins was enthusiastic and well-liked by students. An editorial in the Indiana Daily Student said of him:

It was early in his career at IU that Collins met doctoral student Dorothy Ellen Craig at the Commons in the Indiana Memorial Union.9 They were married on June 13, 1940. Prior to their marriage, Collins had been selected to be headmaster of the Men's Residence Center (MRC), at that time the only men's dormitory on campus. However, university officials were reluctant to place a woman in MRC, so the selection was canceled. Two years later, Halls of Residence director Alice Nelson offered Collins the position again. World War Two had affected the campus population, and the choices for headmaster had dwindled. "They ran out of single men and took Ralph," says Dorothy Collins of the decision.10 With the blessings of Nelson and President Herman B Wells, the Collinses moved into MRC in 1942.

Living in a dormitory with hundreds of young men presented many hardships for the new couple. One issue was the students' resistance to the presence of Dorothy Collins. They eventually grew comfortable with her, but they still made efforts to "educate" her by cursing loudly within her hearing. Another difficulty was the lack of space in the Collinses' master suite, which consisted of six small rooms located off the formal lounge in West Hall (now called Edmondson Hall). Dorothy Collins commented: "I think Ralph was kind of miserable because he has a big library and he couldn't get it in even with the master suite. …You know, if you know of a literature professor, their books are like their — their dog".11

The greatest hardships resulted from the occupation of MRC by the United States Navy. Navy personnel stationed at the university for training lived in MRC along with the students, and it was not an easy coexistence. The MRC students frequently played tricks on the Navy, such as playing reveille in the courtyard at two a.m. The Navy personnel were just as uncomfortable with a woman on the premises as the students had been, as illustrated by a story from Dorothy Collins:

Worst of all, the Navy kept taking over more and more of the complex, often with no warning. When Navy personnel took over the Collinses' master suite, Ralph and Dorothy were forced to move into four rooms at the end of Edmondson 2, with only a counterpane dividing their "apartment" from the students' rooms. Eventually the Collinses and the students were completely evicted from MRC — and it happened in the middle of the school year. "Ralph was just furious with Alice Nelson changing kids when they were in the midst of exams," Dorothy Collins recalls.13 The MRC exiles took up residence in four empty sorority houses on the present Ballantine Hall site, where they remained until the Navy moved out.

Despite all of the hardships, the Collinses enjoyed their time at MRC. Even in the 1940s, thirty years before the advent of the Living-Learning Center, the MRC community was already displaying a lively and creative spirit. Because of its location, MRC was home to IU's swimmers and football players. On one occasion, the center of the football team —with advance permission from Ralph—stood up on a table at dinner and recited poetry. When the IU Writers' Conference was in session, Collins would invite the writers to come to MRC and speak to the students. Before the residence halls were made part of the library system, the Collinses created a makeshift library of books and records using proceeds from vending machines. "We had a good time there," says Dorothy Collins of their stay in MRC, "a wonderful time".14 It was also a remarkably short time. The Collinses left MRC in 1943, after only one year. The next year, in 1944, Dorothy gave birth to their only child, David Harrington Collins.15

In 1948, Ralph Collins was appointed assistant to the Dean of Faculties. He gradually rose through the ranks in the office, and he became Vice President and Dean of Faculties on July 1, 1959. As Dean, Collins showed a great talent for administration. His kindness, courtesy, hard work, and attention to detail were all assets in his quest to build a top-notch faculty. Collins was a strong advocate of the liberal arts education. In a speech to the business fraternity, Beta Gamma Sigma, of which he was made an honorary member, he said:

In hindsight, some of Collins' ideas weren't as great as they seemed at the time. For instance, in 1960 he announced "several new education experiments which may enable professors to handle greater numbers of students," including the increased use of graduate students in place of professors.17 However, on the whole Collins was a very positive force as Dean of Faculties. According to the Faculty Council, "his very presence encouraged intellectual vitality and a striving for high quality in teaching, research, and public service".18

In addition to teaching, directing the Writers' Conference, and serving as MRC headmaster and Dean of Faculties, Collins played many other roles both within and without Indiana University. He was the varsity tennis coach, a contributor to several scholarly journals, a member of the Bloomington Human Relations Commission, a reader for the Book of the Month Club, an examiner for a university accrediting agency, and IU's representative in the Committee for Institutional Cooperation. He also belonged to many other organizations in the academic community.

Collins' stressful schedule took its toll, and in November of 1961 he was hospitalized for a heart attack while visiting Loyola.19 Two years later, on October 12, 1963, he suffered another heart attack and died. He was only fifty-five years old.

In a tribute to Collins, IU President Elvis J. Stahr, jr. opined that "he drove himself constantly and unstintingly in her (IU's) service and this cost him his life".20 Stahr also gave Collins the supreme compliment: "His contributions to Indiana University have been excelled by no living man save Chancellor Herman B Wells."

Soon after his death, plans were made to memorialize Collins through a lecture series. The first "Ralph L. Collins Lecture in Drama and Theatre" took place in October 1964.21 In 1967, there was an effort to have a lecture room in Ballantine Hall named after Collins, but his family rejected the idea. It was nearly twenty years before Collins' best-known namesake was christened. On April 2, 1981, the Men's Residence Center was renamed in honor of its former headmaster, becoming the Ralph L. Collins Living-Learning Center. To Professor Samuel Yellen, a speaker at the ceremony, the name change was very fitting: "To Ralph, if one learned without living — that is, joining with other persons — his learning was merely sterile. If one lived without learning, his life was apt to be empty noisiness".22

Indeed, the life of Ralph Collins, with its shared emphasis on academics, the arts, and public service, exemplifies the present spirit of the Living-Learning Center. There could not be a more fitting name for a great community, nor a more fitting tribute to a great man.

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Footnotes

1 Fact sheet on Ralph L. Collins. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

2"I.U.'s Dean Collins Dies At Age 55." Herald-Times 12 Oct. 1963. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

3Fact sheet on Ralph L. Collins. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

4"I.U.'s Dean Collins Dies At Age 55." Herald-Times 12 Oct. 1963. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

5"Memorial Resolution on the Death of Ralph L. Collins." (Faculty Document No. 8) Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

6"Dean Collins to be honored in two lectures." Indiana Daily Student 20 Oct. 1964. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

7Fact sheet on Ralph L. Collins. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

8"Ralph L. Collins." Indiana Daily Student 15 Oct. 1963. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

9Collins, Dorothy C. Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2000. Back

10Collins, Dorothy C. Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2000. Back

11 Collins, Dorothy C. Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2000. Back

12 Collins, Dorothy C. Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2000. Back

13 Collins, Dorothy C. Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2000. Back

14 Collins, Dorothy C. Personal interview. 17 Nov. 2000. Back

15 Fact sheet on Ralph L. Collins. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

16 "The School of Business: a little history and some suggestions." Address to Beta Gamma Sigma, 2 May 1960. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

17 "Dean Collins Announces Increase in Faculty." Indiana Daily Student 18 Oct. 1960. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

18 "Memorial Resolution on the Death of Ralph L. Collins." (Faculty Document No. 8) Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

19 "Dean Collins Hospitalized." Indiana Daily Student 12 Nov. 1961. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

20 "Memorial Services set for Ralph L. Collins." Indiana Daily Student 15 Oct. 1963. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

21 "Dean Collins to be honored in two lectures." Indiana Daily Student 20 Oct. 1964. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back

22 Slatalla, Michelle, and Joseph Slacian. "Collins honored." Indiana Daily Student 3 Apr. 1981. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana. Back


(All of the above documents, except the Dorothy Collins interview, can be found in the "Ralph L. Collins" and "Collins Living-Learning Center" clippings files in the Indiana University Archives.)





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