It’s not an offer every potential professor gets, but when it came time to bring former U.S. Senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) onto the faculty at George Mason University in 2001 as Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy, he asked if he could do away with a syllabus.
“I wanted to teach things I was interested in. I wanted to tell war stories,” Robb said. Then he joked, “The student evaluations always said I was ‘prepared for class.’”
That was one of many “war stories” Chuck Robb unspooled during a 90-minute career retrospective recorded on video for preservation in George Mason’s Oral History Program. The former Virginia governor’s recollections of his relationship with the university, the Antonin Scalia Law School, and the Schar School of Policy and Government will be included among the 240 other personal perspectives already recorded by the University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center.
The video was taped on June 10 in Robb’s home in McLean, Va., and was directed by archivist Robert L. Vay.
“Oral history helps us better understand individuals, organizations, movements, or events by helping us get inside the minds of those who have experienced history,” said Vay. “Not only do they paint a picture of the story, but we also learn about their feelings, motivations, and how events affected them. Documents or photographs can't always do that.”
In addition to describing his 20-year affiliation with the university, Robb recounted his childhood in Arizona, Cleveland, and Alexandria, Va. in the Washington, D.C., region (he’s a graduate of Mount Vernon High School); serving on the USS Northampton (the “floating White House” in the Continuity of Operations plan in the event of nuclear attack); his two-tours of Vietnam as a Marine officer; his marriage at the White House to President Lyndon Johnson’s daughter Lynda; his efforts to desegregate the Commonwealth in the face of Jim Crow; and the status of his in-production memoir (he’s in the editing stages).
Robb said he was proud of his time with the then-upcoming Mason, founded in 1949, and was “very pleased to have had the opportunity to have been associated with Alan Merten and George Johnson,” two past presidents of the school.
Robb spoke at the first commencement ceremony of the George Mason Law School in Arlington, Va., in 1980, when he was lieutenant governor. He later gave the commencement speech at Mason. “And they got me two years in a row,” he recalled with a chuckle. “The next year they gave me an honorary degree, which they usually do when you give the commencement speech. In fact, somewhere up in the attic I have a whole bunch of [graduation] hoods.”
Robb taught seminars at what was then Mason’s School of Public Policy and is now the Schar School of Policy and Government. He spoke to other classes at the school and also participated in panel discussions.
“He was one of our early top high-profile affiliates,” said Kingsley E. Haynes, one of the founders of the Schar School and a former dean. “His contribution, particularly in the early days, was important in student recruitment. He also provided needed reception and support to the school that was very valuable in recruiting funders.”
As for the university at large, Robb said he was pleased that “Mason wanted to establish itself as a standout university and help students who really wanted to get an education. They have done that.”