The book: In this memoir, Paul Warren ’60 reflects on his journey through the education system. He begins with his childhood in Greenwich Village in New York City, reflecting on his passing experience with Catholicism — which was limited to walking by a Catholic school each morning. This moment came full circle years later when Warren accepted a job as dean of the School of Education at the University of San Francisco, where his new boss was a priest. University Follies (Belmont Treetops Press) highlights Warren’s experiences navigating this new landscape, the joys of working with students throughout the years, and the challenges that come with working as a university administrator. 

The author: Paul Warren ’60 earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and his Ph.D. from New York University. He went on to work in education for the next 40 years in a variety of roles from professor to dean. He retired in 2002. 


One - So It Began

It was in a dark, smoke-filled Fado house hidden in narrow cobblestone streets of the Alfama district of Lisbon where I first sensed that my career as dean at Boston University would be drawing to a close. I had been at my best earlier in the day as I delivered an invited presentation from the Portuguese minister of education for educators selected to staff Portugal’s first Normal Schools for the training of teachers. I would pause every few paragraphs as I worked from a paper I had prepared in Boston to permit a translator to convey my message to attendees not universally proficient in English. The luxury of the unexpected time had provided an opportunity for me to elaborate on thoughts and insert humor into the emerging script at the risk of producing a work which in length would rival Eugene O’Neil’s Long Day’s Journey. True to the history of my theater family, I was seduced by the opportunity to play the lead actor in my own production. Compliments from the minister and applause from the audience on delivery of my closing words left me on a high that can only be felt by an actor receiving rave notices for a leading role. The high only lasted until that Fado evening in the Alfama with Jon, special assistant to the Boston University president, and his wife who had joined my wife, Janet, and me on the US AID sponsored trip.

A briny fragrance of sea and age drifted down damp narrow caverns between ancient mortar dwellings as a Portuguese American graduate student in Boston who had assisted my School of Education receive the grant from US AID led the four of us through a maze of cobblestone streets to a Fado bar of his choice. Save for an occasional street lamp and light from a window to break the night’s dark, the district was hardly different from that of 1775 when an earthquake had leveled Lisbon leaving only the Alfama intact. Once the bar of our guide’s choice was located and we were seated, he wished us a good evening, left directions for return to our hotel, and departed to join friends.

The hum of muted Portuguese conversation and unfamiliar sweet fragrance of a hovering blanket of cigarette smoke from closely clustered tables reminded us that we were foreigners in a sea of locals. When a waiter drifted to our table, asked in English what we would like to drink, and glasses of Campari were soon set before us, any discomfort quickly dissolved. We had time for a first Campari and follow-up before the hum of conversation in the room abruptly faded when a wraith of a woman, black shawl over her shoulders, emerged from behind a black velvet curtain into the haze of smoke. Proximity to one another and guests at other tables evaporated. We sat alone in cigarette smoke, candle-light, and silence. 

Mournful laments filled the space for the next hour. We were consumed by the haunting melody and singer’s plaintive words—not one of which we understood. Mesmerized, we were lost in our private thoughts and emotions. We sat silently swallowed in a wave of melancholy until broken by the waiter’s “Another Campari,” following the final lament of the set. On a nod of consent and the waiter’s departure, Jon dulled by earlier drinks, couldn’t wait to lean across the table and slur, “Paul, I learned more from the minister’s remarks in twenty minutes this morning than I learned from your day-long presentation.” The evening drew to close with silence and emotions of another order. 

Less than a year later, any doubt as to the imminent end of tenure as dean ended. I had found joy and a sense of accomplishment over the years in the facilitation of projects and programs to assist underserved populations whether as a teacher in the New York City public high schools, administrator or staff on urban government and university projects in the South and New York, or professor and dean at Boston University That was until John Silber, the controversial Boston University president decided that his university would respond to the opportunity to “adopt” the Chelsea Public Schools.

Chelsea schools in the 1960s were buried in the poverty and decline of a city of approximately 35,000 residents shoe-horned into less than two and a half miles directly across the Mystic River from Boston. Chelsea schools, historically a gateway for immigrants, were a case study in failure with only half of its students, mostly from low-income families, graduating from high school. The opportunity to enter into a Boston University– Chelsea Public School partnership in which the university would be responsible for the day-to day management of the schools was too great for Silber to resist. I was soon to find out that the opportunity was also too great for him, a skeptic of education as a field of study, to trust a dean of a school of education to play a major role in the project. 

After only a few meetings as member of the University team of administrators with little or no professional experience in public education selected by Silber and his special assistant, Jon, who had drawn my Portugal Fado evening to an abrupt end, it became clear that my advice wasn’t wanted. There was no receptivity to recommendations drawn from my years of experience with underperforming public schools and lower-income students. With each succeeding meeting of the committee, I felt more and more like a student whose observations fail to capture the attention of a professor than the dean of a school of education. It was time to negotiate my retirement. 

At least some momentary pleasure was provided by a bittersweet moment with President Silber before my departure. At a friendly farewell meeting requested by the president to thank me for my years as dean, I was asked what I thought about his appointing a National Endowment for the Humanities officer in D.C. and former New England public school superintendent to manage the Chelsea project and serve as dean of the School of Education. I couldn’t resist responding with sparkle and a smile, “John, I know Peter. He received his doctorate from the School of Education a few years ago. We must have done a great job.” The president who had frequently criticized the School of Education and its too frequent hiring of its own graduates acknowledged my “Gotcha” with a slowly stretching grin. I’m not sure my response answered his question, but in 1988, a year after my resignation, Boston University formally “adopted” the Chelsea schools with significant foundation, state, and City of Chelsea financial support— and Peter was named as dean.

After almost twenty years of service, the past seven as dean, I looked forward to an extended escape in our summer Vermont home followed by a sabbatical leave for the upcoming academic year. There would be time for Janet and me to relax and travel free from the day-to-day distractions and tensions that went along with my responsibilities as dean. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a dean again—anywhere. All I knew for certain was that my past work with education colleagues seeking to make a difference for populations who had gotten the short end of the stick had been rewarding.

Landscape projects, fly fishing, writing, and evenings with friends in the Green Mountains of Vermont over an extended summer provided a healthy antidote to simmering anger that I carried from my final year at Boston University. But summer suddenly morphed into a vibrant symphony of fall color and it was time to return to Boston. Alone during the day in our Boston loft with Janet back at work, I had to begin to seriously consider post-sabbatical plans. Writing projects became secondary to conversations with colleagues, work on a professional portfolio, and detection of career possibilities in Boston and New England. Autumn, too soon, was swallowed by December winds. Janet and I found ourselves deep into winter with career plans for the next year not much clearer. 

One February Sunday morning, relaxed in the warmth of our Fort Point Channel former Molasses factory loft, stretched out in a comfortable couch, conscious of the hiss of sleet on our windows and whistling gusts of winds outside, and leafing lazily through the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, the announcement “Search: Dean School of Education, University of San Francisco” caught my attention. The temptation of a San Francisco winter escape should I be invited to interview was great. I wasn’t totally surprised that the announcement’s prominent celebration of the institution as “San Francisco’s Catholic and Jesuit University” triggered memories of how early suspicion of Catholics and Catholicism had crept into my life. Maybe I should apply anyhow.

Excerpted from University Follies by Paul Warren ’60. Copyright © 2024 by Belmont Treetops Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.