What’s Your Fogler Story?

The iconic Fogler Library holds special meaning for many. We recently asked the public “What’s your Fogler story?” and received some great responses.

“My parents, Jane Quimby ’58 and Mark Biscoe ’57 met in January of 1957 in the Reading Room at Fogler. He asked “May I sit here?” and the rest was history. Sixty one years of marriage and a Black Bear daughter, son in law, and two grandchildren. This picture was painted of my parents by my late husband Tom ’97. The slate was sourced from the roof of Fogler Library during renovations when Tom was the Project Manager for the job.” – Katherine Biscoe Turlo ’93

What’s Your Fogler Story?

by Matt Dunlap

Was it that long ago?

Of course we had phones. Every dorm section had a phone booth at the end of the section. The phrase “look it up on your smart phone,” though, probably would have drawn stares of concern from people who cared about us.

In the mid-1980’s, the internet wasn’t really a thing— at least not on college campuses, not yet. Research, then, meant going to the library, trying to figure out what to look for in the subject index of the card catalog, and then hoping that no one else had taken out the book you were looking for and needed for a class paper.

Then, to write up your notes into the required paper, we had access to rental typewriters in what is now the reserve reading room. It was a different time; a time that did not favor the habits of procrastinators.

I may have been a somewhat distracted student—now, in the fullness of time, I can say I was more or less indifferent about schoolwork. Subjects I liked came easily; requirements, though, found a worthy challenge in competing for my attention.

It came to pass that I was enrolled in a political science class1 regarding United States Foreign Policy. As was my wont, I barely glanced at the syllabus, and hid my surprise when the professor gave notice that our mid-term research paper was due in two weeks.

Despite my lack of organization and prioritization as an undergraduate, one bit of zeal that served me well as both an undergraduate and graduate student was the true affinity I felt for Fogler Library. Just being in there gave me a sense of comfort; as I did my work and studied there, all the tension and anxiety of putting things off simply slid away. I got pretty good at finding resources. This time, though, I had roped myself into a stumper.

The topic of my mid-term research paper was the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81. The Iranian revolution that deposed the Shah of Iran cascaded into an avalanche, and when students stormed the American Embassy in Tehran, embassy staff were taken completely by surprise; 52 Americans were taken hostage. The crisis helped bring down President Jimmy Carter, who lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan; the day after Reagan took the oath of office, the Iranians released the hostages.

Now, I had to write about it. The crisis had evolved relatively recently, and there wasn’t a lot of scholarship available on the incident. On a rainy Saturday morning, with the paper due in just a couple of days, I did the only thing I knew to do: I went to Fogler.

I couldn’t find much. There were some abstracts, lists of magazine and newspaper accounts from the time; but that meant pawing through reel upon reel of microfilm. I didn’t have time. I took a deep breath and sat in a soft chair in the reference room. Think. How am I going to do this?

Then, out of the corner of my eye, a thought. In the reference section—a mysterious compendium of atlases, encyclopedias, and collections of general research material—hidden in the middle of it all was a low, long bookcase. Phone books; every phone book in the country.

I had an idea. I wonder, I thought. Organized by state, I found the thick phone book for Atlanta. Curiously, I fingered the alphabetical listing, and there it was; the offices of former President Jimmy Carter.

In my head, I wondered how I was going to fill in the gaps. Maybe some select news stories; some after-action analysis of the Desert One disaster, when a cargo plane and helicopter collided in the Iranian desert during the aborted rescue mission, killing a number of American servicemen, which only made a bad situation worse. I could put something together. Primary sources were plum, as I knew from my history classes. Reaching anyone at Carter’s office on a Saturday was a long shot. But still, I thought, it’s worth a try.

My mother had given me a long-distance calling card so I could call home every week and check in with my folks. In the lobby of Fogler, there were a couple of phone booths; one with a pay phone, the other with a credit-card phone. Armed with Carter’s office number, I slid into the booth, and dialed the number. It rang and rang; after a while, the realization began to set in that I was probably peering down a dead-end alley.

“Hello?” a gentle voice answered the phone. I jumped a bit. I introduced myself, apologized for alling during non-business hours, and stated what I was working on.

“University of Maine?” he asked. I affirmed. It was Jimmy Carter himself, in the office on a Saturday morning, getting caught up on some things. He had heard the phone persistently ringing
and decided to answer it.

The next few minutes were a blur. He was incredibly gracious and laughed a bit at some of my questions. “I can’t answer all of that,” he’d say. “Classified, you know.” But I had what I needed. He wished me well, and I thanked him.

Breathless, I went to work.

I’m sure I had written better papers, but few I had more confidence in. I was surprised, then, when the paper came back from the professor with a big, red F circled on the back page. After class, I approached him about what on earth I had done wrong. He was decisive in his answers. The paper, he said, was a borderline mockery. “I’m not stupid,” or something to that effect, was his assessment of my listed primary source of Jimmy Carter, and he said something about
how if I had been a political science major, I’d probably
be meeting with the dean, and that I should feel good
about just failing the assignment.

I didn’t back down. I insisted on the truth of my work, and described how I had found Carter’s office number, and even the date I had called the office— which, of course, was pretty close to the date the paper was due. He took the paper back but gave me a skeptical look. I was a bit distraught and told no one of my situation.

A couple of weeks later, at the end of class, as the
professor handed back the famous ‘blue books’ that were used for written essay exams after a test, with mine was also the suddenly-radioactive research paper. As I turned to the back page with a sense of dread, everything suddenly lightened; the red F had been revised to a red A. My eyes shot up, and the professor, looking at me, smiled and shook his head.

He, or maybe a graduate assistant (I was never sure which), had re-performed my work; they had found the phone book and the number, and had called the office. The office assistant, puzzled by the request, said she would look into it. A couple of days later, she called back. Yes, she said, the President confirmed that he had spoken to a University of Maine student on the date in question.

Later in my academic journey, while working for the legendary Carroll F. Terrell of the English Department and the  National Poetry Foundation, I had to find some information. Terry gave me a piece of advice that not only have I never forgotten, but that fit perfectly for my blind groping for research sources that rainy Saturday in Fogler Library. “The key,” he said, “is to know what you’re looking for. When you find it, it will stand out—like blood spattered on the page.”

Come to think about it, after all these years, who really needs a smart phone?

Matt Dunlap is a member of the Class of 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in History and earned a master’s degree in English in 1994. As a member of the Maine House of Representatives, he chaired several committees, served seven terms as Secretary of State, and currently serves as Maine’s State Auditor.

  1. Clarity of perspective is helpful here. I was a history major as an undergraduate. My real focus was on my work as a student-athlete, and I was content with a modest GPA. I never dreamt of being involved in politics, public administration, or later in the work as State Auditor. My eight years in the Maine House of Representatives (six as chair of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee), my time as an Executive Director of a statewide non-profit, fourteen years as Secretary of State, and now my time as State Auditor, were preceded by not a single Public Administration class, neither wildlife management nor any accounting or auditing classes, and four political sciences classes, including the one described here. I failed one of the other three.