At the beginning of Kenyon’s 1941-1942 school year, no one would have been able to predict that by 1943, the school would almost entirely become an Army-sanctioned meteorology training program.
The year began with a total enrollment of 323 students, which, at the time, was the largest class in Kenyon history. The College had hired President Chalmers in 1937, and in his short time as president he had brought in a slew of renowned faculty members, including famed professor and Kenyon Review founder John Crowe Ransom. Chalmers had also addressed long-neglected maintenance and architectural problems, leaving the campus in the best condition it had been in since the late 1920s.
However, due to the attacks on Pearl Harbor and America’s sudden involvement in World War II, only 284 students remained by the spring semester, and, according to Kenyon College: Its Third Half Century by former College archivist Thomas Boardman Greenslade ’31, there were “indications it would drop drastically further.”
Kenyon implemented an accelerated program to try to compensate for this rapid decrease. According to Greenslade, students would need to complete four 11-week terms and one summer term to graduate with a degree in two years.
The student population as a whole seemed to be in favor of the change. According to Greenslade, one student voiced his agreement in the Collegian, writing, “The ability of the college to take things in its stride, its flexibility and, above all, its confidence in its own convictions has again enabled Kenyon to keep up with the times.”
However, Kenyon still struggled with student retention and, in 1942, President Chalmers announced a solution: Kenyon College would partner with the Army to create the Army Air Force Meteorology Program for the 1943 school year.
Kenyon was one of only 12 colleges in America to offer this program. President Chalmers believed that, by allowing the Army to effectively run the school for a year, the College would be able to retain its faculty and provide resources for its remaining civilian students. According to Greenslade, “this arrangement probably saved the College, since … the almost total loss of student[s] would have forced it to close its doors.”
Meteorology, as defined by National Geographic, is “the study of the atmosphere, atmospheric phenomena, and atmospheric effects on our weather.” Basic Pre-Meteorology, the first course in the major, was available for students aged 18-21 who had taken two years of mathematics in high school. After completion of the Basic Meteorology course, students would be eligible to take an eight-month Advanced Meteorology course. After completion of both courses, the student would then be commissioned to the Air Force.
The 1943 school year began with 463 students studying at Kenyon College: 216 in the meteorology program and 247 as basic civil students. However, as the year progressed, the civilian student population decreased to a low of 61 students.
One of the first major concerns on campus during the program was how to house the students. To try and accommodate the increased student population (which was 100 more than that at the beginning of the record-high previous year), the school reached out to local members of the Gambier community and asked if they would consider letting students live with them. This concern was alleviated as the majority of the civilian students began to drop out.
According to the Collegian, the meteorology students followed a strict schedule: the students would eat breakfast at 7:00 a.m. and begin classes at 8:00 a.m. Classes would end at 11:00 a.m., and the students would have “physical training” for an hour before lunch. Afternoon classes would go from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
The meteorology students would also participate in other courses—among them classes such as English, geography and history. They would be taught by either regular Kenyon professors or by visiting professors who were brought in to replace those who had left for war-related service.
The meteorology students also had robust social lives: They threw parties and dances, put on plays, concerts and band performances. They even founded their own newspaper, The Meteorite, to report on campus events.
Before the end of the meteorology program, two other military units would be stationed on Kenyon College’s campus: The Army Specialized Training Unit in Area and Language arrived in Gambier in August 1943, and another Army squadron arrived in February 1944.
According to Greenslade, “the Army issued an order for the abandonment of most of its courses in colleges and universities by April 1st, 1944.” Kenyon was seriously impacted by the departure of the Army men; the total enrollment was only 80 students at the start of the 1944 school year.
However, even as most of the Army-related students had left the school, President Chalmers was adamant in the belief that all of the graduating Army men should be recognized and celebrated for their graduation. On Dec. 4, 1943, he sent out a notice to the Kenyon community announcing a celebration of these students.
“Even though but two candidates can receive their degrees in person, we shall confer the degrees,” Chalmers stated. “We shall do this because the ceremony has a special meaning for the students.”