‘Out Here on the Edge of Nowhere’: Gregory Remembers Early UD
Date published: Aug. 29, 2020
By Aspen Daniels Smith, BA '19
On a cloudless day during spring break, 18-year-old Eileen Gregory, BA ’68, was out
exploring the newly paved Northgate Drive with a friend. The girls biked past fields
dotted here and there with scrub oaks. Then they caught sight of a few speckled brick
buildings. The place seemed deserted.
Curious, they rode across a field of parched grass and stickers that ruined their
tires. A couple of guys were drinking coffee in the small cafeteria. Gregory can’t
remember what they said, but it was a conversation that changed her life. There was
something about these students — they were reflective, willing to jump into deep conversation.
Gregory didn’t know any students like that at Irving High School, where she was a
The students called Sybil Novinski, who was in charge of registration and recruitment.
Novinski met Gregory in an office cluttered with boxes in Carpenter Hall.
“Within two minutes of speaking with Sybil, I knew that UD was my home,” Gregory said
at a university event last year. “The students, and this remarkable woman who looked
you in the eye and seemed really to see you — they belonged to a place that I had
only dreamed about finding.”
Little did Gregory know that she would call UD home for decades, first as a student
and later as the beloved “Dr. Gregory” to generations of future students.
She gave up her place at Texas Christian University to join UD’s Class of 1968, the
university’s eighth freshman class.
They walked to class along dusty paths that turned to clayey goo when it rained and
across wide-open spaces where the wind blew hard and trees hadn’t yet been planted.
They found scorpions in showers and shoes. And the quality of their dinners declined
steadily throughout the week, from meatloaf on Monday to fish sticks and Tater Tots
“There was a simplicity and an austerity that we took for granted, exterior expectations
pared down to essentials,” Gregory reminded her class at their 50th reunion. “[But
for all that], there was a kind of imaginative excitement, a kind of merriness, improvisation,
a take-it-as-it-comes, an all-hands-on-deck, an anything-is-possible attitude.”
Despite its newness, UD’s faculty was impressive. The Art Department was known in
Dallas, highly educated Cistercian and Dominican monks were central to every department,
and the intellectually ambitious Donald and Louise Cowan led the university. Gregory
found herself immersed in an intense intellectual life: Her teachers held her to a
high standard, and her classmates talked about ideas all the time. This intellectual
atmosphere was exhilarating; Gregory and her classmates felt that they were receiving
more than students at any other school.
In these early years, the university held Catholicism less as a conscious sense of
identity even though there was a greater religious presence on campus.
“We understood that [Catholicism] was whole and large and welcoming, and that in that
context there was nothing that you couldn’t talk about — so there wasn’t an emphasis
on doctrine,” explained Gregory.
When Gregory started teaching in the ’70s, the university held a heroic ideal rather
than the virtuous ideal it later adopted. One of the essay questions was, “What is
a hero?”, which is a different question than, “What is a virtuous man?” The graduate
program was highly influenced by James Hillman, an influential post-Jungian who came
as graduate dean in 1978. Psychology was the strongest major, and faculty approached
literature from a mythical perspective.
“The whole emphasis on imagination and heroic life is a little unruly and hard to
perpetuate from one generation to another,” said Gregory.
This emphasis therefore later gave place to a more structured, philosophical approach.
Despite their serious academics, the students didn’t take themselves seriously. They
had a tradition not just of playfulness but of downright irreverence. They parodied
teachers during Charity Week, performed an “Immorality Play” on the mall (imitating
the medieval morality play), and called the boys’ Augustine Hall the “North Hall Hornies.”
An art major in a class above Gregory’s drew a mural in the Augustine lounge parodying
the Sistine Chapel’s fresco, in which God was passing Adam a beercan and the other
portraits were dorm occupants.
One of the wildest classes was the freshman class Gregory taught when she returned
to UD in fall 1973. That year Lit Trad III (tragedy and comedy) was taught in the
spring of freshman year. These freshmen entered into the plays and took them to heart.
“It was like throwing them into an abyss of some sort,” Gregory remembered. “They
were too young to be hit with that as freshmen.”
On the Ides of March, an ancient Roman festival, a couple of the rabble raisers decided
to throw a surprise party. They waited in a liquor store parking lot for an hour before
it opened, and when Gregory walked into her classroom in Gorman Lecture Center at
9 a.m., she found a cart covered with a white cloth and strewn with flower petals
set in the middle of the room. The students threw off the cloth to reveal bottles
of champagne. The drinking age was still 18, and everyone had some. They were studying
“The Bacchae” by Euripides, so struck by the inspiration of the moment, Gregory said,
“Let’s do the play!”
The students jumped onto the round table with their books and chanted the chorale
songs, swaying back and forth. Gregory played Dionysus, and one unlucky nerd volunteered
to be Pentheus. He would begin every question in class with, “Pardon my ignorance
… ” so his classmates called him “Pardon-My-Ignorance.” Just before the end of class,
they got to the dismemberment scene. The class “dismembered” Pentheus by stealing
his shoes and glasses, then took off with them. Gregory felt guilty and went all over
campus with the student looking for his lost belongings until he found them.
The laws were more permissive, and everyone on campus drank more freely back then.
Now Gregory wouldn’t allow that in her classes, she said.
“I like the playfulness; I like the improvisation,” said Gregory. “The drinking is
not something you can romanticize; it’s just that it was just looser.”
At her class reunion, Gregory reminisced about those early years:
“We maybe didn’t know that we were pioneers, young people on new ground — but we were
— blithely making fire in our sod huts, not knowing or caring that they were sod huts
— beginners, out here on the edge of nowhere — and that was our good fortune,” she
said. “That was a blessing.”