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Transcript of 1935 meeting reveals sharp exchanges, accusations against Bellingham campus president

A contentious, closed-door meeting in 1935 with the trustees of Washington State Normal School, the Bellingham school's president, and citizens who wanted to oust the president, had at least one person sitting quietly on the sidelines.

That person was a court reporter from Mount Vernon, whose 81 pages of transcribed minutes make for fascinating reading. The report is archived at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies at Western Washington University, the Normal School's contemporary name.

Frank Sefrit, general manager of The Bellingham Herald, led a community group that accused President Charles Fisher of supporting un-American students, teachers and campus speakers.

During the meeting, Sefrit was the group's lead questioner and accuser. Fisher, for his part, wasn't about to kowtow to Sefrit.

The result - beyond assorted accusations, rebuttals and tangents - was a verbal battle between two strong-willed men, with neither inclined to budge. For example, here's an exchange over whether Fisher's critics could question him about a student club Sefrit said was run by subversives:

Fisher: "I will make explanations, but I am not going to be subjected to questioning. I don't think you have legal authority to do that."

Sefrit: "We come here as friends of this institution to try to clean up a situation that we think is serious, and that is the only reason, and we feel we should have absolute co-operation on that. I think if I were in your position I ..."

(Trustee) Branigin: "I think we will have to call a halt on this phase of the examination."

Sefrit: "Let the record show the refusal of Dr. Fisher to answer reasonable questions touching his administration, because that is the thing that is at stake."

Fisher: "I want to put into the record that I will answer any questions to the authorities to whom I am responsible, and that is the Board of Trustees of this institution and the governor of the state."

Later, Sefrit said Fisher had lost community support, and that local families didn't want their sons and daughters to attend Western.

Sefrit: "Don't you want the friendship of the people of this community?"

Fisher: "We have had. You only speak for a very small group."

Sefrit: "That is where you don't understand this community."

Fisher: "I understand it better than you do. I don't believe you are in touch with the community."

Sefrit: "You are in touch with a lot of people that I don't care to be in touch with."

Near the end of the meeting came a prescient exchange after a trustee made sure the critics would only be satisfied with Fisher's removal.

Sefrit: "I am satisfied there has to be a change in the head of the institution, and there will be."

Fisher: "I am sure if you can bring it about that there will be."

Reach Dean Kahn at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2291.

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