Jack Coleman was a “people’s president” long before Jimmy Carter. Though never a peanut farmer, Coleman has worked as a ditchdigger, dishwasher, short-order cook, uranium field roughneck and laborer in a marble-crushing plant. Coleman is proudest of his skills on a garbage truck. “I’m a very good trashman, if that’s not too immodest a claim,” he says.
In his more formal incarnation, John Royston Coleman, 55, is a Ph.D. in economics, an ex-lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy and a former executive of the Ford Foundation. He is also chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and president of Haverford College in suburban Philadelphia—a job, however, that he will hold for only a few more months.
Jack Coleman’s specialty is labor economics. In 1973 he began doing manual labor during vacations as a way of keeping in touch with workingmen. Out of it came a book, Blue-Collar Journal, which helped turn him into a folk hero on the campus he has governed for 10 years.
The issue which is forcing his departure is whether Haverford, a small (enrollment: 830), selective, all-male institution, should go coed. To Coleman, “the unique opportunities of Haverford should be available to anyone of motivation, ability and character.” That means women too.
The problem is that Haverford is already faintly coed. About a mile away is Bryn Mawr, a distinguished women’s college. Despite separate administrations, faculties and student bodies, the two Quaker schools have long maintained familylike bonds. Scholars from one school can take courses at the other, and 150 visiting students are housed in coed dorms on both campuses.
Bryn Mawr—fearing a drop in enrollment—responded to Coleman’s proposal with icy lack of enthusiasm. Coleman says he was attacked as a grandstander for his pick-and-shovel sabbaticals. “The place where I’m most easily hurt is when somebody questions my integrity,” he says. “I don’t claim to be a great educational innovator, but I do claim to be somebody who believes the heart and the head are both important.”
Ultimately, Haverford’s Board of Managers did not back its president. Coleman felt he had to resign—”I was the lightning rod,” he says. When Coleman announced he would quit in June, faculty and students, many in tears, gave him a three-minute ovation.
Born in Copper Cliff, Ont. of working-class parents, Coleman became a U.S. citizen in 1954. He earned a doctorate at the University of Chicago and gained a reputation as a liberal economist popular with students.
He has been married twice, the first ending in divorce after 23 years (“I became increasingly independent and less in need of a wife”) and the second after only nine months (“brief and very painful”). Of his five children—ranging in age from 17 to 27—two live with him on the Haverford campus.
Reserved and soft-spoken, Jack Coleman—he prefers being called “Jack” even by his students—often assumes a false identity for his vacation jobs. While working as a garbage man, he recalls, “My boss told my fellow-workers I was an embezzler out on parole. Later I asked him why an embezzler, why not something exciting, like a rapist? And he said, ‘You don’t look like a rapist’—surely the most ambiguous compliment I’ve ever had.”
Next month Coleman will have another go at trash collecting in an unnamed big city. After June, his plans are vague. The Haverford experience has clearly wounded him, but he remains philosophical. “I loved, I lost,” he says, “but by God, I loved!”