How I Started the University of Maryland in Munich

This is from the book, Bavarian Creme: Memories of Munich Campus

I arrived in Germany in 1949. At that time there were still remnants of  bombed buildings in Munich and its surroundings. The Cold War was in high gear. Barbed wire surrounded McGraw Kaserne and police dogs helped MPs patrol the area. In 1950 the barbed wire was replaced with guards at both entrances and military passes and IDs had to be shown in order to get into the Kaserne. Security was tight. There were no immediate houses around the Kaserne. The nearest community was Harlaching, which the Germans called “Little America” because the Americans who lived there tried to make it more like America than Germany. Many of the Bavarians still wore Dirndls and Lederhosen. Soldiers wore uniforms all the time. The majority of the Germans did not speak English.

My father was  Colonel William A. Swan, Southern Area Commander, whose headquarters  was McGraw  Kaserne.  Realizing  that  I  had to learn German  before I could attend college, I enrolled in the “Auslander” course at the University of  Munich. I was the only English-speaking person in the class. Herr Doctor Nagles spoke only German to us for eight hours a day. This was not the college education my father had in mind for me. He became concerned because I spent all day learning German, and was not getting any instruction in English.  He wanted me to go Stateside and enroll in an American college.  I had fallen in love with the German people and did not want to go back home. It occurred to me that the only solution to my dilemma was to start an American University in Munich. I know that sounds presumptuous, but it seemed logical to me at the time.

The University of  Maryland did not have classes in Munich, but my father, who always stressed education, wanted his men to have the opportunity to continue their education and he was looking into bringing the U. of Maryland  Evening classes to Munich. One evening over dinner, my father and mother were discussing the University of  Maryland’s program for service personnel. I immediately knew I had found a way to stay in Germany. I  approached my father about having a Day Time program  for dependents of  Service  Personnel.  I don’t think  my father thought that was possible, but he humored me.  My father said yes, he did have some vacant offices at the Kaserne  and yes, the quarter master could provide beds and closets for students but, he said, you have to get the General’s permission first.

The next day I made an appointment to see Major General Thorson.  With a great deal of enthusiasm,I told him my idea to expand upon the University of  Maryland’s evening program, which was about to commence for the first time in Munich. My idea was to expand the program to a daytime program for dependents of service personnel who were overseas  and of college age.  I told  him about the  rooms my father could f urnish and convinced him that there were lots of dependents who could benefit from this type of program. (At the time, there were only 2 other American girls in Munich, but I was sure there must be more students in other parts of  Europe).

General Thorson was a far-sighted man who thought the idea had merit. He immediately  wrote letters to all the European bases inviting students to enroll. I was delighted. Being  an Army Brat I thought that if a General said yes, it was done. I didn’t realize until years later that the General never discussed this decision with the University  of Maryland.  This new program caused  quite an uproar in Heidelberg and Maryland.  They did not want a Day Time program.  It did not fit into their plans.  But I did not know this and the letters were sent.

With a handful of students, 12 at first, and then 18, the University of Maryland Munich Campus, began in September of 1950. The University of Maryland sent one teacher, a Dr. Bouvier,to teach us. Dr Bouvier did not know that he was going to be Dean, Teacher, Counselor, Dorm Director. Mother and Father to all of us. We were like a one room, one teacher school.  It never dawned on any of us that this was unusual.  Our enthusiasm solved every problem.  Dr. Bouvier was the right man for the job, although I’m sure he didn’t think so.

The first classes were held in the Headquarters Building of McGraw Kaserne. But the classroom was short lived because we were disrupting government  business.We were quickly moved to the second floor of a building that was in a corner of  the  Kaserne  that was far from the Headquarters building. It was the same floor that the Dorm was on.

Because my father was concerned that I wasn’t getting any English courses, I made certain that all the classes were from the English Department. The first classes were English, Public Speaking, the Bible as Literature and American Literature. Dr. Bouvier taught all the classes.  He was wonderful in everything he did.

And  that  was  the  beginning…

Claire Schwan, 2950-1953


One Comment on “How I Started the University of Maryland in Munich”

  1. John McIntyre says:

    When I was living in Dana Point, CA, I lived not too far from Claire and would see her whenever there were UMUC or Munich Campus events in that area. She was a neat lady with an indomitable spirit — evident in the memoir cited above. It was great to have the privilege of getting to know the lady who was the catalyst for the Munich Campus, a place I dearly loved and from which I benefited academically, culturally, and socially!

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