University of Minnesota Alumni Association

The Last Word

Little Gophers

Thomas B. Jones (B.A. ’64), a long-retired professor of history, attended University High School from 1956-1960.

Illustration Credit: James Heimer

Long ago, in a far corner of the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus, generations of youthful students participated in what was then known as the University High School.

The College of Education, which was awarded oversight of the school in 1908, chose it as a site to help in the training of student teachers—a mission the schoolage student audience enjoyed exploiting with impish, sometimes perverse enthusiasm.

When asked to circle their desks for a class discussion, it was not unheard of for the UHS students to tightly press together to surround and entrap the aspiring instructor. Chalk and erasers also routinely went missing, much to the frustration of the student teachers.

By the 1950s, “U High” enrolled not just professors’ offspring, but girls and boys from all over the Twin Cities and suburbs.

In an academic context, things seemed positive for all involved, especially the students. Most students posted excellent scores on precollege testing, only a few decided not to pursue college, and a daunting percentage enrolled at Ivy League schools and other high-profile institutions.

Despite small classes, up-to-date facilities and equipment, a wide-ranging, progressive curriculum, and classroom visits by renowned U professors—not to mention near full access to the University’s facilities and campus events—the U High experience did have its drawbacks.

Among them were peevish glances and grumblings from University undergraduates at the Cooke Hall swimming pool, indigestible lunches at Shevlin Hall cafeteria, and the long commutes to get to U High in the first place. Above all the nickname bestowed on the high school athletic teams cut deeply to the very soul of the student body: The Little Gophers.

Try going to away games at gymnasiums packed with jazzed, hostile crowds of young kids whooping it up with exposed buckteeth and high-pitched rodent squeals. A shriveling of school spirit and a team’s machismo could be the only result.

Research and scholarship sponsored by the College of Education also meant students were asked to wield #2 pencils in service of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, both of which were developed by researchers affiliated with the U. Year after year, a long list of puzzling and weird questions had to be answered: True or False: I am very seldom bothered by constipation/ I would like to be a florist/ I have never been in trouble because of my sexual behavior.

At a recent reunion, a classmate recalled that the Torrance Tests included an intentional, incomplete drawing of a dog. Her bewildered response? She drew an appropriate set of genitalia for the pooch. To this day, she wonders, “Why did I do that?”

Alas, answers to such questions were not then available. Even the 1968 merger of U High and nearby Marshall High School failed to shut the door on the MMPI and its artistic cousin.

On the bright side? The Little Gophers would become but a ... umm ... burrowed footnote.