Emeritus Faculty Association news December 2011
Friday December 2nd, usual time and place 10.30am Javits Room, 2nd floor library.
Prof of History Jared Farmer will talk on "History from the Canopy".
The talk will begin with a brief overview of his current book project, "Trees in Paradise: A California History " (forthcoming, Norton), which uses four famous types of trees (sequoias/redwoods, eucalypts, citruses, and palms) to tell the history of California since the Gold Rush. The talk will then continue with an exploration one of the book's themes: how people have used sequoia trees to think about long units of time.
Bio: Prof Farmer was born and raised in Provo, Utah. He first attended Utah State University, then the University of Montana, and finally Stanford University for his PhD in history. Subsequently he spent two years as a post-doc at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens. He came to Stony Brook in 2007. His specialties are environmental history and the history of the American West.
Our last meeting was turned over to a discussion of the legacy of John S. Toll, and to a certain extent, his successor Jack Marburger.
The set of scheduled speakers included Norman Goodman of Sociology and Linwood Lee of Physics, and was to have included Francis Bonner who unfortunately did not feel well enough that day. We do however wish Francis the best for his upcoming 90th birthday. Lacking his input, the meeting soon turned into an informal committee of the whole, with many interesting reminiscences. In a similar spirit, this summary is also structured in an informal manner, to better reconstruct the historical sequence of events and their significance.
Apparently Alec Pond, John Toll, even Eisenbud, Lambe, Feingold and Meuther were old colleagues of long standing. All together in Princeton, Alec already had a plan (plot?) to bring John in to Stony Brook as president and (with John's approval) to follow it up with the recruitment of Nobel Prize winner Frank Yang. Once installed here in 1965 John found himself in a situation where Governor Rockefeller, having promoted the founding of a huge statewide SUNY system over the opposition of the established private universities, was then increasingly diverting his interest towards his candidature for US president. John saw at once that it was imperative to promote construction and recruiting rapidly before the inevitable drawdown of funding. The resulting rough ride* was perhaps arduous but necessary if USB were to have a chance to reach national and world standing. And John was nothing if not insistent; it was said that no vice president in Albany would agree to meet with him without witnesses. Back on campus stories abounded of unpredictable conditions, craters, mud, hazardous walking and parking. In the initial years before he was married John lived in the old Sunwood mansion up on the cliff in Old Field, and this was also being utilized for overnighters for visiting recruitment prospects. Richard Porter recounted how his children were convinced that it was a haunted house. In the early morning when they encountered John in rumpled grey bathrobe leaning over a stove, the children rushed back to their parents saying they had seen the ghost. (This was news to your correspondent, who, seeing John always in the same rumpled grey suit, thought he slept in that.)
John was given credit for his foresight: in just one example from many similar at the time, by pushing construction of the very large building for Earth and Space Sciences while there were yet only 6 faculty (and each new building came with a state equipment endowment). On the other hand it took Jim Simons to see that Computer Science had a potential outside of experimental physics. With Jim's departure soon after, the newly formed department was offered space in the large basement extending out under the grass from the physics and at that time flooded (John originally had plans for a much larger physics building). Eventually the department equipped itself from external grants in an old building from which it first had to collect up and remove cadaver parts totaling to the contents of 10 caskets and some two dozen 6 ft cylinders.
Things moved rapidly and some thought that John was imperious and emphasized too much the physical sciences at the expense of other disciplines. To give him credit, at the outset in 1965 he did act quickly to bring in Bentley Glass as academic VP, who besides being an eminent biologist was a softer and more reasoned presence. This was followed in 1971 by elevating Sidney Gelber from humanities. These were no doubt effective, along with Norman, for prevailing on John that it wasn't really appropriate for him to be chairing the faculty senate especially when one of the motions was lack of confidence in the president. For this was also a time of student unrest against the Vietnam war and the "military industrial complex". This culminated in the march to hose down the main computer and consequent hunger strike there, and the occupation of the central administration. John had on-again/off-again encounters with firebrand Mitchell Cohen, and in a matter postponed until President Marburger, a compromise was eventually agreed on from Frank Myers's committee to allow guns only for senior officers in a locked space.
In 1978 John himself sensed it was time to step down and insisted on doing so against all entreaties. At our meeting nobody disagreed with Bob DeZafra that we owe John a debt and that this campus would not be where it is today without him. While USB may not have become "the Berkeley of the East", it was due to him that a small liberal arts college became an internationally recognized research university in a remarkably short time. And most importantly for our new century, he presided over the establishment of a major health sciences complex and (against the efforts of some politicians) prevailed that it be part of the university.
After John stepped down there followed a brief interlude in which Alec was installed over the preferences of a search committee, the chancellor intervened to install a temporary caretaker, and a new search committee brought in (sartorial upgrade?) Jack Marburger. From the first Jack saw himself as a consolidator, and he used his considerable political talents to sooth some of the left-over discord both here and later during his term at BNL.
As the uninitiated reader might have gathered by now, a different (additional?) set of talents are perhaps appropriate for the rapid creation of a new university than for the operation of mature departments. This is no doubt true both for presidents and their faculty. We can see this difference too in our own emeritus faculty association between the older and the newer retirees.
*footnote: The term "rough ride": here is metaphorical and not related to the complaints of one emeritus former passenger about the quality of John's driving.
In case you missed it
You can read here Jim Simons' recent letter to the NY Times on the troubles of US college freshman and high school education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics):
Some of our members attended the annual dinner of the Three Village Community Trust recently and were regaled with an illustrated talk by local historian Beverly Tyler ("Patriots Rock … ")including interesting details on local leaders during the revolutionary war. So since this is an all history issue of Emeritus news, we end with a lesser known piece of local history.
In the small cemeteries which abound in the Three Village area much fascinating history can be garnered. For example in the Oak Hill Cemetery on Hollow Road. Among old gravestones depicting the short lives of some who went to sea in the era of tall ships, a much larger spanking new headstone appeared a few years ago. The text depicts that here lies Eugenio Mario Parente-Ramos, world class revolutionary, theologian, philosopher, historian, writer, .... He was evidently a man much loved by agricultural workers of Suffolk county among others, although wikipedia tells of a much more complex story. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenio_Perente-Ramos