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UCSD Faces Changes On 50th Anniversary

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Aired 3/29/11

At a time when higher education in California is bracing for some of the most severe budget cuts ever, it's important to remember the history and commitment that have created California's renowned university system. UC San Diego, which began as an offshoot of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is celebrating its 50-year anniversary.

Marye Anne Fox, chancellor, UCSD

Above: Marye Anne Fox, chancellor, UCSD

Walter Munk, professor emeritus, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Above: Walter Munk, professor emeritus, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

At a time when higher education in California is bracing for some of the most severe budget cuts ever, it's important to remember the history and commitment that have created California's renowned university system. And so, even though there are challenges ahead, UC San Diego is remembering and celebrating its 50-year anniversary.

From an offshoot of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, to one of the country's highly regarded universities, UCSD has forged its place with the help of what the school calls its "visionaries, innovators and overachievers."

GUESTS: Marye Anne Fox, Chancellor, UCSD

Walter Munk, professor of research geophysics, emeritus

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: At a time when higher education in California is bracing for some of the most severe budget cuts ever, it's important to remember the history and commitment that have created California's renowned university system. And so even though there are challenges ahead, UC San Diego is remembering and celebrating its 50-year anniversary. From an offshoot of Scripps Institution of Oceanography to one of the country's highly regarded universities, UCSD has forged its place with the help of what the school calls its visionaries, innovators and over achievers. Two of those remarkable people are here with us today to talk about UC San Diego, past and present. I'd like to welcome my guests, first of all UCSD chancellor Marye Anne Fox. Chancellor Fox, good morning, welcome back.

FOX: Good morning, Maureen of it's a delight to have us. Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: And UCSD founding faculty member, professor emeritus Walter Munk. Good morning, Professor Munk.

MUNK: Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I want like to invite our listeners to join the conversation, especially if you're a UCSD alumni, or you're presently attending UCSD, share your thoughts and memories as UCSD celebrates its 50th. Give us a call with your questions and comments, our number here is 1-888-895-5727, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. Professor Munk, let me start with you because you arrived at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1939 for a summer job. You were a Cal Tech graduate in physics, but what made you wander so far south down to the water?

MUNK: I just finished my junior year at Cal Tech, and I was dating a girl. Who was a Scripps student. Scripps college student whose grandparents lived in La Jolla, and I needed a job so I could date her for the summer.

CAVANAUGH: A wonderful reason.

MUNK: Nothing very profound.

FOX: See how far we go, Maureen, in trying to recruit the best?

CAVANAUGH: Now, what was it like when you arrived in 1939?

MUNK: Oh, it was wonderful. There were I think a total of 15 people at Scripps, including the gardener, they all lived on the campus, we were sort of two miles north of the village of La Jolla in a place that used to be called I think affectionately the bug house. And it was just about the only place you could get a job at La Jolla. And I went down to see the director, Harold Sverdrup, Norwegian explorer, and I said could I have a summer job, and he gave me a summer job for $50 a month. And I don't think I ever lived better.

CAVANAUGH: That sounds wonderful, now, what areas were being studied at Scripps at that time?

MUNK: Well, it had just -- it had, you know, it was founded in 1903, essentially as a marine biological station, and had been a station emphasizing marine biology until they asked Harold Sverdrup, who was a physical oceanographer, who came there with the task of enlarging it from a biological station to a oceanographic institute. And I arrived thee years after Harold Sverdrup had become director.

CAVANAUGH: Let's move ahead in time in the 1950s when the University of California decided to build a campus in La Jolla. Professor Munk, what was the original purpose of this new campus that was gonna be -- that became the University of California at San Diego?

MUNK: Well, that's a big big step. And I think in a way, it started -- the State of California had decided to build additional campuses to Berkeley and UCLA. And then the question came up where would they be? And San Diego was an obvious candidate for one of the campuses. Rogers Revelle who, by the way, had just gotten a PhD degree a year -- when I came down for the summer in '39, was on his way to a sabbatical in Norway, Roger had become director, and he had decided that Scripps could not do a good job unless it was in a very close contact with a university that emphasized the basic sciences, biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, geology. So he thought this would be very good for Scripps from a selfish point of view of the director of the Scripps institution, if we could have one of the campuses right next door to the Scripps institution. And our chief competitor at that time, had the same reaction, and they solved their problem by making an association with MIT.

CAVANAUGH: I see, I see.

MUNK: So that was the solution.

CAVANAUGH: So this was a campus that was to be devoted largely to the sciences and actually as a support for Scripps. That was the main idea originally?

MUNK: Well, it -- soon became evident that support of Scripps would be a by product of starting a campus, and Scripps very happily, I think, did its job to try and get going with the original plans. Which were very science oriented. And Roger definitely had that in mind when UCSD was started.

CAVANAUGH: Before we move even further into the future, closer to our own time, can you tell us, Professor Munk, what was La Jolla like back in the late '50s and early 60s? When this all was getting started.

MUNK: Oh, it was wonderful and Scripps was wonderful. And we used to pick abalone from Scripps pier because we didn't have any money, and that was the only thing we could have to eat. And I haven't been able to eat abalones ever since. And La Jolla was a village. And it had a movie, and I remember being in line to go to the movie in La Jolla, and I knew two thirds of the people who were standing in line. That is no longer the case.

CAVANAUGH: No, it's grown a bit since those days. I want to tell our listeners that I'm speaking with UCSD founding faculty member, professor emeritus Walter Munk. UCSD chancellor Marye Anne Fox is here, and we're talking about UCSD remembering and celebrating its 50 year anniversary. We're also inviting our listeners to share their memories of UCSD with us, at 1-888-895-5727. Chancellor Fox, I was interested in doing the reading, the research on UCSD that the school adopted the residential college system right from the start, that's patterned on Oxford and Cambridge. How is that different from most universities?

FOX: Well, one of the things that Roger Revelle insisted on during his negotiations to open a university in San Diego was that it be distinctive. And we are to this day at UCSD the only institution in the University of California system that has this residential college life. So we have six colleges and each one has a slightly different focus. Revelle College was the first one that was constructed, and it focuses on a broad, liberal education. The second one is called John Muir college, focusing on environment, and how the environment and the outdoors life can enhance the quality of life for everyone. The third college was -- I'm blocking on --

CAVANAUGH: Well, I'm sure it will come to you. It's one of those moments. But I'm wondering, what is the strength of that system? To have those colleges have a certain autonomy from the main administration of the school?

FOX: Well, the third one is Thurgood Marshall school as you -- cold makes you just delay for about 30 seconds. As with all six colleges, each of these themes are born out, and depending on which college, they can be very structured general education requirement, or it can be one which is broadly constructed with an advospr and a student working together. One of the things we're proudest of is that in growing diversity on UCSD we now have a new requirement for all of our under graduates to experience cultural diversity as part of their education and a graduation requirement.

CAVANAUGH: I see. And you know, the cultural diversity, that's one of the things that UCSD was founded on, because at the time, I believe, in La Jolla, when this was founded there was a great -- there were sort of codes, restricted area, there was a lot of anti-Semitism in the area, and Roger Revelle was rather famous in putting his foot down to stop that.

FOX: That's right, he in fact said there could not be a quality institution in an area where such restrictions existed, and they were removed. I think because even at that early stage, people in San Diego understood what the contribution of a research university of good quality would do for the community.

CAVANAUGH: Tell me, Professor Munk, was it difficult, do you know, for the college, this university, to hire good faculty right at the beginning?

MUNK: Oh, very. I mean, a person who started his career, or someone who wanted to move, would laking to go to the Boston area or [CHECK] but my God, not into San Diego. And so it was a very difficult thing for Roger to seduce people, essentially, to come to this nonexistent cultural sister. And he was a very good recruiter, he took it very seriously. He knew the very key of success would be to have a depend beginning. And he had talked -- [CHECK] and Joe mayer and --

FOX: These are Nobel Laureates, people of international repute. And I must say, it doesn't hurt that he did most of his recruiting in February.

CAVANAUGH: Had the people out here in February, right?

MUNK: And he was not welcome in Chicago. When he appeared they were very unhappy.

CAVANAUGH: That's very good. Just remind us, chancellor fox, when did you come to UCSD as chancellor.

FOX: I came in 2004, so I'm completing my 7th year.

CAVANAUGH: And is this different from the university you came from, north carolina state university. To your in size and mission, and has it been a big change for you?

FOX: Well, they're comparable as well in these two universities, but the reputation, and the insistence on excellence is absolutely innate at UC San Diego. That's what makes it distinctive, and it contributes in such an impressive way because of the return on investment that's made by the state has allowed us by the [CHECK] every Californian who seeks it, that is being columned now because of budgetary constraints but that was the original thought, that there would be a tier of universities which are word class, research universities, one devoted to the work force to turn out absolutely essential workers, to bring about the quality changes in our environment, and a set of community colleges that allow broad participation of the citizens and transfer to potentially either a cal state or university system.

CAVANAUGH: Absolutely. When we return from our break, I want [CHECK].

MUNK: And membership people at Scripps, as people at UCSD, is not so much having lost some money coming in, but losing the people who are the key who make up our institution.

FOX: That's what Roger Revelle taught us so many years ago.

MUNK: And we have gone through times of short money before. But the idea of not having an absolutely superb group of people who want to work with you is the thing that really scares me.

CAVANAUGH: We're gonna talk a lot more about the budget challenges facing UCSD, and many another -- all the universities in California, and specifically about the 50th anniversary [CHECK].

CAVANAUGH: But of relationships, of the idea of team building, of the kind of educational system that you want to present for students and faculty. What are we looking at if there is a $50 million cut?

MUNK:

FOX: Well, from its earliest days, this importance of collaboration and cooperation, and joining together across interdisciplinary boundaries to do exceptional work has been the hall mark of the university, and if we begin [CHECK] being offered in the private sector, universities and non-universities, at the research institutes, we face rallied the kind of Armageddon almost that one would expect when one's budget is disappearing. On the other hand the university of California at San Diego has been one of the nation's leaders in cooperate in identifying funds of primary sources. So [CHECK] report represents a public private partnership and we believe that the harmony that exists by walking down a building, rubbing shoulders with one's scientific neighbor will be preserved and enhanced because of this opportunity. More and more are we gonna be partnering.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, professor, Munk, do you think that the case has been made civil to politicians or by politicians in Sacramento about the purpose of higher education for the future of California?

MUNK: Well, I'm probably not the best purpose to -- but let me give another example to stem cells, the climate problem, which is so important these days. You know, Scripps has been a leader in defining it. Roger Ravel personally was very much interested in the climate problem, and he brought here a young graduate from cal tech, Dave keely, [CHECK] dogged patience for the last 50, 60, 70 years, and in a way, the so called Keeling Curve showing what happens to CO2, is the main stay of almost all climate discussions, and in the field that's been very much disputed by different people, I haven't heard any one person question the reality and accuracy of that curve. Now, the one aspect of climate change which I can speak to is sea level rise. And there is no question in my mind that sea level is going to go up, say, one meter. And the decision has been made that a one meter rise in sea level is gonna put a hundred and twenty million people globally in a way that they will have to leave their present place and move somewhere else. And it's a task that no one -- no task of this sort has ever been faced before. The important thing now to do is whether the one meter rise will happen in 50 years or 200 years, that's sort of the limit that is done. And the way you will be able to narrow that is not by building better computers and driving to extend the methods that are done now, but by proper observations.

CAVANAUGH: And you never know what area of research is going to result in, really, a global -- a finding that has global impact and has the widest reach of something like the Keeling Curve.

FOX: You're right. And of course it is immediately relevant when will one hooks at the tsunami, for example, these are world experts at Scripps who have been on many media shows in the last several weeks, explaining how a tsunami is formed, what kind of threat it would be, distance dependence and [CHECK] think about the pollution, for example, if radioactive pollutants that may impinge on Asia and the Pacific.

CAVANAUGH: You know, I find it so interesting, one of the most interesting aspects of UCSD is it not just simply the fact that it is so preeminent in the sciences, because obviously that's why the college was founded, but how it's taken such a lead in the arts as well. I think that's a sort of a -- an unexpected course that UCSD has taken.

FOX: Far too few people realize that our theatre is dance department is the most highly rated such group west of the miss mis. Number three in the country. We have had people in our faculty in the last year who've won Pulitzer prizes, [CHECK] on which our civilization is based. We also have a steward collection on campus, which I think is widely recognized as the best outdoor art exhibit of any university in the United States and has been so featured, in many critics' compilations.

CAVANAUGH: And of course you have a very progressive music department as well.

FOX: We do indeed. And a new music hall to show you have their capabilities.

CAVANAUGH: [CHECK] is it as surprising to you that the school founded on this very heavy science basis has taken the lead in the art as well.

MUNK: No, I think from the very beginning, the people who started it realized it that you can't have a good university unless you have pay a balance.

CAVANAUGH: A balance between the --

MUNK: Between the sciences and the humanities. [CHECK] how well it has done. It really has been very satisfactory.

FOX: The arts, I think, are celebrated by scientists and scientists is and artists themselves also celebrate the achievement of our scientific personnel. So for example, as we reach out into the community in all these different ways, you see things hike the science festival that was held last weekend at Petco Park sponsored jointly by UC San Diego, the university of California, San Francisco, Penn, the University of Pennsylvania, and MIT. We all came together in such a way that across the nation, the aspects of art and science are integrated and vice versa.

CAVANAUGH: In going through the research for this segment for UCSD's 50th anniversary, I was impressed by the progressive edge to so much of what is going on at UCSD, and I'm wondering, is it part of the UC San Diego philosophy to try to be on thing cutting edge of academics?

FOX: Absolutely. That's what we mean by being distinctive. We will have the very best faculty that we can hire and retain as Walter was referring. And we will continue to recruit under the financial constraints in which we are now operating. Again, the.

On investment can be thought of in many different ways, the cultural ways that they were discussing, but also in [CHECK] and being able to incorporate artists agency productions within the planning of the university. We have Do Hoh Sun producing item in the steward collection that will be called fallen star, and it'll be about a house which is attached to one of our existing buildings and I think it'll be an astonishing one that provides a compliment to our existing out of the box art.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Very much like Dorothy landing in oz.

FOX: Very much.

CAVANAUGH: Let me -- one of approximate our callers was on the line, couldn't stay on the line, in wanted to know how the budget cuts are affecting the current under graduates at UCSD.

FOX: Well, under graduates pay tuition. And they pay campus paced fees. And if the legislature continues to be a nonreliable partner in providing the necessary costs for the university, one of the only other places we can go is to the students. And we're very proud that we educate among the top universities in the nation if. Students who qualify are for Pell Grant assistance. We've also initiated a program called the blue and gold initiative, in which family whose income is it $80,000 or less will be able to send their son or daughter to UCSD, and pay no tuition. That's no tuition if your income is less than $80,000. But for those who can contribute upon more significantly, they're going to face higher [CHECK] and.

CAVANAUGH: And graduate in four years and all this and? Is that impacted pie these budget cuts?

FOX: That's exactly the kind of exercise we're going through. Whether we have capacity in our classes did to expand the number of students in each class, whether they have to be sequenced in a proper sequence so that we can avoid delaying of graduation. Because of course, Maureen, any time a student is delayed by a term, that's three months in which they're not earning money, three months in which they're not paying taxes, three months in which they're not contributing intellectually to the growth of the region. So we at all stages want to preserve the academic core of the university. But we recognize as well that we need very talented staff who need to provide support services at a level of the maintenance of the buildings, writing contracts and grants, of assuring federal compliance, we can't do away with those people apart from the fighter rank faculty.

CAVANAUGH: Absolutely. I want to ask you, Professor Munk, when you see students now, and compare them to the students if I have years ago, are they different?

MUNK: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: How so?

MUNK: We didn't have a single lady oceanographer for a long time. And I was for many years the only student at Scripps. Not the first. I mentioned Roger had graduated before. But I was the only student. We used to vote unanimous he in all matters. Now if I think we have about just half -- I think just [CHECK].

CAVANAUGH: Hoe so?

MUNK: They're better prepared, more adventurous, more willing to do new things. And we compete now very fiercely, and watching other, and we try very hard to have them come here, the best withins, [CHECK] that you have to constantly change and hire people in new fields that develop. If we lose the ability to move with the interest into new fields, then I think we may be in a situation where we cannot catch up. And so far, we at Scripps have been able to hire to make new hires of young people [CHECK] that are in the new fields, and I think we've gotten some very good ones. But if we ever fall behind on that issue, I think we're going to have a problem.

CAVANAUGH:

FOX: We are succeeding as well at recruiting can, at the under graduate level and the [CHECK] the health sciences are expanding their research activities.

CAVANAUGH: We are out of time, I'm afraid. But I want to thank you both for coming in and giving us this over view. And happy 50th anniversary.

FOX: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: [CHECK] if you would hike to comment please go online, KPBS.org/These Days. And stay with us for hour two of These Days, coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS.

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