History Home | Book Catalog | International Catalog of Sources | Visual Archives | Contact Us

Oral History Transcript — Dr. William J. McGill

This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.

This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.

Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.

Access form   |   Project support   |   How to cite   |   Print this page


See the catalog record for this interview and search for other interviews in our collection


Interview with Dr. William J. McGill
By Ron Doel
In La Jolla, California
September 12, 1997

open tab View abstract

William J. McGill; September 12, 1997

ABSTRACT: Born February 27, 1922 in New York, NY; discusses grandparents' English ancestry and their emigration to New York. Describes father's career as a musician and the effect of the Depression on their family. Received a scholarship to Cathedral Boys High School; graduated in 1939. Discusses his decision to go to Fordham University and financing his education; graduated in 1943. Worked for Burndy Engineering through WWII; graduate education at Harvard in 1948 in psychology. Describes the social and intellectual environment at Harvard and MIT during the postwar era of the information sciences. Describes in detail the challenges of the 1960s in his positions at Columbia and UCSD; discusses the lessons learned and policies implemented to try to correct what he perceived to be wrong about the secretive nature of university research. Describes in detail his protracted conflict with Ewing and Newlin over the Doherty endowment for Lamont; discusses the tension over independence of Lamont from Columbia. Describes the resolution of this conflict upon Ewing's departure and the lessons he learned from it. Recalls the many financial difficulties facing Columbia during his time there and the strategizing and politicking needed to overcome them.

Transcript

Session I | Session II

Doel:

This is Ron Doel and this is an interview with William J. McGill. We’re recording this on the twelfth of September, 1997 in his office in La Jolla, California at the University of California at San Diego. And I know that you were born on February 27, 1922 in New York City, but I don't know much about your parents. Who were they and what did they do?

McGill:

My father was born in Liverpool. He was the son of a — I guess you'd call her a practical nurse. Although in England in her youth, they called them nurse midwives. And my grandfather was a dock hand, a deck hand on a ferry that ran between Belfast and Liverpool. And my grandmother told me once that Pat McGill saw her in her white nurse's uniform with red hair and said I'm going to marry that girl.

Doel:

Love at first sight.

McGill:

Well, they did marry. He had an accident, and as far as I know never worked another day in his life. His wife supported him until his death. He lived to be about eighty years of age.

Doel:

And the accident happened when he was fairly young.

McGill:

Yes. It was not much of an accident I think. He was not a driven man. [Laughter]. But my grandmother was sent by the British government to Montreal — the time would be roughly 1895 — to help in a typhus epidemic that had broken out in Montreal. The British government apparently sent some nurses. She went and left her family in the care of her sisters. I think she had six children at that time. My father was not yet born. But the cholera epidemic, the typhus epidemic, cleared up. She went to visit Boston and then New York. And she decided that she was not going to stay in England, that this was the future. So she went home and began bringing her family. She took a job before she left in the Henry Street Settlement in New York. And she went home and then shipped her family over one by one and brought my grandfather over last.

Doel:

Interesting.

McGill:

My father was born in that time, before. He was born in England before the whole family came over. But they settled in New York. They were poor. Henry Street Settlement was no great thing. My mother's family had money. My grandfather, her father, had worked for an importer in downtown New York in the City Hall area. And the importer died and left the business to him. And my mother met my father when she was a secretary working for American Express during World War I.

Doel:

A few years before you were born.

McGill:

Yes. I was born in the city. My father was a musician. He played for vaudeville performer named Jimmy Hussey, H-U-S-S-E-Y, who I never, I never heard of him since. But he was a good trombonist. And he played saxophone too and he was offered a job by Paul Whiteman in the 1920s era, right after the War. And went on tour with the band. There are some pictures of my mother in Chicago looking completely forlorn because west of the Hudson River, New Yorkers in those days didn't —

Doel:

So she went with him on a few of these trips.

McGill:

Yes. And during the 1920s, we did very well. That is, he always had good jobs. He was a good journeyman musician in the big bands. And a lot of, you know, I can remember in our kitchen — we had an apartment in a nice section in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium at that time — I remember people like Henry Busse who was a very fine trumpet player. Bix Beiderbecke, Red Norvo. And, oh, there was an organist named Jesse Crawford who ended up playing the organ in the Radio City Music Hall right after it was built. About, when the crash came in 1929, he was working in the Biltmore Hotel in the dining room with an orchestra that was conducted by Lillienfeld, no first name. And Lillienfeld and the orchestra were chucked when they closed the dining room because things were so rough. And he ended up on WPA [Works Progress Administration] with these bands that played in the parks in the city.

Doel:

So he didn't travel as much then, touring?

McGill:

No more travel. And now he became kind of restive, hostile, a union organizer with Leftist leanings is the only way to put it.

Doel:

You saw a real change in him then when you were growing?

McGill:

Real change. And it was demoralization. And he never — he refused to allow me to learn music because he said it was destructive to him and he didn't want his children to go through that.

Doel:

Is that right? Had you had an interest in music when you were —?

McGill:

Well, he had a profound interest in music. When he began to age, you know, thirty-five is an old man in that business at that time, he got interested in orchestration and scoring... And although he didn't — he had an eighth grade education, he was very bright. And he picked it up quite quickly. He learned what was called the Schillinger method at that time. And he fell in with a composer named Jacques Belasco from the old Belasco family. Belasco's mother, who I met, was the dress maker for the Imperial Russian Ballet. And Belasco was born in Paris. So he got out of the WPA cycle when Belasco asked him to do orchestration and scoring for him on radio programs. This would now be just at the beginning of World War II. Radio programs that were coming out of New York on the old radio networks.

Doel:

Beginnings of the national distribution.

McGill:

Exactly. And these programs were mostly dramatic programs on Sunday night. They were done in empty theaters and the band was in the pit, and the radio cast was on the stage. And I used to go to the rehearsals and afterwards NBC made a big thing out of it. They held the program with a theater audience, live audience, and I went to several of those. Fascinating. But they were dramatic shows. One was Bible stories and the life of Christ. The other was the U.S. Steel Hour, which was a one hour drama. And see, Belasco composed what was called the bridge music, which ran from dramatic scene to dramatic scene, or providing background for some of the dramatic scenes. And my old man would do the orchestration for the orchestra and then do the scoring. And when we went to the rehearsal, I would see him totally overwhelmed with anxiety if there was a scoring error. So that there was a bad note somewhere, and the producer would say what was that.

Doel:

I imagine it was a real worry for people in that position at the time.

McGill:

Oh yes, a real worry. He did that until he died. That is he died in the early 1960s. And he never made the transition to television. So that's my family. My father was an artist. My mother wanted me to go to a good Catholic school. I had a scholarship to Cathedral Boys High School, which was run by the Archdiocese of New York for bright kids. And you were chosen out of a parochial school. I went to a parochial school called St. Frances de Chantel. Frances with an E, Frances.

Doel:

Yes.

McGill:

She was, Frances de Chantel, was a colleague of Francis de Salle in the, he was the Reformation Bishop of the town of Salles. He had been kicked out of Geneva. So St. Frances de Chantel School was in the Bronx, and I went there and was moved in the sixth grade to our Lady of Mercy School in the Fordham Road area of the Bronx. Right next to Fordham University.

Doel:

Which later plays a role in your education.

McGill:

That's right. And they sent me to their — I guess you'd call it middle school now. And one day the principal asked me to come into her office, and she told me that she was sending me down. You know, they — it's interesting, no choice. She was sending me down to Cathedral Boys High School, and I was to enroll there.

Doel:

How did you feel about it at the time?

McGill:

I thought it was great. It was obviously some kind of achievement. So I went down. I was taught by the Christian Brothers. They were, all those, this was the LaSalle Christian Brothers, who were Americans. There was another order of Irish Christian Brothers who were holy terrors. But the LaSalle Brothers ran a reform school called the Catholic Protectorate. And these brothers would be sent to a tour of duty at the Catholic Protectorate and then they would shift them to Cathedral Boys as a way of giving them a little perspective on life. But they were very, very tough. And it was at Sixty-Seventh Street, a half block from Third Avenue, and I went there for three years and I was — I graduated from there in 1939. And it was a marvelous experience. All those boys came off the streets of New York, and that school made many judges and lawyers and doctors who otherwise might have ended up in less attractive ways. I went there. But my mother was impressed by this. My father had no education, as I said, and was critical. I ought to be out working. And my mother said, no, he's going to get a good education. And so she insisted that I go to a good Catholic college, and that was Fordham. I had been admitted to City College, but she wouldn't allow me to go.

Doel:

That's interesting. Before we get to that, I just wanted to ask a few other questions. How big was your family?

McGill:

What?

Doel:

How big was your family?

McGill:

I had two sisters. One of my sisters committed suicide when she was twenty-nine years of age and I — it was while I was first at Columbia. I never figured that out, but it was a great tragedy in our family. My older sister, Pat, who was two years younger than I was, died of lung cancer just about twelve, thirteen years ago. She retired from New York Telephone Company, where she was a chief operator, and she had, I think, one year of retirement and died. It was just very sad.

Doel:

What sort of house were you living in when you were growing up?

McGill:

We lived at 2483 Tiebout Avenue, T-I-E-B-O-U-T, in the Bronx, which would be three long blocks from Fordham University. It was in Our Lady of Mercy Parish. And this was in the period of — I would say two years before the war, so 1939 on. It was middle, middle class neighborhood. It wasn't a poverty neighborhood. It wasn't a classy neighborhood. In fact, in those days that would be up along the Grand Concourse or University Avenue. My father never made any real money after the collapse of his career. After Lillienfeld folded. So that we were always struggling for money. And he wanted me to help out, and she insisted on my going to college. So what happened was that I compromised and I worked to finance my way through Fordham. I got a scholarship from Fordham at the end of my freshman year and didn't really have to pay any bills until my senior year. I worked then. Let's see, what did I do? I worked at Pat's Clam House, which was a terrible place across the street from Madison Square Garden, on Eighth Avenue in New York, and I worked at Macy's, Thursday night and Saturday. And I, on Saturdays, what we did, this college crew, there were three of us, two guys from City College and me. We worked in the tie department. We put the stock back in proper order. It got messed up at the end of a busy sales day. And we would work until about two or three o'clock in the morning, and then go to mass. Mass was on Thirty-second Street. I can't remember the name. It was the artist's church. And to get there you had to walk past the old Pennsylvania Hotel. And so we would stand in the doorway of — now what the heck was the name of the room — there was a room where the big bands would play. And I remember Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller playing in the Pennsylvania Hotel. And then there was a bar right behind the hotel, and we'd go in, after the band closed — the band closed at two-thirty — we'd go into the bar for another — I think the mass was at three-thirty or four o'clock — for another. The band would all come into the bar after they finished, and we would exchange with them. They were all kids. They were very — boy was they ever talented. And then we'd go to mass, and then I'd come home and be home by about five or six o'clock in the morning on Sunday morning, and go to bed. No danger or no concern about traveling the subways in those days. It was a different world. Then I worked in Alexander’s, which was a big department store. I sold women's shoes. And I did that until I graduated.

Doel:

You had quite a varied career in that sense.

McGill:

Oh yes. No, up there is a piece of the rug...

Doel:

You're pointing behind at a wall behind me.

McGill:

— a piece of the rug from the Radio City Music Hall.

Doel:

Is that right?

McGill:

During my senior year I worked briefly in the Radio City Music Hall as an elevator operator, because I was over eighteen. And when I came back to Columbia, you know, we were their landlords. So that the manager of the Music Hall gave me a piece of the carpet as a memento of our association. [Laughter]

Doel:

That's great. Were your parents particularly religious as you grew up?

McGill:

My father was not religious. He did not go to church. And I remember him as a wonderful person when I was very young, but an embittered man as I got to be a teenager. He was never angry with me, but he was angry with life. Someone who had been defeated by life. And who didn't drink or do all of the things that people sometimes do to cope with those feelings. He just sulked, is about the best way to put it. My mother was sanctimonious, but not religious. That is she had all of the overtones of genuinely religious people, but she didn't believe any of it. I can't. I'm thinking through all my relatives. I can't think of a single relative on either the Rankin or the McGill side of the family who was deeply religious. It was more of a way of life than it was. You know, we were surrounded by —

Doel:

It was very much part of the culture.

McGill:

Yes. We were surrounded by people, whose sons went into the priesthood and so on, but we didn't really feel those drives. I never ever considered going into the priesthood. My wife was raised in a convent in Marlboro, Massachusetts, and — her parents had died and her mother put her there.

Doel:

Interesting.

McGill:

But she had much more of that than I ever had. Okay. That's my background.

Doel:

I was curious too. Were there magazines coming regularly into the house as you were growing up?

McGill:

No. There was little reading material. We read— the newspapers were tabloids. The Daily News and the Daily Mirror. In those days you used to identify people as decent or not depending on which of the two tabloids they chose. We were the Daily Mirror crowd. Walter Winchell.

Doel:

Indeed, yes. [Laughter]

McGill:

And we're now — this has now taken us through World War II. I graduated from Fordham.

Doel:

I wonder just before, I want to make sure before we cover this. But was there also a library in the house when you grew up?

McGill:

There were books in the house. My father read. But there was nothing of any real quality.

Doel:

I wonder what you remember reading as you were growing up?

McGill:

I remember most being ill, having the flu, and spending three days in bed reading Little Men, Louisa May Alcott. Now that was given to me by my father. I was so taken with that, that I then read everything else that is Jo's Boys, the Twenty Years After, Little Women. Yes. But when I first enrolled at Fordham and met some of these kids who had had a really good Jesuit classical education, I was stunned. I can remember being taken without a lot of enthusiasm to a production of Hamlet done by the student drama society at Fordham, and in the first act, when the ghost appears on the battlement, I was absolutely overcome, stunned, captured. And from then on, I started reading deeply. I remember specifically going down to watch Morris Evans' Hamlet while I was in college because it was so awfully good. But what happened here was that I had very little direct exposure until I got to my college years to anything of real quality. And so there was a kind of, of hunger for it when I discovered it.

Doel:

It was a real awakening for you.

McGill:

An awakening. And I note specific things like reading Little Men. And I'm ten years old when that — And then that thrill of Hamlet. And my old man took me once to stand in the wings of Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic playing, and that knocked me dead. So that I began to blossom, I think is the way to put it. After my freshman year at Fordham.

Doel:

Do you remember having an interest in science when you were in high school or earlier? Or do you have an interest generally in lots of —?

McGill:

No, my interest in science was late in coming. I really — I went — I was a psychology major at Fordham. But the psychology that was taught was out of the, I have to translate this for you, the Raczio Studiorum. The Raczio Studiorum was the Jesuit manual of training, which meant that the last two years of college were devoted to philosophy. And most of the courses were psychological. Logic, epistemology, ontology, the study of the soul.

Doel:

Systemized ology.

McGill:

Yes. And I didn't really like that. And I didn't get much out of my physics and chemistry courses. I liked the three years of mathematics that they offered. The curriculum at that time was a good classical curriculum, but it really hadn't changed in two hundred years. I really got interested and suddenly deeply interested in science when I went to Harvard as a graduate student. I had taken a book on probability theory to try to master it, and I liked it and it was fascinating to me. So I started taking courses in probability theory, and of course, I ran into some awfully good people there. And the interest in science really started there.

Doel:

One thing I wanted to just be sure of, you finished at Fordham in 1943.

McGill:

'43.

Doel:

When the war is still going on. What were you — did you go directly into graduate school at the time?

McGill:

No. What happened was that I was graduated in January, '43, six months early, to beat the draft. And I wasn't drafted until mid-1944. And I was rejected on an undescended testicle. And I was stunned by that. I thought for sure that I was going to be recruited into the services. So a week, two weeks after that draft board exam, I got a call from a man in the personnel department at a place called Burndy Engineering. And he asked me to come down. He said that they were hiring and that they were interested in people with my background. I knew some math. And they made me into a process control engineer without, you know, without degree. But they were desperate for employees. They sent me to Los Angeles to open their Los Angeles plant, right, two months after the end of the war. I remember the end of the war in New York. And I remember all the celebrations. And then very shortly after that, I was living in what is now Watts in Los Angeles at Burndy's western plant, and stayed there for about a year, but I was lonely and homesick and decided I didn't like this life, and went back to graduate school.

Doel:

It's also quite a bit of responsibility in your early twenties.

McGill:

Yes. It was. Mainly, I think mainly it was that, you know, I was kind of an insular kid. And I was taken out of a framework where I had, where I knew lots of girls and could date easily. And put out in a strange environment where everything was different. I don't think I had for the whole time I was in Los Angeles and it was killing me. I'm sure that it was biology that sent me back to New York.

Doel:

You put it well.

McGill:

Yes.

Doel:

How did you choose Harvard as your Ph.D. preference?

McGill:

That's very interesting. Jesuits sent me there. I went — I enrolled in the Fordham graduate school, and in the psychology department. There was a man named Joseph Kubis, who was — K-U-B-I-S — who was a wonderful teacher. And who produced many first-rate people. But the chairman of the department was a Jesuit named Keegan. He's now dead. He had done his Ph.D. at Yale. And Keegan said to me you can go on here if you want, but you really should be trying to enroll in a first-rank graduate school. I was dating Ann Rowe at that time. I'd met her in a summer camp. She lived in Boston. And she told me that all of her relatives had gone to Harvard. And I asked Keegan whether he thought that that might be a good place for me. And he said, oh, you bet, if you can, if we can get you admitted there. But they prepared the application, and they pushed me into doing it.

Doel:

That's interesting. Was that unusual as you look back on it? On the experience.

McGill:

Well, I think that what it did was it reflected the very high intellectual standards of the Jesuits at that time. I think they have slipped very considerably in the years since then. But that was their notion. They were at war with all of modern society, but they also made sure that they trained themselves in the best institutions. And they sent their good people. And Eddie Neumann, the chairman of the psychology department at Harvard, told me that I as admitted because I'd got a low grade in religion at Fordham. Neumann figured he can't be all bad. [Laughter]

Doel:

That's an interesting story.

McGill:

That's a true story. The Harvard graduate school experience was an eye opener. I worked in a Psychoacoustic lab which Smitty Stevens had created just before the war. And those people, every one of them, absolutely outstanding. B.F. Skinner was just in the department. There was a man named George A. Miller, who's just now retired at Princeton, who — brilliant figure. And [J.C.R.] Licklider, the father of Internet.

Doel:

I sense from what you're saying that there was some of the war time energy that was still clearly there.

McGill:

Yes. That's right. What happened was that the laboratory was working under very close security control during the war. And as soon as those were lifted, there was this immense output of work. And I enrolled there, what in 1948, so it — I was seeing this burst of energy. The other thing that was happening, you know, was that this was at the time that there was a great movement in applied science toward information theory and signal detection theory, both of which I learned in seminars there and when I went to work at Lincoln Lab. The people were extremely good. There was this widespread euphoria over the opening up of new disciplines in the information sciences that captured everybody. And, of course, I was captured along with it.

Doel:

It raises a number of very interesting general questions, including how well did you get to know these people outside of the lab? Outside of the contact that you had at Harvard?

McGill:

It was the style of the lab at Harvard that everybody shared each other's social life. Lick used to give cocktail parties every Sunday. You know things like that. We all got to know each other quite well.

Doel:

There was a lot of after-hours socializing.

McGill:

And I followed their lives, yes. With some of the really outstanding people, they were a level above, and I never cracked that, except in the case of Mosteller, C. Fred Mosteller, who I got to know quite well. But I'm thinking of people like Norbert Wiener and Gerry Letvin. Oh god, what was the name, a guy who died very early, mathematician at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. I'm struggling for it, and I can't remember.

Doel:

We can always add that to the transcript later. And I vaguely remember it. But clearly there was a constellation of extraordinary people at MIT, Harvard.

McGill:

And it was an extraordinary time. And it was the first realization I think of the full panorama of the information sciences. And what it did with us, you see, experimental psychologists, we'd been trained in the context of behavior theory, and it gave us a whole new sense of what a machine is. And it was at that time that cognitive sciences were born. And I was part of that process. So it was very exciting. And most of us ended up working on the fringes of the Cold War at Lincoln Laboratory because, first of all, it seemed the right thing, patriotic thing to do. And secondly because it was so interesting, so exciting, to be able to work with [Project] Whirlwind and TX-2 was unbelievable.

Doel:

I was just thinking a moment ago, when you mentioned Harvard in that context, that [James] Conant was president.

McGill:

Conant was president at that time.

Doel:

How did he feel about the emergence of these new disciplines?

McGill:

We never, well we never got his impression. I don't think Conant was hostile to it. The one who we saw close up, because he talked to us all the time, was [McGeorge] Mac Bundy, who was dean of arts and sciences, I think, at Harvard at that time.

Doel:

I think that's right.

McGill:

Bundy didn't like it. He tolerated it, but he thought that it was a temporary intrusion.

Doel:

It was pretty clearly communicated to all of you. You were aware of this.

McGill:

Yes. But, you know, there was that elite, and they weren't quite — They didn't think we were quite kosher. I'm thinking of Bundy and Walt Rostow, who was at MIT at that time. And Max Millikan. They were the political scientists. And this work in the information sciences struck them as temporary.

Doel:

I'm just thinking about — you mentioned a number of the broader studies coming out from MIT at the time. Did you take part in Project TROY? Were you aware of that one?

McGill:

Project?

Doel:

TROY.

McGill:

No. The one I remember very clearly was Project CHARLES, which was led by [J. Robert] Oppenheimer. Oh yes, he was there. We didn't know that he was being put out to pasture at that time, but he — it was Project CHARLES that gave birth to Lincoln Lab. And I attended many of the meetings of Project CHARLES in which that northern defense line was planned.

Doel:

The DEW [Defense Early Warning] Line.

McGill:

The DEW line. Yes. You got it Ron.

Doel:

I imagine that was an exciting period for —

McGill:

Oh, it couldn't have been more exciting. We would meet once a week in somebody's house for beer and pretzels and just concentrate on one or the other of these cognitive topics that would develop out of the problem of redefining a machine. And it seemed to us then, it seems to me now, and it seems to me to be abundantly clear that the transformation of American psychology away from behavior theory as defined by Skinner and by [James] Watson before him, into the cognitive sciences, occurred then in that context.

Doel:

One thing I was curious about was as these new disciplines and new approaches were emerging, did you find that the patrons that you were dealing with fairly well accommodated to it and understood the significance, or was there a lot of selling of these new —?

McGill:

No. This was a young people's domain. It was the young physicists and engineers who understood it. And most of them were working along Route 128 for various government projects. Sylvania Corporation, Polaroid Corporation, you know. They were very, very smart. And they were also rather arrogant in rejecting the views of their patrons. And the only patron I ever saw who seemed to participate in this naturally was the — what was the name of the guy who founded Polaroid?

Doel:

Edwin Land?

McGill:

Land. We saw Land's work and especially the work on visual depth. And god, it was good.

Doel:

How well did you get to know him?

McGill:

Not well. Well enough. That is, I — he would recognize me on the street and I would recognize him, and we'd begin talking. But the deans at MIT didn't understand any of this. Most of the young faculty in physics and math, like Jerry Wiesner, knew and understood. But for some reason, we could not convince Jay Stratton, who was the provost at MIT that this was legitimate work.

Doel:

Stratton was older at the time?

McGill:

Yes. He was older. He had white hair at that time. And the president of MIT at that time was Jim [James] Killian [Jr.] who was a remote bureaucrat. He really didn't take any substantive interest in what was being taught.

Doel:

He was in Washington quite often during those years too.

McGill:

He was in Washington a great deal.

Doel:

Let me pause just to turn the tape over.

McGill:

Direct in a context that it was really quite wonderful. The patrons as we saw them were mostly elderly faculty who were governing the departments at the time. When I went to MIT, my first appointment was in the economics department. And the senior people in the economics department were quite distant from us. The chairman of economics was a man named Ralph Friedman, and Ralph didn't really understand or tolerate much of what we did. But the young guys in the department, like George Shultz, do you know that George Shultz was in that department at that time?

Doel:

That's very interesting.

McGill:

Yes. And Paul Samuelson.

Doel:

Yes.

McGill:

And Bob [Robert] Solow. But they understood. And indeed I learned a lot of probability theory from Solow. So we had a. very congenial arrangement with the younger faculty in the sciences and in economics, and a less congenial arrangement with the senior people who were running the institute. And by the way that transferred to Columbia. That's exactly the same problem at Columbia.

Doel:

I was thinking about that in the Columbia context.

McGill:

When I — when did I start running into real patrons, that is people who would give money to disciplines. I think it was after I came out here. Up to that point, my life was defined by Jacques Barzun and Jay Stratton, and [George] Pegram, the dean of arts and sciences at Columbia.

Doel:

And of course you're talking about the deans of the particular colleges and provost level.

McGill:

Yes. They would decide what was good. You see. And while they didn't really do anything to interfere with my development, or they never — we did get kicked out of MIT.

Doel:

I wanted to hear more about that.

McGill:

Well. Jay Stratton told George Miller, who was probably the most brilliant man of that generation in our field, that there was no place for him at MIT. Miller came back totally demoralized. He couldn't believe it.

Doel:

He hadn't expected that kind of reaction.

McGill:

And so a day or two later the word got back to Bundy and Bundy called him up and said would you like to come back to Harvard. And he went. You see. Licklider went to Boe Boranick and Neumann, and from there moved down to ARPA [Advanced Projects Research Agency] in the Pentagon. I went to Columbia. A man named Burt Green, who was also with us there, went to Carnegie Mellon. So we didn't quite fit in because of the not quite respectable dimensions of the information sciences. Where do you belong? What do you do? What do you mean automatic machine? You know.

Doel:

Did it seem to you to be an appropriate or an odd fit to be in the economics department formally at MIT?

McGill:

Oh I thought it was ridiculous. We used to say that this is MIT's conception of where psychologists belong. [Laughter] They don't understand either discipline. But there were some very interesting people, young people in that department at that time. The most interesting of them was George Shultz. Shultz went from there to the University of Chicago, to the business school at the University of Chicago. And a year or two after I got to Columbia, I got a call from the dean of the business school at Chicago, big red headed man who later became — he was a statistician by trade — later became the president of the University of Rochester. Allen?

Doel:

I think I know who you mean. We'll make sure the name gets in.

McGill:

We will recover it. I got a call from him, and they tried to hire me. And I always felt that Shultz was impressed. But I don't know where that recruitment came from, except from Shultz. I decided not to go, and I think that was a wise decision. Although I might have wound up in the Nixon administration, like all the rest of them did, if I had.

Doel:

Were you already at Columbia when that call came?

McGill:

I was at Columbia when the recruitment started. That would be about 1957. I was also recruited heavily at that time by the University of Pennsylvania. But I didn't, I was unhappy in the department at Columbia, but I didn't have the confidence that a move in either of those cases would get me what I was looking for. It wasn't until I met George Mandler here that I developed the confidence that we can do now at UCSD what we had tried to do at MIT, and failed. And Mandler delivered. Mandler was a first-class person.

Doel:

And to put that into context too, of course, the university is just being developed at that period of time.

McGill:

That there were no obsequies to the past. And one of the lovely things about this place, from the very beginning, has been that they insisted on modern approaches in all disciplines. So that everybody in chemistry, when I first came here, was studying DNA. And Columbia, in those days, was in botany.

Doel:

Still had somewhat of a classical flavor to some of the Morningside based departments.

McGill:

Well — and the old departments dominated by ideas that go pretty deep. In the long run, every transition worked out. It was right to move here. It was right to get out of MIT when I did. I didn't succeed in creating in the psychology department what I thought we could create, but I had a good period there and got a good reputation. And when I decided to leave, Barzun tried to talk me out of it.

Doel:

And I should say on tape on this point that there does exist another oral history interview with you that was done by Henry Graff in 1979 and 1980. That's also available through the Oral History Research Office which covers some of these topics, although not much of what you.

McGill:

Yes. It certainly covers the transition from Columbia out to UCSD and my early impressions of the senior men at Columbia like Paul Lazarsfeld and Dave Truman, all of which were very positive.

Doel:

I was curious what you felt generally about Columbia at the time that you made the transition from MIT.

McGill:

I thought Columbia was in trouble. I thought that the upper west side was deteriorating very rapidly. I didn't have the depth of understanding about that that I acquired later, but I could see that there was trouble. And I, I felt that the problem at Columbia was not Columbia but New York City, and that what I could do would be to sort of change my base completely and go west where I could get a fresh start. And what a marvelous irony that was. I left New York looking for a new life and arrived here six weeks before the Watts riot.

Doel:

Your timing was —

McGill:

Where they were totally incapable of understanding what had happened to them. And to anybody who had been brought up in New York it was all obvious that they had screwed it up.

Doel:

And I probably should say on tape too that your time at Columbia, the first period was from 1956 through 1964. That's what we're talking about now that you made the decision to come out.

McGill:

That's right. When I came to Columbia as an assistant professor —

Doel:

And moved.

McGill:

— and moved through the ranks there.

Doel:

How quickly were you made full professor?

McGill:

Well, I was, I went through tenure in 1958 I think and I was appointed as associate professor in '58 and by 1959 I was a full professor, so that they moved me very quickly.

Doel:

Indeed. Was that typical at the time? [Cross talk]

McGill:

No, it wasn't typical, but there was a recruitment coming from the University of Pennsylvania and they were anxious to — Barzun was quite anxious to hang on to me. And the department felt that I should stay, and they were willing to — that is, they were — there was an opportunity for the department to say goodbye and they didn't want to do it.

Doel:

You were already — clearly you were building a base and sympathy among other faculty members.

McGill:

Yes. They wouldn't open up any of the disciplines or bring in any of the people that I thought were important, but I was accepted as a citizen of the department representing a focus that they accepted. They just didn't want it to grow. Because it would grow at their expense. It's an old academic problem.

Doel:

It sure is. One of the things I'm very curious about is during those early years at Columbia how well did you get to know other science departments that were on campus?

McGill:

Well I got to know a number of the physicists and engineers and mathematicians at Columbia. That's where, except for Paul Lazarsfeld, who was also quite a good mathematician that was where my contacts were. Where my intellectual environment was. And some of those people were pretty damn good. Murray Rosenblatt, who was a probability theorist, is here. He was at Columbia at that time.

Doel:

Interesting.

McGill:

Yes.

Doel:

I'm curious who else you're thinking of.

McGill:

Madame Wu, who trained a number of the people that I knew quite well and so they introduced me to her. There was a student of Heck's named Hiashi, a Japanese biophysicist who was in Pupin Hall at that time. And he was outstanding. Edgar Lorch in the math department. There was another mathematician. The very eminent Columbia probability theorist named Ted Anderson, who I knew quite well.

Doel:

I'm just thinking of some of the people in the physics department which of course was quite strong in coming out from the war time. There was I. I. [Isidor I.] Rabi.

McGill:

I didn't get to know Rabi or [James] Rainwater.

Doel:

Rainwater was there.

McGill:

Or any of the big physicists until I came back. But I knew Selig Hecht, I knew Hiashi. I knew Madame [Chien-Shiung] Wu, who I think was gypped out of the Nobel Prize.

Doel:

Interesting observation.

McGill:

Extraordinary lady. Oh my heavens.

Doel:

What do you remember most about her?

McGill:

About her?

Doel:

Yes.

McGill:

Her utter civilized demeanor. That is, the two eminent women that I've met in physics, which were Madame Wu and Maria Meyer, were so damn civilized that they embarrassed me. Both spoke with slightly British accents, you know, they just intimidated the hell out of me. I never had any of the problems, any of the gender problems, because when I was a young man I encountered Madame Wu, Maria Meyer and Marjorie Nicholson. And anybody in the world would be intimidated by those three.

Doel:

Interesting observation.

McGill:

Yes. They were very, very able.

Doel:

How were they regarded within the community? I'm thinking particularly of Madame Wu.

McGill:

I think Madame Wu was highly regarded. I think most of the physicists felt that she should have shared in the prize that went on parity that went to T.D. Lee, because it was her experimental work. She and her husband were both highly prized dinner guests. You know, they were so elegant. And Marjorie Nicholson was feared. Marjorie Nicholson was professor of English at Columbia. Oh, I left out, oh dear; I have a mental image of a lady, middle aged with glasses, stomping around with a shepherd's crook. She was an anthropologist, great famous anthropologist, Margaret —

Doel:

Margaret Mead.

McGill:

— Margaret Mead. She had the office next door to mine in Schermerhorn Hall at Columbia.

Doel:

That's interesting.

McGill:

Yes. On the fourth floor of Schermerhorn in the annex, halfway down, there was an invisible barrier where anthropology started and psychology ended. I was at the end of psychology and she was at the beginning of anthropology. She had an office with a man named Marvin Harris, who was a very great anthropologist, but who became a somewhat, he was radicalized by the Vietnam War and he became very embittered and eventually left. And he was disliked.

Doel:

Within the broader community, not just within anthropology.

McGill:

That's right. It's interesting, Ron, that when I think back on it now, most of the really bitter emotional problems that arose among people in a closed community of profoundly capable intellectuals really centered on the war, the Vietnam War and where they stood. People like Diana Trilling, for example, would simply not forgive a man like Marvin Harris who would break into the president's office. And you had deep anger.

Doel:

It was a polarizing experience.

McGill:

Very polarizing event.

Doel:

Profoundly so.

McGill:

See, I escaped all that because I was here. And when I came, what I would hear would be the accounts of each side telling me what bastards the others were.

Doel:

Right. And the interesting thing, putting it in perspective, is that you were only gone for five years, from '65 through 1970.

McGill:

That's right. It didn't take long.

Doel:

One of the particular things I was very curious about from those first years as you rose through the ranks in Columbia, what you heard about Lamont and [W. Maurice] Ewing. Was that something that people on the campus were generally aware of?

McGill:

I didn't know anything about Lamont until I came here. Until I first, I heard it from, I got to know the people at Scripps extremely well, Harmon Craig and Bill [William A.] Nierenberg. And they would talk about the competition all the time. You know, about Woods Hole, Lamont and the University of Miami.

Doel:

Those were the big ones in those years. To me that's very curious, not altogether surprising. You simply didn't hear about Lamont.

McGill:

Lamont was not there, you see. Lamont was up on the other side of the river. And I got to know the geologists very well, including the old timers. But, by the way, Paul Kerr was a, he was the just retired chair in geology. He was a wonderful man and was never one of those condescending types that bothered me earlier. But I knew Kerr and Marshall Kay and [John] Imbrie and [Wallace S.] Broecker and that was my contact.

Doel:

And this is in the period up to 1965 when you were in the psychology department.

McGill:

Right. And before I had come out here.

Doel:

How well did you get to know them? Were they mostly social encounters or professional interactions?

McGill:

Well, we used to go to seminars together. There was a real intellectual community at that time at Columbia, in which people tried to move outside their own disciplinary bounds to see what other people were doing. And there would always be a reception after it was over. And I got to know them that way. There were some seminars in sociology in which I took a direct interest. That was how I met Ted Anderson. But I venture that I never heard about Lamont while I was in the psychology department before I left. I can't be sure of that, but I don't think so. It certainly was not anywhere in the focus of my interests.

Doel:

How well did you know the sort of research programs that people like John Imbrie and Wally Broecker had developed?

McGill:

Well I knew Imbrie reasonably well because he used to use factor analysis, which was a discipline that psychologists used. In the case of Wally, it was his trying to educate us on the — I guess this is Ewing's work, you know, on the mid-Atlantic ridge and the tectonic plate, continental drift ideas that were just developing then. You see, that's part of this broadened intellectual community. We also went to seminars in political science so that whenever anybody good was talking, we would go. And that would happen once a week. It was a very, very good time. And the only thing that left me annoyed was that they didn't think, that whole crowd, didn't think that any of this cognitive work was worth a damn.

Doel:

Is that right?

McGill:

Yes, that's right. That's right. [Laughter]

Doel:

So even among the rising young stars like those folks you mentioned, you didn't feel that.

McGill:

Well, now I can't be sure. Broecker and Imbrie might have responded more favorably than I'm suggesting. But I came away with that —

Doel:

With that feeling.

McGill:

— that impression that I was really something of an outcast. And that was what really caused me to decide to go somewhere else.

Doel:

Did you get to know Chuck [Charles L.] Drake at that time?

McGill:

I knew Chuck Drake at that time. And I have heard several times that it was Chuck who put my name into the Trustees to be recruited as Columbia's president. He had left. I think he was at Dartmouth.

Doel:

That's right. He left by about two or three years. But that wouldn't surprise me. Had you met Ewing at that point?

McGill:

Never met Ewing until I came back to Columbia. My god, before I left here to go back, there was a period from December, 1969 until September, 1970, in which I was going back to Columbia two days a week. And so I would spend weekends here, and I would get cornered by Ham [Harmon] Craig for example or Nierenberg or by a couple of the physicians in the medical school here to tell me about what I would encounter when I got to Columbia. And I began to hear about Ewing from the people at Scripps here. Their view was that he was a brilliant scientist that Lamont was extremely good and had to be preserved, but that Ewing was a difficult personality, that he was a paranoid. And that, that really wasn't bad advice. It conformed to my experience.

Doel:

One thing I'm very curious about too is how well you — and particularly during the time that you're chancellor here at this university — how well you came to know and which people in particular you came to know.

McGill:

Here at UCSD [University of California at San Diego]?

Doel:

At UCSD who were down the road at Scripps. You mention Bill Nierenberg and Ham Craig. Who else did you get to know particularly well?

McGill:

Carl Sobel. You couldn't be on the Scripps campus without discovering Harmon Craig because he was an enfant terrible.

Doel:

He used to be in the theater too when he was growing up.

McGill:

Oh he was just extraordinary. Per Scholander, Gustav Arrhenius. Gustav Arrhenius refused to accept the designation UCSD till I would bet he has his own stationary today that identifies him as working at the University of California, La Jolla. [Laughter]

Doel:

I hadn't been aware of that.

McGill:

That's right. Andy Benson. That's most of it. There were a couple of biophysicists. [Sir Edward C.] Bullard. Per Scholander. Oh, I had mentioned him already. But my principal informants were Craig and Nierenberg.

Doel:

I'm wondering how well you came to know Walter Munk?

McGill:

I got to know Walter quite well because we went through an ordeal together here. That's in the Year of the Monkey [The Year of the Monkey: Revolt on Campus. 1968-1969. McGill, William. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982].

Doel:

In the Year of Monkey, you give quite a description.

McGill:

I liked Walter a great deal. I still like him very much. He was a fine man, absolutely determined, but very elegantly mannered. I did not like Judy. She was — one of my assistants described her as having a will of iron. So that Walter and I were never really close because it was evident to him that I didn't like Judy and she didn't like me. But I admired him intensely and got to know him quite well. And when things were very tough for me, he helped. He was extraordinarily honorable and dependable.

Doel:

That's very interesting. Of course, Roger Revelle was not as — was in the process of transition. I was curious how well you —

McGill:

I knew Revelle. Revelle was — what they used to do in those days at UCSD when they were recruiting was that they would trot out Harold [C.] Urey and Roger Revelle and all the big stars to recruit you, and then you'd never see them again.

Doel:

The potted plants, somebody referred to.

McGill:

The potted plants. And I got to know Revelle early and we got along very well. I was always somewhat irritated with him, because he kept referring to me as an Irish politician.

Doel:

He did?

McGill:

He did. He had no subtlety. But except for that, we got along very well. And later on when I became chancellor, he was something of a thorn in my side, but it was also such a remarkable thing that happened that I sort of adjusted to it and came to admire it. Revelle wanted more than anything else in this world to be chancellor of UCSD. He was denied, he was denied it on both political reasons by a group of the trustees who came to — a group of the regents who came to dislike him because of the struggles that took place at the time that the campus was founded. The most obvious one involved Regent Ed [Edwin] Pauley, who didn't want the campus here on Torrey Pines mesa. He didn't care where it went. It could go in Balboa Park. It could go in Rancho Bernardo. But not here. Not next to all of his wealthy friends in Lajolla. And Revelle just ran rings around them. And in the end, the regents had no alternative but to put the campus here. It was — What happened, Pauley invited the regents to his island in the Hawaiian group. He owned an island. And he arranged for a marine corps to fly over at low level during a cocktail party that he gave for the regents in order to show them what the noise level would be like at Miramar [Naval Air Station].

Doel:

The nearby base.

McGill:

Right. Revelle was not there, but he heard about it. And so he used his contact in the navy to get the navy to change the take-off pattern at Miramar so that the planes, the jets would execute a right turn and go out over toward Pines Park and miss the campus areas altogether. He also found that an architect named Charles Luckman who had done an acoustic study for Torrey Pines Hospital, community hospital that lies about a mile to the east of us. He got hold of the study and the study essentially tells the planners of the hospital that the location will not give them any kind of high noise levels that would require special insulation. I don't know how Revelle found out about that study, but he did find it. And Pauley and the regents, having heard that Luckman had done acoustical study work here, engaged him to do a planning study on UCSD, and the study was, in effect, that the noise levels would be very high here and that it would require large expenditures for insulating materials to protect the classrooms from this kind of noise pollution. What Luckman was doing was doing what architects frequently do and that is telling the client what he wants to hear. Anyway, the regents met and Luckman's study was circulated to them and he made a presentation. And then Clark Kerr asked to be recognized, and then submitted an alternate study which he said had been given to him by Dr. Revelle, done at Torrey Pines Hospital, in which the analysis that there was no noise problem. And Pauley said at the regent’s meeting — Walter Munk was there, he heard this. Who wrote that damn thing? And Kerr said, Charles Luckman. And Luckman had to admit that he had done. And the regents voted, I think, unanimously to put the campus here. And Pauley never forgave Revelle for that. It was maybe slightly underhanded, but it was all clean and Revelle just was of such a nature that if you took him on, you better be prepared for a fight. And I kind of admired that in him. But he never got to be chancellor. And when I was chancellor, all of this terrible stuff was going on. Revelle was at Harvard in that —

Doel:

I was thinking he had already left around that time.

McGill:

He was involved with population studies at Harvard. And he came back here periodically. And whenever he was back here, he would appear on campus, and he would come to the senate meetings and he would rise and speak, you know. And he wasn't a member of the senate. And what I suddenly realized was that it didn't make any difference. It — nobody really cared who was the nominal chancellor, Revelle was the chancellor. They paid attention to him. And when Revelle would bless me, I had no problems. And that was how the Irish politician stuff developed.

Doel:

That's very interesting. Sure. Sure.

McGill:

But I came to admire — and I realized that that is a rare accomplishment. He never got the regents acknowledgment as chancellor of UCSD, but during the time that Revelle was alive, no other figure who was chancellor here really carried any authority. He carried it. And they gave it willingly without any question.

Doel:

How did that make you feel?

McGill:

Well, I might have been resentful, but I wasn't. I was awed by that. And I guess I admired it. And I figured he wasn't giving me any difficulty so why should I fight this. But it was an extraordinary thing to watch Revelle stand up in the middle of these crisis meetings and say, I think we ought to do what the chancellor says, and then all opposition evaporate.

Doel:

That's a really interesting insight. It sounds as if you were developing; contemporaneously you recognized that about him at the time.

McGill:

I recognized it. But he's an extraordinary figure. He was proposed three times as chancellor here, and in all three occasions he was turned down by the regents. Kerr said that he wouldn't present the name to the regents because he knew what the answer would be. And I thought that that was unjust.

Doel:

You thought that Kerr should have gone.

McGill:

He should have done it. And at least. You know, it's like Jesse Helms and [Governor William] Weld. At least give Roger the satisfaction of having had his best shot.

Doel:

Indeed then that never happened.

McGill:

Never happened. Well anyway, I had a very spirited two years as chancellor here. It seemed like an eternity.

Doel:

I'm sure it did.

McGill:

It was war. Total war daily. When you have Angela Davis as the leading member of the student body, Herbert Marcuse as the outstanding faculty member, and Ronald Reagan as president of the board of regents, that is a prescription for a spectacular career.

Doel:

Yes, that was what [Fred] Hechinger said.

McGill:

That was what Hechinger said, and boy is he ever right.

Doel:

He brought out a wonderful turn of phrase. No that put it clearly and as you describe it in the Year of the Monkey; these issues are extremely powerful in shaping the mood and the developments on campus.

McGill:

Yes. Well what I found was that the adversaries here were much tougher than they were at Columbia. Columbia had this special quality being close to the big media centers, and somebody could organize a demonstration by passing out subway tokens, you know, and they would appear on the Sundial. But the people didn't have the philosophical depth that Marcuse had. Or that Angela Davis had.

Doel:

I'm wondering as you think back on that period, were any issues involving Scripps, do they stand out in your mind as significant?

McGill:

Yes. One of the big targets of the radical students here was Scripps because of its close connections with the Navy.

Doel:

Classified research.

McGill:

And with classified research. In fact, the first year I was here, 1965, there was a classified study going on in what is now Urey Hall. And the top floor of Urey Hall was blocked off. And there were security guards, when you got off the elevator, you couldn't get access to that floor without having your clearance checked. That made a very strong impression on me. I thought it was improper. But it reflected the earlier regimes here. That, you know, UCSD in the earliest days was a derivative of Scripps. I think it was the case that Revelle was the scientific director of Operation Crossroads.

Doel:

That's right. He was. There were a number of people from Scripps who had been involved. Of course, young Walter Munk had been involved in the effort.

McGill:

Young Walter Munk and Herb [Herbert] York.

Doel:

Certainly so. In many contexts before and after. Was it, as you look back on the chancellor, your period as chancellor, were there differences, political differences, that were emerging within Scripps as well over the appropriateness of classified research, or by and large, did that community seem to feel comfortable with the way that research had been directed and funded?

McGill:

There were differences emerging. There was a great moral crisis at that time, when people began to reflect on the things that they had accepted casually, and ask whether or not they were right. And most of these had to do with the philosophical idea of the university as a completely open community. And the appropriateness then of doing classified research on campus as part of the work of the university. And those points of dispute did arise in Scripps, and I was profoundly moved by them. In order to be chancellor, I had to be cleared at two clearance levels. This was because papers were stored in the safe in the police department here at UCSD and they were my responsibility. I didn't think that was right. And thought that the way you ought to deal with this was that you ought to have a classified center, removed from the campus. Separate out the two activities. And if, it would seem to me to be perfectly okay for a faculty member to take off and go down to Point Lorna and do his classified research there, and then come back here. But on campus here, the thought of blocking off a floor and saying to a student you can't walk here seemed to me to be wrong. I developed that idea very strongly, and it did impact, later on, the issues involving Lamont because Ewing was in a state of advanced panic over this whole question, and he didn't trust my instincts. That is, I told him and everybody I knew that we were not going to be stampeded into eliminating all contacts with the federal government or all associations with classified research. But that I did think that it was a good idea that it not be done on campus. I got into occasional arguments, never very serious, but reasonably intense over this issue. Faculty members felt that the convenience of their personal lives was more important than these questions. And they wanted easy access. They wanted to keep classified papers in their offices. And we could never agree on that.

Doel:

This is very interesting. One of the — let me just turn the tape.

Doel:

One of the — you had mentioned that, if I heard you correctly, that you remember being profoundly moved by some of the conversations you had on this issue with people at Scripps. I'm wondering if you recall.

McGill:

Well, it wasn't just at Scripps. It was —

Doel:

But in general.

McGill:

It was a moral crisis on campus. I think that one of the positive functions of the unrest over the Vietnam War was that it made us re-examine the basic principles on which we did our work. And to try to assign more justifiable roles to these different functions. I, for example, in my case I got into a long argument that ended quite positively with Michel Oksenberg at Columbia, because Oksenberg was doing classified work for the CIA, and taking money from the agency to support his research. And my argument was that he ought to disclose that. That one of the really destructive things that happened during that era was the undermining of the moral integrity of the academic community by the trappings of the intelligence operations. False fronts, phony foundations, things like that. I didn't have any objection to the work. It just ought to be disclosed. And in the end, Oksenberg and I came to an understanding about that. But there were a half dozen people at Columbia who were caught up in the aftermath of Watergate because they had been involved with — remember there was an investigating committee. Senator [Frank] Church during the Ford administration. And that committee began to leak all sorts of documents that it had acquired from the CIA.

Doel:

Indeed and that was one of the major — first critical reviews of the CIA.

McGill:

Remember that? And those leaks led to about a half dozen people at Columbia. It took me fifteen minutes to figure out who they were. And I would call them up and ask them to come and see me, and say, you know, why do you want to wait to have some investigative reporter. Why don't you tell what's going on? There's no onus associated with any of this. Most of them did that. But we went through this moral crisis that was very important because much of what we did was for the personal convenience of key faculty. So that they could keep classified papers in their office. So that they could meet the requirements of a security environment without leaving the campus. And I think that we came out of it deciding that that was wrong and that at least for our lifetimes, most of us would not, would not impose those considerations again on impressionable young students who are looking at us and asking is what you're doing right? Have you seen the current issue of Harvard Magazine?

Doel:

No.

McGill:

There's a letter by a guy named Charlie Gross, who is a big pain in the ass. He's at Princeton. But what he says in effect, he's talking about there was a very fine, very tender book written by Roger Rosenblatt last spring, called Coming Apart [Coming Apart: A Memoir of the Harvard Wars of 1969. Rosenblatt, Roger. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997], about the invasion of the administration offices at Harvard in 1969. And Gross says, in effect, that Rosenblatt was interested primarily in becoming president of Harvard, which I think is not true. And that the students did have a genuine grievance with a number of faculties who were supporting the Vietnam War by working clandestinely for the government, and he cites Dick [Richard] Herrnstein. And I suppose that's true. Dick did the work. He also did it in William James Hall, which he shouldn't have done. And what happens you see is you have these kids like Charlie Gross looking at you and asking about what they should believe by studying your integrity. And if you, if you can't establish your moral superiority to this radical thought, you can't get anywhere. The one armament I always had in dealing with the problems I dealt with was that there was never anything underhanded about it. It was always straight. And I didn't have anything to try to cover up. But it was a genuine crisis. And I think we came out of it a more inconvenienced but morally integral community. It's interesting, Ron. I don't know how long that will last. What happens in the academic life is you drift back into all your old bad habits as soon as the heat is off.

Doel:

Or as other broad changes occur in society or the relationship of the university with the rest of society.

McGill:

Yes. Now the big problem is all of the racial and gender maneuvering in the humanities that seems to me to be filled with posturing and with really terrible ways of dealing with people.

Doel:

We are raising, I thought a number of very important issues a moment ago. And I'm curious in a general way if you felt that that kind of resolution that you're talking about had already occurred at Columbia by the time that you left in 1980, or was that still in the process of being worked out.

McGill:

Columbia was a very tough community. Roger Rosenblatt's book is a subject of amusement to people who went to Columbia because of the intensity of the reaction to things that we would brush off. The things that happened at Columbia were far uglier and more difficult to handle, you know. They involved the destruction of people's papers, things like that. So that we were a far more hardened community than Harvard. I would say that during the whole period, until l980, we had never fully recovered from '68. There were still these ancient animosities. But they were greatly diminished from what they were when I first arrived. What happened was, I think, a process of mutual education, in which most faculties — and I think I take a certain amount of credit for this — most faculty came to realize that there were more serious problems in the institution than the question of whether or not they were going to be inconvenienced by having to go somewhere to study classified papers. That, you know, there was a chance that if we couldn't straighten these problems out, that the university might collapse. And making people aware of the real problems, the list of problems in that document was an important contribution to getting past the moral crisis.

Doel:

I should say by that document you mean the work that you prepared prior to this interview.

McGill:

The aide memoir that I prepared for you. Yes.

Doel:

I was curious too. You spoke about the ethical and moral dimensions of this part of the Cold War and the question of secrecy. You had on the faculty at Columbia, Sigmund Diamond who later wrote Compromised Campus [Compromised Campus: The Collaboration of Universities with the Intelligence Community, 1945-1955. Diamond, Sigmund. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992] on those issues. Was that something that you and he discussed? Were you aware of his own —?

McGill:

Oh yes. I knew about Sig's work. And I got — Sig was, you know, a very tough, aggressive fellow. But I read him at the time as having a soft spot for Columbia because of Grayson Kirk's effort to defend a number of key faculty from Joe [Joseph] McCarthy, and in particular, Corliss Lamont. Whereas he had a great deal of venom directed at Mac Bundy, who I thought was not as cruel and wrong as Diamond portrayed him to be. But I read him that way. So that there wasn't any particular point of contention between us. I just thought he was a little hard on Bundy. But Diamond was hard on everybody. It's like Charlie Rangel's comment about Ed [Edward I.] Koch, you don't want to think that Ed Koch is a racist. He treats everybody that way.

Doel:

You put it well. This is probably a very good point to end for today. We certainly have a lot of issues related particularly to the Columbia period that we'll cover when we resume.

McGill:

Well, we've got it pretty well defined now.

Doel:

I think we have. Thank you very much for this long session.

McGill:

Oh thank you, Ron.

Session I | Session II