Oral History Transcript — Dr. Kenneth Ford
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Interview with Dr. Kenneth Ford
Kenneth Ford; November 15, 1997
ABSTRACT: Early education in Kentucky and at Phillips Exeter Academy. World War II service in Navy. College. Graduate work in theoretical nuclear physics at Princeton. David Bohm and J. A. Wheeler. Participation in the crash hydrogen bomb program. Post-doctorate at the University of Indiana. Fulbright year at Heisenberg's Institute. Research year at Los Alamos, 1957-1958. Teaching at Brandeis. Administrative positions at University of California, Irvine and New Mexico Institute of Mining Technology. Subsequent positions at the University of Maryland and biomedical start-up company. APS Education Officer, Director of American Institute of Physics, 1987-1993.
Session I | Session II
Kojevnikov:Today is November 22, 1997. The second interview with Kenneth Ford. Last time we talked just about the time period before your move to Brandeis. How did this happen? Why did you move to Brandeis?
Ford:Well, I was recruited to do so. I was perfectly happy at Indiana University but I was approached by more and more of the physicists at Brandeis, probably Sam Schweber— Silvan Schweber, among others, and the environment for theoretical physics at Brandeis, and more generally in the greater Boston area, just seemed to be more attractive than what existed there at Indiana. So, I did accept the Brandeis offer. In retrospect I don't know whether it was the wise thing to do or not, because the people in Indiana were terribly nice to me. They moved me, in one year, from a Research Associate to an Assistant Professor, and then in one or two more years to Associate Professor. Very supportive.
Kojevnikov:And who are those people at Indiana?
Ford:Well, Emil Konopinski, the chief theorist there. And Alan Mitchell, the head of the Department.
Kojevnikov:And did Emil Konopinski stay at Indiana?
Ford:He did, yes. His whole career was there. He and Alan Mitchell, and Lawrence Langer, were a group that came to Indiana right after World War II, and remained there for the balance of their careers. So, I do have some feelings of regret and even guilt about leaving them in the lurch, after just a few years, and after they were so nice to me. But, it happened.
Kojevnikov:Do you know whom they hired, after you?
Ford:What theorists? Well, Roger Newton was one. I can't remember now if he came already before I left.
Kojevnikov:Brandeis, then, was a very new University, wasn't it?
Ford:Yes, it was founded in 1948, so when I went there in '58, it was only 10 years old.
Kojevnikov:Who was already there, among the physics faculty, besides—Schweber?
Kojevnikov:Or, whom did you know, before moving there?
Ford:Schweber was the only one I knew personally. Eugene Gross was there. David Falcoff was there.
Kojevnikov:Was it just a matter of chance that many former Princeton graduate students met together at Brandeis, because Gross was also from Princeton?
Ford:I believe he may have been David Bohm's student.
Kojevnikov:Yes he was. In the early career.
Ford:Well, I suppose not entirely coincidence, because they— the network of friendships and acquaintances lead to that kind of recruitment.
Kojevnikov:Were you close to Schweber in that time?
Ford:We never did any joint work together because my theoretical work was oriented more toward experiment. More toward analyzing and explaining experiments, and comparing experiments. His was of a much more formal character in field theory of particle physics. But yes, we talked often and we were good friends and colleagues at the school.
Kojevnikov:Did you say that he urged you to move to Brandeis?
Kojevnikov:What was the motivation behind this? What was his goal?
Ford:Well, I don't honestly know. I guess I looked, at the time, as a very promising young theorist in nuclear physics, and departments are always trying to balance the fields of interest. They had no one else at that moment doing nuclear physics. That was a consideration.
Kojevnikov:Was Brandeis a private university?
Kojevnikov:Did you feel a difference when moving from the state university, like Indiana, to a private university? Was there a difference in doing physics?
Ford:No. Surprisingly similar. Of course, a difference in scale, a difference in size. But when you looked at the individual department there wasn't that much difference.
Kojevnikov:But the department was much smaller?
Ford:Perhaps not much smaller. I just don't remember the numbers now, but I suspect the Brandeis department was at least two-thirds the size of the Indiana department. Not drastically less.
Kojevnikov:Is it true to say that at Brandeis you found a new way of teaching, and new challenges in teaching physics to students?
Ford:Yes. My teaching at Indiana had only been at the upper division, that is junior and senior levels, and graduate level, which I had enjoyed, and I acquired a reputation as a fairly good teacher. But at Brandeis, I was asked to take a course called Physical Science, which was really introductory physics, for people who were not science majors. Non-science types. The kind of course which later came to be called Physics for Poets. I took that on without any prior experience in teaching that level of student, and enjoyed it immensely. I was fairly successful at it. It was teaching that course that then led me in the direction of writing the first textbook I wrote, which was Basic Physics.
Kojevnikov:Was this a big class in terms of numbers of students?
Ford:It must have been at least one hundred. Yes, it was a large lecture which broke up once a week into smaller sections.
Kojevnikov:And was it difficult to teach? At least at the beginning, to teach this?
Ford:Well, it was a new kind of challenge. I didn't think it was difficult.
Kojevnikov:Did you have any models? What were your main inspirations regarding the challenge to teach students, who probably knew little of high school physics?
Ford:Well, from my earlier stage of teaching I differed from many of my colleagues in regard to how much mathematics we think is necessary to teach physics. I've met physics professors who say you cannot teach physics without calculus. I emphatically disagree with that. In fact, I think you can teach a great deal of physics, not only without calculus, but even without much mathematics at all. With only algebra, and a few simple equations. So right away from the start of teaching that course, I took the perspective of trying to convey the basic ideas of physics, and doing so in a meaningful way, so that the student coming out of that course might, in fact, be able to have a somewhat deeper understanding of certain ideas intropy, for example—than a physics major taking a much more rigorous course in thermodynamics.
Kojevnikov:Did you also require from students solving practical problems or was it just a lecture course?
Ford:No, there was regular homework and problem solving. Some of the "problems", required answers in words and some required simple numerical solutions.
Kojevnikov:While at Brandeis, did you have much interaction with other Boston physicists at other universities?
Ford:I went fairly regularly, at least twice a month, to seminars or colloquiums at Harvard and M.I.T. But I did not get involved in any collaborative work with people at those institutions.
Kojevnikov:Was it common for other Brandeis physicists to go to those seminars, too?
Ford:Yes, it was.
Kojevnikov:And was there any collaborative work in that department, in itself, or physicists worked primarily individually in those days?
Ford:You know, I don't remember any joint publications. I remember talking over things I was working on a detail with Eugene Gross and with Sam Schweber but those conversations, although very helpful, didn't result in joint publication. There may have been joint publications of other people in the department, but I just don't remember them now if there were.
Kojevnikov:Besides Schweber and Gross who were the other theoretical physicists there?
Ford:There was a man named Max Chrétien, Swiss, I believe. He was a theorist, but not a strong one. Really was not engaged in much research. He was more of a teacher.
Kojevnikov:Was Schweber the person mostly engaged in research at that time?
Ford:Well, David Falcoff was active. Eugene Gross was active. Gross and Schweber were probably the two strongest theorists in the department. Later, others were added like Grisara, a very formal theorist, and Schnitzer, an elementary-particle theorist. They joined the department later. The department also expanded in the direction of experimental physics. One very outstanding experimenter whom we recruited was Stephen Berko, He set up a laboratory in solid state and what you might call positron physics, using positron annihilation as a probe of solid- state structure.
Kojevnikov:Brandeis originally was a Jewish university or at least built with the help of Jewish philanthropy.
Kojevnikov:Did it have any influence on the amount of Jewish students?
Ford:Yes, it certainly did. It certainly attracted many of Jewish students, and a very bright student body, too. I was, in a sense, spoiled by that first course for non-science students, the one that led to my writing of Basic Physics, because I was dealing here with such an elite intellectual group that I didn't realize it. Accordingly I wrote my book at a level which proved to be too high a level for most students in most institutions.
Kojevnikov:But before you wrote that book on Basic Physics, you wrote another popular book on Elementary Particles?
Kojevnikov:How were you prompted to do this work?
Ford:I wrote the Elementary Particle book because I could hardly face the mountain of the Basic Physics book, so I said to the publisher, "How about if I peel off a little piece of this Basic Physics book and you publish it separately as a book for the layman?" And they were agreeable to that. So, although when I sat down to write— this was on a leave of absence in England— initially I had intended to start working on the general textbook for non-science students, but it was such a formidable task, and especially for someone who had never written a book before, that I thought it would make more sense to carve out a manageable, digestible piece. So that's what I did. So it was in the six months that I was in England I got the Elementary Particle book done. Much of it then got incorporated into the larger book which came five years later.
Kojevnikov:Were you first approached by a publisher? Or did you approach a publisher with the idea?
Ford:It was a little of both. The publishers send around representatives to the departments and sales people who just talk with professors to find out what courses they're teaching and what books they might need, and also what they might be thinking about writing. And one of those visitors, whom I got to like and admire, was named Yale Altman. When I first got to know him, he may have been a representative of Addison Wesley, but during the period I was at Brandeis he teamed up with a man named Warren Blaisdell, who also had been at Addison Wesley, to form a new publishing company, Blaisdell Publishing. Yale Altman approached me and said, "Any chance that you might be interested in writing a textbook?" And I said, "Maybe." So, we got going in that way. First, it was the approach from one publisher. I didn't go around looking for other possible publishers. I just liked Yale Altman, and I met Warren Blaisdell and liked him, so I signed a contract with them.
Kojevnikov:Was this the first time you contracted?
Kojevnikov:And then you first decided to write the Elementary Particle book?
Kojevnikov:Okay. Did you feel, at that time, that your book on Basic Physics was competing with somebody else's book on the market or was there a big market for books like this? Or were there only books for physics students available?
Ford:There were some competing books. You could always ask every author, "What makes you think that your book is going to be different, or special, or that the world needs it." But I did feel that. I don't remember now what the other competing books were. But I felt that there were none on the market that reached the very literate, intelligent, non-science student, and did so with a lot of good, solid physics. That's what I was trying to achieve. It turned out after the fact, when looking back, one can say the book enjoyed only a limited success in actually being used as a textbook. But I think it had very substantial success in terms of being a resource for teachers. And I have been very pleased over the years to meet many college and high school teachers who have used that book, Basic Physics, to check or refine their own understanding of certain subtle points or to get ideas for a presentation to the class, even though they felt the book itself was a little too thick and too advanced for use as a class textbook.
Kojevnikov:Do you know what colleges did actually use this book as a textbook?
Ford:Once I knew but I don't remember any more.
Ford:I remember that it put at least one child through college. It wasn't a disaster. It generated enough royalty income to pay several years of tuition.
Kojevnikov:Was this financial consideration part of your agreement to write this book?
Ford:Strangely enough, not. I never gave thought to it as something that should be done in order to generate more income. It was really that I just got so interested in teaching these non- science students and developed this feeling that a good textbook for that level would be something worth doing that I dived into it without a thought of whether or not it would make me any money.
Kojevnikov:And those non-science students, from what fields did they come? What were their majors? Could they be medical students, or humanities?
Ford:Not medical. Because the pre-medical students had to take a somewhat more mathematical, more standard physics course. These were the majors in English, Psychology, History, Economics, Sociology. They took the course because they had to. A graduation requirement was that they had to have at least one year of a physical science.
Kojevnikov:Just, for every student?
Ford:For every student. Regardless of their major.
Kojevnikov:I see. Were you the only member of the faculty at Brandeis who taught this course?
Ford:Certainly not the only member over time but it must have been a couple of years when I was the only one.
Kojevnikov:In your written summation, you mentioned that your agreement to accept the Chairmanship of the Department at Brandeis didn't turn out as well as you originally thought it would. What was the context of you becoming the Department Chair there?
Ford:Well, it was sort of considered a rotating responsibility. Not that every member of the Department was suited to be a Chair. Some people were just a little too disorganized in their approach to life, but among a certain group of us it was assumed that the Chairmanship would rotate among us. And that none of us would become professional administrators.
Kojevnikov:And so why did you, if you did, get disappointed with that? If I quote exactly, it says that, "In 1963 I accepted the Department Chairmanship at Brandeis. A poor institution in which to hold such a job. In no other year had I ever had such a sense of hard work without accomplishment."
Ford:Maybe I was only alluding there to my first significant effort in administration, and certainly one has to get used to that idea of paperwork, and meetings, seeming to spend a lot of time and emotional energy without very many visible results. Also Brandeis hired, at that time, a Dean of Science, whom I did not greatly respect. And that probably had some bearing on my attitude.
Kojevnikov:But you also mentioned you were happy to leave Brandeis when another opportunity—
Ford:Well, I can't recall. Now, in looking back, it seems that that's not quite an accurate statement. I may have been made receptive to leaving because of my attitude toward this dean. But, really what made me leave was what seemed like an incredible opportunity in California. The Chancellor of the new, yet to be created, or the in-process-of-being-created campus at Irvine, visited me at Brandeis and said he was coming to talk to me to get advice on whom they might recruit for Chairman to head the new department. I was naive enough to take him at his word. He came onto the campus and we sat down together in the coffee shop and I mentioned a few names of people that I thought might be worth approaching, and he said, "Well, we want somebody who is really young and active, and very interested in teaching, and is about 37 years old. Who can you suggest?" And I made one or two suggestions and he said, "How about you?" And then it finally dawned on me that he had really come because my name had been suggested to him by others and he wanted to size me up and have this conversation.
Kojevnikov:What was his name?
Ford:Hinderaker. Ivan. Hinderaker.
Kojevnikov:But you didn't know him before.
Ford:I didn't know him before.
Kojevnikov:Probably somebody else—
Ford:He was not a scientist. But here was a remarkable situation, as I got more into learning what the prospects were, a new campus at the University of California which already had on the drawing board some impressive buildings that were going to go up, including a library. Library books were already being accumulated. It would open its doors with over a thousand students and with approved PhD programs in several fields including physics. Even though we were an independent campus, we had a tie to U.C.L.A., so for the initial approval of the graduate program, we were regarded as an offshoot of U.C.L.A. Major funding was available for equipment, for recruitment of new faculty. It was just a golden opportunity. In fact, something which very likely has never repeated itself anywhere since then. We were authorized fifteen physics faculty the first two years. Adequate secretarial and clerical staff. A glass blower. An electronics person. Other technicians. And this marvelous freedom. I, as the first physicist there, was told, "You may design the curriculum." That was hard to turn down.
Kojevnikov:Did you also have much freedom in choosing faculty members?
Ford:Complete freedom, yes.
Kojevnikov:Whom did you invite?
Ford:Of course I consulted other people to get advice. Other people within the University of California system, and physicists I knew at other places. I'll try to remember. The first year we recruited seven, myself and six others. I worked for Irvine for one year, 1964, 1965, before the first students arrived. This was a year for planning and recruitment of faculty. When we opened our doors in 1965, we had seven faculty members and about a dozen graduate students. Now, among those other six, let's see if I can remember some of them. One was Jonas Schultz, a young particle experimental physicist from Berkeley. Alexei Maradudin, with Russian roots. Alexei Maradudin, was a very well known and powerful solid state theorist, who was at that time at Westinghouse Research Laboratories in Pittsburgh. John Pellam, who came from Caltech, a low temperature experimental physicist. Tom Stark, a fresh PhD from the University of Michigan, who had done atomic and optical work there, and was a great asset in setting up the undergraduate laboratories. I'm running out of names, but I think I've named at least four of the six. Gordon Shaw, a high energy theorist from Stanford was another. Schultz, Maradudin and Shaw are still at Irvine.
Kojevnikov:Do you remember whom you consult with about hiring, who of the senior physicists would give you advice?
Ford:Well, I remember in the area of solid state, where I had the least expertise, and the least number of contacts, I contacted Walter Kohn, a senior solid state physicist at U.C. San Diego. I got advice from him. I can't remember other specific names now.
Kojevnikov:Since you mentioned the freedom of designing curriculum, did you feel some changes, by that time, were needed in the curriculum, in terms of how physics students were trained?
Ford:Well, we had the privilege for the physics and engineering majors, and even the chemistry and biology majors, I guess, of having a more extensive introductory course than was common. We designed a five quarter course. One and two thirds years, rather than the typical one year course. That was modeled very much after a curriculum development at Berkeley. In fact, it was called the Berkeley Physics Series and we used some of the Berkeley text in that course.
Kojevnikov:This was a five volume course?
Ford:Yes, but that was the highest level. We had three introductory courses, which were called Physics 1, 3, and 5. I can't remember the reason for the choice of those numbers. But, Physics 5 was the highest level, the one that used calculus and extended over five quarters. Physics 3 was a one-year course, three quarters, that was taken by pre-medical students and perhaps by biology majors. And then Physics 1 was, of course, analogous to the one that I taught at Brandeis, for non-science students.
Kojevnikov:And what did you teach at Irvine?
Ford:I taught perhaps some of all three of those. I recall, for sure, teaching a couple of quarters of Physics 5, including the statistical physics. I know I taught Physics 3, the one that was an algebra-based, rather than calculus-based, course for biology majors and pre-meds. And then I taught some upper division junior and senior courses. I cannot remember now whether I taught the lowest level course. Not in the first year, but soon after I arrived, I also was instrumental in getting introduced into the curriculum a series of very short courses, single- quarter courses, on special topics, for non-science students.
Kojevnikov:Did you have the PhD program in physics from the very first year?
Ford:Yes, from day one. We actually got twelve students, physics graduate students, enrolled in that first year.
Kojevnikov:If you could describe, in general, your impressions of taking this administrative job, and how was it switching from a career of professor and researcher, to more responsible administrative duties?
Ford:Well, there's no question it had an adverse affect on my career as a researcher. First of all, I was still working on the textbook, the Basic Physics book, while I was there. The first few years I was there I was working on that, plus carrying out the administrative responsibilities which were above average, because of all the planning and faculty recruiting. In addition to the six faculty for the first year, there were eight more to be recruited for the second year. But it was so exciting and rewarding, and wonderful people to work with. I also got to know, much better than I had at either Indiana or Brandeis, colleagues in other departments, because of the necessity, in a brand new institution like that, of coordinating with other science departments, and even non-science departments.
Kojevnikov:How many years did it take you to write the Basic Physics textbook?
Ford:The Elementary Particle book was written in 1961-1962, submitted to the publisher in '62, and published in '63. I got seriously going on the Basic Physics book in '63 and it was published in '68. So, I'd say it was about four years in the writing and one year in production.
Kojevnikov:Did you work from lecture notes?
Kojevnikov:It was just writing from—?
Ford:From the clear blue sky.
Kojevnikov:And did you also continue things like lecturing this course at Irvine?
Ford:That's what I can't now remember, strangely enough. It seems logical that I would have, but I don't remember it.
Kojevnikov:Was there much difference in becoming a Dean of Physical Sciences at Irvine compared to your experience as a Department Chair at Brandeis?
Ford:Well, psychologically there was a difference in that I regarded the Department Chairmanship as a position that still kept one grounded in teaching and research, whereas a Deanship seemed to me like turning a corner into a one-way street. It was going through a diode, a valve. Once you become a Dean, you may be committed to a subsequent career primarily in administration.
Kojevnikov:Was this clear at that time, already?
Ford:Yes. I therefore, in fact, because of that consideration, turned down the Deanship. I held the position, I believe, of acting Dean for one year. But, then I took an active role in recruiting a Dean. Fred Reines is the person we brought in to fill that position. When I was offered the Deanship, I said, "No, I'm not ready to make that career change. I'm not ready to move away from research and teaching into administration, and I fear if I accept the Deanship that will be what happens." My subsequent history shows that I did go in that direction. But at that time I was afraid of making the change, and I said, "I will just fill in as acting Dean." Fred Reines, by the way, did remain an active physicist.
Kojevnikov:The experience at Irvine was rewarding, but soon you accepted a new appointment at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. What brought you there?
Ford:That was totally for family reasons. Had only my own professional interest been an issue, I undoubtedly would have remained at Irvine and for all I know, might still be there today. It was a very satisfying place to be. A first-rate place. Lot's of wonderful colleagues, lot's of excitement. But my wife was not happy in Southern California, and after we talked it over, I agreed that we would seek to move back east.
Kojevnikov:Was she lacking social milieu?
Ford:She didn't care for, I guess you'd call it, the culture of Southern California where people bought and sold houses the way they bought and sold cars. And with rapid change and growth taking place, with heavy traffic. An no evidence of history, compared with the place she loved most, which is the Boston area. Rooted in history. These factors powerfully affected her. They were so important that I felt, despite the attractions of Irvine as a place to work, we had to return to the east.
Kojevnikov:Was she professionally active?
Ford:No. She had taught school before marriage, but at that time she was raising a bunch of small children. So, for the first time, I actually sought a job. I was offered the job at Indiana without actively seeking it. I was offered a job at Brandeis without actively seeking it, and I was offered a job at Irvine without actively seeking it. But then when we decided to leave Irvine, I actually went out and started looking for a job back east.
Kojevnikov:Were there, by that time, already formal job advertisements and applications on the level of full professors, or the information was still mostly spread by the word of mouth?
Ford:Probably a little bit of both and I honestly can't remember now how I learned about various opportunities. I went to Colgate University in New York State, and interviewed there. A very different kind of institution, a college, an undergraduate school. But a very attractive one.
Kojevnikov:Were you looking for an academic appointment?
Ford:Yes. I was looking for a professorship. And in some way that I do not now remember, I learned about the opening at U. Mass. Boston. There are certain ways in which U. Mass. Boston was analogous to Irvine. That is, it was a relatively new campus, state supported, and with a lot of growth potential.
Kojevnikov:How was it compared to Brandeis?
Ford:In terms of the quality of physics being done, second rate. U. Mass. Boston did not have a strong research program then, and in fact for a variety of reasons, which would take too long to analyze here, never, never developed really a strong program. So, I accepted the position there because it was the only one offered to me that was in the right part of the country, and that seemed fairly reasonable. But it was certainly, professionally, a step down, not up.
Kojevnikov:Did you also become a department Chair there? Was it also a rotational thing, or did you have more responsible obligations like the ones you had to provide at Irvine?
Ford:No, it was more of a rotational assignment, more analogous to Brandeis. The big issue there was whether one could ever get a PhD program approved. It was masters granting only when I went there. And as far as I know, it never did get the doctoral program approved.
Kojevnikov:While at Massachusetts, were you working on your next textbook, Classical and Modern Physics? Or were you working on it at Irvine?
Ford:Basic Physics was published in 1968. Yes, I started working on the Classical and Modern Physics books while I was still in Irvine. I took one year off, a year's leave from Irvine, to spend at Los Alamos in 1968-1969, which I used to work intensively on the calculus based textbook, Classical and Modern Physics. So it was well under way before I went to Massachusetts.
Kojevnikov:And was it considered to be, in a way, a continuation of the Basic Physics, or not?
Ford:Well it was an upgraded adaptation of Basic Physics. In fact, there were paragraphs that were lifted, moved from one book to the other.
Kojevnikov:Besides introducing calculus, what were the major changes and the differences?
Ford:Well, of course, besides the additional math, it also went in more depth in certain derivations. A lot more problem solving, conventional type of problem solving. It was unusual in that it started with broad general principles. It started by looking at elementary particles and conservation laws. That was far enough off the standard track that I think it detracted from its popularity.
Kojevnikov:Were you considering the same publisher for this book?
Ford:Yes. It was initially published by Blaisdell, but Blaisdell was acquired by Xerox College Publishing, so when it finally appeared, it appeared under the Xerox label. Xerox College Publishing was then acquired by Ginn, so it passed on to Ginn, and finally Ginn's college publishing program was acquired by John Wiley. So, in the end, the final printings of the book, before it went out of print, were with Wiley.
Kojevnikov:How would you compare its success to your first book, to the Basic Physics?
Ford:It was only the third volume that had any significant success. The third volume was on modern physics. So in a number of institutions they used other books for the first two semesters. Books like Halliday and Resnick or Sears and Zemansky, the old standard books, but then adopted my book - the third volume of my book, for their third semester, for the modern physics. So the third volume sold much better than the first two.
Kojevnikov:Was this book based in any way on the courses you taught at the University of Massachusetts?
Ford:No, it wasn't. It started sooner and it was really an attempt to use Basic Physics as a raw material, converting Basic Physics into a calculus book for science majors.
Kojevnikov:Your next move was to New Mexico. Given your wife's fears of California the move to New Mexico seems even more adventurous.
Kojevnikov:How did that happen?
Ford:Well, I said already that the University of Massachusetts was not a particularly stimulating environment for physics. I liked my colleagues there. There's nothing that I'm saying that should be interpreted negatively towards those people as individuals. There were some very nice people at U. Mass. Boston. But the fact is they were not active researchers. They were not exciting intellectually in terms of physics. We had good discussions about teaching and there was some interesting teaching going on there. In fact, there were excellent students there. I taught the science for non-scientists there at Massachusetts. It certainly made me receptive in considering other opportunities. And when I was nominated by a friend for the Presidency of New Mexico Tech—
Kojevnikov:Who was that friend?
Ford:Joseph Devaney. He was a staff member at Los Alamos, with whom I had worked years earlier. He heard about the opening at New Mexico Tech and nominated me. A group from New Mexico Tech, including several of its Board of Regents and a couple of professors, toured the country calling on, I think, the last five or six principal candidates they had for the job. They made a stop in Boston and spent a morning with me. Then I got offered the job. So, then it was tough. I had to decide, in consultation with my wife, whether to take it. And she was agreeable, not happy, but agreeable. Because New Mexico, although far away, was still culturally very distinct from Southern California. And we had enjoyed our time in Los Alamos.
Kojevnikov:Did she accompany you to Los Alamos?
Ford:Yes, she did. Two of my children were born in Los Alamos, including the one that was born in 1968, our last child.
Kojevnikov:That move also was an important decision on your part, because that was definitely going into the administrative career.
Ford:Yes. I must say, that by that time, which was 1975, I was losing momentum, and losing self-confidence in the area of fundamental research. I didn't have any graduate students anymore, who were such a stimulus and helped to keep one going. I didn't have any PhD students at Massachusetts. And all the time I spent in administration and book writing had pulled me away from the focus, the full-time intense focus of research that is really necessary if one is going to do something significant. So that by the time that offer from New Mexico came along, there was this feeling that maybe I could serve my profession best now not by trying to do serious hard core research, but by a suitable administrative position.
Kojevnikov:Was this kind of pattern typical for your generation of physicists at that particular time, or how do you compare your career with some of your fellow classmates from Princeton?
Ford:Well, I don't know the percentages, but certainly some of them followed similar paths It's not uncommon in American universities to do concentrated research for a period of years and then get kind of sucked into being Chairman, and pretty soon if you do that well you were asked to be a Dean and so on. Then suddenly you realize that without noticing you've become an administrator. That's not uncommon, and I think, as I've mentioned before, I have this great admiration for people who are able to resist following that path and who stick to physics throughout their career and don't let themselves get diverted.
Kojevnikov:Did you keep in contact with your Brandeis colleagues after you left?
Ford:Certainly to some degree, yes. Steve Berko and Sam Schweber, in particular, I remained friends with.
Kojevnikov:Did you continue this contact while being at the University of Massachusetts?
Kojevnikov:Now, if you could just tell me a little bit about this New Mexico institute of Mining Technology. Was it closely connected to Los Alamos?
Ford:No. No connection. It's one of six publicly supported institutions of higher learning in the State of New Mexico, three of which grant the PhD. There are two big universities— the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, and New Mexico State University at Las Cruces. And little New Mexico Tech in Socorro, a school with only one thousand students, and yet it had PhD programs in physics and astronomy and in several different fields of earth sciences; hydrology, seismology, and geochemistry. And first rate people. In terms of quality per person, or quality per unit size, there's no question that New Mexico Tech was the best institution in the state. In terms of the academic aptitude of its students, it was also clearly number one. We were like one standard deviation higher than the national averages, and much higher than the larger universities in the state in terms of student aptitude.
Kojevnikov:Did you teach any program in physics there?
Kojevnikov:And was there also a physics department there? What's the difference between an institute of technology, in this case, and then the university?
Ford:Well it really was a university. Or is a university, a small university. It started out in the 1880's as the New Mexico School of Mines. It was created to serve the mining industry, to train engineers for mining. And then later for petroleum. It remained a very small school. Very small. I mean like one hundred, or a couple of hundred students, on up into the 1930's. Then it almost expired during World War II. It's enrollment fell to less than one hundred. But it got an infusion after World War II. We don't want to spend a lot of time on the tape describing the history of the Institution, but, very quickly— They recruited a man named Workman, E. John Workman, who was a PhD physicist and a researcher in Albuquerque during the war. A very bright, aggressive, and talented person. They recruited him to come as the President of the Institute.
As he tells the story, in 1946 when he made the move, being President of the school was a secondary consideration. What really took him down there was to become head of a research and development enterprise, to be supported by government grants plus some state money. For some period of time following World War II, the research and development activity there was larger than the college, in terms of number of staff, in terms of dollars in its annual budget. But gradually, under Workman, who stayed there 19 years —the school began to grow and prosper. He hired some very good people, especially in the earth sciences, and in physics and chemistry. And so by the time he left, and Stirling Colgate, came in 1965, it was an excellent school with an enrollment approaching one thousand. Colgate stayed there ten years. I came in 1975, and that's what I inherited.
Kojevnikov:When you still were a professor and faculty member, did you have reasons or occasions to complain about the decisions of the regents, or presidents, or deans of that administration? And how did you manage this during times of conflict? First, as a faculty member, and then as the president of the institute?
Ford:Well, to the extent that I hadn't any complaints about the administration at either Indiana or Brandeis, they may have only resulted in my being a little bit more receptive to an offer from another institution, rather than in my taking any active role. But when I was at New Mexico Tech, I was in for a big surprise, because I went there thinking, "Well, I don't know anything about being a college president, but at least I know something about being a professor. And I can relate to all these fellow professors here, most of whom, like me, are scientists. I can try to do some on-the-job learning in how to be a college president." But, it turned out that what I hadn't adequately realized that when you come in with a title, and that mantle of authority, it simply alters, in an irrevocable way, your relationship to your fellow professors. So I became not Ken Ford, fellow professor, I became Ken Ford, President of the school. And thus there were built-in tensions that I was insufficiently aware of or prepared for.
Kojevnikov:And maybe even earlier when you were at Irvine, when there was a time when student activism was relatively high, did you have to deal with this problem?
Ford:Yes. Irvine was not as troubled as some schools. I remember being tear gassed once when I went to Berkeley. We didn't have that kind of thing at Irvine.
Kojevnikov:What kind of gas?
Ford:Tear gas. I happened to be at Berkeley one day when the police came and used tear gas to disperse an anti-war rally, and I caught some of it. At Irvine, though, we did have a lot of high volume rhetoric. Students with megaphones and amplifiers speaking out on the campus. There was even a sit-in, I think, a group of militant students who occupied the Chancellor's office. There was a lot of ferment at every institution of higher learning in America. It was a time of tremendous ferment and change. Irvine was not exempt from it although Irvine didn't suffer any serious physical problems like destruction of property or injury of people.
Kojevnikov:What was the faculty's attitude at that time?
Ford:Very mixed. Unfortunately it became a divisive force, politically divisive. There were faculty who were sympathetic to many of the student's concerns. They were opposed to the Vietnam War. They were in favor of increased equity for women and minorities. They were in favor of more student choice and freedom in what courses they took. That group of faculty kind of aligned themselves with the students. And then there was a more conservative group of faculty who saw the student behavior as a serious threat to higher education. They saw it as a potential erosion of academic values. So there arose within the faculty itself, this kind of unfortunate division.
Kojevnikov:Did you have to deal with this problem at Irvine?
Ford:Yes. Well, I got elected to be Chair of the Faculty Senate. There the Senate is not a representative body, it's the entire faculty, so the Faculty Senate is all full-time faculty. One year, right at the height of the Vietnam era and during all this unrest, I became Chair of the Academic Senate, so I tried very hard, in that role, to bring the parties together. To keep mutual respect alive. But I do remember some very heated debates in Senate meetings and disagreements. It was hard to resolve.
Kojevnikov:If I recall correctly in the biography of David Bohm, it was also mentioned that once Bohm was considered to become a Professor at the New Mexico institute of Technology. If I'm not mistaken?
Ford:If so, it was before my time. It's possible. Because there was a professor at New Mexico Tech named Ross Lomanitz who was one of the people persecuted by the House On Un- American Activities Committee in the early 1950's, at the same time Bohm was. And Lomanitz, at that time, I believe was an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota He was, I don't know whether "fired" was the right word, but he was let go. He was terminated at Minnesota... and worked for a time as a laborer. But then he found a job, again, as a physics professor at New Mexico Tech. He was a friend of Bohm. So, there may have been that link, dating back to an earlier time.
Kojevnikov:Was Lomanitz still there when you were president?
Ford:Yes, he was.
Kojevnikov:Is he still there? Or did he stay?
Ford:I believe he stayed there until his retirement.
Kojevnikov:Now, what motivated you to leave that job and to go back to the east coast?
Ford:My faculty motivated me to leave. I was there a total of seven years, and I think in my sixth year or the beginning of the seventh year, I received a vote of "no confidence" from my faculty.
Kojevnikov:Faculty of the department, or the whole institute?
Ford:The whole institute. There were various changes taking place that I had pushed for, that were occurring too rapidly for the faculty to absorb or accept. There was a feeling among the faculty that I was tyrannical, that I had my own ideas in what direction the school should go and didn't adequately consult with the faculty.
Kojevnikov:What kind of changes?
Ford:Well, for example, I got some money to support our informal athletic program. We had nothing that you would call big time athletics, like the large universities did. But we had small teams, soccer teams, tennis teams, and baseball teams that would travel around at their own expense to other schools. No support whatsoever. Of the six public universities in the state, we were the only one that got no money for athletics. So through friends in the legislature, I arranged for New Mexico Tech to receive a small appropriation to support athletics. An appropriation just big enough to buy two or three Ford vans to drive the teams around. And a little money for equipment. A small amount of equipment. A very tiny amount of money overall as most athletic programs go. But it did annoy my faculty considerably because they saw it as changing the character of the school.
They were proud of the fact that New Mexico Tech got no money for athletics. It bothered them, and of course, they felt if I managed to get some money for athletics, it meant that I was going to get less money for something else. Less money to support research, for instance. So that was a bone of contention. Another major one was the order of priorities assigned to new buildings. We had various things we wanted to do. We wanted to build a new library. We wanted to remodel one of the science buildings. And we wanted to get a theater and a conference center. Well I put the conference center at the top of my priority list, and we got funding for it from the state plus some private grant money and gifts from individuals. So we were able to build this center, this conference center and theater. Nowadays everybody who is there tells me it's a wonderful thing and they're so happy that it happened. But at the time, it was a negative. The faculty thought it was a misplaced priority.
Kojevnikov:Were there any academic interests involved in those conflicts?
Ford:I'm not sure I understand.
Kojevnikov:Were there also some problems about some academic issues? Teaching, or research?
Ford:I can't remember any. There was the issue of student behavior. I was trying to cut down on the beer drinking on the campus, for example. And this led to a lot of student concern. Since the faculty felt other reasons to be negative toward me, they joined forces with the students.
Kojevnikov:Okay. But at that time you already had a private company to direct? Is that correct? The Scientific Management Corporation?
Ford:Oh, that was a very, very minor, very trivial thing. There was just a friend of mine in Denver who created this company hoping to develop some new products. Nothing really ever came of it. So it was just a paper company. I probably shouldn't even have listed it on my resume.
Kojevnikov:So how did you actually move to the University of Maryland? How did this happen?
Ford:Well, for the second time in my life I had to look for a job. I wasn't fired by the Regents. I had their support. But, they agreed with me when I talked it over with them and I said, "Things just don't seem to be going well enough between me and the faculty. It seems to me wise that I step aside, that I resign at the end of this year." The Regents agreed. So I started looking at the want ads again. And I learned about the position at the University of Maryland.
Kojevnikov:These were ads in the newspaper, like the Chronicle of Higher Education?
Kojevnikov:And regular advertisements?
Ford:In Physics Today Magazine, for example. Job notices.
Kojevnikov:Were you looking then for an academic job or only for administration?
Ford:Well, I had to be realistic at that point. I knew that there was no prospect whatsoever that I would get a professorship at a research active university. I was too far removed from the career of research that I had had in earlier years. So if I were to go to an academic institution at all it would have to be either in an administrative capacity or to a small college looking just for someone who was skilled as a physics teacher. I considered both of those possibilities.
Kojevnikov:Did you also consider jobs outside academic institutions?
Ford:No. I didn't.
Kojevnikov:But then your stay at the University of Maryland was just two years?
Ford:Even less. Only a little over one year. Something like 14 months.
Kojevnikov:Was it your decision to leave or were you dissatisfied with it?
Ford:No, I wasn't. I was a great admirer of the President of the Institution, John Toll. I was brought in with a very exalted title. Executive Vice President of the University of Maryland System. Which, on paper, made me the number two person in the entire system. Just below the President. But, in fact, the job was that of high level administrative assistant. The University had six campuses, each headed by a chancellor and there were numerous deans. I really played the role there of a facilitator, a problem solver, a go-between if two chancellors from different campuses were feuding with each other over something. Or if there were problems between the central administration and an individual campus that the president didn't have time to deal with, he'd let me deal with it. And drafting papers, position papers. Being a support person at meetings.
Despite the title, it was not really a terribly high level position. I then felt that if I stayed at Maryland probably what I would have liked to do would be to try to move into one of the chancellorships. To move from the central administration, to become a chancellor of an individual campus. Such as the Baltimore campus. That might have indeed have happened if I had stayed. But then an old friend from Boston showed up on my doorstep telling me excitedly about a new biotechnology company that was being formed, around three professors, looking for a President. This individual's name was J. Tomas Hexner. He was an entrepreneur in Boston— an old friend of mine from way back. He had helped to create a successful biotechnology company called "The Genetics Institute."
Kojevnikov:Did he know you were not entirely satisfied with the job at Maryland?
Ford:I don't know whether he knew that or not but he was trying to lure me away with promises of wealth. It was a situation typical for that kind of company where one could either be out on the street selling pencils within a couple of years or could be a millionaire depending on what happened. High potential gain but also very high risk.
Kojevnikov:Was part of your capital involved?
Ford:No. I didn't have to put up more than a few hundred dollars as a token investment, but I got lots of shares of stock which could become very valuable.
Kojevnikov:So they were just looking for a president of the company?
Ford:Yes. The three principal scientists were in the biotechnology and medical areas. One was a physical chemist, one was a microbiologist, and one was a combined M.D.-PhD.
Kojevnikov:And what did they need?
Ford:They needed a president in order to justify going to the public with the public issuing of stock. They needed a president with some kind of significantly impressive resume. I fit the bill on that. I was earning, at the University of Maryland, $75,000 a year at that time. Which was certainly a very good salary. Only the people in the medical school and the football coach, and the President, made much more than that. But even so, I was looking at trying to get children through college. Lots of children. Looking at high expenses. So, at least the potential to make a good deal of money in this biotechnology thing— for the first time in my life I was thinking about the money not just the professional challenge. That was a consideration.
Kojevnikov:And what were the names of those professors?
Ford:The three were Robin Hochstrasser, a professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. Neville Kallenbach, a professor in the biological field, I'm not exactly sure which department at the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvey Rubin, who was in the process of moving from Harvard University to the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania. They had an idea on how one could apply high-intensity pulsed lasers to the possible job of sterilizing blood products for selective killing of DNA in the presence of proteins. Very briefly, the scientific idea was that in a mixture of valuable proteins and dangerous viral DNA, one wants to be able to kill the viral DNA (or RNA)w without damaging the proteins. They felt that perhaps a technique could be developed using high powered pulsed lasers to do that job. It sounded appealing to me to the extent that I could comprehend the details of the argument.
Kojevnikov:Did you know if a physicist was important to this?
Ford:They didn't need my physics expertise really.
Kojevnikov:But this was a full time job which required you to step aside from the University of Maryland?
Ford:Yes, it did.
Kojevnikov:Was it then that you moved to Philadelphia?
Kojevnikov:Because the company was based there, right?
Ford:Yes. Because the three principal scientists were all at the University of Pennsylvania. We set up shop in what's called "The University City Science Center." It's kind of an urban research park adjacent to the university.
Kojevnikov:How big was the company?
Ford:In terms of full time employees, we had ten or twelve, I believe. These three scientists retained their university affiliations.
Kojevnikov:So, were they consultants?
Ford:They received some consulting stipend, but were not employees as such.
Kojevnikov:And they were also shareholders?
Kojevnikov:Did the company go public?
Ford:It did not go public because the underwriter in New York who had promised to take it public changed his mind. Not on particularly any scientific evaluation of the merits of the company, or business evaluation, but just rather on the general state of the market, which he felt, at that moment, suddenly was not any more ripe for high risk initial public offerings in high-tech companies. So he delayed it and kept telling us it might happen eventually. But, in fact, we never did have a public issue of stock. So we had to try to raise money from private investors. In the end, we secured about $2.5 million dollars of private investment. Enough to purchase all the sophisticated laser equipment, and set up a good laser lab, hire some people to do the work. Very talented. Two young men, both of whom had just completed their PhD's with Hochstrasser. It was an exciting time, as far as the research went. But, the further it was pursued the less promising it looked in terms of commercial viability.
Kojevnikov:At the time you started the company, there was not yet any proof of possible commercial success?
Ford:That's right. It was, by any rational assessment, very premature. The company was rushed into existence because of the feeling that it might be possible to have an initial public offering of stock, and bring in enough money to finance a serious research effort for five years or so, to see if the company could prosper.
Kojevnikov:But, were you making better money there than at the University of Maryland?
Ford:Yes, somewhat better. $90,000, to be exact.
Kojevnikov:I don't know if this information should be public. And so, when did you start being disappointed with this venture?
Ford:Well, I wouldn't say disappointed with it. It wouldn't be the term I'd use. I'd say becoming pessimistic about its eventual commercial success. Probably after a year. After about one year.
Kojevnikov:But still, the company lasted for four years?
Ford:Well, I think about two and a half years I was there. It continued to exist technically on paper for somewhat longer. But, I'd say that it was really after two and a half years when we knew it wasn't going to make it.
Kojevnikov:Did it produce any academic research in terms of publishable stuff?
Ford:Yes, it did. There were some publishable papers that came out of it.
Kojevnikov:And what happened to the young PhD's who worked there?
Ford:Everybody who was employed there got good jobs elsewhere. These two that I just mentioned, Hochstrasser's students, both went to a laser company in California called Coherent. They're still in California, and doing well.
Kojevnikov:No longer biotechnology? But, just laser?
Ford:Yes. Laser research and development.
Kojevnikov:Well I think now we are coming close to your experience at AIP, but I noticed from your vita that even before coming to AIP, you were involved in the Societies, in the AAPT?
Ford:Yes. I was elected President of AAPT in 1972. I considered that a great honor, and was very happy to be part of it.
Kojevnikov:In 1972 you were still at Boston, at the University of Massachusetts?
Ford:I had just moved. Yes, that's right. Recently I had moved to Massachusetts.
Kojevnikov:And this position as President of AAPT, what kind of obligation did this mean for you and how much of your time did it take?
Ford:Well, it was not enormously time consuming. It involved going to a certain number of meetings during the year and fully planning one meeting. It was a time when the AAPT was considering how big of a staff to have and support, and where to locate it.
Kojevnikov:At that time it was in New York?
Ford:There was a brief period, I think, just before I became president, when an executive officer of AAPT was appointed, who set up shop in Washington, D.C. downtown Washington, D.C. When I arrived on the scene— I'm a little bit vague in my recollection of the details, but I recollect that I didn't feel that was going very well. That it was a high overhead operation, and the association wasn't getting its money's worth. I believe at this time Arnold Strassenburg became available as a potential executive officer. He was appointed to replace this other person and authorized to set up the offices in Stony Brook. So, to the extent that I did anything significant other than the ceremonial duties, it was helping to stabilize the budget of the association, and give it a really meaningful staff leadership, in the form of Arnold Strassenburg.
Kojevnikov:Was the APPT normally run by college professors, or was it mainly high school physics teachers?
Ford:I believe the membership was around two-thirds college, one-third high school. Certainly the college component was dominant. During my time, and ever since, there have been efforts to try and increase the high school representation. And there have been high school people elected as president of the association now and then.
Kojevnikov:Were you, at that time, aware of the position of the AAPT with regard to the position of AIP, or, whether there were any problems? Or, did you have any contacts with AIP at that time?
Ford:I had to be aware of AIP because I was named by AAPT to represent AAPT on the Governing Board of AIP. So I became a Governing Board member. And thus began to understand a little bit about AIP and its operations.
Kojevnikov:How would you describe the role of AAPT in this Federation of the Societies?
Ford:Well, to me, as an AAPT member, and more significantly as an AAPT officer, AAPT was an autonomous organization, that just happened to have a link to AIP, which provided certain services. But I thought of AIP solely as a service provider, I didn't think of it as a fellow scientific society.
Kojevnikov:What kind of services did it provide at that time for AAPT?
Ford:Publication services. I think the American Journal of Physics was published then, as it is now, by AIP, and The Physics Teacher, I just don't remember. It's no longer published by AIP, but I think it may have been published by AIP at that time.
Kojevnikov:Who nominated you for the presidency?
Ford:I don't know the names of the individuals. It must have been a nominating committee that did it. I suppose it was on the basis of my published textbooks that made me known, a little higher profile within the association.
Kojevnikov:Was serving as the president there primarily a formal function, or was it more like an executive?
Ford:Well, it's very part time. So, in that sense, it's more ceremonial. But there are significant issues that come along. Especially within budgeting, one has to determine each year the appropriate level of dues, the dues structure, for student members, regular members, senior members, and the cost of subscription rates for the publications. And so the setting of the budget becomes certainly one very important administrative function that the president leads.
Kojevnikov:Was it somehow connected with you getting an Award of Distinguished Service Citation, by the AAPT? Or, was it a different story?
Ford:It must have had something to do with it. I do not now remember the specifics of the citation. That happened four years later. I believe it was in 1976. But, my service as president probably had something to do with it.
Kojevnikov:Is president normally a one-year appointment?
Kojevnikov:Always. And who became your successor?
Ford:I don't remember.
Kojevnikov:Were you involved in this, or not?
Ford:Yes. You are president for one year, but it's like a four year cycle. You go through being a vice president, a president elect, a president, a past president. So, you have service over a several year period.
Kojevnikov:Okay. Now, how did you become aware of the opening at the AIP, and how did the position at the AIP emerge?
Ford:Well, there was one position in between. When Molecular ionaphysics Technology looked like it wasn't going to succeed, and we were running out of money, I had to leave the company and seek other employment. The job that I moved into was that of Education Officer of the American Physical Society. A newly created position. I was the first person to hold that position. I think it was called three-quarter time. It wasn't quite full time.
Kojevnikov:Hadn't they have such a position before?
Ford:No, never. It was a position that had not existed earlier. Grew out of a feeling in the APS that it needed to become more actively involved in educational issues.
Kojevnikov:Did it conflict with the interests of the AAPT, and if so, how did you distinguish the responsibilities?
Ford:Well, certainly in reality, it did not conflict. Whether a few people might have perceived it as a conflict I can't say. It was not, in regards to AAPT, in any sense a threat, but more complementary, although every association has to worry a little bit about APS as big brother. APS is the largest, by far, among the various physics-related societies. The wealthiest, the largest membership. So there may have been a little bit of apprehension within the AAPT. In chemistry, there is no analogous split. The American Chemical Society, in effect, is both the APS and the AAPT for the chemists. And if one goes way back in history to the late 1920's, or the beginning of the 1930's, one sees that the AAPT came into existence because APS did not wish to involve itself heavily in education. So, there was a need for a separate organization of teachers.
Kojevnikov:Is their relationship more or less harmonious?
Ford:Now, or then?
Kojevnikov:Well, when you were working with both AAPT and later the APS?
Ford:There are sort of three phases in my relationship to these organizations. There's the time that I was an AAPT representative on the AIP Governing Board. That was in the 1970's. Then there was the period when I was the APS Education Officer. That was in the mid-80's, 1986, or 1987. And then there was the time when I was the AIP Director, 1987-1993. So, three different perspectives.
Kojevnikov:Yes. How do you compare these perspectives?
Ford:I said already that when I was simply a member of the Governing Board, by virtue of my AAPT connection, I didn't see AIP as a significant scientific organization. I saw it as a service provider. They were turning out a good magazine, Physics Today. (Which became even better in later years). When I was in APS, and for that brief period as education officer, I was just trying to help. I was working closely with Bill Havens, in New York, who was the executive secretary of APS, trying to get APS more significantly involved in educational projects, and working with AAPT. I think it helped to prevent friction, by my having already been so closely aligned in people's mind with AAPT. I mean, being the former president of the AAPT, nobody could be suspicious that in my new APS role, I was going to be out to muscle AAPT out of a significant role, and I certainly wasn't. So, I think I was probably a good person to fill that role, when this new education officer position was created.
Kojevnikov:Was it Havens who selected you for the position?
Ford:Yes, I think so. It was Havens, in turn, who was probably quite influential in getting me nominated and approved to become AIP's director. Because I think we worked well together when I was in the APS role.
Kojevnikov:Was it just simply when Koch was retiring?
Ford:Yes. Koch was retiring, and, as far as I recollect, I didn't apply to the AIP directorship. I must have been aware that it was going to become available, because I think I was aware that Koch planned to retire in '87. But what actually happened was that Jack Wilson, who was, at that time, the executive director of the AAPT— he nominated me for the AIP directorship.
Kojevnikov:Just before the Committee?
Ford:The search committee which Bill Havens was the Chair. I was then interviewed by that committee. So, it was a dual role. I was working for Havens at the APS office. But also Havens was the head of the search committee for the AIP.
Kojevnikov:I have an impression of Havens as a man of strong opinions.
Ford:Yes, very much so.
Kojevnikov:How was your experience with working under him? Or, with him on this education business?
Ford:I admired Bill Havens for everything he had done for APS over a period of many years. He was Mister APS. I don't know how many years, but going way, way back. At the same time, he was a little conservative about embracing new ideas, although, after all, he did support the new education officer position, and he came around to be supportive of other new directions.
Kojevnikov:What kind of things wasn't he supporting?
Ford:Well, the 1970's was a watershed period in America. Not just at the universities. The late '60's and the early '70's was the period of student turmoil. The Vietnam era. But it had ramifications throughout society. Within the American Physical Society, the ramifications were a little bit delayed. They came in early, up to the mid, and even the late 1970's. They changed the nature of the organization from a pure research society, just publishing scientific journals and holding scientific meetings, into a much broader based society with committees on minorities, committees on women, committees on education, and a forum on physics in society.
All this ferment was taking place with the APS as kind of a mirror of what was happening in society at large. I think Bill Haven's inclination was to resist many of those changes as they were happening. And yet, once they were approved and once they became part of the APS structure, he became their strong supporter and defender. I think Bill Haven's inclination was to resist many of those changes as they were happening. And yet, once they were approved and once they became part of the APS structure, he became their strong supporter and defender. In that sense, he was a very good soldier indeed. He never tried to undermine any program just because he had, perhaps, initially opposed it.
Kojevnikov:And what was your primary task as an education officer there? Were you concerned mostly with college education?
Ford:Yes. I'm trying to remember what specific programs we had. One, I think, was placement of college students and graduate students in industrial summer jobs. That was one. It's strange to say, that's the only specific one I can remember at this moment.
Kojevnikov:Okay. We come now to your appointment at the AIP, and the directorship there. How aware were you of the role and specific nature of the AIP, and the problems that you would be facing there before accepting the job?
Ford:One is never fully aware of all the details of an organization. But certainly by that time, by 1987, when I took the job, I was much more aware of the two major faces of AIP. It's publishing face, and its physics program face. I had been, and remain, a very strong supporter of the physics programs. Of all aspects of the physics programs, but in particular, the Niels Bohr Library and the history center. Also of the education division, then called career placement. The statistics division, which did such wonderful work on analyzing patterns of education and employment in physics. I was a very strong supporter of all of those programs.
Kojevnikov:Who advised you about the specifics of the AIP job, or did you have any inside advice before accepting the offer?
Ford:No, I didn't. Of course, I talked some with Bill Koch, my predecessor. But I was not so strong an admirer of Bill that I gained very much from what he had to tell me.
Kojevnikov:What was his advice to you?
Ford:Well, he really didn't offer advice. He just offered information. He told me what the things were that were on his mind, and the priorities, as he saw them.
Kojevnikov:When you came to the AIP, what did you consider as the main problem, or what did you want to change, if anything?
Ford:It was made clear to me, when I was appointed, that at least in the minds of some people, AIP needed to gain a better balance between publishing and physics programs. I believe that part of the reason I was appointed was because I was seen as somebody who would be supportive of physics programs, and would try to produce this better balance. The feeling was that Bill Koch had focused almost entirely on the publishing side.
Kojevnikov:Whose feeling was that?
Ford:It was the feeling of, for example, Jack Wilson of the AAPT, the person who nominated me. He made that clear. There were a couple of other people on the search committee who indicated that to me.
Kojevnikov:In your list of problems about your experience here, the first one, and probably one of the greatest ones, was the translation of Russian journals. Was it just a problem that you were presented with when you arrived at the AIP?
Ford:Yes, it was almost on Day One when I learned this, through two of our officers who had just been to the book fair in Moscow. It must have been the fall of 1986 when they went to the book fair. They met representatives of VAAP, the Russian copyright agency, who informed them that VAAP wanted to terminate its AIP contract when it expired in 1987.
Kojevnikov:What were the reasons for that, if they gave any reasons?
Ford:The claimed reason was that the AIP wasn't paying enough royalty. That AIP was making a lot of money and the Russians weren't making a lot of money. The real reason, we felt at the time, was that probably they had understandings with other commercial publishers. Understandings that may have involved some quid pro quo, that made them want to shift the business to one or more of these competing commercial publishers.
Kojevnikov:But, you didn't have any idea of who these commercial publishers could be?
Ford:Sure. I think Plenum Press was one of them. And some I don't remember now.
Kojevnikov:And the officers that went to Moscow, were they authorized to talk with the Russian agency about extending the contract?
Ford:Not at that time. Those two were Jerry Gilbert, who was the Treasurer of AIP, and Bob Marks, who was the director of publishing. I'm not sure what his title was, but he was the number one person in publishing. They just brought back the word that VAAP wanted to terminate the contract. It caused a certain amount of alarm. So, when I took over, in March of 1987, almost the first order of business was to try and deal with this problem and see if we could convince VAAP to sign a renewal contract with the AIP. Bob Marks, in publishing, had suggested, as a person to help us, Martin Levin, a publishing executive who had become an attorney late in his life, and had many dealings with the Russians. He was on a very friendly basis with many of the officials in Russia, or the Soviet Union at that time. And so Bob Marks recommended him to me as someone whom it would be wise to retain to help us. And it was a very, very good recommendation. It was absolutely critical the first time we went to Moscow.
Kojevnikov:Did you two go together?
Ford:Bob Marks and I went with Martin Levin and my wife Joanne.
Kojevnikov:When was that?
Ford:In 1987, early. I can't remember the precise month, but it must have been relatively soon after I joined AIP. We had meetings with the officials in VAAP.
Kojevnikov:I assume this was your first impression of meeting Russian bureaucrats?
Kojevnikov:What was your impression?
Ford:They were wonderfully emotional. There was a lot of fireworks. It wasn't like the kind of negotiation you would expect to see around an American corporate board table. It was much more fist pounding, and shouting, people even getting angry and walking out of the room, on both sides. Martin Levin was a master. He had dealt with these people, enough really to understand them very well. You know, at one point he would get up and say, "I refuse to deal any longer with this lackey, this person of no real responsibility you are putting in here to talk to me. I'm leaving. Goodbye. We're wasting our time. We're going back to America."
Kojevnikov:And did it have any effect?
Ford:Well, yes. And then Vladimir Bogatov, the principal negotiator on the Russian side, (he was the number two man in VAAP; his boss was Nolai Chetverikov, whom we saw a little bit, but Bogatov mainly). But then Bogatov himself would get emotional and would stomp out of the room. But, Levin and Bogatov knew each other, from various previous occasions, and were actually very friendly and had a lot of mutual admiration. So it took a week. We went every day for a week, for five days. We went through this negotiation process.
Kojevnikov:Did they try to make any major concession on your part?
Ford:Huge royalties. Royalties that would have been far in excess of what we could have afforded to pay.
Kojevnikov:Could you give any examples— numbers? What were you paying at that time, and what did they want?
Ford:I'd have to go back into the archives and written records to see. My recollection is that they wanted something like 20% of the gross revenue, fed back to Russia as royalty. And we felt that was outside of the realm of possibility.
Kojevnikov:Okay. And anything else?
Ford:When we did reach agreement, after five days of negotiation, it was for a considerably improved package, of higher royalties than the AIP had been paying before. So, it was something in which we both felt happy with the outcome. They were going to get more royalties than they had in the past. It was still going to be financially attractive for the AIP, and we still expected to make a net revenue, and not lose money on the operation.
Kojevnikov:So that was basically your bottom line? There must be a net revenue from that?
Kojevnikov:Did this mean that you had to change the standards of publication, and/or to economize some services?
Ford:No, not at all. At least not in any negative way. I think we committed ourselves to try and get more timely publication, and improved translation. You know they also complained that they heard from some Russian scientist who spoke English that when they looked at the English language versions, that they had some errors in them, were not as accurate as they wished. The issues were not only financial, but also in the accuracy of the translation, and on the speed of translation, the speed of publication. Those were all issues. And, if I recall correctly, we couldn't write into a contract any standards of accuracy, but there was a clear understanding that in addition to improved royalties, we would work hard for our own benefit, as well as theirs, to improve the quality and the timeliness.
Kojevnikov:How were the subscriptions to the Russian journals doing at that time?
Ford:They were declining, just as all other subscriptions were. There was a multi-year downward trend in the subscriber base for both AIP's original English journals, and the Russian translation journals.
Kojevnikov:Besides these emotional dealings with Russians, were there any other stereotypes or expectations which were confirmed, or not confirmed, in doing business with the Russians, and also if you managed to get some physicists there too?
Ford:This first had in 1987 was largely dealing with VAAP officials. Our close association with scientists came later. We were extremely well treated. We were given a big black limousine and a driver, and an attractive young woman as a translator. We were a little bit uneasy though about whether our rooms were bugged, for instance. We knew that VAAP had ties to the KGB, we knew that Chetverikov, the head of VAAP, had been a former KGB officer, and so when we wanted to talk over our strategy for the next day, "we" being Martin Levin, Bob Marks, and I, we'd go out into the open hall, outside our rooms, to talk about strategies. So, there was a little bit of residual suspicion. Likewise I'd say the driver of the limo, who apparently spoke only Russian, we didn't necessarily assume that that was true. We were very careful about what we said, because for all we knew, he may have actually understood our English quite well.
Kojevnikov:Did you manage to close this deal in one week? And renew the contract for five years?
Ford:Yes. We had tried for to get years, but that was another place where we had to give. So, for five years.
Kojevnikov:Okay. Now, you also mentioned that you made a number of other trips to Russia. What was the purpose for that?
Ford:Well, it was all related to extending the agreements with the Russians, because as Martin Levin suggested, after only perhaps as little as two years later, or no more than three years later, we should begin to work on extensions, renewal contracts. And not wait until the five years was up. So we made trips back with that in mind. In the meantime, the Soviet Union itself was in upheaval. And VAAP's power was declining. Power over the journals was being restored to the editors and the institutes where they were published. So, skipping over a lot of intermediate detail, what did happen over that five year period is that the entire picture changed. We found ourselves dealing not with one agency for twenty journals, but with twenty different organizations. Twenty different editors, at almost twenty different institutes. Most of which, however, were Academy institutes. So, we still had, in one sense, a single organization to deal with, which was the Russian Academy of Science.
Kojevnikov:Did it complicate the matters?
Ford:It made it much more complicated. It also made it much more interesting, much more fun, much more challenging.
Kojevnikov:Was there a difference in dealing with editors who I presume were physicists, as compared to dealing with the KGB head of VAAP?
Ford:Well, yes. Certainly we felt like they were our colleagues and brothers. The editors. And they wanted very much to stay with AIP, because they liked the prestige associated with having their English language translations published by a respected physics organization, as opposed to a commercial publisher. So, the editors were totally on our side. Where the opposition came from was VAAP, which was trying desperately to remain in the picture because VAAP wanted to get their cut from the royalties. Also opposition from the Russian Academy, which had its own interests, and from some of the principal officials of the Academy.
Kojevnikov:Who were these officials at the Academy?
Ford:Yuri Osipov who became the head of the Russian Academy.
Kojevnikov:In what sense was he opposed to the—?
Ford:Osipov was trying to be neutral, but there was a very influential Vice President, Petrov. He and some others were developing strong links to the publisher of Penthouse Magazine in the United States. Penthouse is a girly magazine. The main content is pictures of undressed women. The Russian scientists, understandably, were pretty upset at the thought that that publisher might become the publisher of their scientific journals. But, that publisher also published Discover Magazine, so he did have some legitimate products. They set up a company in Russia called, I believe, Interperiodica, with ties to the Russian Academy.
The whole thing is so complicated, so byzantine, so elaborate, that it's impossible in a short interview to give all the details. But the Russian Academy and some of its officials had ties to this American publisher. Then a joint venture was formed in Russia, and Nauka got involved, another major Russian science publisher. Mir was not involved, but Nauka was involved. Then they were going to give all of these journals to this new entity in Russia, to be translated and published in Russia, by Interperiodica, which I think underwent a couple of other name changes. So, the Academy officials had this link. Now, it should be said on their behalf that in the end, we prevailed. When I say, "on their behalf," I mean that they weren't totally opposed to the AIP. But they had to navigate their way among all these conflicting things. They may have been receiving gifts from sources other than the AIP.
Kojevnikov:You mean there were gifts coming from the AIP?
Ford:No. None from the AIP. That's where we may have been at a slight disadvantage. We didn't have that privilege.
Kojevnikov:Now, how did this change the terms of the agreement between— did you reach an agreement with the Academy as a body, or with each individual journal?
Ford:In the end it was not twenty different agreements, but it was several. We had reached an agreement with the Academy on a certain number of journals. Those were to be published in Moscow. We had reached an agreement with the Ioffe Institute in St. Petersburg, for a set of four journals that were published there. And then there was a journal of the optical society that was published by the institute of Optical Research in St. Petersburg. That was a distinct journal. And then there was one published by the Kurchotov Institute. That also was distinct. I can't remember now the exact total number, but in the end we lost 2 or 3 journals, and the remaining 17 or 18 got covered by about four agreements.
Kojevnikov:Did the royalties increase or decrease as the result of these negotiations?
Ford:They went up again, yes. We had to give more.
Kojevnikov:But I presume by that time that subscriptions continued to drop?
Kojevnikov:So, it would have been more and more difficult to pay these royalties?
Ford:Of course we had to raise the price to the libraries substantially. But, even before the later agreements, we reached the point of paying a little more than $1 million a year in royalties. So, it was a very nontrivial sum of money. And at that critical period of transition in Russia, that $1 million was a lot of money. Understandably, a lot of people wanted some part of it.
Kojevnikov:Now, by that time you were not assisted by Bob Marks, but by Darlene Carlin?
Ford:That's right. Bob Marks, after the early negotiations in '87, not too long after, resigned his AIP post in order to become Director of Publishing at the American Chemical Society. Darlene Carlin was eventually named to head publishing of AIP. In between, there was a period when a man named Robert Baensch was appointed. His appointment at AIP did not work out well. He was eventually asked to resign.
Kojevnikov:Did you have the power to appoint and to fire people, or was it the Board that did this?
Ford:Yes, I did, although I had to bring the final recommendation to the board for approval. The Board didn't participate in the recruitment or interviewing until the final candidate was selected. Any officer had to be approved by the Board. There were five officer positions, of which the Director of Publishing was one.
Kojevnikov:That the board had to approve?
Kojevnikov:What was the problem with Baensch?
Ford:This gets into a delicate area. When he left, we signed an agreement with Baensch about not defaming each other. He agreed not to defame AIP and we agreed not to defame him. So, I think at this point, for the record, all I can say is that we encouraged his departure.
Kojevnikov:Was it more professional, or more personal?
Kojevnikov:According to your memoirs, I think of at least you and three other people with whom you worked at AIP as the top management— as a kind of a team.
Kojevnikov:I think Marks was one of them. And of course the financial person.
Kojevnikov:Gilbert, and the director of the Physics Program.
Ford:Who, at that time, was Lewis Slack.
Kojevnikov:Lewis Slack. And it seems that all of them quit soon after you became director of AIP. Was it somehow connected, or was it just an idea to have a new team, and things needed to be changed at that time?
Ford:I spoke with Lewis Slack even prior to joining, once I had been named as the new Director but before I had taken over. So, this would have been in December, January, or February, 1986, 1987, I talked with Slack and said that I felt that new leadership in the physics programs was needed. Although I respected him as a person and respected what he had done for the AIP over the years, I was, in effect, requesting him to step aside and create a vacancy that I could fill with someone else. He had told me, almost from day one also, that, "I serve at your pleasure, and if you find that I'm not the person you want in that position, you tell me and I will tender my resignation." A retirement actually. He didn't have to resign, because he was just about reaching retirement age anyway. So, that's how that came about. I recruited John Rigden to fill that position.
I did not have any similar wish to get rid of Bob Marks at all. Bob was excellent in his role. I greatly admired what he did. A tremendously hard worker. Very, very good. But, he may have felt a little uneasiness with me. He may not have felt the same level of comfort working with me that he did with Koch. At the end of the first year, my annual evaluation of him was not totally one hundred percent positive. Much more positive than not, but I indicated a few areas where I felt improvement was needed. This was somewhat devastating to him psychologically. He had never before been told that he was anything less than perfect in his job. And I believe at that point he was probably looking to find a way to leave. He found an excellent other opportunity. And although Baensch was a short term disaster, Darlene Carlin was a tremendously strong and excellent appointment, and I feel very proud of having recognized her potential and taken the initiative to move her up.
Kojevnikov:Before we go to the new people, let's end with the old people, such as Gilbert?
Ford:Gilbert was, I think, contemplating retirement in any case. I neither encouraged nor discouraged his retirement. He just retired. When he was sixty-five, I believe, he just felt it was time to retire.
Kojevnikov:Now, who were the people whom you got to rely upon in the first place in the positions? You mentioned Darlene Carlin. How did this happen that you found her for the publishing business?
Ford:Well, she had been at AIP already for a number of years and had moved up the ranks quite rapidly. Her excellence and potential were recognized by others before I arrived. She already was up to a fairly high level in the publishing hierarchy at the time I joined AIP. She became, in effect, the number two person when Baensch was hired. And when he left, I felt that she had everything we needed, and the potential to fill the job excellently, which indeed she has done. I enlarged the Management Community by one person. The Koch team was himself, the treasurer, the director of publishing, and the director of physics programs. So, that's four people. To those four I added the director of human resources. Not immediately, but within the first year or two.
Kojevnikov:This is Teresa Braun?
Ford:Elevating Terri Braun from her previous title as personnel manager to director of human resources. An officer level position. In addition, there is a sixth officer who is the secretary, Rod Grant. Because he's part time, he was never brought very fully into the day-to-day management by Koch, nor by me. But, I did make an effort to try and get him more significantly involved in the Management Committee by frequently having him in telephone conference with us when the Management Committee met.
Kojevnikov:How did you manage to find John Rigden?
Ford:I knew John from years past, through AAPT. And I knew of his excellence as both a writer and a teacher.
Kojevnikov:What was his position, before?
Ford:At that time he was professor of physics at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. I had visited a class of his there. I watched him in action, teaching. I knew some of his writing. And I had talked to him often at AAPT meetings about teaching philosophy. So, he seemed to me like a strong candidate to fill the position.
Kojevnikov:Did you tell him any of your ideas about what needed to be changed in the physics program? If you could be a little bit more specific about that. What did you want to do with the physics program? Or, what exactly were you not satisfied with?
Ford:I'm trying to think. I was already very well satisfied with the statistics program, led by Beverly Porter. It was a first class operation and envied by some of the scientific societies. It's very excellent, professional social science methods were brought to the study of the demographics of physics. I was already very happy with the history program, which was led by Spencer Weart. For those two programs, at least, I didn't have any reason, at all, to suggest change or see need for any improvement. I just saw the need to provide them with adequate support to the extent possible, so they could continue to do their excellent work. The Career Placement Division, I thought could be strengthened a bit, but I didn't have any reservations about it. I guess it was only directly educational programs where I felt that AIP should expand it's role.
Kojevnikov:It seems that the educational program was closed for some time, right? And then was restored?
Kojevnikov:So there was a time when the AIP was cutting expenditures before your tenure there?
Kojevnikov:And there was some time when there was no educational programs?
Ford:There was even a time when the history program was threatened.
Kojevnikov:And did you, or did Rigden, suggest Don Kirwin to head the educational program?
Ford:Probably Rigden did.
Kojevnikov:Was your experience at the AAPT important for these new programs in education? And what kind of assignments did you want from this new officer?
Ford:Well, obviously I wanted AIP to cooperate fully with APS and with AAPT, not to take off in some totally new direction on its own, in education. But, I recognized that AIP had more resources, especially than AAPT. Although AAPT was the organization of physics teachers, it still had a very limited staff and a limited number of dollars. AIP actually had more money to pour into its educational programs. So I felt that we were in a position to strongly augment, or complement the work of the AAPT, and try to get into joint programs with them. Because we could actually build a bigger staff under Kirwin, to do that.
Kojevnikov:Now we are coming to the relationship between the AIP and the Mem Societies. How did your relationship with Havens develop over time? I read recently in his interview that he's always seen the AIP as a service society.
Kojevnikov:That the AIP should provide service for the APS, and it shouldn't become independent. And I think he spoke about "the big brother." Is the term commonly used?
Ford:Yes, it certainly is. Especially relative to AAPT, but in some respects relative to AIP as well. Well, the nature of our respective positions, I guess you would say made it inevitable that some tensions developed between Bill Havens and me. Not serious, not disruptive of mutual respect, but— well, in a way it did get serious, because along about my fifth or sixth year I think Bill was trying to have me canned as AIP director. So, in that sense I guess they were serious. But, we weren't nasty to each other, let's put it that way.
Kojevnikov:Were there any major points of disagreement, or many smaller ones?
Ford:Well, it was sort of who's in charge of what, I guess, is one way to put it. I think in the Bill Koch era, there was a significant meaningful sense in which Bill Havens ran AIP. Now, that's a little bit of an exaggeration, but he was very, very influential. Bill Koch tried always to please Bill Havens, and Bill Havens, I think, gradually developed a sense that he could call the shots in the AIP. And with me it didn't work that way.
Kojevnikov:Well, ironically, he complains also about Koch. He says that Koch was always an expansionist, and his favorite position was that, "We cannot do well when the physics community (or probably APS) is not doing that well."
Ford:Yes. Well, there may have been some tensions there as well. Because it's certainly true that Bill Koch was an expansionist. He is very paternalistic about AIP, and he was there twenty years. He was "Mr. AIP." He did push for its expansion. But it's inevitable when you are asked to be the chief executive of an organization, that you have to look out for the welfare of that organization above all else. And that's the position that I took. I became director of AIP and I thought, "My number one responsibility is on the financial and budgeting side. To make sure that AIP generates enough revenue every year. After that my responsibility is to turn out the best quality products, to serve the physics community, to have the best quality of physics programs, supported to the extent possible from publishing revenue." One has to have a little bit of expansionist thinking just because one's thinking of the welfare of the organization. I mean, this was a $50 million or $60 million dollar a year organization. It was financially bigger than any society. It had a lot of products of it's own— journals. And it simply, like it or not, was, and is, an independent organization that cannot— in good conscious it can't be allowed to be just jerked around by— manipulated by— ruled by the individual societies.
Kojevnikov:Do you recall any specific problems? Or specific things where you and Havens disagreed about what route to take and what needed to be done? Apart from the move to Maryland?
Ford:Yes. One issue was in the publishing area. It had to do with the mechanics of publishing the Physical Review. A strange compromise situation had developed in the AIP with two separate branches of the publishing operation. One was a branch devoted solely to serving APS. The other was a branch devoted to everything else, to all the other societies and the individual independent AIP journals. So, we may have had some disagreements about that, for I didn't see any logic to it. I could see the historical reasons why it came about, because APS wanted to keep a more direct day-to-day control over its publishing operations. From a management point off view however, it would be more efficient to have all of AIP's publishing operations under one overall director - with APS being served to the best of our ability but not having a particular special role that no other society enjoyed.
Kojevnikov:Did you have any problems with personnel appointments? Or in publishing?
Ford:I don't think so. Another area of concern was the movements of staff from one organization to the other. If a person left APS and joined AIP there was a grave concern that somehow we had lured the person away, that we were offering them more money and thus damaging APS. We tried very hard, indeed, not to do that. But if a person came forward and said for whatever reasons, "I'd rather work for AIP," then we'd have to listen to them, and we couldn't discriminate against them.
Kojevnikov:Now if Havens was such a strong hand at APS, why did it happen that they moved him to Maryland despite his opposition?
Ford:It's because other officers, the elected officers of APS, in the end decided it was the right thing to do.
Kojevnikov:Who were they?
Ford:The president, the vice president, the president-elect, the director of publishing. Who were some of the individuals then? The director of publishing was David Lazarus from the University of Illinois. He was one of the influential people at APS, though not a full time staff member, but an officer. Harry Lustig was the Treasurer. He was involved. More significantly the involvement was with the Board of APS, which consists entirely of unpaid people. The volunteers. Officers and other elected members. And those people, a majority of them, did favor the move.
Kojevnikov:How much of this move was decided before your appointment?
Ford:It was not decided at all. It had been discussed before my arrival. But it was still totally an open matter.
Kojevnikov:Just a move to anywhere?
Ford:That's right. There had been an abortive effort to move AIP and APS out on to Long Island, a nearby point of Long Island, I think just beyond Queens. Near the original old headquarters of the United Nations. I only heard about that through Bill Havens. He actually favored that move, I believe. He liked to tell the story that it was vetoed because it was too nice a building. It didn't look right for physics.
Kojevnikov:What was your initial position on the move?
Ford:Initially I favored getting out of New York City. As time went on, I became more open to the possibility of staying in New York, but if so, in a different building. We were already occupying two different sites in New York City. We had the building that AIP owned on 45th Street. We had rented quarters over near Grand Central Station. And one could see that as growth occurred, we'd end up maybe in three or four different locations, most of them rented. So, although I did favor moving out of New York, I was perfectly open to considering the possibility of simply acquiring a much larger building within New York, where AIP and the societies it served could be consolidated. We found one such building down in Soho, in Manhattan. But it didn't gain the approval of the APS Board.
Kojevnikov:Did you really need the approval of the APS Board, or, was it a necessity that APS moved together with the AIP?
Ford:It was not a necessity, but I think all of us, including certainly me, felt that it would have been very unwise not to go together. That if we went, that it should be together.
Kojevnikov:The move had to be approved by two, at least two independent organizations?
Kojevnikov:Any other organizations as well?
Ford:Well, it didn't have to be approved. That is, we felt that if AIP and APS decided jointly to move, they would do so. They would hope that other organizations would follow, such as AAPM, the physicists in medicine. And indeed, they did. And then AAPT likewise decided to come and join. But it was just AIP and APS initially, where we felt they had to go together.
Kojevnikov:Who was more interested in moving, the AIP or APS?
Ford:Initially AIP. You asked for names of people within APS who did favor the move. Nico Bloembergen was one. He was either the president, or in the presidential succession at that time. I think Judy Franz, who was also an officer, favored the move. She subsequently has become Bill Haven's replacement.
Kojevnikov:When did he retire? Or did he retire?
Kojevnikov:When was this?
Ford:I'm sorry, I don't remember the date. Just a few years ago.
Kojevnikov:And who was ultimately responsible for choosing the particular site in College Park?
Ford:Well, in no sense was I the person who did the choosing. It was very much a joint effort. We went through a lengthy, meticulous process involving outside consultants. First to look at a variety of other possible locations in the United States. Even as far away as Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Research Triangle in North Carolina, and the Washington, D.C. area. In Philadelphia, and New York City itself. We didn't exclude New York. So we were at that stage of looking at a lot of different possibilities, and New York was one of them. Eventually we looked seriously at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, the Greater Washington area, and Philadelphia. Then the relevant boards decided jointly that the Washington, D.C. area was the preferred spot. At one point I think they adopted a resolution that said roughly, "The organizations will move to a site yet to be selected that is within fifty miles of Washington, D.C." So it was a gradual process of narrowing down the options.
Kojevnikov:Was there political consideration? I mean, was the proximity of the nation's capital important?
Ford:Yes, it was. That's what finally led us to the nation's capital, in a couple of different respects. One was the thought that the physics organizations in the future would have to have more liaison with the government, and should try to be more influential in public policy. Another consideration was that many other scientific societies are already there, including some of our own. The American Geophysical Union, the Optical Society of America, and the American Astronomical Society which were already in Washington, D.C. In addition to that, the American Chemical Society and the AAAS, and a great variety of other scientific organizations with which we might have some connection.
Kojevnikov:As I understand AIP didn't have any political profile or activity?
Ford:That's true. That was more an APS consideration than AIP.
Kojevnikov:And AIP didn't have any intention to become involved in matters of public policy, or did it?
Ford:No. Because, that's one area where Bill Havens and I were in total agreement, that it was the APS that represented physicists and their points of view. And to the extent that a physics point of view should be presented to federal agencies it should be through APS. Because AIP's members were organizations, not individual people.
Kojevnikov:Did this affect publication of journals like Physics Today? Because Physics Today is also of supposed to represent physicists as a community.
Ford:Yes, it does.
Kojevnikov:And, on the other hand, it's published by the AIP, not APS. Is Physics Today supposed to be involved in questions regarding public policy?
Ford:Well, it has had an excellent Washington Report section for many years. Irwin Goodwin has been the stalwart creator of that section. In that sense, yes, the AIP does have a role in public policy. But that's more in reporting what's going on than in trying to influence it. By the way, I said that AIP's members are organizations not people. That's technically not quite right, because the constitution of the AIP says that every member of every member society is a member of AIP. So, there's a sense in which AIP has 110,000 members. Plus a lot of student members as well.
Kojevnikov:But at least, is it true to say that the AIP never issued statements regarding public policy? Never was active on behalf of?
Ford:I think that's true, but I'm not certain it's 100% true. It's conceivable that at some time the AIP Governing Board did issue a public statement, and if so, it was probably out of a sense of solidarity with APS. So I imagine APS felt strongly about having AIP Governing Board endorsement.
Kojevnikov:I see. There was some important political issues regarding physics during the time of your directorship at AIP. I, at least, want to mention, the Supercollider. Was AIP involved in any way with, or reacted to this, or contributed to that issue?
Ford:Not that I recollect. I think that that was left to APS. Through the individual officers of APS, some of whom testified before Congress, and Bob Park, who works for APS.
Kojevnikov:But, returning now to the move to College Park, Maryland— who first found the place, and when was the actual place at College Park first considered? Was it just an empty lot?
Ford:Yes, it was. We retained consultants as I mentioned earlier, first consultants who surveyed the whole United States possible locations. Then after the organizations had settled on the Washington area, we retained a consultant in that area, a real estate firm, who took us around to a variety of sights. All the way from Baltimore, down into Virginia.
Kojevnikov:Were you also considering buying an existing building?
Ford:Yes, that was among the possibilities. We looked at some existing buildings. And the final appeal of the sight we selected in College Park— well, it had several appeals. One, of course, was closeness to the university. And another was closeness to the Metro station, and thus access to downtown Maryland. Another was the potential for growth. The number of acres acquired would accommodate up to about— I've forgotten the exact number, but I think like 450,000 square feet of space. About four times the size of the first building. So the building that exists there now, if I remember my numbers correctly, is around 110,000 square feet, and represents about 1/4 of the legal limit that can be built on that property.
So when we selected the architectural firm, when we selected that site, it was with the thought that not only could AIP and APS expand as the future might call for, but there would be the possibility of attracting other societies, either other Member Societies, or other societies that just had related interests, and form a science ghetto there in that area. So, the big attraction was that, unlike New York City, one could own that land with the potential for future growth. In fact, even relative to downtown Washington, it had that advantage. You would have the potential for growth and own it, and not worry about how you were going to acquire more space when the need arose.
Kojevnikov:But, as far as I know, as yet— there wasn't new— other scientists thinking of moving to that spot. Or, was it just originally decided—
Ford:The original group was four organizations. They are still all there.
Kojevnikov:Okay. Were you personally happy with this choice?
Kojevnikov:But still you mention in your text that you kind of timed the day of your leaving the AIP with the date of the move.
Ford:Yes, but not at all sense because of opposition to the move. I had worked so hard to achieve the move.
Kojevnikov:Why did you retire then?
Ford:Well, I was 67 years old, and I knew that I wanted to step down and retire at around 1967 or 1968. I wanted to do it at an age early enough that I could still maybe have one more career. Writing, or consulting, or editing. Things that I might do in the future. I didn't want to wait too long to start that. But on the other hand, I wanted to hang around long enough to make some significant impact and have a reasonable career at AIP and shepherd it through the move. So the time of completing the move seemed like a reasonable time. My wife told me I did it one or two years too early. She said, "Well, you should have extended that commitment to at least one year in Maryland to help stabilize the new operation there and then retire." But that's a matter of judgment.
Kojevnikov:Okay. But, when you were at the AIP, you commuted to New York City from here, from Philadelphia?
Ford:No, weekly. I lived in a variety of places. For awhile I had an apartment in Manhattan— in fact, two different apartments in Manhattan. But then when I moved my main office out to Long Island I acquired an apartment out there near work. So I spent the week nights in the vicinity of where I was working in New York and then came home to Philadelphia on the weekends.
Kojevnikov:And who were the chief people not happy with the move, besides Havens? I think he said that he did want to move to Washington, D.C., but he didn't want to move to College Park. That's how he presents it. He wanted it to be closer to the political—
Ford:Well, initially of course, he didn't favor moving out of New York City, period. But once it was decided, I guess downtown Washington became his first choice. I don't think Spencer Weart was overjoyed, but he took it in good grace, and he gained three times as much space and a much improved facility. So that somewhat offset whatever disappointment he might have had in leaving New York. I'm trying to think of other individuals. Harry Lustig, likewise, was not overjoyed. But once the decision had been made and once the planning started, he threw himself into it wholeheartedly and was a big asset in the whole design process.
Kojevnikov:Now, if we can go to the fund-raising program of AIP. You mentioned this as a controversial issue. What was the point about— what's controversial about the development program and fund-raising?
Ford:Well, it comes down to the question of representing or serving individual scientists as opposed to organizations. The feeling on the part of some influential people in the individual societies was that if there is to be any fund-raising, any searching for gifts and philanthropy, it should be done by the individual societies, not by AIP. To the extent that we raised money privately, we might interfere with their raising money privately.
Kojevnikov:But were you, indeed, competing for the same potential dollars?
Ford:One never knows. I didn't think so, but it's a possible argument. The argument I made was that, for better or worse, AIP was actually in the business of serving individual scientists. And in a lot of ways, it was costing a lot of money. Physics Today itself was losing— well, I don't remember the number, but it was certainly running at a large deficit. It was nowhere near breaking even. Basically, all the physics programs which were then spending— again, I don't remember the exact number, but let's say $5 million as a round number. We were spending $5 million a year serving individual physicists, through our educational programs, our history program, Physics Today, our statistics program, so I made the argument that, "Here's this set of extremely valuable programs, which are costing more than all the corresponding programs of all the societies put together. It seems legitimate that we should try to supplement publishing income by getting some private money to help support those." The argument did finally prevail, and the development office was approved.
Kojevnikov:Did you have to win approval of member societies, for this move?
Ford:Only to the extent that they were represented on our Governing Board.
Kojevnikov:And did you have allies among societies for this particular thing? APS, I presume, was not very happy about this? How about other societies?
Ford:Well, the Optical Society felt not threatened in the least. Nor did the American Geophysical Union. They were supportive.
Kojevnikov:You mentioned that the issue of fund-raising made a point of friction with the societies. What was the position of the AAPT?
Ford:Well, I'd say major friction with APS, minor friction with the AAPT, and negligible friction with everybody else. As it happened, once I had taken that initiative and leadership, and argued for development activities of AIP, and created a development committee, and hired a development officer, then APS geared up to do something similar on its own. They retained a consultant in fundraising, and spoke of a campaign for physics which I think in some form has, in fact, come into existence.
Kojevnikov:Did your Geophysical Union join AIP during your tenure in New York?
Ford:You mean physically did they join us?
Kojevnikov:When did the Union become a member of AIP?
Ford:They were the last of the ten organizations to join. But it was before my time.
Kojevnikov:Are their relationships with AIP in any way different from other societies? Are they getting services from the AIP?
Ford:Because they were a late Member Society and because they have a large staff of their own, there were pretty much autonomous. They purchased very few services from AIP during my time. I don't know if it's more now.
Kojevnikov:Did it put them in any special role in the AIP, when— or are they more or less interested in the AIP because of that?
Ford:Well, I felt in many ways they could be more objective in terms of being part of our governing structure. Because they didn't feel competitive. They didn't feel we were a competitor. They could be supportive of AIP, and—
Kojevnikov:Or is their presence at AIP mostly of a ceremonial kind.
Ford:No, because their membership on the Governing Board is dictated, in part, by their size, and I believe they're the second biggest society. So they had several members on our Governing Board. Occasionally there were snide comments made by some APS staff members that AGU hardly deserved the power it had and the status at had because, after all, they didn't really use AIP services. But, I valued their participation.
Kojevnikov:Besides some friction with the APS, do you recall any other problems that arose with other societies, or problems between the societies?
Ford:None of significance. One came along when I advocated that SPIE, the International Optical Society become a Member Society. (I've forgotten exactly what the initials SPIE stand for.)
Kojevnikov:You mention Materials Research Society. And SPIE.
Ford:Oh, yes. The Materials Research Society was also interested in becoming a Member Society, and there was not strong opposition on our Governing Board, but in the end, the Materials Research Society itself decided to withdraw it's application, and not seek to become a Member Society. The SPIE, on the other hand was interested in becoming a member society, but they were discouraged principally by members of the Optical Society of America. There may have been some sense of competitiveness. But mostly it was lack of full respect for SPIE. OSA questioned whether SPIE really was a true scientific society in the way that the Optical Society and APS are.
Kojevnikov:Do you feel that your managerial style is somewhat related to you being, at first, a physics professor and academics rather than and administrator? Do you feel that AIP needs to be governed more in an academic management style rather than as a corporation?
Ford:It's been the policy of AIP since it's inception that its director should be a physicist. I think that's a good policy. Whether it be academic or industrial is another matter. But I think it is valuable that it's been led by scientists and not by what you might call professional business managers. I don't put more value on the academic scientist than the industrial one. To the extent that my relations with Member Societies were not uniformly smooth, that's related to my particular motive and character, not to my being an academic.
Kojevnikov:Okay. You also mentioned a couple of problems which were not that substantial. The first, the "book problem", which you say has always been a failure, what's your interpretation of this? What was wrong and what was the main source of the problem?
Ford:I really can't say. The conference proceeding, the publication of proceedings of conferences, had been a long-time activity of AIP. It was modestly profitable, a little better than break even. These volumes were serving the physics community. But the effort to get into a more significant, independent book publishing role just never took off. We kept hoping, we kept preparing budgets and scenarios. We hired another director. I cannot say, even in retrospect, why the broader AIP book program didn't succeed. It may be that in book publishing, you have to build up a long list of books published and in print to have enough volume of activity to begin to make money. Or you have to wait for enough years until you're recognized as a significant name. AIP was known as a publisher of conference proceedings. Dull, dry, monographs that would be read by fewer than 1,000 people. So AIP didn't have the image of a John Wiley, or a McGraw- Hill, or an Addison-Wesley.
Kojevnikov:From my experience I know that AIP books were always very expensive. But that's from the experience of the individual reader. How about PINET? Was it also developed before you came to the AIP?
Ford:Well, some version of PINET existed when I arrived, yes. May I first make just one more remark about the book program. One has to look at it also from the author's point of view. The attitude among authors trying to write for a large market is that the AIP would be the last choice you'd make. If you were writing an advanced graduate monograph, fine, go to AIP. But if you were trying to reach a bigger audience, you'd try for a different publisher. I myself, in working on John Wheeler's autobiography, was asked to consider AIP. Of course, we much preferred to have a large trade publisher in New York City. AIP was very happy with Jeremy Bernstein, a well known author. He did agree to do a book for AIP.
Kojevnikov:By the failure of the program, you mean that it didn't reach a broad audience, and was not profitable? No problems with the books themselves?
Ford:Oh, not at all. We just couldn't get the program up to that critical size and volume that resulted in a net income. But, after all, that's not unknown in corporations. If a company never had any new divisions or new products that didn't pan out, it would indicate that they weren't willing to take any risks.
Kojevnikov:Now, what were the problems with PINET when you joined AIP?
Ford:I wouldn't say PINET was a problem. Rather, I'd say it was a little bit ahead of it's time. Bill Koch was a visionary in the computer area, much to his credit, and he worked to create this thing called PINET, which used to be a dial-in service for physicists. The whole area of computer technology, especially communications, the World Wide Web, and all the rest, has developed so rapidly it's even hard now to realize how primitive things were, in 1985, 1986, or 1987, when PINET was just getting started, more than ten years ago. I was enthusiastic about the concept. I liked to use the term "one-stop-shopping" because I could see that ideally one could have a server into which individual physicists and teachers around the country could dial to get all kinds of relevant physics information. Membership directories, abstracts of forthcoming papers, tables of contents of all the published journals. We didn't yet have any concept of going as far as actually putting up the SPIN database which was already offered for sale as a separate product. But before long we saw the possibility of putting it on line. All that had a lot of appeal.
What I think prevented more rapid advance or greater success with PINET were several things. One was that getting all this information onto a computer was still difficult at that time. Then there was a certain amount of foot-dragging within AIP itself. There were members of our computer staff who didn't believe in PINET. If a person doesn't believe in a product, it's hard to make that person work very hard on it. But I think the number one problem was simply cost. Now, a large organization like America Online can supply you with unlimited access for $20 a month. At that time, we would have lost money if we had provided more than two hours of time for $20, because we had to pay Sprint, or AT&T, or MCI— we had to pay some provider a fee to provide the lines that would connect to our computer, for the people who were dialing in. The lowest rates we could get ended up being about something like $6 an hour, nights and weekends, and $10 an hour during the day. That means to even begin to do a little better than break even, we'd have to charge the users in the range of $10 an hour at night, and $20 an hour in the daytime. This was a great deterrent.
Even though people, at that time, were paying up to $100 an hour for very specialized services— Dialog Information Services, in Palo Alto, for example, which was charging customers around $100 an hour. But that was a whole different thing, where you had information specialists in libraries, or in corporations, whose skill was to dial into that service, get the information they wanted in a minimum amount of time, and log off. They could do it in a few minutes. And then there was the Med-Line service, the medical information service, likewise, very expensive. So, although there were certain very specialized services for which people were willing to pay $100 an hour, going in and out of quickly in a few minutes, I don't think there were enough physicists who could see the value of paying up to $20 an hour to get into a PINET kind of service, we tried various things like packaged deals, annual fees, and so on. We tried to enhance the attractiveness of PINET, but we never developed enough of a user base to come close to breaking even. If you look at it in retrospect now as a training operation, it was very valuable, because it moved toward the product that's now called PINET Plus, which is offered on the World Wide Web. So the access cost for AIP became zero, instead of $10 an hour. What a difference that makes. It means that AIP's cost is only developing the material and posting it, not any communication costs. That makes all the difference, and I see PINET Plus as a tremendously valuable product.
Kojevnikov:I know people at AIP now are very grateful to you for the child care center.
Ford:Yes, I'm happy about that.
Kojevnikov:Was it your personal experience at raising many children that contributed to your concern about having the child care center at AIP?
Ford:Well, I suppose being the parent of quite a few children was a factor. Also, my time as president of New Mexico Tech made me conscious of the need. We had a day care center there that was greatly valued by the staff and the faculty parents. And I just like kids. I'm very conscious of the fact that for families with two working adults, it's terribly important to have adequate child care, and if possible to have that child care provided at the place where one parent works. It makes it much more valuable. So I wanted to move toward that end. I didn't have much sympathy from my fellow officers in the organizations, as we were planning the building. So, in the end, as the building was taking shape, and we were telling the architects what we wanted in it, I had to personally take the initiative and say, "Well, AIP will pay for the child care center. We will regard that as part of our space. It doesn't have to be considered shared space." Because APS and the AAPT didn't want to participate. Even my own treasurer, Arthur Beck, didn't favor it. But he went along with it. And our Governing Board was willing to endorse it.
So that's how it came to be. I think now it is very valued and in fact, I've heard that APS and AAPT now wish to change the arrangements and become part of the center. The Maryland center also afforded me the chance then to push for a child care center at Woodbury. I had been in favor of it earlier, but just hadn't gotten around to pushing for it. Once we had a child care center in the new building in Maryland it seemed absolutely essential for employee morale that we do it also at Woodbury. The Governing Board approved an expenditure of several hundred thousand dollars to build an extension at the building in Woodbury to house a day care center there. As far as I know, both have been quite successful.
Kojevnikov:Now, looking back at your experience at the AIP, what would you mention as the most happiest one; especially regarding personnel decisions. And what would be the most unhappiest experience of yours?
Ford:As to the best personnel decision, that's rather easy to answer, because I think Darlene Carlin is clearly my strongest appointment. Not that I hired her for AIP, but I promoted her and saw her promise, and moved her up to the top position in publishing, and I'm proud of that. I think she's done an extraordinarily fine job.
Kojevnikov:Do you recall perhaps any kind of episode or either first encounter with her where her talents would become obvious to you?
Ford:No, I can't remember specifics. Just over time, I witnessed her work and her talent with her subordinates and her budgeting savvy. (I keep calling her Darlene Carlin, which is what she was then. I know that she's Darlene Walters now.) Certainly my least successful appointment was Robert Baensch, who didn't work out for various reasons. He was unsuitable for the publishing director position.
Kojevnikov:Was he your appointment? How did you find him? Where did you find him?
Ford:Through a search firm.
Kojevnikov:I see. And if now looking back at your bigger career, the general career, what do you think was the luckiest choice you made, or the best piece of pie that you've had? And, on the other hand, if you can think of something— the choices that you've made, that you now regret, that you wouldn't have repeated with the experience that you have now?
Ford:Well, in a broad sense, jumping around so much is probably the thing that I most regret. I think I held too many jobs in too many places, and stayed in individual places too short a time. There wasn't any strong compelling reason why I should have left Indiana, or why I should have left Brandeis. But, looking back on it I see also the positive side. I had an enormous number of quite varied, quite interesting, quite challenging responsibilities over my life. I have had a chance to do some significant physics research, some meaningful, highly enjoyable teaching, some writing, some administration and management, all of which have been, in their own ways, rewarding.
As I look at myself now and say, "What are you?" I'd have to answer, "Teacher, writer, and one- time researcher." These things rank first. It's still hard, despite my having been a college president, and Director of AIP, both very significant and important positions which were fun in their time, it's hard for me to define myself in terms of those positions. I look at them as positions which I filled for a certain period of time, trying to serve my profession, physics - or, more broadly, my profession as an academic But these were not positions that I sought, and not positions in which I felt I had reached my pinnacle of success and reward. Nor was I successful without altercation in either role. I did a lot for New Mexico Tech. I think the history of that organization will show that I was a very positive, important force in its development, although at the same time I ran afoul of negative faculty opinion, and finally had to leave because of disagreements with the faculty.
At AIP, again, I think I did a lot of very important things and helped to move the organization forward. But I can't say I was a complete success in human relations. In dealing with the societies, with the principal officers and staff members of the societies, I don't feel that I was terribly successful. I did create some hostilities, and some tensions, that I regret. But, that seems to be my nature. I get overambitious in what I try to accomplish, and perhaps don't spend enough time doing the necessary work of dealing with my fellow human beings and getting them on board in support of what I'm trying to do. Now, in retirement, here I am as a writer and a teacher. And very happy indeed with those roles.
Kojevnikov:It seems that from all possible jobs that you may have had, you had all kinds of them except for the public politics and government consulting.
Kojevnikov:Did you ever try or did you ever participate in some of the consultations for the government agencies, or did you ever get involved in questions of public politics?
Ford:No, I haven't.
Kojevnikov:Was this your intention, or just all those matters weren't too important for you?
Ford:Well, it's a matter of being invited, not just tempted. Some people who have had a career like mine might, for instance, include a stint at the end, of one or more years, to go and work for the National Science Foundation. That never held any appeal for me at all. I'm not much of a bureaucratic. I don't think I would have fared well in the halls of Washington in such a staff role. As to serving on the advisory committees, I suppose I would have accepted if asked. I don't believe I was ever invited to do so. Then there's the foundation world, and I am, in fact, about to enter that.*
Kojevnikov:And were there any open discussions of these issues, which relate to physics?
Ford:By open discussions, do you mean with colleagues?
Kojevnikov:Maybe, in signing statements or joining your co-workers in some kinds of actions. Or, even publishing on matters of political importance for physicists.
Ford:No. (However, I was a bit of an activist during the Vietnam era.)
Kojevnikov:Did you have any personal take on the matter of the Supercollider, which divided many physicists?
Ford:I was a strong supporter, but I didn't take any active public role in making that support evident. In fact, I didn't even contact my own Senators and members of Congress to urge their support. I was kind of passive in the political arena.
Kojevnikov:Okay, well thank you. I have to thank you for this most interesting interview.
Ford:If there are a few minutes left there, I'd like to spend a few minutes on this question of style. You may have skipped over it for a good reason but..... Looking back on a tenure like the AIP directorship, six and a half years, you have to think about how you view your own service and how others will view your service. You can't base an assessment only on objective majors of what happened to the budget over the years, what happened regarding the net earnings, what happened to individual physics programs, what happened to the move to Washington, what happened to the book program. I think also important are a bunch of things that I lump under the heading of "style." The change in the appearance of the organization. The change in the public face of the organization. Those are, to me, not trivial. They are of some importance. Maybe not as important as these other issues, but I feel proud of the fact that I organized the re-design of the logo of the AIP. Led the re-design of all of its journal covers. And the re-design of the annual report, from a dry-as-dust document to a more readable, appealing one.
Kojevnikov:By style, you mean mostly aesthetic, imagery, or also things related to personal relationships?
Ford:Both. Besides image, I would include also the style of work. Does one work behind two sets of closed doors and require an appointment to be seen? Or does one work with an open door to a corridor and encourage people to walk in at any time? I like the latter approach. Does one try hard to make employees feel good about their work?
Kojevnikov:What was the approach of Koch, your predecessor's.
Ford:He was probably a little less approachable, although he was considered reasonably approachable by staff.
Kojevnikov:And I think he identified himself with the organization much closer than you did, in the way that you described that, you feel more like a teacher, and he was much more a AIP person.
Ford:Yes, I think that's right.
Kojevnikov:Did you participate in choosing who succeeded you?
Ford:Not at all.
Kojevnikov:Did you have any ideas, or any visions of what that person would—
Ford:I shouldn't say, "Not at all." I was allowed to interview. I was not a member of the search committee. But, I and my fellow officers did interview the final candidates, about four or five candidates, including Mark Brodsky, who was chosen. But we had no role in actually selecting. We were allowed to comment about those five, so in that sense we did have some input, but it was a different body that made the choice.
Kojevnikov:Did you have an opportunity to offer him your advice? Or, if you didn't, would you like to do that now?
Ford:Oh, I think in the real world that doesn't happen. You know, executive A is stepping aside, executive B arrives, and says, "I hope you'll be near your telephone because I know I'm going to be calling you up frequently to get your advice." It doesn't happen. It didn't happen when I replaced Koch, and it didn't happen when Brodsky replaced me.
Kojevnikov:Okay. And also, do you feel that in the recent decade or so, physics, as a profession, feels the need to acquire a new image? Especially in how it is viewed by the public, and that physics as a discipline in the community as a profession, would now have to adapt to the changes in society, and try to also change its image in the public?
Ford:Well, I think physics as a discipline of study in schools and colleges desperately needs an improved image. It continues to be regarded, as it has for many decades, as one of the most difficult, demanding subjects, there's only some high priesthood of people who can really understand it. I continue to feel strongly that the physics profession has to work very, very hard to try and reverse that. In my new role as a high school physics teacher, in my own small way, in a small group, I am trying to work toward that end. To create an environment such that the high school student emerges from school thinking physics is an interesting, exciting subject, not a terrifying, hopelessly difficult subject. I think that's the first step toward improving or changing the adult attitude toward the discipline of physics. It's how it's viewed as a discipline of study in school.
Kojevnikov:Is it just making physics teaching more fun, or, are there several other ways to approach this way of how physics is taught? The amount of mathematics is, of course, one parameter. But also, one can think of some fun things about physics, that can excite pupils. And one can also possibly think about getting physics closer to the everyday experience of people, like, explaining electronic devices, and how they work. What would you prefer among these options?
Ford:Two different things. One is what you've just been talking about, relating physics to everyday experiences in meaningful ways. There are lots of ways to do that in teaching physics, to use examples from every day life. Automobiles, baseballs, and so on. But beyond that, the student can find a lot of excitement in things that are not grasped as part of every day life. That includes satellites, it can include the solar system, it can include special relativity and time dilation. There are things in physics that are a little beyond the realm of everyday experience but can still be grasped, and can still be made interesting. The beginning student can get very excited about it. So, I think both of those are important. And both relate to what we are now calling conceptual physics, with emphasis on the concepts and concerning both the big ideas and the excitement of what they say about the world in which we live, and the connection with the everyday world.
Kojevnikov:Did you have any experience with the magazine Quantum?
Ford:Yes, I've seen it. I subscribe to it.
Kojevnikov:Do you think it's useful for teaching physics or what would be your opinion on that?
Ford:Well, it's very, very advanced for high school students. There's not one in a hundred high school students who can profitably read it, in my opinion. It's a wonderful magazine.
Kojevnikov:Could it be read by teachers?
Ford:Yes, it could be — do you mean high-school teachers.
Kojevnikov:Useful for high school teachers?
Ford:Yes, it could be. Yes. Definitely. It would give them ideas on how to present things. It would be interesting for college students. I admire the magazine, but I don't find a way to use it with my students in high school.
Kojevnikov:Do you think that maybe paying more attention to teaching physics at the high school level would be an important thing to do at AIP? Perhaps by having some kind of publication of this sort, or for the teachers in high school and possibly high school students?
Ford:Well, it should come from AAPT if anywhere. Conceivably, AIP and AAPT together, but certainly not AIP alone.
Kojevnikov:The American Journal of Physics is, again, for teachers, and it's not that much fun as it could be for children audience.
Ford:The Physics Teacher, the second magazine of the AAPT, is widely read by high school physics teachers, and it's certainly very good. It's not aimed at their students though, it's aimed at the teachers.
Kojevnikov:But nowadays AAPT doesn't publish anything aimed at high school students?
Kojevnikov:Okay, so, is there anything else you'd like to say? No? Then thank you very much.
*David and Lucile Packard Foundation, 1997–1999.
Session I | Session II