Oral History Transcript — Dr. Donald S. Hayes
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Donald Hayes; November 13, 1977
ABSTRACT: Short focused interview dealing with early life in Southern California; training at Pomona College and UCLA; research at Lick on absolute calibration standards; A.E. Whitford and G. Kron and photoelectric astronomy; position at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute and the contemporary job market.
DeVorkin:This is a focused interview on your scientific career at Rensselaer, and the events that led you out to Tucson, and how you feel in general about tenure and the general state of professionalism in astronomy today.
Hayes:Well, where would you like me to start? Chronologically?
DeVorkin:Yes. I think to begin, give a very brief biographical sketch, just one or two statements on how you got interested in astronomy, what kind of astronomy you're interested in, and where you went to school.
Hayes:You know that I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles. I was born in Los Angeles, but from about three years of age I lived in San Gabriel, California, then in Temple City and then in Arcadia, I became interested in astronomy in junior high school, when I became aware of mathematics and science in particular. I read books by Jeans, which I found very influential. I remember THE UNIVERSE AROUND US was the title of one book that made a big impression on me, and I built a small refracting telescope to look at Mars when I was in junior high school. In high school, I had a very wide interest in science and engineering — airplanes, all kinds of things. It wasn't until I got to Pomona College, that I really settled down to astronomy. Paul Routly was the astronomy department at Pomona, and I took a number of courses with him and enjoyed them immensely.
DeVorkin:What did your father do?
Hayes:He's a certified public accountant, now retired.
DeVorkin:Was there any interest in science in the family?
Hayes:No. Well, my brother had quite an interest in science when he was in high school. He's five years older than I am, and he built various electronics devices as a hobby, and had a chemistry set and things like that. I was influenced by him. He was interested in a lot of other things too—sports and politics and such, and is now a lawyer. Even now he has a great interest in electronics, and I think I got some of my interest from him, in scientific things. My father had a background in construction, and had an amateur interest in engineering. So I think the whole family is oriented to that sort of thing. I'm the only one who has had what you'd call a professional interest in science.
DeVorkin:How did you choose Pomona College?
Hayes:Well, I think mostly because my brother went there. But also, it looked like the kind of school I would enjoy. I had wide interests in high school, including history and philosophy. I had a National Merit Scholarship and could, for example, have gone to Cal Tech if I had wanted to. It's not too clear to me now exactly what the reasons were. I think the fact that my brother had gone to Pomona was a big factor, if for no other reason than it gave me some familiarity with the place. But also, I liked enough other things and I didn't really want to go to a school that only had science. And it turns out that it was a good choice. I really enjoyed Pomona, and during my last two years, I took quite a number of philosophy courses, including philosophy of science. I liked the idea of the small college atmosphere, the liberal arts college, and in fact, some time it would be nice to get back to teaching in that kind of environment.
Hayes:And it's a good school. That's an understatement.
DeVorkin:OK, you've identified Paul Routly. But let's move on, because this is a focused interview. Normally, I would want to know more about him. How did you choose to go to UCLA?
Hayes:Well, let me fill in some intervening things. Although I enjoyed astronomy at Pomona and did well in it, at the time when, during my senior year, when I should have thought of going to graduate school, I was not absolutely certain that I wanted to go to graduate school in astronomy. I had some interest in math and in some other things. Instead of going directly to graduate school, I took a job which Routly had originally suggested, and had used his contacts to help me get, in the astronomy department at Cal Tech, I measured radial velocities for Jesse Greenstein, and also used the microdensitometer to scan spectra for both Greenstein and J. G. Oke. I was in that job for about eight months, during the summer of ‘61, into the early spring of ‘62, and it was during that time that I decided for sure that I wanted to go to graduate school in astronomy. I applied to graduate schools at that time. I applied to both Berkeley and UCLA, and UCLA offered a TA so I went there.
DeVorkin:That was the deciding factor?
DeVorkin:Were there economic problems involved? Did you have to support yourself?
Hayes:Yes. Without an assistantship I wouldn't have been able to go to graduate school.
DeVorkin:OK. At UCLA, how did your interests develop in terms of the types of research that you became interested in doing? You started by taking a lot of courses?
Yes, I took courses and enjoyed them, and in the first couple of years was most interested in the theoretical courses in stellar structure. During one summer, I guess it was the summer after my first year there, I worked under Ray Weymann, as an assistant with another fellow, Garry Wengrow, who was an undergraduate and a good programmer. We built some stellar models and were investigating some things having to do with red giant stars and their evolution. I enjoyed that work. But it was the summer after my second year there that I was a summer student at Lick Observatory. And I fell in love with Lick Observatory the minute I first saw it. I was assigned to work with Gerry Kron in his lab for the summer. I also had another project that D. Popper of UCLA had suggested, of observing an eclipsing binary, and I did that, using the 22-inch Tauchman reflector, the 24 inch reflector and the Crossley.
So I got to do observing as well. I worked in Kron's lab, making measurements of the response of photomultipliers at different temperatures, and I also got to watch their work on the Kron tube. It was a fabulous summer. It opened up a whole new world for me. That was the summer of ‘64. I had one more year, my third year of courses plus taking exams, and I also asked Kron to be my thesis advisor. We had a project that he had suggested that sounded good. But then during that year, he completed negotiations to go to become director of the Flagstaff Station of the Naval Observatory, and I had to find a substitute. I thought of the idea of extending the work that he had done with Joel Stebbins on the absolute calibration of the six color system, by comparing it with tungsten strip lamps. Joe Wampler had built his single channel programmable scanner, just a year or two before I had come to Lick, and I had used it briefly during that summer. I thought of the idea of scanning the tungsten strip lamps, and then doing an absolute calibration. Kron gave his blessing to it and loaned me the standard lamps, and arranged with A. B, Whitford to be my thesis advisor. So in June of ‘65, I went to Lick to start that work, and of course it was that summer that you and I were roommates.
DeVorkin:Did you have any direct experience where you would become familiar with the relationship between Whitford and Kron? During that period of time, before Kron left?
Hayes:During that time and after, I heard some gossip about Kron and Whitford. But all of what I heard is quite second hand, and I never took the trouble to try to trace it down carefully. I was aware that there was considerable tension and if you want me to, I can tell you what I know that I think is worth repeating. I'm not sure who the source was. Some of it was maybe even third hand information. I may have heard some from Jim Moorehead, who had been up there a couple of summers,
DeVorkin:Yes. Well, chances are he would have heard the stories too.
Hayes:Right. I honestly am not sure. Some of it I got from Gerry Kron directly.
DeVorkin:Well, those are the ones we'd be most interested in.
Hayes:Let me just sketch what I know. Apparently, it started some time in the fifties (Whitford started in ‘58 at Lick.) soon after Whitford became director. He was aware that people were developing various kinds of image tubes, such as the McGee tube and the Lallemand tube, and decided that Lick Observatory should have an image tube program. As it turned out, both Merle Walker and Gerry Kron started such work, and they went in quite different directions. I don't know why both of them started it, but when I got there, they were both engaged in image tube programs. Merle Walker was using the Lallemand tube, which was imported from France. He made no major attempt at developing the tube. He made minor improvements, but for the most part depended upon Lallemand's laboratory to supply him with the photo-cathodes and other things that he needed to keep the tubes running. Gerry Kron is an engineer at heart,
DeVorkin:—and by training—
And by training up to the Master's level, indeed. He took the path of trying to develop something better. You know that in the Lallemand tube, a new photo-cathode is used every time you want to take a set of plates. You have to take the tube apart, put a little capsule in which is sealed around the photo-cathode, seal up the tube and evacuate it, and then move the photo-cathode into place. Oh, before you do that, you break the little envelope around it, using a magnet, and then move the photo -cathode into place, take your plates, and then when you open up the tube to take the plates out, the photo- cathode is destroyed. Gerry Kron had the idea of putting in a valve which would maintain the high vacuum in the chamber where the photo-cathode was, and separate it from the chamber where the plates were, so that he didn't have to replace the photo-cathode. He started that development at Lick Observatory, went to Australia for a year, came back and continued the development, and the progress was much, much slower than he foresaw.
He assessed the possibilities as being very high, but for a number of years, was never able to produce hard evidence that in fact, it was going to work. I'm surmising and relying on poor memory, but I think that some time about then, the tension began to develop, because Merle Walker was doing astronomy with the Lallemand tube and getting results. Gerry Kron was working and working, and he would occasionally take a test photograph, which would be out of focus or something, and he would extrapolate and say that he was going to reach some very faint limiting magnitude with a 20-inch telescope. He would give a colloquium to the Lick Staff. And he would keep doing this, and years would go by, and no results would come out, and he would have one technical problem after another. To be fair, what he was doing was a very difficult problem, and he was doing it with limited resources. It was just not the sort of thing one should really try undertaking in that kind of environment. Now, in the long run, he has been proven correct, about the potential of the tube. It finally has been developed and is working superbly. But it's still a very difficult machine to use. It's certainly not the kind of thing you can just plug in and push a button to make work.
Several observatories are currently using it, and it produces fantastic results, when used properly. I think it was at that time that Whitford must have put pressure on Kron, to stop this project, because it was using up so many resources and no “astronomy” was coming out, Walker was getting results, and Whitford, I guess, felt that one image tube project was enough for Lick Observatory. I don't know any more than that about what was going on. I suspect that the tension between Kron and Whitford must have had quite a bit to do with Kron going to the Flagstaff Station of the Naval Observatory. I don't think that was a particularly good move for Kron in other respects.
DeVorkin:What do you mean?
Hayes:Well, in the sense that Kron really by nature was not an administrator, and that he found administrative duties there burdensome, and wasn't particularly successful at carrying them through. So he would have been better off to stay at a place like Lick Observatory, if he could have.
DeVorkin:How were Whitford's talents at administration?
Hayes:Well, I haven't gotten a really good feeling for that. During the time I was at Lick Observatory, it seemed to me that the place was well run, and Whitford was always very friendly, very helpful to me, during my thesis work. I felt in awe of him. I'm shy by nature, and with somebody like Whitford, I was quite shy, and only went in every month or two, to tell him what I was doing. He was always very cordial and helpful. And whenever I wanted anything done like having tree limbs cut down, so that from the Crossley, I could see up to the Tauchman dome where I had my standard lamp - - he was always good about that. I had to buy a precision resistor box, and he got that, with no objections at all, and I had to have some calibrations of a standard resistor done down at Berkeley, and he arranged for that. You know, he was very good in every respect, but as far as his ability to run an observatory in a way that would keep the staff happy, I really didn't get a feel for that.
DeVorkin:OK. Can we move on to Rensselaer from here, or is there any particular thing you'd like to talk about in your graduate years?
Hayes:No, I think that that completes it. I'd only make one comment, and that is that I felt that being up at Lick Observatory had a very great influence on my career. At least, during the time when the staff lived on the mountain, it was a very favorable environment for a graduate student. You were with astronomers, real working research astronomers, all the time. It was a nice atmosphere.
DeVorkin:You didn't feel you got that kind of exposure at UCLA to any great extent?
Hayes:Well, no. I want to make clear, that I'm not trying to say that the people there weren't research astronomers, but the people at Lick Observatory were at it full time. There was less of the formal teacher-student relationship at Lick Observatory. It was more a feeling of equality as colleagues. So that was helpful. Also I was interested in what they were doing at Lick Observatory, and loved it as a place, and was not so interested in the possibilities at UCLA. There just wasn't anybody there doing the kinds of things I was doing. I enjoyed Ed Upton's courses, and I enjoyed him as a person, and could easily have gotten into the group of graduate students doing stellar structure that Upton gathered around him. But I felt that I was too weak in physics to get into stellar structure theory. And since I fell in love with Lick Observatory and enjoyed what was going on there, and I liked working with telescopes, I forgot about stellar structure.
DeVorkin:There was no resistance on the part of the UCLA faculty?
Hayes:No, I detected no resistance whatsoever. In fact, C. H. Aller put me under one of his NSF grants as a research assistant, to pay my salary while I was at Lick. Popper was always very helpful. They were the two people I had the most contact with. I got nothing but encouragement from UCLA.
DeVorkin:Good, OK, Do you think there's any reason at this point to make any comments about UCLA as a graduate department during the years you were there?
Hayes:Well, I can make comments. But I'm not sure they would be helpful in this context.
DeVorkin:OK, The important question right now, then is, how did you end up going to Rensselaer? Did you hear of an advertised job?
No, I heard of it through Aller. Mayo Greenberg was at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and he had gotten into interstellar train theory by then. During 1967 he came to California to visit Aller and Whitford. He told Aller that he was looking for an observational astronomer, and Aller passed on the information to me, and I wrote back. I had applied to other places, and was actually offered a job at Carleton College. Although I had not visited RPI and had visited Carleton, I had the feeling that I should go to a place where I could get some research done. I loved small colleges, and Carleton is a very fine one, but I was not in love with Minnesota at all. I decided that RPI would be a better place for me. In the long run, that was probably right, although I will have some things to tell you that might cast doubt on it.
But I think in the long run it was right, that my research career benefited by my going to RPI. There were a number of things about RPI that were good, and a number of things that were not good at all, and some of the things that were not good then— that resulted, for example, in my not getting tenure at PI were particular to PPI, and some of them were particular to the state of academic science at the time. And the state of the American economy. I think all these issues are interesting. I'll try to concentrate on some of the more general ones, rather than the particular ones. When I got to RPI, I was expected to teach introductory physics, as well as astronomy, and that required quite a bit of preparation during the first couple of years. The people there were very favorably inclined towards quality teaching, and that was good, but it meant spending a lot of time at it. Furthermore, I tended to be quite nervous getting into the classroom, especially the first couple of years and as a consequence would over-prepare. In order to feel at all confident in the classroom, I had to know everything cold and had to have about three lectures prepared to talk about, because I could never be sure at first how much material I would get through in a lecture.
DeVorkin:Were the students very inquisitive and competitive with you?
Yes, Well, not competitive with me, but they were very bright students—very interested in what one was doing, and if you did a good job, they were very responsive. And that's both good and bad. It's very rewarding, but it also meant spending a lot of time with the students. Furthermore, they required seniors to get involved in outside research projects, on their own, and even encouraged juniors and sophomores to do so, too. I enjoyed working with them so I always had up to a half dozen students at various levels working with me in special projects. The net result is that during the first three years or so at RPI, I got almost nothing else done besides teaching. As far as my research was concerned, I think the thing that really saved my research career was getting involved with the absolute calibration project at Mt. Hopkins with Dave Latham. Dave Latham was at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which you know is in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and so, not too far away from RPI.
Here's an important link. Just about the time I was finishing up at Lick Observatory and about to leave, Steve Strom gave a colloquium. It was on some aspect of stellar atmospheres, I think the Non-LTE effects, but I've forgotten. One of the things he mentioned was the need for an absolute calibration, in particular a calibration of the Balmer and Paschen discontinuities of B and A type stars. In the discussion period following, I told him that I was completing an absolute calibration, and he was very interested, and invited me to visit the SAO when I got back to Troy. And I did that, and it was there that I met Dave Latham. He was a student of Owen Gingerich in the stellar atmospheres group at the Smithsonian, and had been contemplating doing an absolute calibration. So he read over my thesis, and decided he wanted to collaborate. They were setting up the Mt. Hopkins observatory at the time, and Dave was building a scanner which had characteristics similar to the Wampler scanner that I had used at Lick. So we agreed to collaborate, and it turned out to extend over several years.
Neither one of us had to spend a lot of time on the project when we were away from Mt. Hopkins. What it required was a couple or three weeks spent twice a year at Mt. Hopkins, intensively working with the equipment. I built the standard sources. I remember another thing that influenced my continuing research career was a mini-symposium that Dimitri Mihalis organized at JILA, the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, in Boulder. It was the summer of '68, and I was invited to come. He had a number of people there who had worked on absolute calibrations and related problems. They included some stellar atmosphere types and some of the laboratory astrophysics types from JILA. One person he had there was Henry Kistkowski from the National Bureau of Standards, who worked in the radiation thermometry division. He was an expert on standard sources - on standard lamps and black bodies and the like — and he told us about some new types of standard laboratory standard sources. Subsequently, I used the copper-point black bodies, which were designed for field use and which were inexpensive and easy to use. He had recommended them; they had been developed at the NBS. Also, Bev Oke and Rudy Schild at Hale Observatories used the same kind of NBS copper black body, and also ran an NBS strip lamp in their calibration project. They originally had started using the platinum point black body, but it turned out that the platinum point black body data was the weakest. So the mini-symposium that Dimitri organized had a significant influence on the progress of absolute calibrations, at about that time,
DeVorkin:So you were getting a lot of exposure to people who were interested in similar problems, and also to people who were able to appreciate what you were doing. What about RPI itself? Were there people at the school who were knowledgeable enough to appreciate what you were doing?
Well, yes and no. The two astronomers there who had the best background in astrophysics were Allan Meltzer and Mayo Greenberg, Mayo actually was a physicist, not an astronomer. He had by then worked enough in the interstellar extinction field to be able to have some appreciation of astronomy. They were encouraging, but neither one of them had worked in photometry or absolute calibrations or stellar spectroscopy or model atmospheres. So as far as appreciating in particular the kinds of things I was doing, they just didn't have the background. And RPI, although it does have a strong teaching orientation, also encourages research very strongly. So it wasn't a bad environment from that standpoint. In fact promotion and tenure is based on research and certainly not to such a great extent on your teaching quality.
I was able to get support at RPI, I got small grants from the local research committee, which had money from an NSF institutional research grant. I got money to build the black bodies and to travel to Arizona, Dave and I were able to carry out our project, and it went very well. As I said before, the absolute calibration project did not take an awful lot of time when we were not at Mt. Hopkins. The rest of my time was spent teaching. I also felt the need for some extra money, so during the summers, I taught in various NSF summer programs for high school teachers. So even during the summers I didn't do a lot of research, during the first three to four years I was at RPI. Now, Mayo Greenberg left about the middle of the time I was there. I don't recall precisely what year it was. He went to Leiden for a year, came back for about a year, and then left RPI. Just at that time, there were several students who were nearing the point in their graduate career where they would want to start thesis research.
Two in particular were interested in observational work rather than theoretical work, so I took them on as PhD students. These were George Mavko and Ken Rex. I also had several Master's students at one time or another. So I began at that time to take on the responsibilities of training graduate students. I tried to cut back my commitments to undergraduate students. By that time, I was maturing in my teaching. All the over-preparation which kept me from getting research done in the early years began to pay off, and I could begin to teach the courses off the top of my head. I found that I could spend much less time teaching. So I began to spend more time on research and began to develop the interstellar extinction project, which actually developed out of some things I had observed at Lick Observatory. While looking at reddened early type stars with a scanner, I noticed that the reddened ones had a shape which showed structure, which you wouldn't expect if the reddening law were smooth, as everybody had supposed before then.
By necessity, yes. The observational precision was not all that high before scanners were used. And I remember analyzing some of the data that Whiteoak had gotten at Mt. Wilson and published in 1966. I realized that there was some structure there that had to be attributed to interstellar reddening, because the energy distributions of 0 type stars were well recognized to be quite smooth. During the first year or two I was at RPI, I did a little more fiddling with this and showed it to Mayo, and he was very encouraging. But it wasn't until I got the graduate students that I began to develop it. This was the discovery of the very broad band structure, which I've been working on for quite some time since then. Although minimally we had a two course teaching load at PPI, with the graduate students and those undergraduate students that I still had, I had a very heavy teaching load. I also was involved pretty heavily in the department committees, I was on the graduate committee for a number of years, was on the department policy committee which advised the chairman of the department on various policy decisions, and participated at one time or another in such things as the chairman selection committee.
So I was not progressing in research as rapidly as one might like, and that may have played a role in the fact that I didn't get tenure. When I came up for tenure the first time, which was in the middle of my fifth year there, the question simply was not considered by the administration, because at that time the finances of the Institute had become quite tight. We had a new president, Richard Grosh. He had come in essentially on the ticket of conserving the resources of the Institute. This was at a time when the Stock Market was down, and the government was cutting back in their support of research.
DeVorkin:That was that year?
Hayes:It was my fifth year, 1972. The physics department, and indeed the whole school of science at RPI was already very heavily tenured. They had taken in a lot of fairly young people during the sixties, and the physics department was about 80 percent tenured, and they simply said, “No, we're not going to give anybody tenure this year.” But they gave one other fellow, a physicist, and I, three year contracts, with the implication that they would reconsider tenure later.
DeVorkin:Did they kick anybody out at that point?
Hayes:No, I don't want to go through the whole history, at least right now, of who has or who hasn't gotten tenure in the Physics Department at RPI, but at this stage there were only two of us involved. Nothing was done the following year, which was the first year of my three year extended contract. But the three year contract, plus the total number of years I had been at RPI, made me eligible to go on sabbatical leave, and I chose to go to Tucson and spend the year as a visiting scientist with the Mt. Hopkins Observatory. While I was there, they reconsidered me for tenure.
DeVorkin:Was your wife, Sethanne, in Tucson at that time?
Hayes:Yes, She was a Research Assistant at Kitt Peak National Observatory. But at that time, the Institute finances were still tight. My tenure file went all the way up through the promotion and tenure committee, which was made up of members of the administration and faculty, and was approved. After that step, normally it's a rubber stamp. But it was stopped by the Provost, who was an engineer and who was essentially taking the line that at RN which at that time was beginning to decide that it should emphasize engineering again astronomy was an exotic field, and that tenure for somebody in astronomy was probably not a wise thing.
DeVorkin:How did you learn this decision?
Hayes:I was told this by the department chairman. I was in telephone contact with the department chairman, Phil Casabella, quite regularly during this time. And so, I was not given tenure at RPI. Some discussion went on at that time between the department chairman and the Provost. Also, I had talked to the dean of the School of Science before I left about the astronomy program at RN and what I thought the future was, and he was a very strong supporter. During the time I was gone, he also had had meetings with the Provost. But apparently the Provost really didn't want to be convinced. And the way the department chairman, Phil, represented it to me, was that I was a problem that Provost Lowey hoped would go away. He's still the Provost at RPI. So, it was at this time that I was offered the temporary position at ASU, and I took it and resigned from RPI, even though I had another year left in my contract at RPI.
DeVorkin:Had you actively pursued any other positions at this point?
Hayes:Oh yes. During the year I was at Mt. Hopkins, I applied for a number of positions at various places and got nothing.
DeVorkin:Why was that? What kinds of places were you applying to? Did they have advertised positions open?
Yes, they were positions advertised in PHYSICS TODAY or the American Astronomical Society listings of open positions. And nearly every year since then, since I've been on one year contracts each year at ASU, and I'm in my third year there now, I've applied for positions at various places, and haven't gotten even a nibble. The interesting thing was that I got into the position at ASU because there was a position open which was advertised during the year I was at Mt. Hopkins. I applied for it, but they were really looking for a theoretician in stellar structure, because S. Starrfield was there, and that's his field. But I came in third in the coin- petition, behind Per Aannestad, who was a theoretician in interstellar grains and who was represented to me as being a superstar. He really is good, there's no question about that. After him was a fellow, whose name I never learned, who was in Summer Starrfield's field and who eventually went to a post-doc at Los Alamos.
Then, after they selected Aannestad for the position, they found that one of the physicists who had taught some astronomy in the past, was going to go on leave the following year, and they wanted somebody to replace him who could teach astronomy. Since I had come in third in the competition for the permanent job, they called me first, and I accepted it. The fellow who left had intended from the beginning to be gone for two years. The second year was not at all certain, but it was eventually granted, so I stayed two years. Then after he came back it was a different faculty line that I filled to get the present year contract at ASU.
DeVorkin:How do you feel about Rensselaer doing what they did, in considering the general tenor of the times? Was it a justified move on their part, for fiscal reasons, or do you think it was unjustified? Do you feel it was an impersonal decision, as opposed to a personal decision?
Hayes:I don't know. It's always hard to tell about that sort of thing, and I tend to be sometimes a bit insecure about evaluating myself and my accomplishments. It's easy to fall into the trap of suspecting various things that could have caused them to make it a personal decision. For example, I never had an NSF grant to support research while I was there. I always got my money through the local research committee at RPI. And it was always small grants. Well, one could say that had I had a large research grant while I was there, that it might have influenced things. At the time, RPI was leaning rather heavily on the faculty to go out and bring money in. Their budgets were very tight.
DeVorkin:Do you think your teaching responsibilities kept you from engaging in any major programs at that time?
Well, there's no question about that. But I think that for every scientist there's a period of maturing which takes several years after the PhD. With respect to such things as being able to go out and raise money, and publicize one's work, I have matured more slowly than some others. For example, one of my colleagues at RPI, whose name is Larry Katz, is a crystallographer. Eventually he got into biophysics, using his electron microscopes to look at the structure of bone and dental tissue. At the time, especially the latter years that I was at RPI, he was running a pretty good sized operation that was bringing in well over $100,000 a year to RPI. But this is something that developed later in his career. He was a full professor at that time, and had been at RPI for 15 to 20 years. And he said that if they were using the criteria when he was an assistant professor that they were using at the time I was there, he would never have gotten tenure. It was only after he had been at RPI for seven or eight years that he began to develop a program that began to bring in all this money. And I think it's probably true that most astronomers, most physical scientists anyway, don't really achieve full maturity in their research careers, and the ability to develop large programs, for a number of years after they complete the PhD. And at the time, things had gotten so tight that schools were applying very strict criteria.
So, if you didn't mature in your research career very quickly, you could very easily get caught in the crunch, and be denied tenure. That was a major factor in my case. But I think that there is a very large component of RPI's decision which was indeed an impersonal one, in that I think Lowey genuinely considered as astronomy an exotic field at the time, and both he and the president, Grosh, were being very conservative in their decisions. Now, Grosh was forced out, a year or two after that, and the new president, George Low, is liberal and expansionist. He headed the Apollo program during the sixties and was an RPI alumnus. I just visited the Institute a couple of days ago, and I will be visiting more next week. Since Low's arrival RPI has changed its character tremendously. He's all for expanding the Institute and making it a quality institution, whereas Grosh was the kind who was very conservative in his thoughts. And he was more of a mind to cut the faculty than to expand the program.
DeVorkin:Why was he forced out? For that reason?
Hayes:Well, he did not communicate well to the faculty his view of what the crisis was and how it should be dealt with. He was more the type to simply announce a decision, such as one which would cause the faculty to have to make a sacrifice, like a small raise in salaries or other such things. And it was this lack of communication which caused most of the problem. Plus several years of poor raises. Now, during this time, as you know, a number of schools, a large number of the private schools, especially, had very tight bud gets, and had to cut faculty and cut salaries. But the ones which were able to ride out the crisis the best were the ones in which the administration communicated clearly to the faculty, and let the faculty have at least some say in what sacrifices were to be made. At RPI, Grosh tended to make all the decisions himself, and the faculty heard of them by fiat, and had very little input. They even tried to form a union. It may have been voted in, but it turned out not to be necessary, because just before the union election Grosh announced his resignation and that he would leave the job as of the following June. This was some time in the fall. But this wasn't something I was directly concerned, with, because all this occurred while I was in Arizona. These were tough times at all schools, so it's not too surprising that something like this would happen, and of course the situation at ASU is similar.
DeVorkin:But it's a completely different school.
It's a completely different school; it's a state school, but the economic depression had its effect, so there just has not been a permanent line available to hire an astronomer. I have a lot of support in the department there. People have praised my work and said that they would very much like to hire me permanently. There was a permanent line because of a retirement a year ago, and it was put up to a vote of the department, as to who the line should go to, and they decided by a very close vote to give it to solid state physics. That was because there was a very large group there. The most distinguished member of the physics department at ASU is John Cowley, who works in electron microscopy. It was felt by the department that his group was due another member, because it was very successful. But the implication at the time was that the next permanent line which became available would be given to astronomy, and there is wide recognition in the department that they need an observational astronomer, because the other two members are theoreticians.
Now, to give you an idea what the problems were, the governor, because of the financial crisis in the state, froze all hiring in the university system, such that even the solid state physicists couldn't fill that line for this year, on a permanent basis. And because they didn't try to fill it—there was some confusion, I guess, as to whether they could fill it at all—it wasn't filled in May last year when classes ended. And a number of us got together and proposed that the position be filled temporarily with an astronomer, so finally I was given the position; but for next fall they will hire a solid state physicist. The trouble is that the budget for faculty is just so tight that there are no new lines that we can get in physics, to hire an astronomer. This extreme tightness that is found in all universities, private and public, around the country, is due to several factors, among them being the cutback of government support to higher education and research and also the recent economic depression. But also among them is the fact that the baby boom has passed, and enrollments are leveling off, and are projected to drop. In fact, in many parts of the country, like the Northeast, enrollments in universities have already started dropping off, or are leveling off. For one year they leveled off at ASU.
This year, we have a larger enrollment than we've ever had before—over 35,000 students. But we have a state legislature which is being very conservative in the way it spends money, and a governor who was, before he became an ambassador, thinking of re-election. Both felt that even though Arizona is one of the fastest growing states in the country, adding more faculty was not the appropriate way to spend money during this year. And the other problem, as you know of course, is the over-production of people with PhD's in the physical sciences, and particularly in astronomy, during the sixties, and that, together with the fact that positions are disappearing now, means there are an awful lot of good people that are out looking for jobs. So the competition for every position that appears is very keen, and many places are now hiring only assistant professors, and not at the advanced levels. So each year, I only find maybe a half a dozen positions that I can apply to, at the associate professor level. I should say a few words about some of the things that I have heard about and experienced with respect to other assistant professors who were denied tenure, at about the same time I was I know of a couple of cases at other universities, the case of another assistant professor of astronomy at RPI and of several young physicists at RPI who were all denied tenure. During the time I was at RPI, counting the assistant professors when I arrived, and new ones who came, there were something like six or eight assistant professors at RPI in physics and astronomy, of which only two during that whole time got tenure. One of them eventually left RPI. One of them is still there.
DeVorkin:Did he leave for a better position or what?
Yes, he did. But his case was complicated by a divorce. You have to understand that during the time I was there, there was the usual pressure to “publish or perish.” But things tightened up during the time I was there. And there was a problem, because while people told you that you had to publish in order to have a good chance at tenure, there was never anything explicit about what you had to do. For example, when you're a student, you always have a pretty good idea of what it takes to get an A or a B, If you wanted A's you always had a pretty good idea of what was expected of you. But when you're an assistant professor, the day to day demands are in teaching. And you know in the back of your mind, you're supposed to do research. But the nature of the kind of achievements you needed in order to be given tenure was never very clear. And this vague kind of pressure produced quite a bit of tension that was hard to deal with. The consequence was that, it was a fairly stressful situation.
And as the younger ones in our group saw the older ones get denied tenure, for what we thought were not good reasons, the stress increased. A number of very good people left RPI because they were denied tenure, and they were people, who, I would normally have expected, would have been given tenure. Once I was talking to Joe Erkes, who was an assistant professor, a radio astronomer, in the astronomy department at SUNY, Albany. I was commiserating with him about these problems. He felt a lot of the same pressures over there. He was about the same age I was. I made a remark that, in the case of most assistant professors I knew, they, in addition to the problem that they may not get tenure, all seemed to show symptoms of stress, including either marital or health problems, such as getting ulcers or other such things.
I was working on an ulcer. A couple of my friends were heading towards divorces. In fact, of the six or seven or eight assistant professors at RPI, something like four or five of them all were developing ulcers during this time, Joe responded that he was also, I think even he was close to a divorce. It finally didn't get that bad and they're still together, but these symptoms of extreme stress were evident in almost every case I knew. Even Paul Stoler, the physicist who did get tenure at RPI— he's an experimental nuclear physicist and he's still there— was working on an ulcer. He was one of the early ones, who got his tenure three or four years after I got there. He was given tenure before things got too bad, and in addition he's very good. The other fellow who got tenure at about the same time, one of the early ones, got a divorce soon after, and due to various complications, left RPI. But you can see the evidence of stress there too.
And since then (about 1970) I don't think any assistant professor has gotten tenure in the Physics Department. So the situation has been a very difficult one. Joe was up for tenure in the year that they completely cut the astronomy program at SUNY Albany, and he's still at Dudley Observatory on a research grant. I know of other similar cases of people who didn't get tenure at various places, and I think it's symptomatic of our times. It has produced, as you can tell, a lot of difficulty for these people. It's a difficult thing, when you've invested five to ten years in a profession you love, to find yourself in a position where you may not be able to get a job in it, because things have suddenly become very tight, and because in preceding years, graduate schools were producing too many graduate students. What also is a sign of the times is that graduate schools are still producing too many graduate students, and I fully understand that. There's a lot of competition, in terms of prestige and achievement, between the schools that have graduate students. As I found at RPI, having a number of graduate students can help get your research done. For example, at RPI, we were three astronomers in a physics department, and basically our students were physics students who did their research in astronomy. In some respects, especially after things got tight, we had no business producing people who essentially were getting PhD's in astronomy, because we were too small a program to really do a good job. But in some respects, it can be defended on the basis that our students got more physics than the average astronomy PhD and therefore were more flexible, and in fact their experiences proved that to be true.
DeVorkin:Have they been successful?
Yes. All of our recent RPI students in astronomy have gotten jobs. Now, I had two PhD students. There was one other student, who was a theoretician really, an applied mathematical physicist who was somebody else's student, but whom I had a lot of contact with, and who did a problem in the structure of rapidly rotating stars. He and one of my students both had ROTC obligations, my student in the Air Force and he in the Army. Both went to work in the military as applied physicists. After their two years of active duty, in each case they were hired on to continue working as civilians as applied physicists. In both cases that was possible because of their extensive physics background. My other astronomy student was more purely in astronomy. That's Ken Rex, whom I've already mentioned. He has succeeded in getting jobs teaching physics and astronomy in small schools. I think the fact that he has the background in physics has helped, because he has taught even fairly advanced undergraduate physics in some of these places. So in that sense our program was justifiable. Still, I think small institutions have no business turning out graduate students at a time like this, when getting jobs is so difficult.
And yet, one needs graduate students, to help get one's research done. Also one needs graduate students as teaching assistants, to help with the undergraduate courses. You see, if the teaching assistants disappear, that means that your own teaching load effectively is increased. Furthermore, there's the prestige value of having a large group of students working for you, doing research. So, there's a very tough conflict there, between social responsibility and your short term needs, and I can see this conflict in every other graduate school in the country. Many of the graduate schools in large universities in the country live by their ability to teach to large groups of non-science majors— low level introductory astronomy courses. And to maintain these large programs of teaching to such students, you really need graduate students as TA's. And so, these departments, like the University of Texas, have huge departments.
DeVorkin:How many grad students do they have?
Hayes:I don't know, but it must be in the several dozens still. Even though the government has cut back on their research support for training graduate students, they need the TA's and so they bring a lot of them in. And it's for this reason that a lot of people are still training many graduate students. Furthermore, we can fill the large sections that we teach to liberal arts students because there is a great interest in astronomy on campus, and even though many schools have found a decreasing enrollment in majors in other sciences, astronomy is still quite popular. We still get a lot of students who are very interested in going on to graduate school in astronomy, and we have them at ASU, which is not a school that's strong in the sciences. And we have some really excellent students. We tell these students that it's going to be tough for them, getting a job in the future, and it's going to get tougher than it is now.
DeVorkin:You make it quite plain to them?
Hayes:Yes. Very plain. And yet still they go on, they go to graduate school, they want to go on in astronomy.
DeVorkin:How do you make it plain to them?
Hayes:Well, I tell them the experiences I've had, and that other people have had. I describe the statistical situation, to the extent I know it, that two or three times the number of graduate students get the PhD each year, as there are positions that open up around the country. I also tell them that many of them are having very great difficulty getting positions, and that there are some people who just don't get any in astronomy and have to go and take jobs in computer science or in applied physics. I tell them that now, the only condition under which I could recommend their going on in astronomy is if two things are true. One is, they're so highly committed to astronomy that they can't imagine doing anything else, even if it does mean this great difficulty in finding a job. And the other thing is that they have to be really good. They have to be essentially straight A students. Only the very best students are managing to get jobs, and even then they're having a lot of trouble. I made clear that in my own case, I'm still in astronomy only for one reason, and that is that I love doing it and I really can't imagine doing anything else. I love teaching. I love doing research in astronomy. It's my life. And although I can imagine going into some other fields and finding in them intellectually challenging problems that I could enjoy, I have a very heavy commitment to astronomy and I want to stay in. And it's only if I really get up against it and can't find anything at all that I'll think of switching to something else.
DeVorkin:What would happen if there is no temporary position open to you at ASU next year? What would your position be like? Of course, to understand this completely in context, we have to understand your wife's career too, which is also in astronomy.
Yes. Well, let me just say some brief things about my own career. I don't think we have time to go into my wife's position in this. But let me say that I am applying for jobs in other places, with the hope that I would turn up some other possibilities besides ASU. Now, there is a vague possibility that I might be able to get another year's extension at ASU. Starrfield has applied to go on sabbatical leave, and it looks like he may get it, Then they'll have to replace him with somebody at ASU, and I have a lot of support there. But the replacement position would have to be advertised, and I would have to apply like everybody else, and go through the committee that judges the applicants. I think I would have a good chance at it, but it's not by any means guaranteed.
There's still the possibility that some time in the future, a permanent line might open up at ASU, so if I got a year there next year, maybe for the following year—who knows? And ASU's a very favorable place for me, because it's right in the middle of the state and there are a lot of other observational astronomers not too far away that I can talk to. I already have collaborations in both Flagstaff and Tucson. I'm applying to other places, and if something else turns up, and if ASU doesn't go, then I would go someplace else. I will be applying for senior post-docs on a one year basis, and if I got something like that and nothing else I'd go there. Also, as things develop, and it gets into the late spring and I don't have anything else, I'll start applying to places like JPL and Los Alamos and such, and see what I get there. That would get me out of the kind of research I've been doing, and it would get me out of teaching, which I love.
DeVorkin:What about going to a teaching college where there is no research?
Hayes:Well, that's an interesting thing.
DeVorkin:I mean, really no research.
Hayes:Right. I understand what you're saying, I love doing both research and teaching. I would not really enjoy a position that was pure research even if it was a fairly prestigious one, such as a place like Kitt Peak, because I still want to do the teaching. But I would rather do that than go to a place which was purely teaching and no research. I haven't gotten much reaction from places that I've applied to which were essentially pure teaching places. And I suspect I'm fighting the over-qualification syndrome. That is to say, for example, it's almost impossible for me to get a position at a junior college.
DeVorkin:Have you applied for any?
Hayes:I haven't applied to any but I know other young PhD students who have. And essentially the reaction is that they're over-qualified.
DeVorkin:Is this what happened to B. Straka when he applied to some junior colleges in California?
Hayes:I don't know for certain in Straka's case, but as I recall, he did say something to that effect. And the junior colleges have a number of good reasons. One of them is that they're afraid that if they hire somebody like myself, that I'll keep looking for a job at the level I want, and the minute I find one I'll leave.
DeVorkin:Which is true?
Hayes:That's true. Yes. They're right. They're 100 percent correct on that. I suspect also that they may feel a little insecure, that somebody who has a PhD, a research type who's been in big universities, might come in and start telling them how to run their place.
DeVorkin:Is that true?
Hayes:No, I don't think so. Well, it might be in a few cases. I wouldn't try to tell them how to run their program. But I think they may fear that it could happen. And also another reason is, salaries. They may feel they have to pay too high salaries. So I think they have a number of reasons for reacting this way. And I think that there's some of the same kind of thing going on with respect to the pure teaching four year colleges. Now, I think I would get a good reaction at some of the small high quality liberal arts schools. But there are very few of them, and even fewer jobs available at them. Especially when you get out of the top ten or so, they've had financial difficulties in recent years, and they've been running very conservatively, in terms of hiring new faculty, so it's just plain difficult. If I got nothing, even at places like say JPL or in the space program, then I would have to look in industry, say, for a job as an applied physicist or something like that. And I don't know what the upshot of that would be.
DeVorkin:So there is no consideration on your part, in terms of the value of staying in the Arizona area, to apply to one of the many teaching colleges there, simply for support?
Hayes:There aren't that many. They have a strong junior college system in Arizona. But as far as I know, nothing in the middle. NAU is Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, is what you might call something in the middle. It' s a four year state college, medium size, about 10,000 students. Essentially a pure teaching institution. They have two or three astronomers there. But I know that there is no position open for an astronomer there. I would consider a position like that, perhaps.
DeVorkin:Do these astronomers at Northern Arizona University do any research at Flagstaff?
Hayes:No. They teach only. I don't think I would be happy in that kind of position. I love teaching, but not to the extent that I would want to do it exclusively.
DeVorkin:Well, there are many types of teaching.
DeVorkin:And the Rensselaer type, of course, where you had tremendous contact with very few students, who are very highly motivated and high quality, how would you find that?
Hayes:That was beautiful. , It was a great challenge, and even though it took too much of my time, it was extremely rewarding. When I left RPI, I knew there was a possibility that I could end up at a school like ASU, where the major part of the teaching duties are at a lower level. But the interesting thing is that I found that I really enjoy these low level courses at ASU, Even the very lowest level, for students, you know, who panic when they see a simple algebraic equation. I find teaching these students to be very rewarding, if you take the right approach, and I've enjoyed it. But it's not the kind of teaching I would want to do as my full load. That is to say, to be at a school where I was teaching those kinds of courses to such an extent that I couldn't do research, I wouldn't enjoy that at all. At ASU, I have a nominal two course load, which has in past semesters included some fairly advanced courses. I have a graduate student in physics who's been working with me. So I have had a chance to do some higher level teaching. And I have had plenty of time to do my research. So the low level teaching is in addition to a lot of other interesting things, and so it's nicely balanced, and it's great fun.
DeVorkin:Good. Well, I think we have a good overview. Is there anything that we have left out, directly pertinent to what you're saying?
Hayes:Oh, not that I can think of now.
DeVorkin:OK. Well, we certainly will have a chance to talk to you again.
OK, thanks a lot.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Arizona State University