Oral History Transcript — Dr. Gordon Eaton
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Interview with Dr. Gordon Eaton
Gordon Eaton; August 4, 1997
ABSTRACT: Born March 9, 1929 in Dayton, OR; discusses family life and childhood. Comments on his father's encouragement of engineering; enters Wesleyan for undergraduate education. Discusses the influence of Joe Peoples in geology; describes summer job with the USGS water services. Comments on the value of hands-on experience doings research science early; describes his graduate education and the social environment at Cal Tech. Explains his PhD research on Miocene volcanic history under Dick Jahns; discusses the tensions between geology/ geophysics divide in his degree. Discusses his research and teaching at USGS, Wesleyan, and UC-Riverside; explains his transition into administration at Texas A&M. Discusses his difficulties as president of Iowa State University; describes his transition to directorship of Lamont. Describes in detail the biggest challenges and his biggest triumphs as director of Lamont; discusses the funding strategies of Lamont in comparison with other institutions. Comments on the building of the Lamont advisory committee; describes the changing of Lamont's name. Explains his decision to leave Lamont for the USGS directorship; discusses the challenges that face Lamont and the USGS in the future.
TranscriptSession I | Session II
Doel:This is Ron Doel and this is a continuing interview with Gordon Eaton, and today is the fourth day of August, 1997. We are again recording this in the director's office of the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia. And I want to put on tape that Mike
Sfraga:is joining me in the interview. One of the things I was very interested in when we were talking the last interview, we did cover your impressions of Lamont and some of the reasons why Lamont had looked particularly attractive to you. I was curious of your impressions of the committee that Lamont had set up. The kinds of questions that they were asking you. What you thought of the interactions that you had with them?
Eaton:I can today remember only a couple of people who were on the committee and this is interesting, because I didn't know a lot of the people personally then, but came to know them later. Let me begin by saying that the questions were very good. I can especially remember one question from Ellie [Wellman], which had five separate questions imbedded in it, and as I listened to her carefully, I started storing the answers so that when she finished, I could say, yes, yes, no, to the third one, maybe, I'm not, we need ... This stopped the questioning process for a moment. I wasn't trying to be funny, but nobody else had asked a question quite like that. The fact that she was present on the committee that did the onsite interviews was meaningful because they tried to have somebody from every walk of institutional life there, it wasn't just the scientists.
Doel:That's interesting. Yes. This is Ellie Wellman that was there?
Eaton:Yes, I later appointed Ellie the chief administrative officer, in my last year there, because she had a lot of native talent for this. She'd been there long enough. She knew the players. She knew their foibles. She knew their end runs. Apparently she had sufficient respect that she was made part of the questioning team. Arnold Gordon may have been one of the people. Charlie [Langmuir], of course, was the chair of the search committee and I'd had a lot of contact with him prior to the visit.
Doel:Was Lynn Sykes on the committee as you recall?
Eaton:I don't know that he was, but I also recall that I talked to quite a few people individually. I went over to geochemistry and talked to Wally [Wallace S. Broecker] and Kim Kasten. We sat around the table in Wally's office, and Wally opened a bottle of red wine. I think they were interviewing me there because they had not been able to be present when I was having the interview in the conference room, where everybody sat around the table. The questions were good ones. They weren't focused so much on my perception of what the future issues in science were at the time — I'll come back to this later — so much as of see what I thought the needs of the place were. But, we did talk about the fact that it was getting tougher and tougher to submit a string of successful proposals, which you had to work a lot harder at it now. They were looking into the future and seeing it a little bit cloudy, and perhaps imagining that what they needed now was a different kind of person as director, one who had some fund raising experience I had.
Doel:Interesting. So it was a distinct and conscious break that people recognized at this point.
Eaton:I would say so, yes. Whether or not this comes up when you interview Barry, I think that possibly was not the case six or seven years earlier on the table.
Doel:That this wasn't what Barry [C. Baring] Raleigh would have been asked.
Eaton:Possibly, yes. I think Barry would not have been asked all these same questions. I think that it was in the period of time that he was director and, maybe, for the better part of the year that Dennis Kent was acting director, which these came to be significant concerns because of the diminishing access to funds at ONR and NSF.
Doel:I was curious what was that question that Ellie Wellman had asked you?
Eaton:Oh, it, I think I recall that it had to do, in part, with my view of the importance of the role of other kinds of people besides the scientists. There were some administrative questions worked in there, too. For a moment, it crossed my mind that she perhaps was a member of unionized group; some of the questions were suggestive. They weren't confrontational, but they were a little out of left field, and caught me by surprise. As a result, though, I felt that more than my attitude about science was being looked at. All in all, the interviews were a very pleasant experience. There were no hard-ball questions. When you go for an interview like that, somebody meets you at the plane; they try to make sure you have companionship at dinner and at breakfast, issues of cordiality. Various members of the scientific staff were with me in different parts of the general setting. I remember Mark Cane at breakfast, one morning along, with Taro Takahashi, so bits and pieces of that experience stand out. Keep in mind the contrast, however, I'm coming off of the two rather different jobs I had had prior to that one, best the interview process would anything new. And I hadn't made a decision yet that if I got the offer, I would necessarily take the job. I was looking it over, so it was not, in any sense of the word, stressful or binding.
Sfraga:Let me just follow up on that. When you go for an interview, you have a perception of the place at which you're interviewing. You leave; you go back to your hotel room that night, or wherever, and you formulate an image of the place that you're interviewing. What was your image of Lamont?
Eaton:The image that stood out in my mind, Mike, was that of the enormous intellectual diversity of the place, the kinds of issues that were being worked on. I knew the place by reputation from much earlier to be pretty focused on classic geological and geophysical inquiries applied to the oceanic crust and the sedimentary column that accumulated there. What I discovered was, that while that was still an element of significant interest, there were a lot of other people doing many different kinds of things. For example, there was the atmospheric component that Cane and his group represented. There was Arnold Gordon, an oceanographer in the traditional sense, interested in the water column, not the floor of the ocean. So I thought, gee, the place has really has expanded! There was a modest marine biology program that I hadn't known anything about. Suddenly I thought that this diversity of intellectual inquiry was terrific, particularly considering the size of the work force. Then, I came to see that to break new ground in many cases you didn't have to have a large mass of people all pursuing something; the way [W. Maurice] Ewing had had in the beginning. There were little individual efforts — I don't mean to say "little" in the sense that they weren't important — they were very important — but they were little in terms of the size, just a couple of people pushing back a frontier in an area that was widely recognized around the globe as being cutting edge science. That surprised me. Then the lack of unity of view began coming across to me. Lamont is a collection of individuals, all of them very bright, but some of them with exceedingly large egos. I could begin to see now that this wasn't a place that was all pulling in one direction together. Could I help it too? Was there value in that? I thought there would be.
Sfraga:And that came out during the interview process?
Eaton:Yes. I didn't make anything of it at the time, other than to observe it. I came to see it much closer at hand over the next three and a half years. It is, at one and the same time, I think, one of the great strengths and one of the critical weaknesses of the place. They have trouble settling on a common agenda, a common decision or on a common staff candidate. Witness the length of time it took to come to closure on my successor. It was a couple of years after I left and insiders seem to be disadvantaged in such competition. They'd had one in Manik and they'd run the guy off. I think they were suspicious or untrusting of one another, in the sense that none of them would do. I think that some of them held standards that were — that really were — too high for anybody on the inside, but maybe the unknown person on the outside was going to be better or more appealing than somebody they knew about on the inside. The place is still that way, I think. I don't say it's wrong, just that it's different than some other places, but they're still making great scientific music, so perhaps it doesn't matter, but it did to me.
Doel:There are a lot of issues I really want to get. I'm curious. Did you feel that the healing was already accomplished over Manik Talwani's departure by the time that you came on as director, by the time that you interviewed?
Eaton:Yes, I'd say so, at least at Lamont. I talked to some people who had been students of his, who would have been closest to how he felt. What I sense, from their accounts, and a few people on the outside's accounts, and even a little bit of talking to Manik, himself, down at HARC in Houston was that there hadn't been a whole lot of healing there.
Doel:On Manik's part?
Eaton:Yes, this was still an affront to him, and he and his wife hadn't gotten it over it entirely. Now I'm told by those that have stayed close to him that he doesn't talk about it. Any open bitterness that lingers is really on her part perhaps principally, I'm told. I think she was deeply, deeply offended at what was done and the way it was done, and it was not a good scene. It really — as it's been described to me — was not handled well, but it wasn't handled by a group of people who were used to handling such matters. So, I suppose it's like anybody's first lynching, you don't get the knot tied right, so the victim struggles as he dangles at the end of the rope, that sort of thing. Not pleasant, the way it was done.
Doel:I'm curious when you first got to know what had happened with [laughter].
Eaton:Actually, it was not until after I got there. I had a couple of good conversations with Barry, and Barry had sent me a copy of that document that I suggested you might ask him for. Mile, what I'm referring to is Barry's assessment of the state of the observatory and the problems it had, and where Barry saw its strengths, who some of the problem people were, problems in terms of personal relationships. I found it very helpful. In fact, it was the basis for some of the initial inquiries I made in order to get better acquainted with the place once I got there. It was the basis, for example, for my sending out an innocent questionnaire I described last time to everybody, in my initial weeks there. What do you like about working here? What's great about this place? What don't you like? I was trying to assess the collective attitude of the place. I indicated that they didn't have to sign the returns and that I wasn't planning to share them. I t was really just to help me get up to speed on a sense of the place, from their points of view, and there was quite a variety of opinion. In most cases, when you send something like this out, you tend to hear for more from the aggrieved than from the happy. Here's a chance, after all, to complain to somebody. I don't mean to say they were baseless complaints, they weren't. These people had a pretty good bead on raw Lamont, which I came to confirm for myself.
Doel:What sort of things do you remember from those surveys when they came in?
Eaton:The obvious arrogance of a few of the scientists. How they tended to view the support staff as third class citizens. The intense competition. The rivalries and the jealousies. That sort of thing. Given what I later came to learn about the place, none of it was off base, but it might have been a little over-amplified.
Doel:Was there anyone person that you relied on your first months there, weeks there, to help you learn the landscape?
Eaton:Yes, I'd have to say that. That was Margaret Wan. Who was, I've forgotten what Margaret's title was — it was not simply secretary. Essentially, she was executive secretary to the director, and she had been Barry's executive secretary. I don't recall that she had been Manik's. There were two people, actually, though. Margaret was one, and Herman [Galberd] was the other. Herman ran the buildings and grounds effort and both of them were good friends with one another, and had been friends down on the main campus. Margaret had been the administrative assistant or executive secretary to the dean of engineering. My recollection is that Herman had worked in engineering as well. I'm almost certain of it. They essentially came to Lamont together. They must have come in Manik's time, not in Barry's. Whether or not they came to the positions they had when I got there, I don't know. Barry may have moved them. Margaret is one of these very, very intelligent people who is also very professional, and so she opened up to me very cautiously, but her comfort grew. Some zinger would come into the office, either clothed as a person or as a letter — [Laughter] and she'd give me a bit of the low down on it. She'd attempt to predict what the issue was going to be and how the person would behave, and then she would do a little — I'd do a little — debrief with her. She was exceedingly insightful. She knew everybody's foibles and tactics and cunning and their endless appetite for more funds from the discretionary side of the budget. Herman was different. He's a very down to earth guy, but in having to work with facilities all this time and having to deal directly with a great number of the scientists, he had his own views. The two sets of views were pretty similar, though. These are the people who are straight, they'd say, you can count on them when they come to you and these are the people with hidden agendas, you'll never find out directly what they are, and they'll engage in this or that sort of deviousness.
Doel:That must have given you some reassurance at least that those views matched.
Eaton:Yes, but, at first you see, Margaret's position was such that she wasn't sure that I would keep her, in coming in as a new director. She sensed, and everybody else did, that I was free to choose my own person. I indicated to her that I wanted to keep her on for the first six months, at least, because she represented continuity in the office, but in that six months’ time, I found that I could work very well with her. Another person whom I came to see as having insights from a slightly different point of view was Loren Cox, who was somebody that Barry had hired. Loren was not an earth scientist, in fact, trained as an economist and a biologist. He came down to Lamont from MIT, where he'd run an institute where I think Barry's wife Diane had first known Loren. There was less than real faith and trust in him on the part of some of the scientists and not long after I left, he was invited to the door. He's freelancing now down in Florida. I very much wanted to put somebody like that on the executive committee for a balanced view, but Margaret said, it will never happen. They'll never agree to it.
Doel:Because of the professions, his own disciplinary affiliation?
Eaton:Yes. Loren wasn't the "real article" in thesis awards. I think that even had he had some academic training in the field, since he wasn't one of the scientists, he wasn't the "real article." The executive committee had pretty pure make-up straight scientists, some of whom, in fact, all of whom, had some degree of administrative responsibility, but that didn't consume all of their time. I wanted to add some other points of view. Incidentally, that prompts me bring up something that you haven't asked about in detail, but I'll throw it in because it comes to my mind now and that is that I was the first of the four directors, who was not actively involved in science. I had had to give that up at Texas A&M, when I became provost there and the very fact that I was appointed, I think, is a reflection of the fact that they really did realize that perhaps they needed somebody who was different, now, in this rather different time. I never had that thrown up to me, but the Loren issue reflected that it was a concern. There was an issue early on as to whether or not I would hold a position on the faculty, and therefore, attend the department faculty meetings.
Doel:I was going to ask you how you felt about that. Or whether that was one of the conditions that you had wanted to see happen?
Eaton:Well, it was not, but let me tell you where I was coming from. In both of my previous positions — the provost ship at Texas A&M and the presidency at Iowa State — I had had to go to the faculty, when I appointed other to the administration. For example, when I appointed my provost at Iowa State — a man who's now provost at Arizona State, a Ph.D. chemist — he very much wanted a faculty appointment. I think he wanted it in part so that he could retreat to it if, in fact, we didn't work out together. The chemistry department had to debate that hard and long. In the end, they granted it. So, I'd been through this experience on the sidelines, understanding both points of view. Having come off a university presidency, it really didn't matter to me whether I had a faculty appointment or not. It was immaterial to me. I think Denny Hayes had a little trouble understanding that as department head. He was the one who had to seek the approval of the faculty in the department, but he also had to take it down to the dean of the College and to Jonathan Cole, the provost, to get it approved. In the end he did that, and he's the one was proposed the compromise wording, that indicated so long as I was the director of Lamont, I would be considered a member of the faculty. Now, that's different from what I gave my provost at Iowa State. He actually held a tenured faculty position to which he could retreat if the roof fell in. I didn't have that and I just didn't feel that I either wanted it or needed it. You need to keep in mind, here, my age, I thought this was the last part of my career and if it was cut short for whatever reason, I'd simply move into retirement.
Doel:Sure. You came in at age sixty-one if I remember.
Eaton:Yes, and I came in here (the USGS) at age sixty-five, which, twenty-five years ago would have been a time of mandatory retirement. So, when you're in the last part of your career, all these things that were so desperately important to you as a youngster, they really aren't, anywhere. You know, "been there, done that." I had a cavalier attitude toward this and I didn't want Denny to make a big deal of it. In fact, I said, "If there's any controversy associated with this, don't push it any further. I do not need a faculty appointment. I'm not going to be teaching. I'm going to devote my full time to administration. If you feel compelled to do it, fine, but don't get yourself out on a limb over it." So, he's the one that came up with the compromise that I would hold a position on the faculty and attend faculty meetings, so long as I was director of Lamont.
Doel:Interesting. Were there any other conditions that you set down before you felt that you could accept the Lamont position?
Eaton:No. I did discuss with Mike [Michael I.] Sovern and Jonathan Cole the issue of salary, because I was unwilling to take a large salary cut. The salary schedules at Columbia University in the City of New York and at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa is really rather different, though, so what I was asking wasn't anything that blew them away. That was really the only condition. We were willing to live on the grounds at Lamont. And that wasn't anything new, for we had done that at Iowa State. Peter [Eisenberger] has made a conscious decision not to live there, but to live downtown, because his wife has a professional career, so he must have discussed this. My understanding is that they're probably going to raze the director's residence when they have funds to build another building and put it on that site, because it's the best of the prime real estate on the campus of Lamont.
Sfraga:Was living on campus something that they wanted you to do? Did that come up?
Eaton:Yes. Doc had done it and Manik had done it and Barry had done it, they'd all lived in the same house that Doc had had a hand in designing. It turned out that it wasn't advisable for us. Nobody else lives out there. There are a few visiting scientists who are down in some of the small houses, halfway across the campus, but those people come and go, some are there for a month, some are there for six months. As director, you lived virtually in isolation. In the community around us, Palisades and, particularly, Sneden's Landing, right down below us, which is a big celebrity, you know, I was going to say, housing development! [Laughter]
Doel:It stretches the term a little.
Eaton:Yes, a celebrity "community." None of those people were ever home. So, when I was off at the office or down at main campus my wife was completely isolated. She didn't have her own wheels because we had one car. If I was using it to go down to the main campus, which I did several times a week, she was stuck there, so it was not the same as living on the campus in the president's house at Iowa State, where we were surrounded by dormitories and just a block or so across Lincoln Way there were faculty homes, and there was an entire community of people. At Lamont, you lived in splendid isolation and it was very difficult for her.
Doel:That must have been quite an adjustment for her.
Eaton:Yes, it was. It was much, much tougher on her than on me, because I was off at the office every day.
Doel:In the end was it a hard decision to accept the Lamont offer, or did it come pretty quickly?
Eaton:Well, no, it was hard. She and I talked about it a lot. It turned out that there was an extenuating family circumstance at the time that made it look like the right thing to do, however. She had a sister who lived in Piermont [NY], so it meant being closer to her. We'd never been anywhere geographically close to her sister, and her sister was divorced. On the other hand, the kids were grown and out of the house, and, we thought "wouldn't that be nice." That was, in a sense, an accident, it had nothing to do with Lamont, other than the close proximity. No, I suppose I went through some trouble stepping down from a presidency to the directorship of a relatively small unit within a university, and off the campus, at that. On the other hand, Sovern and Cole picked me up and stuffed me onto various committees of which they were chairs. I felt that I was right back involved in those kinds of university things we do with some of the other deans and unit heads, but it wasn't viewed with charity by some at Lamont.
Doel:Things like the President's Committee on Strategic Planning. And I want to make sure that we get a chance to cover.
Eaton:And whatever we called the academic council there. Jonathan chaired that. My involvement in those things raised some eyebrows at Lamont.
Doel:Is that right?
Eaton:Yes, they thought, not without reason, that since I was the director out there, what was I doing serving on these committees on the main campus? It didn't appear to be serving Lamont in any way.
Doel:It sounds very much like the long-term attitudes of Lamont's separateness from Columbia.
Eaton:That's part of it. The other thing was that Barry had engineered a change in the origin of the director's salary, moving it from dependence on overhead generated on research grants to getting the university administration to support it directly, from other funds. I think it may have been — but, again, he could tell you — it may have been that it started out as a mix of support from both places, but by the time I got there, it was being supported entirely by the university and providing that, they clearly felt they had a call on the director and some of his time.
Eaton:I gravitated toward it because I'd been involved in all these kinds of things in my previous two jobs. But, the eyebrows that were raised the most were those raised in the summer or the spring of, '93, when I was approached by the National Academy as to whether or not I would be willing to serve on an ad hoc committee to design a biological survey for the nation. There were people who couldn't understand why the hell I would do that would even be willing to do, something like that. It didn't have anything to do with Columbia, and, furthermore, earth science, it was biology. I think had biology had more success at Lamont, that wouldn't have been an issue, but because it had always been controversial — it's always been the runt in the litter of disciplines — it puzzled people. I, on the other hand, saw it as an obligation or even a duty. Here was a high-ranking cabinet officer trying to create a new science entity, and if he and the Academy president, thought that he wanted somebody from a discipline other than biology to sit on the committee — there were four of us from outside the biological community, and a large contingent of actual biologists — I was certainly willing to do it. Frank [press] was no longer president of the Academy; Bruce Alberts was, but we met twice at the Eric Johnson Center in Woods Hole, and Frank, who had a summer home there was there at the time.
Doel:Well, but he was certainly on into the very early 1990s as president at the Academy.
Eaton:He and Billie have a summer place there. He may have been a physical presence even though he was not connected with the Academy at the time.
Doel:That's very interesting. Because clearly that is the kind of service obligation that within universities is quite common. Who particularly was concerned about your playing a role?
Eaton:I'm not sure.
Doel:Was Wally Broecker one person?
Eaton:I think he might have been one. He was very critical of a number of things that every director did. I don't believe I was an exception. I don't think he singled me out. We had our moments together. I know Barry had had his moments with him. And I know Manik had. And even Doc had. Wally has his own view of the world and he knows that it's the only correct view so — [Laughter] But I don't think he was the only one. Honestly Ron, I can't answer that question because, it was more kind of an insinuation. Maybe it came up in executive committee a time or two, maybe not.
Doel:But you certainly were getting the feeling, and it was being reinforced.
Eaton:Yes, I was. And oddly enough, it was out of that — just to show you the irony of the way the world works — that I was asked, apparently by the Secretary, because he was creating a new science bureau in the Department of the Interior and he thought he had a pretty good working model in the Geological Survey. He wanted somebody who knew something about the Geological Survey to sit on the committee, but he didn't want to make it somebody who worked for the Geological Survey at the time. When I was tapped, and I had no idea that I would be leaving Lamont to become the director of the Geological Survey. Nor did I have any idea that after I left Lamont to become director of the Geological Survey, that I'd ever have anything to do with the National Biological Survey because I had met and greeted and worked with their first and only director, Ron Pullman. Then on October 1, 1996, like a parent whose adult child has gone off to the work world and isn't doing well, and comes back home to live with dad, here came the National Biological Survey to become a biological resource of the Geological Survey.
Doel:And thousands of people at this point coming.
Eaton:Less than two thousand. So, it was kind of full circle, but it all came from being on that Academy committee. The rest followed from that. It was not planned or written. This was not even the fates at work, just a series of unpredictable actions and outcomes.
Doel:And it is interesting. One could imagine alternatively the Lamont community celebrating the fact that its leader is involved in national undertakings of this sort.
Eaton:I was disappointed that the reaction that I was getting was negative, rather than positive.
Sfraga:Were there any that supported your involvement?
Eaton:Oh sure. I think people like Charlie and others here and there. You have to be careful when talking about Lamont not to make highly generalized statements, because nothing can be generalized across the whole of everybody who is there. There were people that I think, were positive. Certainly, Jonathan was one such person, down on the main campus, but, yes, there were other people, too.
Doel:But it's significant that it's a person on the main campus that comes to mind rather than the —
Eaton:But you see, he has a broader view and in part that was what was driving me. As you move up in academic institutions and take on broader responsibilities, suddenly, at the provost's level, for example, and even more so at the president's level, you're responsible for all the different kinds of intellectual enterprises that go on a campus. I had to know as much about agriculture and veterinary medicine in both of those previous jobs as I did about earth science, but when you're in the sciences, that's, in a sense, the be-all and the end-all, it's the only thing that's important. You stay focused in that area, in that case. Once you broaden your span of interests and knowledge, some part of your reputation as a scientist gets lost and this happens. I watched this happen to Roger Revelle in my lifetime. Clearly, it happened to me. You quickly reach a point of no return.
Doel:That's a very interesting observation.
Eaton:Roger got off on population issues, among other things and futuristic thinking. It was a bit like, "too bad about old Roger. He's abandoned the ship," but that's clearly overstating the case.
Doel:But particularly as he moves on to Harvard [University] and moves away from Scripps [Institution of Oceanography].
Eaton:I had already been through that. I had not been advancing a reputation as a scientist, so when I was asked to do this, it seemed like a natural enough thing to accept. As you said, Lamont should perhaps have taken some degree of pride in the fact that a Lamonter was asked to do this. And maybe it did –- I'm sure there were some.
Doel:Was this the sort of issue that came up in your discussions with Barry Raleigh? Was he trying to do similar things and bring them to along to?
Eaton:No, not really. One of the things that apparently was discussed with him, when the offer was made to him, was the possibility of creating a deanship that would give him some responsibilities beyond Lamont — or maybe that was made later, when he was thinking about leaving. At some point, though, the Columbia administration was talking to him about broadening the responsibilities of the job. That's exactly what they've done for Peter.
Doel:So this was the early discussions of what became the Earth Institute do you feel?
Eaton:Yes, but it wasn't crystallized quite as that. It took Mike Crow's coming along to put the Earth Institute concept in perspective. Maybe it was to include the Henry Krumb School of Mines. I think that that was it in Barry's case. The university was having trouble trying to decide what to do with the Henry Krumb School of Mines. As in any university with schools of mines today, there isn't a whole lot of student interest. So, I think what happened to me was more of an accident. I was interviewed jointly for the first interview by Jonathan and Mike Sovern. And the topic of main campus tasks came up there. Coming off of a university presidency, they said, would you be willing to serve on some of these committees? This isn't something we've asked the Lamont director to do in the past, but your background is such that... I think I expressed more than willingness, some definite interest in doing this.
Doel:Did they talk to you about their own broader visions for Lamont?
Eaton:They did. First of all, they were widely aware of the fine reputation of the place and regarded it as a jewel in Columbia's crown. At the same time, I think some of their views were a tad naive, as you might expect them to be, being as far removed from Lamont as they were. They tended to hear from the bomb throwers when they were unhappy, but at the same time, they were widely aware of the national recognition that some of the scientific staff had. So, it was kind of, distant respect. They didn't have any particular issues of change that they urged be addressed. They didn't have a vision for Lamont that was their own. They were interested in what I saw as some of the issues that might lead to changes, but it wasn't a matter of their seeking change for change's sake. They'd had a physics institute across the river, the name of which escapes me.
Doel:The Hudson Labs.
Eaton:No, it wasn't the Hudson Labs. It had a different name.
Doel:Right. And that was already gone by that time.
Eaton:No, this was something that withered away a little more recently. Columbia still owns the property. While I was there, there was a vestige of the physics department that still worked out there. It was one of these things that, when it was created, and the time was right, and the funding was available, it was right, and then time passed. The outfit apparently didn't make sufficient adjustments for the fact that the present was different from the past, and so it was fading away. It sat there across the river as a concrete example of what could happen at Lamont and it was a driver for me in thinking about different emphases.
Doel:That's particularly what I wanted to hear about. What ideas as you, the first few days and months, as you sat in the director's office, what ideas really started coming to mind?
Eaton:Well, there were two things. They came out of looking at the whole scene. I had been, before I went to Lamont, on the Board of Earth Sciences at the National Research Council of the Academy. After I got to Lamont, my membership was renewed. I was put on the Ocean Studies Board, as well, and then eventually I was made chair of the advisory committee for the geosciences directorate, by Bob [Robert] Corell. As a result of this I was exposed to statistics on the numbers of research proposals submitted and how the average success rate was declining. The fact that a given investigator who had been funded in the past, was now having to write five, six proposals in a year to obtain funding was obvious. That was just to make a "hit" with two or three of them that would keep them going, so I was aware of the pressures on the system. Funding wasn't growing in proportion to the number of Ph.D. researchers or the universities with ambitions to become known as research institutions, for example, the Carnegie Ones and Carnegie Twos. I also saw at NSF a return of interest in a concept like, the old RAND program, Research Applied to the National Need. The issue of national need, the notion of societal concern, and then, finally, also, the recognition at major universities like Harvard and Stanford of the fact that in a race to compete in research, what had come to be neglected was undergraduate teaching. Already, Don Kennedy, who was still then president of Stanford, and Derek Bok at Harvard, were asserting the fact that the university's primary mission was teaching. Well, that's tough to listen to if you're a soft money scientist. That's not telling you something you want to hear. Nevertheless, I began to talk about it. I put these issues on the table as possible directions we needed to strike off in. And I came to hear, repeatedly, that those who went off in these directions were generally the same kinds of people who took jobs at the National Science Foundation as program managers. They were, quote, "failed scientists." These issues I raised were for lesser mortals.
Doel:The prejudices were very clear.
Eaton:Yes. If you weren't a failed scientist, if you were a successful scientist, why you'd be doing science. You certainly wouldn't be working on education issues or just wouldn't be teaching. Or you wouldn't be concerned about the societal relevance of your research; you'd be out there on the cutting edge, at great depth in some relatively narrow field, pushing back frontiers. And, indeed, that's the way that frontiers get pushed back. There's no question about that, but, what we were hearing was the needs of the nation now are changing. I brought that same message to the USGS three and a half years ago, and I'm still preaching it because there are still diehards in this organization who just don't get it because that isn't what they were told was important in graduate school —
Eaton:— thirty-five years ago. Bit by bit, several people crept across. Kim Kastens responded early on, and struck up a relationship with either with the principal of, or the principal science teacher of, a local high school. They actually were awarded some funding together. She struck off in that direction. Ray Sambrotto did the same thing in marine biology. It was mostly the younger people. Kim had already become a member of the senior staff, so, in a sense, she had Lamont's equivalent of tenure and it was okay to experiment. Ray gambled, because he had not become a member of the senior staff yet. I remember the first senior staff meeting when we were passing judgment on admission to senior staff membership, and Ray didn't make it on that first outing. He has subsequently made it, but it was risky. Each person has a view of the future, but here was the director pushing a new concept. And some of the rest of your colleagues were saying, "Boy, you're going to get a reputation, but you're going to lose whatever reputation you had if you get off into these different areas. There are no rewards out that way; here the rewards are pushing back the frontiers of fundamental knowledge." Q; It sounds as if you were perceiving a real generational issue at Lamont? Is that right?
Eaton:Yes. That's understandable, I think. Most of the senior staff had been students when Doc was director, and he was literally defining the science. There was all kinds of money at NSF [National Science Foundation] and at ONR [Office of Naval Research]. By the time I got to Lamont, ONR's funding had shrunk to something pitifully small, and that of NSF was not rising commensurately with the demands on the system.
Doel:You were also on the NSF committee, if I recall.
Doel:Advisory Committee on the earth sciences.
Eaton:Yes, right. What I was hearing at both these places was, you guys at Lamont are getting all the money. People in my organization only need two months, three months of salary. We've gone over this before, Mike. You hogs at Lamont are trying to get nine months of funding, maybe twelve months. I said, you provide nine or twelve, and you'll get nine or twelve months’ worth of results, whereas, from your organization I don't expect to get more than two or three months’ worth. What's the fundamental difference here? What was happening though was that NSF was under some pressure to be sort of democratic and spread the money around. I mentioned last time, John Silber, the president of Boston University, was already trumpeting the fact that the same institution who were in the top twenty-five in terms of total NSF funding in 1990, were there in 1960. Nothing was changing, because it was a closed system. It was a "good old boys" network. Proposals only went to people — but, we've been over that.
Doel:People are —
Eaton:Yes, they were getting funded. Silber's interpretation, probably with a kernel of truth imbedded in it, was that it was a closed system. I'm at one of the twenty-five institutions that's getting a lot of money, and you're at another Ron, so you hire my graduate students, I hire yours, and we get the same kinds of people with the same sorts of attitudes, sitting on the panels that decide who's going to get the money and who isn't. Obviously my guy is going to remember his alma mater at your place, and your guy is going to remember mine. Coupling this desire to become a little more democratic in the face of all these criticisms with the fact that the number of Ph.D. researchers had greatly outstripped the inflation-adjusted funding that NSF was able to provide, and the whole system was headed for difficulty. Along with this comes this concept that science education is very important, too. This is a scientific and technological age and we're doing a fairly lousy job at all levels of education, elementary, secondary and college, getting across an understanding and appreciation of science. We need more people engaged, but the attitude I would hear at Lamont, when the issue was raised, was, “You know, that's for the people who can't hack it as researchers." I would say, you've got it wrong. We want the best scientists out there to be concerned about these issues, and Lamonters ought to be concerned about it. I may have nudged a very few careers in that direction, but I'd have to go back and see. I would guess that most of the place is still doing business the way, they used to. It's just getting tougher to get funding, but they're doing splendid research, now, some funding relief appears to be in sight.
Doel:But you were the bearer of bad news in a lot of sense to a lot of those scientists almost as a, as the bridge from this new sense, this new type of scientists who would look towards education who couldn't hack it, representing their potential demise. That must have been an incredible –
Eaton:I wasn't thinking of it as their demise so much as I was a new direction in which to move, but they may have seen it as possible demise. I've since published a couple of papers on this topic, three since coming here, where, at one point I even said — and it may have outraged some people at Lamont — that in training people in greater and greater depth in a narrower and narrower discipline in order to push back the frontiers, we're turning out Ph.D.’s who are irrelevant if they can't get teaching jobs in those areas. Too many Lamonters we’re leaving and taking jobs with outfits like small environmental engineering firms rather than research universities, yet, in their first year, they're all taught how to write NSF proposals. Now, I believe all of science has begun to see this. I have become a collector of articles on this topic and they're proliferating. Graduate students who can't find employment now, students who've devoted the time and money to get a Ph.D. in science, are bitter about the fact that they weren't really prepared for much of anything but jobs that were going to be clones of their professors' jobs. That's bad news anywhere you preach it, and it has been bad news here too, in some parts of this organization. But what's happened now is that events have overtaken these predictions and that is the way it has gone.
Doel:I'm very curious at Lamont when you were raising these ideas, how the senior staff, those who were the tenured professors at Columbia while at Lamont, felt about these arguments? Did you have support or did you feel that? Generally no.
Eaton:I'd say generally no. If I were to go back there next from this job, I'd present it somewhat differently. It's a little bit like dry-fly fishing. I don't know whether you do it, but the presentation of the fly on the water is paramount to success. It really doesn't matter so much which fly you've chosen — in some cases it may — but it's how you lay it out there on the water, and whether or not there's a big splash. You don't want a splash and I was making some big splashes at Lamont. You don't catch fish that way, so I'd go about it somewhat differently today. The other advantage I would have, were I to go to Lamont now as director, is knowledge of all that's happened in the last three years. The view now is widespread across all of science that society has a lot of other important priorities, science is not nearly as high a priority as it used to be and society would like to know what it's getting for its investment. In some cases, they would even like to have a say in the kinds of problems that are worked on. It's their money. This flies right in the face of what everybody that in my generation was taught, namely, that politicians and taxpayers aren't bright enough to see the really important issues of science that need to be pursued, so a lot has changed I think more and more people now are seeing this. Certainly, I see it reflected in places like Geotimes. Even the EOS (Earth Observing System), at AGU (American Geophysical Union), there's a recognition that the science the endless frontier era, while appropriate for the times, isn't flying so readily now. Society worries more about inadequate health care and homelessness and the drug problem and the crime problem. They've got a limited number of dollars and with the budget being balanced now, they feel pinched. Science has to get in line and sell itself.
Doel:You just said a moment ago with dealing with a few trusted advisors within Lamont. In developing —
Eaton:You may have noticed I didn't mention any scientists on that issue.
Doel:I did notice that.
Eaton:That was an intentional lapse largely because I "found" those people later. These people were on the Lamont staff and I worked with them every week, but it took time to get them in perspective.
Doel:I did want to hear about that as well. I was simply curious who you were talking with as you continued to develop the ideas we've been talking about, these broader visions for Lamont, outside of Lamont.
Eaton:Inside Lamont, they were largely members of the executive committee, because we could talk about anything in the excom meetings. The talk was frank, but there wasn't any; there really wasn't any ego there, in the sense that it was challenging what was being said by any member. These were good, frank discussions. Denny Hayes, who was an unsuccessful candidate as my successor, and who, as noted earlier, was department head, saw that some of these things were happening out there in our environment. Charlie [Langmuir] saw this. Who else? Lynn Sykes clearly did. Lynn was interesting to me in that time I was there, because Lynn having made an enormous positive impression as a young scientist and one who had Academy membership, stayed above the fray. I suspect he did not enjoy personal confrontations on this sort of thing. He was a very quiet steady presence. I didn't visit him with any frequency, but occasionally, when I was about to try a new idea out that would cause some one of the people on my immediate staff would say, "Oh, you're going to have trouble selling that," I'd take it to a few key people among the senior scientists, sort of like taking a new show to New Haven before you put it on Broadway. I'd try it out. Lynn would say, Gordon, you're going to have real trouble on that one with Broecker. Or something to that effect. I found his views to be quite accurate.
Doel:I'm not surprised.
Eaton:So I went to him very sparingly, perhaps to his disappointment.
Doel:Do you remember any of those ideas in particular, when you think back?
Eaton:Let me think about this a minute. Some of it related to reorganization early on and some of it, the possibility of putting other young scientists and Cox on the executive committee. I can categorize or classify them better than I can remember the specifics. They were essentially departures from the way things were done at Lamont. They represented cultural and procedural changes, often. The place was risk averse and very process bound. They didn't think much outside the box, any of them.
Doel:Sounds like that was a real frustration for you?
Eaton:Yes, it was. It really was, but to come back to Lynn, in my last year and a half, he clearly saw the way that all of science was going. He saw, to some degree, the irrelevance of some of the emphasis on Ph.D. education and he came forward with a proposal for reinstituting a terminal master's program, where it was far more than a booby prize for having failed your Ph.D. orals. It was a degree that we admitted people to go for with the understanding that that this was their last degree and they'd go out and go to work. And he arrived at this quite independently of any of my thoughts or statements. It was very thoughtful when he finally put it down as a document. It's a document you ought to look at, in fact, because, in some ways it took a lot of courage on his part. At the same time, he could get away with it as one of the two members of the National Academy of Sciences on the Lamont staff. We also had pressing issues at the machine shop. What was referred to as the new machine shop, the one that existed when I got there, had been designed and built for twenty-three machinists and we were down to, maybe, three? The idea of going outside Lamont for custom fabrication on an ad hoc basis to many of the specialty machine shops in the region was a hard sell in some cases. Those that had grown up there knew that we designed things there at Lamont and we made them at Lamont, and we used them and they worked, and that's why these guys, all the machinists were here. Well, that slowly came to be less and less of a need. Oddly enough, with respect to marine geological and geophysical things, which is really where they were born, at Lamont, that's big business at Woods Hole. What they do there is they spin off little companies with principals as the heads of, and they set themselves up outside. They set themselves up outside and manufacture this kind of buoy or that kind of meter. It never got to that at Lamont and yet we maintained a huge inventory of parts for things that had been used on ships that were the sort that weren't being used anymore. We were frozen in a time that was passing.
Doel:That's very interesting.
Eaton:It was a bit like a museum, the inventory warehouse.
Doel:Clearly another frustration that you felt.
Eaton:Yes. We needed and I wanted to use, the machine shop for other things. We didn't have any money to build new buildings. The director's office was in the latest building to have been built and that —
Doel:Which was in 1972.
Doel:The geosciences building.
Eaton:It was twenty years before my time, almost twenty-five. We actually drew up some plans based on the footprint of the machine shop and talked about installing a second floor. These kinds of things that were departures from the way it had long been went down hard for some people. At the same time, here are people, right out on the edge of science, pushing back the darkness, but they're unable to let go of what is. I saw it as sort of a paradox, really. Academics, and here I realize I'm risking offending the two of you, academics are very conservative people, in my view, but not politically. Politically they tend to be anything but conservative, but when it comes to the practice of the craft, it's akin to the high church. It really is.
Doel:In part because of the professional training and the way in which people are brought into the professions. You raise, I thought, a very interesting point about the comparisons between Woods Hole and Scripps. What did you see as the strengths and weaknesses of Lamont compared to, and did you feel that those were the main competitors in?
Eaton:They were among the main competitors. Oddly enough, they had been entirely oceanographic or water column in their orientation. Ewing had tried to sell— early on before he created Lamont — a program in marine geology and geophysics at Woods Hole. They let him use their ships or a ship, at least, for maybe a couple of field seasons, but he never did convince them they needed this sort of work program as a new component. So he set it up himself at Columbia and grew it, and it became world famous. Now they've got those things in their shop at Woods Hole, too, but they've remained dominantly water-column-oriented in terms of their greatest emphasis, Lamont then grew a good, but relatively small water column effort, too.
Doel:Through Arnold Gordon.
Eaton:Yes, through Arnold Gordon and some of his colleagues. They're not competitors in the sense that the emphases are the same, but Lamonters always tended to look at Woods Hole as the only other place left that was like them in the sense that there are a lot of people on soft money. These are the really tough, capable guys and as the saying goes, when the times get tough, the tough get going. So Lamont and Woods Hole were slugging it out in a competition for increasingly more scarce federal funds. Occasionally, Woods Hole which is a good bit bigger and has a much longer-lived reputation, had captured the New York Yacht Club, in terms of outside giving potential, and had a large board of outside directors, occasionally would pick off a Lamonter and they'd go up there to join the staff. That always troubled Lamont a little bit and there was constant talk about trying to recruit somebody from Woods Hole. It was just classic inter-institutional competition. They didn't have football teams, of course like competing universities, but it was the kind of thing I saw at Texas A&M with the University of Texas, a rivalry. I think there was always — here, I'm going to say something that some doubtless would deny and I think others would agree with at Lamont — I think there was always an unspoken sense of not being quite equal. And I think that troubled some Lamonters. In some areas Lamont was without peer. I think of Wally's group in geochemistry, for example, but overall, somehow there was a sense that Lamont was sort of second banana.
Sfraga:Was there ever a sense of Lamont enhancing their marketing, getting the name out a little bit more? Scripps and Woods Hole [cross talk].
Eaton:Yes, I worked on that. Woods Hole had done a very good job of that and in fact, I hired somebody on contract to go up there on the Q.T. and study their outreach program. I've forgotten what pretense they said was the basis of their coming to visit. It was a person from Iowa State, thus, it didn't look like somebody coming from Lamont to see what they'd done. They were into marketing big time. Let me point something else out. Woods Hole probably did as much to capture the public imagination and attention, and hold it in fascination, with Bob [Robert] Ballard's finding the wreckage of the Titanic as anything that ever happened at Woods Hole. Bill [William] Ryan at Lamont had developed equipment that was used by a private firm that searched for Titanic's wreckage and I think Bill's equipment may have been used there—- and, then, there was a gold-bearing wreck off the coast of North Carolina that was found using Bill's equipment. And so you might say that, peripherally, but only peripherally, Lamont was involved from time to time in that sort of thing. When the news broke that Ballard had found the Titanic, someone in the media called Barry for some reason – who was then director — and Barry dismissed it as not being science, which, in fact, I think some of Ballard's colleagues still regard it as not being, and maybe even Bob as not being a real scientist, perhaps, more of an explorer or a showman. Yet, in terms of putting Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on the map and in the public eye, everybody… was talking to a mathematician here in Reston [VA] recently — someone who dropped by our house to leave some tomatoes because he knows we like fresh tomatoes and he has a large garden — and he had just seen two back-to-back PBS presentations, one of them on the Titanic and one, on the Brittania and Ballard & Co. figured largely. Here is a highly educated man who had never heard of Woods Hole and had just suddenly discovered it, and he was asking me all about it. Science doesn't do enough of that sort of thing. We are taught that that's unseemly, you don't brag on yourself or your accomplishments. This is an inconsistency, in a sense, because if you think scientists don't package their wares and peddle those wares, you're wrong, because that's exactly what they do at the National Science Foundation, it's just to a different audience. They won't get money if they don't. It's okay to do it there, but it's not okay to do it out in the public domain, among the great unwashed, among people who wouldn't know good science if it fell from the sky and hit them on the head, and yet Ballard did that, using high technology that he had helped develop. I'm sure he's probably as much or more responsible than anybody else in the technical programs up there for some of the funding increases that have occurred at Woods Hole. Lamont tends to hide its light under a public bushel. One of the really good, young scientists, who left and went with Schlumberger, told me, in the process of leaving, that one of the reasons he was leaving was that Lamont was far too much like a monastery. In his view, there was a high stone wall around the place with a virtual sign out in front that said, "visitors not welcome." He felt that science had more to offer than that, so, there was this inward looking quality to the place, which may have been right or wrong in the past. I don't pretend to be the judge, but in times of tough funding and of tough times of selling your work and yourself, that's not a good way to be. They hadn't had to be any other way than they were back in Ewing's day. Congress was just spraying money on good science everywhere and because Doc had a very good program design to sell, and was a very capable scientist, he was able to capture a lot of money, and then ran the place, ruled it an iron hand or at least tried to. It was, in a sense, his money, and he would tell people what to do, when to do it, and where to do it. It has changed totally since that period of time. I think that perhaps part of Manik's getting into trouble may have been that he continued to try to run the place the way Ewing did, but what had happened was that NSF had changed and they were giving fewer large, institutional block grants, they were giving individual investigator grants. Lamont by then had people who, thank you, would go down and get their own money and they didn't want the director telling them what they were going to work on the way the previous director had, but this is interpretive speculation on my part.
Doel:That's an interesting point. Of course, Lamont remained at that 90 to 95 percent level of extramural support. And that was a big difference even to Woods Hole and to Scripps.
Eaton:Yes, that's right. That should have been and was, in some quarters, a source of great pride, as in, "we can still do this." And they're still doing it today. They were simply feeling stretched when I was there. There was a fair amount of justified hand-wringing. I remember being told by one senior scientist that he was spending far more time preparing proposals than he was actually making scientific measurements. He wondered what the, you know, if this was taken to its extreme, he'd be doing nothing but preparing proposals, and wouldn't be doing science. He wondered what would happen [Laughter] so, there was some evolution going on at the time, driven by external circumstances. One of the things that I tried to get across was the idea, "well, look, we're the masters of our fate, but we're going to have to begin to think differently and do things a bit differently than we'd done in the past." This was in conflict with the established culture and that it really didn't take, except in a few quarters, such as the ones that I have already mentioned: Kim Kastens, Ray Sombratto, and Lynn Sykes. If I were to visit now and asked, I believe we'd find that more people had come around just because it isn't so new anymore; it's fairly common in many places.
Doel:One of things that you emphasized was greater involvement in environmental issues. And as I recall, Walter Pitman had been advocating that as an avenue at Lamont. I'm wondering what —
Eaton:Yes. Incidentally, Walter was another senior scientist I could talk to readily. Here's Walter, at the end of his career. Walter is one of those ones that doesn't have a big ego, and he was easy to bounce ideas off of. He'd come in with his own out-of-the-box ideas sometimes and we'd talk about various issues, like environmental concerns. There was some small degree of skepticism, as in, "We've been there. We did that in the seventies." Yet some of the geochemical work that was still going on in the Hudson River was regarded by the environmental community at large as being exceedingly important work but it still wasn't fetching quite the — what's the word I want — it wasn't admired in quite the same way that working on basic processes was. If you look at the significance of the accumulation of PCBs in the sediments on the floor of the Hudson, it really is an advance of science to understand the facts. There was need for this work. My view was that instead of saying, that's work for second raters, let's have the first raters be willing to pick these issues up and really take them somewhere.
Doel:I'm curious particularly about work on climate change, and how that fit in. Clearly there were societal dimensions that [cross talk].
Eaton:That was well underway when I arrived. They had hired Mark Cane, and the atmospheric component of the programs had begun to be built up. The issue of global climate change was considered important while it was still politically controversial, and there were a few people around Lamont who were skeptical of some of the overstated claims that were being made, but there were good Lamonters working on the issues such as trying to judge the validity of existing global circulation, models in the atmosphere. Those were considered to be important aspects of science. I would have to say, in all fairness to Lamont, that the place had actually evolved quite a bit in terms of the science that went on there from Ewing's time, and so this was a natural direction in which they could go. We also had people worrying about the circulation of the oceans. As you doubtless know, the two are coupled. One really can't talk about them in isolation from one another and adding the atmospheric component, I think, made very, very good sense. That was done before my time, probably on Barry's watch. You could see, in the makeup of the staff, the fact that Lamont was responding to some degree to emerging issues. The helpful thing about geochemistry is that it has such applicability in so many different areas. Young Wally Broecker and his mentor, Larry [J. Laurence] Kulp, were pioneers in defining some of the field. There were people like [Viktor] Goldschmidt in Europe, when Wally was an undergraduate student and there were others who put an emphasis on the geochemistry of silicate systems, and the evolution of magmas, this kind of thing. But a lot of the important geochemistry that defines such applications today came out of Lamont, just as it still does today.
Doel:It's certainly a good point. I'm thinking too of the issue of advisory committees for Lamont that encompassed broad ranges of individuals. What kind of advisory committee was in place at the time that you took over the directorship?
Eaton:Whatever they had had, it had grown defunct.
Doel:There really wasn't an advisory?
Eaton:There really wasn't an advisory committee. It was still on the books, but it hadn't met in a long time. When I created a new one, it was around the effort of economic development, raising funds. We put something together that still exists to the best of my understanding and it still has some of the same membership. It included a vice president from Schlumberger, and it had somebody from the environmental community, and it had oil company people. The previous one had been pretty heavily focused on oil company people, and maybe even a significant number of alums of Lamont.
Doel:I'm particularly interested in whom you wanted to bring on to that committee.
Eaton:I have trouble dredging up the names, now, but they're a matter of record up there. First, I wanted it to be as diverse as the range of science at the place, and I wanted to include somebody from the insurance industry, also because of the issues of risks associated with earthquakes. Klaus Jacob had done work in New York City that indicated that were we to have a magnitude earthquake like one we'd had back in the eighteen eighties, an M = 5 or 6 in the 1880s up the Hudson River fifty billion dollars’ worth of real estate assets in New York City, particularly in Battery Park and around the World Trade towers would become dust. Thus, that was an area where important work was going on. The environment was another where important work was going on. There was still some work related to natural resources going on, thus, I tried to put together a committee that was reflective of that, for example, by including the president of Louisiana Land and Exploration. He was somebody we invited onto the board. His is an oil-producing company that didn't get into petroleum processing and distribution, but the president was a geologist. He had been chief geologist for another oil company before becoming president of Louisiana Land and Exploration. I shopped around quite a bit. On the environmental side, I tried pretty hard and got turned down, here and there, because many of those I approached had not heard of Lamont. Finally, I hit pay dirt in New York City. I had tried down here in Washington. I tried to get Lester Brown to join us. I've now forgotten the names of some of the others.
Doel:A whole different mental rolodex comes into place.
Eaton:Yes. That's right.
Doel:We'll make sure we get that on the transcript.
Eaton:Okay, as I say, it's a matter of record.
Doel:That's interesting that people were turning you down because they hadn't heard of Lamont.
Eaton:Well, I went after busy people. And good busy people are very careful about what I join. I even went after Ted Turner seriously, but I think I got a bit set up by the development office in — his case.
Eaton:I had been led to believe that he had been cultivated and was simply waiting for me to come down and issue the invitation in person and, instead, as soon as I got the first words out of my mouth, he said, ”You're down here to ask me to join this advisory board?" I said, that's essentially it, but I was going to lead up to that by telling you some things we are doing. He said, "I'm not joining boards, I'm leaving boards," then he said, ''You can count me out." Why did I fly down from New York City to Atlanta and back and all together have only four minutes with him? I'd been told that this was somebody that some alum had prepared and he was ready to say yes. We had set our sights fairly high, perhaps, too high. I tried to get Frank Press on the board, too.
Eaton:He also turned us down, but by then he had gone to Carnegie [Institution of Washington]. It was a different kind of advisory board in that it wasn't to advise on the directions of Lamont, science but, advising instead, on how to take the science that was being done there and package it in a way that would encourage gifts.
Doel:Again, was there more support for this idea coming from Columbia proper than from Lamont in your view?
Eaton:No, I wouldn't say so. Lamonters wanted additional funding, so they were all for the idea, but there was always a little nagging suspicion that we might end up somehow prostituting ourselves. We had one particular, really active and enthusiastic member who was an alumnus of Columbia, a man who had been the principal attorney for the fragrances industry.
Doel:International Flavors and Fragrances?
Eaton:Flavors and Fragrances, yes.
Doel:Oh, Hank [Henry G.] Walter [Jr.].
Eaton:Hank Walter, yes. Hank is an idea man and he had a lot of ideas. He even had some ideas that would have had us issuing publications for the wealthiest guy in the world, someone in the Middle East. Hank got an audience with the man, and was going to sell Lamont. According to his plan, we were going to issue climatic forecasts for the guy. If we had made that promise, it would have been impossible to deliver as far as the scientists were concerned. They weren't going to go that far in terms of fund raising, so I had to deal with some unrealistic expectations of how far the institution was willing to bend to get outside funding. I say that not, in the least, to be critical of Hank, for we needed all of the good ideas that we could muster. This was simply one that he had had. He was very supportive.
Doel:Hank, of course, was deeply involved in the Vetlesen Foundation.
Eaton:Yes, right, that was an earlier connection, of course. Ewing had received the first Vetlesen medal and I think, perhaps also one of the ships?
Doel:The Vema had been initially connected.
Eaton:The Vema had been, yes. So there were these decided connections to the past.
Doel:I'm curious if there were other major foundations, the private foundations, which you turned to.
Eaton:On the environmental side, several, but I really didn't get much of anywhere, save with one of them. I wish I could remember the title of that one, but I don't, now. I remember sitting in an office in downtown Manhattan. I don't recall exactly what I expected when I went to it, but it was far less than what I had expected from some others. I knew what their assets were. It was an almost ascetic place because they were spending all of their money on getting the message out, not maintaining posh offices. I practically sat on an orange crate in the office of the president, who sat on another orange crate. Shell Oil was in. Schlumberger was in. Louisiana Land and Exploration was in. Hank Walter was in. We were still building the board at the time; I received a call from the White House. Since we're talking about this area, let's move on to it. The results of the development efforts had not been forthcoming at a rate as rapid as I suspect a lot of the scientists at Lamont thought it was going to be.
Doel:The results in terms of these broader initiatives?
Eaton:Of bringing money in.
Doel:The fund raising?
Eaton:Yes. First of all, I had had success at Iowa State in raising funds, starting with the alumni. In my second year there, I visited the presidents of Honeywell, 3M, Boeing Aircraft, Standard Oil Company of California, Litton Industries, and Texas Instruments. They were all Iowa State graduates. With a group like that, you've got the potential to raise a lot of money. First of all, you ask those people who are senior officers to ask their foundations to give gifts. You can also put them on a public list of people who are going to help to raise funds, and they can put the elbow, the arm, on others. I didn't have many Lamont graduates that had gone out and made great financial successes of themselves in the business world, they'd gone out and become stellar academic scientists, instead. They didn't have a lot of money or potential access to a lot of money.
Doel:Yes. The few exceptions were people like Nelson Steenland, who had left Lamont earlier.
Eaton:Yes. Right, he had gone off to industry. But among Columbia earth science graduates, Nelson was an exception, not the rule.
Eaton:I think there was a high expectation, both on my part and on the part of the Lamont staff, that it was just a matter of my hitting the street and the checks would roll in. I found that it wasn't going to happen that way. Most people I approached had never heard of the place and really didn't understand quite what it did. Sometimes, when we explained what we did, they found they weren't all that interested. In the meantime, Bob [Robert] Gagosian, the director of Woods Hole comes down our way and captures members of the New York Yacht Club, with a glittering dinner and presentation. Everybody there was a boat owner and Bob had a big board of some forty people, with a few key members of the Yacht Club on it. It was quite a contrast and a very hard lesson.
Doel:It certainly was.
Sfraga:It's interesting though. I see a contradiction in that. There may have been disappointment from the scientists in terms of you not bringing in the dollars, yet they were very insular in where they went after their own money.
Eaton:You're looking at this from the outside —
Sfraga:Yes I am. [Laughter and cross talk]
Eaton:— but, I would agree. Inconsistent, those kinds of things. You could point it out. In some cases, there was a little offense in having it pointed out. The thought may have been, "I know what's important for me to do. If I stop and do those things, then I'll never make it to the Academy." One doesn't get into the National Academy of Sciences by giving a lot of attention to the general public. I'm clearly overstating the case, but, it was actually quite frustrating. Part of the problem was a lack of any sense of unity. It was every person for themselves. It was not a team, even in the sense of an NFL football team being a team, but where everybody has a specialty. I'm a wide receiver, you're a quarterback, he's the center, we all have our specialties, but we still function as a team whole and the coach sends in plays through the quarterback.
Sfraga:With a common goal of a score.
Eaton:Right. It was more like having a surgical team around a critical piece of surgery, where everybody with their own opinion of what to do next, so that while one specialist was asking for the nurse to hand him clamps, another was berating the anesthetist for more oxygen.
Doel:[Laughter] These are wonderful analogies that you're pulling forward here. I was just wondering if there were other concrete steps that you were trying to do to create greater unity among the staff when you think back on it?
Eaton:Well, I hoped that the avenue was going to be the executive committee. A lot of these issues and a lot of my frustration were aired there. And I, again, because these were people who had been willing to take on the extra dimensions of time in having some administrative responsibility. It was in a sense a self-selected group, and you might expect them to be more supportive of departure from the past than the individual scientist. Stop and think about it through. You're living from day to day, and month and month, and year to year, putting food on the table of support staff, technical support staff, maybe a little administrative support staff in an increasingly competitive atmosphere. You do it with your intellect in the soft money process, so you really don't have a lot of time to devote to a different way of going about it. Too many people are critically dependent on you. It's a hunter-gatherer tradition where you go out and shoot game to put meat on the table. When the game is scarce in the woods, it's stressful as a hunter to do that and· stressful on the dependent family of the associates. So I kept emphasizing that we needed a hunting core. We needed to go out, and, instead of shooting possums, individually, we needed to get together and go after really big game. Let's go get an elk and bring it back here. We have to be a team to do that. I actually used that analogy.
Doel:That's interesting. And the elk being, for instance, one of these broader environmental initiatives or broader patrons and matters of that sort?
Eaton:Yes, but also, banding together and going after large slugs of funding that were multi-dimensional.
Doel:Yes. The integrated and inter-disciplinary, these multi-disciplinary programs.
Eaton:(in reference to spill) I've got to quit pouring coffee for myself.
Doel:Realizing that there's no such thing as a typical week that you had as director, how much time was invested in fund raising and these kind of initiatives?
Eaton:Not nearly enough. In fact, we finally brought in some help. Because experience out there in the development world was that it was getting more and more sophisticated in the successful effort, that it was an art form, not just a science. So, finally we brought in an outside firm and an advisor, and I set aside some money derived from overhead based on research income that came to the institution.
Doel:All part of the discretionary fund that you?
Doel:How big was the discretionary fund?
Eaton:Well, I don't honestly remember, now. I want to say it was around — around forty million. There was another area wherein it was possible to feel somewhat second class because the endowment corpus at Woods Hole was much bigger, and at Scripps, I understand it was much bigger. This sort of information floats around and is knowledge in the culture. They're metrics that you may feel compelled to explain away if you're concerned about a small size, but it was almost like penis envy, in a way. Even though you may have thought you could explain it away, that you could rationalize it somehow in your own mind, it still felt uncomfortable, the fact that ours was not bigger than it was. The discretionary money derived from it on an annual basis was of course much, much, smaller than that. It was from that fund that the director could provide grants for special equipment purchases or lab renovation I remember that one of the last relatively large grants I provided was to Dennis Kent to buy a new cryogenic magnetometer and build an addition to the building that he and his colleagues occupied. At a highly competitive place like Lamont, when you favor one you disappoint or anger other people who have submitted proposals. You knew you would be a loser in some eyes no matter what decision you made, so we tried to make those decisions collectively in executive committee. Obviously, I've gotten myself off the track. Oh, I was talking about bringing in the outside development person. He said, as director, you've got to spend at least forty percent of your time on fund raising, based on successful fund raising in the non-profit sectors -museums, hospitals, symphony orchestras, and etc. You're going to have to spend forty percent of your time out there shaking the money trees. I clearly wasn't spending that much time doing that.
Doel:Would you say it was closer to twenty percent of your time at that time?
Eaton:Yes, about half of what —
Doel:So did that lead to the appointment of the first development person at Lamont?
Eaton:Well, keep in mind that Loren Cox had been brought in, by Barry as a development person. One needed to factor in his time.
Doel:As a development?
Eaton:There was, at least I thought I began to see evidence of limited confidence in Loren. In some ways he had delivered, but in some ways he had not. Even in one of the ways he had been successful he had not really been recognized as such. That was that he kept alive a group of Industrial Associates from the petroleum industry, when everybody else's had cratered. Scripps's group had cratered and Woods Hole's had cratered, but we still had one at Lamont because Loren spent time out there visiting them and putting the heat on them. Even as their willingness to pay the full freight on what was a regular membership began to wither, he'd get them to consider half memberships and they did, but what Lamonters saw was that every year somebody’s dropped off the list, so was this a measure of success? Not by the old standards. By the new standards and in the new environment he was doing relatively well, because everybody else was doing much worse. Peter's now taking another shot at this and I think he's doing it on a broader venue. My hope is that he's going to have greater success, but this kind of success doesn't come very fast. There had been a three year hiatus already when he arrived.
Doel:When John Mutter was the interim director.
Eaton:Yes. I believe John tried to keep the board going. But John was trying to run the place and he was trying to do his own research through his colleagues at the same time. I do not fault John Mutter. He was acting as director, and he had hopes of capturing getting the directorship. Everything was so damn tenuous for a long time. John's a very good man.
Doel:You were saying as the last tape ended that you had John Mutter the, your associate director.
Eaton:Right. Dennis had been at first, but he decided he wanted to step out and return to his research, to do science full time. So he and I looked over the list of possible successors. Issues like the appointment of an associate director that was still another kind of the thing where I consulted with the elders, widely regarded elders like Lynn Sykes, like Wally (Broecker), and like Arnold Gordon and some of the others such as Jim Hays. I solicited opinions, asking what do you think of so and so having the job? This was both of interest and concern, in some ways, it was even jealously participated in. Every candidate had some baggage, every person on the inside, so I'm not surprised now that the third time in a row now, they've gone outside for a director. They went outside for Barry, they went outside for me, and they went outside for Peter. It is somewhat symptomatic of the culture there.
Doel:How close have you been in contact with Peter about [cross talk]
Eaton:Not very close, really. I visited with him early on. I visited with Bill [William] Harris a couple of times over Biosphere issues. Later, I even sent a team of people from the Survey to go look at Biosphere and see what opportunities it might offer us as a laboratory test bed for certain research issues. There hasn't been a lot of follow-up. We didn't see given the initial design of Biosphere II and the inability to inexpensively isolate the different environments there, that it would work for us. If you want to study tropical rain forests or if you want to study the arid environment, our (USG) people did not see it as a place that would work for us. We run a USG center on Tumamac Hill in Tucson, Arizona where there's interaction with some of the Biosphere II folks, a place where we have dessert ecologists and other scientists stationed. I talked with Bill Harris more than I've talked with Peter. I think once things settle down and our funding becomes more stable here, there's an opportunity for working together. Mike Crow tries hard to keep this alive from his end. I have much more contact with Mike on a regular basis than anybody else at Columbia, now.
Doel:Right. You've had a long relationship.
Eaton:Yes, one going back to Iowa State. He's been the architect for some of the ideas that Peter is now charged with carrying out. Based on Wally Broecker's scientific support of Ed [Edward] Bass and assessing why Biosphere II didn't work, Mike Crow steps in as an agent and gets Bass to commit to Columbia, for a five year term, to run the place.
Doel:I'm curious too as you were at Lamont, how did you keep in touch with what research was going on within the Lamont community? How hard was that to do?
Eaton:I did not develop as deep knowledge as Barry did. Barry spent far more time on the inside going around and touching base. I depended heavily on the heads of each of the sections — seismology, geochemistry, meteorology, and the like. I would make the rounds and have briefings, but they tended to be formalized. I think Barry on his way back from lunch would pop into a lab and spend a couple of hours. Loren Cox urged me several times to spend more time like that, but Loren was more concerned about the politics of it. Perhaps, I'm selling him short here. I'm sure he was concerned about my understanding the essence of the science, but he also was aware of the fact that my predecessor had done this and that it was being noticed that I was spending more time on the main campus than in making individual rounds at Lamont.
Doel:There are multiple dimensions of these issues indeed. I was wondering if it gave you, if you had time in your schedule say to get to the Friday colloquia, the broader?
Eaton:I did at first and then, as I got more and more consumed with other things that were going on I didn't. Many of the speaker were from outside. I think that I began to be seen as being a more distant director. For some people it was a religion, getting to the colloquia. Wally Broecker is a good example. I think Wally never missed one of those things, whereas I often missed them.
Doel:How much time did you actually spend on campus then, and again there's no such thing as a?
Eaton:On the Lamont campus?
Doel:On the Morningside campus.
Eaton:On the Morningside campus? I was down there for several hours, maybe an entire morning, perhaps once or twice every week or week and a half. I was increasingly drawn into more and more things. It started off with what I want to call the academic council, but it grew and multiplied.
Doel:It was academic priorities committee as I recall.
Eaton:That's it. Then, I was invited onto the research committee and then onto the Strategic Planning Committee. As time went on, the amount of time I spent down there grew, which meant that I was off the Lamont campus more. I was also out trying to round up members for the development advisory board, so I was off campus too. I was off the Lamont campus far more than any of my predecessors as director, but I had an associate director and I counted on him. I delegated a lot of responsibility in this regard first to Dennis and then to John. I've come to realize, now, looking back on it, that that's not the same as the director being there. Symbolism is involved here. I can see where I made tactical mistakes that undoubtedly lessened their impression of me as an interested director. I don't know how it is with Peter because he's got a new arrangement wherein John is the on-site director; Peter's the off-site director. In a way, I was functioning, more like Peter than like John. But I had John, and before that, Dennis there on day-to-day issues. I saw great value in the associate director being a product of the system, a Lamonter by origin. Both those guys took their Ph.D.’s at Lamont. I would think that any director from outside would always be well advised to have somebody from the inside in their number two spot, even though directors, themselves, don't seem to be chosen from that pool anymore.
Doel:I'm wondering too, when your time grew on the different university, on the high level Columbia committees, did that remain more of a service for the university or did that work actually help you in developing your vision and the operations of the —
Eaton:Oh, some of each, propelling but ultimately far more into the first than the second. It did give me access, for example, to some of the trustees, however —
Eaton:— to talk about issues like fund raising and how the university development office could help us, and, even, whether they should help us. Henry King was somebody I could hope to talk to. That wouldn't have been possible had I not had these involvements. This is something I'd like off the record, by the way.
Doel:Do you want this closed then, this part of the interview?
Eaton:Yes. Is that what you do? You shut off the machine? [page 112-114 of transcript is restricted] Increasingly, as we engaged in research into atmospheric processes and things associated with the water column, I thought that the term, geological, was too limited and not broad enough in its definition of Lamont, and so I proposed a change, all of this way by way of stepping up to a capital campaign. After a modest name change, the development of a logo was another thing. It's here on this coffee cup.
Doel:And you're pointing to a cup that you brought into the room here right now that says Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
Eaton:Right. It had been called, Mike, Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory. Originally, it was simply Lamont Geological Observatory, then the Doherty Foundation, where Ewing had a personal friend, made a major gift and it was a naming opportunity, as they like to say in development circles, a chance to acknowledge a major gift, so Doherty was added with a hyphen. I saw "geological" as being insufficient, and I felt it might limit the kinds of people we might successfully approach in fund raising and that if we referred to it as an earth observatory, it might be more meaningful, and elicit more interest. If you look up the formal definition of the word, observatory, it isn't restricted to stars and planets and the moon or to anything else in the natural world. It's a much broader term than that. One really must say solar observatory or astronomical observatory to define the kind of place that most people think of as an observatory.
Eaton:Most Americans hear the word, observatory, and the object they associate with it is telescope, but that's not what the word means. We were, in every sense of the word, in the truest and the strictest, sense of the word, an observatory, but we were an earth observatory. We looked down instead of up. There were people at Lamont that were not ready for that. This was close to being earth shattering, even blasphemy, for some, which show the extent of entrenched conservatism on the part of some of the staff.
Sfraga:Who were the first to raise their objections?
Eaton:One of the loudest was a young Australian geophysicist, Gary Karner. He's an Australian geophysicist in his late forties. Very capable guy. Very likeable. He said, "That name you are proposing will diminish the meaning of my degree."
Doel:Because it became broader rather than specific.
Eaton:And I said, Gary, I don't think you received your degree from Lamont, did you? Didn't you get your degree from Columbia University? Yes? Has anyone proposed changing the name of the department there? No. Then, why does my wanting to change the name of the observatory have anything at all to do with your degree? It was a bit irrational and emotional and I still remember the day I presented the thought and the reaction it provoked.
Doel:Was it at a broad meeting?
Eaton:No. I was up in the oceanography building, having a talk with the folks that were housed there and I was showing them a whole host of possible institutional logos. Gary was sitting next to one of Arnold Gordon's Ph.D. students in oceanography when he sounded off and she said, bless her heart, "I don't agree with anything you've said to him. And it was, it was a youngster telling an older person that the world was different now, but I was fully unprepared for the degree of the negative reaction from him. Jumping ahead now to my first outing as Director of the Geological Survey, I was in Menlo Park, California and, in the Q and A's after my presentation, somebody asked, "As we take on more and different responsibilities, would you consider changing the name of the Geological Survey?" I said, without hesitation, "not any time soon. I've just been there and I'm not willing to invest the emotional energy in it."
Doel:That's very interesting.
Eaton:My first thought was, I don't know who that is out there in the audience asking that, but I'll bet it's a damned Lamonter. [Laughter] Turns out it was not. It was a seismologist, but not one with a Ph.D. from Lamont. Now that we've just taken on these seventeen hundred biologists and their staff and we've got the wildlife equivalent of a Center for Disease Control — we have the National Wildlife Disease Center — we've have veterinarians and pharmacologists, how do you think they feel telling their friends and neighbors they work for the U.S. Geological Survey? Consequently, I have in the last year, raised that issue again and, not surprisingly, the American Institute for Professional Geologists has come out of the woodwork, just like Gary Karner. They've even passed a resolution against a name change.
Doel:The name is not to change.
Eaton:Right. I had been burned once, and I was not eager to be burned again, but I did write and tell them the reasons for thinking about it. They suggested that the term, "geological," embraced everything that went on in the Survey. They invited a statement from the director and so I wrote them one and said that there are contrasting views to be considered here. It depends on who you're asking. I said, I can't make a formal decision on this until the biologists have had their say, but, in the meantime, there's an easy test to see whether or not you're right that the term "geological" embraces everything that goes on here. If you tell me that there are veterinarians and systematists and botanists who are members of the American Institute of Professional Geologists, you'll have made your point, I knew perfectly well that there weren't. I really still can't understand why the issues of name change are so emotionally threatening. Several years later, now, I see that Lamont is referred to as Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and nobody raises a question, but it went down hard in the first place.
Sfraga:How long did it take to get this thing processed?
Eaton:A couple of months. I put it on the table and there was open discussion and debate, and my read was that, overall, despite some actual moral indignation and vocal outrage in certain quarters, other people didn't seem to be troubled. There was some concern that NASA was going to launch a satellite called the Earth Observing System and the question was, is there going to be some confusion with NASA. In the meantime, I put it on the docket for the trustees, because the change had had to have their approval. Well, it sat in a queue because it was not exactly an earth- shaking proposition as far as they were concerned, it didn't develop a high priority on their agenda. Then suddenly, at one meeting, when I didn't know if was going to come up, it came up and passed. Bingo! It gets reported in one of the Columbia newspapers. I got another ton of bricks on my head because the assertion was I had pulled this off behind their backs.
Sfraga:So they did not know this was coming out in the press?
Eaton:Yes. Yes, and here it was. Well, we lived through it. Everybody has always referred to that place not as Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory; they've referred to it simply as Lamont. It has a one word household name; nobody uses the next two words, just Lamont.
Doel:But indeed, in terms of capital campaigning, the rest of the name is quite significant.
Sfraga:And did that work? Did that aid in any of these initiatives?
Eaton:I think so because the environmental connections come through more with the word, earth, than they did through the word, geological. Environmental issues aren't just geological issues, in fact, they're as much hydrological issues and biological issues as they are geological issues.
Doel:When you think back were there any senior staff members who supported the name change?
Eaton:There were some who didn't think it mattered at all. I can't tell you who it was off hand, but I did test the idea and that's why I was surprised that the outcry was so shrill in certain quarters. Whether or not Gary and others have gotten over it, I don't know. As I look back on it now from the distance of three and a half years, I think somehow that it's a better name: Earth Observatory.
Doel:I'm curious too how, as Lamont was already a large size by the time, 500 people, at the time you took over, how did you get people together to talk to all of Lamont as a community? Was that something that you were able to do?
Eaton:We had infrequent meetings of the staff, and we — not often — we had regular meetings of the senior staff. We had to have meetings of the senior staff on issues such as the appointment of officers and on colleague advancement to the senior staff. I gave a State of the Observatory presentation about, oh the middle of my second year there, wherein I examined a lot of the trends that constituted changes in our external environment, especially funding and personnel — I pointed out with some concern that we had a lot of people on the senior staff and not too many at the junior staff level. I brought in observations about trends in science and societal concerns from well-known figures in science as spokespersons. I was alternating to prepare a way for the changes that I thought needed to follow. There was good attendance and good questions.
Doel:Was this held at Lamont or did you have to go off?
Eaton:No, It was just the scientists that came to some of those kinds of meetings, the support staff generally didn't. Then, of course, we had an open house every year that I'm sure you've heard about. It's well attended by people in the local community. Everybody then pulls together, but they put on individual presentations. You get the overall sense of a lot of very capable people, but each with their own personal scientific agendas housed under one roof. You'll recall Clark Kerr's famous statement about the faculty at Berkeley in Berkeley in which he defined a "multiversity." It was, "a multiversity is a collection of special interest groups united around a single issue, the availability of parking on campus." Well, Lamont was essentially a microcosm of that.
Doel:That's a good way to put it.
Eaton:It really was apt, but we didn't have a parking problem so I couldn't put if quite that way.
Doel:That was one case that you didn't. One other thing that happened just a little bit before your time as director was when Lamont did not receive the one state of the art navy vessel that it had hoped to acquire after it looked clear that the Conrad needed to go.
Eaton:Barry put a lot of effort and time into that and then acquired what became the Ewing.
Doel:Right. The Bernier.
Eaton:Ironically enough, Barry's had the same challenge and frustration out at Hawaii and he went for a vessel on the outside. He stepped outside the Joint Oceanographic Institutions, which had banded together; I suppose in part to hold each other's hand, so they weren't in someone's back pocket grasping at the wallet of another. The outcome was negative. But, by then, by the time I got to Lamont, they we had the Ewing and were pleased to have it. I arrived in latest October and we sort of re-christened it the Ewing in November, just a matter of a couple of weeks after I arrived. We had two christenings. My wife broke a bottle of champagne on its bow one day, and then Mike Sovern's wife broke one the next day. We had two communities to help us celebrate. We invited the science community to the first christening, and the Columbia University and New York City community to the second. It turned out to be a very worthy vessel. It met a lot of our needs. It had a few problems and sustained some damage on an initial cruise, but still it was a very good acquisition. There was real foresight in acquiring it. We had to go to court over the cost of the contract but we faired okay.
Doel:It was in the Louisiana shipyards where that work had been.
Eaton:Right. Denny Hayes could give you the full particulars on that one.
Doel:That was a rather difficult episode there.
Eaton:Yes. It was. It really was. But it had the right outcome, I think, thanks to the hard work of Denny and others.
Doel:Was there any concern just given the nature of the funding about whether Lamont could continue to operate ships?
Eaton:No, I would say at that time there was not. Now, that is true for most all the UNOLS [University National Oceanography Laboratory System] fleet. Everybody's having some trouble supporting their vessel on a full time basis and NSF is having trouble supporting the entire fleet. There's the issue of NOAA's needing an entirely new fleet and the question is whether or not it should use UNOLS vessels, instead I mean, we've just gotten beyond our means here. Without a plan and I think without any realization that there were finite limits on funds to support this kind of thing or places like Lamont. We're kind of re-learning the basics now.
Doel:Let me just give you some of the nutrition here too.
Sfraga:You made an interesting point. Maybe you did, maybe you didn't. I don't know. We'll find out. In that there were two, there were separate ceremonies christening the Ewing. I wonder what, maybe I'm reading more into that than I should.
Eaton:You probably are, I think. First of all, here's a new director and here's a role for his wife. They knew that, there would have to be two kinds of social events associated with the christening, one for the scientists where we had soft drinks on board, and one for the New York City community and the board of trustees at the Yacht Club, with champagne and a luncheon. You couldn't really combine all that into one. This gave a chance for the new director to feel like he was part of the Lamont community by having his wife involved, so, no, I, you probably are reading too much into that. I don't read anything more than that into it myself. The funny side of this is that I think both wives remembered very clearly an awful newsreel of Bess Truman trying repeatedly to smash a bottle of champagne over the bow of some ship that she was launching as first lady back in the late '40's, but the people who set up such things today have developed a failure proof methodology. They take the bottle of champagne beforehand and a rock cutting saw, they cut an annulus into its side, a groove around the bottle that, in terms of depth, must be just short of cutting all the way into the bottle. Then they put it in a net bag and tie it to a rope. The rope is secured to the bow of the ship, so the woman simply stands on the dock, holds the bottle over her head, and let's go. Gravity pulls it down and smashes it against the side of the vessel.
Doel:One thing and this is a very different kind of question. Did you feel as you were looking out at Lamont, that there was sufficient communication between the different science disciplines represented there on problems that extended beyond?
Eaton:Not really. There were two forums. One was the executive committee at Lamont; the other one was the faculty of the department of geological sciences of the university. There were some people who were on both, but there were people who were on the executive committee who weren't on the other. We had a faculty vacancy or two in my time there and there was not the kind of unity that I would like to have seen in filling them. Some would look at who had left and imagine that that's the very kind of person, the discipline, which ought to be brought into the vacancy. In that regard, the most powerful group, because it was very broad, in the sense that it ranged all the way from high temperature silicate geochemistry to low temperature aqueous geochemistry, was that of the geochemists. There'd be debates in these forums, but you often wouldn't find a lot of unanimity and there'd be ruffled feathers, even after the final decision was made. The department of geological sciences of Columbia University was not peculiar. I saw this at the academic institutions I had been involved in prior to that time. It's the nature of the beast. You'd see this lack unanimity again when we would distribute Lamont's limited discretionary money and, in any given year, bestow it here or there. People tended to count coup. They had long memories, as, for example in, ''You know, this is the third year in a row now that geochemistry gotten funds, but look, the folks over here in marine geology and geochemistry, we haven't. The same was true when we'd choose post docs each year. We'd put together a cross-disciplinary team and they'd rate the candidates. And then you'd hear, "This is the second year now in a row that we didn't get somebody in marine geology and geophysics." This didn't give one a sense of the place pulling together because the times were competitive. I don't know what it was like back in Ewing's time, perhaps you didn't have these controversies because he simply declared how it was going to be, but I doubt it.
Doel:Certainly his autocratic style has been mentioned in more than one interview.
Eaton:Well, in the first few years, he, himself, shot all the big game and brought in the meat. He could decide how to cut the meat up and distribute it among the pride.
Doel:I know our time is going to be running out in a just a few moments.
Eaton:So it is.
Doel:Yes. Just a few more quick questions I wanted to try to ask today.
Eaton:Yes. I'll try not to expand on them.
Doel:I'm looking right now at a list of the, of some of the advisory board members as of 1994. You've mentioned a few people, of course. Those in Schlumberger and Hank Walter in Vetlesen. Bill [William] Baker who was president of Channel 13.
Doel:I was curious how he came on.
Eaton:He was a slightly difficult catch. I had to remind him that we'd done some things together, he and Lamont. He'd developed some shows that had been based on our work. I also believe that he had been on part of either a cruise, or visited the ship in Antarctica, but I'm a little vague here. There was some initial interest on his part, but he was not immediately forthcoming. He's an unusual guy, I liked him very much.
Doel:Had you known him before?
Eaton:I hadn't known him. No. I just met him in this process of trying to put the committee together, by going down to WETA.
Doel:Here in Washington, D.C., but it's.
Eaton:No, that's Boston.
Doel:Well I know it.
Eaton:It's 13, Channel 13, in New York City.
Doel:I know it and I'm embarrassed to say. We'll make sure it gets on.
Eaton:I'm glad other people have this problem too, Ron.
Eaton:No, I simply made an appointment and went down there one day. And I took Faye Yates who was on the development staff, with me. We just met and talked. He knew why I was coming. As I said, he was not immediately forthcoming. I think he had his chief of staff come into the meeting for part of the time, but, in the end, he agreed to come aboard.
Doel:Yes. I believe we're talking about WNET television.
Eaton:Yes, I said WNET and I attributed it to Boston. Now I don't remember what Boston's was.
Eaton:WGBH. Right. Thirteen is.
Doel:I think we're doing good remembering all these stations.
Eaton:I don't know whether he still is a member or not.
Doel:And also Richard Dervis, if I'm pronouncing that right, who was managing director of Morgan Stanley.
Eaton:Boy that may be a John Mutter addition.
Doel:Perhaps that was just after the time.
Eaton:It doesn't ring a bell with me, if you have the name right.
Doel:That's interesting. That's interesting. One thing that I also wanted to cover here was how the decision was made, how you made the decision to leave Lamont for the opportunity at USGS to become the director?
Eaton:It was an evolutionary sort of thing; first I rejected the idea, and then considered it, then warmed to it. Late in the summer of '93 Gene [Eugene M.] Shoemaker, who was just killed earlier this year, on the eighteenth of July in an auto accident in Australia, called me. He was chair of the Academy committee that had been charged with drawing up a slate of director nominees for the Survey. I said I'd had a couple of Survey people call me and ask if I'd consider coming back, but I had said, no, for a host of reasons. I had just put together the advisory committee, and I wasn't interested. My wife wasn't interested in making another career move before we retired, either, so we said, no. Then I began to get calls from Survey people in Menlo Park who said, well, look, how about doing this? There are problems in the Survey. You know what some of them are, but the only way you're going to get the Secretary's ear is if you agree to be a candidate. You don't have to take the job, just let your name be on the list so you can talk to the Secretary. Won't you consider helping us this way?
Doel:This, of course, is Bruce Babbitt.
Eaton:Yes, I said, well, we'll see, but then Shoemaker calls again. I think I shared that tactical view with him, and I said, I guess, Gene, if you think you can in all good conscience put a person's name on the list for that reason alone, I'd be willing to do it. The NRC National Biological Survey ad hoc design committee was having their last meeting in Washington — we had two here, one at the Beckman Center in California, and two up at the Johnson Center at Woods Hole. I get a phone call from somebody in at the second Interior Washington meeting asking me to return the call at a break. I later phone the person, whose name I didn't know, a guy who's staffing of Interior. He said, "The Secretary would like to talk to you." This came as no surprise, now. "When can you break away and come over while you're in town?" I think it was mid-morning at that point. I said, there's a period of time this afternoon when we're to be in break-out sub-committees, and my subcommittee isn't doing something today, so I could come over there. Then I went over and talked to the secretary. And clearly that was stepping out onto a slippery slope.
Doel:You consciously knew that by so doing, you were putting yourself before into —
Eaton:Yes. It would become harder to draw back after that point. This would have been the latter part of August, I believe, but I've forgotten the time table. We chatted about what was wrong and what was right with the Survey. He saw some of what was wrong. He had initiated a communication opportunity he called the Campfire Letter. He had told everyone in each bureau when he became Secretary, that if they wanted to share their view of the world, or of Interior, or of their bureau, or its problems with him, they could write him a letter, and put the word "campfire" on the envelope and nobody else would open it but him. He promised to respond. Apparently, he had no idea of the enormity of the dimensions of this Pandora's Box he was opening. He had ten bureaus. Many people wrote, but, overwhelmingly, the largest number of letters came in from the Geological Survey. The second most numerous ones were from the Park Service, but it was a decidedly pale second. He found that when he took all the letters from the Geological Survey, the overwhelming number was from the Geologic Division, and then when he took just the Geologic Division letters, the overwhelming number was from Menlo Park.
Eaton:So, early on, he had an interesting bead on Menlo Park, California. We talked often about this. He said so how would you approach this problem? How would you approach that one? At the end of the meeting, he put the bite on me. I said, well, I'll think about it. I went from being less than reluctant, not being really willing to consider it, to being willing, I sort of let myself slide awhile on the upper part of the slippery slope. The Academy Committee leaked like a damn sieve. Everybody in the country soon knew who, some of the candidates were, but they didn't know I might be a candidate because I hadn't allowed my name to be put up in the first place. Then a rumor started that my name was on the revised list and that rumor went around Lamont for a while. My predecessor, the previous USGS director called, and he said, "Well, chum, I understand you're a candidate." Babbitt had asked him to step down. He'd served for twelve years. It's not an unreasonable request to make that the new secretary wants his own person. It wasn't that my predecessor had done a poor job, it was just that the Secretary wanted his own person. I had previously met the Secretary when we were both in other walks of life. I had invited him to Iowa State to be a keynote speaker. We were celebrating the hundredth anniversary of Aldo Leopold's birth and we had a three day environmental symposium because he, Leopold, was the father of the conservation movement in the U.S. One of the luminary names in this area was the former governor of Arizona, Bruce Babbit, so we invited him up. He came back to the campus later as one of five candidates contending for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. That time he asked for my public support on the campus, as president of the university. I had to tell him there wasn't any way I could do that. You know, politically that would have been suicide, even just in choosing one of the five of them. I ran into him also at a NASULGC, a National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, meeting when he was a speaker at a symposium there. The president of the University of Arizona and I had been at the meeting together along with other university presidents, and we stopped by to talk to him after the speech. I still remember the wild astonishment the president of the University of Arizona felt when he saw that his governor knew somebody from another state university, and in the Midwest, to boot.
Doel:Is that right?
Eaton:He asked, "How do you know Bruce Babbitt?" I told him that we'd had this casual contact, so I wasn't talking to a complete stranger.
Doel:I'm wondering how things were by that point at Lamont? Whether you had felt at that point the relations were —
Eaton:I think they clearly were. The money had not been coming in in the way that people had imagined it would. I hadn't done enough to reinforce the fact that fund-raising was going to be a long, slow process of securing gifts and I'd made enough decisions that made some people upset — for examples, with about the name change, awarding bits of discretionary funds here, rather than their spending too much time downtown, and etc. It's any job where one makes decisions, wherein some are winners, but others, losers. As they say, "Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate," I was conscious of some unhappy people, but I was also feeling increasingly frustrated by a number of things.
Doel:Was there anyone moment in looking back that you felt that relations were getting ever more difficult in the Lamont community, or was it a gradual?
Eaton:There was a time or two when Wally and I had a "thing" that prompted him to write one of his classic bomb-throwing letters to Jonathan Cole, one which I frankly found outrageous, as did Jonathan. Moments like that cause one to wonder whether or not they want to continue or take another fork in the road.
Eaton:I thought, do I really want to spend the rest of my career and working life dealing with this sort of thing, particularly when I might have the possibility of another offer in hand? It was just personal conjecture at first, but things came rapidly to a head in my own mind after that. The process was slow. First of all there has to be an extensive FBI investigation of your background. How people like some of the Whitewater folks got through this, I don't know. Webster Hubbell is a good example of a person who was subjected to the same FBI investigation that I was, and he's just been let out of jail. Then, the nomination has to go to the Senate and there has to be a committee hearing. You remember what happened to Clinton's first two attorneys general nominees, the two women? Although I was not exactly a political cause celebre, it was nevertheless, a very slow process, the outcome of which was far from clear.
Eaton:By the time you're slated to go for Senate confirmation, your name is a matter of public record. The president announced that he intended to nominate me for the directorship of the Geological Survey on the fifth of January. I had told the Lamont earlier than that, I think in late November or early December — again, it would be a matter of record — which I had allowed my name to advance for the directorship of the Survey. Once you do that, you've cut your line. Even if I had not been seated, if the FBI had found something of concern and the president had had to withdraw the nomination, or had I not been confirmed by the Senate, I was damaged goods.
Doel:But by having made that announcement.
Eaton:I would probably have been "dead meat," as director of Lamont. It's an act of disloyalty at any university and it's true when you depart any institution from a high level position that your loyalty and commitment are questioned.
Doel:There are a lot of questions that we haven't had a chance to ask and I'm very conscious of your time.
Eaton:That's because I talk too much, Ron.
Doel:No, this is. What you've been telling us has been very, very interesting and quite important. I'm just wondering in a general way what your experience at Lamont, how that helped you in being the director of the Geological Survey.
Eaton:I had been at two major public universities, so important issues like the need for strategic planning were nothing new to me. Although we did it in a very different way at Columbia. I think each of these opportunities and involvements was cumulative in terms of my overall experience and understanding. Take what I regarded as a really trite issue, the name change thing. I learned something from it, so the answer to your question is, yes.
Doel:It certainly wasn't trite.
Eaton:Emotionally, it wasn't trite, but I would still argue that, rationally, it was trite. I tend to be an individual who learns from his mistakes, but at the same time, I'm not a terribly cautious person, and so maybe I need to learn more from my mistakes if I can't figure them out otherwise. Yes, I'd say there were several, several significant things that helped in my new positions where I've put things into play here in a different way than I might have otherwise. Or I put different things into play. Or I have affected change incrementally. I'd be hard put to name a whole lot of specific things, but it was a very useful learning experience, just as Iowa State was a learning experience and Texas A&M was a learning experience. One of the learning experiences actually was that each of these places, and this place too, has its own distinct and entrenched culture. And there are not in the elements of many cultures, much in the way of transferability value. For example, one of the things that was big at Texas A&M was using faculty expertise to aid in economic development for the state. That's pretty standard stuff at many land grant institutions if you go all the way back to the beginning of land grant universities. I know I'm talking to somebody who works at one. Nevertheless, when I took the go-go, kind of business of the administration's having created an industrial research park at A&M and went up to Iowa State, I was not prepared for the populist culture of Iowa and the university. Consequently, I came off sounding like everybody's stereotype of a Texan. Try to imagine that university faculty is supposed to help with business matters in a state, with making money. It was a foreign idea in Iowa. When I came to Columbia, it was a totally different culture. All these things give you a different perspective on the sorts of things you want to try to do and they help shape your way of doing it the next time. We undertook strategic planning here in the USGS totally differently from the way we did it at Iowa State, which, in turn, was different from the way I did it at A&M, where the president had put me in charge of the strategic planning effort at the outset. So, they can't help but affect what you're doing in a new situation. I think the Lamont staff, the superb scientists that those guys and gals are, and all of their personal strengths and foibles, helped me understand some of the scientists in the survey in a way that I wouldn't have if I had not had the Lamont experience, so, the real trick is going to be in retirement. What will I do with all that I've learned? [Laughter] I don't know.
Doel:I've no doubt you will find something.
Eaton:A number of people have made the observation that I could certainly write about a lot of different things in terms of these experiences.
Sfraga:But your negotiating skills may become very important on the golf course.
Eaton:Maybe so. I don't play golf yet, but maybe I will.
Sfraga:Then you'll be more powerful.
Doel:One absolutely last question, again with concern for time. Are there any other key issues regarding Lamont that we haven't spoken about that comes to your mind? That you want to talk about today?
Eaton:I think this may be the kind of question Ron, where as soon as you're out the front door, a bolt of inspirational lightning will strike me. We have talked about an awful lot over these two long interviews. I remain enormously impressed and respectful of what the place, Lamont, has contributed. I really think it's contributed a great deal. It was interesting to see where it stumbled and then got it right and moved on. For example, Ewing was not quick to embrace plate tectonics as a concept, and yet in the end, some very important stuff came out of Lamont. Lynn Sykes and Walter Pitman contributed greatly, among a few others. Thus, it has the capacity of mid-course corrections, which I marvel at, since it isn't a place that is pulling together all of the time. It's a living demonstration of how you can have a collection of very capable people, and despite the fact that they aren't necessarily well working together, the public image is a very positive one based on the whole of the science, rather than just an individual part here or there. I'm impressed, still, in how it's capable of evolving, even though it's as conservative as hell on some issues like the name and its processes for making decisions, and even resentful of change. It still moves forward. So maybe it's a classic model of the beast, you know that it is. I'm going to be very interested and intrigued to see what Peter [Eisenberger] does from his new position, which is rather different. He doesn't come out of any of Lamont's disciplines. That's the one departure for him that was not an anomaly for me. I came out of geology.
Doel:But clearly as you say Peter does not.
Eaton:But, he comes out of physics and the material sciences, and while you can argue that there are at least some connections with the stuff that Dave [David] Walker does, it's pretty tenuous. So the place has taken another evolutionary step forward, with still a different kind of director.
Doel:Was the Earth Institute design as it has emerged, close to the vision, one of the visions, which you had had for Lamont.
Eaton:Yes. Mike [Crow] and I worked on this together. We saw that we needed to join Lamont to other parts of the university that we were losing something by not doing so, not merging so much as simply creating a meaningful network. I can remember that we had a scientist from the public health department in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, a man who was incredibly interested in lead. He had stumbled on the fact that by lone drinking wine from leaded crystal, you could, be at some level, lead poisoning yourself. He learned that we had a mass spectrograph at Lamont and could analyze for very, very small quantities of lead. We had a couple of sessions with him. I was hoping that we might connect geochemistry and public health. The more we talked about this, Mike last time, came in. I couldn't afford to pay for all of Mike, so I brought him in and paid for half, and convinced the guy who had the job that Mike has now, to pay for the other half as his associate. On the main campus, then Mike could take the broader view. The Earth Institute took shape as a concept at first, and the first versions of this were presented to Lamonters early on in my second year, I think. We began to get ourselves involved in outreach, and began to talk to others, but there was subtle resistance to these ideas. The idea of partnering hadn't come quite to bear in the Lamont consciousness. One was focused sharply in ones' own area and the concept of a team effort, where you brought different disciplines together, hadn't taken compelling meaning, yet. Yet I now see that happening. In the three and a half years that I've been away; I see that happening all over the place. In fact, I'm told by Corell and others at NSF that they're getting ready now to invite proposals that are multidisciplinary from teams. Team proposals and accomplishments and are going to be rewarded.
Doel:Spanning from the natural sciences into the social sciences.
Eaton:Right. I see that from our standpoint here, too. A lot of what we do, I think, has to be justified on the basis of being able to demonstrate societal value through the use of economics. Yet, we have very few economists on our staff in the USGS. Unfortunately, we're in a period of time here where we're not going to be able to hire them, so we're going to have to partner with people on the outside. In another arena, we've been down to Atlanta a couple of times, and we're pushing CDC [Center for Disease Control] on issues of geochemistry and the causes of mortality. There are some geologic anomalies in this area. And there are some water, ground water, composition anomalies, where death rates are high. There are also some other interesting facts, like where the lithium content is high in groundwater, there is a much lower incidence of depression. So there are many connections waiting to be made, but we have to get out of the mold that we were trained in, for example, as an igneous petrologist, where, in the past fame and glory and the pathway to heaven came only in igneous petrology. Charlie and Dave would perhaps never say that, but that's the way the game, that's the way the rules of the game were written. It's tough to break those rules, it's a big cultural transition for some scientists.
Doel:Now, you're talking about one of the fundamental issues of mid and late twentieth century science. In terms of its culture and the kinds of questions that are elevated to be answered.
Eaton:It's actually a big change from the kind of cultural values that were inculcated as recently as fifteen years ago. It's still in everybody's bones, you know and it's going to be hard to get it out. One can't exactly mandate it, but you do have to build it into the reward system, because until you build it into the reward system for promotion and tenure, people aren't going to feel compelled to change or move in other directions. They're going to feel that they're risking advancement according to the old rules.
Doel:I fear we need to stop at this point, although it's at certainly at a very important one. And I want to thank you very, very much for this long interview. And I will say here again on tape that Columbia will respect the parts of this interview that you have deemed closed. Let me thank you again very much.
You're welcome, Ron.
Session I | Session II