Oral History Transcript — Dr. Lynn Sykes
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Interview with Dr. Lynn Sykes
Lynn Sykes; July 9, 1997
ABSTRACT: Nuclear detection work on Soviet weapons; work with the Federation of American Scientists, the Center for Defense Information, the National Resources Development Council and Columbia Universityís Arms Control seminar; Environmental Science Services Administration (1966–1968); problems with Lamont Geological Observatory, including the Doherty donation, W. Maurice Ewingís last years as director, Manik Talwani as the new director, and funding problems; Barry Raleighís success as Lamontís director after Talwani.
Doel:This is Ron Doel, and this is a continuing interview, session five, with Lynn Sykes, and we are making this recording in your home in Snedenís Landing, New York. One of the things that I do want to begin with today, one matter that I believed we discussed largely off tape in the last session when we were speaking about your working in nuclear detection. The subsequent controversy over yields on Soviet weapons. I wanted to give you a chance to talk more about that.
Sykes:Right. As I mentioned previously, there was a long debate that went on for about fifteen years, about what was the size of Russian nuclear explosions that had been detonated, and that was ostensibly solved in 1988 when the United States and the Russians each allowed the other to monitor very close — in some explosions that were near the threshold. The Threshold Test Ban then was in fact re-negotiated by the Bush Administration and finally passed the Senate. The terms in fact were never invoked because neither side tested after the treaty was finally ratified by both governments.
Sykes:But one of the things that I did leading up to that was to do a number of estimates of yields, particularly of some of the largest Russian explosions, ones that had been done before the Threshold Test Ban took effect in April 1976. Dan Davis and I worked together to try and put together information on the so-called throw weights of Russian missile systems, of how many tons or kilograms of weapon they could carry, and the patterns and sizes as deduced from seismology of the longest Russian tests, and invoking causality that they had to be tested before they were deployed. We came up then with what we felt were some reasonable estimates of the full-yield testing of the weapons for certain systems. They tended to be along the small side of a number of different estimates. They were just a little bit smaller than some numbers that Paul Nitze had given in congressional testimony that were about fifty percent larger, but our estimates were fourteen times smaller than the largest published estimate for the MIRV [Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicle] warheads carried by the largest Russian missile system that are still deployed on the SS-18.
Doel:Right. Now, just to be sure: when is this that you make the prediction when it is eighteen times or fourteen times I think —?
Sykes:We did that in conjunction with an article that we wrote for Scientific American called ďThe Yields of Soviet Strategic Systems,Ē or something like that.
Doel:Right. And this was the more recent of the —
Sykes:Of the two Scientific American articles that Iíve written. Our conclusion was that the sizes of the Russian warheads were a little bit smaller in yield compared to those of the U.S., and we attributed that to better technology, better computer modeling by the United States.
Doel:Was the one estimate that was fourteen times larger at the far end of the scale, or did it go further?
Sykes:It was at the extreme end of the scale, but you can see that if people were arguing by a factor of fourteen, you could come to quite different conclusions about the quote, ďThe Russians are ahead of us,Ē or ďabout on a par with usĒ or not — even if that made a difference. Of course, there have been people like [Robert] McNamara who said that even during the Cuban missile crisis it didnít matter that we had many times the number of warheads that the Russians had, because if they had delivered ten on the territory of the United States it would have been a disaster beyond that that we had ever experienced, and for that reason that the United States, even in 1962, would not have carried out a pre-emptive strike against Russia for fear of what they could do to us.
Doel:Iím curious. In the work that you were doing, the test ban work, did you ever have contact with people directly like McNamara? Was he someone that you knew?
Sykes:I met McNamara just to say hello at a Pugwash meeting. It was held about twelve years ago in Geneva, and Pugwash had had two different symposia that one stopped and the other began the next day. McNamara was there for the first part that I think had to do with nuclear weapons in Europe. That, in fact, was before the intermediate nuclear forces agreement that led to the Russians tearing up their SS-20s and the U.S. doing away with the Persian-2s and our other intermediate-range weapon systems.
Doel:One thing Iím curious about is who were the — Which groups or which individuals were using the figure that was fourteen times the size of the estimate that you had come up with on the Soviet terms?
Sykes:Well, that was in congressional testimony that [Senator Robert] Dole had given. He put it out there as an argument that the Russians were way ahead of us. There have long been arguments about claims of bomber gaps, missile gaps, etc., and this was just one of those. Particularly toward the end of the Carter Administration, a group of people claimed that the United States had allowed itself to become second place and that the Russians were going ahead of us in the production of missiles and of the weapons on them that could hit the United States. Now, in terms of some other people that were quite important, the Federation of American Scientists held a mock hearing that a few of us participated in, and also arranged for the various congressional testimony that I gave in 1985 and 1986 to two different House committees and one Senate committee.
Doel:Interesting. And you say that people in the Federation for American Scientists had helped to arrange this opportunity.
Sykes:Arrange that. As well as the Center for Defense Information of Admiral [Eugene] Carroll and others in that organization.
Sykes:My sense was that Greenpeace had an interest, but their interest was of shorter term. They wanted to get in, make a quick impact, and then move on to something else. This tended to be one of those issues that was not a very quick impact thing. It really needed working on consistently for years to try and finally make an impact and get a result.
Doel:Were there any environmental groups that you did stay in sustained contact with on the nuclear issue?
Sykes:Well, I did with the Federation of American Scientists, the Center for Defense Information, so those were the principal ones.
Sykes:And then the one other one was NRDC [National Resources Development Council]. I was involved with them in writing most of a chapter in one of their books which has to do with Soviet nuclear capabilities and systems. I wrote most of the chapter on Soviet nuclear testing.
Doel:You mentioned in the last interview segment that your work in the nuclear test ban area hadnít really gotten much visibility within Lamont and in fact it had been somewhat controversial. What about officials at Columbia? Did you have a sense of how administrators at Columbia itself or members of other departments felt about the work you were doing?
Sykes:I think that people generally admired it, but in a very abstract way. I was a member for probably close to ten years of Columbiaís Arms Control Seminar, which consisted mainly of faculty, that met once a month.
Sykes:But by far the center of gravity of that was very much in the area of what one might call high diplomacy, and those aspects of foreign affairs. And I in fact felt that they didnít pay enough attention to the technical side. On the other hand you wouldnít want to solely emphasize the technical side.
Doel:But you did feel that the balance wasnít quite right.
Sykes:I felt that the balance was not good, even though there were people who had a really good technical knowledge who came to those seminars, like [Richard] Dick Garwin from IBM.
Doel:Thatís interesting. You mentioned Pugwash a moment ago. How involved were you in Pugwash activities in the last few decades, or even earlier?
Sykes:Just this one time, this one occasion. One other person who I met on several occasions, and I need to think of his name, but he was a former head of the CIA I believe in the Carter Administration. He died in an accident —
Doel:Very recently over the last year.
Sykes:Right, about the last year or so, in which he apparently drowned in Chesapeake Bay [Maryland]. And he was heavily involved in Vietnam of organizing the CIA capabilities there, but in the last fifteen years he was quite interested (and his background was as a lawyer) in arms control. He had testified at the same time I did. I met him at a conference at Princeton, and I believe that he was also present at a Belmont, Maryland conference having to do with the test ban just before Bush was elected. It recommended steps towards the U.S. beginning negotiations towards a test ban. It was organized by NRDC. Anyway, I will think of his name and tell you and you can insert that. [William Colby].
Doel:Itís on the tip of my tongue too, and weíll make sure that itís on the transcript for sure.
Sykes:And also one other person who I got some good strokes from was a lawyer, Stan [Stanley] Resor. He had been Secretary of the Army probably twenty-five years ago. He came to some of the seminars at Columbia, the Arms Control Seminar, and he was very interested in the test ban as an issue.
Doel:And was knowledgeable enough that you could talk to them on both the technical and the political level.
Doel:Yes. Thatís interesting. I want to make sure. We probably will have — There may be other questions that will get us back into, related into test ban issues as we go along, particularly in our next interview when we cover the prediction work.
Doel:One of the things that I also wanted to ask you about that we just havenít spoken about thus far is the two years that you were involved in the Environmental Science Services Administration [ESSA] in Ď66 through Ď68 if I recall correctly.
Doel:How did that come about, and what were you working on when you were connected with it?
Sykes:What happened was that before I took that position it had been held by Jim [James] Brune who was an earlier graduate of Lamont. Jack [E.] Oliver, as head of seismology, had arranged with the Department of Commerce, what was originally the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and then became ESSA —
Doel:Yes. The broad conglomeration.
Sykes:That they would pay to have one person work at Lamont on seismology on areas that were of interest to them and would also do consulting for them. One of the things that was part of that agreement was that they would pay to have a complete set of the film chips from the worldwide seismic network. They probably paid for them for about ten years, and Lamont went on to get funds to continue that collection. In fact, I think we have the only complete collection of the film chips, and we probably have the only collection that has been sorted such that it is user friendly.
Doel:And as you mentioned, that has been an important development certainly for Lamont.
Sykes:So when Jim Brune received an offer of a professorship from Cal Tech [California Institute of Technology], which he accepted, I took over this position about a year after receiving my Ph.D. I did do a fair amount of traveling, mainly to Colorado, where the group that I was involved with was based, and some to the Washington, D.C. area to talk with people in seismology.
Doel:Iím curious what your general impression was of ESSA as a scientific agency.
Sykes:I would say that they were pretty sleepy. At that time, they were competing with the U.S. Geological Survey, that was trying to build up its capabilities in seismology that they had originally started under Pakiser, Lou Pakiser, in doing seismic refraction measurements with money from the Vela Uniform Program of the Department of Defense, in which they made refraction measurements, principally out from the Nevada test site. That group eventually became the nucleus of the efforts at Menlo Park of working on earthquake prediction and earthquake hazards.
Sykes:In fact, that group in ESSA was then merged with the group at USGS.
Doel:When was that merger?
Sykes:That merger was probably mid-seventies. I think it was something that Frank Press had had a lot to do with recommending that there be just one group that would work in that area prior to the formation of the U.S. governmentís program either in the Executive Department or through Congress of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. ESSA did a couple of the things that they had traditionally done: they operated tide gauges, they ran the Tsunami warning system, they did a lot of oceanography, and particularly they did a lot of geodetic measurements. So eventually a lot of those geodetic measurements were transferred over to what became a new agency in the Department of Commerce, the National Geodetic Survey. But the USGS then went on to take over most of the repeated geodetic measurements in California, looking for changes related to the buildup of stresses to earthquakes.
Doel:One thing that raised my curiosity: Do you feel that that was because of the leadership at the top of the USGS, or the leadership within the particular programs that were excelling at USGS, such as the earthquake study? Was Tom Nolan still director of the Survey at that time?
Sykes:Iím not quite sure. I never met him. I dealt with Dallas Peck on a number of occasions.
Doel:He came on after — Yes.
Sykes:Well in fact the person who was in between. His name starts with a P.
Doel:It will come to my mind too. Yes.
Sykes:So I think that the development of that group was well after Nolan. Pecora.
Doel:Pecora. Bill [William] Pecora.
Sykes:So I think that USGS, and this is in the late sixties, early seventies, was pretty aggressive in hiring more people, trying to build up their capabilities in seismology, and doing that using both their own funds as well as kind of counterpart funds from other U.S. government agencies.
Sykes:ESSA was not very active in doing that.
Doel:Do you feel they had missed opportunities in which they could have made a better name for themselves?
Sykes:Right. ESSA had one unfortunate aspect that in fact, until very recently they had an officer corps, consisting of people who were officers like those in the Coast Guard, who ran a number of the Coast and Geodetic Survey ships and were responsible for various programs. They tended to be fairly good at organization of a paramilitary type. I think that their scientific training was not as good as that of a number of people in USGS.
Doel:Thatís interesting. One of the other areas that we havenít spoken about yet is your impression of Lamontís development through the late 1960s, and say particularly after [W. Maurice] Ewing married Harriet [Greene].
Doel:Did you feel that that was a watershed in terms of Lamontís general direction at that period from the mid- to late 1960s into his leaving Lamont?
Sykes:Well, I donít think that his marrying Harriet had anything to do with that, but I think that one of the main things was that Ewing had approached the Doherty Foundation to make a major gift to Columbia. He had previously been able to convince the Vetlesen Foundation to establish the Vetlesen Prize and to fund a few other things that were seagoing. But, and this was at about the time of what I call the big disturbance at Columbia.
Doel:The student riots. Yes.
Sykes:Then [William J.] McGill came in as the new president, and at that same time Columbia faced a major financial crisis. Just before McGill, Columbia decided to build the very large School of International Affairs, which is now International and Public Affairs. In fact Columbia was left holding the bag in that it hadnít raised several tens of millions of dollars that were needed for that building.
Doel:Thatís interesting. That had been begun under Grayson Kirkís administration then?
Sykes:It certainly had been planned, but one person who was an interim president —
Sykes:Andrew Cordier. Of course, that was his area of interest, and so he had gone ahead with that building, but without having raised a lot of the funds for it.
Sykes:So that and a number of other things led to a major financial crisis at Columbia. It may have in part also been that alumni were not as willing to give to Columbia as a result of the disturbance on campus.
Doel:How much would you actually see of that, by the way? Were you in over at Columbia often enough during the late 1960s to see the disturbance, or could you —?
Sykes:No. And I mentioned in the last interview, or one of them, that I had, in fact, gone to one meeting in which Jack Oliver was criticized for being a member of an Air Force advisory committee. But I had been to relatively few things. I, of course, was reading the newspapers. But I had not been involved in any formal way, and in fact was mostly at the time in which I was still at ESSA and at about the time that I transferred to become an assistant professor at Columbia.
Doel:That had happened around Ď68, if I recall correctly?
Sykes:So I think it was the 1st of July Ď68 in which I became a new assistant professor at Columbia. So after McGill became president, he was aware of the universityís financial crisis. Just before that, I believe, it was Cordier who finally accepted the Doherty gift. As a result of accepting the Doherty gift, the university insisted that there be an executive committee at Lamont. I was a new faculty member, but I became a member of the executive committee.
Doel:Is that something you remember wanting to do at that time, or did it seem not something you were inclined to do?
Sykes:Oh, I think it was something that I was inclined to do. It was not something that I was avid about doing, but it wasnít a big negative.
Doel:Did Ewing talk to you or others about his efforts to try to interest the Doherty people? Had you met folks like [Chauncey] Newlin or [?] Brown in the —?
Sykes:No, I had heard about them. I hadnít met them, but still at the time in which the Doherty gift had been offered but not accepted by Columbia. Ewing spoke to several of us who were younger faculty members or younger but senior scientists, in which he made remarks that he just couldnít understand how this wonderful gift had been offered to Columbia and they didnít immediately snap it up and say yes. He told us a little bit later on that they had finally said yes. It was quite a bit later in which it emerged that there were several serious consequences of that. One was that we in the executive committee found out that Columbia was required to match the Doherty contribution. I believe a third of it had to come from Columbia as matching funds. So that, in fact, was one of the big reasons the university was holding back. The university had also promised the Department of Geological Sciences, that was not as close as it is today to Lamont, a new building. The Department had planned to move from the main campus to Lamont. Chuck [Charles L.] Drake was chairman at that time of the department of geology. The funds for that building that had been promised by Columbia suddenly evaporated as soon as the Doherty money was accepted. So I think that it was, and certainly I believe that Drake felt, that the money went to those matching funds and so that the department really lost out.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. Was that a shared perception then?
Sykes:I think that it was.
Doel:Thatís very interesting.
Sykes:Ewing had, in fact, worked with the people from the Doherty Foundation to get an agreement that Columbia signed saying that Columbia would not use the occasion of the acceptance of the gift for cutting back on its contributions to Lamont. I believe it applied to the Department of Geology, but Iím not quite sure about that. So McGill comes in, finds a major financial crisis soon after the Doherty gift was accepted. He asked for a general across the board cutback in funding to each unit at the university. I think somehow Ewing either couldnít understand that because of paranoia, or didnít want to understand it because he didnít want to make a cut, and so he had people from the Doherty Foundation threaten to sue Columbia, take the gift back. So McGill found himself in a major confrontation with Ewing.
Doel:Iím very curious about that and how closely you were able to see that. Was that something that was very evident to all of you on the executive committee at the time?
Sykes:Well, one of the things that happened, was the Provost, then with the title of Vice President, [William T.] de Bary, called a group of us in, minus Ewing, to ask us advice about a number of things. By that time or close to that time Ewing had threatened to accept an offer by the University of Texas to move there.
Doel:Is this now already in the very early 1970s or —?
Sykes:Yes, this is in the early seventies.
Doel:Right. Itís not long before he actually accepts the offer that weíre talking about.
Sykes:Thatís right. So I think it certainly was clear to those of us on the executive committee that Columbia had a major financial problem. It wasnít that Lamont was being singled out, as Ewing had attempted to portray as the case, and of it being an attack on the Doherty money.
Doel:Interesting too, a moment ago you had mentioned the word paranoia to describe Ewingís style at that point.
Doel:Did that seem a gradual transition from how he had been directing Lamont before or did it accelerate in the late sixties?
Sykes:Well, I think that what happened for the first twenty years of the existence of Lamont was that Ewing and a few others were able to go out and raise large blocks of grant money from the Federal government. Eisenhower as president accepted the gift of the Lamont property. Lamont was pretty much allowed to go its own way because it was paying its own way. It was only then in which these other things came in that involved money from the University or the acceptance of money like the Doherty money with the University having to come up with matching funds that Ewing then got into more, larger dealings with people at the University. I think he tended to take a rather absolutist position. McGill seeing Ewing taking this absolutist position just wasnít about to stand for that. So I think he pretty much told Ewing that he was going to have to back down and take some cut in funding. I donít think that McGill was trying to embarrass Ewing in public. But one of the things then that Ewing put to us that was quite momentous, those of us on the executive committee—and as I mentioned, the executive committee was created at the insistence of the provost when the Doherty gift was accepted, that there be a larger committee other than Ewing and [J. Lamar] Worzel who were essentially making policy at the observatory.
Doel:Who else was on the executive committee then? Was [Manik] Talwani a member?
Sykes:I think so, but I canít remember.
Doel:Okay, thatís fine.
Sykes:Ewing then, really out of the blue, and this was before the Texas initiative, said that he was seriously considering removing Lamont from Columbia University, of moving out to Sterling Forest and forming a separate organization.
Doel:That must have been a shock for many of you when that was —
Sykes:It was. Yes, we were well aware that Sterling Forest was quite removed from any academic environment, particularly a teaching environment and that it was quite far from an urban center, I think that we were quite shocked that Ewing would go that far. We were quite unanimous that that was a unwise policy, and let Ewing know that. He was furious. And so his next move, when McGill also wouldnít give in, was to seek this offer from the University of Texas.
Doel:That must have been memorable, to use the word that you said a moment ago, in that meeting when Ewing was being thwarted by members of the executive committee in the Sterling Forest decision.
Doel:He expected, it seems, that at least a majority of you would have gone along with that.
Sykes:I think so. I think symptomatic of, I mean wouldnít agree with that, was when he got this offer from the University of Texas, he attempted to take one of the ships with him and to get the Navy to transfer the title of the [Robert D.] Conrad over to The University of Texas. He invited members of the senior staff to go with him to Texas. I think he fully expected that a large percentage of the staff at Lamont would decide to go to the University of Texas.
Sykes:Did he personally ask you to go with him?
Sykes:No. Iím not sure who he asked personally, but in fact only a handful of people ended up going. Worzel ended up going.
Sykes:Jim Dorman, Tosi Matumoto, Gary Latham —
Doel:Some of these people had already been involved in the Apollo program and hence were centered largely —
Sykes:Thatís right. The people who were involved in the Apollo program and Worzel, who had been associate director, and that was about it. And I think that I was pretty shocked to find out that, in fact, that the offer from Texas was not to go to the main campus at the University of Texas in Austin, but they were merely given quarters in the medical school at Galveston.
Sykes:So I think that group never thrived. Ewing died a few years later. He was not successful in taking one of the ships. I think that it was probably a tremendous shock to him of how few people decided to go to Texas.
Doel:Iím thinking about that. Iím also thinking back to a comment you had made a little bit earlier about the meeting you had with [William Theodore] Ted de Bary about the Ewing matter when Ewing wasnít there. I imagine that was an extraordinary experience as well, to realize that the problems with Lamontís director were severe enough that this remedy was — It was called — Do you remember who else was in that meeting with you with de Bary?
Sykes:I remember that it was the members of the executive committee.
Doel:Yes. Was Chuck Drake a member of that committee, do you recall?
Sykes:No, Chuck Drake had certainly left by then.
Doel:Sure, he had left. Thatís quite right. He was at Dartmouth by then.
Sykes:And I think that the thing that precipitated Drakeís leaving Lamont was essentially having his feet cut out from under him by Columbia as Department chairman, being promised this new building, and all at once having it removed.
Doel:How did people feel about the idea of consolidating, of leaving Schermerhorn and consolidating efforts out at Lamont? Did you have discussions with people in the Geology Department about that?
Sykes:Well, I was a very young assistant professor, so that I didnít have too strong an opinion, but clearly what had been happening was that new people who were added as professors wanted to do their research at Lamont and did do their research there, so there was a gradual attrition of people who had their main base on the campus. There were several who did not like to see the growth of Lamont overshadowing that of the Department of Geology. There were several alumni who felt that Columbia had once been first in the country in geology and that we had moved far too far in the direction of oceanography, geophysics, seismology, etc., and that we had essentially given up on hard and soft rock geology. But one person who stayed downtown, Marshall Kay, was an interim department chairman. I think he was quite good in that period in that he was in favor of the growth of Lamont and yet he still defended what would be called classical geology. Even though he had written a classical treatise on geosynclines, he followed and very much welcomed the new developments in sea floor spreading and plate tectonics.
Doel:Thatís interesting. You know, Iím curious too what your impressions were at the time of de Bary and the way that he was handling these issues involving Lamont. Did you also meet with McGill directly or were most of your meetings and dealings in the committee with Provost de Bary?
Sykes:Iím just trying to think, I think the more formal meeting was certainly with de Bary. I probably met with McGill later on, when I was member of a commission that was supposed to look at academic priorities and evaluate various departments. In fact, it turned out that the more important unstated purpose was to generate a document to be used by the President for starting a big fund raising campaign.
Doel:Interesting. I gather you realized that fairly early on in that process.
Sykes:If not immediately, after a while.
Doel:Let me just pause — I didnít want to steer away from what is also clearly a critical issue here: the way that Ewingís announcement about the move to Texas and his departure, how that affected Lamont and your perceptions of how it changed Lamont as a community and institution.
Sykes:Well, I think that it was made in such a sudden way and in such an autocratic manner that it offended a lot of people, both those of us on the executive committee — that he would just abruptly want to move out to Sterling Forest, or move a large number of the staff to Texas. He was thinking of calling it Lamont 2.
Doel:Interesting. Did you have a sense that he was thinking of this somehow as a broad, two linked institution —?
Sykes:I think he was in the beginning. Intellectually he was. But I think that emotionally, I mean he was really angry at Columbia. Also I mean Ewing had grown up in a small town in Texas, very poor. He had gone to Rice University. So his roots were there, and I think that there was a longing to go back to Texas and really show people in the petroleum industry he had made it, even though he had made it.
Doel:Interesting observation. Did you have much contact with Ewing once he did go down to Texas? Did you see him again?
Sykes:No. Certainly if I did it was just in passing. I did have some dealings with Gary Latham, who had a lot of equipment that NASA had bought, and Columbia I believed had ownership of that equipment. It had been given to the Apollo project or to the Ocean Bottom Seismometer project. Latham wanted to take all this equipment to Texas, and neither I nor other people at Columbia felt that was fair nor wanted to see it happen. I can remember then being asked by a person from I believe the Office of Naval Research or NASA to draw up a list of the equipment. We essentially negotiated item by item — that this one stays here, this one goes to Texas, and thatís what happened.
Sykes:So that did not leave a good taste in my mouth, both having to deal with that Ė-
Doel:Clearly there were tensions on various levels that characterized the relationship between Lamont and the new operation in Texas. One other thing I am quite curious about is who you were thinking about as Ewingís replacement once it became clear that he was —?
Sykes:Well going back to that period, probably the meeting with de Bary, that Ewing had let the Columbia administration know that his choice was Joe Worzel. And I think it was quite clear that practically no one else at Lamont felt that he could fill Ewingís shoes or wanted to see him become director. I think that there was probably also some move before Ewing left for Texas to remind Ewing that at that time that there was an age limit for administrators.
Doel:Did you expect the new director would come from inside Lamont, or someone in the community?
Sykes:Well, I was asked by the President personally to be chairman of the search committee.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. By McGill.
Sykes:By McGill. That time was probably the first time that I had had some dealings with McGill, except that I then realized that when I was a sophomore at MIT, McGill taught a course in Beginning Psychology that I took from him.
Doel:Yes. Why do you supposed he had asked you to chair that committee?
Sykes:Well, I think that they were looking for a person that was of tenured rank, and I had received tenure by then. I think that they were looking for a person that had established a scientific reputation. I had by then in plate tectonics. I consider myself really one of the grandchildren of the Ewing generation. There were a whole generation then who were the children who had left — Worzel, Drake, Oliver. [J. Laurance] Kulp had long before left in geochemistry. So in fact there wasnít a middle-aged group of professors, and so there really was a vacuum left.
Doel:The generational issue was clearly —
Sykes:I think that I was regarded as being a fair-minded person is what —
Doel:Did you think of it in terms of finding someone from within Lamont, or did you feel your mandate was to look broadly, nationally, intellectually?
Sykes:I felt that our mandate was to look nationally, and in fact we did. The search committee had one member from physics and one from another department, I forget who that was on that search committee.
Doel:It was a fairly small group then who were reviewing and thinking of —
Sykes:Right. It was probably about seven people.
Doel:Who else from Lamont was involved in it?
Sykes:Walter [C.] Pitman was involved. There were both people who were professors as well as those who were senior scientists but not professors, and a few people from other departments. The bulk of people were from the earth sciences. One of the things that I did right away as chairman was to try and come up with quite a long list of people to scan people who were members of the National Academy, various names that had been suggested to us. The committee asked various people from Lamont to recommend names to us. We did quite a bit of telephoning in evaluating people. So we probably looked over 50 names or so, and probably pretty quickly narrowed it down to about fifteen or twenty, and ultimately to a small number. The committee did recommend that our first candidate, top candidate, was Frank Press. He declined. He did do some consulting to the President and Provost about other possible candidates. I think that by then he was chairman at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. He was fairly soon to become [Jimmy] Carterís Science Advisor, so I think, in fact, he had bigger fish to fry. He and his wife also were very young when they were at Lamont, so I think that probably, my sense is, that they didnít see coming back to where they had started as Frank being a graduate student.
Doel:Interesting point. Who else was on that short list as you developed it?
Sykes:The second person that we interviewed was Allen Cox, who was then Dean of the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford. He mainly gave us some advice about directions and other people. It was pretty clear that he was not very interested.
Doel:Do you recall what advice he had given, his perception of Lamont and what its future might be?
Sykes:Oh, I think that he felt that Lamont had been a unique institution. It was soon after plate tectonics, so he felt that Lamont was a number-one institution. Even then, the search committee recommended that we form a School of Earth Sciences that would bring together the Department and Lamont.
Doel:It sounds as if thatís also not merely administrative but conceptual as well in terms of the kinds of problems to consider.
Sykes:Right. And we were well aware that the director of Lamont by then controlled a lot of endowment, oversaw a huge amount of grant and contract money coming into Lamont, and controlled space. Thus, the Department had very few cards to play. It was, in fact, only when the Stork bequest came completely out of the blue to the Department that it got a modest amount of endowment itself.
Doel:When did that come? Was that in the late 1970s or after that?
Sykes:I think so, yes.
Doel:Okay. Iím curious about when you mentioned the School of Earth Sciences. Were environmental concerns being raised as part of the future direction for Lamont?
Sykes:No, they were not. There had always been some consideration, as there is now, about the Krum School of Mines, but it was quite clear then they had a very strong person, Haissalis, who was head of the School of Mines, and he was not about to see any changes that would dilute the endowment, the rather large endowment of the School of Mines. We neither coveted that nor recommended that anything be done there, with the exception of perhaps some more interactions between Lamont and the School of Mines. One of the administrative problems that existed before that was that the Chairman of the Department of Geology reported to the Dean of the Graduate School, who then reported to the Provost. The director of Lamont, when Lamont became big enough by sometime in the 1960s, reported directly to the Provost.
Doel:There was a clear imbalance.
Sykes:So it was a clear imbalance, and this proposal was to try and correct that imbalance. We on the committee clearly realized that Lamont and the Department needed to cooperate, for our own mutual benefit. I think pretty much since then that has been the case, that each director of Lamont has been more likely to cooperate with the Department, and the Department Chairman.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. So from Talwani to Barry [C. Baring] Raleigh to Gordon Eaton.
Sykes:Right, thatís right.
Doel:I imagine the issues of teaching and how to integrate the balance between new hires in teaching and in research was a topic that came up.
Sykes:Yes, well one of the things that happened in that period was not only did the Department of Geology not get its new building, but also of Columbiaís austerity program put a freeze on hiring. So for quite some period of time the Department was not able to increase its number of tenure staff. Most of the increases were at Lamont. One of the things that happened with the use of the Doherty money was that Lamont and the Department used matching funds to provide for several people being appointed as adjunct professors — like Pitman, [Marcus] Langseth, etc. — in which they would teach one course one term every other year in return for a compensation of a certain amount in which half came from Lamont general funds and half from Department funds.
Doel:Interesting. But again, as you say, it drew in people from Lamont more than it did from outside in the general community.
Sykes:Thatís right, yes.
Doel:Iím curious who else stood out in your mind as good candidates for the Director of Lamont besides Cox and Press.
Sykes:Well, the person who was third on our list was Talwani. I think there was a general sense that in terms of stature that he was below those other two, but I think, nevertheless, a consensus developed that he was the clear remaining candidate. The committee did recommend unanimously that he be appointed Director of Lamont. One thing that happened then at the end of that search committee and the next two, was that these various administrative procedures or changes that the committee wanted to see, the university very much was ďGive us a name and weíll negotiate with that person. The committee is not to negotiate with them.Ē
Doel:Interesting. So your job then became to simply get the list.
Doel:But you had been given broader points initially in this first committee —?
Sykes:No, in this first committee our mandate was to seek a new Director.
Doel:When you mentioned about negotiating I was wondering if you felt you had the flexibility to —
Sykes:Well, for example, one thing I did on behalf of the committee was to talk to the President about our recommendation to form a School of Earth Sciences.
Doel:I see, I see.
Sykes:They decided to ignore that.
Doel:Did you have a feeling for why that was so? The financial situation at the time?
Sykes:No. Except that — and I think it was something that I probably realized quite a bit later, and that was that the University has searches of various types going on all the time for administrators, head of the medical school, etc., and the University top administration is always fighting various fires. So they kind of liked nothing better than to negotiate one of these and get it completed so that they could then go on to the five other major fires that are going on. And so I think that they preferred not to delve into trying to make some other changes.
Doel:Was Walter Munk also considered as a candidate in that search in a formative way?
Sykes:He was a name who was certainly in our top fifteen or twenty. He came up again with the next search committee, but I think that there was the clear sense that Walter Munk was not the right person for Lamont, that he worked well in his position of being a senior professor at Scripps, at IGPP [?], but he was not the type of person that we needed. We needed a person with more administrative abilities than we thought he had.
Doel:I wonder how much a matter of personality played into your thoughts as well, given the nature of Lamont.
Sykes:Well, I think given the nature of Lamont our sense was that Walter Munk had his own sense of theory and observations, particularly in physical oceanography, that were important to do. He went on to have a lot to do with the direction of IGPP at Scripps, which is part of UC [University of California] San Diego in developing a very strong theoretical capability, but quite a weak observational capability. Observations had always been Lamontís strong suit.
Doel:How willing did you sense Manik Talwani was to move into administration?
Sykes:I think that he wanted the job, but in fact when he got the job he really expected and wanted to do a lot of science, really keep his finger in more in geophysics. Our sense was that by then Lamont was big enough that the person who was Director certainly couldnít spend more than five percent of their time on research, at the most. We then, as we did in later search committees, felt that more money and more effort had to be put into fund raising.
Doel:And this was something explicitly stated at the time, that Manik was hired as Director, as you recall.
Sykes:Well, I think it was stated to the administration that this person could not do certain things, and that more money needed to be raised. But then since the University insisted that it was the Provost and the President who carried on the negotiations in secret with Talwani, with the candidate, our input I think really did not get very directly to either of them.
Doel:Interesting. Was that a particular frustration?
Sykes:That was a frustration, that we in the committee felt that some major changes needed to be made in terms of the governance of the earth sciences, and that didnít happen.
Doel:Yes. Thatís very interesting.
Sykes:Talwani did get along well, and made an effort to get along well with the Chairman of Geological Sciences, and vice versa.
Doel:When you look back on his directorship in general, what seemed to you as the successes of the time, and what seemed to you to be the principal points of friction?
Sykes:Well, let me say one other thing, that we did recommend that the university — and that was that the Director be appointed for a term, I believe it was something like five years.
Sykes:They went on in fact to make an indefinite offer. So it may have been that in the back of our minds was that Talwani was in a sense kind of an interim director or a transition to someone else. He was a person who came up through Lamont and was in the one field that was the strongest at that time and learning geophysics and geology, of this not being a permanent appointment. Also I think that there was the sense that, of the amount of power that Ewing held, that we didnít want to see that repeated to the extent it had with Ewing. As I look back on it, I think that Talwani was probably the one person who could keep things going as they had gone under Ewing, even though the world was changing. I for one felt very strongly, and I was on the executive committee, that we needed to spend a lot more time thinking about the future, future directions, fund raising. Talwani was by my reckoning not a person who viewed the entire forest. He much preferred to describe each tree and the leaves on each tree. And to deal with all the administrative things that were at that level. So I felt that there was a vacuum in administration at Lamont and in thinking about future directions, funding, etc.
Doel:Lacking a sense of broader vision for the place of Lamont.
Sykes:Right. Right. And that we couldnít continue going on — I think Walter Pitman said, ďWell, we just canít continue sailing these ships around the ocean on eleven month cruises with block funding like Ewing was able to do, and block funding has largely disappeared.Ē
Sykes:In fact, that the problems in the oceans were different after plate tectonics than they were in the more exploratory stage right after World War II.
Doel:There clearly were some major transitions going on right at this same period of time concurrent.
Sykes:Right. Another issue that came up was what type of institution are we. I think Talwani, as well as several people in marine geology and geophysics, saw us as an oceanographic institution. That group tended to compare themselves with Woods Hole, Scripps, maybe Miami, Washington, and Oregon State, that had oceanographic ships. Whereas a number of others of us, from geochemistry, seismology, etc. tended to see us as a — Or, what we wanted to see us become, and in fact what we were in the process of becoming, was a School of Earth Sciences.
Doel:More in line say with MIT rather than — Iím just curious Ė-
Sykes:Yes, well except at that time that MIT itself didnít have the oceangoing activities.
Doel:Thatís very true.
Sykes:They had an arrangement, a joint program with Woods Hole, but they did not have a strong presence in terms of tenured faculty at MIT in oceangoing things.
Doel:Thatís quite right. I should have asked it in the following — What schools did you want to see, or did you have in your mind when you looked out on the landscape for what you felt Lamont was becoming?
Sykes:Well, I think that we thought that we were unique, because we had this very large group of people who were on soft money, that were senior staff, a number of whom by then were receiving some compensation, and those who were senior staff members could receive up to three years of funding from the Doherty money.
Sykes:So they had what almost amounted to a three year term tenure. So I think that we saw ourselves as something different, even though Stanford had a School of Earth Sciences, I think that perhaps we only saw ourselves in name only of being something like that. Stanford had no oceangoing activity.
Doel:When you were mentioning a moment ago about the fund raising concerns and the intellectual directions, was this what you had in mind in terms of what you wanted to see happen at Lamont?
Sykes:Well, that was certainly one of them, what do we consider ourselves to be.
Doel:I wanted to hear more about your broader sense of what you wanted to see happen.
Sykes:I very much considered that, I felt that we had gone too far in the direction of having too little classical geology. It wasnít that I wanted to see us add a person in each one of the traditional areas of classical geology, but that we didnít have enough critical mass in that area. Thatís continued to be a concern of mine. I think we still donít.
Doel:Why has that continued to be the case, do you think?
Sykes:I think for a couple of reasons, that people in oceanography of various types, marine geophysics, seismology, almost necessarily needed to work together, so you couldnít have just one person who was a professor and directing a big data collection and analysis organization. So I think that our sense, my sense, was that you needed a critical mass in some of those areas in order to do world class research, and that you couldnít follow the model of like Francis Birch at MIT from the forties and fifties, early sixties, in which you have one great professor and that he essentially carries the load.
Doel:Right. Iím curious too what you were thinking about for fund raising for the sorts of goals or opportunities that you most wanted to see.
Sykes:I think at that time that I felt that Lamont had the capabilities to do a major study that would go all the way from the western Atlantic of the deep ocean floor, across the Continental Margin, and extending into the Appalachians, and of bringing together geology, seismology, marine geology and geophysics, and that we should go after some major projects of that type, and to think big. By the time in fact there were some things being funded by the federal government. There was a NAZCA [?] Plate Project, that I felt personally that the U.S. was putting more money into — so that we understood the boundaries of the NAZCA Plate better than we then understood our own continental margins of the United States, whether they be the eastern margin here or the margins of Alaska and the Aleutians.
Doel:Right. And that had been of course a critical interest of Chuck Drake and Jack Nafe, the continental margins, and those had long been that tradition.
Sykes:Thatís right. Right. In fact, and Drake had been very much influenced by Marshall Kay, and had taken classes from Marshall Kay, and had been influenced by his ideas of geosynclines and of seeing the Atlantic margin today as being a prototype of a geosyncline in the making. Ultimately that idea got incorporated by Dietz but instead of calling it a geosyncline, of seeing it instead of seeing a symmetrical trough, of viewing it as an asymmetrical trough, and that something later on happens that deforms it into mountains. We then appreciated via plate tectonics, how that happened. But about the time that Talwani became Director, the U.S. Geological Survey moved very strongly into marine geology and geophysics. They set up a large and strong group at Woods Hole. They were influential in following what had long been a Survey practice, that was of doing all the work themselves, believing that they had all the expertise to do it, and that they shouldnít contract out anything to universities. The Survey had had a practice in geology of hiring a professor or one or two graduate students and paying them for summer field work. That was the extent to which the Survey had contributed to universities.
Sykes:So when they set up this large group at Menlo Park in earthquake studies or the group at Woods Hole in marine geology and geophysics, they followed the same model of we get all the resources, and we hire people. It was pretty easy for them to keep hiring people, and for them to essentially corner the financial resources in that area. I felt that Lamont should make a much more aggressive attempt to make sure that we continued the Drake/Nafe/Ewing tradition of looking at the U.S.ís continental margins, and that we shouldnít just forfeit that to the USGS. But ultimately I think thatís what happened.
Doel:That is was a forfeit.
Sykes:That is was a forfeit. The Survey did go out and spend a lot of money looking at the eastern margin of the U.S., and but they pretty much ran out of gas after about ten years.
Doel:So youíre thinking by the early 1980s or so now that this began to peter out.
Sykes:Right. And, in fact, later on there was a proposal from the Director of the Survey to move that group from Woods Hole to Lamont.
Sykes:Build a building at Lamont. There was quite a bit of discussion about whether that was a good idea, because we would have to accept their very good scientists as well as their also ran scientists. At that time that it was virtually impossible for the federal government to fire anyone.
Doel:What did you think about it at that time?
Sykes:I was concerned about the quality and of building up a group that would be quite large, comparable in size to Lamont. So I was not very keen on that, and a lot of other people were not very keen, and —
Doel:And this is all under Barry Raleighís administration then?
Doel:Iím very curious what reaction you had from others on the executive committee to the idea of Lamontís becoming involved in these broader projects, like the continental margins effort you mentioned.
Sykes:Generally what happened was that these meetings of the executive committee would go on for three hours, and we would spend all of our time and energy on smaller things, like whether so-and-so should be appointed as a Visiting Adjunct Professor or Research Associate. I think that that was Talwaniís style. I mean, he did not want to concentrate on the forest, He really wanted to look at the leaves and the trees, so that there was resistance there on his part, and the meetings filled the time available with more matters that I considered smaller minutia or things for which you should appoint some committees to make recommendations, and maybe the executive committee just reviews them very quickly and boom-boom-boom approves them.
Doel:When you look back on it, were there one or two moments that, or to put it in another way, did the difficulty in Manikís reign develop gradually over the time that he was Director, or were there one or two developments that you think accelerated the tension?
Sykes:I think that they developed gradually, and that with time Manik talked to fewer and fewer people. People were aware of that, so that he became less connected with what was going on broadly. He didnít seek out information, so he became more isolated.
Doel:When was that happening, roughly? Was it by the middle of his term, or did that tend to be near the end of the 1970s?
Sykes:I think it was going on gradually.
Doel:Do you remember discussions with him directly where you and perhaps others talked to him about your frustrations of the sort that youíve mentioned?
Sykes:I think so, but I think that he really couldnít hear that. And I think that his view was of things continuing just the way they were. He considered that we had strong leaders in each one of the say four major groups, and that each one of those groups was strong enough that they were quite capable of coming up with their own future planning.
Doel:So he was not much in favor of imposing direction from, or that he was for less central authority and more initiative or direction coming from the individual departments of Lamont.
Sykes:Right, right. But my sense was that a lot of the excitement had to do with crossing disciplines, and thatís what needed to happen to continue to invigorate Lamont. Thatís what had happened with plate tectonics, where those of us from several disciplines crossed.
Doel:Thatís a very interesting observation. Let me just pause for a moment.
Sykes:— get a cup of coffee.
Doel:Thatís fine. Weíre resuming after a quick break. One of the things that I sense is that by either the late seventies or very early 1980s you sensed another crisis of leadership at Lamont.
Doel:And this was a view widely shared, do you feel, among —?
Sykes:It was. I was certainly one of the, I guess you would say ďyoung turksĒ who either had tenure or was a member of the senior staff who became increasingly unhappy with Talwaniís leadership and failure to communicate with very many people, and the fact that he communicated with fewer and fewer people.
Doel:Who was he communicating —? Iím sorry. I donít want to stop your words.
Sykes:I think he was probably communicating with Dennis [E.1 Hayes, one of the few people he was communicating with. He wasnít communicating with [Walter C.] Pitman by then, or [Marcus] Langseth, to my knowledge, [Neil D.] Opdyke — of people who were somewhat more in marine geology and geophysics.
Sykes:So that I was certainly then one of the, if you would say, ďring leaders,Ē who felt that some changes had to be made.
Doel:What options did you see for how to —? Given that the appointment had been made open-ended.
Sykes:Right. I think that some attempts were made to try and talk to Talwani about this. They were generally unsuccessful, but they were not made as ultimata. Now in retrospect I wish I had said directly to him, ďThe situation is really severe. You need to hear what we have to say.Ē And I didnít go that far, and I wished that I had.
Doel:And these were meetings that involved you and Walter Pitman I presume was also —
Sykes:Neil Opdyke, Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker. I can remember having a group of people over to my house in this very room, probably about ten people, in which by then fairly senior people at Lamont, to discuss this crisis. Our sense was that Talwani had lost our confidence. Broecker and I then went to talk to one associate provost about our concerns. He fired that up, understandably, to the provost. Ultimately it resulted in the administration deciding to ask Talwani to step down as Director. That came from the President. In retrospect I wish that I had been less secretive and more straightforward and demanding of Talwani. But it was only later that we found out that six months earlier Talwani that had tried to get the President to give him much greater authority to run Lamont.
Doel:Is that right?
Sykes:The president had declined, thinking that was rather strange that he would want so much authority.
Doel:What sort of areas did he want greater authority in?
Sykes:I think it had to do with future directions. Certainly it left me with the sense that there was no room for the professors, even tenured professors, that we were kind of accessories and the Director made all the important decisions.
Doel:Including things over research directions and hirings and —
Doel:All these things. So it was —
Sykes:Or lack of research directions.
Doel:Did you have discussions directly with Columbiaís President? Was that Mike Sovern at that time?
Sykes:Yes, it was Mike [Michael I.] Sovern, yes. Mike Sovern. One of the things that he wanted to know as the decision came closer, was would this have a serious impact on our funding from the Navy and the National Science Foundation. It was our sense that that was not the case. But interestingly enough, Columbia had long argued to us that research never paid its full way in the University. And certainly until well after that Columbia had regarded Lamont as a cash cow, and that the Dean that oversaw the Department of Geological Sciences was very reluctant to put any new resources into new faculty. He didnít, in fact, want to see the development of the adjunct positions. He was a person from the chemistry department, which had had a tradition of being a very good department, but of professors and students only.
Doel:Without these broader integrations or Ė-
Sykes:Right. He really felt that Lamont was a very strange and unwelcome anomaly.
Doel:In the Columbia system?
Sykes:In the Columbia system.
Doel:Thatís very interesting.
Sykes:This is George Fraenkel.
Doel:Thatís very interesting. Do you have a sense that view was shared among other science departments or elsewhere in the university, how widespread Fraenkelís view was?
Sykes:Well, I was head of an administrative committee that was supposed to be the ultimate body that oversaw Lamont. The President and Provost typically attended the meeting for a couple of hours. The Department Chairman, the head of Lamont, and several people who were appointed members of the administrative committee from Lamont or the department, and maybe one or two people from other departments. Typically we used our time discussing people who were being promoted to senior staff. Fraenkel was present at those meetings, and he was always in favor of postponement of various ideas. It was clear to me, and I think it was clear to other people from Lamont and our department that he was a status quo person; he didnít want to see any changes. What happened was that other people, administrators at Columbia, virtually said nothing. So I felt that they didnít stick up for us until quite a bit later.
Doel:When you say quite a bit later, the mid- 1980s or even later than that?
Well, I think that one of the big changes happened when Jim [James] Simpson was department chairman, and that was probably twelve to fifteen years ago. At that time still many of us who were tenure faculty only received four and a half months of our salary from the University. We had to, from grants and contracts, get the rest of our funding as well as that for summer salary, and support of students. Our department received very little funding for graduate students from the university. Most of the funding came from grants and contracts. So Columbia seemed to be quite happy to see that continue until Simpson was able to convince the Dean and Provost at that time — and Fraenkel had left by then — that our department was headed in the direction of the physics department, of going from being number one or up near the top in the country to being number ten or poorer.
We couldnít hope to attract new faculty by offering them four and a half months of salary. Many of us felt very strongly about that. Simpson was able to accomplish getting everyone who was tenured faculty or tenure track nine months of salary — which then put us on a par with virtually every other major institution in the earth sciences. So we were an anomaly before that. That was really the first time that Columbia made a commitment to put more funds into the earth sciences. But it really took telling them that hey, things are not the way they were in the past, people arenít going to come here, the place isnít going to get renewed, itís going to go downhill. We were, and this is from the National Survey, of the National Academy Survey of about twelve years ago, that we were ranked number three in the country. In fact, we were tied for three and four. In the last survey that just came out we were ranked number four academically in Ph.D. programs.
I think we were ranked number three in terms of quality of education of graduate students. The only other department at Columbia that came close was art history, which has traditionally been either number one or two, with New York University being the other top-ranked department there. In the last survey, as had pretty much been true in previous ones, not one single department in the social sciences made the top list of fifteen or twenty. Chemistry and math made the top fifteen, but they certainly werenít up at the top. None of the departments of engineering were in the top fifteen or twenty, and I think of the humanities, art history of course was up there, as were Spanish and Portuguese which ranked one or two. But it was not a major department.
Doel:Interesting. Under Talwaniís administration, were you worried about the standing of Lamont slipping vis-ŗ-vis the other major earth science facilities?
Sykes:I was, as I saw federal moneys starting to contract and it being more difficult for people to continue at Lamont on soft money. Attempts were not being made to get moneys to keep even the best of those people here at Lamont or for new tenure track faculty.
Doel:Right. Iím curious how well you feel Mike Sovern handled the matter of Talwaniís firing? And what influence that came to have on Lamont.
Sykes:Well, he did make the decision to ask Talwani to resign —
Doel:This was resign as Director and stay on as —
Sykes:Resign as Director. He would still, of course, hold his position as a tenured professor. When he brought Talwani into his office, apparently it was a complete shock to Talwani that anything like this was going on, so Talwani called a meeting of the senior staff to say that a group of conspirators had been working behind his back. That was true. But I felt that it was that he not been listening to people and the base of people who he was consulting was fewer and fewer.
Doel:That must have been a difficult meeting.
Sykes:Oh, that was tremendously stressful! And at that meeting the Provost, Peter Likens, who is now President I believe of Lehigh —
Doel:Lehigh, yes he is.
Sykes:— came out and said some of the reasons, and I think that he was the one who mentioned about Talwani asking for this greater authority to run Lamont. There were several people who were very strongly against Talwaniís being fired, and they were a few people in marine geophysics. Paul Stouffer was one person who was doing a lot of work in data processing, and so his work was very closely connected with that of Talwaniís. Talwani took a position that Gulf Oil created, and a few people went with him, a handful of people. And Paul Stouffer later moved to the University of Texas where he has run an independent program. Talwani then went to Rice —
Doel:And later became part of the HARC [High Altitude RADAR Controller] effort.
Sykes:Right. In the HARC effort.
Doel:Who else favored keeping Talwani on as Director?
Sykes:Dennis Hayes was on sabbatical, so it was pretty much of a shock to him. In fact, two of the people who were some of the most vociferous were Denny Hayesí wife and Talwaniís wife. I think that Dennis Hayes after a while accepted what had happened, but he was pretty shocked to come back early from sabbatical and find out boom, that this explosion had taken place. It certainly left me with the feeling that I wished that my role had been somewhat different. Iím not sure that it could have been, not sure that Talwani would have listened, or that if he was trying to get more power from the President, he would have seen me as just more of a threat.
Doel:Itís an extraordinarily difficult situation, and I can imagine that meeting was traumatic for those who were involved in it.
Sykes:It was traumatic for me. I did not get up and say something in the meeting. I wished that I had, to defend my position. But Talwani came in and threw some gasoline on the fire.
Doel:By having started, you mean by saying about the conspirators?
Sykes:About the conspirators.
Doel:Who do you remember doing much of the talking at that meeting?
Sykes:I think Peter, well, besides Talwani, the Provost Peter Likens did most of the talking and responding to questions of why the administration had done this.
Doel:You say it was the senior staff members primarily who were at the meeting?
Doel:That was a few dozen people altogether?
Sykes:There were probably about forty people on the senior staff. Most of them were there.
Doel:Was that over at Lamont Hall?
Sykes:It was at Lamont Hall. I was then appointed as the head of the next search committee. [laughs] Something which I didnít particularly relish, but I did accept. I did try to get things going by starting with a large group of names, as previously. I think I tried to move things along a little bit faster in terms of narrowing down to a few candidates.
Doel:Before we return to this next search. Were you able to talk directly with Talwani after this meeting?
Doel:So relations were simply very tense or nonexistent between those of you who felt something needed to be done and Talwani and —
Sykes:Right. Right. I think that even to this day, if we pass one another at a professional meeting we will just say hello and thatís it. Although interestingly enough, his younger brother, Pradeep has worked more in earthquake prediction and as a seismologist with tenure at the University of South Carolina. I continued to have good relationships with him, to exchange papers, to talk with him at meetings, etc., but not with Manik.
Doel:And you say that the list for this next director search came together more quickly, and again your concern was to find someone nationally ranked to bring in as a Director.
Doel:Do you remember? Clearly there were a lot of issues connected with direction of Lamont that we have already discussed. Were there other things that particularly were in your mind that you wanted to see addressed by the new Director?
Sykes:Well, we certainly wanted to see the question of the formation of a school of earth sciences raised again. Again we made that recommendation. When again the university insisted on ďgive us a name,Ē which we did, we also gave them some advice, but gave them a name, and they negotiated with Barry [Raleigh], and one of the things that he did have on his list was that Columbia promised to form a school of earth sciences.
Doel:And Barry Raleigh was your first choice?
Sykes:Barry was our first choice.
Doel:What particularly attracted you and others on the committee to him?
Sykes:Well, I knew him very well, professionally, from his work in rock mechanics. He had been head of the earthquake program in the U.S. Geological Survey. I think that our sense was that, my sense was that, he was a good listener, he was a good administrator, he would be good in pulling things together, he was charismatic, he would probably be inclined to help raise money. So, in fact, I think it was only that last point in which he was not very successful.
Doel:The fund raising effort.
Doel:And that had not really prospered, as I understand it, under Talwaniís period as well, or do you think that —?
Sykes:No. I think that the only new sources of funds — Ewing had set up the Industrial Associates, petroleum companies that contributed funds, plus Kennicott, but even under Talwani the consolidation of some of the petroleum companies started and some dropped out. That continued. Thatís continued until today.
Sykes:They were mainly interested in work that Lamont was doing in marine geophysics and geology.
Doel:Focused on particular fields rather than Lamont as a broader community.
Sykes:Right. Right. Although occasionally some of them would come to see people like myself who had worked in China or Russia, when some of those areas started to open up, when China opened up for exploration for the first time petroleum companies did not have their own expertise.
Doel:When you say that it hadnít worked out as well as you and others had hoped with fund raising during Barry Raleighís administration, were you thinking of these broader, more integrated interdisciplinary programs or other kinds of fund raisers?
Sykes:I think we were thinking about more fund raising by then from outside the federal government, of particularly going to petroleum companies. When Barry came in as director they were very flush, the price of oil was up very high, but within about a year of the time that he arrived at Lamont the price of petroleum went down, and so the ability to get funds from the petroleum companies went down a lot. [short interruption] So are we back going again?
Doel:Weíre back again.
Sykes:I think two other things happened. One was that Barry thought that he had some agreements from Columbia on several things, and another was that he would be free to solicit the petroleum companies for funds. The capital campaign at Columbia insisted that they had first rights, and so in fact Barry was not allowed by the Columbia administration to have a free hand in soliciting funds.
Doel:Would he talk to you about those frustrations?
Sykes:Well, I was a member of the executive committee in the first part of his administration, and so I was certainly aware of that. I would say one of his very good traits was that he made a point of finding out what was the good new research that was going on as well as touching base fairly often with senior people about big issues and of getting their opinions. So he was a very good listener.
Doel:Who seemed to you to be his principal advisers? Was it really those of you on the executive committee that helped to set things —?
Sykes:I think that he went beyond the executive committee in soliciting advice from probably at least twenty people. And he came to some seminars, particularly of our group, which was more his area of original expertise.
Sykes:But I think he went to seminars in other groups, just to find out what was going on, of what was new.
Doel:Interesting. This in addition to the general colloquia.
Sykes:Right. But thatís something that Gordon [Eaton] virtually never did, and itís something that Peter Eisenberger does not do.
Doel:And clearly youíve noticed the absence of Directors in recent years attending these.
Sykes:Right. And of them then not being familiar with what is some of the new hot stuff thatís going on, except perhaps in a few areas that they may think are more lucrative for fund raising, like the Climate Center.
Doel:So then your impression is that in recent years these kinds of financial constraints have then come to affect the directorship, at least in terms of familiarity with research programs and overall the direction of the facility.
Sykes:Thatís right. I think Barry, from the time when he came here, sat on a number of governmental committees. Usually the Director of Lamont would be asked to be a member of, or head, of committees for NSF [National Science Foundation], Geological Survey, etc., the Navy. But that was at a time in which that could still have an effect on funding and good science to support, of his giving us some feedback about what the federal government was thinking, and in which the Director still saw his role more of making sure that we continued to get federal funding for really good research. Perhaps getting funds from elsewhere was more secondary. The collapse of the price of petroleum, that became even more difficult. With Columbia not allowing the Director, of putting him on a very short string in terms of being able to approach people high up in the petroleum companies, made it even more difficult.
Doel:Did you sense that Raleighís administration then became — That it was more and more difficult for him to effectively run Lamont nearer to the end of his term?
Sykes:I donít think so. I think that he was well liked and respected. I think it was clear however that more and more people were having problems with funding. I think he tried to be responsive to that, at least in part, and as far as he could financially. I think it came as a shock to many of us when he said that he was going to accept a position at the University of Hawaii. My own sense of why he decided to do that, and Hawaii was not an institution that I think was of the first caliber, as Lamont still was at that time. But I think that the thing that appealed to Barry was that there was a lot of state money available, and still as a result of Hawaiiís unique geographical setting of getting funding from the federal government there. I think that he saw the writing on the wall of how difficult it was for Lamont to continue to sustain itself through its pattern of funding and the constraints that he had on large numbers of people on soft money without any state money, and with a declining federal budgets in a number of areas. I think that he saw the position in Hawaii as one in which he could do his thing of attracting new staff members and of not having to worry so much about going after private funding.
Sykes:And I think that was a legitimate concern.
Doel:Indeed. Weíre coming at issues that still are very much in the present time.
Doel:Now I want to make sure that we have a chance later to cover your impressions of Lamont as itís moved into the very recent times, and there are a number of other major topics that we are going to continue to discuss, but unfortunately we must bring this session today to a close at this point. So I want to thank you very much again for your contribution.