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Interview of Dennis Hayes by Ronald Doel on 1997 December 23,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Discusses his youth and education in the mid-west and Colorado; his undergraduate education at the University of Kansas and his graduate work at Columbia University; his decision to go into geophysics; his work as chief scientists aboard the research vessels and his relationship with Capt. Henry Kohler; international cooperation in researach projects; the effect on Lamont of Maurice Ewing's move to Texas; his committee work for the National Science Foundation; teaching graduate students at Columbia; plate tectonics; and marine geology. Also prominently mentioned are Wally Broecker, Charles Drake, Gordon Eaton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Arnold Gordon, Bruce Heezen, Marcus Langseth, Jack Nafe, Jack Oliver, Neil Opdyke, Walter Pitman, Baring Raleigh, Mark Talwani, J. Lamar Worzel.
This is Ron Doel and this is a continuing interview with Dennis Hayes. This is the twenty-third of December, 1997 and we’re making this recording at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. One thing I had wanted to ask you that we barely had a chance to discuss on tape was the million mile celebrations on both the Vema and the [Robert D.] Conrad. I understand that you had been involved in both.
Yes. Well, the million mile mark, the milestone, we claim to be unique to Lamont vessels although Scripps has recently claimed that one of their vessels reached that milestone. We did it long before. And a million miles takes a lot of continuous sailing at ten knots, and represents the general work horse approach that Ewing, in particular, and his protégés adopted with regard to the vessel. We used to ask where the vessel docked and Ewing used to say something to the effect of “nowhere if possible. You can’t get any work done along dockside.”
Keep my ships at sea.
Exactly. And the ships, you look at the data being held in the archives at the National Geophysical Data Center, you will see that even though the ships had contributed to those were really two and more recently three and that we contributed more data to the archives by far than any other institution with Scripps coming in second. So we worked the ships hard. They sailed a lot of miles. And we had commemorative plaques which you can see on the wall and here over there that represent the time and dates in which each ship reached a million miles. The Vema first reached it I believe —
It says 1975.
‘75 I mean. I’m sorry; 1975 in the area south of Australia. And it was a series of cruises that we had down there. And I just happened to be on the vessel at the time that we reached the million mile mark.
What happened when you reached the million mile marker?
Well, I’m trying to recall. It was a — it was a nasty part of the world. In about fifty degrees south. In sort of their late spring, and the weather was quite crummy. We’d had Christmas celebration on board the ship and everything was really sort of hang on time. So they would have been clocking, tracking down to where the million miles was going to be. But I don’t recall any major, major stop the ship, toot the horn, or anything like that. It again was almost a matter of fact incident. You know, we knew it was going to happen and it finally happened. We didn’t hit any bumps. And it was just on to a million miles and one and then two and then three. And finally the ship remained in service until it had gone about a million and a quarter miles. And it finally went out of service then in early 1981.
And you were right in saying ‘85 for the Conrad.
For the Conrad that was ‘85 and that was an operation in the South China Sea done in collaboration with the scientists from the People’s Republic of China. Again, it happened to be at a time when I had several legs of the cruise funded, and I happened to be on the ship when we had the second million mile. Or the million miles for the Conrad. And, again, when you’re out of sea, you’re so busy working, around the clock, twenty-four hours a day, there are rare occasions when you’re really partying or relaxing. Major holidays you managed to take a little break. Occasionally as you’re transiting from one work site to another, you manage to take a little break. Occasionally on a nice weekend, in a tropical environment, you’ll take a little break and relax. But for the most part, if you’re there and you got work to do, you’re doing work. Period. And everything else takes a back seat. So it’s kind of anti-climactic. We actually had these commemorative plaques made up. And they were distributed fairly widely to some of our sponsors, to some of our sister institutions, and to all of the senior chief scientists who sailed on one ship or another or both.
And was there any celebration out of the ordinary on the Conrad’s passage or did that go fairly uneventfully?
I believe that went fairly uneventfully as well. Again, we had the patches made up which I believe I gave you —
— when you were here last. And, you know, those were distributed to all the people on the ship. A little memento of having done it, but there was no big fireworks and hoopla.
One thing I did want to hear about was how you became involved in the refitting of the Bernier, once the Vema and the Conrad had both been returned?
Well, actually I had been involved much earlier in the project. In fact, I was involved from the very inception of the project, long before we got to the refitting stages. The history goes back a little further in that. We knew that the Navy wanted to retire the Conrad. And we felt very strongly that it was hard to maintain a position as a major oceanographic research institution and image without a major oceanographic vessel. So we competed for a new, newly built Agor vessel in open competition. This was I believe called the Agor 23 which the competition was eventually won by the University of Washington, and the ship was named the Thompson. And the old ship was taken out of place; it was of the same, out of service, it was of the same class as the Conrad. And Conrad, we fought to keep it in service and it was clear after a while that, early to middle 1989 was the last time that the agency was going to support the vessel and keep it in service. So it was a huge disappointment to us to lose out on the competition for the Thompson (not named the Thompson then), the Agor 23, because that was the logical replacement vessel. We wrote that proposal and as a matter of fact, I was the lead proponent on it. And I wrote that along with a lot of help from a lot of people, from a hospital bed over here in Pascack Valley. I had a deep venal thrombosis in my leg and couldn’t move around and was in a lot of pain. We had deadlines that had to be met, and so I was working over there and people were shuttling papers back and forth.
Would come to the hospital room?
Yes. And we ended up with a big fat proposal, and we lost out primarily because the main interest of the Navy was not marine geology and geophysics and even though we professed that we would use the ship for general purpose, including MG&G [Marine Geology and Geophysics], it didn’t sell well. And the University of Washington being a state institution was able to pledge significant cost sharing in the form of utilization of the vessel for educational purposes each year. Just like putting an operational subsidy under the vessel. And between those two things, they won — won fair and square. So here we were still faced with our ship going out of service in early 90, mid-99, mid 1990, excuse me. And it came to our attention that Petro Canada had a vessel that they were thinking about selling and we went over to the Netherlands to take a look at it. A small contingency of us, about four of us to see it, what sort of shape the ship was in, and whether or not it could be adapted to our purposes.
Who was it had gone over with you?
Jim [James] Smith went over and Sam [Robert S.] Gerard went over. And it may have been another one of our technical seismic people went over with us, or it may have been someone. No I think that was — it was three or four of us. We went over to look at the vessel. And the vessel was not very old and, in fact, had not been used except to go to church on Sunday. And it was in pretty good shape. And, although it was configured in a way that was not suitable to our operations, we went over there and tried to get an idea of what it would take to modify the vessel to fulfill our needs.
When you looked at it was it in dry dock?
No. It was alongside. It was not in dry dock.
But you didn’t have a chance to see it in actual sail? [crosstalk]
We didn’t see it underway. We inspected all the systems alongside. That was first time around. We actually had three, then we had a couple of our technical people go back and look at it again when it was in dry dock, some month or two later. Then the Petro Canada put it up for bid, blind bid, and we tried to enter into collaboration with the University of Texas to go in with us to put forward an offer for the vessel. And we thought they were going to do that, and as it turned out, they pulled out at the last moment. And the reason they pulled out, or part of the reason they pulled out, was they didn’t want to put up any risk money, in essence. What we did was we put forward a bid that was a bid for an option to buy. Okay? We didn’t have the money. Our bid was six and a half million dollars for the vessel. We actually made a bid to put forward five hundred thousand dollars, nonreturnable, to buy an option to purchase the ship for six and a half million dollars within one year. And that was risk money, institutional risk money. Barry [Raleigh] had to essentially provide that money in collaboration with the university and the institution.
How did the decision to become partner with the University of Texas come about?
Well, the University of Texas had a group of people, some of them former Lamonters, many of them, whose primary interest was marine geology and geophysics in seismic work. And they had been the main players outside of Lamont who’d been involved in this kind of work and seemed like logical partners. It would be to their advantage to have this kind of facility in the fleet.
Was this the group that in essence had begun out with Ewing?
Yes, it was. Although it evolved through several — two or three directorships in the move from Galveston back to University of Texas at —
— at Austin. They had a separate campus. So that was what had us going with them. Anyway, we, Petro Canada accepted our offer. They took our half million bucks. All right. And we were left with the problem of then coming up with the way to come up with not only the six and a half million dollars for the vessel, but an estimated additional six or seven million dollars to modify the vessel arid make sure that it would meet all the U.S. regulations and regulatory standards which are parallel and comparable to Canadian, but different. So we were back to proposal writing stage. And we wrote a proposal and another proposal and we put it in. And it got reviewed by a blue ribbon panel, and it got pretty good marks, but they decided that — at that stage of the game they were not willing to go ahead with it. Because the University of Texas had now taken a completely different tack that said the UNOLS [?] fleet doesn’t need a ship like this at all. You can buy time out of the commercial surveying fleet and save all this money. So they went from a potential ally in working to get this thing going into what was an adversary in terms of trying to prevent us from getting it. So the bureaucrats decided that they needed to resolve this issue. Was it really true that you could go out and get access to commercial seismic capabilities that you need and meet your programmatic interests, or was it better to buy it and use it in house and have control of it? So a proposal, they looked at that and decided they couldn’t reject it, and resolve it. And so the proposal essentially was rejected at that time. And Raleigh and myself went down to speak to the people at NSF [National Science Foundation], namely to [Robert] Correll and to Heinrichs and essentially we got, because this was a major request, and the time frame in which the option would have to be exercised, we had to have a decision or lose our money and forfeit our option. We pleaded for a special second review of a revised proposal. And they backed off of the date of the National Science Board meeting which would have to approve any projects of this size in our time frame. And then they gave us another deadline and relaxed it a couple of weeks. But we had to do an impossible thing of turning this proposal around.
It must have been an extraordinary period of writing.
It was. In fact, when we finally sent the thing out the door, the entire marine office which used to be in this building, we all worked for, I would guess, somewhere between, oh in excess of forty-eight hours straight together, all of us, on the thing — just physically assembling the proposal, after the pieces got together. And then it went back and it went through various other reviews. And at that point it essentially became my project. And I worked Washington.
How did you do that? What sort — what did you feel you needed to do to make that work?
I felt that I needed to make contact with the principal players at NSF who were being sought as the primary sponsors. And also I had to work the field with the Office of Naval Research [ONR] who wasn’t too much into the MG&G scene. And we had to get them to agree that there were certain valuable elements of equipment on the Conrad that could be cross-decked. If the Conrad was taken out of service, we could have that equipment. We could take it and we could put it on the Bernier. And they were kind of — they weren’t reluctant on that in principle. They just didn’t particularly want us to have this vessel. Okay? They were in the process of building these two new Agors. One already assigned to —
University of Washington.
— Washington. And another one earmarked for Scripps. Sort of unofficially. And so we had to work that scene. We had to work the scene where presumably we could get through the panels and all that; we could count on the support of the people like Heinrichs who headed up the facilities group in oceanography at NSF. The branch office chief who happened to be Grant Gross at the time as I recall and Bob Correll who’s an assistant director at NSF. And I went down there and I spent a lot of time talking to them. Answering their questions. Explaining how we were going to do things and how we could pull this off. Finally, almost at the twelfth hour, we got the approval and we got the National Science Board approval and it turns out that our proposal was such that the NSF agreed to a plan whereby Columbia would put up the six and a half million dollars and NSF would pay it back in an amortization scheme over seven years because they had not budgeted this in any of their budgets. Six and a half million dollars out of one division is a big hit.
Is an enormous burden. Yes.
Plus we had other proposals in and other expenses in there. So Columbia agreed to front the six and a half million dollars. NSF [National Science Foundation] agreed to pay it back over seven years, including debt service on it. We negotiated an extremely favorable debt service that Columbia could use some access to New York State Dormitory funds in order to get favorable debt, which was six percent at the time. Everything else was a lot more.
And then we bought it. And we had to negotiate with Petro Canada the final details; the transport and delivery of the system, and the signing over of the papers, the evaluation and transfer of assets that weren’t obviously part of the vessel, like a few tens of thousands of gallons of fuel and supplies and stuff like that. I went up to Rhode Island to River Head — I believe is what it was called. That’s where we kept the ship for about six months. Just in the maintenance stage while we were putting together the plans through a whole series of committees, which I put together and chaired about how we wanted to modify the vessel to meet the needs of the community. So we had internal committees and we had external committees, and we had agency committees. [Laughter]
It sounds as if this became pretty much a full-time assignment. Didn’t it?
It was. It was all supposed to have been sort of taken care of and all that. I was doing that at the same time I was serving my first term as chairman of the department which I don’t know what I was thinking.
Indeed, you had come on board in 1989 as chair.
Yes. So all this was happening before ‘89 and the actual acquisition of the ship took place in late ‘89 at about Christmas time. And then no later than ‘88, the end of ‘88. Then all the plans and everything took place in the early part of ‘89 before the ship went to the shipyard in early fall of ‘89. It came out ready for service in the spring of 1990.
When you say the shipyards, was this the one in —
— the Gulf Coast, Louisiana?
Yes, in New Orleans. We had to go down, we had to submit bid packages, we had to review bid packages. We had to go and review the various competing shipyards. We had to do that whole business.
And how was the money raised for the refitting? You mentioned that was about another six to seven million that you needed for the refit.
Yes. We — the whole project ended up costing about fourteen or fourteen and a half million dollars. And that included about two million dollars that was earmarked through a separate proposal for a multi-beam bathymetric system. So the six and a half million dollars became eight million dollars when you added all the debt service to it; a bit more. And then we got certain monies from the Navy; not very much, but some to facilitate the crosschecking of equipment. As we were taking the Conrad out of service, there were certain costs that were going to be incurred anyway that we could take advantage of and apply to the vessel. We had a two hundred and fifty thousand dollar cost share commitment from the institution. We sold some seismic equipment off of the Conrad to the USGS [United States Geological Survey], a couple of hundred thousand dollars. We had about six or seven deals working that paid for the whole financial service. Certain excess equipment on the ship that we were buying that we didn’t need that we sold off. It brought in a couple of hundred thousand dollars. We had some funds in a reserve for the next overhaul of the Conrad that we were allowed by the Feds to apply toward that. Essentially we scraped up all the little pieces of money and everything to try to make the additional amount. What that amounted to was about, about, it amounted to about three or million dollars that we scraped up together from various pieces. And again it took a lot of, a lot of working the streets to do this. We did a lot. And we encouraged — we were down there working NSF, and whenever they had a little bit of extra money, sort of year-end money, we’d encourage them to make advanced payments on the amortization schedule and then we’d get them to give us back the savings in debt service. And so we got several hundred thousand dollars that way out of them without any more money coming out of their pocket.
It took very clever accounting then to —
Well, it was clever accounting. It was, I really would have to say it was damn clever and efficient management of limited resources.
Yes. That’s a better way to put it.
So that we squeezed the maximum out of each dollar. We leveraged every single thing that we had to the hilt. And we ended up in total in getting — I think we saved about four or five hundred thousand dollars that was programmed for debt service that they allowed us to reprogram for modifications of the ship. And they allowed us to mortgage into the operations and maintenance of the vessel for the first year’s operation in order to use some of that money to get it in service.
Right. Those were the words I was looking for. Indeed.
So it was — we had a crew that was — supervisory crew of about anywhere from three to five people were down on site all the time monitoring what was going on.
How did you feel about the shipyard in New Orleans?
We felt that we — they had several yards. It’s kind of a consortium; it’s a company with several yards, Holt Marine. And we think we got a yard that was not up to the task of doing our job. And they also put the supervisor on the job who was pretty good to begin with, and then they had a big out with him, and after about two or three weeks into the job, he left the company completely. And they put together someone new who was way out of his element. I mean, he was definitely Peter Principle by that stage. So, we worked with him pretty well, but he wasn’t sort of minding his own store. So he kind of got crossways with his management, and his management had the feud with us. Okay? So we ended up having a big lawsuit down there which we spent a lot of time and money and we spent several hundred thousand dollars in legal fees which actually ended up coming out to be about a wash in the dispute with regard to the settlement that we finally arrived at. But we actually ended up not having to pay anything more out of pocket, out of the institution. The institution didn’t come up with anything more. And the Feds didn’t come up with anything more than what they pledged. And what we spent on legal fees was recovered through the other things. So the remarkable thing was we started in November and in May of the next year our ship was in operation. So Conrad went out of operation in May of ‘89 and the Ewing, ex-Bernier, came into operation in about April or May of 1990. So we had a one year hiatus. Meanwhile, the University of Washington, which won the bid for the Thompson, had to take its ship out of service in I think it was, the fall of ‘88 or spring of ‘89. And they didn’t get their new ship into operation until about 1992. So they had almost four years down time. And we had one year down time. Meanwhile, the Navy was in — [Interruption for phone call].
We’re resuming now after a brief pause.
The thing that really caught in the Navy’s craw was the fact that they had two of their older Agors in the shipyard at the same time being stretched in a mid-life refit. And they had all sorts of unanticipated problems, and they ended up with nearly a forty million dollar cost overrun on the two vessels, plus major delays. And we went through and we got our ship modified and inspected and in service on time and on budget. [Laughter] Which is a first for any of the ships in the [?] fleet to begin with. And second of all to do this right in the midst of when they were having all this bad PR and abysmal publicity was really like a real big burr under their saddle. And we went out and up to the present time we’ve essentially been operating continually. Not exclusively with our own scientists. It was never intended that way. We have — it’s the only ship for doing certain kinds of seismic work and a ship of opportunity for doing, I mean, a ship of choice for doing most kinds of MG&G and a ship with the capability to do general purpose oceanography that’s suitable.
What proportion now are Lamont people versus those coming in from the outside or other? On a typical Ewing leg.
It’s a — well, it’s a smaller percentage right now than we’re comfortable with, and we don’t know whether to worry about it or not. In a sense, the fleet is a shared facility in which case the people are put on ship A, B, or C, that has the capabilities they need in a manner in which makes the most logistic and cost effective sense. Independent of what their affiliations are. So over the last two years we’ve had an unusually large amount of outsiders and an unusually small amount of insiders. Our insiders have been using other people’s ships. So we don’t like that. We’d prefer to have our own people using our own ships some significant amount of time. But my feeling is, some people say, well, you know, what metric do you use in terms of whether you operate a ship or you use someone else’s ship. And if everyone is coming from outside, it makes you wonder. But my feeling is if you need more than a half year ship time with your own investigators, whether you’re using it off your own ship or not, you’re better to have a ship and sell the excess time to other users, rather than to go out and try to barter and get the ship time you need. So we definitely have more ship time than that. I mean, we subscribe as an institution probably the better part of a year of ship time. It’s just most of it has been off on other ships these last two years. Normally I would say up until the last two years it’s typically been 50-50, 60-40, something like that in our ships. More scientists, because we do such a good job of supporting them, are now able to use our ships and do science off of our ships. They couldn’t do it before because they didn’t have the capabilities. Now we supply the technical support capabilities to allow, say non-specialists, to come in and use a special ship.
Interesting. So that Lamont in that sense is having an influence on the development of the field.
Oh yes. I mean, Lamont has been the major, if not the exclusive player, in academic multi-channel seismic studies since the early 1970s.
Right. That was something Manik Talwani did.
That’s right. That’s right. And we just won a major new instrumentation award. It’s called an MRI, Major Research Instrumentation Award from NSF, which we got nearly two million dollars from the NSF. And we cost share for another several hundred thousand ourselves for a whole new seismic system to go on the ship.
Interesting. Is there a different way of doing science or the camaraderie from the Conrad to the Ewing? Different changes that you’ve been talking about, had it affected the way that people get to know one another or how they cooperate in doing research?
I would say there’s less contrast between the Conrad and the Ewing than there was between the Conrad and Vema. And there’s less contrast between Conrad and Ewing than between our ships and other people’s ships. We have taken the philosophy; we have a very high retention rate in both our technical support teams and the ship’s crew. I’m sorry. I think that’s the only phone call that’s important that I take. I have all come in, let it ring. I hate that when people do that when I’m talking to them. But sometimes it can’t be helped. [Interruption for phone call].
We’re picking up after a quick interruption. You had — you were mentioning a recent award that had just come in from —
Oh yes, a whole new seismic system, a state of the art industry standard seismic system.
You also mentioned that this — the work that you were doing in restoring the ship came at the same time you became department chair. How willingly did you take on that responsibility? How did you feel about that?
Well, I was very concerned about doing it simultaneously. And I thought that my principal involvement which had been making the proposals, bartering the deal, getting the money, getting the plans, and getting us into the yard, that that would, that would essentially take care of the major part of my responsibilities with regard to the ship. And that that would happen in a fairly compressed period. Some of it had already happened. Then came the chairmanship. Then there was about six months or so of overlap, and I decided I could tolerate that. And what I was mistaken about was there was a whole lot of stuff after we got involved in the shipyard that required my attention. Duking it out with the shipyard for instance, keeping track of getting out on time and under budget.
As I recall Sam [Robert S.] Gerard was actually down there.
Sam Gerard was down there and another technical engineer was down there on site all the time. And then there were other people down there as well from time to time. On a day to day basis they worked very hard. So, by the time we got operational, which was by early May of 1990, and then although there were some bugs to shake out and that sort of thing, you know, the nagging day to day kind of stuff calmed down some. And I could concentrate on the other activities having to do with the Geology department. The arts and sciences at that time were under some considerable budgetary fire. They had not managed their budgets very well. They were chronically operating in the red. And central administration was coming down hard on them because obviously they weren’t managing their budgets. Whether or not their budgets were appropriate or not is another question. And as a consequence, they were being very stingy with appointments, and they were being very stingy with faculty salaries. And during that period of time, in spite of those handicapping conditions, I managed to negotiate two or three positions out of the arts and sciences at a time when that was a rare. Plus I —
Were these in the sciences or —?
In our department; for our department. I also managed to get some significant incremental salary increases for our faculty above and beyond the rest of the arts and sciences. I put together what I thought was strong, must have been effective case about the lack of parity, both within the university and with respect to all our sister institutions. So we got two or three salary increments as a consequence of my negotiations and badgering. Ultimately we got one that didn’t come into effect until the first year Dave [David Walker] came in, but it was one that I had basically set up, worked on together. So we ended up getting four adjustment increments that has now got us pretty close to on par with our colleagues. All of this in times of budget austerity.
And I should say that you remained chair until ‘94.
I remained chair until, when did I remain chair? ‘94? I remained chair for five years.
The normal term for the chair is three years. All right. At the time at the end of the three year period of time, there was thought that a new dean of arts and sciences was going to come into play. And Gordon Eaton asked that I stay on, extend my term as chair so that there weren’t all these new faces playing. As it turned out, the dean, or the vice president who was there, stayed on another term. But the faculty asked me to stay on for two more years, which I agreed to do.
What did you see as the biggest challenges for the department at that time? You mentioned the salary of course, the parity issue.
Yes, well the morale in arts and sciences was poor. There was no formal faculty government structure. That just came into existence about that time. I became very active in that as well.
Is this the executive committee of the faculty of arts and sciences?
I was chairing that for about a year and a half after it had been in existence for maybe three years or four years. But the biggest challenge for our department, I think, most of the measures, internal measures, of need and worth and that sort of thing in the university are formulaically driven with a strong bias toward how one responds to and services the undergraduate community. And since were a department that does not do that very much, the pre-meds coming and don’t take earth science. You know, we don’t have these huge service classes. If you apply that formula, we don’t come out with a very good index of contributions. So we’re not high up on someone’s cue to help. Secondly, while we generate, our department in connection with Lamont, generates as much overhead and external grants and contracts as the entire collection of other twenty-six departments of arts and sciences, the way the money is funneled, none of it goes directly through arts and sciences. For the other departments it goes through arts and sciences. They peel off a piece for their administration and give back a piece to the departments and they keep a piece to fund start-ups for new faculty.
Right. But this is distinct for geological sciences?
For geological sciences, all our grants and contracts go through Lamont. There is a separate overhead arrangement — a separate campus. And although we make a major contribution, a piece of our overhead for socialized and centralized services at the main campus doesn’t get funneled through arts and sciences. It’s funneled through central administration. As a consequence, they see us as not contributing to that base and therefore, not eligible for any of those benefits. I’ve argued with every vice president. We’re contributing here. These people are defining the social services and taxing you, and if we didn’t contribute here, your tax is going to go up because the total ratables are going down.
They don’t buy that argument. Doesn’t mean they haven’t helped us out a little bit, but they keep telling us what wonderful guys they are when in fact they’re not even fully meeting their obligations from my point of view. But at any rate, the — our department in these national surveys from the Academy and elsewhere, even in the US News and World Report, is ranked in earth and ocean sciences among the top three or four in the country, depending upon whose survey you see. That’s the highest nationally ranked science department Columbia University has, and except for a couple tiny little departments, the highest that they have in the university. Spanish and Portuguese with four professors is ranked one or two, and art history and archaeology is ranked high. And a couple of others that are well ranked, English and math are in the top ten, and chemistry is eight or something. But nonetheless, you take these for whatever they’re worth, whatever value you want to place on them, we are the best thing they’ve got going. And our reputation comes from our extremely large and very visible graduate program, which is one of the largest in the country. Normally, a hundred plus graduate students matriculation.
Of which how many come to work at or are really taking advantage of Lamont?
All of them. All of these hundred graduate students do their research out here. All of them — the only activity that takes place on the campus is the courses that we teach to the undergraduates. And the graduate courses that we teach that we teach that are also available to senior undergrads.
To senior undergrads, yes.
So we teach a part of our menu of courses down there. And we teach the exclusive graduate courses up here. And no one has permanent offices down there. We share offices and office space. We have our offices up here, we have our research facilities up here, and we have our students up here. We point that out to the arts and sciences too, were cheap dates, but — [Laughter]
It’s quite an evolution as you tell it from the earlier days of Lamont. When it was still was a very strong center for geology on the main campus. Distinct from the activities.
Totally, totally different. And it’s only been since about the time that Eaton came here and really started some real efforts to publicize Lamont, that people began to realize Lamont existed and the department of earth and environmental sciences was something to be extremely proud of and that it was highly prestigious, and they were integrated and they were contributing in a major way to the university. And we got much more visibility from the publication medium, but it was also a time when I was serving as chairman. Barry [Raleigh] had made some inroads at the higher levels of administration, but I was dealing with colleagues at the chairs level and with the executive committee of the faculty, and these are the senior activist professors involved in faculty governance. So, whereas ten, twelve years ago I’d walk across the campus, I’d be lucky if I saw one person I knew, now if I walked across the campus, you know, I’ll see a dozen, fifteen people I’ll be speaking to, and saying hello. Nothing like some visibility, some involvement. I sat on the planning and budget committee of arts and sciences every week for between a year and a half, and two years. Got to know all the people that are being talked about in these closed door communities, plus all the administrators and all the deans in the arts and sciences schools. So I established a rapport. And that went a long way, I think, toward boosting the image of our department and of Lamont downtown. And that exists still today. I think if you went out and asked anyone in the department who here at Lamont has the best understanding and connections in terms of the downtown campus, nine out of ten people will tell you that’s me, and the tenth one will say they don’t know.
Given what you do in leading the campus, I wonder how interested you felt in the possibility of being the director of Lamont.
I was very interested in being the director of Lamont.
Was this at the time when Gordon Eaton became director, for instance?
Yes. I was interested in that. In fact, just shortly, well, just shortly before Barry Raleigh left, I was offered the deanship down at [University of] Miami. I told you that I believe.
I’m not sure that was on tape. Good to mention.
That was in 1989, I think. I had a hard offer and I came this close to going.
And you’re holding your fingers, not necessarily apart, very close.
I came very close to going because it was one of the few places that we would have considered moving to as well. And I was on the same short list Barry was for the [University oil Hawaii job. And have been asked about the deanships a lot the last ten, fifteen years. Most of them didn’t hold much appeal to me. But two or three of them caught my interest.
What made Miami so appealing?
I liked the idea that it’s a private university. And I liked the idea that the school was one of the more prestigious units within the university and had a lot of autonomy and that the campus was separate. And I could understand the problems very well because it was a mirror reflection of what was going here. Although you don’t get quite back the same brilliance from that piece of glass if you have Columbia on one side and Miami on the other. I mean, let’s face it; Columbia doesn’t have a very good football team. [Laughter] But it’s basically the Rosenstiel School and the Medical School at Miami. And the two most prestigious units are Lamont/department and the Medical School. You know, they have other fine places, but on a national, international reputational basis they have the highest reputation. But –-
What made you decide to stay?
I really didn’t decide to stay as much as I decided not to go to Miami. Sounds like a word question, but it’s not. I was very close and I had a very good rapport with the provost down there. And I didn’t really feel very comfortable with the president of the university, who I didn’t think was adequately engaged. I didn’t get a good feeling from him. I thought he was just kind of walking through things saying whatever he thought I wanted to be said — wasn’t doing his homework — wasn’t really into it. The institution was under duress. And in order to get them out of duress you needed some pledge of support and some resources that had to come both from the provost and from the president and from the trustees. And I had two out of three of these that I felt good about, and one that I felt just was not thinking about the problem and who had political aspirations at the national scene. And I just felt there was too big a risk in going down there to this place that had a tremendous potential. It had once had a much higher reputation, but had slipped because of neglect. And I didn’t want to go down and not at least be enabled to do something positive there. And so it didn’t feel right to me and I declined it. And the president of all people, everyone else was trying hard to see what else they could do and all that, and the president was just pissed. [Laughter] He was mad.
Mad that you hadn’t —
Mad that I turned them down. When, in fact, he was the reason. It’s Tad Foote. Do you know him or have you heard of him?
Yes. I’ve heard the name.
Foote. He had been there and I believe his wife is a daughter of a well-known senator who now sponsors the Fulbright program. Connected. So he seemed to be waiting for the right administration to get in and give him the call. And when it finally happened, it didn’t happen. But he has served Miami well now for twenty years.
Indeed. Was there any other offer that seemed as interesting to you as Miami?
Not really. I mean, I didn’t play the game too much. I had a lot of inquiries in which people would say someone has nominated you. Can we put your name on the list? Can we make some inquiries and if it sounded even slightly interesting, I would say it was okay to that point. And just from that information there were a number of places in which I ended up on the short list, being from number five or less. But then when it came to the time of really getting down and interviewing, then I did some hard soul searching and unless I was really serious, I know how much time and energy and expense is involved, and in most instances I told them that I decided not to pursue it further. I was interested in the job at Lamont. And I think a number of people probably had put my name forward. But there were some people who had influence who were either uncertain or negative. People want someone who’s strong, a strong director, but they don’t much want to be directed themselves. And I think I have a reputation of being extremely capable and competent and level handed and all this, but perhaps of also being a bit aloof and a bit intimidating to some. So I think both of these latter things didn’t help me at that time. I think — I don’t know, I think if they had decided just to have a director of Lamont, I think there’s a fair chance that I would have been seriously considered for sure.
And this, of course, is the most recent search.
Yes. That’s the one that I’m speaking about. And, in fact, you know, once they decided they were going to have the Earth Institute, they shifted their aspirations. You know who the expert is. Well, the expert’s a guy from out of town.
I was thinking that then involved the internal and external kind of issues.
Yes. And people think that an internal candidate cannot negotiate from a position of power. And between the two of us, I have always felt that that’s baloney. I figure it depends upon how badly the person wants it, not whether they’re from inside or out. If they want it very badly, they can’t negotiate from a position of strength and they’re going to acquiesce because they want it. And that’s true whether they’re inside or outside. That’s the way I look at it. It has to do with whether you’re prepared to walk away from the thing or not as to how forcefully you can negotiate. Not where you’re sitting.
That’s a good point. I was thinking also about the retreats that occurred during the time that Gordon Eaton was director; that were occurring out at the IBM conference center. And I’m looking at one right now from November of 1993 in which you were a participant in that. Just take a look at that file. I’m wondering in general how influential those discussions were in developing a sense for where Lamont would go. Just how important those kind of meetings were for Lamont as a community.
I have to look back and really review what’s here. That — I think if you ask people how important they were in setting the path to how we got from there to where we are, most people would say not very important. If they reviewed what was said and what was discussed and all that, they might change their minds a little bit. Clearly this retreat was not, you know, built out of whole cloth. This represented the integration and articulation of lots of small meetings and lots of discussions and a general move to talking about the global systems initiative which had evolved into the Earth Institute, the whole business. This had been on the table conceptually long before Gordon came along. And then it really got kick started a lot when Mike [Michael] Crow came on board. So I would say the stuff that is reported here, which represents a lot of thinking and discussions for two or three years preceding this, probably did have a fair impact on the directions that we took and where we are. The actual retreat itself I would say didn’t have much. And as I remember about this one particular retreat it was viewed by many as a very bad performance by Gordon Eaton, and people came away very angry at him.
His not perceiving the problems?
His not perceiving the problems of funding for individual research?
Basically that was the principal theme. The theme was that here he’s up putting up a bunch of graphs showing how wonderful we were while the corpse was lying on the floor bleeding to death, was the general sense, you know. And there was also a growing awareness that Gordy was, and always had been, and therefore, probably always would be a short timer, and if you looked at his resume, two or three years was typically it. This led to the fairly obvious conclusion that the man never built up any history and therefore had little appreciation for the value added regarding the history of the institution. He never had any history of any institution. This is my own analysis, okay. Other people would come at it slightly differently but arrive at a similar kind of conclusion. Now we put a lot of value in our history. It doesn’t mean we want to emulate our history at this point in time. We want to value it. We want to learn from it. We want to go on from it. We don’t want to go back into it. But it annoys me a lot in talking with Gordon and to some extent in talking with Eisenberger that any reference to the history is seen as kind of looking backwards and being stodgy and unwilling to think ahead and all that sort of stuff. But I don’t feel it that way at all. I think it’s like sticking your head in the sand not to look backward to see where you’ve been and what you’ve done and why you’ve done it and what you’ve learned.
How involved were you in the plans for what did become the Earth Institute?
I don’t think the Earth Institute is supported by a well articulated plan yet. I don’t think we know what it is yet.
That’s a good point.
It is anything that conceptually sticks so that if you look at a committee of the Earth Institute, you’ll see. Well, it looks like a giant centipede with about a hundred little legs coming off of it. And one leg may be Lamont with five hundred people strong and one leg may be the Center of Population Studies represented by a single person. And one may represent the arts and sciences and one may represent a unit with forty people, and one may represent another thing with two people. I mean it’s just anything that you could conceptually imagine might have a potential synergy or interaction in the Earth Institute. And I think that has gotten in the way a bit in the development of the institute. I think its fine to have openings, opportunities for all this, but you take a few concrete things and you push them forward into a new frontier in the way that reflects their priorities and also that you have some fair assurance that it’s going to have successes. So that you can have more and you start capturing another one and another one. Pretty soon you see you’ve got something that in the whole is really interacting synergistically and really is something different from what you had before and is moving in whatever direction you want to go.
How much support do you think there is at Lamont for the Earth Institute?
In concept there’s a lot of support.
And realizing that it’s —
In concept, the idea, there’s a lot. It’s a lot like motherhood and apple pie. And it’s more than motherhood and apple pie. It’s like motherhood at the time of the baby boom. Okay? The timing is right. You can’t pick up the paper without seeing that the public is being forced to have an environmental awareness that they’ve never had before. It’s being forced on them, and it’s rubbing off and so you find it whether it’s in the news or in the newspaper or talking at a cocktail party. You find out there is a greatly enhanced interest and awareness of different aspects of the environment. And therefore the opportunities for some place whose business it is to understand and to study the problems and the opportunities that occur at the intersections of science and social science and economics is unprecedented. I mean it’s like wide open out there and all we have to do is figure out how to get, not a single focus, several, but a small number, of focal points in which you really produce something. And make some marks. I feel we’re trying to do too many things at once and we’re not doing hardly anything very well.
Do you think that’s undermined support at Lamont for Peter Eisenberger and his direction at Lamont?
I think I don’t know if people would articulate it in that same way. But I think the failure to demonstrate some concrete, positive results in a year and a half has undermined confidence. And I think, aside from having it in the theoretical sense of a honeymoon period, I don’t think that Peter has ever necessarily had the trust of the Lamont staff or the faculty and has not yet earned it. So that people are still holding back. And they’re either negative, they’re withholding it, or they are neutral. Playing a wait and see thing. And the people who are more active and more aware are less patient. So they tend to declare themselves. The ones that just don’t want to be bothered and want to do their science, you know, they tend to be in the neutral camp and I think there are a relatively small number of supporters. I think again there are supporters for the concept and there’s even — how should I say it — there’s hope that there can be support for Peter [Eisenberger} because they like the concept and they realize that starting over or starting with a different set of players would be really very counterproductive for a while. It takes a long time to get over that.
Do you have a sense that this directorship is different from the preceding ones? Or is it more a matter of evolution? I’m just curious how you perceive these recent changes.
No. It’s very different. And while it preaches bottom up activity and planning, it has in fact operated on mostly top down. And the people at this institution, most of whom have strong intellects or they wouldn’t be here, but they’re also strong individuals since they have to fight it out in a tough, competitive, peer reviewed world several times a year and succeed year after year. They don’t like to be marginalized. If you ask them what do, you think about such and such, they may not say anything. But if you don’t ask them, they’re pissed off that they weren’t asked. All right they want to have the opportunity to be asked their opinion, and often, some will express it, some won’t. But the process is important. It’s very important to air these issues before they become policy. And I personally am one who supports the concept. You can’t run a lab like this as a democracy, but you can listen to the constituency and hear what their concerns are and then make a rational judgment about what’s the best thing to do given all the circumstances, and be prepared to take the heat if people don’t like it.
And your feeling is that this is not occurring or certainly not at the degree that had been in the past?
I think that that’s the general feeling. Now, I’m a little closer to it than most people. As a chair I have a lot of autonomy, I have some insulation. Plus I also have interactions, probably more interactions with Peter Eisenberger than anyone else except John [?] and — I would like to think that the problems that we’re looking at are more style points rather than substance points, but I’m not sure. I’m not sure yet. It takes a little time. And although we’ve spent a year and a half almost, let’s say the first half a year was the honeymoon. The next half year was kind of the wakeup call. And now we haven’t had enough time to see what’s going to happen after the wake up call.
One thing I wanted to ask you at this point was in looking back at our interviews have been over a long period of time. But are there any issues that you can think of that you wanted to particularly to raise that have not come up in the interview thus far?
Well, I think that the place, this place — sounds strange from someone who’s been at one place for thirty years, but I think I spent time and know a lot of people and have seen a lot of other institutions. And I think this place is fairly unique, integrated over its history, in its general lack of turmoil and its lack of internal bickering and its kind of primary business of let’s do science! I think it was slow on the uptake when there was a shift that finally said doing good science isn’t enough. You’ve got to sell yourself a little better. I think we were late picking up on that point, but we’ve picked it up now. And I think we still set ourselves apart from our peer institutions, our competitors, in the sense that we have enormous breadth in the earth sciences. Scripps [Institution of Oceanography] doesn’t have the breadth that we have. Woods Hole [Oceanographic Institution] doesn’t — certainly not Miami. None of the other places have the breadth, or even if they approach some part of the breadth, they don’t have the depth. So that it’s possible to pursue any sort of problem or any kind of collaboration in the earth sciences in the broadest sense, here and to collaborate. And people generally do that well. They don’t do it in a flashy way. They don’t go down and say, hey rah, rah we’ll do this and we’ll do that. They go off and do it and wave a flag and send out bulletins. They don’t do that. You know, they talk over the lunch. They say that’s a good idea and they go do it. So like Peter Eisenberger, we’re always articulating how we really collaborate together. He says I don’t see it. Well, he’s probably right. He probably doesn’t see it. Doesn’t mean it’s not happening. And I often spend time recruiting graduate students. The recruitment really comes not in getting those people to apply, but after we have made the selection of our admissions. The same thirty or thirty-five students that we’ve admitted, probably twenty or twenty-five of them are on two or three other universities’ lists. MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], Stanford [University], Scripps and the whole bit. So there’s a competition to get these good students. And I always tell them, you know, that the one thing that you’re going to find here is that everyone’s treated the same. There’s one class of citizenry — hard to tell the professors from the students. Everyone gets treated the same. Yet, everyone is an individual that we’re willing to consider individual circumstances, and we got a lot of breadth. You come here and you think you want to work with Joe Blow and he turns out to be an ass, so you don’t want to work on his project. Change to another project. Or if you like him and he’s great but he’s always gone, there are five other people working on the same project he is that are there to talk to you and are interested in you. So we’ve got a lot of breadth and we’ve got a lot of depth and a lot of flexibility. And we don’t have, which I think is the most debilitating of all, is a bunch of fences between different individuals and different projects that would prevent a student, who’s got no muscle at all, quite the opposite in most cases, from going down and trying to breach one of these fences. Fences exist at Scripps.
I was thinking about that.
And they may be getting better these days, I don’t know, but in the past they were notorious. In which Professor A’s student couldn’t even talk to not only Professor B, but to Professor B’s student, let alone walk in their lab or get some of their data or something like that. My only example of that that I can cite over my long history here was a little bit of that going on in a one way stream with Bruce [Heezen] during the big disputes. I think I told you this story before. Through the entire dispute once it broke out, Bruce claimed never again to cite Ewing or any of Ewing’s collaborators whereas Ewing continued to separate the science from the personal. If citation were appropriate, he made the citation. It just reflected badly on Bruce. It didn’t reflect badly on people he wasn’t citing. [Laughter] So, you know, that was a short period of time and it was an isolated incident. I don’t know of any other situation where people couldn’t just move about freely. That was a wonderful thing for the students. And all the students are treated the same. They were all supported at the same level, in the same way. At some institutions, students, if you’re a biologist you get some support, or no support, or something. If you’re a physical oceanographer, you get something else. It builds a multi-class system among the students and creates a lot of friction. Here is someone who gets an NSF fellowship, that doesn’t pay as much money as our university fellowship. So we subsidize it so that it does pay the same. And we try to equalize that. So I think it’s a pretty great place. I think it’s under a lot of stress right now. A lot of anxiety about the changing funding climate, the difficulty of soft money positions and competing on the same basis and a lot of uncertainty that there’s going to be some unnatural selection process to shrink the size of this place. And I think we have a very high standard in general, but I think, with the exception of people a couple standard deviations out from the norm, the obviously very excellent versus the obviously sub-par. That the group in the middle you would have a hell of a time saying, well, A is better than B is better than C is better than D. I think it would be extremely divisive to go through some sort of process of, by design, shrinking this place in order to force fit the residual staff into some financial resource base to shore them up. I think we are better off the way we are now. [crosstalk] And let the market drive it.
But you feel that this might be something that Columbia is considering?
Well it’s something that Eisenberger proposed here; threw people into a panic. And now they’ve thrown the ball back to the staff asking them to think about the problem. But the staff is saying, well, gee, we’ve got the same staff and we’ve got the same resource base, and we can all live in that. So what I have proposed, I keep saying why not work on the resourcing and phase things in. Improve the support situation gradually or selectively. You’re not taking anything away, which is what we do now. We have special positions. We have Doherty scholars that are a special recognition as funds allow. Build up the resource base, so that in effect you can move the net under everyone eventually. And the answer to that is often given — well, you’re dealing with two time constants. It takes a long time to build up this resource base. Whereas the place is in precipitous decline and you’re going to, you’re in danger of a real collapse if you don’t do something immediately. And it would be better to do something with a fraction of what you’ve got.
Something you said a moment ago struck me; the claim that this place, Lamont, is in precipitous decline. Is that your judgment?
No. It’s not my judgment. But there are some disciplines that are a lot healthier than the others.
In terms of the funding?
That they’re receiving —
The funding. But that has always been the case. And the sort of disciplinary popularity has been a fickle thing. I feel that short-term climate matters are going to be around for a long time; yet, I think they’re vulnerable too in terms of promising more than they can deliver. So, if we had put all of our eggs in the plate tectonics basket twenty years ago, everything into that, we’d be in big trouble right now. So this gets back to this business of having this enormous breadth and the ability to pursue different problems and to be able to respond to new initiatives, shore up other things, and I don’t believe it is — And the only person who I’ve heard say that they think it is or that it might be is Peter Eisenberger. And when you ask him what the source of his information is, he just says well it’s just anecdotal talking to other people. And when you ask him who, he gets very vague. But anyway, I would argue for building up the resource base and he says there’s no time to do that. And I say, well, we’re the best thing that you’ve got going for the university in the sciences. We’re critical to the Earth Institute which is one of the major initiatives of the institute. The university is in the middle of an extended campaign raising an additional 1.2 billion dollars. Float us a loan. Float us a loan off for 50 million dollars, and as we get the resources we pay them back. If it’s so important to you, preserve it. I mean, don’t wait until you’re there bleeding on the floor before you do. It’s a problem administrators always have, you know. Do you build to your strengths or do you shore up your weak areas? And do you allow your strong areas to become weak before you start to help them out? Tough questions, but I know how I think.
I’m curious when you look generally over the landscape of earth sciences in this country, do you sense that there are an increasing number of places that are making decisions about what research to pursue based largely on perceptions of short term funding for them?
And do you feel that’s been a trend over —? Clearly there have been some of those pressures all along, but I’m curious how you feel about that pressure now?
I think there’s a much greater fraction of places that are responding to this. And that there are lots and lots of places trying to jump on the environmental bandwagon. And some of them will succeed and some of them will fail and disappear altogether. I think it is important to realize that the environment, as thought of with much shorter time scales, is an important element now and needs our attention, but not at the exclusion of everything else by any means. So I think there was quite a bit of knee jerk reaction across the country in terms of chasing them and a little like ambulance chasing. There are a number of people here concerned about compromising the principles of doing underlying basic scientific research. And I agree with that. At the same time I’m a realist and so there are some real changes. You can’t stick your head in the sand. You have to be responsible. What you have to do is find the right marriage. In fact, the basic research in the applied or societal relevant research, if you look hard enough probably has a major overlap and those are the areas where the opportunities are right now. And you’re still doing these things out here as you can. But [cross talk} you’re putting together the pieces that overlap. And I don’t think you’re prostituting yourself at all. I think you’re just playing it smart.
One question I also wanted to ask you before we wrap this up for today. As you look back, have there been any strong either religious or other kinds of strong convictions that you felt have been influential in your career and professional life?
Well, I have always had the greatest admiration for my scientific colleagues and friends for that matter for whom I think exhibit a high degree of integrity. I mean, I hate hypocrisy. I hate game playing, politics, sort of back stabbing stuff that happens. This self- serving stuff: I mean I’m not talking about talking politely to some assistant vice president and joking with him on the phone and being pleasant. I mean, that’s part of the game too. But that’s not hypocritical, that’s just common sense and manners.
You’re referring to a phone call that we had during one of the interruptions here.
Yes, exactly. But I think that there are — my wife says that I don’t look out for myself enough. Because I’m always thinking about the institution and what’s best for the institution, rather than what’s best for me. I keep telling her that what’s good for the institution is good for me. Sometimes it’s convincing and sometimes even I’m not convinced. [Laughter] But I’ve seen a number of people that have come through the place that I really question their integrity and I don’t have much time for them. On the other hand, there are a lot of people. I think [W. Maurice] Ewing had a tremendous amount of integrity. I think we all did. I think [Manik] Talwani did. And I think that’s had the most singular most influence on me. Do the right thing. And when it starts getting tough to do the right thing, that’s when it’s even more important to do the right thing. I’m probably the most outspoken person on the executive committee. And I place some importance in process because I think when people start thinking things are being done arbitrarily, that’s when they get very nervous. At the same time I feel it’s important to be able to take that process. It’s kind of like filing your income taxes. I’m not saying cheat on your income taxes, at the same time squeak out every legitimate dollar you can. Okay? Well, I feel that way about process. There are times when you have to squeak out every legitimate dollar you can, but you still don’t defraud the government or breach your integrity or ignore the policy. And I feel there are a lot of people that are just, you know, do what’s expedient regardless. It bugs the hell out of me.
How to make — illustrate that through a number of the sessions and the interviews we’ve had. And I really want to thank you very, very much for this long session. Indeed, all the sessions we’ve had up to this point.
Well, I’m sorry for the interruptions.
That’s quite all right. And just to remind you, you will be getting the transcript from Columbia University.
This is wrapping it up for us, right?
I think that —