The Big Four
During the fourteen years (1927-1941) that Shriner and I were together on the staff we may have been said to vie for third place behind Adams and Marvel. Students of those years called us the Big Four. Rather than rivals we were coworkers each had as many research students as he wanted and promotions and salary raises were not slow in coming. That friction did not develop between Shriner and me is abundantly clear from the way we teamed up to write the "Systematic Identification" book. In retrospect, I realize that I bowed to him in matters of laboratory technique. For this reason, I insisted that he be the senior author. He in turn let me have my way in editorial matters.
The program at the Illinois luncheon in New York in September, 1966, was very appropriately devoted to honoring Shriner. I prepared the following remarks. "You cannot expect me to pass up this chance to put in a plug for our book, Shriner and Fuson. I imagine that those two names may be more widely known together than separately. Often when I meet a chemist for the first time he goes through a double take: not the Fuson of Shriner and Fuson? Then he looks at me as if I were some kind of detached Siamese twin."
"For reasons that are as valid today as they were then, I insisted that he be the senior author. Since Dave Curtin joined us there are two junior authors and we enjoy a big advantage I did not foresee - Ralph gets all the letters from teachers who have trouble with the problems.
Illinois ranks above all other schools I know about in the high quality of administration its Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering has always enjoyed. That this was true of the Noyes (1907-1926) and Adams (1927-1954) administration no one doubts and the Carter period (1955- ) may be even better.
My knowledge of the Noyes headship is of course entirely hearsay. Strangely enough, this holds very largely for the Adams administration, too, although I missed only the first year of it. Adams, whom we always called the Chief, did not take us into his confidence as a rule, preferring an at-arms-length handling of the faculty. Most things that he did or was supposed to have done reached me only in the form of rumors. And these almost always came through Speed.
My prediction would have been that such a method would have failed to produce good results which shows, apparently, how little I knew about administration. As everyone knows, the Adams technique was eminently successful. But I still wonder how he would have made out if Speed's great wisdom had not been available in crucial situations.
One feature of the administration was to reduce everything to rules adopted by vote of the faculty. Enforcement of these rules was delegated to an officious and at times seemingly malicious secretary, know to us as the Old Lady. She knew the rules extremely well and believed there should be no exceptions. She made it nearly impossible for us to get past her and take a problem to the Chief. I never credited the rumor that the Chief was unable to get rid of his watch dog because she held a Civil Service appointment.
I think that it would not be too much to say that he managed to dominate us by intimidation although most of the blame was placed on his front guard, the Old Lady. She kept me in a constant state of fear - not for myself, but for my graduate students. When she felt that I should be brought to my knees, she had an uncanny, a diabolical ability to discover that one of my students had broken one of our countless rules. He had registered one day late for the German examination, had had his thesis typed on the wrong kind of paper, had loaned his elevator key, had run up an excessive storeroom bill, and so on. When I showed the proper humility, the troubles could always be adjusted. That I bore this cross for more than twenty years is the most convincing evidence possible that I liked my job.
Young members of the staff who did not live up to our expectation invariably left Illinois, ostensibly because of attractive offers that we could not meet. A ruthless uprooting of the incipient "deadwood" was thus accomplished smoothly without leaving any hatchet marks on the transplanted saplings. Only first class administration can do such things.
During the period from 1927 to 1967, the staff in organic chemistry suffered the loss of the following members: E. R. Alexander, R. B. Bates, E. J. Corey, W. S. Emerson, R. L. Frank. L. E. Miller, S. W. Pelletier, C. C. Price, R. M. Ross, R. L. Shriner, and E. C. Taylor.
Along with this system of faculty turnover went a determined effort to avoid inbreeding.Two exceptions were Dr. Marvel and Dr. Carter; these names have shed so much luster on the Department that one is left wondering. Persuading our seniors to go elsewhere for graduate study was more difficult, but was accomplished with few exceptions.
My unwise decision to go to Berkeley instead of Illinois for graduate work, it may be noted, had the redeeming feature that it left open the door to my eventual faculty career at Illinois. As it turned out, I not only joined the staff but prospered under the Adams administration. One example will suffice. The job as instructor that I had accepted initially was changed over the summer to the next higher rank with corresponding increase in pay - all this before I even reached Urbana!
But my surprises did not stop there; I passed from the lowest to the highest rank in the record time of five years. The professorship I got was the first to be granted in our department that carried no administrative assignment. The seed for the Center for Advanced Study had been planted.
Yet people still ask me why I stayed at Illinois, a third stringer to Speed and the Chief. Shriner went as chairman of the department at Indiana, and Price to the headship at Notre Dame.Why did I refuse to take a similar post at North Carolina or a deanship at Texas A. and M. University? Probably the real reason was not given. I would not have been believed but I declined these and other offers simply because I thought that I already had a better job.
That I felt this way in spite of the Old Lady is a high compliment to Marvel and Adams as administrators.
Center for Advanced Study
A problem which colleges and universities have inherited from the past is that of rewarding staff members who have already risen to the rank of full professor and who receive top salaries. To get more money and win higher prestige they must turn, at least in part, to administrative work. Since administrative positions are scarce and require talents very different from those appropriate for teaching and research, many professors found that they had reached a plateau with no more mountains to climb.
The assumption seemed to be that professors who were stranded on the plateau had their own lack of versatility to thank and were lucky if the plateau did not begin to slope downward. The Center for Advanced Study was a sort of man-made hillock where a few might take refuge from the common level. As initial members of the Center, Bardeen, Doob and Steward were chosen in addition to myself. Bardeen was a Nobel laureate and all four of us were members of the National Academy of Sciences. Later, Turyn of Classics was elected and then Spiegelman of Microbiology and Drickamer of Chemical Engineering.
As members of the Center, we were given complete freedom as to teaching and research duties and salaries sufficiently generous to make us immune to political pressure. Many of my friends saw in membership in the Center a chance for me to "escape the boredom of classroom teaching", but I did not share their attitude and never gave up my undergraduate class.
Acceptance of the Center by the rest of the faculty seemed to me to depend on the distinction of members. Since I left the group its collective achievements have been little short of spectacular and I no longer have any fears that the Center will fail to enjoy the esteem of the faculty.
We proceeded, as was planned for us, to elect associate members concentrating our attention on younger staff members who were doing outstanding research. Budgetary limitations fixed the number of associate members in anyone year to about fourteen. The associate members were relieved in part or entirely of their teaching duties for one or more semesters depending on circumstances. It soon became evident that these memberships carried great prestige along with the practical advantages.
The Center was organized as a part of the Graduate College and owes its existence to the constructive and far-reaching policies of Dean F. T. Wall. Now that he has left the University, the future of the Center may depend chiefly on the attitude of his successor. If it survives this administrative change it will have a strong position. Its success will depend ultimately on how strongly the faculty feels about emphasis on research and teaching as university functions.
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