Reynold Clayton Fuson - Book Writing, Before Federal Aid, Experience With Industry

Book Writing

The record seems to indicate that I was more interested in writing textbooks than any of my colleagues. If I said that I produced the books in the hope of gaining prestige or of making money, I am sure that most people would believe me. Indeed, I imagine they would think that these were my objectives no matter what I said.

But give me a hearing. Let's start with a critique of the use of textbooks in non-laboratory courses in organic chemistry. I have always questioned the wisdom of defining a college course as the material to be found between the covers of a certain book. I will go further. I strongly suspect that a teacher's dependence on a textbook is inversely proportional to his command of the subject, or alternatively, to his desire to do a good job of teaching.

As I have stated before, I felt from the beginning that to be successful, I would have to use all the devices I knew or could invent. At the top of my list, of course, was knowing the subject and knowing it freshly. Moreover, I found that my enthusiasm always mounted when I could bring an interpretation of my own to the class. Now I see one reason why I won the teaching award; it was largely by default. The other teachers - some of them at least - didn't really try.

The personal approach I used made it inevitable that I tell the students about the organic chemistry that I liked and that I try to share it with them. I created each lecture as I went along, organizing and reorganizing the subject matter until nearly all, if not all, discontinuities had been eliminated, until the presentation was so ordered that the sequence was compelling. Thus, having such notes, I could deliver the lecture without them. After a few semesters my notes were, in fact, a textbook, as the John Wiley Company promptly pointed out.

Once under contract I was persuaded to do many things to the manuscript. The publishers had information as to what would find a market and had ways of getting it from a protesting author. So in the end it was true that I was trying to make money, at least for the publishers.

The next time I arrived at the publication phase with a set of lecture notes I was wiser and had the typed copy reproduced photographically by Edwards Brothers. This time there was no "prompting" by a sales-minded publisher. Thinking of future classes, I had 1000 copies made at my expense, which were sold through a local bookstore at cost.

The notes were those that had been accumulated in Chemistry 336. They were bound with a green cover and cost the students $3.30 a copy. To my great surprise the supply of what the students called the "Green Bible" was exhausted in a matter, not of years, as I had hoped, but of weeks. The sale had spread to other campuses.

Again the John Wiley Company elbowed its way in. Into our little bible was injected every type of salesmanship heresy so that the revelation would appeal to all faiths. Once more, the cash register approved wholesale depersonalization.

A modern textbook for the introductory course in organic chemistry makes me think of an over-sized block of sculptor's marble. Out of it may be carved a David, a Moses or perhaps a Piet㠠ut where is the Michelangelesque teacher who can do it? In most hands it remains a rock.

Special mention should be made of "System Identification of Organic Compounds" which Shriner and I brought out in 1935. It presented a scheme of. qualitative organic analysis that had been developed at Illinois during the 'teens and incorporated into a book by a former staff member, Oliver Kamm.

When the Kamm book became outdated, stewardship of the scheme passed to Shriner and me, because we happened to be in charge of the course at the time. Our book has been revised repeatedly and now, more than thirty years later, is in bigger demand than ever. The Illinois method has been taken up by other schools and now appears among the course offerings of nearly all chemistry departments in the country.

The Illinois willingness to put a shoulder to any worthwhile chemical wheel involved us in many cooperative efforts, most of which had to do with writing books or various types of annual publications. The attitude brought me several assignments which I accepted rather for Illinois than for myself.

Two wheels that were set rolling by our group have gone round the chemical world in a way that reflects great credit on Illinois. They are Organic Syntheses and Organic Reactions.

Before Federal Aid

The effect of federal aid to schools has been debated so much that a review of prewar practices seems pertinent. We had University fellowships, augmented by a number provided by chemical companies, and part-time teaching assistantships to furnish stipends for graduate students. Since the fellowships generally went to last-year students, nearly all entering students came as teaching assistants.

Four calendar years was the normal time for a teaching assistant to finish the PhD program. This system permitted the student to enter without any commitment as to research director or even field of concentration. Most of them waited a semester before beginning research. I liked this plan because it gave us an opportunity to get acquainted before decisions were made. So I was able to limit my research group to students about whom I felt enthusiastic.

The number of graduate students in organic chemistry was so large that each professor had all he wanted. For many years my group was kept at 20. Our critics talked about mass production of PhD graduates and contended that we could not do a good job with so many. Enough time has now passed to settle any argument; the distinguished 'record of our graduates shows that the Illinois system was excellent.

Experience with Industry

The two worlds of chemistry - academic and industrial - are intimately related and much has been written about improving the relationship. I have little to add that might be of value except an account of my own contacts with industry. Although I grew up in a somewhat hillbilly part of Little Egypt and watched my mother make soap from fatty residues left when hogs were butchered, I do not recall thinking of the process as chemistry. I am sure, in fact, that I didn't even know how to pronounce the word.

A neighbor came closer to the subject perhaps by operating a still clandestinely. My story would sound better if I maligned my father by saying that he, too, was a moonshiner and that I took up chemistry in order to help him in his "business". Only much later did I come to see chemistry in soap making and in the production of liquor.

My first and only experience in chemical industry brought me a little closer to practical chemistry. Between the completion of my undergraduate studies and the beginning of graduate work, I spent four months at the smelter in Anaconda. We made alum from clay and tested boiler water and boiler scale.

My next contact with the industrial world was made shortly after I joined the Illinois staff. The Mallinkrodt Chemical Company decided to give me $500 annually and did so until my university salary had been considerably augmented. Their generosity illustrates the desire on the part of industry to encourage young men to stay in academic work.

Later, I served as consultant for three different companies: Rohm and Haas and two pharmaceutical companies, the Maltine Company, the Smith, Kline and French Laboratories. The connection with the Maltine Company was brief and grew out of my friendship with the late Dr. Ralph S. Overman who was the Company's research director at the time.

Another former student, Dr. Glenn E. Ullyot, was responsible for my occasional visits to SKF when I talked with his organic group.

The Rohm and Haas consultantship, much more important than the others, lasted for thirty years - from 1935 to 1965. The agreement was for me to spend twelve days a year with them with an annual retainer of $2400 - about half of my university salary! Later, I was paid at a higher rate.

This tie-up was more or less typical of those of professors of the best universities and gives rise to a number of questions. A taxpayer, for example, might wonder how a professor who is a full-time employee of a tax-supported university can find time for gainful employment elsewhere. The principle is the same whether the professor does consulting, writes books, gives-off-campus lectures or does anything else that yields additional income.

The problem was brought out into the open by a private university which ruled, so we were given to understand, that such income be paid to the university rather than to the professor. At once, their most distinguished chemistry professor resigned and the Department of Chemistry went into a decline that, even many years after the heresy was recanted, appears to be continuing. Prestige, the most precious asset of universities, is a delicate flower.

The hard headed taxpayer is never far away, so the present consulting practice remains under a cloud; it has much in its favor however. It enables universities to hold professors whom they could not afford otherwise and brings the two chemical worlds together to the great advantage of both. Everybody gains by it - even the taxpayer.

Honorary Degrees

Honorary degrees are granted by universities to recognize distinction of various types, chief of which seems to be outstanding contribution to knowledge. My honorary degrees from the University of Montana and the University of Illinois seemingly could fall only in this category. The contributions that I have made, however, are deeply buried in the idiom of organic chemistry. My election to membership in the National Academy of Sciences still seems to me to have been a near miracle.

Clearly, this election carried so much prestige that from that point on achievement of honors had the characteristics of an autocatalytic process: prestige begot prestige. One meets a somewhat analogous situation financially when his income from savings becomes greater than his expenditures: barring a rise in his scale of living all he has to do to become a millionaire is to stay alive.

Accumulation of academic honors beyond a certain point seems to depend to an ever increasing extent on propaganda. An honorary degree reflects favorably on the granting institution, on schools in which one has studied, on former colleagues and students, on members of one's family and indeed all with whom one has rubbed elbows. A formidable claque!

When the Commencement at Illinois was over, I was disconcerted to discover that even my relatives and close friends treated me with a new respect. It was as if an actor who had portrayed Abraham Lincoln in a play should next day find himself to be accounted an authority on rail splitting.

Letter to Mr. and Mrs. M. J. Fuson

After the Commencement in June, 1966, I went to Stockholm to attend a symposium (I.U.P.A.C.) on natural products and stayed on in Europe for the summer. In a letter to my youngest brother, M. J. Fuson and his wife, Ruth, I tried to formulate my impressions. Excerpts from the letter follow. "This communication started out to be a letter to you two but has been amended and extended until it runs like a conversation - one-sided, of course. But you probably have been caught before in conversations in which you hardly got a chance to say anything." "As you know, travel in Europe is not new to me, but this trip differs from the others in an important way. Previously, I had a well-defined obligation to return to specific assignments. Nearly always I brought with me some work: proofs of a book, manuscripts to be edited, speeches for polishing - something that was part of my job back home. Indeed, I felt that such a backdrop was essential to a successful vacation (I take it that you nod affirmatively at this point. Do I hear Ruth asking about foreign languages?)" "Non-chemical interests, it is true, have loomed large in my travels. My love of Spanish carried me off to Mexico and Peru and I returned fascinated by archeology. I wonder as I write this in Pisa, how many tourists admire the Leaning Tower as a superb example of Pisan Romanesque or notice the Gothic touches on the Baptistery. In having a veritable mania for such things, I am very lucky; moreover they are rated high in the academic world."

"Now I am fully retired at Nevada as well as at Illinois; moreover, both schools at their June Commencements gave me praise that is generally reserved for those whose records have been completed. But before we all burst into tears because of my sad plight let me tell you about things that have not been completed. My enthusiasm for chemistry is still great and I look forward to the job of revising two books - a full-time commitment for at least two years. Also, as you know, I am engaged in writing about the history of the Illinois Chemistry Department which gives me a key position with respect to the Illinois Centennial in 1967."

"In addition to my devotion to chemistry is my love for my fellowmen. ("Ah," says Merritt, "Abou Ben Adam! But aren't you talking like a preacher?") Conceded; but you should see the scores of letters of recommendation I write. These are more numerous than one might expect because of the myth that has come into existence that I never forget a face or a name. Once a student stopped me in the hall and asked abruptly, "Do you know my name?" I had to admit that I did not. "Then," he said gleefully "I win a dollar. " In the mail I received in Siena, there was a recommendation form to be filled out for a student named Brown of my class of 1958; I have no recollection of him whatever."

"I have to spend a good part of next year in Nevada if for no other reason than because of friends of mine whom I have persuaded to come there as visiting lecturers - Bill Sparks, President of the American Chemical Society, heads the list. I shall continue to have offices at both schools and expect to oscillate between them. The chief drawback is that it costs some $125 per oscil ."

"An old saying has it that putting an ocean between lovers restores their sight. In a far-fetched way my present situation in Europe seems to bear out the idea. What happened at Commencement in remote Urbana has shrunk to normal proportions; the damage to my humility turns out to be minimal."

"If you can imagine a pedestal that can be raised or lowered by telepathy you will be able to picture what some visitors do to my elevation. To answer a letter of congratulation I have first to estimate the height to which the writer has raised me. For this purpose, I need the degree I saw advertised by a fortune teller in Mantua: "Doctor of Occult Sciences and Divination."

"Three such letters, addressed to younger members of our family, have been composed and mailed. I have pointed out to them (Winifred, Nancy and Mary Jane) that prestige is not new to the Fuson family, that our reputation for intellectual leadership goes back to Yorktown, in fact. One can cite the nearly unbroken line of preachers as well as our own ten out of eleven teachers. (You may chide me for classifying teachers and preachers together. I have denied so often and so vehemently that there is a "preacher-teacher" type of person that I am now convinced that there is."

"I am happy to join the rest of you in keeping alive the family tradition, shall we say, for learning? All of us, I know have tried to hold the line in connection with other ideals which the Fusons have always cherished. Our bed-rock honesty gives us a conscience, painful at income tax time, that a lawyer could scarcely afford. I am glad that I was brought up to believe naively that right was white, wrong was black and that the two opposites were separated by a very narrow line; as a consequence, I am quick to suspect the meandering, gray smudges that have replaced the line."

"Let me close with a little jingle based on President Henry's police joke and the fact that I now have two honorary degrees.

My cap and gown
I now lay down.
What's now in store for me?
Some have bet
The police will yet
Give me the third degree."

   Table of Contents