Into the 1970s, Part 1

1965-66 saw progress but also the problems of maintenance of the department at a certain level. Richard M. Millard and Richard S. Bear were still in their respective positions as dean of CLA and GRS, but the substance of the report by Cohen starts with,

The year saw several grave disturbances. Professors O’Neill and Sachs resigned, Professor O’Neill has accepted a position as initial holder of a chair in theoretical optics in the Department of Physics of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, sponsored by the American Optical Company. He has been at Boston University since the early fifties, when he began graduate studies here after receiving his undergraduate degree at Boston College and his M.A. from Tufts University. Professor Sachs will join the Department of Physics of the State University of New York at Buffalo. He came to us after previous work in California and Canada he turned to his well-known investigation of a new and fully deterministic formulation of the foundation of physics.

Sachs received his Ph.D. from UCLA in 1954. The physical plant grossly deteriorated, partly due to the severe strain of construction in front, partly due to insufficient housekeeping and originally poor standard materials.” It was one thing to build a department, another to maintain it. This was also the year when 700 Commonwealth Avenue became 111 Cummington Street. The garage on Commonwealth Avenue which was a two level garage, ground and basement, was demolished and in its place Warren Towers was built. Warren Towers, a student dormitory which consists of a complex of three high rise towers built on top of a three story garage replaced the original parking space. Piles were driven 300 feet to anchor the structure. Since many classrooms faced the construction site and no alternate rooms were available, teaching suffered. Complaints about the help provided by the University for teaching and research follow. This, however, was followed by an optimistic note.

Nevertheless the current research and teaching have been managed with general efficiency and with notable achievements in both aspects of our work. Furthermore, physicists have entered strongly into the administrative and advisory activities of CLA, GRS and the University. We have about 60 publications to record this year and the Harvard department records precisely the same number; and while numbers games can be played in many ways, at least we have reached the stage of being a player. Our faculty have been actively engaged outside of the University too: Professors Franzen, Sachs, Zimmerman, Hoy, Siegel, Willis, Stachel, Papagiannis, Hawkins, Booth, Edmonds and Cohen have engaged in scientific activities outside of the United States, to indicate one measure. ...University support of research has improved noticeably through the GRS allocation of funds, mainly to Professors Hoy, Franzen and Zimmerman, but the total amount is still small… The colloquia of the department …have been of high quality.

The report goes on,

As a general appraisal, one might say that we are a very good 3rd rank department, on the margin of becoming a 2nd rank (where first rank would be Harvard and Columbia, and 2nd rank would be Brown and Rutgers). The faculty quality is our greatest strength, and indeed in my experience it is superb. But most of the faculty members are too young to have their ability and knowledge tested or otherwise matured and known; only several of us are so known (Franzen, Roman, Siegel, Hawkins, Corinaldesi) while several others seem to me to be on the edge of vital national reputation (Willis, Zimmerman, Booth) and still others have sufficient potential but not sufficient achievement to be sure (surely Chasan and Stachel, probably Hoy and Hellman and Edmonds). These remarks apply to caliber as scientists.

An enumeration of teaching strengths names Roman, Stipe, Chasan and Edmonds as excellent teachers but hampered by the facilities and resources available. Cohen continues,

It has been easy to say that we developed our department first at the graduate level, and moreover that we stressed theoretical rather than experimental competence. But this statement is no longer true as a description of our current situation. Half of our faculty, and more than half of our graduate students are engaged in experimental physics and our intention is to increase the relative portion of our effort in this direction. Our experimentalists are (excepting Booth and Franzen) less experienced than our theorists, and their investigations will generally not bear fruit on a national level for another few years. But they are supported by outside grants to the same extent as our theorists, with similar rates of publication, and in my considered judgment they are of similar quality of mind and insight. They are naturally limited by financial factors, especially including our poor range of staff support in the way of equipment, machinists, and so forth.

At that time we had one machinist and a mediocre machine shop. The difficulty of recruitment of graduate students in sufficient numbers and quality was pointed out but

The graduate program is, overall, a remarkable success, considering the weakness of finance, facilities, lack of tradition and reputation, lack of University efforts at major publicity or recruiting for physics, and even lack of any specific decision at any time on the part of the University to make any special and substantial effort to build up the Physics Department to a national level of research and graduate education. Here it is important to recognize that the department budget is great as compared with that of ten years ago; and that the present building (however crumbling) was an enormous advance over what preceded it for pure physics—although it does not compare to what was devoted to applied physics before 1958; and to the trend of University support for physics has been upward, especially the record of support for faculty appointments, and for an expanded, and now quite satisfactory, graduate degree curriculum.

Thus, despite the fact that no decision to grow the Physics Department was taken by the University, the Physics Department was growing. That decision will be taken after 1984.

Undergraduate recruitment was also problematic. “Of the 40 or so physics majors in the current freshmen classes, only a dozen or so will reach senior status as physics or astronomy majors…..The admission policy is a weakness.” There was very little effort, and that continues to this day, on the part of the University to recruit physics majors. More about this later. There was a thriving evening program, as previously mentioned. On that Cohen comments:

The evening program was instituted in the early 1950s as a service of the then existing optics facility; it was continued after 1958 and, I believe that it was thereafter a principal source of strength to the development of the department. The faculty was increased in numbers in response to the great use of evening graduate courses by working scientist in the Boston area; and we recruited some of our best graduate students from these originally part-time students.

The undergraduate effort was less successful and Cohen ascribes this to the lack of an undergraduate degree program in the evening. He also cites the Northeastern University evening program as competition. By then the Metropolitan College, whose mission was to educate and serve the Boston Metropolitan area was becoming the evening division of Boston University. The possibility of a major physics program in that college was considered:

whereas our graduate evening courses have had little competition of the same quality, this graduate evening program could have been a strength far beyond the Physics Department’s benefit since it showed how new doctoral level scientists could be educated from the large number of B.S. and M.S. scientists and engineers in an area like this. ...Yet it seems unlikely that the enthusiasm for Metropolitan College within the administration will include science as a principal factor.

Benign neglect was evident here.

Cohen would nurse new faculty along by having them first teach discussion sections in large courses, then teach their specialties and then have them teach and take charge of the large courses. The “nobility” or “important” faculty members, mainly in theory, would rarely or never teach an elementary or undergraduate course. Instead they would teach seminars and graduate courses in their specialty. Those were courses with a very small enrolment, 3 to 10. About half the department’s resources were concentrated on this graduate curriculum which served, at most, 50 students. Another great effort went into the education of physics majors which rarely exceeded 50.

This was also the year when the new slue of courses went into effect. Stipe had written a text book which was used in PY111-112 and PY121, the latter being the six-year medical course. On the graduate level, a degree program in Physics and Astronomy was created. In order to assure the quality of our Ph.D. degree, it was required that a Ph.D. candidate must pass successfully at least 15 semester credits of 700 (Advanced Graduate) level courses after attainment of the Masters degree. In addition the students had to pass a written and oral comprehensive examination and present their work at a thesis defense where any question about physics could be asked by the faculty. Usually, only questions pertaining to the subject of the proposed thesis were asked.

The quality of students, the lack of resources such as adequate classrooms for teaching large courses and support for class demonstrations, the lack of support for research facilities, machine shop and research grant writing support, and the lack of commitment on the part of the University to support research as a scholarly endeavor, weighed on the young faculty, many of whom came from first class universities. I remember that I felt that I was being punished for applying for a research grant. For faculty who considered themselves first rate, these circumstances had a dampening effect. Despite that, this was a year when some of us received research grants and started planning for the future. Edmonds, who supervised the machine shop manned by our machinist Mr. Allen O’Neill, for the first time gave a machine shop financial report and proposed an expansion. That was justified by the expansion of the experimental faculty.

A senior faculty member comments:

The department developed healthily during the year, and reached a size which is big enough for efficient work, at least as far as research is concerned. Further increase should be made only by the motivation of strengthening existing research groups, and by considering teaching personnel for subsidiary physics courses.

There was an idea of forming groups which was never realized. Talking about setting up an in-house facility for nuclear physics, one faculty member writes:

I have no hope for an in-house ‘bench-top’ program unless it operates in conjunction with a machine oriented program here or elsewhere. …I am moreover, discouraged by the great and widely publicized scarcity of funds for this type of research. ...Finally, the responsibility would be primarily mine, and I feel uncomfortable about accepting it…

As mentioned before, some of us managed to receive research grants, but most of those were quite modest and just enough to keep a small research program going. Any attempt to get a grant to improve and obtain a first class facility, and there were a few, was countered by referee comments to the effect that one could not perform the proposed research at Boston University. Who knows what we would have been capable of, were it not for this and funding sufficient only for modest programs? I believe the quality of the young faculty hired was as good as at any university. The teaching was better than in most universities. Another deterrent was the teaching load which was heavier than that of many other Physics Departments.

One has to realize that a department in a university does not operate in a vacuum and outside influences started to affect the operations and the fate of the department. Those were social, political, University and educational changes which were disturbing the equanimity of the department, and started to unravel at about this time, 1966-67.

There was no doubt that, despite the contention that the University had no official plan for the growth of the Physics Department, Cohen had built a relation with the deans Millard, who was a philosopher and Bear who was a biologist. There was a period of education with new deans about the operation and needs of the departments, and, most likely, Cohen did a good job of educating. Physics and physics education have many needs which none but possibly chemistry and biology share. Physics needs laboratories with hardware and maintenance personnel for teaching and research. A typical introductory physics course consists of three hours of lecture, one hour of discussion and problem solving, and two to three hours of laboratory. Such a curriculum requires proper space, equipment and staffing so that in addition to faculty, teaching assistants for the discussion and laboratory sections are required. In University accounting, physics was expensive. A course was worth three credits. Most of the courses in the College of Liberal arts were three credits. Introductory physics courses with laboratory and discussion were five credits. That, and possibly the promise of research sponsored by outside agencies, which in reality brought in very little money in overhead, allowed the Physics Department expansion. There might also have been the argument of intellectual content, but that probably had only a marginal influence. In March, 1967, Dean Millard resigned and so did Baer. That was also the year when Boston University President, Harold C. Case gave up his office which he had held since 1951.

Another factor was the innovational trend in education. Around 1962, professors at universities started to realize that they were expected to provide education for students. Although this was realized every now and then throughout the century, the modus operandi was that the onus to learn was on the students (although there were exceptions in colleges such as Amherst and Williams.) This realization lead to several curriculum reforms in the teaching of physics and mathematics which were revolutionary. The Physics Department at Boston University prided itself on being good at the teaching of students as well as its scholarly research work. Stipe authored a book for beginning physics with calculus which had its dry run in the form of class notes in 1966-67 with some degree of success and some criticism from students. That book, “The Development of Physical Theories” was published by McGraw-Hill in 1967. The Physics Department also published its own laboratory manual. On the whole, it was a custom that many of the universities had their own author, or authors, of a physics book and required it as a text for the introductory physics courses. If they did not publish their own texts, they often chose a then popular text by Sears and Zemansky, “University Physics” published by Addison-Wesley which in 1964 was in its fifth edition, (the first edition was published in 1949.) Francis Weston Sears, a professor of physics at MIT and Mark W. Zemansky, a physics professor at the City College of New York were used to highly motivated students who wanted to learn. Their book had the traditional layout with the introduction to vectors, and statics being the first chapters. Stipe’s book introduced physics in a historical way introducing the concept of motion in the first chapter and through it the derivative, (the mathematical concept of a derivative of a mathematical function first introduced by Newton and Leibnitz). For the teacher it was a very logical, beautiful and effective way to introduce physics to the uninitiated; however, students had a hard time grasping the beauty of the introduction, not having had the context which made the teachers appreciate this approach. The revolutionary book came in 1966; Halliday and Resnick “Physics” and “Fundamentals of Physics,” published by John Wiley and Sons. David Halliday, from the University of Pittsburgh, and Robert Resnick, from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, decided that the introduction of motion right after units and vectors, and then dynamics, was the way to teach physics, and it worked. Of course, that book was later superseded by many others of similar format, but they were the first.

The preparation of students in mathematics also had a great influence. The early sixties saw a trend toward “New Math” which neglected counting and computational skills in favor of conceptual ones. Group Theory was one of the topics emphasized. In my mind, the failure of that approach was the fact that students were required to conceptualize ideas for which they were not given the basic facts, and for which they were not mentally prepared. The gurus taught those “beautiful” ideas because they finally understood them without realizing how much background information they needed to recognize and understand their beauty.

Finally, there was the realization, for the first time since World War II, that science could not cure all the ills of society. First there was Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson, who succeeded him started to intensify the Vietnam conflict and our superior weapons did not prevail. An opposition to the conflict started building. I believe that this disillusionment with science called into question scientific, and by implication, logical reasoning, which led to a popular trend which emphasized feelings over logic and the notion that what one knew came from within. Children were the wisest and adults did not dare impart to them their questionable wisdom. In physics such an attitude could be devastating.

The changes occured. Case resigned as President of Boston University, Millard resigned as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Baer as the Dean of the Graduate School. The 1966-67 annual report was thus directed to William J. Newman, Acting Dean of CLA and Philip E. Kubzansky, Dean of GRS. Newman was a professor of Government with a Ph.D. in History, while Kubzansky was a professor of Psychology. Richard S. Beal, a professor of English, became Associate Dean of CLA and continued in that position during the tenure of several of Newman’s successors. The report was somewhat abbreviated and less specific than that of the previous year because at the time of its writing, Cohen was on sabbatical.

On Faculty Notes, the report states: “During the Fall of 1966 Professor Hawkins was on sabbatical leave, and Professor Cohen served as the Acting Chairman of the CLA Department of Astronomy.” Apparently a Department of Astronomy was established within CLA with the addition of Oulette and Papagiannis to the faculty. Another astronomer, Richard Berendzen who was on the faculty on a temporary basis was to become a regular faculty member the following year. Although the Astronomy department was an undergraduate department in the College of Liberal arts, the Astronomy Annual Report by Hawkins, dealt exclusively with graduate activities.

The report continues: “During Spring and Summer of 1967, Professor Cohen was on sabbatical leave; Professor Stipe served as Acting Chairman during the first half of the Spring term, and Professor Franzen during the remainder of the term as well as during the Summer.”

In addition to the Annual Report, Cohen wrote two documents on long range planning for the department, one dated April 20, and the other November 21, 1966, the latter to Millard and Acting Dean Kubzansky.

The report shows remarkable progress. On the graduate level, in addition to 24 graduate students being supported as Teaching Fellows, one had an NDEA fellowship, four were supported by NASA, two by NSF, one by American Optical and one by New York State Regents. Thirteen held research assistantships. Although no figure was quoted as to the amount of research support which came from outside agencies, the number of research assistantships bears witness that it was now substantial. Fourteen M.A. degrees were awarded and six Ph.Ds. Zimmerman took over as Chairman of the Graduate Committee from Franzen. There was talk about engaging undergraduate students in research. There was some increase in the number of undergraduate majors.

The colloquium series flourished with some distinguished speakers, Peter Bergman, Philip Morrison, Sergio De Benedetti, George Sudarshan, Joel Lebowitz, Kenneth Atkins, and others. The same was true for the Seminar in Space Science and Boston Colloquium for the Philosophy of Science. There was also a Moessbauer and Relativity seminar. High energy theorists, Roman, Hellman and Fleischman received over 250 requests for reprints.

There was also evidence that the University was getting its act together and that, tightening of control in a University which seemed to run on the initiative of its individual members, did not go over well. “During the past year, regular staff members have been put more closely under the control of the Personnel Department than was previously the case.” A job description had to be provided for a job that heretofore was understood and amorphous. The new description was equally amorphous and imaginary. The necessity of writing a job description was “irritating”.

The research function was also impacted by this change as was the tightening of funds for research. A constant ongoing battle between the University and the department about overhead rates was also joined that year. At issue was the amount of funding from a research grant available for research. Overhead was supposed to compensate the university for the cost of services which it incurs when sponsored research was carried on under its aegis. Those are space, utilities, clerical and technical assistance etc. In a National Institutes of Health grant, that sum was added on top of the funds requested. For most of the other agencies, that sum was subtracted directly (according to a formula which at times can be negotiated with the University,) from the total amount of the grant, thus leaving less money to spend for research and research salaries. Cohen writes: “the vastly increased rate of overhead on University research grants and contracts has meant a particular burden upon theorists since their funds are almost entirely devoted to salaries (and the overhead rate is calculated upon the salaries, excluding therefore those portions of the grant which are devoted to supplies, equipment, etc.); and so our major theoretical grants have suffered an increased diversion of total funds available from 20% several years ago to the present rate of 56% — at a time of no increase of overall funds available , and for most of these grants, a tendency toward decrease.” The increase in overhead rates negotiated by the University with the Government was a case of pride to University officials since that meant a greater income for the University.

On the plus side, the University started planning new accommodations for the sciences. The plan was for a Science Tower, where chemistry, physics and biology would be housed. The department was excited by this prospect and plans were drawn up under the guidance of Prof. Franzen, for the physics portion of the new building. The plans went as far as the design of the faculty offices and laboratories. Unfortunately, physics did not move until 1982, although the astronomy portion, which became a separate department on the undergraduate level in CLA, moved to the fifth and sixth floor of the CLA building at 725 Commonwealth Avenue. They occupied the space which was vacated by the former library. The library collection was moved to the newly built Mugar Memorial Library, 1966.

The actual number of publications listed was about 40 with about the same number of conference proceeding presented. There was also a sobering note. “The Cartter Report, or more formally the American Council on Education Study of Graduate Education” came out. “ Boston University physics ranked somewhere about 60-69 out of 86…The percent of evaluators who stated that they knew too little about the B.U. Physics Department to rate it was 47%.” 16% rated the department as good and 47% as adequate. 37% considered it as inadequate. The ratings were made in late 1963, and since the department had changed significantly since then, we considered ourselves vastly better than the rating. We also considered the amount and quality of our research and scholarly publications as equal or better than many of the first class universities. This ameliorated this harsh judgment.

The social scene was also becoming livelier than when I first arrived. The addition of Alston, who besides being a physicist also fancied himself as a gourmet, and liked to show it off, provided for several memorable events. Roman and Edmonds would also entertain members of the faculty. The cultural scene in Boston was always rich. Many theatrical, musical and operatic companies would offer affordable entertainment in addition to the somewhat more costly artist series and the Boston Symphony. When I arrived, for the first year of my bachelorhood, I also participated in some of the social structure of our graduate students. David Kelland, a graduate student at that time, became a good friend. The outstanding figure at that time was Herb Fox, who become the guru to the students, never got his doctorate, and became a physics teacher. That he performed with distinction and received various awards for teaching. The student social center also evolved around the physics office. Estelle Mosher was the heart of the office. That year she left, and Cohen wrte: “After six years Mrs. Estelle Mosher resigned her position. She has been a center in humane as well as technical meaning for the life of this department. She left during the Summer when not all faculty and students were here, and I wish to record our general appreciation and affection for her.” She was the one, when I developed a sty, who persuaded me to go to the Mass Eye and Ear to have it taken care of.

Dean Newman served from 1967 to 1968. He was succeeded by Dean Calvin B.T. Lee in 1968. During Newman’s brief tenure, the curriculum structure was completely revised by him and Associate Dean Beal. Harold C. Case was succeeded as president by Arland F. Chris-Janer who became the first president of Boston University who was not a Methodist Minister. Chris-Janer, however, did attend the Yale Divinity School. Chris-Janer’s tenure was marked by student sit-ins and general student political unrest which interfered with the academic functions of the University. Cohen, who till that time devoted a great deal of attention to the Physics Department, seemed to think that he could now run the department on a part time basis and lost some of the intensity and devotion which a chairmanship requires. Cohen was also offered a two year post at UNESCO, which after long deliberations with the faculty and the deans, he declined.

The changes in curriculum diminished the influence of the department within the College of Liberal Arts. Whereas, in the old structure, a student took five courses per semester and each course counted for three credits, except for science courses with lab and discussion sessions which counted for five credits, the new curriculum mandated that students take only four courses per semester and each course, regardless of how much class time it required, count as a four credit course. Extra credit in the liberal arts and former three credit courses were justified by the institution of extra work, discussion or enrichment of those courses. Some attempts were made in the initial years this curriculum was in effect to actually institute such enrichment. However any signs of it vanished within a few years. There was also a lot of talk that seminars, smaller classes, etc. would add to the intellectual scene. Several seminars were tried and offered in physics. Few of them succeeded. (I remember having three students and a German Shephard in one of my seminars. The Shephard was the most alert of the bunch.) The effort was made and a great deal of honest work went into this endeavor, but it did not succeed in science. The Physics Department therefore taught fewer credits per student, and therefore the argument for greater resources for the department was weakened.

One of our faculty, Shuhatovitz, offered a seminar entitled “Laboratory Seminar in the Laws of Physics and their Applications” in 1968-69. There were 14 students and 13 completed it. The first two months had to be spent as an orientation in nature because of the lack of scientific understanding on the part of the students. The work in the course was considered excessive by the students, yet some found it rewarding. Quote: “My general feeling was that the course dragged for the first eight weeks or so because it was not structured enough. Feeling for the subject came only after that time when I was able to fully adapt to the situation. However, I feel that in the first eight weeks I learned more about physics than I learned from a year course in high school.” This was likely the most positive comment despite a heroic effort by the faculty member.