Into the 1970s, Part 2

Politics also had an influence because 1968 was a turbulent year. The following is a quote from the Brown University website

August 8 At their Party convention in Miami Beach the Republicans nominate Richard Milhouse Nixon to be their presidential candidate. The next day Nixon will appoint Spiro Agnew of Maryland as his running mate. Nixon has been challenged in his campaign by Nelson Rockefeller of New York, and Ronald Reagan of California. August 20 The Soviet Union invades Czechoslovakia with over 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops, putting an end to the “Prague Spring,” and beginning a period of enforced and oppressive “normalization.” August 26 Mayor Richard Daley opens the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. While the convention moves haltingly toward nominating Hubert Humphrey for president, the city’s police attempt to enforce an 11 o’clock curfew. On that Monday night demonstrations are widespread, but generally peaceful. The next two days, however, bring increasing tension and violence to the situation. August 28 By most accounts, on Wednesday evening Chicago police take action against crowds of demonstrators without provocation. The police beat some marchers unconscious and send at least 100 to emergency rooms while arresting 175. Mayor Daley tried the next day to explain the police action at a press conference. He famously explained: “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”

Nevertheless, the department marched along. There was no annual report for 1967-68, and Cohen decided to spend the Spring semester of 1969 at the University of California in San Diego. He took along his secretary, Betsy McCoy, who was from the West Coast but came to Boston to be close to the Christian Science Mother Church. Most likely, the report would not have been read had it been written because of the change in the dean’s office. That was one of the rare winter-spring seasons when the weather in Boston was better than that in San Diego. During Cohen’s absence, Siegel was the interim chairman with various members of the department filling in where Siegel could not. An annual report was written for 1968-69 and addressed to Calvin B.T. Lee, Dean of CLA and Philip E. Kubzansky, Dean GRS. Referring to the political events which affected many of the faculty, Cohen states that “the present report contains primarily an account of faculty activities in teaching and research, substantially drawn from the words of the individual professors. It does not contain an account of extra-curricular and other public activities although such activities in community and political life have increasingly occupied professors of physics at Boston University as much as other institutions.” With the change of a president there was talk about a change in governance within the University. Siegel was one of the participants of a group of professors organized by the Political Science department to examine governance within the University. Siegel proposed the governance of the Physics Department as a model for the governance of the University. This might also be the point where the flavor of the weekly Physics Departmental meetings as described by Siegel should be mentioned.

Our weekly meeting takes place at lunch. The proceedings do not start immediately; the first fifteen minutes are taken up with relaxed conversation and chitchat, ordering food, and awaiting the arrival of laggards. This relaxed conversation provides a good introduction and setting for the meeting that follows. This meeting lasts about an hour. It opens with miscellaneous announcements on the part of the chairman, followed by reports by him or committee chairmen on essential aspects of departmental business. For example, at the departmental meeting which takes place immediately after the CLA department chairmen’s meeting; he gives a resume of the business that was conducted at the latter, at least in so far as it concerns the department. This is followed by any items of business that are known to be pending.

The agenda is usually determined by the chairman, but any faculty member may propose additional items or make an announcement. The procedure is informal, with essentially none of “Robert’s Rules” but with a real attempt, monitored by the chairman and members, to finish one subject before starting another. In this way we have informality without generating the sense of frustration that comes from permitting anybody to change the subject at will, everybody’s attention hopping around so much that one loses the sense of having accomplished anything.

Questions are usually resolved not by vote but by ‘the sense of the meeting’ as stated by the chairman at the close of the discussion of each item. The chairman thereby regards himself as instructed on the matter by the department. We may resort to formal motions and voting under certain conditions: If differences of opinion are very sharp; or if the chairman seems so committed to a minority point of view that nobody “trusts’ him to carry out the will of the department without an explicit statement, for the record, of what that will is; or if the issue is unusually complicated or subtle.

As perceived by Siegel, the Physics Department was an island of democratic faculty governance. He describes the division of authority within the department:

Authority of the department as a whole: curriculum, academic requirements, educational and research policy in all aspects; down to every detail, if thought important, of management of department affairs. New faculty appointments, both in respect to area of specialization and selection of candidates.

Authority restricted to limited parts of the department: Each promotion of faculty members is decided by those in the rank above that of the promotion. This is to avoid the obvious dangers of corruption and logrolling that might arise if the faculty had to apportion these jobs among themselves.

Authority of the Chairman: We accept the principle that fairness and overall wisdom requires that sharing of a common pool, wether of tasks or desiderata, is not wisely carried out by process of mutual bargaining among those involved (they may be questioned by the individual faculty members involved, but never, at least in practice, by the department as a whole): Committee assignments and chairmanships, teaching assignments, and salaries.

Within the Physics Department, Cohen has built a governance structure similar to those of many other academic institutions. The chairman’s report about the state of the department includes:

Despite the serious revision of the undergraduate curricular structure by the CLA faculty, and the presence of a new President of the University and a new CLA Dean, there has been a fairly steady and normal period of two years in the Department of Physics; a number of faculty changes have occurred but none of striking qualitative importance. Thus we welcome Professors Gillespie and Hamilton as Assistant Professors of physics, and we note the promotion of Professors Chasan, Corinaldesi, Edmonds, Hellman, Hoy, Stachel and Zimmerman to tenured positions. As noted later, research by faculty and graduate students has continued at a qualitatively superb level, and even the published output seems to be increasing. The number of graduate students continues a slow decline, under the triple pressure of the military draft, the declining national interest in physics and the slowly increasing number of competent graduate Physics Departments; nevertheless, we are not yet without competitive pressures from graduate students for our small number of Fellowships and other financial aid. We continue to have quite good performance by graduate students on the difficult comprehensive examinations, although the number of genuinely excellent records on those exams is painfully small. Our output of Ph.D.’s has remained steady at about 1/2 dozen annually, but it seems likely that we will ten per year beginning in1970. We still have an unusually inadequate building, poor by every real estate criterion known to man (even rats appear in the psychology laboratories in the basement) and as has been usual for a decade, the university shows no inclination to solve this problem, confronted as it is by other priorities. Even the equipment within the building is of lesser quality and quantity than that of many dozens of Physics Departments with fewer faculty, few or no graduate students and far lower standards of teaching and scientific effort.

We have a poor library for physics research, and each positive increment in it whether an addition of a technical journal subscription, or of technical service such as binding – requires unproductive efforts of persuasion and faculty or chairmanly time. We continue to have a department budget which is gravely inadequate and a staff for administrative, educational and research support which is minimal on all three counts.

It required a great effort to bring the physics library books into the Physics Department space. Once that was done, the administration of that library, staffing, control over the lending practices as well as access to the books became a problem. It was great to have the library in the building while doing research, and to have a key to it so that one could look up an item pertinent to ones research. However, every once in a while, sometimes in the middle of the night, an absentminded professor would take a book to his laboratory, for just a minute, and forget to return it or sign it out for a few months. The same thing happened with professional journals. Missing issues prevented the binding of the journals, and in rare cases replacement issues had to be bought. Usually the books and journals were returned once the faculty member felt the urge to clean his office, There was also a tug of war as to the jurisdiction over the library and its contents. Was it the department, whom it served or was it the library which was interested in the preservation of the book collection.

Nevertheless, the human content of this poor building is generally excellent except for a serious matter of undergraduate labs (see remarks by Professors Casan and Edmonds). Physics teaching here is good, and at some points excellent. Research training of undergraduates and of graduate students is largely satisfactory, and in some cases both exciting and innovative, a genuine experience of collaboration between professors and students (see for example, Professor Papagiannis’s notes below). Gerald Hawkins resigned to become Dean of Faculty at Dickinson College and Michael Papagiannis has now become chairman of the CLA astronomy department. Two new assistant Professors have joined the CLA department, and we anticipate that they will join the GRS physics faculty in due course; the unusually sound education of astronomy students has continued both within CLA and GRS, and indeed the close intellectual collaboration reflects the identity of approach and spirit of physics and astronomy which Papagiannis and his colleagues share with us.

Astronomy was too small to offer a major or a degree by itself. Both graduate and undergraduate students had to take more than half of their courses in the Physics Department. Thus, there was a symbiosis where physics would have more students in their classes, and astronomy would be able to offer an intellectually valid degree. Cohen continues to attempt to establish an analogous relation with philosophy.

Also we have another unusual emphasis in the serious attention given to the Philosophical Foundations of Physics within this department and by a substantial portion of the Philosophy Department faculty. Our current work toward the Ph.D. in physics and in the Philosophy Department shows nearly a dozen research students whose dissertation may fairly be described as philosophical analyses of physics, as large a number as any University in the western world, perhaps the largest. Our stress upon professional and detailed knowledge of physics and mathematics as a prerequisite for philosophical investigation seems to be successful thus far. Indeed, some of our most successful recruitment of students depends upon such unusual features of the department as these interdisciplinary activities with astronomy and philosophy.

As we enter the summer of 1969, a number of housekeeping changes are worth noting. New secretaries, a new librarian, new laboratory equipment curators, an old laboratory room refurbished for full use last spring, four new faculty offices.

Cohen continues: “I cannot estimate how long this excellent faculty can continue with the larger problem of the inadequate building facility. Aside from our barely competitive salary structure, there is no more important problem for this department,” The building would wait another 13 years for another president, and another chairman. Despite his optimism, Cohen sounds suspiciously like the former chairman, Dow Smith, although the department has greatly increase in resources, faculty and students.

There was then an enumeration of visitors and post-docs: “Father Patrick Heelan (Fordham University) was Visiting Research Professor during the fall semester. Other post-doctoral Research Associates included Dr. T. Burke (England), Dr. R. Santilli (Italy) Dr. S. Naya, (Japan) and Dr. K.P. Singh (India).” The report then comments on research activities. In Cohen’s opinion “the number of research publications means very little. In the two years reported here we see a fluctuation upward: 32 articles and books during 1967-68 and 57 during 1968-69. It appears to be an increase of nearly 80% but the substantial basic research effort within the department has surely expanded by a far less impressive factor than that. The proper comment, it seems to me, is to note that the entire faculty is committed to scholarly investigations in physics and related fields, and their efforts are successful in many cases. The department is increasingly known in this country and abroad for our faculty research contributions and we can look forward to a continuation of this. The annual record of publications is of genuine interest for the content far more than for the total number.

Research support from outside agencies has continued but at a much reduced level. The Congressional and executive restrictions upon NSF, NASA, AEC (DOE), and even on the Department of Defense have severe effects nationally.” Periodically, the Government changes the mission of the various agencies. As mentioned above, this was the era of Vietnam. NSF was restricted to “pure research”. Most of the other agencies were directed to fund only research directly related to their mission. Whereas previously the Defense Department, AFOSR, ARO and NRO, Air Force, Army and Navy research offices could sponsor elementary particle, low temperature and other fields whose practicality was far in the future, they had to now justify such research support. Much of our theoretical research was supported by the Air Force Cambridge office, and now much of it dried up. “Research in physics at BU has suffered mainly in two ways: reduced funds for support of research students and postdoctoral research associates, and a decided slowing of our previous slow but steady expansion. ……….a number of excellent proposals have not been funded. Here as elsewhere the support of new projects by younger investigators has suffered most. In our case this has meant a lack of support from outside agencies for Professors Alston, Chasan, Myers and Corinaldesi.” Apparently Siegel, Willis and Roman had been able to either hold on to their grants, Siegel because his research relevance to jet propulsion and combustion and turbulence, Willis because of relevance to lasers, and Roman possibly nuclear of fusion/fission theory. In the above list, Chasan and Corinaldesi were not “younger investigators” by that time. Cohen continues: “In fact, our outside support is not negligible. Current research grant amount to about $600,000; they are granted by NSF (5 grants), AEC (2 grants), Army (1 grant), Air Force (6 grants) and Research Corporation (1 grant). Our attempts to bring a good many of our research projects under one large general grant finally reached a new level of failure when the proposed and expanded cluster of projects on the interaction of radiation on matter to the Department of Defense under Project Themis.” The proposal was spearheaded by Siegel and many of us contributed to it. Cohen’s opinion about the rejection of the proposal was as follows: “Although several questions were raised concerning the adequacy of our facilities and of our administrative support, the primary reason for DOD rejection seems to me to have been the ‘pure’ nature of our proposal.”

Under TEACHING, the total registration was reported to be about 1800. In a comment Cohen remarks: “it is necessary to recall that the quality of physics service courses depends upon the quality of those professors and graduate students who teach them; and their quality requires a professionally sound physics community of research and graduate teaching.” Justification for a graduate program.

Astronomy was now clearly a separate department. Some time in the spring of 1967 members of the astronomy department came to the physics library located in the Physics Department on the second floor of the 111 Cummington Street, named after Lucian B. Taylor, and removed all the books related to astronomy to start an astronomy library. This was done in the middle of the night to avoid any protests from the physicists. The Graduate Astronomy report, written by Papagiannis and included with physics, whose main degree was still the Ph.D. in Physics and Astronomy, reports:

The Astronomy Research Library has continued to increase its holdings. It now contains 1050 bound volumes. It subscribes to 31 scientific journals and six serials, has nearly 400 scientific textbooks and monograms and 22 Astronomical Atlases. A small chart room has been prepared next to the library rooms to house the Atlasses, the Ephemerides and the new Palomar Atlas which is now on order by the Mugar Library for the Astronomy Library and will cost in excess of $1000. However, in spite of all this progress and the essential role that this library plays in the research efforts of the five faculty members and over a dozen graduate students, the librarian continues to be paid from Professor’s Papagiannis research contract.

Papagiannis was a very persuasive person. The Physics Department looked upon astronomy as a father looks upon its child. We wished them well, we supported them by offering the graduate Physics and Astronomy degree and took pride in their growth. Previously, Astronomy was a department whose mission was to teach elementary astronomy courses. Papagiannis grew it into a respectable research department within only a few years. Its strength was the activity of its faculty in the profession, and within the University the number of undergraduates in its elementary courses. Upper level and graduate courses relied on, to a significant extent on physics, although there were probably more physics and astronomy majors at the bachelors level than pure physics majors.

Hawkins, who joined the Physics Department in 1957 and was associated with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory at Harvard, laid the groundwork for the resuscitation of the astronomy department which in 1882 was the first science department at Boston University and which was merged with physics upon the retirements of Lewis A. Brigham, the astronomy professor. Papagiannis established the new Astronomy Department in 1967.

It should be kept in mind that the separation between the physics and astronomy departments occurred on the watch of a new CLA Dean. At the time astronomy became a separate department, it consisted of two and one half members. Besides Papagiannis, there was Richard Berendzen, both assistant professors, and a part time member Gerald Oulette. Berendzen became the president of American University in Washington, DC. Oulette went on to have his own radio show. One of the graduate students at that time, Michael Mendillo, became Dean of the Graduate School at Boston University.

The Annual Report for 1967-69 (two years) also contaied comments on and by faculty members. One of the faculty members, Edmonds, delighted in the quality of the six-year medical students in his class,

In lecturing to this group I was constantly aware that many of them were not only keeping right up to what I was doing but were jumping ahead to the next logical step before I had a chance to state it. Under such circumstances the lecturer is continually tempted to move along faster and/or treat the material in greater depth, and he must be always on the watch for that glaze whose descent over the faces of the students indicates that they are getting left behind. The length one can go before that happens, compared to last year’s freshmen is amazing. And of course by the same token one can’t get away with anything. Thus while discussing rotary motion, I mentioned the old-fashioned steam engine governor and how the requirement of a centripetal force is used as a measure of angular velocity so that an automatic control of engine speed can be obtained. I made the mistake of saying that an equilibrium engine speed would be reached at which the governor would be turning at just the angular velocity to hold the throttle at the corresponding degree of opening. One member of the class immediately asked why there had to be such an equilibrium rather than a velocity oscillation in which the engine ran first too fast causing the governor to open it. A short discussion revealed that this boy had on his own taken cognizance of the whole problem of servomechanism instability and was at the moment hopping ahead to a consideration of what the criteria were that determined whether a feed-back system would be stable or unstable. It is quite a thrill to see a major section of electrical engineering reinvented before ones own eyes.

The only problem was the extreme shortness of the second semester, aggravated by the closing of the University following the assassination of Dr. King. I have been no little disturbed by the attitude of the faculty towards this situation and have wondered if some of us (not in the department) believe that students could cover the material in their courses better if the faculty were not involved at all. As I happen not to share this view but rather consider that my tuition paying students were cheated out of a proper coverage of some of the more interesting aspects of modern physics, I have arranged an informal weekly seminar….in which I propose to cover the points in question.

This was a frustration which most members of the Physics Department felt. The semester was too short, and there was never enough time to cover the subject in sufficient depth. The CLA faculty attitude that students could learn better without teachers, which some social science disciplines advocated, did not go over well in physics. It just does not work. I have a physics text book which was written in 1892 as a remedy to the then in fashion “discovery method” which, in the words of the author failed because the students did not have enough guidance as to what to discover. To quote the preface of Elements of Physics by Henry S. Carhard, a Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan, and Horatio N. Chute, an instructor in Physics in the Ann Arbor High-School, published by Norwood Press in Norwood Massachusetts in 1892,

During the past decade the teaching of Physics in high schools and universities has undergone radical revision. The time honored recitation method has gone out and the laboratory method has come in. As a natural reaction from the old regime, in which the teacher did everything including the thinking, came the method of original discovery; the text book was discarded and the pupil was set to rediscovering the laws of Physics. Time has shown the fallacy of such a method, and the successful teacher, while retaining all that is good in the new method, has already discovered the necessity of clearly formulated, well digested statement of fact, a scientific confession of faith, in which the learner is to be thoroughly grounded before essaying to explore for himself. The maxim ‘That only is knowledge which the pupil has reached as a result of experiment,’ has been found to have its limitations. With no previous instruction, the young student comes to the work without any ideas touching what he is expected to see, with entire ignorance if methods of experiment, and without skill in manipulation. He has no training in drawing conclusions from his own experiment. He is not a skilled investigator, and will be apt to discover little beyond his own ignorance, a result, it must be confessed, not entirely without value. Before the pupil is in any degree fit to investigate a subject experimentally, he must have a clearly defined idea of what he is doing, an outfit of principles and data to guide him, and a good degree of skill in conducting an investigation.

A few years ago it seemed necessary to urge upon teachers the adoption of laboratory methods to illustrate the textbook; in not a few instances it would now seem almost necessary to urge the use of a textbook to render intelligible the chaotic work of the laboratory.

With this view of the situation, the authors have prepared this book for the class-room, as distinguished from a manual for the laboratory. The experiments described are, for the most part, designed to illustrate principles. They are, in other words, qualitative rather than quantitative in character. The attempt to combine both characters in one book has not, in out judgment, proved a success in the past.

In the preparation of this book the aim has been to formulate clear statements of laws and principles; to illustrate them amply, both by simple experiments and by appropriate problems; and to observe a logical order and sequence of topics, so that the pupil may pass from subject to subject with the aid and momentum of what he has already acquired. ...It is not necessary that the pupil should traverse the entire subject of Physics before taking up laboratory practice, but he should be kept in his class-work well ahead of the subject forming the basis of his laboratory experiment.

Stipe was on leave in 1967-68 and in February made a visit to McMurdo Sound in the Antarctic. In a brief travelogue Stipe wrote,

There were short sightseeing trips, courtesy of the Navy, in a helicopter and a snow-cat, to see penguins and seals, and to go part way up Mount Erebus, an active volcano about 13,000 feet high and the cause of the island we were in. Went inside the huts of Scott at McMurdo and Cape Evans, and Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds. These are now New Zeeland National Historical Monuments.

Siegel wrote for the 1967-68 reportregarding the academic climate:

I would like to say a few words about the general problem involving the Physics Department in this academic environment. Physics is a rarified subject. Students who aspire to be physicists soon learn that there is no avoiding rigorous intellectual self discipline if they are to achieve their goals. At the same time, the accomplishments of physics in the world around are manifest, so despite its highly rarified intellectual character, it is not easy to make it the butt of any critique of ‘relevance’ in the vocabulary of the current criticism of academic purposes. Yet, the remoteness of physics, its intellectuality, and its partial professional taint make it suspect in an era in which many of the “idees recues’ of academic tradition are (sometimes rightly) being overturned.

As one in sympathy with the exposure of academic fraud, I feel that I am in an ambivalent and exposed position these days. On the one hand I welcome the rise in student awareness and the impending examination of academic values, because I feel that there are indeed some aspects of my academic field that need scrutiny, that there needs to be more emphasis on the meaning of physics to people and less on the training of professionals. On the other hand I am concerned that much that is valuable in physics may be indiscriminatingly discarded, and that the intellectual values of physics will go down the drain because it will become impossible to defend them in a panic of intellectuals.

Not to be deterred by anti-intellectualism Siegel noted in his research for 1968-69 “I brought to a successful conclusion my study of the roots of classical statistical mechanics in quantum statistical mechanics.” When Cohen returned from the University of California at San Diego, a trampoline appeared in his office. He had built a faculty of 18, and many of them in research fields which were in the main fields of physics. Some of the fields were either in competition or collaboration with local academic institutions.

The departmental faculty salary budget was approximately $50,000 in 1957-58 when Cohen took over, in 1970-71, when he effectively left the chairmanship of the department, it was $336,000. During his tenure sponsored research reached $600,000 per year although in 1970 it was down to half that.

Among the 18 faculty members there were some nascent research groups, although they would soon dissolve and the department would again become a department of individuals. Perhaps the largest research group was that headed by Professor Paul Roman in elementary particle and mathematical theoretical physics which also included Associate Professor William (Bill) S. Hellman and Assistant Professor Ruggero M. Santilli. Professor Ernesto Corinaldesi also collaborated at times with that group. Another group, built around experimental nuclear physics was headed by Professor Edward (Ed) C. Booth and consisted in addition of Associate Professor Bernard (Bernie) Chasan and Assistant Professor William (Dub) J. Alston III. There were also common interests between Professor Robert (Bob) S. Cohen and Associate Professor Abner Shimony in the philosophy of physics field although Shimony was more inclined to the exploration of the foundations of physics. Associate Professor John Stachel worked in relativity and some of his interests overlapped with the philosophical theme. Professor Armand Siegel did his research in statistical mechanics and was also interested in the philosophy and foundations of physics. The collaboration between those philosophically inclined physicists was more that of common interest and discussion rather than research.

Then there were the loners, although they also talked about their research to others in the department and those discussions occasionally lead to brief collaborations and joint publications. There was Assistant Professor John Gillespie who worked in nuclear theory and was hired in the hope that he could be useful to the experimental nuclear physics group. Professor Charles (Chuck) R. Willis worked in statistical physics related to lasers, then a hot topic. Professor J. Gordon Stipe concentrated mainly on setting up and teaching elementary physics courses, and so did Associate Professor Dean S. Edmonds who was an electronics expert, and occasionally collaborated with all the experimentalists, set up and ran various companies manufacturing scientific instruments including mass spectroscopes and lasers, and wrote laboratory manuals which were at times coauthored with Stipe.

Professor Wolfgang Franzen was an experimental solid state spectroscopist involved with optical pumping who at times collaborated with Edmonds. He was our senior experimental physicist outside the nuclear physics group. Associate Professor Gilbert (Gil) R. Hoy was a Moessbauer Effect expert dealing in hyperfine interactions, and Associate Professor George O. Zimmerman was an experimental low temperature physicist exploring the properties of helium-3 and also magnetic materials at temperatures close to absolute zero. Franzen, Hoy and Zimmerman managed to build functioning laboratories at Boston University which gave rise to good research and many Ph.D. theses.

There were 48 graduate students and six Ph.D.’s were awarded in 1970. There were 723 students in physics courses in the first semester and 547 during the second semester. There were 34 refereed publications in professional journals and numerous invited lectures and meeting reports.

Bob Cohen, CLA Dean ad interim, 1972