"David Saxon is calling you from the president's office at the University of California."
David Saxon, a physicist, had been a classmate at MIT. I particularly remembered him in the atomic physics course. I had encountered him at UCLA occasionally in the intervening years and had noted with interest his selection as president of the University of California in 1975. Why was David calling me on a rainy February. morning in 1977? Simply put, he was looking for a chancellor to head the University of California campus at Santa Cruz, the newest campus in the UC system, and my name had been put forward. Would I be willing to consider this position, to meet on the campus with the search committee and then with himself and other top university officials? I would think about it.
I knew a little about Santa Cruz. My daughter Kathy had been a student there for three years, 1968 to 71, and I had visited her on several occasions. It was an "experimental" campus, distinctive in the UC system for its collegiate structure. It sought to relieve the anonymity and alienation of students on the large UC campuses by clustering them into living and teaching units, the colleges, each with some six to eight hundred undergraduates. Physically, it was extraordinarily beautiful, located in a redwood forest at the edge of meadows overlooking Monterey Bay, seventy-five miles south of San Francisco.
The invitation created an intense personal dilemma. 1 was completing my twentieth year at Caltech—and I loved the institute, its scientific intensity, its freedom from bureaucracy, the wealth of able colleagues
in all of science. I had long since decided I would not trouble to consider offers from other academic institutions. But, in terms of career, I was at a moment of transition. My f X research was phasing out and I as preparing for a quite different research program in nitrogen fixation. I was in my ninth year as chairman of biology and I had informed the president that I felt my tenth year should be the last. I wanted to devote more time to research and scholarship and a fresh chairman with fresh ideas would be salutary for the division.
In addition, I had become increasingly concerned with the dramatic potential and inevitable social consequences of the advances in biology. My experience in the "recombinant DNA" controversy and my inability to move Caltech even modestly toward a broader intellectual base led me to believe that the impetus to consider seriously such issues would not come from within science. Perhaps a new and (as I thought) growing, yet unshaped, university such as Santa Cruz would provide the medium in which my concerns could find expression.
At fifty-seven, I could make but one more major career move if I so desired So, yes, I would visit Santa Cruz, with no commitment asked nor given.
The campus was as beautiful as ever, with sunlit paths, shady ravines, and towering redwoods looming against the sky. But the physical plant, only 12 years old, looked a bit shabby—walkways were crumbling, smudged or scraped walls needed paint. The campus was clearly troubled. The founding chancellor, Dean McHenry, had retired in 1974. His successor, a relatively young professor from Berkeley, had proven inadequate to the complexities of Santa Cruz and had been forced to resign after a year and a half. The present chancellor, Angus Taylor, was a UC veteran sent down from the central administration to fill in until a new chancellor could be selected. At that time, the causes of the disarray and discontent seemed to me either petty or obscure. They seemed manageable. As I was later to learn, however, the pettiness concealed deep ideological differences and the obscurity derived from basic images and policies deeply embedded in the University of California, but then unknown to me.
I met with the chancellor, faculty, staff, and, somewhat to my surprise, students. Their questions were not very probing. All seemed to recognize that the present situation was untenable, but there was no clear vision of the future. They were looking for a savior to lead them—acceptably—out of their sea of troubles. The most prescient question came from an intermediate level administrator who asked: "You have
clearly been a very successful scholar. Why do you want to become an administrator?" I did not realize then that, in the UC system, the two were incompatible. I went on to meet with David Saxon and some of his central UC administration. David indicated his full support for Santa Cruz. In retrospect, I don't think he had a grasp of the depth of its problems.
I returned to Caltech uncertain whether I would accept were the position offered. A week later, it was. I was their first choice.
My career had encompassed the two finest institutes of technology. in the nation, as well as a period at one of its finest agricultural schools. Now I was asked to take charge of a relatively new and (I thought) growing university to guide its destiny into maturation. Little did I know that it was in fact moribund and regarded by many as a misbegotten child of the UC system in dire need of resuscitation. What tipped the balance in my mind? I believe it was the challenge and, as I then thought, the opportunity. I could stay on at Caltech, comfortably and happily, another dozen years in a predictable milieu. Or I could essay a very different role in a very different environment, with a different context and horizons.
I accepted. And indeed it turned out to be different—from my expectations, from past experience—and a tremendous learning opportunity.