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The downsides of San Diego's mostly science school

Research and envelopment at UCSD

Kathy Huffer:  "I had a vague notion that UCSD was a science school, but I certainly didn’t know it was as oriented that way as it is." - Image by Jim Coit
Kathy Huffer: "I had a vague notion that UCSD was a science school, but I certainly didn’t know it was as oriented that way as it is."

He is a tall, bespectacled, grandfatherly with a mischievous laugh. His hands are large, as befits someone who was a football receiver in his college days. On the wall of his office in UCSD’s Bonner Hall hangs an aerial photograph of a mountain ridge in the Antarctic — barren, snow-covered peaks named McElroy Ridge in his honor.

William McElroy: “It was my intent, when I became chancellor in 1972, to broaden the school’s focus."

The plaque reading “Chancellor William D. McElroy” now lies unused on the table near his desk, but McElroy, sixty-two, says he is glad to be just a member of the faculty again. For eight years, longer than any other UCSD chancellor, he directed the growth of the university, during which its enrollment doubled and its overall expenditures nearly tripled. Inasmuch as he also served as a consultant on development to UCSD when it was being set up in the early Sixties, he has probably man influenced the general direction of the university more than any other person.

Leafing through UCSD’s catalogue as a student at Southwestern College, Arturo Guerrera read that a major in Chicano studies was offered.

When McElroy yielded to new chancellor Richard C. Atkinson in July of this year. UCSD had trained a reputation as one of the top academic research institutions in the nation. The school’s research grants this year total more than $120 million, compared to a budget of $47 million for graduate and undergraduate instruction combined. UCSD is fourth among the nation’s colleges in research and development dollars from the federal government, and fifth in the number of faculty members who belong to the National Academy of Sciences. It has six Nobel prize winners on its staff, all in medicine and the physical sciences, and boasts two major research and graduate training institutions: Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the new multimillion-dollar medical school. Yet McElroy, like many of the school’s administrators and faculty members, is a little touchy about UCSD’s image as a “science school.”

Don Helinski: “I’d like to see us move more and more in this area of manipulating plant and animal cells.”

UCSD was conceived in the shadow of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and in a sense, it has been struggling to get out of that shadow ever since. McElroy, a marine biologist who has investigated the workings of luminescent microorganisms, readily admits that in the beginning, science came first. “We started building the faculty at Scripps,” he said a few weeks ago, clasping his hands behind his head and leaning back in a chair in his office. “They already had the space, or some of it, anyway, and it seemed like the logical place to start.

David Antin: "I came out sort of on a lark. The New York art scene was beginning to feel very boring."

“At that time in history, it was easy to get money out of Washington for the sciences. It was the easy way to go. It was that post-Sputnik period, and the government was responding to the need for engineers. . . . Scientists had the upper edge, and still do, to some extent. They can go to six or seven different government agencies to get funds for research, compared to only one or two for the arts.”

Richard Atkinson: “Sixty percent of the nation’s research is done in the universities. The Soviets don’t do it this way, but I think it’s more efficient."

Throughout the Sixties and early Seventies, UCSD rushed to found a strong science base on which to build, gradually, a well-balanced major university, one which was eventually expected to have a total undergraduate population of 27,500. But in the hurry to garner government funds, the sciences flourished while other departments lagged behind. The school’s general education requirements were dominated by classes in science and mathematics, and course offerings in other subjects were sporadic. Transfer and dropout rates were high, and the phrase “too much science” became a popular refrain among students who had expected a more balanced curriculum.

McElroy asserts that UCSD’s focus has expanded since then, and it has. The visual arts, music, history, and sociology departments, in particular, have earned growing recognition, and students now have a variety of general education programs to choose from. “We looked to schools like Berkeley and Harvard for models,” McElroy told me. “It was my intent, when I became chancellor in 1972, to broaden the school’s focus, although it probably would have evolved that way whether I had come or not. Ten years ago the complaint about too much science was a legitimate criticism. Now it’s not, but it will probably take ten more years to get rid of it.”

It could take a good deal longer than that, however. UCSD still leads by far all other University of California campuses in the percentage of undergraduate science majors: forty-one percent, compared to UC Berkeley’s twenty percent and UCLA’s twenty percent. It is a percentage that has climbed in the last decade. The visual arts and sociology departments have grown substantially during that time, yet together they are still less than two-thirds the size of the biology department. Most of the humanities departments, in fact, are relatively small, which makes it difficult for them to offer a good balance of classes. A quick scan through UCSD’s fall schedule reveals no classes in music history, for example, and only one in classical literature. In addition, some humanities classes seem tailored to suit UCSD’s science students, such as Philosophy 122, “Bio-Medical Ethics,” or Political Science 105B. “Technology/Society.”

At the same time, with the nation’s population boom now past its peak, it has become clear that UCSD’s undergraduate enrollment will probably stabilize, and could even decline from its current 8500.

Under these circumstances, and with the state's budget picture looking tighter and tighter, it is doubtful that any department will expand much in the near future. Like a car stuck in deep sand, UCSD’s science-heavy academic structure seems likely to remain where it is for a while.

There is nothing inherently wrong with being San Diego’s answer to Caltech, of course, and a lot of the research going on at UCSD — heart disease, recombinant DNA, ocean pollution — could make important contributions to world society. But undergraduates have consistently complained that the school’s strong research orientation leaves professors with little time for their students. In addition, UCSD still has the lowest graduation rate and the highest transfer rate to other University of California campuses of any school in the UC system.

“We put out a questionnaire not too long ago to try to determine why so many students were transferring,” an official in the school's planning office said recently, “and the main answer we got was because of the narrow academic offering here. Our tendency has always been to be strong in a few areas, mostly technical ones.” Many of the students leaving, the official added, expressed the sentiment that at UCSD there was just “too much science.”


Noon at UCSD's Revelle plaza, October 30, 1980: Two men, one shirtless, play catch across the middle of the plaza with a Frisbee. Students sit together in twos and threes on a lawn nearby, talking and eating lunch. The plaza is ringed by the undergraduate sciences building, the humanities library, the Revelle college dorms, Urey and Bonner halls — modernistic, pale beige buildings someone once aptly described as “gas station architecture.” Standing rigidly upright on a skateboard, a young man with long blond hair coasts slowly across the plaza, barely avoiding the Frisbee sailing over his head. A young woman in a red dress lies on her back on a bench, eyes closed. The shirtless man dashes to catch up to the Frisbee, leaning and snagging it with one hand at the very spot where, on a Sunday afternoon in May ten years ago, George Winne, Jr., doused his clothes with lighter fluid and set himself afire in a fatal protest against the war in Vietnam. Winne lived and died in an era of political activism — sit-ins, rallies, marches — and at UCSD there was a figurehead for it all : Herbert Marcuse.

It is ironic that Marcuse, a member of the philosophy department, dominated UCSD’s image within the San Diego community throughout the late Sixties and early Seventies. It was, after all, an era when the major part of the university’s energies were directed toward acquiring millions of government dollars for computers, chemistry and biology laboratories, and research contracts. But Marcuse became seen as the ringleader of UCSD’s “known” radicals and communists, and traditionally conservative San Diego didn’t like it one bit. There were numerous calls for him to resign, even threats on his life; as late as the mid-Seventies, Chancellor William McElroy spent a good deal of his time defending the university at community meetings against charges that it had ‘‘too many communists” on its staff.

Marcuse died in July of last year, and by then most of the political activism of the Sixties had long since died, too. “Students are trying to be responsible,” Kathy Huffer, current editor of UCSD’s student newspaper the Guardian, said not long ago. “It’s classes first, social life and other activities second. Students are very career-oriented now.”

Huffer is a slender brunette with a slightly humorous, irreverent manner. She told me that UCSD is a socially fragmented school, “without a tie to bring students together. It’s not a friendly university. Seventy-five percent of the students live off campus, and there’s no housing close in. There’s no commercial district nearby, either. You can’t walk to La Jolla! So you go to University Towne Centre, and you can go window shopping, or buy a piece of gum at Sears. That’s about it. When I first came here, I was surprised to see how heavily used the school library was on weekends. A lot of students on this campus spend most of their time just studying.” Huffer said one of the more exciting things that has happened at UCSD during her career there was a Halloween food fight two years ago that destroyed several windows in the Revelle cafeteria. The following Halloween, dinner was served on paper plates, and frowning, besuited administrative aides patrolled the room, insuring that the evening meal would be eaten and not heaved through the air.

Still, Huffer said, while UCSD’s students are generally less political now than in the Sixties, their political emotions were stirred somewhat by the search for a new chancellor last year. At that time, a number of student leaders made it clear they wanted more voice in the chancellor-selection process, more say in the school. Their dissatisfaction with the way David Saxon, president of the UC board of regents, conducted the search in relative secrecy reached a climax of sorts last month.when a reception in honor of new chancellor Richard Atkinson was picketed by a crowd of about twenty-five chanting students. Several of the demonstrators later were forcibly removed from the premises by campus police. According to Huffer, who was at the reception (and has taken some heat from her classmates for it because she was the only student to cross the picket line), the protesters were primarily objecting to the presence of Saxon.

“ ‘Saxon sucks!’ was one thing I heard yelled a few times,” said Huffer. “Atkinson was very embarrassed. Some of the students were shouting, ‘Atkinson, we love you,’ because they wanted to let him know it wasn’t him they were demonstrating against.

“Atkinson is very well received on campus right now,” she continued. “Personally, I think it’s great that we have a new chancellor, no matter who it is. Mc-Elroy was invaluable to the university in terms of promoting it as a research institution, but he was out of touch. He had overstayed his usefulness; he'd stopped innovating. I know he asserts that he was strongly oriented to liberal arts, but publicly, I always saw him as a science advocate.”

Huffer said that student leaders still complain loudly that UCSD emphasizes science too heavily, and that professors spend too much time on research at the expense of contact with their students. She admitted that some of the liberal arts programs have improved, but claimed that in general they don’t get strong administrative support. She said she is disappointed with her own major (political science) because the department is factionalized, and said that the visiting professors have been, for the most part, better than the department’s own. Huffer transferred to UCSD from Miami University of Ohio three years ago. “I came out here on a whim. I had a vague notion that UCSD was a science school, but I certainly didn’t know it was as oriented that way as it is. The admissions office certainly didn’t go to any lengths to let me know about it. Maybe that’s paranoid, but. . . .”

Maybe it is “paranoid,” but Arturo Guerrera had a similar story to tell. Leafing through UCSD’s catalogue as a student at Southwestern College, he read that a major in Chicano studies was offered. When he transferred to UCSD, though, he discovered there weren’t enough professors to teach a full Chicano studies program. In order to graduate, Guerrera switched his major this year to sociology and began taking the standard courses required for that major. “We have to see UCSD as a science school because that’s what it is,” he told me. “Political science, history, sociology — these departments have a lot less professors than the sciences do.”

Guerrera also pointed out to me one of the more disturbing problems now facing the university: the declining enrollment of minority students, or “students of color” as they are known on campus. Although overall enrollment of minority students at UCSD increased by about seven percent from 1970 to 1979, this year their numbers seemed to fall off dramatically, with just twenty-four black students and twenty-four Chicano students in the incoming freshman class. Guerrera is a member of MECHA, a Chicano students’ organization that has looked into the problem, and he has accompanied recruiters to minority schools. “I think the problem is basically in the recruitment,” he said. “The recruiters go to the schools in their three-piece suits and ties, set up a table for an hour, and expect students to come to them. But it doesn’t work that way. In a predominantly black school or Chicano school, the students think people in three-piece suits are narcs.”

But another thing that could be leading to declining minority enrollments, Guerrera said, is simply UCSD’s science emphasis. The university’s reputation as a science school is apparently perpetuating itself by attracting an increasing number of would-be scientists, most of whom are middle-class whites. “In my opinion, students of color seem to lean more toward majors in the humanities,” Guerrera explained. “I don’t think the science requirements should be relaxed; if a student of color wants to become a doctor or a chemist, he should get the best training available. But there should be more time and resources spent on the humanities."

When I asked Guerrera if he thought UCSD’s professors spent too much time on research and not enough with students, he laughed. “A lot of the time,” he replied, “it seems that classroom lecturing is just a minor part of what they do.”


“There is a good basis to the students' concern,” said Don Helinski, currently chairman of UCSD’s biology department. ‘‘We are a strongly research-oriented campus, and I’m sure the amount of time the faculty give to students in general is inadequate. But with the number of students we’re being asked to educate, it’s impossible.” As he said this, Helinski was standing in a biology lab in Bonner Hall. The lab has a P3 rating — meaning it can be used for experiments involving certain types of organisms restricted by the federal government — but for the time being it wasn’t in use. It is kept under negative air pressure, Helinski had explained as we entered, “so that air will be drawn in when you open the door. It prevents bacteria from escaping.”

Helinski is a husky man in his midforties, with deep-set, inquisitive brown eyes. He is soft-spoken to the point of sounding shy. The ratio of students to faculty in his department is now about thirty-to-one, he told me, which makes it difficult to spend enough time with each student. There is no budget relief in sight from the state and no desire on the part of the faculty to cut down on research — in fact, the opposite is true. After all, scientists are measured by their discoveries; there are no sellouts at the Hollywood Bowl for chemists.

Helinski has been at UCSD since 1965. His specialty is recombinant DNA, also known as genetic engineering. “There’s been a great explosion in biology in general lately,” he said as we stood in the brightly lit, silent lab. “We’re going into a phase of intervention. For the First time scientists can intervene in animal cells. In recombinant DNA we’ve been able to get genes in large enough quantities to study them, also for the First time. We can move them around, implant them in other cell types.”

He pointed out some of the equipment around us, including an incubator, in which the bacteria cells are grown, and a refrigerated, high-speed centrifuge, which separates the DNA molecules from the rest of the cellular material. ”Basically, we grow the bacteria, add certain chemicals to them, separate the DNA in the centrifuges, and then break the chromosomes apart and get a particular gene,” he said. “If we already know what we’re after and how to get it, it takes us about three days from the time of growing the bacteria to having the gene we want. The equipment to do it costs about $100,000.”

Helinski outlined one recombinant DNA experiment currently being done at UCSD that could have important implications for agriculture. The goal of the experiment is to improve the efficiency of a bacteria that enables plants to utilize nitrogen, and if successful, it would reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizers. Such fertilizers have become increasingly expensive, particularly for Third World countries trying to expand their agricultural production. “I’d like to see us move more and more in this area of manipulating plant and animal cells,” said Helinski. As for the implications for human genetic engineering, he added, “There are human-subjects committees on the various campuses that review any experiments of this sort, and on the whole. I’m satisfied with the way they operate. But we need national guidance, more discussion on the national level than there has been with regard to the social and ethical questions involved.”

Helinski said that the federal government no longer gives out research money as freely as it did in the Sixties, and he credited McElroy with helping to keep UCSD’s share as high as it is. He said he thought Atkinson, too, was strongly research-oriented. “Both he and McElroy came from a background of work in the National Science Foundation, you know, and I think that reflects the strong concern they have for research.”

On the way back to his office, Helinski mentioned he has been chairman of the biology department for less than two years. It is a rotating position, and when his time came he accepted the responsibility resignedly, the way one might accept jury duty. Already he is looking forward to the end of his term next June, when he can spend more time on research again. “You’ve got to keep up your research if you want to stay competitive,” he observed.

Competition is a key word for scientists. To beat their colleagues to a discovery, and to beat them, too, to large federal grants made surprisingly available in these days of supposed fiscal austerity — these are things that drive scientists out of the classroom and into the lab. A few days later I would ask Helinski about competition, and how maintaining an edge in biological research differed from, say, staying current in the arts. And he would answer, after a pause, “In a sense, the problems in the sciences are more narrowly defined. There’s a strong sense of competition partly because the chances of one person coming up with a particular idea are somewhat greater than in the arts. Scientific research is much more affected by external developments. It’s certainly much more expensive.”

David Antin is a good talker. A stocky man in his forties, with an elfin smile and a head bald as a croquet ball, he is currently chairman of UCSD’s visual arts department. As art departments go, UCSD’s is not unduly large — eighteen permanent faculty members — but it is one of the few nonscience departments at the university that has established a truly national reputation. It is a reputation based on the concept of a new, exploratory art — everything from Antin’s own “talk pieces” and avant-garde writings to Harold Cohen’s computer-generated murals — and it has sprung in part from Antin’s own propensity for keenly rethinking art traditions.

As an undergraduate at New York University, Antin studied engineering and later edited and translated several math and science books before pursuing a career as a poet, museum curator, and free-lance art critic. Commenting on the traditional goal of “articulating space” in paintings and other art, he once wrote about a Dennis Oppenheimer sculpture in which two police dogs were chained down in front of the entrance to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts:

  • chained down in such a way that if you walked a straight line between them the police dogs however violent they got would not be able to reach you but they would come very close
  • now i would say that articulated the space rather clearly the space was articulated very well you walked down the space the animals lunged at you and you found that the space was very narrow there were three inches on either side which were not dog

We sat in Antin’s office at UCSD’s Mandeville Center one afternoon not long ago, Antin behind his desk and I in a chair in front of it, and he said, “When I came out here in 1968 I came out sort of on a lark. The New York art scene was beginning to feel very boring, and I felt like trying something very different. And the possibility of running an art gallery at UCSD. . . it was a young department, and it looked lively. And there were palm trees, and baby earthquakes, and farms on Genesee Road, and all these things seemed to be kind of amusing, and Ellie, my wife, thought it was amusing, and we said, well, why not? We came out.

“Engineering essentially made me literate in a school like this, but I don’t think it meant anything serious in terms of why I was hired. But you gotta suppose the dominant population at UCSD is scientists. How to describe it? Among the scientists, there are many people who are concerned with things beyond science. But in a large collection of scientists, those people will always be a minority. So what happens is that you’ve got faculty in the sciences, a large number, who are interested in doing nothing other than their kind of straightforward science, and they may not be interested in much else. The same situation will hold for their graduate students, and even more that situation will hold for their undergraduate students, who came to the area basically because of the generally popular notion of what science is. So basically the school will be populated with technicians, even though that was not the intention.

“My impression, though, is that when the scientists first came in, they had the idea of science as a kind of creative discipline, a place that generated new ideas. I think that this attitude that they had, which didn't include necessarily a familiarity with the arts, but a kind of sense that if they went into the arts, they would like arts that were generative and creative, was what helped us a lot here. There was more openness to an avant-garde art department than there might have been in an ordinary type of humanities school.

“We’ve had traditionally very strong support from departments like biology. This has been a great school in terms of help from the scientists. We fought for what we wanted, and we’ve been very capable of stating our case, but the people in biology have been very friendly. But basically 1 think it’s been the faculty more than the administration. McElroy was not antipathetic, it’s just that he had no relation to art. McElroy — as a cultural figure he was a terrific end. He was a good football player. And he’s a good guy. But he was basically out to do the things he was doing for science. A culture of any type was not his world. But he was certainly not hostile.

“We have gotten a big Ford Foundation grant, for enriching studio art programs. It’s about $180,000 unfolding over six years. It’s not what in science is a big grant, but to us it’s a big grant. We also have a Louis B. Mayer grant, and that’s brought in a great deal of help; it’s basically to support graduate students to do work in film and video, which is very expensive. Sciences have an easier time with granting than we do. There aren’t a lot of foundations we can go to; nothing on the scale of the millions of dollars available for the sciences. And in a sense I guess you could say we’re second-class citizens because we can't pick up that kind of food. And it’s true. And if you can’t pick up that kind of money, you can’t pick up that kind of administrative help from the university. They can’t afford to offer support for your activities.

“One big problem we have now is that they didn’t build the space right for us. They built us a disastrous building against the objections of three chairmen of the art department, and I was one of them. We have survived Mandeville Center, but just barely. We’ve made do in it the way a group of Arabs might have made do in a deserted Foreign Legion fort. It was poorly designed and poorly engineered — that is, it’s acoustically a disaster, the studios and offices are claustrophobic closets, there are things like permanent outlets put behind permanent shelving, skylights in darkrooms.

“Also, handling personnel affairs now has become extremely complicated on paper, because of the new federal legislation. It’s causing a problem for every department. It is my theory that California is essentially being deforested by the interoffice memo. I think it’s a function of the administrative structure — there’s too much administration. There are too many meetings, there are too many committees, they publish too much paper after they’ve reached insignificant decisions. . . .” Antin gets a diabolical grin on his face. “Even when they don’t have an insignificant decision and they merely have an insignificant discussion, they publish the insignificant discussion that has come to no significant conclusion; even when they're about to have an insignificant discussion, and they’re setting the ground rules, and they’re insignificant ground rules, they publish the insignificant ground rules for the insignificant discussion that will lead to insignificant nonaction. And it’s endless.

“I’ve met Richard Atkinson, twice, I think. It’s too early to tell if he’ll have any effect on the art department, I can’t get much of a reading. I think he’s probably less indifferent to the arts than our previous chancellor; he looks like someone who cares about the quality of university activity across the board. He may help the quality of university life in a way McElroy seems to have not been able to. I don’t look for startling changes, but it might be that at the level of the university and San Diego, we might have a more responsive administration. We might have that.”

When I finally met Richard Atkinson, he looked tired and a little harried. At least part of this impression was soon confirmed; although I had arranged the appointment several weeks earlier, Atkinson explained somewhat apologetically that he had less than half an hour to spare, ‘it’s been a bad day,” he said as he ushered me into his spacious office.

Atkinson is fifty-one, and has white, longish hair, and a casual but confident manner. His background is in psychology and applied mathematics, and he has worked on developing computerized learning programs. The same newspaper articles that announced his appointment here also noted that, like William Mc-Elroy, he was serving as director of the National Science Foundation when he was named chancellor of UCSD.

Atkinson sat down in an armchair in one comer of his office, and I sat on a sofa nearby. I asked him about the strong research orientation of UCSD, and if there shouldn't be more attention paid to undergraduate education. “It’s to be worried about,” he said of the conflict between teaching and research, “but it’s simply the nature of the structure of American universities. The university professor is expected to teach and research. It’s easy to say research interferes with teaching, but it depends on what kind of teaching you want. With research you get a special kind of teaching — participating with faculty members in new fields.

“Sixty percent of the nation’s research is done in the universities,” he continued. “The Soviets don’t do it this way, but I think it’s more efficient. If our universities didn’t conduct this research, we’d have to reorganize the entire U.S. research effort.

“Besides, with all this research going on here, we become a drawing card for high-technology industries moving into the area. I think we can benefit the San Diego area that way, too.”

I left that last remark alone; with five minutes gone in a twenty-five-minute interview, you don’t start talking about the topic of future growth in the San Diego area. Instead, I asked Atkinson if he saw any particular possibilities for expansion at UCSD. “Well,” he replied, “it’s an awfully long list, and I’m not sure we have time . . . there are lots of possibilities for expansion. One is in research. ... I think the possibility of establishing an engineering school is good ... the new U.S.-Mexican studies program. . . .” Soon after he finished this comment, Atkinson stood up and walked across the room to his desk. “I’m listening real hard now, okay?” he said, inviting me to question him as he went. When he reached his desk, he sat down.

What about particular departments, I suggested; anything that should get immediate attention? “I can’t really respond to that,” he said, looking over papers in both hands. “I want to see all parts of the university strengthened.” Okay, how about the humanities, I said; had they been slighted in UCSD’s headlong rush to grow? “Well, in the humanities we’ve not had the size of humanities faculty you’d like,” he admitted, “but the history, visual arts, and music departments are first-rate. They’re small but they’re good.” He didn’t want UCSD to develop an academic major in business, he went on to say, adding that most good universities don’t have them, and that students who want that sort of thing can go to colleges such as San Diego State University. (I thought this comment was particularly interesting, because Kathy Huffer had told me that a lot of UCSD students wanted to see the school offer a business major. She also had said, “For students, I don’t quite know what Atkinson’s arrival means. He’s enthusiastic, and that’s desperately needed on this campus. But so far. I'm a little disappointed. I don’t think he’s shown enough interest in students.”)

When I asked Atkinson about declining enrollment, he replied he didn't think it would be much of a problem at UCSD, that Southern California’s climate and social scene would probably attract enough students to keep the school’s undergraduate population fairly stable. I pointed out that, even under these circumstances, it seems unlikely that UCSD will be able to expand in any direction except more research, and he said, “Well, budgets will be tight; we’re not in an expanding economy. That will make life tough, but that’s true of any place.”

Atkinson said he thought UCSD was one of the best universities in the country, that he was glad to be in San Diego, and that he came from a tradition of a strong relationship between faculty and students (he used to teach at Stanford). We talked briefly about new government regulations on research grants and other funds, which require numerous forms to be filled out (“I believe in accountability, but not necessarily through an endless stream of paperwork.” he said), and then Atkinson put on his coat, snatched up a few folders from his desk, and approached me where I sat on the sofa. “I’m sorry. I’ll let you talk to my assistant if you need anything else,” he said. “Today’s a real bad day.” He left the room abruptly.

In all fairness, Atkinson probably has more important things to do than sit down for private conferences with journalists. But I came away from my talk with him a little disappointed. He hadn't said anything that would lead me to think an effort will be made to balance UCSD’s science and research orientation, to develop the university truly “across the board.” And this impression wasn’t exactly weakened a few days later when I read about Atkinson’s first address to UCSD’s academic senate, in which he said that the current need for engineers and computer scientists would make it difficult for the nation’s universities to justify budget increases in the humanities. While suggesting that UCSD might soon develop a school of engineering, he insisted this didn’t necessarily mean “a move away from the arts,” and said such a school might even benefit the humanities by drawing in more students. It would be easy to sketch the opposite argument, however, and, in addition, speculate that an engineering school will only exacerbate UCSD’s problems in attracting minority students; but then, it isn’t entirely clear yet what Atkinson has in mind. As a new chancellor he must play an intricate political game, of course, and this has undoubtedly led him to be vague in his comments so far. As Arturo Guerrera told me. “This first year Atkinson will be getting used to a lot of things. He’s in a position where he’s waiting to see where everyone’s at. And we’re in the same position, too,” Guerrera added. “We’re waiting to see where he’s at.”

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Kathy Huffer:  "I had a vague notion that UCSD was a science school, but I certainly didn’t know it was as oriented that way as it is." - Image by Jim Coit
Kathy Huffer: "I had a vague notion that UCSD was a science school, but I certainly didn’t know it was as oriented that way as it is."

He is a tall, bespectacled, grandfatherly with a mischievous laugh. His hands are large, as befits someone who was a football receiver in his college days. On the wall of his office in UCSD’s Bonner Hall hangs an aerial photograph of a mountain ridge in the Antarctic — barren, snow-covered peaks named McElroy Ridge in his honor.

William McElroy: “It was my intent, when I became chancellor in 1972, to broaden the school’s focus."

The plaque reading “Chancellor William D. McElroy” now lies unused on the table near his desk, but McElroy, sixty-two, says he is glad to be just a member of the faculty again. For eight years, longer than any other UCSD chancellor, he directed the growth of the university, during which its enrollment doubled and its overall expenditures nearly tripled. Inasmuch as he also served as a consultant on development to UCSD when it was being set up in the early Sixties, he has probably man influenced the general direction of the university more than any other person.

Leafing through UCSD’s catalogue as a student at Southwestern College, Arturo Guerrera read that a major in Chicano studies was offered.

When McElroy yielded to new chancellor Richard C. Atkinson in July of this year. UCSD had trained a reputation as one of the top academic research institutions in the nation. The school’s research grants this year total more than $120 million, compared to a budget of $47 million for graduate and undergraduate instruction combined. UCSD is fourth among the nation’s colleges in research and development dollars from the federal government, and fifth in the number of faculty members who belong to the National Academy of Sciences. It has six Nobel prize winners on its staff, all in medicine and the physical sciences, and boasts two major research and graduate training institutions: Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the new multimillion-dollar medical school. Yet McElroy, like many of the school’s administrators and faculty members, is a little touchy about UCSD’s image as a “science school.”

Don Helinski: “I’d like to see us move more and more in this area of manipulating plant and animal cells.”

UCSD was conceived in the shadow of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and in a sense, it has been struggling to get out of that shadow ever since. McElroy, a marine biologist who has investigated the workings of luminescent microorganisms, readily admits that in the beginning, science came first. “We started building the faculty at Scripps,” he said a few weeks ago, clasping his hands behind his head and leaning back in a chair in his office. “They already had the space, or some of it, anyway, and it seemed like the logical place to start.

David Antin: "I came out sort of on a lark. The New York art scene was beginning to feel very boring."

“At that time in history, it was easy to get money out of Washington for the sciences. It was the easy way to go. It was that post-Sputnik period, and the government was responding to the need for engineers. . . . Scientists had the upper edge, and still do, to some extent. They can go to six or seven different government agencies to get funds for research, compared to only one or two for the arts.”

Richard Atkinson: “Sixty percent of the nation’s research is done in the universities. The Soviets don’t do it this way, but I think it’s more efficient."

Throughout the Sixties and early Seventies, UCSD rushed to found a strong science base on which to build, gradually, a well-balanced major university, one which was eventually expected to have a total undergraduate population of 27,500. But in the hurry to garner government funds, the sciences flourished while other departments lagged behind. The school’s general education requirements were dominated by classes in science and mathematics, and course offerings in other subjects were sporadic. Transfer and dropout rates were high, and the phrase “too much science” became a popular refrain among students who had expected a more balanced curriculum.

McElroy asserts that UCSD’s focus has expanded since then, and it has. The visual arts, music, history, and sociology departments, in particular, have earned growing recognition, and students now have a variety of general education programs to choose from. “We looked to schools like Berkeley and Harvard for models,” McElroy told me. “It was my intent, when I became chancellor in 1972, to broaden the school’s focus, although it probably would have evolved that way whether I had come or not. Ten years ago the complaint about too much science was a legitimate criticism. Now it’s not, but it will probably take ten more years to get rid of it.”

It could take a good deal longer than that, however. UCSD still leads by far all other University of California campuses in the percentage of undergraduate science majors: forty-one percent, compared to UC Berkeley’s twenty percent and UCLA’s twenty percent. It is a percentage that has climbed in the last decade. The visual arts and sociology departments have grown substantially during that time, yet together they are still less than two-thirds the size of the biology department. Most of the humanities departments, in fact, are relatively small, which makes it difficult for them to offer a good balance of classes. A quick scan through UCSD’s fall schedule reveals no classes in music history, for example, and only one in classical literature. In addition, some humanities classes seem tailored to suit UCSD’s science students, such as Philosophy 122, “Bio-Medical Ethics,” or Political Science 105B. “Technology/Society.”

At the same time, with the nation’s population boom now past its peak, it has become clear that UCSD’s undergraduate enrollment will probably stabilize, and could even decline from its current 8500.

Under these circumstances, and with the state's budget picture looking tighter and tighter, it is doubtful that any department will expand much in the near future. Like a car stuck in deep sand, UCSD’s science-heavy academic structure seems likely to remain where it is for a while.

There is nothing inherently wrong with being San Diego’s answer to Caltech, of course, and a lot of the research going on at UCSD — heart disease, recombinant DNA, ocean pollution — could make important contributions to world society. But undergraduates have consistently complained that the school’s strong research orientation leaves professors with little time for their students. In addition, UCSD still has the lowest graduation rate and the highest transfer rate to other University of California campuses of any school in the UC system.

“We put out a questionnaire not too long ago to try to determine why so many students were transferring,” an official in the school's planning office said recently, “and the main answer we got was because of the narrow academic offering here. Our tendency has always been to be strong in a few areas, mostly technical ones.” Many of the students leaving, the official added, expressed the sentiment that at UCSD there was just “too much science.”


Noon at UCSD's Revelle plaza, October 30, 1980: Two men, one shirtless, play catch across the middle of the plaza with a Frisbee. Students sit together in twos and threes on a lawn nearby, talking and eating lunch. The plaza is ringed by the undergraduate sciences building, the humanities library, the Revelle college dorms, Urey and Bonner halls — modernistic, pale beige buildings someone once aptly described as “gas station architecture.” Standing rigidly upright on a skateboard, a young man with long blond hair coasts slowly across the plaza, barely avoiding the Frisbee sailing over his head. A young woman in a red dress lies on her back on a bench, eyes closed. The shirtless man dashes to catch up to the Frisbee, leaning and snagging it with one hand at the very spot where, on a Sunday afternoon in May ten years ago, George Winne, Jr., doused his clothes with lighter fluid and set himself afire in a fatal protest against the war in Vietnam. Winne lived and died in an era of political activism — sit-ins, rallies, marches — and at UCSD there was a figurehead for it all : Herbert Marcuse.

It is ironic that Marcuse, a member of the philosophy department, dominated UCSD’s image within the San Diego community throughout the late Sixties and early Seventies. It was, after all, an era when the major part of the university’s energies were directed toward acquiring millions of government dollars for computers, chemistry and biology laboratories, and research contracts. But Marcuse became seen as the ringleader of UCSD’s “known” radicals and communists, and traditionally conservative San Diego didn’t like it one bit. There were numerous calls for him to resign, even threats on his life; as late as the mid-Seventies, Chancellor William McElroy spent a good deal of his time defending the university at community meetings against charges that it had ‘‘too many communists” on its staff.

Marcuse died in July of last year, and by then most of the political activism of the Sixties had long since died, too. “Students are trying to be responsible,” Kathy Huffer, current editor of UCSD’s student newspaper the Guardian, said not long ago. “It’s classes first, social life and other activities second. Students are very career-oriented now.”

Huffer is a slender brunette with a slightly humorous, irreverent manner. She told me that UCSD is a socially fragmented school, “without a tie to bring students together. It’s not a friendly university. Seventy-five percent of the students live off campus, and there’s no housing close in. There’s no commercial district nearby, either. You can’t walk to La Jolla! So you go to University Towne Centre, and you can go window shopping, or buy a piece of gum at Sears. That’s about it. When I first came here, I was surprised to see how heavily used the school library was on weekends. A lot of students on this campus spend most of their time just studying.” Huffer said one of the more exciting things that has happened at UCSD during her career there was a Halloween food fight two years ago that destroyed several windows in the Revelle cafeteria. The following Halloween, dinner was served on paper plates, and frowning, besuited administrative aides patrolled the room, insuring that the evening meal would be eaten and not heaved through the air.

Still, Huffer said, while UCSD’s students are generally less political now than in the Sixties, their political emotions were stirred somewhat by the search for a new chancellor last year. At that time, a number of student leaders made it clear they wanted more voice in the chancellor-selection process, more say in the school. Their dissatisfaction with the way David Saxon, president of the UC board of regents, conducted the search in relative secrecy reached a climax of sorts last month.when a reception in honor of new chancellor Richard Atkinson was picketed by a crowd of about twenty-five chanting students. Several of the demonstrators later were forcibly removed from the premises by campus police. According to Huffer, who was at the reception (and has taken some heat from her classmates for it because she was the only student to cross the picket line), the protesters were primarily objecting to the presence of Saxon.

“ ‘Saxon sucks!’ was one thing I heard yelled a few times,” said Huffer. “Atkinson was very embarrassed. Some of the students were shouting, ‘Atkinson, we love you,’ because they wanted to let him know it wasn’t him they were demonstrating against.

“Atkinson is very well received on campus right now,” she continued. “Personally, I think it’s great that we have a new chancellor, no matter who it is. Mc-Elroy was invaluable to the university in terms of promoting it as a research institution, but he was out of touch. He had overstayed his usefulness; he'd stopped innovating. I know he asserts that he was strongly oriented to liberal arts, but publicly, I always saw him as a science advocate.”

Huffer said that student leaders still complain loudly that UCSD emphasizes science too heavily, and that professors spend too much time on research at the expense of contact with their students. She admitted that some of the liberal arts programs have improved, but claimed that in general they don’t get strong administrative support. She said she is disappointed with her own major (political science) because the department is factionalized, and said that the visiting professors have been, for the most part, better than the department’s own. Huffer transferred to UCSD from Miami University of Ohio three years ago. “I came out here on a whim. I had a vague notion that UCSD was a science school, but I certainly didn’t know it was as oriented that way as it is. The admissions office certainly didn’t go to any lengths to let me know about it. Maybe that’s paranoid, but. . . .”

Maybe it is “paranoid,” but Arturo Guerrera had a similar story to tell. Leafing through UCSD’s catalogue as a student at Southwestern College, he read that a major in Chicano studies was offered. When he transferred to UCSD, though, he discovered there weren’t enough professors to teach a full Chicano studies program. In order to graduate, Guerrera switched his major this year to sociology and began taking the standard courses required for that major. “We have to see UCSD as a science school because that’s what it is,” he told me. “Political science, history, sociology — these departments have a lot less professors than the sciences do.”

Guerrera also pointed out to me one of the more disturbing problems now facing the university: the declining enrollment of minority students, or “students of color” as they are known on campus. Although overall enrollment of minority students at UCSD increased by about seven percent from 1970 to 1979, this year their numbers seemed to fall off dramatically, with just twenty-four black students and twenty-four Chicano students in the incoming freshman class. Guerrera is a member of MECHA, a Chicano students’ organization that has looked into the problem, and he has accompanied recruiters to minority schools. “I think the problem is basically in the recruitment,” he said. “The recruiters go to the schools in their three-piece suits and ties, set up a table for an hour, and expect students to come to them. But it doesn’t work that way. In a predominantly black school or Chicano school, the students think people in three-piece suits are narcs.”

But another thing that could be leading to declining minority enrollments, Guerrera said, is simply UCSD’s science emphasis. The university’s reputation as a science school is apparently perpetuating itself by attracting an increasing number of would-be scientists, most of whom are middle-class whites. “In my opinion, students of color seem to lean more toward majors in the humanities,” Guerrera explained. “I don’t think the science requirements should be relaxed; if a student of color wants to become a doctor or a chemist, he should get the best training available. But there should be more time and resources spent on the humanities."

When I asked Guerrera if he thought UCSD’s professors spent too much time on research and not enough with students, he laughed. “A lot of the time,” he replied, “it seems that classroom lecturing is just a minor part of what they do.”


“There is a good basis to the students' concern,” said Don Helinski, currently chairman of UCSD’s biology department. ‘‘We are a strongly research-oriented campus, and I’m sure the amount of time the faculty give to students in general is inadequate. But with the number of students we’re being asked to educate, it’s impossible.” As he said this, Helinski was standing in a biology lab in Bonner Hall. The lab has a P3 rating — meaning it can be used for experiments involving certain types of organisms restricted by the federal government — but for the time being it wasn’t in use. It is kept under negative air pressure, Helinski had explained as we entered, “so that air will be drawn in when you open the door. It prevents bacteria from escaping.”

Helinski is a husky man in his midforties, with deep-set, inquisitive brown eyes. He is soft-spoken to the point of sounding shy. The ratio of students to faculty in his department is now about thirty-to-one, he told me, which makes it difficult to spend enough time with each student. There is no budget relief in sight from the state and no desire on the part of the faculty to cut down on research — in fact, the opposite is true. After all, scientists are measured by their discoveries; there are no sellouts at the Hollywood Bowl for chemists.

Helinski has been at UCSD since 1965. His specialty is recombinant DNA, also known as genetic engineering. “There’s been a great explosion in biology in general lately,” he said as we stood in the brightly lit, silent lab. “We’re going into a phase of intervention. For the First time scientists can intervene in animal cells. In recombinant DNA we’ve been able to get genes in large enough quantities to study them, also for the First time. We can move them around, implant them in other cell types.”

He pointed out some of the equipment around us, including an incubator, in which the bacteria cells are grown, and a refrigerated, high-speed centrifuge, which separates the DNA molecules from the rest of the cellular material. ”Basically, we grow the bacteria, add certain chemicals to them, separate the DNA in the centrifuges, and then break the chromosomes apart and get a particular gene,” he said. “If we already know what we’re after and how to get it, it takes us about three days from the time of growing the bacteria to having the gene we want. The equipment to do it costs about $100,000.”

Helinski outlined one recombinant DNA experiment currently being done at UCSD that could have important implications for agriculture. The goal of the experiment is to improve the efficiency of a bacteria that enables plants to utilize nitrogen, and if successful, it would reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizers. Such fertilizers have become increasingly expensive, particularly for Third World countries trying to expand their agricultural production. “I’d like to see us move more and more in this area of manipulating plant and animal cells,” said Helinski. As for the implications for human genetic engineering, he added, “There are human-subjects committees on the various campuses that review any experiments of this sort, and on the whole. I’m satisfied with the way they operate. But we need national guidance, more discussion on the national level than there has been with regard to the social and ethical questions involved.”

Helinski said that the federal government no longer gives out research money as freely as it did in the Sixties, and he credited McElroy with helping to keep UCSD’s share as high as it is. He said he thought Atkinson, too, was strongly research-oriented. “Both he and McElroy came from a background of work in the National Science Foundation, you know, and I think that reflects the strong concern they have for research.”

On the way back to his office, Helinski mentioned he has been chairman of the biology department for less than two years. It is a rotating position, and when his time came he accepted the responsibility resignedly, the way one might accept jury duty. Already he is looking forward to the end of his term next June, when he can spend more time on research again. “You’ve got to keep up your research if you want to stay competitive,” he observed.

Competition is a key word for scientists. To beat their colleagues to a discovery, and to beat them, too, to large federal grants made surprisingly available in these days of supposed fiscal austerity — these are things that drive scientists out of the classroom and into the lab. A few days later I would ask Helinski about competition, and how maintaining an edge in biological research differed from, say, staying current in the arts. And he would answer, after a pause, “In a sense, the problems in the sciences are more narrowly defined. There’s a strong sense of competition partly because the chances of one person coming up with a particular idea are somewhat greater than in the arts. Scientific research is much more affected by external developments. It’s certainly much more expensive.”

David Antin is a good talker. A stocky man in his forties, with an elfin smile and a head bald as a croquet ball, he is currently chairman of UCSD’s visual arts department. As art departments go, UCSD’s is not unduly large — eighteen permanent faculty members — but it is one of the few nonscience departments at the university that has established a truly national reputation. It is a reputation based on the concept of a new, exploratory art — everything from Antin’s own “talk pieces” and avant-garde writings to Harold Cohen’s computer-generated murals — and it has sprung in part from Antin’s own propensity for keenly rethinking art traditions.

As an undergraduate at New York University, Antin studied engineering and later edited and translated several math and science books before pursuing a career as a poet, museum curator, and free-lance art critic. Commenting on the traditional goal of “articulating space” in paintings and other art, he once wrote about a Dennis Oppenheimer sculpture in which two police dogs were chained down in front of the entrance to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts:

  • chained down in such a way that if you walked a straight line between them the police dogs however violent they got would not be able to reach you but they would come very close
  • now i would say that articulated the space rather clearly the space was articulated very well you walked down the space the animals lunged at you and you found that the space was very narrow there were three inches on either side which were not dog

We sat in Antin’s office at UCSD’s Mandeville Center one afternoon not long ago, Antin behind his desk and I in a chair in front of it, and he said, “When I came out here in 1968 I came out sort of on a lark. The New York art scene was beginning to feel very boring, and I felt like trying something very different. And the possibility of running an art gallery at UCSD. . . it was a young department, and it looked lively. And there were palm trees, and baby earthquakes, and farms on Genesee Road, and all these things seemed to be kind of amusing, and Ellie, my wife, thought it was amusing, and we said, well, why not? We came out.

“Engineering essentially made me literate in a school like this, but I don’t think it meant anything serious in terms of why I was hired. But you gotta suppose the dominant population at UCSD is scientists. How to describe it? Among the scientists, there are many people who are concerned with things beyond science. But in a large collection of scientists, those people will always be a minority. So what happens is that you’ve got faculty in the sciences, a large number, who are interested in doing nothing other than their kind of straightforward science, and they may not be interested in much else. The same situation will hold for their graduate students, and even more that situation will hold for their undergraduate students, who came to the area basically because of the generally popular notion of what science is. So basically the school will be populated with technicians, even though that was not the intention.

“My impression, though, is that when the scientists first came in, they had the idea of science as a kind of creative discipline, a place that generated new ideas. I think that this attitude that they had, which didn't include necessarily a familiarity with the arts, but a kind of sense that if they went into the arts, they would like arts that were generative and creative, was what helped us a lot here. There was more openness to an avant-garde art department than there might have been in an ordinary type of humanities school.

“We’ve had traditionally very strong support from departments like biology. This has been a great school in terms of help from the scientists. We fought for what we wanted, and we’ve been very capable of stating our case, but the people in biology have been very friendly. But basically 1 think it’s been the faculty more than the administration. McElroy was not antipathetic, it’s just that he had no relation to art. McElroy — as a cultural figure he was a terrific end. He was a good football player. And he’s a good guy. But he was basically out to do the things he was doing for science. A culture of any type was not his world. But he was certainly not hostile.

“We have gotten a big Ford Foundation grant, for enriching studio art programs. It’s about $180,000 unfolding over six years. It’s not what in science is a big grant, but to us it’s a big grant. We also have a Louis B. Mayer grant, and that’s brought in a great deal of help; it’s basically to support graduate students to do work in film and video, which is very expensive. Sciences have an easier time with granting than we do. There aren’t a lot of foundations we can go to; nothing on the scale of the millions of dollars available for the sciences. And in a sense I guess you could say we’re second-class citizens because we can't pick up that kind of food. And it’s true. And if you can’t pick up that kind of money, you can’t pick up that kind of administrative help from the university. They can’t afford to offer support for your activities.

“One big problem we have now is that they didn’t build the space right for us. They built us a disastrous building against the objections of three chairmen of the art department, and I was one of them. We have survived Mandeville Center, but just barely. We’ve made do in it the way a group of Arabs might have made do in a deserted Foreign Legion fort. It was poorly designed and poorly engineered — that is, it’s acoustically a disaster, the studios and offices are claustrophobic closets, there are things like permanent outlets put behind permanent shelving, skylights in darkrooms.

“Also, handling personnel affairs now has become extremely complicated on paper, because of the new federal legislation. It’s causing a problem for every department. It is my theory that California is essentially being deforested by the interoffice memo. I think it’s a function of the administrative structure — there’s too much administration. There are too many meetings, there are too many committees, they publish too much paper after they’ve reached insignificant decisions. . . .” Antin gets a diabolical grin on his face. “Even when they don’t have an insignificant decision and they merely have an insignificant discussion, they publish the insignificant discussion that has come to no significant conclusion; even when they're about to have an insignificant discussion, and they’re setting the ground rules, and they’re insignificant ground rules, they publish the insignificant ground rules for the insignificant discussion that will lead to insignificant nonaction. And it’s endless.

“I’ve met Richard Atkinson, twice, I think. It’s too early to tell if he’ll have any effect on the art department, I can’t get much of a reading. I think he’s probably less indifferent to the arts than our previous chancellor; he looks like someone who cares about the quality of university activity across the board. He may help the quality of university life in a way McElroy seems to have not been able to. I don’t look for startling changes, but it might be that at the level of the university and San Diego, we might have a more responsive administration. We might have that.”

When I finally met Richard Atkinson, he looked tired and a little harried. At least part of this impression was soon confirmed; although I had arranged the appointment several weeks earlier, Atkinson explained somewhat apologetically that he had less than half an hour to spare, ‘it’s been a bad day,” he said as he ushered me into his spacious office.

Atkinson is fifty-one, and has white, longish hair, and a casual but confident manner. His background is in psychology and applied mathematics, and he has worked on developing computerized learning programs. The same newspaper articles that announced his appointment here also noted that, like William Mc-Elroy, he was serving as director of the National Science Foundation when he was named chancellor of UCSD.

Atkinson sat down in an armchair in one comer of his office, and I sat on a sofa nearby. I asked him about the strong research orientation of UCSD, and if there shouldn't be more attention paid to undergraduate education. “It’s to be worried about,” he said of the conflict between teaching and research, “but it’s simply the nature of the structure of American universities. The university professor is expected to teach and research. It’s easy to say research interferes with teaching, but it depends on what kind of teaching you want. With research you get a special kind of teaching — participating with faculty members in new fields.

“Sixty percent of the nation’s research is done in the universities,” he continued. “The Soviets don’t do it this way, but I think it’s more efficient. If our universities didn’t conduct this research, we’d have to reorganize the entire U.S. research effort.

“Besides, with all this research going on here, we become a drawing card for high-technology industries moving into the area. I think we can benefit the San Diego area that way, too.”

I left that last remark alone; with five minutes gone in a twenty-five-minute interview, you don’t start talking about the topic of future growth in the San Diego area. Instead, I asked Atkinson if he saw any particular possibilities for expansion at UCSD. “Well,” he replied, “it’s an awfully long list, and I’m not sure we have time . . . there are lots of possibilities for expansion. One is in research. ... I think the possibility of establishing an engineering school is good ... the new U.S.-Mexican studies program. . . .” Soon after he finished this comment, Atkinson stood up and walked across the room to his desk. “I’m listening real hard now, okay?” he said, inviting me to question him as he went. When he reached his desk, he sat down.

What about particular departments, I suggested; anything that should get immediate attention? “I can’t really respond to that,” he said, looking over papers in both hands. “I want to see all parts of the university strengthened.” Okay, how about the humanities, I said; had they been slighted in UCSD’s headlong rush to grow? “Well, in the humanities we’ve not had the size of humanities faculty you’d like,” he admitted, “but the history, visual arts, and music departments are first-rate. They’re small but they’re good.” He didn’t want UCSD to develop an academic major in business, he went on to say, adding that most good universities don’t have them, and that students who want that sort of thing can go to colleges such as San Diego State University. (I thought this comment was particularly interesting, because Kathy Huffer had told me that a lot of UCSD students wanted to see the school offer a business major. She also had said, “For students, I don’t quite know what Atkinson’s arrival means. He’s enthusiastic, and that’s desperately needed on this campus. But so far. I'm a little disappointed. I don’t think he’s shown enough interest in students.”)

When I asked Atkinson about declining enrollment, he replied he didn't think it would be much of a problem at UCSD, that Southern California’s climate and social scene would probably attract enough students to keep the school’s undergraduate population fairly stable. I pointed out that, even under these circumstances, it seems unlikely that UCSD will be able to expand in any direction except more research, and he said, “Well, budgets will be tight; we’re not in an expanding economy. That will make life tough, but that’s true of any place.”

Atkinson said he thought UCSD was one of the best universities in the country, that he was glad to be in San Diego, and that he came from a tradition of a strong relationship between faculty and students (he used to teach at Stanford). We talked briefly about new government regulations on research grants and other funds, which require numerous forms to be filled out (“I believe in accountability, but not necessarily through an endless stream of paperwork.” he said), and then Atkinson put on his coat, snatched up a few folders from his desk, and approached me where I sat on the sofa. “I’m sorry. I’ll let you talk to my assistant if you need anything else,” he said. “Today’s a real bad day.” He left the room abruptly.

In all fairness, Atkinson probably has more important things to do than sit down for private conferences with journalists. But I came away from my talk with him a little disappointed. He hadn't said anything that would lead me to think an effort will be made to balance UCSD’s science and research orientation, to develop the university truly “across the board.” And this impression wasn’t exactly weakened a few days later when I read about Atkinson’s first address to UCSD’s academic senate, in which he said that the current need for engineers and computer scientists would make it difficult for the nation’s universities to justify budget increases in the humanities. While suggesting that UCSD might soon develop a school of engineering, he insisted this didn’t necessarily mean “a move away from the arts,” and said such a school might even benefit the humanities by drawing in more students. It would be easy to sketch the opposite argument, however, and, in addition, speculate that an engineering school will only exacerbate UCSD’s problems in attracting minority students; but then, it isn’t entirely clear yet what Atkinson has in mind. As a new chancellor he must play an intricate political game, of course, and this has undoubtedly led him to be vague in his comments so far. As Arturo Guerrera told me. “This first year Atkinson will be getting used to a lot of things. He’s in a position where he’s waiting to see where everyone’s at. And we’re in the same position, too,” Guerrera added. “We’re waiting to see where he’s at.”

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