First Years At the University of California at San Diego, 1959 to 1965

Keith A. Brueckner

February 15, 1994

In early 1994 a new history of the origin of UCSD, An Improbable Venture, by Nancy Scott Anderson, was published. The history contains an incomplete and sometimes inaccurate description of my involvement. To make the history more accurate, I have abstracted the following account from an auto-biography I wrote in 1985. I am sending an abridged version to the UCSD library and to Ms. Anderson.

In the late fall of 1958 I spent a few days in San Diego consulting at General Atomic. Two geophysicists, Leonard Liebermann and Carl Eckart, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, SIO, knew that I was visiting and asked me to give a talk at SIO. After my talk they asked me to have lunch with them the next day and I accepted although I didn't know the reason for their interest. When they arrived to pick me up at General Atomic, they had brought along a very tall suntanned man, Roger Revelle, director of SIO. He was also responsible for the planning which was to lead to a decision by the University of California to establish a new general campus in La Jolla, with the initial focus to be the faculty and graduate students of SIO. As we talked over lunch, I found that Liebermann and Eckart had proposed to Revelle that I be asked to join the new faculty being formed as the nucleus of the new campus, as the first physicist. Revelle had already appointed Jim Arnold and Harold Urey in chemistry and David Bonner in biology. Revelle told me in much detail of the wonderful plans he and the university had proposed for the new campus. I was very interested and felt honored that he was asking me to work with him. That afternoon Revelle took me to see the area planned for the campus, 1250 acres extending from the existing site of SIO on the shore in La Jolla up the slopes above to level mesa land, at that time only partially occupied by scattered buildings of Camp Matthews, a marine training base. The city of San Diego and the US government had already indicated their willingness to vacate this land and make a gift of it to UC. Late in the afternoon Revelle walked with me from the mesa top down a steep path leading to the ocean, to see the quite spectacular beaches with impressive surf, wide expanses of firm sand, backed up by steep cliffs rising 350 feet from the water.

By the end of the day I was convinced of the feasibility of Revelle's plans and had tentatively indicated my acceptance of his offer. Within a week, after returning to Philadelphia and telling my wife of my plans, I told the University of Pennsylvania that I would be leaving. I also started to call my friends to start recruiting additional physicists for the university in La Jolla. My deep interest in the new UC campus, later to be known as UCSD, was the result of my restlessness in Philadelphia, with the university there and my interest in trying a new activity, the recruiting of a faculty and the very active involvement in the planning of a new university. The beautiful location in La Jolla with the desert and Baja California nearby and the big peaks of the Sierra Nevada only a few hours to the north, was also an important element in my decision.

In the summer of 1959 my family and I went to a study organized by the Institute for Defense Analyses in Woodshole, Massachusetts. We all found this to be very pleasant, the location on Cape Cod being very attractive. The study was also interesting to me, dealing with Ballistic Missile Defense, my first contact with this problem. At the study I met and liked a remarkable Greek engineer, Nicholas Christofilos, with whom I was to become involved in many activities during the following decade. The group of us at the study had a hard time reaching an agreement on the difficult BMD problem, and met and argued endlessly during the weeks of the study. The US was starting to make a decision about the feasibility and wisdom of deploying a large and expensive defense system for protection against attack by ICBM's from the USSR. This was to become an issue on which both the military and civilians were to take passionate views in opposition, and which still is not fully resolved to the present.

When I arrived in La Jolla in the fall of 1959, UCSD was still just an idea in the minds of Revelle and the university planners. There were as yet no facilities and my first office was in the aquarium building in the old office of the SIO director. Two new buildings were under construction on the shore as an expansion of SIO and as these were completed in 1960 the growing science departments were temporarily housed in the new space. I worked very hard at recruiting a department of physics which I had decided should be centered about fields that did not require large expensive facilities. These I chose to be solid and low temperature physics, space physics and astronomy, plasma and plasma physics. I also felt that UCSD needed good contact with high energy particle physics and planned to recruit theorists and experimentalists who could work as needed away from La Jolla in the major experimental centers in Berkeley, Stanford, and Brookhaven. In my recruiting efforts I was strongly backed by Revelle and by the support of the central administration of the University of California. The university had been persuaded by Revelle to make an unusual experiment, nearly unique in this century of academic development in the US and in Europe, and start UCSD as a graduate school in the sciences. Graduate faculty in the humanities and social sciences were then to be added after the first three years. With a strong faculty assembled, undergraduate admission would be planned and the first undergraduate class admitted in 1965. UCSD was expected to eventually grow to the size of UC Berkeley and UC Los Angeles, reaching an enrollment of about 27,000 in 1995. The facilities for the campus were planned to meet this ambitious schedule, with the first major buildings to become available on the upper campus in 1963.

In the beginning the original plans appeared to be realistic, making the initial recruiting easier. I was able to assemble a remarkable group of theoretical and experimental physicists, establishing UCSD after only three years as one of the best departments in the US. This group included the famous Maria Mayer, winner of the Nobel Prize for her work in nuclear structure, Walter Kohn from Carnegie Tech and Bernd Matthias, George Feher, and Harry Suhl from Bell Laboratories who were the nucleus of the solid state and low temperature group, Marshall Rosenbluth and William Thompson in plasma theory, Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge in astronomy, and Norman Kroll and Oreste Piccioni in elementary particle theory and experiment. I also was able to recruit an outstanding group of assistant professors in all of these fields. This group included William Frazer and David Wong in theoretical particle physics, Carl Mcllwain and Larry Peterson in space physics, and Sheldon Schultz, Donald Fredkin, and John Goodkind in low temperature and solid state physics.

Other activities outside the university also were to have a major effect on my life. Starting in 1953 in Los Alamos and extending more widely as my consulting work diversified, I had been repeatedly associated with several theoretical physicists, particularly Kenneth Watson and Marvin Goldberger. In 1959 we decided that we could work together more effectively and profitably if we formed a consulting company. We took the formal action to do so in 1959, calling ourselves Theoretical Physics, Inc. For tax reasons the company was incorporated in Delaware. To broaden the base of the organization, we asked Murray Gellmann to join us as a charter member. Our friends and acquaintances heard of what we had done and tried hard to persuade us not to isolate ourselves from government advisory work as they felt would be the result of our incorporation as a private profit-making organization. Charles Townes of Bell Laboratories, at that time on leave in Washington, D.C., as vice president of the Institute for Defense Analyses, finally convinced us to abandon our idea and instead become a new division of IDA. This we did and our participation in the IDA study in Berkeley in the early summer of 1960 was our first act as the new IDA division. By then, following a suggestion of Goldberger's wife Mildred, the group been named the Jason Division.

In the spring of 1961, with the rapid growth of UCSD and the need for more careful planning and administration, a chancellor needed to be appointed to be the chief campus officer. We all expected Roger Revelle to be chosen and were all shocked and dismayed when Herbert York was instead selected. The UC administration and Regents had not chosen Revelle because he had been too forceful and outspoken in his successful efforts to bring the new campus to La Jolla. In doing so he had brought on himself the enmity of powerful members of the Board of Regents. Herb York, although a very decent man, was a strange choice for the Chancellorship. He had been a graduate student with me in Berkeley, had been selected by Edward Teller to be the first director of the new atomic weapons laboratory at Livermore, and had then gone to the Pentagon to be the first Director of Defense Research and Engineering. He had no academic experience after his doctorate and had instead been entirely involved in military work. As a chancellor he was moderately effective although he left nearly all of the academic matters of planning and recruiting to me and a few of his other aides.

Very soon after this disappointment Revelle let us know that he had accepted an appointment in the Federal Government as the chief scientist for the Department of the Interior. This would take him to Washington, D.C. for at least two years and there was no assurance that he would then return to UCSD. I sympathized with Revelle, for whom I had always felt deep admiration and respect, and found it difficult to consider working with York. Just at this time I was contacted by Charles Townes and asked to be his replacement as the Vice President of IDA. I went to Washington to talk to him and to the president of IDA, Gary Norton, and found the offer quite attractive. Norton privately told me that he was about to retire and that he would see that I would soon be promoted to take his position. I was familiar with IDA which at that time was the most renowned non-profit organization working for the government. IDA had been started in the late 1940's by the Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, to provide staff for the Weapon System Evaluation Group, which was organized to give advice directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. By 1960 IDA had grown considerably with the addition of other divisions and still held its central position in advice to the Pentagon. The IDA vice president was the technical director of the organization, with the president at that time a relatively inactive figurehead. The importance of the work, its central location in the Washington activities, and the glamour and excitement of Washington were too attractive for me to resist and I accepted the position, taking leave from UCSD.

My work at IDA went very well for the first fifteen months. I recruited actively to bring the IDA divisions up to full strength and became familiar with the important studies of major military systems and plans which IDA was making. I had constant contacts with many levels of military and civilian officials in the Pentagon and began to have more appreciation for the complexity and difficulty of many of the problems which preoccupied them.

In addition to being responsible for recruiting for the IDA divisions and the rapid buildup of the organization, I strongly encouraged the development of the Jason Division. With the help of Watson and Goldberger, I contacted about twenty outstanding theoretical physicists, nearly all from universities, and persuaded them to join. The Jason work was still almost entirely concentrated in summer studies lasting four to six weeks, supplemented by annual meetings of two days in the fall and spring at which the division members were given briefings on selected problems which might interest them and call for a more extended study. I was not at all convinced that this mode of operations was the best for this elite group and that more continuity of operation would be better. This was not possible for the Jason members working alone but could have been done if they were made supplemented with younger full time members who would work under the direction of the senior members. This could lead to several regional Jason centers with their own classified facilities and personnel. In addition to this change in the way the Jason Division worked, many eminent and experienced scientists joined me in feeling as I felt that it was unwise for the Jason members to work only with each other as an elite isolated club, and that the members should maintain much more extensive contacts with the national laboratories and with industry. I was unfortunately unable to convince the Jason members that these changes were advisable. This disagreement was later to lead to my resignation from the Division after I had left IDA and returned to UCSD.

In my enthusiasm and inexperience with the Washington scene, I had some conflict with the governing board of IDA, which could exercise considerable control over IDA. In the fall of 1962, when Norton announced his decision to retire and nominated me to be his successor, the board refused to accept his suggestion and looked for another older and more experienced replacement. They made an astonishing choice which was to cause IDA much difficulty in the next two years, Richard Bissell, formerly deputy director of the CIA. Bissell was notorious as the head of CIA planning for the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. He had also earlier been responsible for the CIA decision to build and fly the famous spy plane, the U2, over the USSR. He was a remarkable man, very tall, charming, persuasive, intelligent, but with a lack of perspective and judgment which had led to his disastrous errors in the CIA.

Bissell and I did not work at all well together. Norton had given me almost complete freedom in the technical direction of IDA but Bissell was unwilling to so proceed, choosing to take over the technical decisions himself. His intervention in my work and my disappointment in being passed over as president made my position in IDA untenable.

As a result of these problems, when I was visited in Washington in the late fall of 1962 by Herb York, the UCSD Chancellor, and asked to return to UCSD as his deputy, I accepted. York told me that I would have the position of Dean of Letters and Sciences. Professor Norris Rakestraw, of SIO, held the position of Dean of Graduate Studies but was so inactive that I never met with him during the years I was in the UCSD administration. In my position as dean, I was the only academic administrator reporting regularly to the chancellor. This meant that I would have responsibility for all academic and organizational planning, subject to York's review and approval. York had little interest in the details of the university operation and I was to find that he allowed me almost complete freedom. The functions I performed were later, as UCSD grew, to be taken over by several vice-chancellors, deans, and college provosts, but for a time I effectively held all of these positions.

During the period before I returned to UCSD from the Institute for Defense Analyses in Washington, DC, a faculty committee with Jim Arnold as a dominant member spent much time considering the structure of UCSD. The committee finally concluded that the university should be made up of twelve semi-autonomous colleges with undergraduate and graduate enrollment totaling 2300 students, with distinctively different undergraduate programs under the control of each college. The colleges would be far too small to have all of the departments of the university represented and instead would have departments selected from the sciences, applied sciences, fine arts, and humanities and liberal arts, to give balance to the makeup of the college. Each college was to be headed by a provost with principal responsibility for the undergraduate program. The college was also to have its own residence and eating halls and if possible athletic facilities. With this multiple-college structure, each graduate research department which was not associated with a single college might have its faculty and graduate students divided into three or four sub-faculties located in the separate colleges, but under the direction and coordination of a department chairman. This college structure was clearly patterned after the highly successful universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

This complex plan did not allow for graduate schools such as law, architecture, and business administration. The medical school was considered, however, but would not be completely independent but would have faculty with joint appointments in the medical school and in the graduate departments of the general campus. It was hoped that each college would have some library facilities but the main library and the over-all university administration would be centrally located.

When I heard of this plan, I thought that it was unworkable. All great American universities were much more monolithic, with the departments with their faculties and graduate students in one location, just as graduate schools are always organized. I also thought that the hope that each college could be semi-autonomous, with its own residences, eating facilities, gymnasia, and libraries, would turn out to be too expensive and complicated. It was also clear to me that the provost of each college would have a weak position relative to the campus-wide departmental chairmen, particularly in the assignment of faculty positions, budgets, and research space. The overall administrative structure of the university was left ill-defined, with no provision for the usual academic deans serving as intermediaries between the departments and the central administration of the chancellor and his immediate aides. My views on the college structure were not accepted by the members of the committees I chaired as dean, and I had to work as well as I could to work out compromises and to adapt to their views.

As UCSD grew in the years after I left the administration, many of the difficulties stated above became apparent and the present structure of UCSD has only a few of the features planned by the original committee.

When I returned to UCSD with much broader responsibilities than before, I had to work very hard to do all that was expected of me. I became actively involved in recruiting in literature, linguistics, and philosophy and had the responsibility for the final review and decision of the first appointments. In the first recruiting in literature my colleagues from chemistry and biology and I thought that we should make a final attempt to recruit a creative writer as the first chairman of the department. I contacted Wallace Stegner, at that time at Stanford University, and invited him to visit. He did come but was unwilling to accept the position. The first chairman, Roy Harvey Pearce, was later appointed and did build up a fine department. At about this time Richard Popkin was appointed chairman of philosophy. He was very successful as chairman, bringing other fine philosophers to the campus. He and Pearce were also very effective members of the committees I organized to help in planning the further development of the academic programs, particularly the planning of the first undergraduate programs and the development of the second college, later to be named for John Muir.

I also made unsuccessful attempts to recruit in history and anthropology. I was successful in finding the first appointments in psychology, George and Jean Mandler. I made a major effort to bring the first mathematician to UCSD and finally located and persuaded Warschawski to come, who turned out to be a very successful chairman and recruiter. In engineering I felt that UCSD in the beginning should concentrate on applied science rather than conventional engineering and selected the first two possible chairmen. I invited them to the campus, Stanford S. Penner in aerospace engineering and Henry Booker in electrical engineering, and they accepted the positions. The formation of these two departments was done by me over some objections by other members of the science faculty. I also talked to several UC librarians and did some traveling before I asked Melvin Voigt to come to UCSD to meet with members of the administration and faculty. He did visit and accepted our offer and was the first head librarian. He was a very good choice and was highly effective in the development of the UCSD libraries.

Through my contacts with the Department of Defense and Atomic Energy Commission I found sources of funding for a major computing facility to support the research of myself and my associates. I established a center at UCSD with the installation of an Control Data Corporation 1604 computer costing about 1.5 million dollars. I recruited an applied mathematician, Clay Perry, to be the head of the computing center. In the development of the campus facilities, I was a member of the planning committees which designed the first two colleges, Revelle and Muir, where I had the responsibility of specifying the faculty composition and any special research facilities of the colleges. As the plans became definite, I could see the need for additional graduate research space and successfully negotiated with the National Science Foundation for several million dollars to be used to supplement the applied science building in Muir College, nearly doubling the available space in this building.

In the fall of 1963 as the faculty started to add a more balanced mix of scientists, humanists, and social scientists, the central UC administration began to apply pressure on UCSD to accelerate the admission of the first undergraduate class. This had originally been planned for 1965 but we found in possible to admit a class of a few hundred students in the fall of 1964. This took much time and effort to set all of the standards and curricula to be used in the first college, Revelle. I met many times with selected faculty members as chairman of a planning committee. This was a very argumentative group but we finally set an interesting but quite difficult program for the first students. Interestingly enough, much of the rigor of this program was the result of the desire of the humanists to see the students given a broad undergraduate education in science and mathematics as well as in the humanities. The linguists also felt that a student should be able to complete undergraduate education with a fluent speaking knowledge of at least one foreign language. The difficult Revelle College undergraduate program was to be changed and made less rigorous with the passage of years but to the present still has some of its initial structure.

In the early spring of 1965, Herb York had to resign as chancellor for health reasons, and a new chancellor, John Galbraith, was appointed. When he arrived and set up his own administrative organization, I found that he had appointed the old SIO geophysicist Carl Eckart as vice-chancellor for academic affairs and moved me into the weak and inconsequential position of dean of graduate studies. Eckart had taken no part and had shown little interest in the recruiting and academic planning of UCSD during the years I had been there. He seemed to me to be poorly qualified to take over most of the responsibilities I had handled. I later found that Galbraith had been advised by senior members of the faculty to demote me from the dominant position I had held at UCSD in 1963 and 1964. These individuals had felt that I had been too strong and persuasive and in developing the applied sciences had given inadequate addition to their favorite fields. Galbraith also immediately began to make changes in my carefully developed plans for campus development. Faced by these changes and finding it difficult to adjust to Galbraith, I resigned from the administration to resume my position as professor of physics free of all of the responsibilities which had so much preoccupied me at UCSD during the first five years of development.