Saturday, February 19, 2011

Those were the days...

Any well-established university science department has its elders, venerated as much for their scientific achievements as for their embodiment of a physical connection to the departed giants of the field. One of our microbiology department's elders is John Ingraham. He's rightly celebrated for his discoveries (do you like wine with a controlled malo-lactic fermentation? Thank John), and when you look at him you see a lineage that goes to C. B. van Niel and then to Kluyver and then to Beijerinck.

I was reading an autobiographical sketch John wrote for the 1991 Annual Review of Microbiology (1991--twenty years ago he was already an eminence grise), and came upon this nugget about working at UC Davis:
It seems almost dream-like to recall the cordial relations between state government, university administration, faculty and students, the emotion-choked Chancellor at retirement responding to the standing faculty’s applause with, “Only at Davis.” Phone calls to administration, support staff and other faculty were almost always greeted with, “What can I do to help?” The governor and members of the legislature (almost all UC graduates) were proud of their excellent educational system from kindergarten through graduate school. The governor always attended picnic day (Davis’ annual campus/community joint celebration) to ride in the lead car of the parade and greet all comers. But Governor Pat Brown was the last to do so. With the coming of the 1960s, Vietnam, and Ronald Reagan’s governorship, university/state government relations soured.
I think if Mark Yudof were in the lead car at Picnic Day, he'd get tomatoes thrown at him. If the governor were in the lead car, the tomatoes would still be in the can.

Ingraham, John L. (1991). Learning to Fly Fish. Annual Review of Microbiology 55, 1-9.

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