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Tilting at Windmills - Educational Misadventures in the Big Ten (Draft 02-10-06)
David L. Nanney
15. The End of the Era
As Doc Halvorsen’s term as Director of the School of Life Sciences approached its conclusion, its successes in educational innovation were impressive. A multi-departmental introductory biology sequence (Biol. 110-111) welcomed most new undergraduate students. It was taught by staff from Microbiology and Zoology. Biology 210 (Genetics) was taught alternately by Botany and Zoology. A biostatistics course with a Biology rubric was offered by the Entomology department. The new undergraduate major in Biology now enrolled about 90% of the undergraduates in the School. A new MS degree was offered in Biology. An SOLS Ph D. in Biology provided cellular and population specializations. A campus-wide Ph D. program in Genetics involved over 40 faculty members from Agronomy, Anthropology, Animal Science, Biochemistry, Psychology and other departments.
But all was not sweetness and light within the School. Orin Halvorson was a gifted administrator whose university connections and people skills were given credit for the initial establishment of the biological confederation. I do not know who had prepared the by-laws of SOLS, but they made possible a democratic community of scholars who defined the goals and programs of the school. The Executive Committee consisted of the Heads of the participating departments, and their function at first was to lead their separate faculties and to implement the policies of the School. The School seemed to be transparent in its activity, though no one was ever sure how Doc got funds for new lines and balanced the diverse desires of the different departments. A crucial glue for the community seemed to be the resources provided for the teaching programs now largely under the Biol. rubric which employed graduate teaching assistants from all the largely departmental graduate programs.
As Doc approached retirement after over a decade as Director the suppressed tension and conflicting aspirations of the departments began to be more apparent. I will not attempt a blow-by-blow account of the transition from the Halvorson directorship to that of Joseph Larsen. As I recall, Leon Campbell, the head of Microbiology at the time, took over the directorship. He appeared to be a capable replacement. His interests, however, were in higher university administration and he soon left Illinois without making a major mark on SOLS. He moved, I believe to a vice president’s position somewhere in the East, perhaps New Jersey. The first Director appointed after a national search was Reino Kallio an apparently well-qualified and urbane petroleum microbiologist, who quickly proved incompetent to handle the tasks at hand. Another extended search seemed to have identified an enthusiastic and exceptionally qualified plant physiologist from Emory - Joe Keyes - with wide experience in innovative educational programs. That search failed, however, at the last moment when, according to unverifiable rumors, Dean Robert Rogers of the College of Liberal Arts withdrew earlier promises concerning the availability of personal research facilities for the candidate. Whether Nelson Leonard, the biochemist who chaired the search committee, or Gunny Gunsalus who frequently visited the Dean’s office - was influential in this aborted search was never established.
At this point the search for a director shifted to internal candidates and opaque consultations. After a period of disquiet and uncertainty Joseph Larsen then head of the Entomology Department took over the reins of authority and held them tightly for another decade or so. Larson brought stability to SOLS, but his administrative style was very different from Halvorson’s. Faculty meetings were still held occasionally, but primarily for ceremonial functions. The School faculty was essentially dissolved as a factor in the governance of the School. In later years even the meetings of the Executive Committee were reported to be without substance.
Decisions concerning the operations of the School drifted from the transparency of the Halvorson years to almost total opacity. Larson was reported to discuss budgetary matters only individually with department heads, with no serious group conversations about programs, resources and priorities. The by-laws of SOLS disappeared from view. Joe Larson was a paraplegic war hero, and by all accounts an honorable man, according to his understanding. Some wondered whether his patriarchal principles of governance might have been derived, however, from his experiences as Stake President in his Mormon Church, rather than from concepts of an open community of scholars. Innovations were not welcome in his administration.