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Living History: Interviews with UCI Founders

by Spencer C. Olin, Professor Emeritus of History

Professor Emeritus Spencer Olin, who played a key role in UCI’s Fortieth Anniversary celebration in 2005, continues his series of oral history interviews with campus founders and other luminaries. Recent interviews have been with L.E. Cox, Robert Cohen, James McMichael, and Susan Bryant.

Preserving the valuable records that document our collective efforts over many years to build a distinguished university at UCI is a shared goal for faculty, staff, students, and alumni of UC Irvine. That goal was formally addressed in 2003 by an ad hoc advisory group established by then-Chancellor Ralph Cicerone and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Michael Gottfredson to ensure that UCI’s history is properly preserved. Toward that end, in its final report the group called for the creation of a UCI Historical Records Project. The report asserted that “the history of an institution is a crucial factor in shaping its future.” Further, the group argued that a well-maintained archive “should help make the history of the institution and its most memorable events a visible part of everyday life on the campus and in the community.”

For the past three years I have participated in some of the activities of this ongoing project, including oral history interviews with several central figures in the history of this campus. Early on I interviewed Jack Peltason (former Chancellor of UCI and President of UC), as well as Ralph Cicerone and Michael Gottfredson. A brief account of those interviews appeared in the winter 2005 issue of UCI Libraries Update. The four most recent interviews should enhance our understanding of UCI’s early days and gradual growth.

L.E. Cox joined the University of California in July 1961 following a lengthy military career. He was the first person to assume full responsibility for planning the new UC campus in Irvine and is widely considered UCI’s “first employee.” He was the first to serve as UCI’s Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs (currently Administrative and Business Services), filling that position until his retirement in 1979. During his interview Mr. Cox discussed many issues, including the Irvine Company officials with whom he worked most closely during the early 1960s and his negotiations with the architectural firm of William Pereira. It was Pereira who prepared the first Master Plan for the campus and whose firm designed the original buildings. Mr. Cox also commented on his relationship with founding Chancellor Daniel G. Aldrich, Jr., who was appointed in January 1962. Now in his early 90s, Mr. Cox’s mind remains extraordinarily retentive, so much so that his interviews were conducted in two separate 90-minute segments.

I also interviewed two of UCI’s distinguished founding faculty members. Robert Cohen, Claire Trevor Professor of Drama, chaired the Department of Drama for its first 25 years and is now completing his second “tour of duty” as chair. Professor Cohen’s interview addressed numerous topics relating to the founding and development of UCI’s prestigious drama programs. Of special importance are his observations about his unique approach to acting, which he terms “reciprocal characterization.” “Your character comes from what you think of other characters,” he insists. “You get your character by being the reciprocal of the persons you’re trying to influence.”

The other founder interviewed is James McMichael, who has served since 1965 as co-director of UCI’s highly-ranked M.F.A. program in creative writing. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including, most recently, being a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award in Poetry for Capacity. In his fascinating interview McMichael discusses, among other topics, his career as a poet and his approach to teaching poetry at UCI.

The fourth campus leader interviewed is Susan Bryant, who came to UCI in 1969 and in subsequent years served as Chair of the Department of Developmental and Cell Biology and as Dean of the School of Biological Sciences. She is currently Vice Chancellor for Research. Our interview traversed a wide range of topics, including her long-standing research in limb regeneration, her efforts to promote gender equality in hiring and promotion at UCI and to help faculty obtain multi-investigator grants, and her recent involvement as UCI’s representative on California’s Independent Citizens Oversight Committee on Stem Cell Research.

Together, the informed recollections of these colleagues comprise a valuable addition to the University Archives, where they join more than 100 oral history interviews conducted by Professor Emeritus Samuel McCulloch from the 1970s through the 1990s. A copy of each interview is available for consultation in Special Collections and Archives.

For more information please contact Jackie Dooley, Head of Special Collections and Archives & University Archivist (jmdooley@uci.edu or x44935).


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Inside this issue

Strategic Planning in the Libraries

When the Library Is the Assignment

Spring Exhibit: Surviving War, Surviving Peace

"What is a Book" in Contemporary Latin America?

Living History: Interviews with UCI Founders

More Successful Recruitments

Southeast Asian Archive Transition

One Way to Excite Undergraduates



UCI Libraries Update

Jackie Dooley, Carol Hughes, Steve Macleod, Spencer C. Olin, Kevin Ruminson

Editor: Jackie Dooley

Design & Production:
Sage Kim