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Living Memories Preserve UCI’s History

By Spencer C. Olin, Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professor and Professor Emeritus of History

Spencer C. Olin, a member of UCI’s founding faculty, is currently serving as Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professor in order to work with the Libraries’ Historical Records Project and take a lead role in the celebration of UCI’s 40th anniversary during 2005. He reports on oral history interviews recently conducted with Jack Peltason and Ralph Cicerone.

From the 1970s through the 1990s, Samuel McCulloch, UCI Historian and now Professor Emeritus of History, conducted more than 100 oral history interviews with UCI faculty and staff, and then used them to good effect in writing Instant University: The History of the University of California, Irvine, 1957-1993. His interviews constitute an invaluable resource for understanding the origins and development of this campus. Transcripts are located in the UCI Libraries’ Department of Special Collections and Archives, awaiting those who seek information about UCI’s early years.

Years have now passed since those interviews were recorded, and UCI’s 40th anniversary is fast approaching. For these reasons, it seems timely to revisit some interviewees, as well as to meet with key individuals who have come to UCI in recent years. As part of my efforts in support of the anniversary year, I have undertaken this enjoyable and worthwhile task. In doing so, it has been important for me to remember that an oral history interview is not a dialogue, but rather an opportunity for individual recollection. The whole purpose of the interview, therefore, is to encourage the narrator to tell his or her story in response to carefully constructed questions.

To date I have interviewed Chancellor Emeritus and UC President Emeritus Jack Peltason and Chancellor Ralph Cicerone. Each provided thoughtful and informed answers to my wide-ranging questions. They also commented on the ways in which their scholarly achievements and previous university experiences influenced and shaped their educational values and affected their performance as academic administrators. Each also addressed the vexing problem of declining public funding for major research universities.

Jack Peltason served as Chancellor from 1984-1992, one of UCI’s greatest periods of growth and academic achievement. During our interview, he spoke candidly about what he considers his central achievements, as well as the major obstacles he faced. He went on to discuss the highlights of the difficult budgetary period in which he served as President of the University of California (1992-1995), specifically assessing the “value added” of the central office of the President to the overall operation of the UC system.

Ralph Cicerone is now completing his seventh year as Chancellor, having also served during a time of rapid campus growth, and he will soon move on to the prestigious presidency of the National Academy of Sciences. He knowledgeably addressed many issues, including ways in which he has sought to increase revenues in the latest difficult budgetary climate: “State spending on the university is not even coming close to keeping up with the needs. Where will the resources come from if not … the state government? The answer is that we are going to have to have a lot more private resources and private fundraising.” He also expressed his views regarding future growth prospects for UCI. In other comments, he strongly disagreed with some analysts of higher education who have claimed that the structures of shared governance composed of elected faculty bodies (such as the UC Academic Senate) prevent academic administrators from moving nimbly as they seek to address pressing problems and achieve needed change.

The Peltason and Cicerone interviews are available in Special Collections and Archives. An interview with Executive Vice Chancellor Michael Gottfredson is scheduled, with others to follow. I welcome suggestions for additional insightful interview subjects.

For additional information about the oral history and 40th anniversary projects, please contact Spencer Olin (scolin@uci.edu) or Jackie Dooley, Head of Special Collections and Archives (x44935 or jmdooley@uci.edu).


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