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The college bond
An Interview with Provost Tom Bond

Tom Bond

 
     

Tom Bond retired last summer. He had been provost of Revelle College for 20 years from 1983 to 2003, four times longer than any of his predecessors. During that time, some 18,000 students attended Revelle and Bond seems to remember all of them. A popular professor of chemistry for 37 years, he won many teaching awards, including the Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award in 1976 and the Chancellor's Associates Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1982. He sat down for an interview with @UCSD's editor, Raymond Hardie, shortly after he retired.

@UCSD: What was it like when you first came here to UCSD?
Provost Bond: That was during the Vietnam era when this campus almost exploded. There were student strikes. The San Diego police were lined up over at the Salk Institute to come on campus and put down this rebellion. Bill McGill was chancellor from 1968 to 1969 and he handled that beautifully. However, Bill had other troubles, especially with the faculty, nominally over his decision to appoint the dean of graduate studies as vice chancellor without consulting the late Paul Saltman, who was his vice chancellor. There was also an argument over whether the University should have been more forceful in the development of the area south of La Jolla Village Drive, between I-5 and Gilman. There was a lot of feeling from the faculty that this should be developed in a student-friendly way. It was developed in a La Jolla-friendly way and the faculty was angry. A lot of people felt that we blew a chance to make this into a more student-friendly community.

@UCSD: What was it like for the first students here?
Provost Bond: The first four-year class was the class of '68. They went through hell. I think only about 30 percent of them graduated ...everybody had to take advanced physics. That class crowned the first watermelon queen and has had some fairly strong ties with each other. It's a classic example of our lost alumni, although if you find some they know where the others are. Well, it turns out they weren't the first class to graduate. Transfer Students were admitted I think the year after the freshmen were admitted and 13 of them actually graduated in 1967.

@UCSD: Who were the popular teachers in those early days?
Provost Bond: Paul Saltman was vice chancellor and provost of Revelle, and he used to teach large classes. Students idolized this guy. He was very outspoken. He had none of the frills. His office was always open. My former dean of students tells the story that when Paul was provost, this one student used to come in almost every day and sit for an hour in the little waiting area, doing some homework. The dean finally went over and said to him, "Is there someone you need to see?" "Oh, no," said the student, "I just want to sit here and listen to Provost Saltman when he swears at the faculty." Paul was that kind of a person, and beloved by everyone.

@UCSD: You were a very popular instructor of organic chemistry, which is not considered an easy course. Has teaching changed during your 37 years as a professor here?
Provost Bond: Not as quickly as it should have. We need to get students involved in their education, so that they are not just sitting there like sponges, absorbing what you tell them. This has been a real challenge for higher education. There are a lot of computer programs that you can buy or that you can use to get students more involved, but teaching is not that different from when the majority of the alumni were here. They're still in large lecture classes. We may use video more. Every faculty member may have a Web page. Students can go on the Internet for their references. But I think we are always going to have large lecture classes, broken down into smaller sections that are taught by teaching assistants.

@UCSD: Are students much different from 30 years ago?
Provost Bond: I gave a small talk recently about the change in students over the 37 years I've been on campus. The first thing I did was show a movie of the class of 1964 going through registration. It was an old home movie and it was not terribly well put together but it was dramatic. There wasn't a single Asian. There wasn't a single female wearing jeans. They were all drab, they had white buck shoes. There were no backpacks. We have surveyed our freshmen pretty regularly, starting in 1983. The data shows their high school GPAs have been going up. The number of hours that they had done homework in high school has been going down. So their grades have been getting better; but they've been working less hard.

@UCSD: Why do you think UCSD alumni interact with the University in such small numbers, especially in comparison with UCLA and Berkeley?
Provost Bond: I don't think it's quite fair to compare us with Berkeley and UCLA. I think that one of the reasons that UCSD alumni are not closely tied to UCSD is that so few resources were put into our Alumni Office. This was a shoestring operation and I would say that alumni were simply lost. Now the second biggest reason is the fact that students move off campus. That does not develop the kind of ties, certainly compared to the private universities where most people live on campus for four years. Also I'm sorry to say undergraduates were of less importance at UCSD than building up our research. The college system was an attempt to give them that sense of belonging, and some alumni, especially from the early days are still going to feel a stronger tie to their college than to the University.

@UCSD: Do you think undergraduates felt sidelined because of the strong push toward research?
Provost Bond: Yes, I would have to say that. I don't think it was a deliberate decision. I think it was the right thing for this campus to do. This campus had to build its national reputation. It had to move up in the national rankings. The way to do that was through research accomplishments. There's no question about that. Now, by bringing in really great research people and by having a college system here, I think the undergraduates got a good education.

@UCSD: What are the pros and cons of the college system?
Provost Bond: The college system here is a hybrid, more the Oxford/Cambridge model than the five Claremont Colleges. The UCSD colleges are unique, in the United States at least, in being strongly centered on their general education requirements. The UC Santa Cruz college system is residential. UCSD has always had colleges focus on the breadth requirements. However, over the last 20 years we've seen an emphasis in higher education away from breadth and toward specialization. Students want to take what's relevant to their major. The result is that we've seen a nationwide decline in general education. There have been a lot of national studies pointing out that our students can't write. They don't know history. They don't know what country is south of the United States. But we've been able to keep an emphasis on breadth requirements here. It's a lot of reading and writing and the courses are not always popular with students.

@UCSD: You say they are not?
Provost Bond: They are not popular with those students who believe the only thing of importance is their major in computer science, or whatever. But the nice thing about the college system is that you have six different models. If you correctly match the student to the model, you have a successful story. You couldn't teach humanities the way it's taught at Revelle to all the students at UCSD. There would be a rebellion and there wouldn't be enough faculty.

@UCSD: Do you think the humanities component is important in a modern education?
Provost Bond: It is even more important today in
a technology-centered world. In order to build on your specialization in an area, you need a broad foundation. So many of our students are going to be working in fields that don't even exist today. If they don't have the reading skills, if they don't have the critical-thinking skills, if they haven't learned how to discuss complex subjects with one another, I don't think they'll have the flexibility for the future. Students need to be challenged to think, not just about what they're learning in their computer-science course, but about the implications of that science for humanity as a whole.

@UCSD: How successful has the University been in creating a student life on campus?
Provost Bond: Well firstly, I think every student should live on campus for three years, but only something like 30 percent of our students can. We don't have the capacity, so we have to do something to help students identify with this area physically, more than they now do. We should have more weekend activities. I have argued that we have been remiss in not having enough events on campus, including sports, intramurals, movies, dances, music. The student government controls most of the money, but they're all juniors and seniors and they all live off campus. They don't want weekend activities so they put their money into an occasional big event like Sun God, and into events that are held during the week. Well, there are over 5,000 students living on campus and this is a dead campus on the weekends.

@UCSD: What changes would you like to see at UCSD?
Provost Bond: I don't think that we have built strong enough ties to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I think we have built in the arts and humanities but not as much as we would like. The theatre department has become highly ranked, nationally. But visual arts remain sort of under-appreciated. Even though it is number six in the country it is not integrated with the community and the University as well as it might be. There's a story about the music department. When Harold Urey, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist met Roger Reynolds of the music faculty, he said, "Oh, I'm so glad we finally have a music department here. I really love 18th-century music." Roger Reynolds turned to him and said, "And I really like 18th-century chemistry." The message was clear to Harold Urey that this was a music department that was going to be cutting edge in the way his chemistry department was, and so he couldn't expect nice concerts of chamber music.

@UCSD: How connected do you think the University is to the community at large?
Provost Bond: When I first came here, I think the University kind of looked the other way at the community. However, to be fair, the community was very conservative. There was a famous meeting with the people in the community and Roger Revelle was there. This was during the Loyalty Oath debate when we were planning the campus, and the legislature wanted all faculty members to sign an oath saying, "I am not a member of the Communist Party." Roger Revelle was trying to get the people in the community to support having a university here, and this woman who was very influential in the community stood up and said, "Dr. Revelle, would you be willing to sign a statement saying that you're not a Communist?" He looked at her and said: "And would you be willing to sign a statement that you are not a prostitute?" And the message got through.

Since then, of course, the University has built stronger ties with the community. Bob Conn, former dean of engineering, has been the model and now every dean has a community support group. When Richard Atkinson became chancellor, there was not one endowed chair and there must have been 70 when he left. Atkinson's greatest accomplishment as chancellor here was, I feel, building ties to the community. Bob Dynes continued building those kinds of ties.

@UCSD: You have a reputation as a mentor and a good teacher. What makes a good teacher?
Provost Bond: You want faculty who are excited about their material like the late Paul Saltman was in biology. What I can say about me was that my enthusiasm for the subject matter was contagious. They may not have liked organic chemistry, but they thought, "God, Bond thinks it's that important, we'll learn it on faith," or something like that. That's what makes somebody a good teacher. Every professor at UCSD knows the material. I mean the level and intelligence of the faculty is superb. The best teachers are the ones who are enthusiastic about that, and who can convey that enthusiasm.

@UCSD: How does UCSD address the problem of less well-prepared students?
Provost Bond: We try to do that campuswide here, not within the individual colleges, although starting this fall; the colleges will be a little bit more involved. There is a campuswide organization called OASIS, Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services. They have not been cooperating with the colleges very much. They would probably say the colleges did not cooperate with them. But they would argue that they need more money, their budget is being cut. I think it is immoral to accept students without having the support services that they need.

@UCSD: Do you think students get adequate financial support?
Provost Bond: The argument is that these students who are poor will get financial aid. I see a lot of students who are on some financial aid, but they have to work 20 and 30 hours a week. You can't work 20 and 30 hours a week and carry the same course load as somebody who went to some more affluent school.

@UCSD: What did you do to relax as provost?
Provost Bond: I retired.

@UCSD: What else?
Provost Bond: I used to exercise. I jogged. When I first became provost, I was into running, but we adopted our second child while I was provost, so most of my relaxation involved my family, activities with my family. I like to ski. I like hiking and backpacking although not as much lately. I would say that backpacking faded away after I turned 60. I also like to work on my cars and I love reading and I love travel.

@UCSD: What kind of reading?
Provost Bond: I've been reading a lot of eastern religion. I'm reading this book called Destructive Emotions, which is essentially about cognitive science and imaging people's brains while they're thinking, meditating or playing the piano. I've become interested in Buddhist meditation, actually. I spend one hour a week in a meditation group. I never thought of it as something that would appeal to me, and I had this image of Buddhism as something in which you had to believe in reincarnation, you couldn't slap a mosquito, and the only way you got something was to sit there and meditate for five years. And I didn't have five years. My wife, genius that she is, took me to a place in Marin County. There was a British scientist there, Steven Batchelor, who was giving a one-day retreat. He said that none of that stuff about Buddhism is true. You don't have to believe in reincarnation. He wrote a book called Buddhism Without Beliefs. I've read it three times and I get something new from it every time I read it. He was just a really inspiring teacher. And he made sense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"The first four-year class was the class of '68. They went through hell."