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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2
   

40 Years A-Growing
By Raymond Hardie

It was a strangely exotic procession for a dusty Southern California mesa, in 1967. As the bagpipes skirled and swirled into the warm September evening, John Stewart and his wife Ruth led a rag-tag group of 400 students past Camp Matthews’ Quonset huts to a newly cleared construction site, formerly the U.S. Army’s Camp Callan.

 
     

Encircled by flickering torches, Stewart, dressed in the Highland tartans of the royal Stewart clan, then buried a time capsule containing the signatures of every one of the first Muir class. Later, as the Muir clan wound its way back to Camp Matthews, the capsule was quietly removed. “We knew that students from Revelle College would try to steal it—and they did try,” said the wily Stewart, the first provost of the fledgling John Muir College, in a later interview. “So five minutes after we left, the capsule was dug up
and moved.”

Moved, but then lost for almost 40 years.

The ground had been broken on UCSD’s new $23 million college four months earlier. An article in the San Diego Union described junior David Wing, ’69, watching a ceremony that included dignitaries in obligatory hard hats wielding chrome-plated shovels. Wing, now a retired professor and photographer, was one of the 50 juniors who changed colleges. “Revelle is getting a little bit too big,” he said at the time (Revelle had 2,258 students). “I’m going to where things hopefully will be on a more informal level.”
Until Muir’s seven-story building 2A opened in early 1969, Muir students remained as Quonset-hut dwellers.

Pioneering Muirians will find further primitive accommodations as they move into their Matthews Campus headquarters today,” the Triton Times reported on September 24, 1967. “After the first rains, entering freshmen and juniors will understand why last year’s residents in Matthews were known as the Dirty Diehards.”

The launching of this new college for “Dirty Diehards” had been planned some three years beforehand in late 1964, when Chancellor John Galbraith appointed Stewart as provost of second college. He was given the task of developing a curriculum and recruiting the faculty. Camp Matthews, where Warren College now is, was still operating as a Marine Corps small-weapons training camp (it closed in October 1964), and Stewart later recalled hearing the rattle of gunfire from the firing range every morning when he walked across campus. Plans for the new college were formulated in more peaceful surroundings. “I asked five of my friends to meet at my house,” Stewart said. “We would sit around and talk about our utopian ideals of a college while listening to chamber music. Gradually we put together a curriculum.”

Trudy (Lord) Ladue, who joined the college as the provost’s secretary in 1973 remembers Stewart as energetic and passionate with widespread interests. “He was an innovator, a visionary, a highly energetic, forward-looking, passionate person.” Stewart said he came up with the name of Muir College when hiking with his wife one weekend. An environmentalist as well as a literary scholar and musician, he taught Muir’s signature course, “Wilderness and Human Values,” for years. Culminating in a week’s hike in the Sierras, led by Stewart, it attracted hundreds of students each year.

Stewart expressed his vision of the new college in an address to the members of Sigma Delta Chi professional journalism society in May 1967. “We want our students to have the power to change the environment in which they live,” he said. “Ours is an academic community based on inquiry—inquiry that leads to decision-making.”

The physical environment was also of paramount importance to those early planners. “Muir was designed with a team of architects and was intended to reflect the commonality and friendship of a British Tudor village,” recalls Chips Dreilinger, who was Muir’s dean of students from 1973 to 2002. “They sent a team to England and you can see the influences. That’s the kind of thing that makes a sense of community.”

When Patrick Ledden replaced Stewart as provost he continued to nourish Muir’s democratic philosophy until his death in 2003. “I want the students to have an integral part in the decision-making process,” he said as he took the reins in 1987.

“I want to hear their ideas on some of the changes that I want to take place.”

Ledden was a mathematician by training and profession. “He was a terrific math professor,” Ladue recalled in a recent interview. “Students would get up to take his class at 8 o’clock in the morning.” He was also something of a Renaissance man, who lectured on James Joyce, established Bloomsday readings of Joyce’s Ulysses on campus each June 16th, helped set up UCSD TV, and shepherded the Stuart Collection through approval by the Regents.

Ledden encouraged the same kind of intellectual breadth among undergraduates and supported development of interdisciplinary programs such as Critical Gender and Film Studies. He also believed in strong student-faculty interaction and lower division seminars with a maximum enrollment of 25 students and was much missed by faculty and students when ill health forced him to step down in 2003. “He had a very global idea of the whole University, but a real skill at the one-on-one,” said Ladue. “Students really thought he was very approachable. He would come down and play pool once a week with the students, in the gameroom, saying that it was purely geometry.”

Susan Smith became provost in 2003. Her current research is in the secular art of the Middle Ages, but she has wide-ranging intellectual interests and her vision harks back to the origins of Muir while taking into account contemporary environmental and educational challenges. “I have been giving more and more thought to the college’s namesake, John Muir, and to his belief that the well-being of nature and humankind are inextricably connected,” she told @UCSD magazine. “Muir’s commitment to environmental preservation is more timely now than ever before. I hope that in its next ten years, the college can play an increasing role in raising students’ awareness of what it takes to be a responsible environmental citizen in the 21st century.”
And whatever happened to the Time Capsule?

“We literally lost it,” Ladue told us. “Its location was tucked away in some obscure memos between John Stewart and Bob Thomas, the business manager at the time. We were going to try to dig it up for the 30th anniversary and we couldn’t find it.” Then a few years ago one of the gardeners was working in Muir’s upper quad and found what looked like a plastic pipe embedded in a blob of cement. Not knowing what it was, he dug it up and they discovered it was the long lost capsule.
Mystery solved? Almost. “We are going to rebury it,” Ladue said, “and bring it back on the 50th anniversary. It seems pointless to do it for the 40th.”

So the revelation of the contents will have to wait another ten years. Maybe with a reprise of that magical night 40 years ago, when Stewart conjured up his Highland ceremony to the sound of bagpipes skirling off into a warm September evening.

RELATED LINKS

Muir College, UCSD
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Muir's 40th Anniversary
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Reunion Event Details
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"Keep close to Nature's heart...and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. "