The college bond
An Interview with Provost 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
@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
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
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.