James L. Kinsey: Colleague, Mentor, and Friend

A loyal reader sent me a link this week to the recently published National Academy of Sciences biographical memoir of Jim Kinsey ’56 ’59. I’ve read dozens of these pieces over the years and although I can’t pretend to understand the chemistry I do know that this one, written by Bob Curl ’54, Bruce Johnson, and Fleming Crim, is one of the best I’ve ever come across as a portrait of a man’s personality. I can add little to it except to say that seven years after his death I still miss Jim keenly. Just click on it to read the whole thing.



Bonus: That portrait makes him seem very stern but this is how I usually saw him. I took this on October 12, 2012, by the way, and he was very happy he didn’t have to robe for the big centennial procession.

Extra Bonus: Another loyal reader sends evidence that life goes on.

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University and Main, mid-1930s

Wow! Look at this:

It’s relatively small and not all that sharp, a picture of a postcard, but I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. It had to have been taken sometime between 1931, when the two wings were added to the field house, and 1938, when this stadium was replaced by what I call the New Old Stadium.

The only other good look at this I’ve ever found was in the scrapbook of Mary Jane Hale Rommel ’37. It’s an aerial taken from the opposite direction and it makes me think the date on the first image is closer to 1931 than 1938 just based on the size of the trees. I’m hoping that someone (hello, Marty Merritt) will be able to identify the cars to help narrow it down a bit.

Also, who remembers the discussions about gas stations in this vicinity? The Gulf station must have been off to the right of the person who took the picture of the intersection.

Bonus: Several more cypresses have been taken down this week, including all the leaners. Against my better judgement I find myself hoping someone will see this as an opportunity.


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Norman Hackerman Comes to Rice, 1970

When I first saw this image (another eBay find, by the way) my reaction was a small snort of surprise, followed by a good laugh. Dated at the end of January, 1970, we have here Norman Hackerman, then president of the University of Texas, beaming at Frank Erwin, then chairman of the UT Board of Regents. (Why do I think they were both squeezing as hard as they could?)

One of the malign results of the 1969 Masterson Crisis was that once Bill Masterson was out, we couldn’t  find anyone who wanted to wade onto the still tense campus and take over as president. Frank Vandiver of the History Department was Acting President but the fit was not an especially good one and in any event he made it clear to the board that he didn’t want the job permanently. The new search was not going well, as the residual anger and hostility between the trustees and the faculty left potential candidates uneasy. But the Rice board had learned at least one productive lesson from the catastrophe of the previous presidential search and this time listened to the faculty committee that they authorized to help with this one. Sometime near the end of 1969 Mechanical Engineering professor Franz Brotzen, who chaired the faculty committee as he had done last time,  quietly suggested to the board’s search committee that they go talk to the president of the University of Texas, who was caught up in a nasty political situation on the 40 Acres and might be open to a job change. This, of course, was Norman Hackerman. By the time this picture was taken in January 1970 rumors that Hackerman would be Rice’s fourth president were swirling on campus. The rumors were of course correct and his appointment was officially announced in April.

The nasty political situation at Texas was in fact one of the nastiest I’ve ever come across in three decades of researching the history of southern higher education, although some might argue that the only really unusual thing about it was that it broke into public view. There’s no way I can possibly explain it here. However, here is a link to a 2011 piece by Ronnie Dugger in the Texas Observer, a review of Ken Ashworth’s fascinating book Horns of a Dilemma. Dugger describes the cast of characters, including Erwin and Hackerman as well as Harry Ransom, John Silber, and Mickey LeMaitre, and gives a succinct account of the whole ugly episode. Reading it one is tempted to conclude that when he came here Norman was simply fleeing Austin. I know I thought that for a long time. But I spent a lot of time with him over the years and any time I raised this notion he firmly rejected it, saying he came to Rice because he wanted to come to Rice. This just didn’t seem realistic to me. But after many conversations, after some growing up on my part, and especially after spending a solid year working in his papers I realized that I believe him. He would have been fine if he had stayed at UT, whether as president or as a faculty member in the Chemistry Department. And although I certainly had my  differences with him (as I told him repeatedly, to his great amusement) I think he has been underrated as a president at Rice. I’ll have more to say about this.

(Side note: I was once talking with Silber about an unrelated matter and the name of one of the people involved in this brouhaha (not Norman, by the way, who he clearly respected) came up. The insult he uttered was a thing of beauty. Its combination of highly evocative language with pinpoint accuracy of the observation was devastating.  Once in a while I still roll it around in my mind in wonder.)

Bonus: They’re leaning in all directions!

But quite a few have been taken out. Last time I was there only two remained on the Rayzor side. I eagerly await next developments.

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“It is only a question of time,” 1909

I’ve been totally slammed the last two weeks but I did find a really interesting photograph and just haven’t had time to think carefully about it. So rather then posting something half baked I’m going to make you wait. Which is a long Rice tradition, dating back to the twelve years between William Marsh Rice’s death and the opening of the Institute. From the outside it looked like nothing was happening and people started getting chippy about it, as seen in this cartoon, which I actually find quite amusing:

This editorial from almost a year later gives a pretty good sense of the impatience around town. (Note especially the reference to getting Charles Weber to sell his property!)

I won’t make you wait more than a few days.

Bonus: A loyal reader sends these images, noting that the academic quad is beginning to take on a certain Seussian aspect. I confess that I find this quite amusing also.

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Beat Houston, 1979

We really could harbor no reasonable expectation of beating Houston in 1979 but I admire the spirit. It was the last game of the season and we had only won once. The Cougars, on the other hand, were having one of their best years ever. They went 11-1, won the Southwest Conference and the Cotton Bowl against Nebraska and ended the season at number 5 in the final AP poll.

They thrashed us, 63-0.

We’ll surely lick ’em this time.

Bonus: And we’ll do it on our nice new turf. Here are a couple articles about the initial installation of astroturf in 1970 that I ran across last week in an old scrapbook. (There are some better images of this in a post I wrote way back in 2011.)

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How ’bout a Fresca?

This looks to be part of the 1970s era recycling effort on campus. Believe it or not the first thing I noticed was the car in a spot where I wasn’t expecting to see a car. Next I saw the aggressive implements being used to load the cans into some sort of truck. And finally I gave in and spent quite a bit of time staring at the cans themselves. You could probably date this pretty close just by the cans. So much Tab!

Bonus: It’s the northeast corner of the Physics Amphitheater.

Extra Bonus:

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“Jones College Instructions to Freshman Servers,” no date

After last week’s post I got several comments from people reminiscing about their time as freshman servers. In one of those routine coincidences that I’ve come to expect, I’d  scanned this document on that exact topic just a few days before. It isn’t dated and I couldn’t even make a guess from context but . . .  that font. Does it suggest maybe 1970s?

Student wait staff in the dining halls was a tradition at Rice for a very long time, going all the way back to the beginning. You can see them standing at attention in this shot, taken in the commons in 1912:

Rice Institute Commons, dining area

And here, a jovial bunch gives us a good look at their uniforms, circa early 1930s:

I take it this is no longer a thing but I’m not clear on when it went away. As always, clarification is most welcome.

Bonus: Who knows where this is?

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Committee on Freshman Guidance, 1957

Well, even though we’ve gone back to on-line classes it seems there was no stopping O Week this year. They are back and bubbling over with enthusiasm, sending me into hiding until it’s over. I recently came across this short report produced by a student-faculty committee that studied how best to manage freshman orientation. It was written just at the moment the college system was about to come into existence. It’s dated February, 1957 and the move into the colleges happened that March. The genesis of the college system was not welcomed by everyone, and in fact there was pretty stout opposition from some students. It took several years for loyalty to one’s class year to be replaced by loyalty to the colleges and this report reads more or less as though the dominant social groups would continue to be the classes. (And note that it’s signed by Burt McMurtry, who served on the committee that recommended the switch to the college system and provided the original design.) Which shows us nothing, I suppose, except that it’s very hard to anticipate precisely how change will play out.

The other thing that jumps out of this document is the repeated insistence that there be no hazing and that participation be absolutely voluntary. Hazing of freshmen by sophomores had been a feature of student life at the Institute from the beginning but the 1956 deaths of two students who got trapped in the Campanile brought great resolve to the effort to do away with it. It’s my sense that it did largely disappear, but only gradually.


Bonus: The new field turf looks really nice!

The old stuff awaits disposal:

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A Mystery

While I was on vacation the Woodson got an email from a woman who has something odd. It’s collectible coin of some sort, with lots of complicated images on one side. These aren’t the sharpest photographs but you can make out the heads of three presidents, the statue of liberty, two eagles, a couple Native Americans, an airplane, a submarine, a light bulb, and two astronauts (among some other small things):

That’s weird, but not really something I have any expertise on. However, if you turn it over you will find what is unmistakably the academic seal of the Rice Institute

Here’s another image for scale:

I’m guessing this is something like this spoon but would appreciate any thoughts. It’s just such a peculiar combination (but then so was the spoon, I guess.)

Bonus: One of the interesting things about the way Italian cypresses die is that sometimes after they turn brown they’ll turn orange. You can see it starting here right at the very top. Once in a while a whole tree will turn orange, sticking out of the ground like a tongue of fire. It’s quite striking.

Extra Bonus: The lawn, though, is really thriving, looking lush after a wet summer.


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Pigskin Review: Rice Institute vs. USC, 1947

Part of my regular routine involves checking ebay for Rice related materials. Most of the time I see either stuff we already have or stuff that’s dramatically overpriced. From time to time, though, something that’s both interesting and affordable pops up. This is one of those.

The Woodson has a nice collection of Rice football programs but this one is something different–it’s not one of ours but rather a program from the University of Southern California, issued when the Owls went out west to play there in 1947.

It reads like a dispatch from another world, a world where Rice football was a national powerhouse. It’s almost unfathomable how far we’ve fallen:

One of the best things in the program are the pictures of the Rice players. While USC had only lame headshots of their players, we used these cool action pictures. (Note there are two guys on this page I’ve written about before, Froggy Williams and George Miner. By the way, if you click on the post about Froggy be sure to watch the video. Maybe it’s just me, but it makes me cry every time.)

If you’ve been paying any attention over the years you should not be surprised that the thing that really drew my attention here was not football at all but this grainy aerial shot of the west side of campus that appeared at the top of the first page about Rice. It’s pretty bad, probably blurry when it was taken, then printed on cheap paper, and now scanned with my iphone. But you know what you can see clearly? The barns where we kept our mules. (See here, here, here and finally, unexpectedly, here. Alert: the last one also makes me cry. I must be getting old.)

Bonus: At the beach. Back Monday.

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