“Brotzen rises to report”

Franz Brotzen came to Rice in 1954 as the Institute’s only materials scientist. He taught through the spring semester of 2009, and died this last May at 94, leaving an office full of active research materials. He was a great man, curious, passionate, and decent. He was thoroughly devoted to the university and he had many good and great days at Rice. This picture of him was taken on one of the most pivotal days in the university’s history.

On Februrary 21, 1969, the Rice faculty met in the Chemistry lecture hall, then the largest venue on campus, and heard Vice-Chairman of the Board Herbert Allen announce that William Masterson, a former member of the Rice history department, had been selected as the university’s president. This announcement was met with dismay. Jean Claude deBremaecker of the geology faculty asked Brotzen, who had chaired a faculty committee to advise the Board on its selection, to report on that committee’s activities. When Brotzen publicly made it clear that the Board had never met or even communicated with the faculty group, open conflict became inevitable. In the face of vocal and widespread faculty and student opposition, Masterson resigned the presidency five tumultuous days later.

I have no idea who took this picture. (If anyone can tell me, I would be grateful.) [Update: It was deBremaecker.] It’s one of about a dozen of this meeting, all taken with some small personal camera. The title of this post is written on the back of it. The pictures show a packed room, and the tension is palpable. The fellow seated in front of Brotzen with the pipe is Holmes Richter, a professor of chemistry who had been the Dean of the University since 1950. He was not happy.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to “Brotzen rises to report”

  1. Julie Brotzen says:

    Thanks so much for creating the archive of information. It has been a wonderful, albeit emotional journey looking back at Rice’s history and my farher’s participation in it.

    Julie R.Brotzen

    BTW, was Pitzer the replacement?

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Hi Julie,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I think of your father every single day. I have tremendous respect and affection for him and I miss his counsel terribly. He had a very big hand in the creation of the modern Rice.

      Pitzer was the one who was being replaced here.

    • Glenn Lefkof says:

      Dr. Brotzen was one of my favorite professors at Rice. I had him in 1985 for a graduate class in properties of materials. He taught his classes like each one was a story with an introduction, a climax, and a conclusion. He would tell us anecdotes, like “when I was walking on the campus with Albert Einstein…..” or “I’m going to address the students in this class the way Lord Kelvin said to the Ph.D candidate to address the committee. Assume we know nothing about the subject, but that we are exceedingly brilliant. And that’s how I’m going to address you in this class.” One time I went to his office to ask a question about P and N semiconductors. He said that was a simple question and gave me the answer. “Is that all?” He was all business. I never knew he was Jewish like me, but I suspected it given his name and his style of teaching. He reminded me of the Jewish people who surrounded me living in the Bronx.
      But then I thought he could also be German, and well, its’s best not to bring it up. Had I known Dr. Brozen was Jewish, I would have been able to talk to him more personally. I was a rare Jew from NYC in the Baker College Dorm on the Rice Campus surrounded by born again Christians, well, at least that’s the way I felt. Although for a couple of years, Dr. Kurtzman, music professor, was the master of my dorm and he was Jewish, too. I tended to hide the fact that I was Jewish at Rice, unless someone asked me. And then I was a target for proselytizing. I never had any professor at Rice that was Jewish, so if I knew Dr. Brotzen was Jewish I would have perhaps mentioned it to him that I was, too. Coming from the Bronx, NYC, to the Rice Campus felt a little bit different to me. I was friendly with Dr. John Roberts who was also a Materials Science professor. I was the top racquetball player on the campus, and Dr. Roberts liked to play me. I once told him what a wonderful teacher Dr. Brotzen is. And then Dr. Roberts attended one of Dr. Brotzen’s classes to observe him teach. Dr. Roberts once confided to me that the students didn’t like his classes. I never would miss a Dr. Brotzen class. The only other teachers that made me feel that way were Dr. Houston for English Literature and Dr. William Martin for Sociology. One time Dr. Brotzen would have us all come to the front of the room to prove a physics concept. He asked us to get in line, one person pushing against the wall. And each person behind him were pushing against the person in front. He wanted to prove that the force at the wall was the sum of all people pushing. I once played Dr. Brotzen in squash. I won, but Dr. Brotzen was a lot older. He was good natured. He smiled a lot. All three were exciting lecturers. But Dr. Brotzen was the most exciting because it was in a science class. One professor, Dr. Frank Jones, was surely of the Brotzen caliber. He was a terrific racquetball player. and we played often. He was such a gentleman on the court, unlike Dr. Roberts. Dr. Jones was a devout Christian and from what I heard an amazing math professor. But I wasn’t so good in math, and I was afraid of taking his course. I got my BSEE and Masters in Materials Science at Rice in 1985. I was thinking about the Israeli and Palestinian conflict and all the antisemitism in the world, and I guess I was reminded of Dr. Brotzen.

  2. Pingback: Two Sets of Three, Part I | Rice History Corner

  3. Pingback: Move In | Rice History Corner

  4. Pingback: “a new feeling of freedom,” 1969 | Rice History Corner

  5. Pingback: Newcomer’s Club, February 1955 | Rice History Corner

  6. Pingback: Norman Hackerman Comes to Rice, 1970 | Rice History Corner

  7. The word “then” — (where it says, in part, “On Februrary 21, 1969, the Rice faculty met in the Chemistry lecture hall, then the largest venue on campus, […]”) — does not agree with my records.

    There probably WAS a time when the Chem. lecture hall had been ‘the largest venue on campus’ … but iirc it must have been before 1965.

    Even though I did not matriculate as a Rice freshman (in Will Rice) until 1968, I already knew my way around some parts of the Rice campus, from having attended the [non-credit] ‘Rice summer school for high school students’ in the summer of 1965. One of the first venues I “met” that summer, was Hamman Hall.

    Is Hamman Hall smaller than the Chem. lecture hall? (if so, that would be news to me). In any case, Hamman Hall existed by 1965, and [as far as I know] it has not changed [much, if any[ in size since then. And … it was my impression (having taken a History course in 68-69 where Frank Vandiver lectured in Hamman Hall, and having taken a Chemistry course the next year, that met in the Chem. lecture hall) that … Hamman Hall seemed — to me — to be a bigger venue than the Chem. lecture hall.

    Thanks for your patience … especially if (um … “since”) this <> turned out to be kinda long-winded.

    — Mike Schwartz

Leave a Reply