“to anticipate and plan for problems of the future” : Art Busch and The Birth of Environmental Studies at Rice

One of the more underused resources in the archives is the collection of Rice Institute Pamphlets, our own scholarly journal, which became Rice University Studies after we became Rice University in 1960. There’s a lot of miscellany in these volumes but if you read them in order you’ll wind up with a pretty good education in the intellectual history of the institution.  I’ve been doing just this over the past few weeks, rereading them without being in any particular hurry to answer some pressing question as I typically would have been in the past. One of the articles that I probably would have skipped over before was a 1967 piece by Professor Art Busch, part of a special issue on environmental studies. Busch arrived at Rice in 1955 as an assistant professor of Civil Engineering. Here he is in an undated image from around that time, which looks to have been taken in the old Engineering Annex that was replaced by Ryon Lab. Note the tantalizing but unhelpful calendar behind him:

Busch’s Rice University Studies article describes the genesis of environmental science and engineering at Rice and the shifts that had taken place in its institutional evolution up to that point. He also elucidates a pretty aggressive intellectual framework for the training of students in the field, which I find both clear and compelling. Here’s a pdf (click on it to read the whole thing):



Busch, deeply committed to the pursuit of solutions for real world environmental problems, stayed at Rice until 1971 when he was appointed a regional administrator of the EPA in Dallas. This was apparently a rather shocking development, described by one columnist as the equivalent of Ralph Nader joining the board of General Motors.

Here are a couple of items I found in his clipping file, one of the most interesting info files I’ve ever come across. He was a busy guy, and clearly a forthright one:

And the reaction from a local radio station, KXYZ (of which I had never heard–but which has a colorful history)

Here’s one more image of Busch, this one dated 1964, which I am inclined to believe. My question is, where is he? I’m guessing somewhere in Mech Lab.


Bonus: Speaking of Mech Lab, renovations are in full swing.

Extra Bonus: If a tree falls and there’s no one on campus does it make a sound?

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8 Responses to “to anticipate and plan for problems of the future” : Art Busch and The Birth of Environmental Studies at Rice

  1. The calendar is from 1955 and is torn off to December. A link to the picture shown is below.
    It’s beautiful in color. Red Cliffs Continental Divide, New Mexico


    Santa Fe Railroad Calendar Top 1955 – Red Cliffs Willard F. Elms p.Description: Absolutely genuine, from 1955. Good condition – Colors are vibrant. Backside has yellowed. Minor scuffing along the edges, and minor damage at corners.

  2. effegee says:

    Maybe the cypress went to Italy for spring break?😀

  3. N Bailey says:

    Main calendar is September 1955, upon his arrival, I suppose.

  4. Galloway Hudson (Wiess '60) says:

    As for the calendar, September and December have the same array of dates every year, so it could be either, except that the small month below has only 30 days, so it must be November. Also, the ’25’ on the main calendar seems to indicate a holiday. As for Art Busch, I’m sure he was very good for Rice, but, as an M. E. major, I had him for one course in 1960. That experience was dreadful, but I was only a mediocre student.

  5. William Kendall says:

    The calendar in the background of the first picture of Art Busch isn’t totally useless for dating the picture, even though it isn’t sharp enough to be read easily. Note that the 25th is marked as a holiday, so that pretty much nails the month as December. The small calendar below should be for the preceding month, November. Novenber 1, 1955 was a Tuesday (just ask Siri). So December 27, 1955 was a Tuesday. I can convince myself that the blurry heading for that calendar column says Tuesday. And December 25, 1955 was a Sunday. So I would say the picture was taken in December 1955.

  6. N Bailey says:

    You have sharper eyes than I do. Of course you are right.

  7. Bill Batchelor says:

    Melissa, thank you for a fine article about a fine professor. I met him in 1968 or 1969, when I asked him about what I should do to become an environmental engineer. As always, he was clear and direct. I started the Environmental Science and Engineering graduate program in 1971 when he was with the EPA, so I never was able to have him for a class. However, the faculty and graduate students who were already in the program were clearly affected by his vision and vitality. I particularly remember being impressed by how the graduate students questioned speakers during seminars. They were typically speakers invited from off-campus who were nationally or internationally known, but no one assumed that what they said should be accepted because they were well known. The graduate students enthusiastically questioned them about their assumptions, approaches and conclusions. No one got a free pass, which was classic Art Busch. Later, I attended many seminars on many campuses, but I never saw the same level of intellectual enthusiasm from students as shown by those who had grown up academically under his influence.

    I think you are right about the picture of Professor Busch. I remember the equipment and I believe it was in the basement of the Mech Lab.

  8. almadenmike says:

    Busch’s article shown above appeared in the Spring 1967 edition of Rice University Studies that was devoted to Rice’s Feb. 13, 1967, Research Sponsor Seminar, which was devoted to “Environmental Pollution — A Challenge to Science and Technology.” (https://scholarship.rice.edu/bitstream/handle/1911/62941/article_RIP53SP_part0.pdf?sequence=1)

    Among the seminar’s attendees (https://scholarship.rice.edu/bitstream/handle/1911/62948/article_RIP53SP_part7.pdf?sequence=1) was U.S. Rep. Bob Casey, who (according to the Houston Post clipping shown above) Busch ran against (unsuccessfully) in 1970.

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