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May 9th, 2018

R. Gregory Nokes' "The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett"When R. Gregory Nokes began his research for The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett: Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California - the first book-length biography of Peter Hardeman Burnett - he hoped to provide insight into the oftentimes illogical behavior of this influential, though not well remembered, historical figure. Peter Burnett’s resume is quite impressive: he helped organize the first wagon train to the Oregon Country, served on Oregon’s first elected government, was Oregon’s first supreme court judge, opened a wagon road from Oregon to California, helped develop the city of Sacramento, and was elected the first U.S. governor of California. But, with the exception of the wagon road to California, he did not excel in any of these roles. In order to provide Burnett’s perspective on his decision-making and failures, Nokes embarked on a lengthy journey to locate Burnett's personal correspondence. He describes this journey below.


There must be personal letters. Mustn’t there?

I was working on my new book about Peter Hardeman Burnett—The Troubled Life of Peter Burnett: Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California—whose behaviors in office frequently defied logic.

I was hoping to find personal correspondence that might explain his state of mind at given points of his career. For example, didn’t he know he would subject himself to ridicule by changing the day of Thanksgiving in California from a Thursday to a Saturday to attend a dinner in his honor?

To be sure, I had found letters, dozens of letters. Indeed, it seemed Burnett, who for a time led the first major wagon train to Oregon in 1843, couldn’t stop writing letters. Many of his letters were to newspapers on such issues as encouraging emigration to the West, promoting territorial status for Oregon, promoting statehood for California, and similar weighty topics. A one-time slaveholder, his advocacy of exclusion laws to ban blacks from the American West was well known.

A letter he wrote to the New York Herald in 1845 on his experiences in Oregon ran to 125 pages and was printed in serialized form. Another to the Weekly Tribune in Liberty, Missouri, took up seven columns of newsprint. Burnett’s second address to the California Legislature as governor on January 7, 1851, filled twenty-seven pages of the Legislative Journal.

But nothing personal.

There were hints of events and slights that shaped his later life in his 488-page autobiography, Recollections and Opinions of an Old Pioneer, completed in 1880. He told how as an adolescent he was sent by his parents, who were poor, to live with wealthy relatives in Tennessee, who, intentionally or not, made him feel inferior. Two girls he fancied wouldn’t give him the time of day, which he seemed to blame on his poverty and shabby clothing. As a result of these slights, perceived or otherwise, he resolved to become rich.

That much I could glean from his autobiography. And while it served as a useful guidepost to Burnett’s life, it is for the most part self-laudatory in the extreme, glorifying his successes, while entirely ignoring his failures, of which there were many.

But where was the private correspondence, letters to family and friends? After he shot and killed a black slave breaking into his store in Tennessee in 1830, did he share his feelings of remorse with anyone—he said he felt remorseful.

Burnett was separated for six months from his wife, Harriet, when he left Oregon for the California gold fields in 1848. He must have written to her and their six children during their separation. One would think someone would have saved those letters.

I visited the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, which had a file of Burnett’s correspondence as governor. But, not surprisingly, it was official correspondence—some of it quite interesting, such as Burnett calling out the militia in response to reports of attacks by native tribes on emigrants—but nothing personal. Indeed, a letter of supposed congratulations to a general for arranging peace talks with several Nisenan chieftains in El Dorado County was so stiffly written it might be read as insulting.

Historical societies will often preserve troves of letters written by early leaders, but I found little for Burnett. While I still had plenty of material for my book, that important personal touch—such as Burnett’s thoughts on resigning as governor—would be missing.

Burnett's desk: Finally a lead (Courtesy of Judge Paul Bernal, museum chair and official historian of the City of San Jose)Resolved to go without, I had written two-thirds of the book when I finally got a lead. I stumbled on the internet—if one can stumble on the internet—across a 2014 copy of “Trailblazer,” a publication of the California Pioneers of Santa Clara County, featuring a photo of Burnett’s desk. The accompanying article said the desk was on loan from a Burnett descendant, Francisca Burnett Allen of Los Gatos, to the Roberto Adobe and Sunol House Museum in San Jose. Burnett had lived in San Jose while governor.

The author of the article, Judge Paul Bernal, put me in touch with Ms. Allen, who herself didn’t have any letters, but knew of another descendant, Emily Douville of Antioch, California, who had some letters.

Ms. Douville proved to be more than helpful. She had twenty or so letters left by her late mother, who had always intended to write a book about Burnett, but never did. Ms. Douville texted copies to me in Oregon. Most were written by Burnett to a brother, George, in Lafayette, Oregon.

I finally had what I needed to apply a human touch to Burnett’s character. Among revelations were his growing discouragement as governor and longing to return to civilian life: “The work for me is tiring and it is hard for me to keep along,” he wrote George on September 2, 1850. “My mind is too much occupied. I shall be glad when my time is out. I hope I shall never be in such another predicament.’’ He resigned four months later on January 9, 1851.

Other letters revealed his sadness at the death of two of his children, of his wife’s trip to China, a complaint about another brother who hadn’t repaid a debt, and illnesses affecting both himself and Harriet, which he wrongly thought would bring his premature death.

Of course, Burnett almost certainly wrote more letters to more people, including Harriet. Maybe those letters gather dust in an attic or closet somewhere, and will turn up someday. But it’s also quite possible they were destroyed, lost or discarded.

Mine is the first book ever written about Burnett, whose promising early career was doomed by his own faults, among them his prejudices. But it doesn’t mean there won’t be another. One of the exciting things about being an author of nonfiction history is drawing on the work of previous writers and knowing that others will come along and build on your work. So perhaps some future writer will locate other letters with material for another book on Burnett. But my work is done.

May 3rd, 2018

New author Mehana Blaich Vaughan explores resilience, community, stewardship, responsibility, and sense of home in her book, Kaiāulu: Gathering Tides. Just as Kauaʻi’s unique and colorful rivers and streams flow into the stunning Pacific Ocean, Vaughan’s interviews with more than sixty Hawaiian elders, leaders, and fishermen and women gather together with clear and vibrant prose. Vaughan's book is a deeply personal tribute to a community based not on ownership, but reciprocity, responsibility, and caring for the places that shape and sustain us. Below she shares an example of the resilience of this community – Kaiāulu – in the face of natural disaster.


Kaiāulu: Gathering Tides by Mehana Blaich VaughanIt is one am and I am awakened from sleep by rain so hard it feels like our roof will cave in. It has been raining all day, for a month really off and on, here in Haleleʻa, on the north shore of Kauaʻi. But this rain is different, this rain thunders. Minutes later my husband’s radio starts going off. He is a fire fighter on our small island and the radio is relaying the 911 calls from nearby Hanalei valley. Hanalei is known for its long crescent beach, lined by vacation rentals, consistently rated one of the best beaches to vacation on in the world. The flatlands behind the sand are cut by two rivers, feeding into the wetlands behind the town. Tonight the rivers are lunging out of their banks, the increasingly frantic calls coming from near by the usually placid Waiʻoli stream. “The water is two feet from our door and rising quickly. What do we do?” We hear the firemen trying to respond, radioing in that they’ll need to evacuate the shelter at the local elementary school as it is flooding too, but they can’t get there because the highway is under ten feet of water. I am up and texting friends in low lying areas to see if they are alright. They are awake and watching the waters approach, grateful for our concern. Then our cellphones go blank. The next afternoon thunder and lightning lash the island bringing more flooding. The rivers rage café au lait, scenic waterfalls thundering under the roadways, tiny rivulets swelling to tear homes from their foundations. Landslides close the highway in six separate locations cutting off each valley, each community one from the other.

Now, two weeks later the two-lane highway along our coast is just slowly opening to a shuttle operating twice a day for residents. Over 600 tourists were boated and helicoptered out of their vacation rentals in these isolated communities in the days after the floods. Residents are now slowly emerging from their valleys for the first time, and official Red Cross or FEMA assessments are only just beginning to reach them.

But the community has not been waiting. Within days of the flood boats mobilized to run food, water, and supplies down the coast to cut off areas. Off duty firemen, the only emergency responders in some areas, worked four days straight to be sure people were alright. Neighbors helped one another to muck out houses, and haul away wet mattresses, couches and other wreckage. Community members with excavators and bobcats went to work clearing mud as high as the power lines, to make it possible within four days, for state crews to access the roads.

When asked how her family survived the most recent hurricane on Kauaʻi, Aunt Anabelle Pa Kam responded:
“I guess the way we grew up, because we never had money, money was nothing to us. You know, everything was hand-me-down. And I was happy to have the hand-me-downs. We didn’t need anything new. We learned survival. That’s how, when [Hurricane] Iniki came, we could live. We didn’t need anything. We could live off the land. And that’s what I teach my children and my grandchildren, how to live off the land” (Anabelle Pa Kam 2015).

This is the community, our Kaiāulu, that is the focus of this book. This excerpt, describing how the people of our area got through past tidal waves and hurricanes, resonates with everyday life for many in Haleleʻa now.

I hope that readers will enjoy this book, and that it will help us all to consider how we build resilience, connections between neighbors, and responsibility to one another, and to the places we call home in our changing world today.

April 24th, 2018

"Penguins in the Desert" by Eric WagnerScience and narrative, research and anecdote, objectivity and passion, all brilliantly coalesce in Eric Wagner’s new book Penguins in the Desert. Wagner depicts some of the most pressing environmental and biological questions facing us today through the lens of the largest penguin colony in the world outside of Antarctica. His accessible and charismatic prose takes readers into the desert of Punta Tombo alongside renowned scientist Dee Boersma to study penguins and chronicle scientists in the field. Below he provides candid insight into the process of drafting a book as captivating as the penguins he studies.


Outtakes from Penguins in the Desert

I. 2008

When [my wife] El and I first visited Dee Boersma in her basement lair at the University of Washington to learn about the penguins of Punta Tombo, there was a moment midway through our chat when Dee fixed me with a look in the way she sometimes does.

“What are your goals for going to Argentina?” she asked. Or something to that effect. We were all sitting around a table in the middle of the lab.

“I want to write a book about it,” I said, flush with daring. To be completely honest, I did not know how true this was until I said it.

“Why?” Dee asked.

“I don’t know,” I confessed. “I just do.”

“Hmm,” Dee said. She leaned forward and rested on her elbows. “Will you finish your PhD if you go?”

Why stop being so unwisely forthcoming? “I… I can’t promise that,” I said.

“We’ll see,” Dee said, and sat back in her chair. She and I stared at each other for a few moments. It was hard for me to hold her gaze. It can be. El may have shifted a little. Who would win this staring contest? In the end I guess we both did, each in our own way.

II. 2010

Cute Penguin in Punta Tombo by Eric WagnerAfter El and I returned from Punta Tombo and while I was working on my PhD, I did a fair amount of freelance magazine writing. For reasons that are still unclear to me Dee tolerated this, but she was also befuddled. Who of sound mind and body, being presented with the opportunity to work with her, and on penguins no less, could possibly think about anything else? But I enjoyed the various stories I cobbled together. They gave me an opportunity to go other places and think about other things.

Once I was writing an article about another biologist I know who runs a citizen science program around dead seabirds. Like Dee, she is a powerful personality. I interviewed her at her home in Seattle, and when we finished with the formal talk, I sat at her kitchen table while she made tea. It was a mild Saturday, mid-morning—the essence of a weekend. One of her cats was twining around my leg and purring.

“So what do you want to do when you finish this thing?” Julia asked. “Thing” in this case was my doctorate. In a few months I would defend.

“I really want to write a book about Dee and Punta Tombo,” I said.

Julia chuckled. “Dee’s not going to like that,” she said. People often reacted this way when I told them I wanted to write a book about Dee and Punta Tombo. I think they could hardly believe Dee would allow anyone but herself to write about her penguins in any meaningful way. I knew she had misgivings about my project, but she had not (yet) expressly forbade me from pursuing it. In any case, I was prepared to live by one of her oft-deployed dictums: it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

“I think she’s basically okay with it,” I said.

“Uh-huh,” Julia said. “Well, if you do it, you should wait at least a couple of years. Right now you’re too close. You’ll need some distance.”

“Good advice,” I said. I did not intend to take it.

III. 2015

Penguins in Punta Tombo by Eric WagnerA few years passed. I finished my PhD in 2011. (“I knew you would,” Dee said.) El gave birth to our daughter in 2012. Other adventures and misadventures. Then I finally sat down to write a book about Dee and the penguins of Punta Tombo. I had my journals and sheaves of photographs and copies of the field notebooks and access to Dee’s entire body of work, and some rocks from Punta Tombo laid out on my desk along with a penguin bone or two. Over all of this presided a little plastic penguin figure I had found in a drug store. I hadn’t been to Punta Tombo for years, but I had a sensible plan for what I thought would be an act of painstaking reconstruction.

I opened my journals. They smelled like Punta Tombo. I paged through them. Their creases were still gritty with sand. I looked at the pictures. I could sense the wind and heat in and around the moments they captured, hear the penguins calling. I flipped through the field notebooks and remembered the pencil in my hand as I scribbled data while El called out chick measurements. I listened to the music we had listened to down at Punta Tombo and felt how I had felt. Sometimes I just sat at my desk, dizzy with nostalgia and longing.

IV. 2017

Last year, I was talking with a geography professor who also happens to be named Julia and is good at asking penetrating questions. She had one now. “Why is it,” she asked, “that when science writers write about scientists, the scientist usually ends up being either quirky or heroic?”

I felt immediately defensive. This was when I was just finishing up the penguin book. What had until then been a private, intimate process was about to become much more public, and I was struggling with feelings of authenticity, or its lack. Others of Dee’s students had spent more time at Punta Tombo than I had. They were better scientists than I was and knew more about penguins than I did. Certainly Dee knew a whole lot more about penguins than I did. Yet I was about to present myself as something of a penguin expert. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. And now here was Julia, asking, in effect, if I had caricaturized Dee. Rendered her inauthentically, in other words.

My mouth may have flapped open. I hemmed and hawed and said something about the ways we talk about science. Most of the scientific stories we tell today are quest narratives. There is a person, or a group of people, and there is some question or problem, and they are trying to solve it, or, if not solve it, at least learn a little more about it. The scientists are the subjects, they are the ones pushing the light into the darkness, and so they are the heroes. (If you want them to be something else, set them in opposition to one another—then one of them can be a villain.) Also, when I was in school, a common complaint about those massive introductory biology textbooks was the way they presented science as a steady march from discovery to discovery, with little of the wrong turns and mistakes and frustrations and everything else that makes it a human endeavor. I wanted to show the human side of what can be an opaque process, and that meant dwelling on its rough edges—the quirks.

Julia seemed satisfied with that answer.

Later, I thought more about Dee and what it is to render someone authentically, and the relationship between honesty and discretion. There were stories I could have told that would not have flattered her. There were stories I could have told that would not have flattered me. I chose not to tell them for various reasons. Nobody is perfect. Certainly Dee is not. Certainly I am not. Punta Tombo is a place of imperfect beasts. But there is the urgency to this environmental moment, and it is focused on these penguins of Punta Tombo the way a magnifying glass focuses the sun. Dee has watched the colony decline by 40% in the thirty-five years she has done research there. She has watched the penguins suffer from the effects of climate change and poor fisheries management and relentless development pressures. To work as hard as she has for so long in such circumstances strikes me as heroic. Dee is also one of the most charismatic people I have ever met, and her charisma expresses itself in amusing ways at times. So yes, in my telling, she is both quirky and heroic. Can’t this also be true?

El in Punta Tombo by Eric WagnerV. 2018

Now I have been asked to write this short piece about what it was like to want to write about Dee and the penguins of Punta Tombo, and I realize it is too soon to say. Best to wait a couple of years. I need some distance.

April 18th, 2018

Grass Roots by Nick JohnsonAs many people on the West Coast celebrate the de facto marijuana holiday, 420, today, the OSU Press celebrates the six-month release of Nick Johnson’s Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West. In its storied history as a countercultural icon, weed has traditionally been associated with a hippie lifestyle, and more recently with the hipster movement; so it might come as a surprise that the current growth and cultivation of the cannabis plant is incredibly damaging to the environment. In Grass Roots, Johnson’s intoxicating prose takes readers on a trip through the history of cannabis, outlining the environmental degradation that came about thanks to federal marijuana prohibition and highlighting the current efforts to make the marijuana industry more sustainable. To ignite your appetites, below is an excerpt from the book’s introduction, “Grass is Not Greener.”


Introduction: Grass is Not Greener

Full Pipes, Empty Streams

It would be a tall order to find someone more passionate about his local environment than Anthony Silvaggio. Even though it’s a Saturday afternoon in late July, the fiery PhD sits in his office at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, launching salvos of facts about the local marijuana industry. Silvaggio is a sociologist who studies cannabis farming as part of HSU’s Interdisciplinary Institute for Marijuana Research. He explains that the cannabis plant has been the lifeblood of northern California’s economy, and a hallmark of its culture, for at least the past twenty years. “We wear this on our shoulders,” he says. “This is a badge that we wear. Humboldt County, since the early eighties, has been the place for the best marijuana in the world.”

But soon after Silvaggio arrived in the 1990s, he began to notice some troubling things about the industry, in particular its effects on the region’s true lifeblood—its watersheds. Those watersheds, he says, were first hammered by decades of logging, which silted up rivers and streams and decimated fish populations. Then, just as the environment was showing some signs of recovery, California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, and cultivation of the cash crop blew up on an industrial scale. “At one time it was small mom-and-pop stuff—twenty or thirty plants, no problem. But now it’s hundreds and thousands of plants,” Silvaggio said, visibly agitated. “It’s horrible for the environment. We have an impaired ecosystem here, from over one hundred years of horrible federal and state land management policies…And now we have industrial agriculture on the marijuana plantations.”

In other parts of the country, describing local pot farms as “plantations” might be a tad exaggerated, but not where Silvaggio is from. California’s Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties are collectively referred to as the Emerald Triangle, the de facto weed-growing capital of the United States. Here—in stark contrast to the rest of the nation—if you don’t grow, trim, or sell weed, or supply the cannabis industry, people wonder what you’re up to.

The area, however, does not need cannabis to live up to its emerald nickname. From the air, the region appears a stunning deep green, and on the ground, one can easily disappear into the brambles, get lost, and never be seen again. Thick forests cloak the winding paths of the principal rivers—the Eel, Klamath, Mad, and Trinity. The northern California forests are some of the most ecologically diverse in the nation, home to more than twenty different species of conifers alone, as well as what botanists call “relic” plants—plants that have been extinct in other parts of the nation for more than a million years…

Cannabis, a sun-loving, wind-pollinated annual that thrives in open landscapes, is not native to the region and finds no natural niche within these dense forests. But it does have a long and storied relationship with humans, who came to this landscape in record numbers beginning in the mid-twentieth century. They felled trees to make room for homesteads and towns, and clear-cut the old-growth forests to support the nation’s postwar construction boom. These activities effectively prepared the landscape for the introduction of the psychoactive herb, first brought by homesteading hippies in the 1960s and 1970s. As Silvaggio notes, these first couple generations of growers had little impact on the local ecology, but today satellite images show these forests pockmarked with unnatural clearings cut out just for cannabis…

In sum, the watersheds of the Eel and other rivers in northern California are on life support, and cannabis growers are helping pull the plug. Of course, cannabis farmers are not the only guilty party here—industrial logging and other farming activity pose similar threats to salmon—and growers are operating in a legal environment that is as unclear and uniquely hostile as it is profitable. Unlike other farmers in the region, most weed growers try not to talk too much about their crop—cultivation of even one cannabis plant is a federal felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Others will tell you that their plants are legal, destined for medical marijuana patients or for the state’s recreational market, which voters approved in 2016 and is just beginning to take shape as this book is being published. But in reality, only a fraction—it is impossible to tell how much—of their product will be used by California patients or buyers in legitimate dispensaries. The rest is funneled into the nation’s massive black market in drug cannabis, an industry with an estimated value that varies considerably but is rarely reported to be under $10 billion.

As if outdoor cannabis cultivation wasn’t putting enough stress on local watersheds, the region’s cash crop is helping to strangle the Eel River in another, far subtler way—indoor cultivation. Powered by a symphony of fossil-fuel fixtures such as high-intensity lights, air conditioners, and generators, today’s indoor cannabis growing began during a crackdown on outdoor growing during the 1980s and evolved into a sophisticated botanical art. Growers found that they could hybridize different varieties of the plant to emphasize certain desirable attributes, such as greater potency, a shorter growth habit or particular taste or smell, or even a distinct kind of high.

The indoor revolution turned American cannabis into some of the most highly regarded weed in the world, but plugging in to produce a premium pot crop had its own environmental consequences. In 2012, a study published in the Journal of Energy Policy found that indoor cannabis production accounted for 3 percent of California’s total electrical usage and pumped as much CO2 into the atmosphere as three million American cars. This is but a drop in the ocean of CO2 currently released into the atmosphere due to human activity, but it also represents data from just one state in a nation with hundreds of thousands of indoor cannabis grows. More importantly, since that report was published, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and California have all legalized—and in many ways encouraged—the indoor production of cannabis with barely a second thought.

April 10th, 2018

In Dionisia Morales’s debut essay collection, Homing Instincts, she contemplates the particularly relevant, and hard to define, meaning of home. As issues of migration and social integration play out on national and international scales, Morales provides a personal lens through which readers can appreciate that at one time or another we have all been in the process of arriving. In today’s blog post, Morales offers a brief excerpt from her opening essay, “The Newcomers,” and articulates some of the questions and ideas that were the catalyst for Homing Instincts.


The Newcomers

I set out for Oregon like many of the first immigrants to the West, lured by the prospect of a new beginning. Until that point, I had lived mostly in cities in the eastern United States and had no reason to believe that the geography of my life would be defined by anything other than high-rise buildings and the anonymous press of crowds. But a month-long wilderness experience in the Colorado Rockies when I was twenty-eight presented a new landscape of possibilities. I had arrived in stiff leather boots, making me a conspicuous novice on the trip, and the thirty days were a taxing blur of hauling, river fording, glissading, and orienteering. But each evening, stomping my feet against the cold, I witnessed the urgent illumination of alpenglow that stretched the last of the day’s light in saturated pinks and yellows across the snowcapped peaks. I didn’t know it then, but in those moments my internal compass started to drift west. (15)

Homing Instincts by Dionisia MoralesIs home based on where we live or the people we love? Is it connected to our culture or our language? Do we think of home in terms of the things we have always done or things we have planned? Does our sense of home stay constant or change with the scenes of our lives?

I grew up in Manhattan, and even though I’ve lived in other places nearly as long as I lived there, I still consider myself a New Yorker. Fifteen years ago, my husband and I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, a college town with a population just over fifty thousand. When I tell people where I’m originally from, they smile and say something like, “Well, that must have been a transition.” It was, and still is. They often ask if I miss things like big concerts, museums, the theater, and fancy restaurants. But I don’t. I didn’t grow up with those things because my family couldn’t afford them. After a decade and a half in Corvallis, often what I miss most about New York City is the feeling of anonymity—the chance to get lost in a crowd of strangers with no sense of obligation or expectation. It’s not that I know everyone in Corvallis, but odds are that every person I meet in the supermarket or on the hiking trail knows someone who knows someone I know. Having so few degrees of separation demands a social mindfulness and creates a sense of community. On one hand, that’s part of what I have come to love living in a small town, and yet it is in direct conflict with why I look forward to going back and visiting New York. Before I leave on those trips, I tell people how much I’m looking forward to going home. And then I say the same thing the days leading up to my flight back west.

Over the years, this bi-coastal identity crisis has defined me as much as any connection to a specific place. “Home” has become a fluid idea, a balancing act between the different parts of my personality. My choice to move from one North American coast to another is trivial compared to the journeys millions of people are taking today, migrating around the world for social, economic, and political reasons. Their stories can seem far away when we see them broadcast on the news, and yet we have all been newcomers at some point—whether to a new office or school or neighborhood. Collecting the essays for this book was a reminder that we are all in the process of arriving and that our stories of home are personal and universal, familiar and changing, tangible and inexplicably beyond our reach.

April 3rd, 2018

As Jews around the world celebrate Passover this week to commemorate their liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt, and with Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 12, the OSU Press would like to recognize the impact the Jewish community has had in the Pacific Northwest, and Oregon specifically. OSU Press author Ellen Eisenberg has spent her career working to research and recognize the oftentimes marginalized account of Jewish history in America. Her two most recent books Embracing a Western Identity: Jewish Oregonians 1849-1950 and The Jewish Oregon Story: 1950-2010 explore the ways Jews in the Pacific Northwest have symbiotically adapted to create a unique Jewish community in Oregon. Below is an except from Eisenberg’s “Introduction” to her first volume, Embracing a Western Identity, that articulates her initial interest in understanding the unique identity of the Jewish community in Oregon.



Like many western Jews, I am a transplant from the East. After a childhood in suburban Washington, DC, college in Minnesota, and graduate school in Philadelphia, I moved to Salem, Oregon in 1990. At the time, I had no intention of doing research on Oregon Jews—my dissertation focused on Jewish agricultural communities in New Jersey, and I was interested in comparative research on similar settlements in Argentina. Yet within a few years, I found myself increasingly intrigued by the Jewish history of my newly adopted state and region.

To be sure, shifting my research westward had practical benefits. Moving to Oregon with an infant in arms and having another child four years later provided a strong incentive to find projects that could be supported without prolonged trips away from home. Yet along with such pragmatic concerns, I was intrigued by a Jewish community that, while certainly not completely foreign, was noticeably different from those I had known back east. Part of this difference was simply a reflection of social differences between regions. I quickly learned that some Oregonians wear jeans and Birkenstocks (with socks) to synagogue services, just as they wear them to restaurants, meetings, and the theater.

Embracing a Western Identity: Jewish Oregonians 1849-1950Yet some differences seemed deeper. At a temple board retreat a few years after I arrived, all participants were asked to present a brief “Jewish autobiography.” I was surprised to learn that, of about a dozen participants, the rabbi and I were the only two in the room who were born Jewish and married to partners who were also born Jewish. I had grown up in a Conservative congregation where it seemed virtually all my peers shared a background roughly similar to mine—two Jewish parents from New York or some other eastern city and grandparents (possibly great-grandparents) who had immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe. In Salem, the stories were far more diverse—converts, children of converts, children and grandchildren of immigrants who had settled in Colorado or Idaho or California rather than New York—as well as descendants of families who had been in America longer and come from a variety of places other than Eastern Europe.

Teaching immigration history at Willamette University and participating in the American Ethnic Studies program, I learned that the kinds of East/West differences I was observing were not confined to Jewish ethnic identity. European American ethnicities in general seemed blurrier in the West. Growing up in the East in the 1960s and 1970s, “ethnicity” had included many categories of European Americans; as kids, we were aware of one another’s ethnic past. It was not a major issue—there were no ethnic gangs in my suburban neighborhood—but there was an awareness of roots. Many families identified as Jewish or Italian or Irish or German American, and, although there were exceptions, most seemed to identify with just one of these identities. There was a set of ideas associated with each of these labels that included how many children the family was likely to have and what kinds of foods they were likely to eat. By the time we were in grade school we could easily sort surnames into the most common ethnic categories. The Goldsteins? Obviously, Jewish. The O’Shaughnessys? Clearly Irish. The D’Ambrosios? Italian. There were a few more recent Asian and Latino immigrant families, but in such small numbers that they didn’t seem to constitute a group, so conversations about ethnicity were far more likely to focus on European categories. And in suburban Washington, DC, in the 1960s and 1970s, the language of race tended to employ only two categories: black and white.

In contrast, I found that my (mostly) West Coast students have trouble thinking about ethnicity as a category they can apply to European Americans. When I talk with them about immigration, they think of Asians and Latinos, not Europeans. When I ask them about their family histories, the majority of those of European American origin are unable to point to one ethnic identity and instead present a laundry list—“my mom’s family is Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, and French; my dad’s mom is Irish and his dad’s family is Scottish, German, and Russian.” Students in Willamette’s Jewish Student Union present “Jewish autobiographies” not unlike those I encountered at the board retreat—few were born to two Jewish parents and raised Jewishly. Far more come from families with diverse ancestry and a mix of traditions.

Not only do my western students of European descent not identify with a particular ethnic group, they also have little ability to recognize European ethnicity. When I talk in my American Jewish history class about a film or television character who, to me, seems obviously Jewish, I learn that a number of my students completely miss the identifiers. And, because they don’t speak the “language” of European ethnic identity, they frequently mistake non-Jewish New Yorkers for Jews. For years, my friend and colleague, Bill Smaldone—whose name is obviously identifiable to most easterners of my generation as Italian American—often has been misidentified by many of our students (and more than a few colleagues) as Jewish, based on his New York accent. They make the same mistake with the character George Costanza from Seinfeld (and Kramer and even Elaine, despite the shiksappeal episode).

In this, of course, students are reflecting not only a lack of familiarity with European American markers of ethnicity, but also a popular culture that has strongly identified Jews with New York—so much so that, for many of my students, to be a New Yorker is to be Jewish (at least if one is white). As Hasia Diner explains in her essay “American West, New York Jewish,” New York has been depicted as “the essence of what it means to be Jewish in America.” And New York is often juxtaposed in American culture with the West, identified as “that which has long been essentially America.” Diner argues that films such as Blazing Saddles (1974) and The Frisco Kid (1979) play on the contrast between that which is Jewish and “not quite America” and the “real” America that is the West. Thus, Jews—especially East European ones—are, quite literally (and often comedically) “out of place” in the American West, particularly the stereotypical, historic frontier West.

These patterns of ethnic understanding in popular culture mirror scholarship on ethnicity and the West. Over the last several decades, there has been a proliferation of work on western ethnicity and diversity in the wake of the New Western History. Yet in this scholarship, “ethnicity” and “diversity” nearly always denote non-European identities, and European immigrants have generally been neglected in western history. With the exception of Los Angeles, where a scholarship focusing on the interplay among a wide variety of groups including Latinos, Asian Americans, Jews, and other European Americans has emerged in the past several decades, much of the literature on ethnicity in the West focuses on non-Europeans, with Jews and other European immigrants simply categorized as “white.”

Such thinking is reinforced by scholarship on American Jewish history, which has focused heavily on New York as the mother lode of all that is Jewish in America. Reflecting the dominant place of New York Jewry in terms of community demographics, historians have often equated New York with American Jewry. Even locally produced western histories portray communities as a pale shadow of the “true” New York Jewish experience. Thus, community histories frequently compare “Jewish” neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights in Los Angeles, the Fillmore in San Francisco, South Portland, and Seattle’s Central District to the iconic Lower East Side. In The Jews of Oregon, Steven Lowenstein describes South Portland’s community as “largely self-contained,” “a separate community,” and explicitly links it to the Lower East Side of New York. Oral histories focusing on South Portland in the 1920s and 1930s describe a strong Jewish atmosphere, with frequent comparisons to the Lower East Side, and even some, however metaphorical, to a shtetl.

Despite the explicit or implicit connections in these descriptions to the landscape of the Lower East Side, Jewish communities in the region were profoundly shaped by the western experience, beginning with the distinctive migration pattern that brought Jews to the West. Whereas millions of Jews migrated directly from Europe to eastern ports, including New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia; or immediately transmigrated to inland industrial centers such as Chicago, those who settled in the West arrived gradually and in far smaller numbers. This meant that, particularly before the turn of the century, even the largest western Jewish communities remained quite modest. As late as 1915, the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society of America reported that over 80 percent of immigrant Jews were bound for northern and central Atlantic states, and less than 1 percent for the West. Of those, only a fraction came to the Northwest. Those who came to Oregon were making a conscious choice to move outside the normal paths of Jewish life and into the American hinterland. They were attracted by opportunities that were shaped, in turn, by the distinctive environment, commercial prospects, and racial landscape of the region. The process of self-selection among migrants, combined with the particular opportunities and challenges of the region that they chose, shaped their experiences. They neither recreated the Lower East Side nor seamlessly blended into the local white landscape. Rather, they reflected both the Jewish and western forces that shaped them.

The Jewish Oregon Story: 1950-2010What began as curiosity about my new community and my students’ perceptions has led, over two decades, to a deep appreciation of the complex factors that have shaped Jewish history in the West, and, specifically, in Oregon. Along with my fellow historians of the Jewish experience in the American West, I have worked to break free of generalizations based on the eastern metropolitan experience that have ruled American Jewish history. Critical studies of Jewish life in the western states have delineated important points of contrast with eastern Jewry, such as the continued dominance of Jews of German descent into the twentieth century; the relative mildness of anti-Semitism; the declining Jewish percentage of the total western population at a time when the Jewish population share in the East was increasing rapidly; and the small numbers of East European migrants to the West and their correspondingly more modest impact on political and cultural developments. These contrasts have led historians to argue that concepts as basic as the customary periodization of American Jewish history do not apply to the American West. The challenges of the frontier, the particular mix of people who settled here, and the ethos they developed, along with the selective migration of Jews to this remote state have all contributed to the distinctive characteristics of Oregon Jewry. Yet Jewish Oregonians were also strongly shaped by the broader western and American Jewish communities of which they were a part.

In discussing regional history, American Jewish historians have asked whether, for example, southern Jews have historically been more similar to other southerners or to non-southern Jews. In recent years, historians Mark Bauman and Marc Lee Raphael have come down on the side of the latter, arguing that, whatever regionalisms were embraced by southern Jews, “to a remarkable degree . . .their experiences were far more similar to those of Jews in similar environments elsewhere in America than they were to those of white Protestants in the South.” Part of this was due to the fact that, however well accepted and acculturated they were, there were some aspects of southern life that seemed incompatible with Jewish culture—indeed, “Southern Jewry” has been seen by some as a term that is “oxymoronic.” Yet, as Ava F. Kahn, William Toll, and I have argued in Jews of the Pacific Coast: Reinventing Community on America’s Edge, Jews found western civic culture and identity far more compatible with their Jewish identity than appears to have been the case in the South.

Embracing a Western Identity: Jewish Oregonians 1849-1950 enters this discussion of regional identity by focusing closely on the Jewish community of Oregon. The aim is to place Oregon Jewish history in the larger contexts of western and American Jewish histories through a series of essays, each focused on a particular theme, institution, or issue, to explore both the echoes of and the departures from the broader experience of Jews in the West, and in the United States.

March 14th, 2018

Speaking for the River by James V. Hillegas-EltingSpeaking for the River: Confronting Pollution on the Willamette, 1920s-1970s came bubbling out of James V. Hillegas-Elting’s graduate thesis and strives to provide a nuanced look at the topic of Willamette River pollution abatement and its proponents. Described by those dearest to him as his second baby, James shares the labor of love that took this topic from question to idea to thesis to book, and explores where he hopes to see future research flow.


Speaking for the River was a long-simmering project. I sent the initial manuscript draft to the press in March 2012, shortly before our daughter was born. This being my first book and my first child, I naively thought the hardest part was over, and revisions would go fairly quickly. I was wrong. I wasn’t able to devote time to this project until 2016, sending the revised manuscript to the press that summer. I’m grateful to the OSU Press team for being so patient and understanding as I missed deadline after deadline during these years. My wife is right in saying our daughter is my first baby, and this book my second!

Will R. Lewis, "foe of filth," dons a gas mask along the banks of the Willamette as a member of the City of Portland's sewage committee touring Portland Harbor in August 1936 (Morning Oregonian, Aug. 5, 1936, sec. 1, p. 3).As I state in the preface, in 2008 a voice from 1975 helped inspire me to embark upon this long path. By 1975, Willamette River water quality was better than it had been since the late nineteenth century. David Charlton, a chemist involved in pollution abatement efforts since the 1920s, lamented “what might be called the McCall version” of the abatement story, which minimized the forty-plus years of persistent efforts from a wide array of individuals and organizations that preceded the work of the journalist-turned-governor. He asked: “Who were really concerned and took action leading to the first investigations of the problem and then to take corrective action?”

Reading this question early in graduate school, I wondered the same thing. I also wondered if this question contained the germ of a graduate thesis. Wherever I pursued my history graduate degree, I wanted to investigate a topic that would enable me to spend as much time as possible in the archives analyzing a topic of both regional and national relevance. I also wanted to study a topic I perceived as being relatively practical. Urban environmental history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would enable me to learn the discipline of history while focusing on subjects relevant to governmental natural resource departments, consultants, legal firms, and others (where I might find future employment). I developed this preference for practicality growing up in small-town coastal Oregon in the 1980s and being the first person in my family to earn Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.

Portland State University offered all of these opportunities. Studying with professors (now emeritus) Bill Lang and Carl Abbott enabled me to learn from experts in environmental and urban history, respectively. Studying with David Johnson was my entrée into social and intellectual history. Being awarded a Caroline P. Stoel Editorial Fellowship on the Pacific Historical Review allowed me to learn about scholarly publishing and editing from the highly supportive expert Susan Wladaver Morgan, while also working with Carl and David in other ways.

Early in graduate school I started visiting the Oregon Historical Society Research Library—an absolutely irreplaceable resource on the history of the American West. After reading Charlton’s letter in the papers he donated to this institution, the first step I took, of course, was to analyze what had already been written. Discussing my questions and preliminary findings with my advisor Bill Lang, it wasn’t long before I realized that, despite a number of authors who addressed the topic, Charlton’s questions were as yet unanswered. From this a Master’s thesis, and now a book, was born.

Tom McCall’s important role in Oregon history, politics, and environmental policy is firmly established, and much is written about it. His association with Willamette River pollution abatement has received particular attention, beginning with Ethel Starbird’s 1972 National Geographic article “A River Restored” that established “what might be called the McCall version” of events Charlton questioned. As I delved deeper into the archival sources and compared what I’d found to what had been written by historians, journalists, political analysts, and others since the early 1970s, it dawned on me there was much more to the story.

A 1939 map from the National Resources Committee Special Advisory Committee on Water Pollution showing pollution in the Willamette and Lower Columbia watersheds (upper left) to be on par with pollution in the heavily industrialized Great Lakes and Northeast regions. Report on Water Pollution in the United States (Washington, DC, US Government Printing Office, 1939).Many authors telling the Willamette River pollution abatement story hewed to the Great White Male narrative archetype. Archetypes are a consistent—some might say fundamental—aspect of human intellectual endeavor. Though purely a construct of the human intellect, they give us the shorthand necessary to make sense of the multivariate complexities of human experience. They help us by projecting form, structure, and consistency upon the chaos of the real world. We’ve evolved this tendency over tens of thousands of years because it serves a real and necessary purpose. There is a down-side, though. The multivariate complexities of human experience don’t always align neatly within our intellectual constructs. As many times as the archetypal “McCall version” of the story has been repeated, upon closer examination it doesn’t necessarily fit the facts.

Part of what I wanted to do with this book was to offer a counter-interpretation to the Great White Male narrative. Yes, McCall was important to Oregon, but he’s not the center of the water pollution abatement story. Charlton also was not the center of the story—but his papers at the Oregon Historical Society are essential in identifying the individuals who dedicated years, even decades, to the cause. My book, I hope, provides readers with the names and motivations of some other key advocates, as well as the local, regional, and national context within which they existed.

One might ask what end is served by de-centering a Great White Male narrative and recognizing the citizen advocates and ad hoc groups organizing on behalf of a cause. The answer is simple. The Great White Male archetype imparts the lesson that all of us “average” citizens should resign ourselves to waiting for some savior to alleviate the issue. This narrative/archetype is profoundly conservative and anti-democratic. The lesson to be learned from the more complex—but more accurate, and, I hope, more engaging—narrative in Speaking for the River is that it’s only through the dedicated efforts of concerned citizens, over many years, that real and lasting change occurs. This message is profoundly progressive, democratic, and empowering.

The more I learn about McCall the more I appreciate him as a complex, flawed, passionate, results-oriented, far-thinking, and progressive person. His legacy need not be minimized by constraining him within a tired, conservative, and limiting archetype. In the context of Willamette River pollution abatement, my preference is that we broaden our understanding of the diversity of people, organizations, and motivations that really existed in the 40-plus years of abatement efforts before McCall, so we can better understand the 40-plus years of advocacy that has transpired since. I’m with Charlton: I’d rather live in a world of complexity, nuance, and historical accuracy than in a world of disempowering mythology.

Tom McCall helped bring the era of egregious point source pollution in the Willamette Basin to an end; as advocates today will tell you, the current era is defined by much more challenging, persistent, and harmful kinds of pollutants. To paraphrase a November 1942 Winston Churchill speech, delivered in a markedly different context: McCall helped bring about an era of water pollution abatement in Oregon that was not the end, nor even the beginning of the end. But, rather, the end of the beginning.

Unidentified workers excavating a section of Portland's sewer tunnels, ca. 1950. City of Portland Archives, A2005-005.59.122.I’ll close this post by briefly outlining an intriguing possible future research area growing out of Speaking for the River. Whereas no research effort uncovers every possible source, and historical narratives are always evolving in the light of new evidence and revised interpretations, my extensive work did not uncover any explicit involvement of peoples of color in the abatement story from the 1920s into the 1970s. It uncovered only a few key references to the involvement of women in these campaigns. I would be very interested in working with scholars who would bring a background in these topics and knowledge of relevant archival sources. There’s an important story to be written analyzing the transition between the early years of pollution abatement and the current active involvement of the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group, Portland Harbor Community Coalition, tribes, and others.

February 28th, 2018

As Black History Month 2018 comes to a close, the OSU Press wants to commemorate the exceptional contributions African Americans have made within our nation, and specifically the Pacific Northwest. These inspirational individuals have left an indelible mark on the history of the Pacific Northwest despite experiencing personal and cultural discrimination and persecution. By telling the stories of these individuals, the OSU Press and our authors are striving to acknowledge and account for previously marginalized narratives that define the history of this territory and shape our present region. Please help us celebrate their lasting impact by checking out some of the books below.

Dangerous Subjects by Kenneth R. ColemanDangerous Subjects: James D. Saules and the Rise of Black Exclusion in Oregon
By: Kenneth R. Coleman

Dangerous Subjects describes the life and times of James D. Saules, a black sailor who was shipwrecked off the coast of Oregon and settled there in 1841. In Oregon, Saules encountered a multiethnic population already transformed by colonialism – in particular, the fur industry and Protestant missionaries. After the Oregon Trail emigrants began arriving in large numbers in 1843, Saules had to adapt to a new reality in which Anglo-American settlers persistently sought to marginalize and exclude black residents from the region. This account of Saules’ life sheds light on a neglected chapter in Oregon’s history.

Breaking Chains by R. Gregory NokesBreaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory
By: R. Gregory Nokes

When they were brought to Oregon in 1844, Missouri slaves Robin and Polly Holmes and their children were promised freedom in exchange for helping develop their owner’s Willamette Valley farm. However, slaveholder Nathaniel Ford, an influential settler and legislator, kept them in bondage until 1850, even then refusing to free their children. Holmes took his former master to court and, in the face of enormous odds, won the case in 1853. Told against the background of the national controversy over slavery, Breaking Chains sheds light on a somber part of Pacific Northwest history, bringing the story of slavery in Oregon to a broader audience.

Remembering the Power of Words by Avel Louise GordlyRemembering the Power of Words: The Life of an Oregon Activist, Legislator, and Community Leader
By: Avel Louise Gordly

Remembering the Power of Words recounts the personal and professional journey of Avel Gordly, the first African-American woman elected to the Oregon State Senate. The book is a brave and honest telling of Gordly’s life. She shares the challenges and struggles she faced growing up black in Portland in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as her determination to attend college, the dedication to activism that took her from Portland to Africa, and her eventual decision to run for a seat in the state legislature. Important as a biographical account of one significant Oregonian’s story, the book also contributes “broader narratives touching on Black history (and Oregon’s place within it), and most particularly the politics associated with being an African American woman,” according to series editor Melody Rose.

A Force for Change by Kimberley MangunA Force for Change: Beatrice Morrow Cannady and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Oregon, 1912-1936
By: Kimberley Mangun

A Force for Change is the first full-length study of the life and work of one of Oregon’s most dynamic civil rights activists, African American journalist Beatrice Morrow Cannady. Between 1912 and 1936, Cannady tirelessly promoted interracial goodwill and fought segregation and discrimination. She gave hundreds of lectures to high school and college students and shared her message with radio listeners across the Pacific Northwest. She was assistant editor, and later publisher, of The Advocate, Oregon’s largest African American newspaper. Cannady was the first black woman to graduate from law school in Oregon, and the first to run for state representative. She held interracial teas in her home in Northeast Portland and protested repeated showings of the racist film The Birth of a Nation. And when the Ku Klux Klan swept into Oregon, she urged the governor to act quickly to protect black Oregonians’ right to live and work without fear. Despite these accomplishments—and many more during her twenty-five-year career—Beatrice Cannady fell into obscurity when she left Oregon in about 1938.

The Color of Night by Max G. GeierThe Color of Night: Race, Railroaders, and Murder in the Wartime West
By: Max G. Geier

On an unusually cold January night in 1943, Martha James was murdered on a train in rural Oregon, near the Willamette Valley town of Albany. She was white, southern, and newly-married to a Navy pilot. Despite inconsistent and contradictory eyewitness accounts, a young black cook by the name of Robert Folkes, a trainman from South Central Los Angeles, was charged with the crime. The ensuing investigation and sensational murder trial captured national attention during a period of intense wartime fervor and extensive black domestic migration. Folkes’s trial and controversial conviction—resulting in his execution by the state of Oregon—reshaped how Oregonians and others in the West thought about race, class, and privilege.

Jumptown by Robert DietscheJumptown: The Golden Years of Portland Jazz, 1942-1957
By: Robert Dietsche

A fascinating blend of music, politics, and social history, Jumptown sheds light on a time and place overlooked by histories of Portland and jazz. For a golden decade following World War II, a thriving African American neighborhood—that would soon be bulldozed for urban renewal—spawned a jazz heyday rarely rivaled on the West Coast. Such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, and Wardell Gray headlined Portland clubs and traded chops with the up-and-coming local talent. Dietsche’s compendium of stories and moments brings life to the citizens of this jazz village – the musicians and dancers, the disc jockeys and promoters, the critics and music teachers, the club owners and patrons. Jumptown celebrates and preserves this rich cultural past and showcases its continuing influence.

Oregon's Promise by David Peterson del MarOregon’s Promise: An Interpretive History
By: David Peterson del Mar

A concise and compelling general history, Oregon's Promise explores familiar and neglected people and movements in the state's history, while challenging readers to view Oregon's past, present, and future in a new way. The words "Oregon history" conjure up images of Lewis and Clark and rugged pioneers. In Oregon's Promise, David Peterson del Mar shows that the explorers' impact was both different from and less significant than commonly assumed, and that the state's settlers were much more varied, contentious, complicated, and interesting than conventional heroic stereotypes would suggest. The book's many themes revolve around Peterson del Mar's consideration of how Oregonians have attempted to build a prosperous and just society. He examines both the traditional center of Oregon history and its often overlooked margins – the people who have struggled to be included in Oregon's promise.

February 7th, 2018

Undercurrents: From Oceanographer to University PresidentIn Part 2 of John Byrne’s November 2000 speech titled “The University of the Future,” the Oregon State University Emeritus President explores the importance of, and interconnections between, university access, experiential learning, and engagement with society. These discussions from nearly 18 years ago are still relevant today as institutions of higher education work to promote diversity of thought, perspective, and backgrounds, and produce graduates who are socially and intellectually prepared. John Byrne’s new book Undercurrents: From Oceanographer to University President recounts his life and career and explores how he used the lessons learned in industry and government to guide OSU through a particularly turbulent period of budget restrictions and economic contraction.


From: “The University of the Future”
A Keynote Address presented to The Alliance of Universities for Democracy
Eleventh Annual Conference
By: John V. Byrne
Emeritus President, Oregon State University
November 5, 2000

In responding vigorously to the rapid changes in the needs of our global society, the university of the future will alter its traditional mission of teaching plus research plus service to one of integrated learning, discovery, and engagement in which all learners are part of a larger, societal learning community. The university of the future will protect scholarship and free inquiry, will relate student scholarship to learning, will take advantage of the latest technologies, and will restructure itself to meet the needs of society. Throughout, it will have a common sense of academic identity based on the democratization of learning that lies at the very heart of higher education. Through its leadership the university of the future will have the capacity to help society deal with change in a positive way. Above all, it will be flexible in recognizing the needs of students in our rapidly changing world and putting those needs at the top of its priorities.


The successful universities of the future will provide opportunities for intellectual and social development to all those persons who have the intelligence and motivation necessary for success. These individuals must be identified early, nurtured, and developed intellectually so that at the appropriate time they will meet the standards for entrance to higher education. Successful universities will build new partnerships with elementary and secondary schools to increase the number of students capable of matriculating on campus. Universities will continually improve their teacher preparation programs to meet the needs of a changing society.

Universities will validate admission requirements by insisting on meaningful correlations between requirements and subsequent student success and by searching for new ways of judging merit and identifying potential. Diversity will be encouraged by broadening the admission process. We should recognize that there is a vast array of backgrounds that often mask the inherent abilities of many prospective students, and we must be aggressive in finding a variety of ways to identify these individuals and bring them into the educational experience. The factors that can and do work against so many young people include socio-economic status, attendance at schools with a history of sending few students to college, coming from single-parent homes, or being first-generation students. Institutions will clarify course credit transfer and articulation agreements by approving inter-institutional transfer of credit and simplifying student progress toward their degrees.

The Learning Experience

The optimum learning experience for each individual student exists in a student-centered learning environment. To ensure that all students are part of the learning community the university will:

  • Reinforce its commitment to undergraduate instruction, with special emphasis on the first two years, while strengthening the link between education and career;
  • Improve teaching and educational quality by defining educational objectives more clearly, and by improving assessment of its success while still keeping college affordable and accessible;
  • Place responsibility for learning on the student while providing more opportunities for hands-on learning, including research at the undergraduate level;
  • Introduce all students to classroom experiences that stretch their intellectual horizons and encourage them to exercise analytical muscles most of them never knew they had;
  • Address the academic and personal development of students in a holistic way; activities outside the classroom enhance learning just as activities in the classroom do and attention must be given to blending the two in a meaningful manner;
  • Stress the importance of ethical behavior and moral values, especially in activities that contribute most directly to the student’s learning;
  • Provide students with the help they need to succeed by creating support programs that assist them in meeting their individual needs.

Engaging with Society

As universities become more engaged with the communities they serve it will become increasingly obvious that engagement is itself a learning process. It is incumbent on institutions to provide students with direct learning opportunities brought about through engagement. To this end institutions should redesign teaching, research, extension, and service functions to become even more connected to their communities. Universities must enrich student experience and help change the campus culture by bringing research and engagement into the curriculum and by offering practical opportunities for students to learn. This will involve integrating the students’ academic experiences with activities in their community in order to help prepare them for the challenges life will place before them. The learning opportunities that come with service to others undoubtedly help everyone involved. Through engagement the values of both society and the university will be enhanced and become increasingly compatible.

Recognizing the importance of learning throughout an individual’s lifetime, public universities have a significant, even unique, role in addressing aspects of a learning society. It will continue to be the responsibility of universities to ensure that the demand for education throughout the lifetime of virtually every citizen can be satisfied, so that lifelong learning becomes a reality for all those who desire it. Universities must encourage research on the learning process in order to develop ways to increase the ability of individuals to learn during all phases of their lives, pre-kindergarten to senior citizen. It is crucial that they equip students with the higher-order reasoning skills required for lifelong learning by providing programs with sufficient flexibility to meet the changing demands of an evolving workforce. Students will be able to inform institutions as to their own specific needs in updating and adding to their skills and interests throughout their lifetimes. The use of computers and other interactive information technologies will enable students and universities to maintain close ties for learning and information exchange.

Universities will affirm that lifelong learning is part of their core mission by providing broad access to a wide variety of teaching and learning opportunities and approaches ranging from traditional, on-campus instruction to Internet-based courses, all used in the most effective and efficient ways possible. They will develop partnerships - with other colleges and universities, primary and secondary schools, and government and private sector organizations - based on the knowledge and understanding that learning will take place throughout an individual’s lifetime. They will encourage accreditation associations to develop standards for lifelong learning and appropriate expectations for institutions concerning programs offered through distance education. They will encourage public investment in lifelong learning in recognition of the importance of continuing intellectual development as a key to a successful society.

In addition to supporting lifelong learning as part of its fundamental mission in a learning society, the engaged institution will put its critical resources - knowledge and expertise - to work on the problems that face the communities it serves. Creation and application of knowledge is a unique contribution the university can make to a contemporary society. Potential areas for engagement include, but are not limited to:

  • Education and the economy;
  • Agriculture and food;
  • Rural communities;
  • Health care;
  • Urban revitalization and community renewal;
  • Children, youth and families;
  • Environment and natural resources.

In order to enhance engagement with the communities they serve, universities will transform their thinking about service so that engagement becomes a campus priority, a central part of the institutional mission. The “engaged” university will develop an engagement plan and provide learning experiences for students through the engagement process, encourage interdisciplinary scholarship in both teaching and research, develop incentives to encourage faculty involvement in the engagement effort, and secure stable funding to support engagement.

The university of the future that successfully serves its purpose will provide students with an education of value and one that stresses values. The educational experience will be one that alters the student’s mind in a positive way, broadening his/her intellectual background and an understanding of elements important to all of humanity, as well as the past and present achievement of humans. The intellectual experience should be one that equips the student to make a meaningful contribution to society and prepares the student for a productive and successful life. But developing skills and talents are not enough. The student needs to take from the university experience a greater awareness of fundamental moral and social values as well. The university of the future will play an active role in instilling in each student the values of integrity, responsibility, dependability, respect for other individuals, and a recognition of the importance of excellence in all one does. Through attention to this role of the social and moral development of its students, the universities of tomorrow will be increasingly important factors in the development of civil societies everywhere - they will, in fact, become the architects of democracy.


The beginning of a new millennium can be a time of renewal and reform. It can be a time when higher education and the public it serves can renew their partnership, can re-frame the relationship of educational service and of support, can agree to work together for a better society and a better world. To begin, it is time for higher education to recommit to these six basic elements on its side of the partnership:

  • Educational opportunity that is genuinely equal because it provides access to success without regard to race, ethnicity, age, occupation, or economic background;
  • Excellence in undergraduate, graduate, and professional curricula; • Learning environments that meet the civic objectives of higher education by preparing students to lead and participate in a democratic society;
  • Complex and broad-based agendas for discovery, research, and graduate education that are informed by the latest scholarship and responsive to pressing public needs;
  • Conscious efforts to bring the resources and expertise of our institutions to bear on community, state, national, and international problems in a coherent way; and
  • Systems and data that will allow us to make an open accounting of our progress toward achieving our commitment to the public good.

In return, society must recognize the value of higher education and must support it adequately and consistently. Without adequate societal support higher education will be limited as it endeavors to prepare individuals for a successful life and as it contributes to the continued development of civil societies.

Finally, as you think of the future and the role of higher education in that future, reflect on the extraordinary privilege - and awesome responsibility - we have to alter for the better the minds of learners of all ages and persuasions who will of themselves have the opportunity to improve our world.

January 31st, 2018

Undercurrents: From Oceanographer to University PresidentIn this week’s two-part blog post, we take a look back at OSU Press author and Oregon State University Emeritus President John Byrne’s November 2000 speech titled “The University of the Future.” As we celebrate Oregon State’s 150th year as a land grant institution, John’s historic words demonstrate the ways in which OSU is living up to its mission to conduct world-leading research, to provide the highest quality education for the people of our state and beyond, and striving to be a “University of the Future” that is making an impact locally and globally. For more on John Byrnes’ philosophy on higher education, check out his newly released book, Undercurrents: From Oceanographer to University President.


From: “The University of the Future”
A Keynote Address presented to The Alliance of Universities for Democracy
Eleventh Annual Conference
By: John V. Byrne
Emeritus President, Oregon State University
November 5, 2000

The challenges to sustain a healthy world population and the opportunities associated with these challenges is greater than humans have ever faced before, and they will continue to increase. But the knowledge needed to address the challenges is also increasing exponentially. It is estimated that the totality of world knowledge doubled between 1750 and 1900, that by 1965 world knowledge was doubling every five years, and that by 2020 the totality of world knowledge will double every seventy-three days. How that knowledge is used will be determined by those who are prepared to use it. Our colleges and universities will be critical to meeting those world challenges and using the newly created knowledge. If higher education is to respond effectively to the challenges created by the world population explosion and the opportunities provided by the rapidly available knowledge it will be required to change the way it operates. Higher education must constantly re-assess the way it functions in order to keep abreast of the rapidly changing world of which it is such an important part.

In recognition of the unprecedented speed of change within society and the need for American public universities to be increasingly responsive to the needs of the society they serve, the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-grant Universities was created with funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. The Commission consisted of the presidents and chancellors (past and present) of twenty-six American public universities. Seven non-academic advisors met with the Commission to provide the citizens’ perspective. The Commission’s goal was to stimulate change and reform through discussion and action on public university campuses. The Commission was created at time when a skeptical public appeared convinced that students were being ignored and that research was more important than teaching, when enrollment was projected to increase significantly at the same time that funding was limited and would continue to be so, when society was facing staggering changes in values and family structure, and when new educational entities, such as community colleges, corporate universities, and for-profit institutions, had entered the student market place. The Commission was to meet four times per year, with the charge to address the reform of American public higher education.

The Commission’s first meeting was held in January 1996 and its final meeting in March 2000. At that first meeting the Commission identified five issues for discussion and campus action: The Student Experience; Access; The Engaged Institution; A Learning Society; and Campus Culture. Letter-reports were published regarding each of these issues. Later, a sixth report about the partnership between the public and its universities was published, “Renewing the Covenant: Learning, Discovery, and Engagement in a New Age and a Different World.” The Commission addressed “The Student Experience” first because students are fundamental to the existence of universities.

As the Commission considered “Access” it became readily apparent that the issue was really not access or admission to our institutions, but, more importantly, access to a successful life in society resulting from a higher education experience. Access to such a life is affected by admission policies and guidelines, by retention, and by the student’s achievement of his or her educational goals.

The Commission’s discussion of “The Engaged Institution” focused on the role of public universities in reaching beyond their campuses and joining in partnership with those elements of society, which benefit from a shared endeavor.

During the discussion of “A Learning Society” the evolving nature of society into a true learning organization was noted. Such a society is characterized by the ability to create and use new knowledge for society’s benefit and to organize opportunities for individuals to continue to learn throughout their lifetimes: “lifelong learning.”

In addressing “The Campus Culture” the Commission noted that, in order to be more responsive to the increasingly rapid pace of change in society, universities themselves must change, and must do so rapidly. Their operation must become more effective, more efficient, and more flexible. In the past, as universities have responded to the many demands of society, they have evolved into institutions with many different cultures rather than one single culture: an academic culture, made up primarily of faculty and students, but with subcultures organized around disciplines; a separate student culture; an administrative culture; an athletic culture. A challenge before American universities is to integrate the elements of these diverse cultures into a single all-inclusive campus culture that mediates and bridges the diversity of cultures and is consistent with the aims and mission of American public higher education.

In recent years the differences between American private and public universities have become less evident. As state support for public universities has diminished, public universities have turned more and more to private funding. Research universities, both public and private, rely on external funding for support of research. All major universities today provide services to their societies, all are engaged with the public. Although the ideas expressed by the Kellogg Commission apply directly to public universities, most of these ideas apply equally well to private universities. This paper offers guidelines for the successful University of the Future, public or private, in the context of a rapidly evolving global Learning Society, and is based to a considerable degree on ideas expressed by the Kellogg Commission.

A Learning Society

Education and the ability to learn are essential in a world in which new knowledge increases at an exponential rate and the ability to use that knowledge is critical to the social, economic, and political health of individuals, the nation, and the world. The university must provide leadership as society rapidly adopts the characteristic elements of a learning organization and becomes a “learning society.”

A learning society is a society that values and fosters habits of lifelong learning and ensures that there are responsive and flexible programs and networks available to address individual and organizational needs. A learning society is socially inclusive and ensures that all of its members are part of its learning communities. It recognizes the importance of early childhood development as part of lifelong learning and develops organized ways of enhancing the development of all children. Further, a learning society stimulates the creation of new knowledge through research and other means of discovery and then uses that knowledge for the benefit of society. It values regional and global interconnections and cultural links, and views information technologies, including all interactive multi-media technologies, as tools to enrich learning. A learning society fosters a public policy agenda that ensures equity and availability of learning for all and contributes to the over-all competitiveness and economic and social well-being of the nation.

In the context of a learning society, the successful university of the future will provide learning opportunities for its students, wherever those students may be, and will prepare them for engagement in an ever-changing society, in which the ability to learn throughout each student’s life is essential. In a learning society, lifelong learning is a part of the societal ethos.

Basic Ideals

In recognizing the needs of the global society the university of the future will be based on seven broad ideals:

First, universities, particularly public universities, must provide equal access to all who are qualified. Society needs the talent of all its people. We cannot make the mistake of ignoring the educational needs of large portions of our population without exacting an enormous price from ourselves in terms of lost ability and missed opportunities. What we are talking about is individual access to success through higher education, not simply access to higher education but access to the full promise of life;

Second, our colleges and universities must become genuine learning communities, which support and inspire faculty, staff, and learners of all kinds. The emphasis will be on learning by all members of the institutional community: students, and faculty and staff. As a community, all will contribute and all will benefit;

Third, our learning communities must be student-centered, committed to excellence in teaching and to meeting the legitimate needs of students (i.e. learners) wherever they are, whatever they need, and whenever they need it;

Fourth, we must emphasize the importance of a healthy learning environment that provides students, faculty, and staff with the facilities, support, resources, and attitudes essential to making the vision of a successful life a reality;

Fifth, our universities must be responsive to public needs, intimately engaged with the societies they serve. It is time to reach beyond outreach and extension to what the Commission has defined as “engagement”;

Sixth, universities must emphasize and instill moral and social values in students, faculty, and staff through their pedagogies and through their actions;

Seventh, universities must be active participants in promoting civility in the society they serve and must extend their efforts to promote civil societies globally.

Universities must affirm these ideals, adhere to them tenaciously, and follow their implications faithfully wherever they lead. Only through such constancy of purpose will the university of the future effectively serve its local society, its nation, and the world.

END PART 1… Check back next week for Part 2 from John Byrne’s speech “The University of the Future.”

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