On October 22, colleagues and friends of Dr. John Hobstetter gathered in memory of the first director of Penn's Laboratory for Research in the Structure of Matter, whose work helped to establish a new national model for collaborative research. As Penn opens another such innovative setting for science, the IAST's Vagelos Laboratories, here is one reminiscence.
John Norman Hobstetter, 1917-1997
The decade starting about 1963 was one of reform in the American research university-and indeed in all of American higher education. Sometimes it was more talk about reform than actual reform. In that decade, the dissension at Berkeley came to a head, and was a rare research university -private or public-which was spared. All were sites of political intrigue and political action, but they also were sites of deliberations about university governance, university access and university educational programs.
Though remote from the politics of change, engineering and its related basic sciences had caught the fever of reform. For example, at Berkeley where I was interim chancellor, John Whinnery, dean of engineering, was a thoughtful, nationally-known contributor to serious deliberations on academic improvement. Subsequently, when president of the State University of New York at Buffalo, I brought a reformer, Karl Willenbrock (a protegé of Harvey Brooks) from being deputy dean of engineering and applied physics at Harvard to become the provost of one of our seven faculties at Buffalo. Karl's newly restructured faculty included not only engineering and applied science but a couple of other technical professions.
However, when I then came to Penn in 1970, I already had an extraordinary colleague concerned with the improvement of university governance as well as with the specific improvement of education in technology. That was John Hobstetter-educated in the world of MIT and Harvard and with several years at AT&T's Bell Labs, perhaps the country's outstanding example of a first-rate research center attached to a company. With his superb background, in 1960 John had become the first director of Penn's Laboratory for Research in the Structure of Matter. Metallurgy, solid-state physics, and physical chemistry were contributors to a cross-disciplinary center, an amalgam he and I admired. Penn clearly had its own home-grown reformer in technology and the sciences. In 1967, he became vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and in 1971, my first year in the president's office, John happily accepted the assignment of associate provost for academic planning and budget administration.
I remember my first discussions with him, this sensitive and precise colleague-a rare combination of attributes. It was in the fall of 1970 that I gently suggested to John that deans ought to be responsible for raising funds as well as spending them. With that most ingratiating and unforgettable smile of his, he said, "Are you serious?". When I said yes, we entered into the beginning of a set of deliberations during that season on how Penn should function best. As always, he raised pertinent questions-in this case, how would we temper the protective decanal instincts so that we could cross disciplines and professions and the barriers of the separate schools themselves. We would have disagreements. He thought I might favor the arts and sciences more than necessary, and I would tease him that few were fonder of orchids, music and some of the arts than John.
Though John was the consummate academic, he approached the planning for the upcoming fund drive (without which Penn would have floundered) with careful thoughts about what was needed most and how those views could best be defined.
In looking back on those years with John and his significant impact on
provosts, deans, vice presidents and professors, I wish that somehow he
might have been more of an actor on the national scene. But had that been
the case, he might not have been able to devote himself as exquisitely as
he did to helping Penn improve itself structurally and substantively. We
remember you, John.
-- Martin Meyerson, President Emeritus