The crowd milling around the first
floor of Hayden Hall paused from its continental-breakfast eating
and turned toward the balding man who had climbed onto a wooden
chair by the doorway.
"HEY!!!" he shouted again. "This
He pointed emphatically, thrusting
both arms outward, across Smith Walk toward the Towne Building,
where the opening session of the celebration marking the 25th anniversary
of Penns environmental studies undergraduate major was supposed
to be starting. Held last April 30, the event attracted more than
100 faculty members, alumni and current students to share their
research and career histories and to pay tribute to the man directing
traffic: Dr. Robert F. Giegengack, chair of the department of earth
and environmental science (formerly geology) and director of the
environmental studies program since its foundinga "Gieg fest
or Gieg roast," was the way Dr. Richard Beeman, professor of history
and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, put it. (Most everyone
calls Giegengack "Gieg," and especially students; he answers the
phone with a clipped "Gieg here.")
"For the people who didnt
recognize me," Giegengack said, when the crowd had filed into the
lecture hall, a few still munching croissants and drinking coffee,
"I traded my hair for eyeglasses."
Dr. Samuel Preston, the Frederick
J. Warren Professor of Demography and dean of the School of Arts
and Sciences, who presented Giegengack with a certificate congratulating
him for founding the environmental studies program and a National
Geographic Atlas of the World, called him the "force of nature"
behind the program. Beeman, who has known Giegengack for 30 years,
described him somewhat more vividly as "a total pain in the ass"
to him and previous deans, always "clamoring for more, more, more
for his department and program."
Which he meant in a good wayfor
the most part.
"Ive watched Gieg in action
for all those yearsand hes been a highly visible force
to observeand I think hes been watching me," says Beeman,
in an interview in his Logan Hall office. "Hes been making
fun of me, and Ive been making fun of him."
Giegengack is prominent among
a relative handful of faculty members"the usual suspects,"
Beeman calls them who can be counted on "to serve selflessly
and creatively in almost any project aimed at improving undergraduate
education," he says. "Whether its been his involvement with
the general honors program, the development of the environmental
studies major or just being there all the time for students.
Hes the kind of guy who at graduation time will come up to
a students parents and give them a hug and say nice things.
This is a nurturer par excellence." Beemans daughter,
who minored in environmental studies at Penn, "is one of the hundreds
of devoted Bob Giegengack fan-club members," he adds.
University administrators wishing
to join the club are advised to have thick skins, however. "This
is an area in which Bobs and my relationship has been interesting
because we are, I think, genuinely dear friends and mutual admirersbut
for much of the past 10 years, I have been the administration,"
Beeman says. "Part of Bobs career has been being a gadfly,
but its more than [that]. I think he really has felt that
much of what he has accomplished has been in spite of administratorsand,
indeed, he personally and the programs he has created have not always
been as well and enthusiastically supported as they deserved to
be. So what he has achievedwhich is substantialhas often
been achieved by dedication well above the call of duty."
At the same time, Giegengack "almost
revels, or wallows, in a sense of aggrievement about the administration."
Beeman traces this back to an incident from the mid-1980s, "one
of the formative events of Bobs life," when then-Provost Thomas
Ehrlich decided to "give a big chunk" of Hayden Hall, the geology
departments home, to the School of Engineering and Applied
Science. "Bob fought this tooth and nail and was defeated. He has
never forgotten it," Beeman says.
To this day, when Giegengack sees
him wearing a bowtie (which Beeman almost always does), he accuses
him of trying to look like Ehrlich, who also wore bowties. "This
has become a standing joke, so at some level hes conscious
of it," Beeman says, but its an indication that "There are
some rivers that run deep" there. (Corroborating evidence: When,
interviewing Giegengack in his office this fall, I remind him of
Beemans "pain in the ass" comment from the anniversary celebration
he gets up from his desk and returns a moment later with some yellowing
copies of Almanac, the Universitys journal of record,
detailing the space controversy.)
"In that sense," Beeman continues,
"I wouldnt say hes his own worst enemy because theres
so much obvious good there, but there are some occasions when he
makes it more difficult for himself than he needs to." He laughs.
"Not every administrator responds as genially as I do to this kind
of anti-administration bent."
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