Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Professor Hans Fisher on March 9, 2005 in New Brunswick, New Jersey with Shaun Illingworth ...
Peter Asch: Peter Asch ...
Sue Yousif: and Sue Yousif.
SI: Dr. Fisher, thank you very much for having us here today.
Hans Fischer: Pleasure.
SI: I just wanted to pick up where your first interview left off and ask you a few questions about your undergraduate experience at Rutgers.
PA: You were a freshman in '46, which is the first class after World War II. What was the mood around Rutgers after the war?
HF: It was a mood of, "We really have to get to work, learn something, and get out of here," because a very large percentage of the undergraduate male student body were veterans. ... They didn't belong to fraternities, and many of them were considerably older than seventeen or eighteen. ... They were very, very serious about wanting to get a degree and to learn something.
SI: Did you have a similar attitude?
HF: Yes, well, my background, I was not in the army, I don't know whether I explained that before, because I wasn't a citizen and, since the war was over, the draft board didn't take non-citizens and it was kind of complicated because of that. We had, we, meaning the United States, the craziest immigration laws. They still have crazy immigration laws. The way it worked was that if you were over the age of twelve when the rest of your family like your parents and siblings became citizens you had to wait till you were twenty-one. ... No I'm sorry it was eighteen and my parents and sister had become citizens in 1946, I had to wait till 1949, because I was over twelve at the time but anyway because of that I wasn't drafted, otherwise I might just have been drafted towards the end of the draft. But anyway having just come from Europe I was in this country only five years, I came in '41, and had gone through some pretty difficult times. ... I really shared in many ways the experiences of the veterans, many of whom had been in France and in Germany, where I had also been, so we really had a lot in common. I made very good friends with many of these people. So, it was a very different attitude from what it is like today.
SI: In interviews that we've done with people coming out of high school and who like yourself were going to Rutgers in '46, they said that there was a real division between them and the veterans, they weren't able to relate, but you apparently were able to. Did you share any stories with them?
HF: Yes, we were just much more serious. One other thing, I didn't have a penny to my name. I mean, I didn't even have enough money to be able to get a bus, or a train ticket to go home. Occasionally, I would hitchhike. It was the only way, and, of course, many veterans also were in pretty difficult financial straits, so that was another thing that we had in common.
SI: How were you able to afford to come to Rutgers?
HF: I got a state, four-year scholarship. I think I may have mentioned, I was valedictorian of my high school graduating class even though I had only come five years before. I graduated as valedictorian and got a four-year scholarship, so, that paid for most of it. Food I cooked for myself because I couldn't afford to go to the cafeteria. My mother had a little canning apparatus, so she would can a meal in little tin cans, so, I didn't even eat in the cafeteria.
SI: Where did you live when you came here?
HF: I started out, that's also a very interesting story, I started out in what is now Raritan Center. You know where that is, down Woodbridge Avenue, if you go down Woodbridge Avenue, there were barracks there of course, they have long been taken down; it's a big industrial park now. UPS is there.
PA: It was called Raritan Arsenal, I think.
HF: Yes, Raritan Arsenal, right, that's where the university put up the overflow, which was a large number of students. ... I still remember that there was only, I think, one bus, school bus and it was driven by the person who owned the Suburban Transit Company. ... You know Suburban, that's the main bus line today from Trenton, Princeton and New Brunswick, to New York, and the owner drove the bus himself, back and forth, all day long. ... The interesting part of the story is that he applied, he had just bought this company, it had been a bankrupt bus company, and he applied to get a license to drive it from New Brunswick to New York. ... The big bus company was Public Service, and they were, of course, extremely powerful in the State. ... They didn't want competition and so they fought him getting a license. ... Finally, after a long time, and paying lawyers, and all that, they gave him a license, but with the understanding that he could not stop, any of the buses could not stop, anywhere, between New Brunswick and New York. They could only go non-stop. Now, at that time, there was no turnpike so this was kind of the kiss of death, because it took two hours from New Brunswick to New York, going on either Route 1 or Route 27. I think, they usually drove on 27. They had to stop every few hundred feet for a red light, you'd have to be out of your mind to want to take a bus unless you were going to some intermediary stop which is, of course, what Public Service was doing. They were servicing Rahway and Linden and Elizabeth and Newark, and so on, and so for them this was fine. But he couldn't do anything. The only thing that happened, I always feel good about it, two years later the turnpike opened. ... Then he had a license to go non-stop to New York and became a millionaire, almost overnight, because it was much faster even than the train, whereas, Public Service didn't have a license to go non-stop. So, anyway that's a very interesting little aside. I was there for one semester and then we played the lottery to be assigned to dorms and I was lucky enough to get into Hageman Hall, a dorm that's right behind Bishop Hall, in the quad area on College Avenue. ... They put three of us into a room for one. Well, it was very crowded, but still it was very nice. When I first cam to Rutgers the cafeteria was in Winants Hall, and then later it moved into the old gym [College Ave Gym]. That's what I recall about it. I took courses downtown, there was as yet no Busch Campus at all, ... and over here on this campus [Cook Campus], I took a number of courses over here as well.
SI: Was it a difficult adjustment, going from high school to college and living on your own?
HF: Not really. In fact, what was difficult was in my sophomore year. Freshman year was a breeze because freshman chemistry and several other courses, including English were kind of almost repetitious compared to high school. So, then in my sophomore year suddenly it got more difficult, and you had to bear down and that took a little bit of an adjustment. ... Other than that I had some good professors, and had some bad ones. I always remember New Jersey Hall. I used to hate the smell in it. It used to smell of formaldehyde, because a lot of biological samples were packed in formaldehyde there. I didn't like that building at all, but, other than that, I have fond memories of the chemistry building. Physics was in the building across from the chemistry building. I don't know what's in there now.
SI: These were all in the Voorhees Mall was it Milledoler?
HF: No, it's not Milledoler, but it doesn't matter, it's a building right across, on the other side of that mall that was physics [Van Dyck]. Math didn't have its own building. I don't remember where its classes were held. I only remember the music building was where the graduate school is now, the corner of Bishop Place and College Avenue, that's where the music building was.
SI: Did you take music appreciation?
HF: Yes, I took music appreciation with a Professor Sherman, who was just wonderful. Do you know him?
SI: No, no, most people when they say that they took music think either of Soup Walters or somebody else.
HF: Walters was here, but he was the choirmaster, but this was a man named Sherman. I still see him; he would sit there as though he was listening to this piece for the very first time. He was wonderful; he really imbued the class with a sense of how wonderful this music was. I really got a great deal out of that course.
SI: Had you been interested in music at all before that?
HF: Yes, my family was always interested in music. Of course, later in my life, it was a beginning of a whole love affair with music, because I'm the only member of my immediate family who is not a musician. Everybody else in my family plays piano and a string instrument. So, then I graduated in 1950. I did not attend graduation, because I was on my way to South America. ... I got married during that trip, and, as I said before, my wife is a violinist and violist. When I came back, I started graduate school at the University of Connecticut; I hated it there. I hated the town, it was in the middle of nowhere. I mean, it was really almost difficult to get to Storrs, Connecticut in those days. Again, there were no turnpikes, and it took a long time to drive there, and there was nothing at all going on in town. I was there for two years and got a master's degree.
SI: How did you meet your wife?
HF: I met my wife through our mothers who were friends and her mother sent me a birthday letter when I was twenty-one. ... That started a correspondence going, between us. When I graduated, I was actually going with another girl here in the US, ... I decided, "Before I get any more serious I better go and check the other one out." So, I pawned every last thing that I owned to get down there, let me tell you it was some trip. I took a train from Philadelphia to Miami and that was an experience, too. This was in 1950 and I didn't know that that still existed in 1950. ... The minute the train left Washington, DC, and traveled south of there, black people had to go into separate cars and wherever the train stopped, there were separate restrooms. I had never seen anything like that. It was very shocking, a very shocking experience. Then I got to Miami, and in Miami I took a small plane to the Bahamas, to Nassau. ... At Nassau, I picked up a huge World War II vintage York plane, and I don't remember how many stops it made but we stopped overnight. They wouldn't fly over the Andes at night so we stopped in Lima, Peru overnight. ... I only remember I was scared because I didn't have any money to pay for a hotel and I was worried that I might have to pay but I didn't. The airline put us up. It was British Airways, and from Lima, we left early the next morning and flew over the Andes Mountains to Santiago, Chile. ... I was the only passenger, and the pilot invited me to come up and I sat next to him in the cockpit and I asked, "How can you afford to fly with no passengers?" He said, "We make our money transporting precious metals, platinum, silver and gold." He said, "We don't depend on passengers." ... My future wife told me that they were also worried at the other end when they found out there was only one passenger on the flight. Anyway, I got to Chile, I had a great time there. I was there for about, I don't know, three, four weeks, and then I came back and started at UConn in the fall.
SI: Why was your wife living in Chile?
HF: Well, she actually was born in the same city I was in Germany, and when her family emigrated from Germany, they all went to Chile. My wife had an uncle who had left Germany very early in the 1930s, realizing what was brewing there, and then this uncle was able to get the whole extended family out to Chile before it was too late; so that's why they were in Chile.
SI: So, when you said your mothers knew each other from town, you meant in Germany?
HF: In Germany, yes. They were very close friends. They had gone to school together. I knew my wife's grandparents. I didn't remember her at all, but I certainly remembered her mother and her grandparents, because my mother would very frequently take my sister and me to visit her friend's parents.
SI: Was that the first time you'd ever met your future wife?
HF: Probably not, but I have no recollection meeting her before. She was younger, slightly younger, than I was, and she was only eight when she left Germany, so, it wasn't so unusual that I shouldn't have remembered.
PA: A question about your involvement with Hillel; what activities did they run, and what was your involvement in that?
HF: There were several of us who were quite involved with Hillel, although the Hillel director wasn't so happy with our involvement. The reason being, again, the same thing that we discussed just a few minutes ago about veterans, he had been used to a bunch of fraternity kids and suddenly here we were, a very different group of people. ... We told him what we wanted to do, and not the other way around, and so it was a very different culture. But a major point of difficulty had to do with Zionism. You know, this was right before the State of Israel was called into being by the United Nations, and there was a very strong Zionist chapter here in New Brunswick. It was called IZFA, Intercollegiate Zionist Federation of America ... It was made up of the same students that also went to Hillel. ... These students really were the big guys who ran Hillel and that's what, not that the Rabbi (Hillel Director) wasn't also a Zionist, but I think he just resented that this different organization, in a sense, was the tail that wagged the dog so to speak. ... There were some very interesting people in this group, all veterans, some of them actually went over to Israel after independence was declared. ... They were in the Air Force there, they brought a lot of knowledge and know-how to the Defense Forces of this new State.
SI: These were Rutgers men?
HF: These were all Rutgers students, yes.
SI: Do you, remember any of their names?
HF: There were a whole bunch of them, Bill Wolfe was one, he died a few years ago, he was much older, but I am trying to think of the one in the air force. Someone named Joffe. ... There were a number who were very involved.
SI: Did you go to meetings of the Zionist group?
HF: Yes, IZFA was a national student organization on university campuses and we would have regional meetings, mostly in New York, and also there were three training farms in this immediate area to train people to go to Israel and do agricultural work on Kibbutzim. One was in Hightstown, one was in Cream Ridge and I don't remember where the third one was; these represented different political Zionist orientations. One was very much to the left, in fact they were bordering, on being communists. I remember visiting that one in Hightstown, I remember they had a picture of Lenin in their dining room. ... The one in Cream Ridge represented a faction that later became the so-called Labor Party, and the third one was a religious Zionist group, called Miszrahi. Those were the three, and I think one reason why they were located in this area was because the people who went to train there, would often come to Rutgers to take short courses here at what is now Cook College, which was then called the College of Agriculture, and this college was famous for having these short courses. Lots of people came to train, to become better farmers, and so these young people came to learn about agricultural practices that might be useful to them when they went to Israel and lived in a kibbutz.
SI: In studying the Zionist movement I saw that it was very important to that generation of Jews to overcome these myths that Jews weren't involved in agriculture.
HF: Yes, they were never allowed until very recently to own land, so they were never farmers before. ... They certainly made a go of it, and Israel has made so many incredible innovations in agriculture. For instance, drip irrigation, that's an Israeli invention which they have exported to the whole rest of the world, South America, and Asia, I know in Taiwan also, and many varieties of fruits and vegetables that we often see in our Supermarkets nowadays.
PA: In '46-'47 the Nuremburg Trials were going on and the true facts were coming out about the concentration camps. How did you react to this as a recent immigrant and was it different in how the typical American, in your mind, reacted to it?
HF: I really don't recall too much specifically about the Nuremberg Trials. I certainly followed them but not in any particularly personal or immediate way. What I do remember is that about 1946 or thereabouts, we, my family found out what had happened to my grandparents on both sides and some aunts. ... That was, of course, a very devastating experience when we found out that they had all died in Concentration camps The Germans kept good records of all their murderous deeds! but I don't remember anything particularly interesting about the Nuremburg Trials.
SI: When you came here you majored in nutrition?
HF: No, I didn't really major in nutrition. The major was called Preparation for Research, which was perhaps the most demanding curriculum in the university. You needed 155 credits to graduate, which is really something, and I had enough credits to also get a degree in chemistry, having taken just about every chemistry course, too. The curriculum was designed for a research career. So, then I went to Connecticut, I had a fellowship there, I was there for two years and got a master's degree. ... Very, very fortuitously, the chairman of the department didn't get along with any of us graduate students. ... We originally had all planned to get a PhD there, but he made our life pretty miserable, and so all three of us left after an explosive fight with him and that's the best thing that ever happened to us because we then went to a good school. ... I ended up at the University of Illinois, and those next two years were among the best years of my life and my wife's life, too. It's an incredible school. Let me just tell you that when I graduated there and got the job here and came back here, I always had to bite my tongue not to tell everybody how wonderful things had been at Illinois. ... We were always looking to see if we couldn't find people from Illinois and we found two other recent graduates. We found them by finding the parking stickers on their cars, student parking stickers from Illinois on the car and we followed the car, ending up at what was by then, called University Heights, now it's the Busch Campus. ... One of the two people later, became the chair of the math department and the dean of the graduate school, Dr. Wolfson, Kenneth Wolfson and he experienced exactly the same thing that we had experienced. He and his wife also always wanted to talk about Illinois. Just to give you an idea of why we wanted to talk about Illinois; when I came here you could have taken all the buildings on the Cook Campus and stuck them into the chemistry building at the University of Illinois. That was such a big building, or these here at Rutgers were so small in comparison, everything was enormous at Illinois. Of course, the student body also was much, much larger there than here. ... The university was in Champagne-Urbana, which is also in the middle of nowhere. The joke used to be that if you put your ear to the ground in the summer you could hear the corn and the soybean grow. While it's obviously a joke, it was so hot that plants would shoot up overnight. There was nothing much going on there, and so the university, in order to attract a good faculty, had to provide a cultural environment that would make it possible. ... So, you could go to probably twenty lectures any night of the week, several concerts, several plays, uncountable movies, and that was going on all the time, and my wife had an experience with music that was also unparalleled. She couldn't have that even in New York City, opera and symphonic music and she played chamber music with the wife of a Nobel Prize winner. She sang madrigals, it was an incredible experience for her and, similarly, for me. I had a great time there.
SI: Was your wife performing with these people on stage?
HF: Well, only with the orchestra. The other program wasn't performing, it was chamber music played in each other's homes, and it was just a great experience and, similarly, the scientific work was so challenging for me, I just can't tell you. I know, somehow, we were so motivated to go way beyond what we learned in the classroom. I remember in exams, say in biochemistry or physiology, they would ask you something, and I remember writing that I had just read in this and this journal, thus and so, which was quite outside the question that was being asked, and I was encouraged to do so, and it was just such a wonderfully motivating place.
SI: I have interviewed one or two people that went to large Midwestern agricultural schools. They say that they are so well funded because agriculture was such a significant part of the state's economy. Did you find that?
HF: Yes, for example, I was doing my research with diets. ... These were so expensive that it took, probably, fifteen years before we could afford to do that here at Rutgers, and they had all the money in the world at Illinois, at least at that time. These were highly purified diets where every component was a crystalline product that you had to purchase at a very high cost. ... A student, who had graduated right before me, developed a way of making a tablet out of this diet so, they purchased a tablet-making machine for him. ... Which at that time, in the '50s, I was told cost several thousand dollars, that's like $50,000.00 today, and he used that and after that, that was it. Nobody else ever used it again. Didn't matter, our department there was that wealthy. I also did some of my research with radioactive isotopes, which was very early. It was only maybe in '48 that anybody started to use radioactive isotopes in biological research, and this was only four years later, and it must have cost a lot and cost was never figured in anything that we did. If you thought it was important or interesting, it was there. I don't even remember having to ask. I think, you just made out a requisition to buy the stuff. Yes, it was an incredible place.
SI: When you were at UConn and Illinois, what was the focus of your research?
HF: In Connecticut, I was working on bone metabolism and the influence of the types of phosphorous on bone strength because there are two types of phosphorous. ... There are the so- called inorganic salts, like calcium phosphate, sodium phosphate, and so on, and then there are so-called organic phosphorous compounds in particular a substance called phytin phosphorous, which is a form of phosphorous that is bound to organic compounds like sugars. ... Human beings and, actually all mammals cannot utilize the phosphorous from organic phosphorous sources because we don't have the catalyst to make the phosphorus available from its links to organic substances, like these sugars. Only very low forms of animal life have that capacity. But, you can get this catalyst from bacteria, and so we studied whether adding the catalyst to the diet would make it easier to utilize the organic phosphorus. Basically, I would say what I learned in Connecticut was very good lab techniques. My adviser was a very good laboratory person and from him I learned good chemical techniques. The other thing that I learned in Connecticut from another person, who wasn't even my adviser, but he was located on the same floor and I just saw him and he became a very good friend. I learned that if you really wanted to do well, you had to read the scientific literature and he introduced me to reading Chemical Abstracts. I don't know if you know what chemical abstracts are? Chemical Abstracts are and have been the big abstracting service going back to about 1900, and they abstract just about every journal that comes out in so many different areas. ... This man, his name was Eaton, Hamilton Eaton, he regularly reviewed the Chemical Abstracts all the time and I started to do so also, in 1951, in Connecticut and I started in 1951, after I had met this Dr. Eaton. When I came to Rutgers, the first thing that I did was to subscribe to CA myself, the biochemical section. ... I just discontinued it, after all these years since 1954, so I had it for fifty years. I hated having to go through it every week.. Well, it's a terribly time-consuming job. You need to go through it regularly, it comes once a week and if you are not here one week and you have two of them piled up and, God forbid, you're gone for two weeks, or three weeks, your desk would be full of these thick volumes. In these abstracts I would specifically look up about a dozen different subject headings. In the early days, before computers, I would write away for reprints of the articles that I was interested in. ... Later on, I would simply tear out the page from the abstract and paste the abstract on a card. Now, of course, I can usually download the article since we have huge electronic journal access. .
SI: Just to describe for the tape, we are looking at a wall of filing cabinets.
HF: Full of reprints on just about every subject related to my interest area that you can imagine. Here for example is something that goes back to 1959, the availability of nicotinic acid; these are the file cards that describe this, and they are filed by subject matter, and within subject matter, by the authors, by the first author's last name.
SI: Did you order the card guide from the company or did you make this yourself?
HF: I made this myself. Well, I shouldn't say myself, I had a secretary do it. I would give her the article or abstract and she would prepare the cards. They are also cross-referenced to more than one subject. ...
SI: I actually went to library school, so it's all very interesting to me. Now they can do it all with computers and you just type it out.
HF: And still, to this day when I write an article or a lecture, it's so easy. I don't have to go either on the computer or to the library. I have it right here, and if you have a good memory on top of it and you know that you have it, it's really very, very, worthwhile. ... I got this from this Professor Eaton, at UConn. When I came to Illinois, in Illinois I worked on niacin, how niacin was metabolized and, as I mentioned before, I used radioactive niacin. Niacin is nicotinic acid, it's a vitamin, and we checked what the metabolites were by looking in the urine and looked at radioactive compounds and then tried to identify them, to see what they were. ... Again, Illinois was such an incredibly, big place. I mean, I'm not enough of chemist to be able to identify all these compounds, but they had mass spectroscopy instruments and all kinds of people in other departments, who made their facilities available so that we could do that. So, that was one of the big things. My field of interest was always, actually, amino acids, and there is an amino acid called tryptophan from which our bodies make niacin. If we get enough protein that has tryptophan in it you really don't need any niacin in the diet. Niacin is made and that was another thing that we studied to see the extent to which tryptophan could completely, or not completely replace Niacin.. So, that was my work. But there were so many other things. For instance, I met a biochemist in a different department ...
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SI: Please, continue.
HF: I met a biochemist in a totally different department, who had heard about my collecting the urine and looking at these radioactive compounds in the urine, and this man wasn't interested in niacin. He was interested in how I got urine because the urine was from chickens and birds do not secrete urine like mammals do. I don't know if you know anything about the anatomy of birds, any bird, they void their urine into an organ called the cloaca where it mixes with the feces. ... Then the feces and the urine are voided together. You know, there's always the old joke, when a bird drops something on your car windshield, you're supposed to say a prayer, thank God that elephants don't fly. But if you ever looked at feces from birds you see this whitish material. The whitish material is urine and it's not liquid like it is from us, or from most other mammals. It's a whitish material that has a substance called uric acid in it; that's what gives it the white color; whereas, we have urea which gives it the yellow color and ours is liquid. ... One reason why birds apparently have this particular urine is because they can get by with much less water, because that's why it can be secreted almost solid; whereas, we must have enough water to get rid of the urea. Anyway, how do you get pure urine, uncontaminated by the feces? I still remember, well, it was easy to get even a little bit, just for our radioactive studies. ... When this man who was studying an important disease in children, galactosemia, which is a disease where newborn infants cannot tolerate milk because of the galactose, which is part of the sugar lactose in milk and he was studying the metabolism of this compound, and so, he had learned that chickens were a very, good model because they could not tolerate galactose just like these children, who had this genetic defect, that's why he was interested in this. So, he comes to me and he says, "I heard that you know how to get chicken urine." I said, "Yes, but, you know, only small amounts." He said, "Well, can you help me get some?" I still remember mulling this over, and I was in a concert with my wife. In the middle of the concert I had a brilliant idea on how to perform a surgical operation on chickens in order to collect urine. ... It was not a very complicated operation, but it was an operation, and you had to insert a device, and then we were able to collect urine for him. So, I had this opportunity to work with him, Dr. Gaurth Hansen, later the head of the Biochemistry Department at Michigan State University. I did this while I was working on my main thesis, PhD problem, on something totally different. ... In the course of working with Hansen, because this man was so nice to work with, another issue that came up was that galactose is very similar, chemically, to glucose, and so how do you differentiate between the two? And again, another great forte at Illinois was their big biostatistics department. ... I became very friendly with their main statistician and so I told him about this glucose/galactose problem and it turned out that the statistician helped solve what became a statistical, more than a chemical problem, because what we were able to do was to develop a method of determining glucose and galactose together, we would read a solution containing the two sugars at two different wavelengths of light in a colorimeter. ... Then, statistically we would calculate, having also compared standard solutions of pure glucose and pure galactose, how much of the total came from each of the two sugars, and that was the very first important publication that I authored. It was published in the Journal of Analytical Chemistry. I think, we got 600 reprints of this article and they were spoken for overnight. There was such an interest in that subject. I could keep you regaled for two more hours, just on that subject, because in the course of developing this method, we found a paper, because we were looking for methods of analysis, that claimed to have done it. When we tried to copy the procedure, it didn't work, and being very naïve, I contacted the researcher and to make a long story short, he said, "Well I just estimated that." I mean, he was lying. He had cheated and, in my righteous indignation, I wrote to the journal, American Journal of Physiology, a great journal, and they were outraged over this. But it happens and it's happened so many times since. So, it was an interesting experience.
I had a straight A as a graduate student at Illinois, not because I was so brilliant, but because, I think, I was so highly motivated. It was just an incredible place. All the stuff that I learned there, as, I said, to this day, thank God, I left Connecticut, because Connecticut was very, very limited. There weren't these opportunities there. To this day, I can tell you on which side of my notebook I wrote the notes from a certain professor at Illinois who was such an incredible lecturer, and another one who went up there and he really kept my arm very, very busy copying notes and then he would say, "And you know what? This is all wrong." He would erase it all, because, in the meantime, since the earlier material had appeared, they had found a completely new pathway. That was so stimulating, and a wonderful experience.
SI: You mentioned in your first interview that one thing that you were disappointed in at Rutgers was that you didn't have researchers as professors. That sounds like that was the opposite in grad school at Illinois.
HF: Oh, absolutely. Well, there were some people here who were doing research, but I didn't have that much contact with them at the time. Rutgers was not a great Research University as yet.
SI: Did you have any contact with the work Waksman was doing?
HF: No, I knew of him and I knew one of the other people, Jaffe, I don't know if you know him, Professor Jaffe, Jacob Jaffe, who was in the same department with Waksman, Soil Microbiology. There were some good people here too but I never took a course with Waksman, although I did take a number of bacteriology courses as an undergraduate but in Arts and Science (Rutgers College) not in the Ag School.
SI: Did you find that your education at Rutgers prepared you well for UConn and Illinois?
HF: Yes. No question. In fact, it prepared me so well that at Illinois I didn't have to take the beginning biochemistry course over again because I'd had a very, very good course here as an undergraduate already. I thought I had received a good education here.
SI: It was interesting what you brought up earlier about chemical abstracts and the way you went about finding information. What other research methodologies did you learn in grad school?
HF: Well, let me tell you just a little bit more about the library. When I came here, for the first, I don't know how many, at least twenty or more years ago, I would go once a week to the library with a secretary. ... We had an arrangement, at that time we had an agricultural library over here, you know, there's the Chang Library, at that time the library was in Martin Hall, right next door to Thompson Hall here, and it was a pretty good library. ... They had an arrangement whereby they got all the new science journals for one week. They would bring them over here, I don't know whether they got them first, or after a certain period of time, but they all came here. ... I would go once a week, with a secretary and I would spend maybe two hours in the library and read all the journals that I was interested in, nutrition and biochemistry, physiology, and a few other general journals that would carry something that might be of interest and, anything that was of interest, I would give to the secretary. ... She would either write a reprint request, we had special cards, postcards, where you just put in the reference, the name of the journal and the article that you wanted and the address and we would send it out, or she had these little abstract cards that you saw here and she would write on there whatever I wanted, just an abstract, and I did that for as long as this library existed. When this library was finally closed down, we had the same arrangement at the Douglass Library. They would bring the science journals over there so we went to that library. When I say we, another colleague who joined me here in the department, the two of us would go together, also with a secretary, and we would continue doing that at Douglass until they finally stopped. After that I only depended on Chem Abstracts. But I must tell you, I think that that is exceedingly important, if you really want to stay on top of your field, to know what's going on, and that's not even counting as you can see all the journals that I subscribe to, because now I'm throwing them all out. There's no point in keeping them now because I tear out the article I'm interested in and no point [in keeping them]. In those days we used to bind them and spent a fortune in binding all these journals.
SI: So, when you started a new research project was that the first place you turned, to the library, to see what had been done?
HF: Of course. But, you know, usually it's a continuum, you know, I never really stopped continuing the work that I had began at Illinois. As I mentioned, tryptophan was a subject I pursued at Illinois. When I came here, one of the first things that I studied was the two forms in which amino acids can exist: the so called L and D forms, and one of the things that was unknown was whether the D form can be utilized as well as the L form. The L form was known to be the important one, and several people had guessed that the D form, for many amino acids, was just as available. But no one had ever really tested it and I was able to get from Merck & Company, some D for the amino acid phenylalanine and I was able to test it out and found that it was not very available relative to the L form at all. Later on I had a student who studied amino acid requirements. First, again, in chickens, I guess, because we had started that work in Illinois, and then we did it in rats, and then, believe it or not, we did it in students. ... That was some experience. We had mostly Douglass students until, I would say, about 1970, and then we stopped when things got very difficult. As you probably know, you have an Institutional Review Board to approve studies with human subjects and the reason we had to stop was because the committee insisted that if a subject was on an experiment even for one hour we had to pay them. ... What happened was that students would just take very unfair advantage, and they'd stay on an experiment for a couple of days. ... These experiments were never that long, I mean we knew that we couldn't depend on people being on too long so the longest would be three weeks at a time. When they'd quit on us after just a few days we lost all data. ... After this happened several times in a row we lost more than $20,000.00 because we couldn't complete the experiment, because the students just quit after they had collected enough pocket money. We paid pretty well. We decided we just couldn't do it any more and the Review Board insisted that we had to pay. When we started, of course, the understanding was they would only get paid if they completed the study. Now if they were sick, or something, I'm sure we would have given them some money, but just to quit just like that, in the middle that was, I thought, very unfair. So, that's why we stopped doing experiments with human subjects.
Then later, we came back again to amino acid research because it turns out that tryptophan is the starting material, as I said, for tryptophan, but it is also the starting material for another very important compound called serotonin. I don't know if you've ever heard, but serotonin is a neurotransmitter. It is a compound that helps signal or transmit a signal concerning satiety, well-being, and so on, and it is extremely important in relation to problems having to do with addiction, drugs of addiction. Eating in that sense is also an addictive process, or can be. ... We were studying alcohol and alcoholism and also got into studying serotonin and tryptophan, and to this day we are working with tryptophan in relation to alcoholism. I just have a paper here that was just published entitledAlterations in Alcohol Consumption, Withdrawal, Seizures and Transmission in Rats Treated with Phentamine and 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan. So, fifty years later and here we're collaborating with someone from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, and still with the same tryptophan. Research is fascinating, because, on one hand, you do so many different things, but then again, it's also circular; you come back to things that you started out with a lot earlier.
SI: Just following this one element you've gone from nutrition to addiction, almost two different fields.
HF: But it's really still the same field, because, while I've worked on alcoholism and am still working on that, I'm still interested in the nutritional aspect of it, tryptophan among other nutrients. I found some other very interesting nutritional things about alcoholism. For instance, on a high carbohydrate diet, alcohol isn't nearly as addictive, or is bad or is harmful, as it is on a high fat diet. ... If you drink alcohol, eat some bread, or some other carbohydrate with it and it's going to be metabolized more readily and it won't pass into your brain and cause you to freak out, certainly not that easily. On a high carbohydrate diet with a high alcohol intake, your blood alcohol level can be quite low, quite normal, but on a high fat diet, that is not the case, and the alcohol can do lots more damage. Very recently, we looked at vitamin E and other antioxidants, because it's always been believed that part of the damage from alcohol is due to its oxidative effects that destroy antioxidants. ... So, we decided to look at what would happen if you give higher than normal levels of vitamin E and, to our amazement, we found that on high intakes of vitamin E, things were much worse. It turns out that vitamin E, at high intakes, can become a pro-oxidant, not an antioxidant but a pro-oxidant, and do damage, and in the process of these studies we found a synthetic antioxidant that does not do that. So, again, there's the nutritional connection to what we're doing.
SI: In your research does it get to the point where you're working on drugs to help manipulate levels of serotonin?
HF: Yes, we have done much research in this area. When we first discovered that serotonin is seriously involved in alcoholism, and there is another, important neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine and serotonin are the two that are intimately involved, and abnormal in the brain of alcoholics; their chemistry in the brain becomes abnormal on continuous and high alcohol intake. ... We looked at drugs that would ameliorate, and perhaps even totally overcome, the bad effects of the alcohol. ... Again, here I think, we scored, one of our major discoveries. ...I had a very brilliant post-doc from Israel who came up with the idea that seems so utterly rational and you might have anticipated this but no one had before she came up with this, ... she was the one to show that both serotonin and dopamine were simultaneously affected by the alcohol. She said, "Why don't we try and find two drugs that we administer together?" Until that time the literature was full of people trying one drug at a time, one for serotonin, another one for dopamine, and nothing ever really worked very well. So, she set up an experiment where we tried, I think, three or four different drug combinations of two drugs and one of the combinations completely alleviated alcohol withdrawal seizures and craving. Since that time, just a few years later, the same idea occurred to people working on AIDs. In this field also researchers used to initially try only one drug at a time. Now it is common practice to use two or more drugs simultaneously.
SI: You were telling us about using a dual drug approach to things.
HF: Yes, I was just saying about AIDs that they decided, suddenly, the same thing that if several drugs separately are effective, possibly there might a synergistic, or additive effect, if they tried more than one. ... Of course, that has turned out to be the case and now it's been very common to try more than one drug simultaneously. So, that was really a big success for us and, just for your personal clarification, the combination that we found that was so effective turned out to be the same one that, a short while later, became so effective against obesity, namely Fen-Phen. Do you remember hearing about that combination, phentermine and fenfluramine? So there was a big study underway to see how it would work for chronic alcoholics, they had already had the experience that it worked for obesity control, but no one had ever done a long term study on alcoholism and then came the discovery that fenfluramine, one of those two drugs, caused heart valve problems. ... So, it was taken off the market by the FDA. But, as I just mentioned to you, our most recent publication describes a substitute for fenfluramine, which is a serotonin affecting drug. We found that we could also use a derivative of tryptophan, and that compound has no side effects at all, and seems to be just as effective. So, you see we have done a considerable amount of work on drugs.
SI: Rutgers is a leading center for this kind of study?
Not really, although Rutgers has a Center for Alcohol Studies, its focus is more directed towards social and psychological treatments of alcoholism. Not a pharmacological approach.
SI: You just have different aims?
HF: Yes, the focus is different. At one time it was a very biochemically-oriented center, and then when the senior biochemist retired, they did not replace him with more biochemists, they went more into the social aspects. It's not that we have bad relations with the center, on the contrary, it's just that we're not doing the same kind of work.
SI: When you're developing these drugs and doing this research do you at any point work with psychiatrists or people that would touch more on the behavioral changes brought on by these drugs?
HF: Yes. Not psychiatrists but psychologists. I am and have been collaborating with a colleague in the psychology department, a neuro-psychologist, George Wagner. He and I have been collaborating for close to fifteen years now, and it's a great collaboration. All our alcohol work is done jointly, and several outstanding graduate students have come through our joint program. I'm also a member of the neuroscience graduate program, so, I'm on the committees of graduate students in psychology and vice-versa, George is on committees of students in Nutritional Sciences. The two of us, also collaborate with a third Rutgers faculty member who is in the biology department at Rutgers Camden, Joseph Martin, who is also interested in neuroscience. He's interested in the chemistry of sleep and we have collaborated a great deal as well. In fact, at 1:30 today we're having a joint lab meeting over here in Thompson Hall, so they'll be here.
PA: I was wondering after getting your doctorate at Illinois, how did you end up returning to Rutgers as part of the faculty?
HF: Well that was just pure coincidence. At the time there was a department here at the College of Agriculture called Poultry Science, and this department was looking for a nutritionist. ... They had actually offered the job to somebody else from Minnesota whom I knew because he'd also been an undergraduate here at the same time that I was. ... He was offered the job before I was but he didn't accept the job, he decided to stay at the University of Minnesota and so when he turned it down, they offered it to me. I was going to stay at Illinois and go on to veterinary school. I had already applied, and been accepted when this job offer came through. So, it was just pure chance, nothing to do with the fact that I'd been here before or anything like that. It was just that they were looking for someone with a good nutrition background and Illinois had an outstanding reputation and that was it. So, I started here at Rutgers on October 1st, 1954.
PA: You spent a couple of years as an assistant professor, when were you promoted to associate professor?
HF: Yes, I came as an assistant professor in 1954 and in 1957 I was promoted to associate professor with tenure. ... Later that summer, of 1957, I got an offer from Johns Hopkins, to go to Johns Hopkins, and join their biochemistry department, and the dean of this college, Bill Martin, called me in and said that he would like me to stay and what it would take? I had to think fast, because I was unprepared for that. ... I said, "Well, I really feel a bit lonely here. There's no other nutritionist, I'm all by myself." He said, "Do you have someone in mind?" Of course, that was the first time I ever thought about it but of course I said, "Yes," and he said, "Well bring him here next week." So, I left the dean's office, and came back over here to Thompson Hall and I called up a person I'd met at Illinois, and he had in the meantime become assistant professor at the University of Nebraska. ... So, I called him. I said, "Hey would you be interested in a job at Rutgers?" He said, "Sure, I'd consider it," and so we arranged it and he came the following week. I brought him over to the dean and the dean offered him the job right then and there. I mean, it was done so informally. To mention that today; I think people would be aghast how it was done. He offered him the job and, only then, the dean told my department chairman, who was a very nice guy, Clarence Platt, about it. So, that was how Paul Griminger came to Rutgers and I decided to stay here.
SI: I interviewed him.
HF: You did? So, he came here, and then, a couple of weeks later I met the dean someplace. ... He said to me, "You know Fisher, I was afraid you might ask for a secretary because that I couldn't have given you." I thought that was so funny. Anyway, then in 1962, I was promoted to full professor, and in 1972 to Professor II, which is, as you know, the highest rank.
PA: Soon after you became a full professor, Cook College started the Nutrition Department?
HF: In 1966
PA: Did you play a role in starting that?
HF: Only indirectly. I had no political role in that endeavor. That was one of the strangest serendipitous events. Mason Gross was president of the university, and he was asked by the American Dietetic Association to give a keynote address when they were holding their annual meeting in Philadelphia in 1966. ... During that keynote address, he mentioned that Rutgers was going to start a nutrition department. That was the first anybody had ever heard about it, and the next day we read about it in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The dean of Cook, it wasn't called Cook yet, but the dean at that time, Lee Merrill, was furious. He was convinced that I had put Gross up to it. Yet I had never spoken to him about it, had no idea that this was coming, but Merrill was convinced that I was involved and he wouldn't speak to me for a year. But, anyway the dean was told by Gross to start a department, and so I became a one-person department. At that time, I was a member of the former department of poultry science that had been merged about 1961, or 1962, into a department of animal sciences. ... Within that department we had a division of nutrition, a division of physiology, and a division, I think, of pathology, and so the nutrition division became the department of nutrition. That was in 1966, and then, very slowly, the department grew. The following year '67, Dr. Griminger was permitted to join the department, and then we got a few more faculty members. So, that's how the department grew and then I was chairman for twenty-two years, till 1988.
SI: How did you see the state of sciences at Rutgers, from '54 when you came here, until they started committing resources to it?
HF: Well, it certainly improved in many ways. I thought the advent of the medical school, which also came about in 1966, was a great step forward. There were always some problem areas, some steps taken backward. For instance, I always felt it was very, very sad that this college, Cook, permitted its two formerly renowned basic science departments, biochemistry and microbiology, to go downhill when they used to be the premier departments in the university. ... The best faculty moved over to departments on the Busch Campus, because the deans of Cook College, from my vantage point, didn't have the sense to realize that you have to have strong underpinnings in the basic sciences. ... I felt very bad. I still feel very bad about it today, because they still are not up to par where they ought to be today, and the basic sciences are much, much stronger and better on the Busch Campus.
SI: Are they still just one department?
HF: No, there is a department of biochemistry and molecular biology in FAS, and over on this campus [Cook] there is a joint department of biochemistry and microbiology.
SI: So, you're saying that the one on this campus is not necessarily up to par with the one on the Busch Campus?
HF: That's right.
SI: Why would you say that's so?
HF: As I just mentioned, the best faculty from Cook had left to join the FAS departments. And as you probably know, Waksman started the Institute of Microbiology also on the Busch Campus and not on the Cook Campus.
SI: Why do they have two separate departments? With the reorganization why wasn't one of them phased out?
HF: It's pure politics. I mean you're absolutely right; there should be one department, even if there are two locations. There's no reason why you couldn't have that. They tried it once and all that happened was that the chair of the FAS department, at one point, kicked out some of the weaker faculty. ... They ended up over here on the Cook Campus, which is very unfair, and it wasn't the right thing to do, but these things happen. It's not the only unfair thing.
SI: When you first started here, and basically through the late '70s and early '80s, you had different departments on each campus. Did they often compete with each other?
HF: In some ways, but not in all. In some cases they worked well together. A great deal depends, as I'm sure you realize, on the leadership, and I'm sorry to say that this college, Cook College has not had many good deans. I think Martin, after whom the building next door is named, who was the dean when I was hired was probably the only really good dean in all the fifty years that I've been at Rutgers. All the others really didn't do a very good job, because the job is very demanding and few people can manage the outreach as well as the educational and research task demanded of the individual. We did not have a serious scientist as dean until the current one, Dr. Goodman came. So they didn't appreciate the importance of the basic sciences as I just explained in connection with biochemistry and microbiology.
SI: So, in the '60s and '70s and '80s, when both the state and the University started committing large resources to the sciences, Cook College was kind of left out of that? Did it all go to the Busch facilities?
HF: No, it didn't go only over there. A lot of it, as I just tried to indicate was people, over here shooting themselves in the leg. Just to give you an example, there were some very good people in the biochem department here who agitated to be permitted to transfer to Busch, and they succeeded and so they further weakened these departments. Now these were very good people. Back in the late 1950s I was asked to write an article for a USDA magazine on the future of agricultural research. ... I still remember saying in the article, that I wrote, that unless the people who are working in agriculture realize that they must compete for funds from the big federal agencies like NIH [National Institute of Health], NSF [National Science Federation] and so on, agriculture colleges, and their faculty are going be left out, and to some extent that's exactly what happened here. The Universities of Wisconsin, Illinois, California kept up with the times, while we at Rutgers are now playing catch-up! Many of the faculty over here at Cook decided to rely on either money from industry or from other traditional agricultural sources which had pretty much dried up over the years. ... So, there isn't quite the base, although there are many new, young faculty with great backgrounds who have joined us recently. One of my colleagues just got a five year NIH grant and there are others in the department who are doing it as well, but I'm talking across the board, I'm not talking about any one department in particular. So, you have to do things yourself. It isn't just what somebody else hands you and there has to be a climate and a culture of wanting to do all these things.
PA: Talking about politics of the university, you were the vice president of the AAUP [American Association of University Professors] for a while, are you still active in that organization?
HF: I was president of the AAUP at the time when it became the bargaining unit. That was in 1969-'70, and I was the one who was responsible, really, for it becoming the bargaining unit. The reason was that two outside unions were agitating and were trying to become the bargaining unit, the AFT, American Federation of Teachers ...
--------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO-------------------------------------
SI: This continues an interview with Dr. Hans Fisher on March 9, 2005 with Shaun Illingworth
PA: and Peter Asch
SI: Please continue.
PA: You had mentioned there were two outside unions.
HF: Okay. Yes, there were two outside units, the AFT and the New Jersey Education Association, NJEA. ... They were both agitating on campus to become the bargaining agent for the faculty and those of us who were very much concerned about the academic standards were very worried about bringing a typical union in here. ... So, I don't mind saying after all these years, it was really a sweetheart agreement with the administration. Mason Gross was still president, and he had been a member of the AAUP, I must say. The AAUP had always been a very visible and very forward looking organization on campus. We had, the top senior faculty of the university as AAUP members, these faculty had always been the active presidents. Thus, during my presidency then, we were told by the State that if we could sign up a certain percentage of the faculty, then we did not have to submit to an outside election. ... I remember, we just made available little index cards to the faculty, like the one I use for my reprints, and we got 900 faculty to sign up and we submitted these signature cards to the State Board, PERC, Public Employment Relations Commission. This organization deals with bargaining, collective bargaining in the State, and they ratified our signatures, that this had been done legally, and everything was fine, and so the AAUP was declared the union and for the next few years, things really worked very well. We bargained in a real spirit of cooperation and collegiality. We usually talked to the president, the provost, and most agreement was jointly reached between the administration, the AAUP before we bargained with Trenton. And then, unfortunately, a different element took over the leadership of the AAUP. I guess, I'm prejudiced. My prejudice is that for many years it was always scientists, mathematicians, or physicists, hysiologist and then, all of a sudden, the presidency went to people in the social sciences and other non-science fields. ... As I like to say, they were long on talk and short on doing, whereas, we used to be short on talk and long on doing, and the good relationship and bargaining fell apart. The two sides became so antagonistic towards each other that they just couldn't work in any collegial way and it was sad. It's a little bit better right now, but still not collegial. I don't know if you've heard, the AAUP, right now, is cooperating with the AFT. Are you aware of that?
SI: I followed it a little bit.
HF: There's a vote underway right now to see whether the membership agrees to that and, I tell you very openly, I supported it, because, I think, that the administration, and not just this administration, previous administrations, too, have treated the people, who have worked on bargaining, with such disdain, I think, that maybe the only thing that can salvage things is to have a real union with a little bit of clout. I certainly don't like to have a real unionization of the faculty, but this disdain with which this administration has treated the faculty is just not nice. So, I have not been active in the AAUP since the mid-seventies, when it was taken over by the type of people I have described. In fact, I had my fights with them. One time, just to give you a little anecdote, one time I had a faculty member, in my department, who was a cheat, a liar and a fraud and this was documented. ... That person was not promoted, and was not given tenure. This person filed a grievance about me and about the promotion process. ... There is a Grievance Committee that then met, where the aggrieved party appealed the process and my handling of it. The appeals committee, that was appointed had, as its chair, a person who was a close friend of the appellant. So, I complained, and I said that this person ought to step down, because it's a conflict of interest to have a person with an obvious bias representing the appellant. ... It turned out that the faculty member has a right to challenge the composition of the appeals committee, but the university in its, pardon me, foolishness never asked for that option, and they did not have that right. But, I decided to appeal this point anyway, and so I had to appear together with several other members of the department in Trenton before PERC ... We made a big to-do, that it's not fair that that person should serve on the committee. The then president of the AAUP, Wells Keddie, he just died two weeks ago, represented the appellant. We had quite a shouting match in Trenton, and we lost on legalistic grounds, because the university did not have the right to challenge the make-up of the Grievance Appeal Committee. Anyway, the upshot of the appeal didn't change anything. The appellant won the appeal, but lost the war, because the appellant only won the right to have the promotion papers resubmitted. ... When they were put through again, there was even more damaging information available and the candidate was turned down again, and had to leave the university. Anyway, I only mentioned that episode because here we were really fighting against the AAUP, because they were using unethical means, to my way of thinking. I don't think that the AAUP has done all that it could in terms of representing the faculty. There are many issues for example on insurance, where the AAUP almost never does anything, because the university always says, and to some degree it's correct, that matters like insurance are not really under the purview of the university because they are handled by the pension office in Trenton, but for God's sake, you represent a very large contingent of employees. ... So, you go out, and you lobby for all kinds of other things with the legislature. That's just an extension. The thing that I can't get through my head after all these years is, that the university president himself, and the vice presidents have the same inadequate insurance as the faculties have. It's in their interest, too, so why wouldn't they want to fight for improved coverage often for no extra money? Some of the school districts have a dental insurance that costs the same as ours at Rutgers and offers much better coverage. I'm sure it would take very little to get action, but you have to have the support of the administration. But both the Administration and the AAUP play dead on many of these issues. Another thing for which I take, partial, credit which, again, is one of the things that I just mentioned, not a direct salary issue, is something called pension cashability. I'm sure you've never heard the term, cashability of the pension. When I came here, the retirement program for all Rutgers faculty was a program under which you were deducted five percent of your salary, which placed into the State pension fund. The State didn't put anything in until you retired, and, at that time, your retirement was based on your years of service. At that time, if you worked, let's say, twenty-five years, your retirement salary would be twenty-five over sixty-five. Sixty-five was considered the retirement age, so it would be the ratio of how long you worked over sixty-five and that's what you got, and that's what the State paid. ... Of course, the State, depending on how many people retired each year, didn't need the same amount of money each year, so many times different governors played games, and would take money out of the pension fund to fund all kinds of other things to balance the State budget. In 1967, another great faculty member, a biochemist from the Center for Alcohol Studies, by the name of David Lester, almost single-handedly met with the New Jersey Legislature, and got them to pass a law that set up what is now called the alternate benefit program, or ABP. ... That is the retirement pension program that all faculty now must subscribe to. This pension program is very different from the old one in that the faculty member places his pension deduction into his own, personal account with a program, such as TIAA-CREF. The State also places its pension contribution, 8% of salary, into the faculty's account and the whole account is yours upon retirement and not subject to any whims of the governor or the legislature. ... The fantastic thing about the ABP program is that whereas, under the old system, you had to work fifteen years before you owned a stake in your retirement called vesting, under the TIAA-CREF alternate benefit program, you were vested after one year. Secondly, the State had to put in its full allotment every month so that if, for some reason, you were to go to another institution you could take the entire pension amount with you. The one thing that was still poor was if you retired from Rutgers, under the alternate benefit program you were forced to take an annuity. You know what an annuity is? An annuity is like a life insurance policy. It pays you a certain amount which is predetermined, and you can take it out for ten years, for twenty years, you can take it out till you die, till you and your spouse died, and, essentially it is time limited. Under that system there's never anything left at the end of the annuity time period agreed upon. It often works more to the benefit of TIAA-CREF than the retiree. Sometime in the 1980s, Stanford University took TIAA-CREF to court, on the grounds that you should be able to take out whatever you put in, whatever the State put in, and not have to take out an annuity. To be able to do with your pension funds whatever you want to. If you don't want to put it into an annuity, maybe put it into mutual funds, or something else, and Stanford won. TIAA-CREF lost. It was a tax court decision, I believe. Many other universities similarly obtained the same right for their faculty to have this option, called, cashability; that when you retire you can take everything that's in your specific account and do with it whatever you wish. I called up TIAA-CREF around 1990 when a very knowledgeable friend in finance told me about cashability and thought we should have it at Rutgers. So, I called up TIAA-CREF thinking this is wonderful, "Could we have this too?" They said, "Sorry, for Rutgers to get it, the legislature has to pass a new law permitting this." Well, to pass a law isn't that simple. To make a long story short, it took two years of effort, we contacted New Jersey legislators and particularly an assemblywoman from New Brunswick, Harriet Derman, was extremely helpful to us and she introduced a bill into the assembly. ... Somebody else co-sponsored it in the senate, and to make a long story short, after two years, right after Whitman was elected governor, the legislature almost unanimously approved this bill, and so we thought, "Wonderful, we're home safe," and then, Florio, who was still governor, refused to sign the bill, and he refused to sign it because his commissioner of pensions told him that this would not be good, because the faculty would be irresponsible, and they would spend the money on yachts and crappy things, and then they'd come back, hat-in-hand complaining that they don't have money to live on, ridiculous. Anyway, we were devastated, two years of work, we had had to go to Trenton dozens of times, and all this down the drain. Sometime beginning of January, we get a phone call; the commissioner has changed her mind if we would permit a small change in the bill, which was really very minor. The original bill had said that you could retire and get cashability if you retired at age fifty-five, and she asked if we would agree to change it from fifty-five to sixty years of age. We had no problem with that. Whitman was sworn in on a Tuesday, and the day before, at five p.m., Florio signed the bill. So, we got cashability, and that's a great thing because what this really means is that you have full control over your pension money. ... If you're lucky enough to have more than what you need, you can leave it for your children and grandchildren whereas under the old system, TIAA-CREF, as often as not kept part of your money since you were forced to take an annuity. Maybe with that, it's a good time to stop. I think that's one of my great achievements for the Rutgers faculty. There were four of us. I don't want to take all the credit. Another one was George Horton in physics; Leo Troy, an economist in the economics department in Newark; and the fourth one was Horace DePodwin, the former dean of the business school in Newark. He was very knowledgeable, and he testified several times so, altogether, it was a very good experience, but you have to work hard on these issues and we had no help whatsoever, from any one in the administration.
SI: It was just you four by yourselves. Was the AAUP involved?
HF: Yes, AAUP was involved. There was one fellow in the AAUP, who is, unfortunately, long gone, who helped us, who had good contacts in Trenton. Another thing was the bill also enlarged the base of pension funds. Until that time only TIAA-CREF was the one organization that could provide these pensions and under this new bill, this cashability bill, they opened it up so that five other pension organizations, for instance, Lincoln Financial is one of them, but there are several others, and the lobbyists for these five, or seven, other companies also helped us, but, of course, they weren't interested in cashability. They were only interested in getting access to faculties' retirement funds, but nevertheless it did help to have them on our side because it was one bill. So, the AAUP was involved, but peripherally. I don't think that the AAUP president was involved, I don't even remember who the president was at the time. It was this one, employee, really, Chris somebody who really worked with us. The rest of the organization, I don't even think they knew what was going on regarding this matter. Any other questions?
SI: Do you have to go soon?
HF: No, I don't. No, I have time.
SI: I want to ask in addition to these bargaining issues, the AAUP also focused on issues of academic freedom. Do you remember any cases, particular cases of academic freedom, that you had to deal with?
HF: I remember there were some cases of faculty in trouble. I remember there was somebody in the chemistry department who supposedly made his students work in his yard and do other work like this, issues of that sort. There were other issues that I really don't want to mention openly. I mean there were harassment issues, where a faculty member in one department, at least that was the story that was going around, had made an agreement with a female member of his department that if she would sleep with him, he would make sure that she would get tenure, you know issues of this sort. That's the kind of stuff I'm sure comes up time and again, but I don't remember any major issues such as, I've read about this German professor who was fired by his department chair because he was Jewish, that was way before my time.
SI: The Hauptmann-Bergel Case.
HF: Yes, that kind of stuff. I don't remember anything of that importance.
SI: Were you in charge of the AAUP during the Genovese controversy?
HF: No, I was not in charge, nor very active at that time, but I remember that, Mason Gross handled that so easily, and, you know, he was a decent person and there were just no two ways about it.
SI: Do you think the good relationship between the AUP and the administration before the change of the mid-seventies, had to do with Mason Gross's personality?
HF: Yes, but it also had to do with the personalities on the faculty side. I think it was a different caliber of faculty. You had a faculty involved with AAUP that was intelligent, fair, proactive. In the mid-seventies we suddenly got a bunch of people in AAUP leadership positions, who were stuck as associate professors with tenure, but who, didn't have the capability to get promoted to professor. They were clearly not good enough academically to be promoted to professorship. ... I'm sure that must have something to do with it, either that or the administration doesn't quite have the respect for these people, or the combination of, that they don't have respect and that these people behaved in a way towards the administration, perhaps feeling a little bit like second class citizens, which they were, are, and so, I think, that these are some of the reasons why these poor relationships occurred. Because I really never recall, even if we disagreed, and I'm sure we didn't always agree with Mason Gross, or he with us, but we could always talk to the guy, and, usually, we could resolve issues, and the same with the provost at the time.
SI: Just to clarify, are you saying that because of somebody's actions with the AAUP that they were kept from becoming professors or moving up?
HF: No, no, no. What I'm saying is the people who became presidents of the AAUP, were motivated perhaps to become leaders of the AAUP, perhaps in the vain hope, I don't know, that that might help them get promoted. But, I think, they usually just let out their ill feelings perhaps because they had not been promoted. You know, that's just human nature. If I feel put upon, I'm not going to feel very kindly towards the people who I think are behind, or have some influence on that process. That's what I think happened. That's why I'm so happy that now we have somebody like Rudy Bell, a very, respected professor. But we have had a number of people who were associate professors, and they are going to retire as associate professors, and I think that makes a big difference. So, I don't think it was just that Mason Gross was so good. I think Bloustein was somebody that was easy to talk to, also. I had a good relationship with him, and he did with many other faculty members too. But, I think that there were many AAUP leaders, who had such an antagonistic attitude towards the whole process, I think, that even if they had wanted to, they couldn't get together.
SI: I don't want to force you to say anything, you just say what you feel comfortable saying.
HF: Yes, you don't have to worry, I will.
SI: Do you think it's easier for the university to operate and to get some of these things done when there is a Democrat or Republican in the Governor's mansion?
HF: Well, I tell you, just looking back the experience has been, Rutgers has always done better under Republicans, particularly under Kean. That was the period when Rutgers really got money and under the Democrats, Florio kept a much more rigid ship. So I don't remember whether Whitman was better but, I think, she was also better for Rutgers. But, I don't think it has anything to do with their specific attitudes, I think it's a different laissez-faire attitude somehow, that's my feeling. I certainly know that, in general, the presidents of Rutgers had generally been on the Democratic side, so I don't know if that has influenced anything, but it certainly has never helped Rutgers to get more money.
SI: Has it remained a mostly apolitical relationship?
HF: I think so, I really think so. Although I believe that personal relationships are very important. Governor Hughes seemed to have a very fine relationship with Gross. Perhaps that contributed to that great act on Hughes part to give Rutgers that large sum of money to raise the salary scale into respectable territory.
SI: I've also read that Gross and Cahill didn't get along too well and that factored into the medical school problem.
HF: Yes, well that was pretty terrible. I was there when that happened. I was in Trenton when that happened. Cahill didn't have the votes and so he called for a legislative recess and [Michael] Cahill met with a couple of senators, and we heard afterwards that he promised each of them several judgeships to appoint friends to judgeships, when the Senate reassembled, these two senators voted for separation of the medical school and so it was taken out of Rutgers and UMDNJ was formed. That was the biggest mistake that ever happened. What a mistake! because that medical school had an A-1 dean who left them, Dewitt Stetten, and the school went downhill. Look what has happened since then to UMDNJ! That was very sad.
SI: Do you think Rutgers would be helped if we had a closer union with UMDNJ [University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey]?
HF: Yes, I think it would be good for both institutions, I think it would be very good for both. Even though the salary scale was moved from a C to an A scale, and I've been here fifty years and after fifty years, I'm a Professor II, which is the highest rank that you can be, my salary is still way less than what either of my two sons makes. One is at the University of Massachusetts, the other one is at Harvard. Okay, Harvard, but Harvard isn't known to necessarily pay the highest, but both of them make way more money than I do and they've only been there about ten years or so. We're still not at the top when it comes to salaries. If we had the medical school that would impact on salaries across the board.
SI: An issue like that would definitely have an effect on recruitment.
HF: Of course, no question about it.
SI: Rutgers is still considered pretty good though, in terms of the quality of faculty.
HF: No question. No question.
SI: How do they attract good people?
HF: Well, one thing that Rutgers has going for it is its location, in many areas, the New York area is something that is highly advantageous and desirable. For instance the arts, people can live in the city, so, the Mason Gross School, we have some very, very fine people there. There are many other fields, as well, in the business school, with Wall Street in New York, even in the sciences, there are people who have ties to Columbia, Rockefeller, or Princeton, and so on, so this is a good location. The university also can make all kinds of financial deals today, which weren't always possible in the past, so that many people in the university make much more than I do, by just bargaining for that. In the Targum, the other day Ken Breslauer was mentioned. He's the dean of life sciences over at FAS. A couple of years ago, he was considered the highest paid faculty. He was making $250,000.00, which is a pretty nice salary, which is way, way, more than what somebody like myself makes after all these years. But he had an offer from, I think, Sloan-Kettering and so they gave him that. The point I'm making is that Rutgers today is in a position where they can do that. In the old days, they couldn't. There was a limit, even going outside the range, where they would have to get permission even from the union, from the State to offer a salary that is so out-of-line. I remember in 1990, I negotiated, what was for me then, a very hefty salary increase and the dean had to get permission from other members of my department, through the AAUP, that they weren't going to challenge it; otherwise he couldn't do it.
SI: A few years ago, I was doing some work on the Board of Governors minutes, and I saw in the late Seventies or the early Eighties, that they had this pretty big discussion about how they would have to raise the president's salary in order to attract people to the vice presidents positions, because everything was on the pyramid scale. Is that the same situation with the faculty?
HF: No, no. That used to be very much the case, in fact, it was worse than that. There was a time when the governor's salary was less than what the president of Rutgers made, I remember that, and they had to raise the governor's salary in order to be able to pay the president more. Yes, that situation existed too. So, all that has been changed, so now, pretty much, they can pay anyone pretty much what they want to. Well in the case of faculty what, I think, they do is they give them some administrative title, and then I guess, you know, you can do that as a kind of add-on and it doesn't have to be approved by the academic unit.
SI: Rutgers went coed in '72, what do you remember about that period and the move towards going coed?
HF: You mean, when Rutgers College went coed.
SI: Was Cook College already coed at that point?
HF: I believe it was. I remember well when Rutgers College went coed, because my daughter was in the first class in Rutgers College, so I remember very well, and she was in one of the new dorms on College Avenue.
SI: Mettler, Brett
HF: Yes, one of those, and so I remember very well and the problems had more to do with adjusting to having women around than anything else, but I don't remember any political issues at all. I think it was long overdue.
SI: There was nobody that you remember being particularly against it?
HF: No, not at all, no. I think it was favorably received.
SI: What about the restructuring in 1980?
HF: Yes, right. Well, I personally am sorry that Cook was made into a separate unit, because, frankly, it's no more a professional school than, I don't know, any of the other schools. It has one professional program, landscape architecture, but none of the others are, so, it was only done, for political purposes, to keep it separate. But, I think, by keeping it separate it hurt Cook, because it made it a separate institution and that excluded it from many things, which I wish would not have happened, and, of course, in some sense, we're talking about putting it back again. Though, I guess, you know the revision of the undergraduate program calls for having only one undergraduate Rutgers. It's going to be called School of Arts and Sciences. You've heard about it?
SI: Yes, I have.
HF: Although Cook is now much more closely aligned with FAS, it will still remain separate from the School of Art and Sciences. It will be called School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.
SI: I never quite appreciated that at the time FAS was being created, Cook was being pulled separately.
HF: Cook pulled itself away from FAS.
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HF: There was no reason that I could understand except that they wanted to be masters of their own fate, so to speak.
SI: Going back to the mid-nineteenth century, the College of Agriculture was created by separate act of the legislature, from the federal level, to create an agricultural college did it have to be separate?
HF: It wasn't. At one time, in fact when I was a student at Rutgers from 1946-50, every student in the College of Agriculture got his degree from Rutgers College. There was no separation. There were different curricula, which were under the aegis of the College of Agriculture, like I told you, this preparation for research that I was in, but my degree, everything, the housing, everything, was Rutgers College. There were no separate dormitories over here. The separate housing and all the rest only came after 1980. I think, personally, it was a mistake, because the smartest thing would have been to move everything over to the Busch Campus. I mean, to move, actually, physically move Cook and Douglas and College Avenue and move everything over onto the Busch Campus, to put the whole university over there. How many millions could we save in bus transportation? No, I'm kidding, but you know what I mean. It's at least two million a year just for buses! And I still remember Mason Gross was asked about expanding the university, and he said, "Rutgers will never grow anymore, so we might as well leave them where they are," famous last words. Well, thank you very much.
PA: I have one more question, on a totally different subject. I read an article that you were at the Skokie March
PA: I read people from your temple had attended, and you had gone with them.
HF: No, I was not there. I don't remember about that at all. I believe this is a misunderstanding because Skokie is right next door to Highland Park, Illinois, but not Highland Park, New Jersey.
SI: Do you recall any civil rights type activity at Rutgers?
HF: Well, I only remember the negative civil rights problems in the late sixties, where students occupied Gross's office on this campus, but then later were particularly militant in Newark. ... The scuttlebutt had it that that took its toll of him, that he was so disappointed that he, who was a super, liberal, guy could not talk to these students, could not get them to make common cause; that that kind of hastened his medical problems and his death. He was very, very upset. You know there were the riots in Newark at the time. Did either of you read the New York Times Magazine last Sunday?
HF: The lead article was by Joseph Lelyveld who was the managing editor of the Times, retired now, and he talks about his father Arthur Lelyveld, who was a rabbi who went to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to register black voters. He was hit with a crowbar and ended up in the hospital. Meanwhile his son, the newspaper reporter, was looking into a different horrendous story at the time, and somebody called him and said, "Your dad is in the hospital down in Mississippi." The whole article is about those difficult times. It's very interesting reading. Thank you.
SI: Thank you very much.
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Reviewed by Peter Asch 6/6/05
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 6/15/05
Reviewed by Hans Fisher 4/28/06