about—but in what part of it can you make your contribution? Let’s say you opt for biology and want to become the best damn biologist in the world. If you try to go it alone, you just won’t make it. It’s an environmental problem and therefore complex by nature. You’ve got to figure out how to talk to and understand the perspective of the politician, the poet, the economist. You all must work together if a complex problem must be understood, much less resolved. If I had to reduce human ecology to one word, it would be interdependence, and that was something I got from Rene Dubos, who was a professor at Rockefeller University and an early trustee. I was more interested in College of the Atlantic for the educational possibilities than the environmental thrust. I recognized the importance of environmental problems, that everything is tied together, and I realized that if you’re really going to deal with these problems, you’re going to have to train people with a new point of view. Maybe the environment would be a wonderful starting point around which to build a liberal education.
DG: So you were hired by that original group of trustees of the college, Father Jim, Les Brewer, Cushman McGiffert and the others, and they brought it to you and you said?
EK: What’s that mean? DG: [LAUGHS] And they said?
I said, “None of us know anything about starting a college, but we all know what we want. This is a very intelligent, committed group of people. I think we ought to think for ourselves. If we get stuck and we can’t handle it we can always go to the consultant—but let’s not start out hiring some ‘expert’ to tell us how to do it.” So we didn’t hire anybody. I think that we probably spun some wheels and had some growing pains we might not otherwise have had, but I couldn’t imagine anything that would be more stultifying than to have some expert come here and tell us what to do.
DG: Who was the instigator of the school’s administration system, that the faculty and students be such a strong part of running the college?
EK: I don’t know if it was my idea, I liked the ideas of mixing things up. There was always talk about governance. Once a year, because there were always new students around, I would talk about how the college runs. I said, “First of all, you’ve got to realize that this is a legal corporation. There’s a board of directors who are the trustees of the college. The only power that this board of directors has is they can approve all expenditures, they raise all money and they make all appointments. Our job inside the college is to arrange our affairs among the staff, faculty and students, so that the trustees keep out of our hair. Because any time we can’t do that, they can move right in.” And they should.
EK: “Go figure it out!” We had the first meeting of the Board of Trustees of College of the Atlantic on January second, 1970. They asked for my idea of the college, and I said there were enough colleges, so if it wasn’t awfully damn good there was no point in starting it. I mean who needs another college to turn out sixty or seventy people a year who are mediocre? The board agreed. Another thing that I had to scotch was that someone knew of a consultant out in Michigan who helped start colleges. By that time I had gotten Tibby Russell, Bob Patterson, Rene Dubos, Ted Sizer and others to come on the board, and I thought that would be a big mistake.
Let me tell you a funny story. When we were talking about starting the college, we had some meetings down at Ted Sizers’s office in Cambridge with Tibby Russell, Seldon Bernstein, Ted Sizer, Mel Cote and maybe Jim Gower and myself. We were talking about student involvement. It seemed to me that students should be involved, after all, they’re the customers, they’re paying, they ought to be part of the process. But as we got closer to starting the college, I began to wonder, “Gee, What’s going to happen, maybe all hell’s going to break loose.” And Sizer looked over at me, and said, “What’s the matter Kaelber, you losing your nerve?” COA | 15