Sanford S Elberg.

Graduate education and microbiology at the University of California, Berkeley, 1930-1989 : oral history transcript / 1989 online

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Online LibrarySanford S ElbergGraduate education and microbiology at the University of California, Berkeley, 1930-1989 : oral history transcript / 1989 → online text (page 10 of 26)
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the Detrick effort might have been very much less successful.
The British contributed enormously to the scientific bases and
the methodology, as they were not at all subject to the
prejudices of an instrument. They had their own way, and they
made progress much faster, as I learned with my own work on
brucellosis .


The war ended. I wouldn't say that the Naval Biological
Laboratory in the war years accomplished much in understanding
the actual defense against plague aerosols, or in the far more
serious task of presenting a B.W. agent ready for use, ven, in
offense. Certainly the navy would never have that as a part of
its assignment in contrast to the army, which had to consider the
preparation of weapons for offense as well as for defense . But
the navy insisted that its Medical Research Unit could only be
studying any agent in terms of potential defense for its own
personnel and the fleet vessels.

Lage: Was there a reason for that difference in attitude?

Elberg: The navy operation was run entirely by the Bureau of Medicine and
Surgery, which would have nothing to do with offensive
considerations of any subject agent. The army biological program
was run not by the surgeon general of the army, but by the
chemical warfare division of the army, which felt obliged that
its mission included complete knowledge of the agent's offense,
as well as defense potential. And so, thank heavens for that,
the naval unit was spared the necessity of studying anything but.
how an airborne attack might be possible by the plague organism,
including how, possibly, to work with K.F. Meyer on immunity
against plague infection.

Move to Oakland. Secret Research, and Departmental Strife over
the Lab

Elberg: The war ended, and the naval unit was kept on in the Life

Sciences Building contracting in spaces to kind of a small-scale
activity until about 1950, when the University urged the navy to
get out of the Life Sciences Building and return the space to the
original departments. It felt it need no longer lend all that
space, which was denying the departments their own expansion.
There being no war, the navy agreed and said that it would
relocate the naval laboratory, NAMRU 1, over to the Oakland Naval
Supply Station and create new space, which it did.

Sometime, then, it moved out, and, I think in 1950, the navy
reorganized the arrangement with the University to have the
University operate the laboratory on a contract basis and be
responsible for its civilian personnel, even though the navy
supplied a certain number of naval officers to be trained in the
laboratory. These officers, since they were on active duty and
were mainly M.D.'s, and dentists, and so on, interested in
research and medical specialties, needed a commanding officer.


They had one. The navy provided an officer who watched over just
the naval personnel and the physical welfare of the staff, the
loan of the space and equipment, and who worked with the naval
supply station and its admiral at the Oakland Naval Supply Base
to have amicable and productive relations.

It worked out very nicely, and so all was going well.
Krueger remained the acting scientific director. Then, in 1952,
with the Korean War, the navy became concerned again, as did the
army, and asked Krueger to devote more time to this effort. He
arranged with the dean of the College of Letters and Science,
Professor A.R. Davis, to be relieved of all teaching and to
devote whatever time he needed to the naval direction of the lab,
which he did, until about 1955. From 1952 to '55, the navy
poured more resources into the Oakland laboratories, developing
them into a preeminent world laboratory on respiratory routes of
infection. The skill of the staff was, as a result of its
University sponsorship, to become world-famous for its creative
solutions to problems of basic aerobiology.

Lage: Were there still graduate students there?

Elberg: There were always graduate students, but one could not guarantee
at that time, naturally, with the war on, that there wasn't also
secret research, to which no student could be admitted, a sore
point with the faculty on the rest of the campus regarding this

Lage: So it was one of the issues in the department.

Elberg: It was an issue from 1947 on. It was a serious issue. Krueger
decided to retire from the University in '55. But in '52, he
decided to give up the chairmanship of the department, and I was
appointed chairman. I inherited the problems.

Lage: Were you aligned with one or the other groups, or did you have
support of both groups , as chairman?

Elberg: At the beginning, I enjoyed a very sweet honeymoon. Since I was
not working at the laboratory, I tried to run the department in
the interests of both, and it was a very difficult task, since
there was very little give on either side.

Lage: Was the objection to the lab a political one?

Elberg: The objection to the lab was always that despite its claims,

nevertheless, it must indeed be carrying on secret research, and
this was anathema.


Lage : Biological warfare research.

Elberg: Yes. This was anathema, and I'm afraid it might have been

carrying on some as a contract, as a result of the Korean War.
But in 1956, we obtained as director Dr. Ralph Muckenfuss,
formerly from the New York City Health Laboratories and also a
prominent army officer in World War II - a colonel in the medical
corps. We had attracted Dr. Muckenfuss to come and succeed Dr.
Krueger as director, and Muckenfuss was an excellent man for this
task, a conciliator and an experienced, large medical laboratory
administrator, in civilian as well as military life. He was
never given much of an opportunity to conciliate, and he did not
like the way the lab was organized; it carried on too many of the
inconsistencies of administrative complications from earlier
years. He felt that he wasn't in complete -enough charge. I
tried my best to turn things around for him.

Lage: Because of the navy presence?

Elberg: Not because of the navy presence. Because of the civilian

scientists, who had been carried over from their naval careers,
and who felt that they knew much more about running the lab.
Muckenfuss was a bit nonplussed at times as to the extent of his
authority. I tried, as chairman, to give him every support, but
he also realized that there was departmental dissension. As a
result, he was never welcomed warmly into the department as I had
expected and hoped, because of his distinguished career.

Lage: Was he a professor?

Elberg: He was not a professor. He was a civilian employee of the

University, paid on funds provided by the navy on a contract. He
lasted until '56, about June, possibly. I don't remember what
month. It doesn't matter. But he suddenly resigned to become
director of the research laboratories of the Naval Medical Center
at Belvedere, Maryland.

When he resigned, I thought it's time to have a long talk
with Clark Kerr, the Chancellor, about this whole situation.
Kerr and I had a long lunch one day at The Faculty Club, and we
opened up the whole record of NBL - NAMRU - from the beginning.
And he said, "I am not happy with the fact that we have an
important University laboratory without a faculty member in
charge. I'm willing to make a provision for an FTE professorship
for the next director." I thought, "This must be God speaking.
This is the answer to our prayers."


Unfortunately, I did not play the thing properly,
politically. The problem was that I knew if we used the
professorship as the driving force, then the department faculty
would exercise an inordinate authority over who would be
selected, and it would not be with any regard to the navy's
needs. The lab would be doomed.

The University set up the usual search committee, and we
located Professor Carl Lamanna from Johns Hopkins School of
Public Health. I negotiated with Carl, who was an old friend,
and he agreed to come, especially with the idea that there would
be a faculty appointment since he was an associate professor at
Hopkins. His reputation in microbiology, internationally, was
unassailable for basic research. He had done superb science at
Detrick in the war years on botulinae toxin. We appointed him
the director, and then I proposed him to the department.

The department was, of course, split. There were those who
thought he was just excellent, a marvelous addition, and no way
would interfere with the department's normal growth in FTE. This
wasn't to be taken out of the department's FTE hide in the
future. It was just a free-and-clear new FTE. Others felt that
they couldn't agree to it, because they wanted a full national
search for someone to be the professor and then, incidentally, to
be the director of the laboratory. Well, I realized then, that
would not work. The department met and had a terrible battle.
It was obvious nothing could be done via that avenue.

I decided, at that time, to go ahead with the appointment as
director, and, at the same time, it was clear to me then that the
department could not be allowed to go on as the agency in charge
of the contract. I had a long talk with the School of Public
Health dean, Charles Smith, and he and I agreed that the contract
should be transferred to the School of Public Health, where it
was more compatible with the long-range interests of the school's
laboratories. In the school, the matter of the professorship was
regarded as an appointment of a superb teacher, scientist and

Lage: Did you confer with Clark Kerr on any of this?

Elberg: Of course. Oh, yes, Clark Kerr was involved in all aspects of
the department. The opposition wrote him its most strongly-
worded views of objection, and he would not push. He just
expected me, as chairman, to work out something that would be in
the best interests of both sides. It seemed to him, when I
presented the School of Public Health proposal, that this was an
ideal solution, as it was in my view, too. With the dean of the
School of Public Health so well-connected nationally with the


army and the navy medical departments as an epidemiologist and
medical research person himself on San Joaquin Valley fever,
there was no question that the lab would be in very good hands,
with a supportive faculty behind it.

At the time, however, when Muckenfuss resigned in 1956, Kerr
asked me to be the acting director of the lab and to be paid on
summer salary only- -three months. Those things, of course, as
you would expect, are always full-time, so you have two full-time
jobs going on. That was all right. It was great fun, in that
sense, to be involved in the national policies.

1 went on sabbatical in September of ' 57 , turning over
directorship to Dr. Lamanna, who was now a professor in the
School of Public Health and director of the lab. Lamanna came
out, settled himself, and, I thought, was doing beautifully.
Although a very taciturn and very effective person, he apparently
did not consult too widely with the staff, and there were
objections to his style of administration. By that time, Dr.
Seaborg was Chancellor, Dean Stewart was dean of the graduate
division, and, try as I might, I couldn't reconcile the staff
with the director.

Lage : You were on the policy committee here?

Elberg: I was on the Chancellor's advisory committee for the lab, and we
realized that something needed to be done. Unfortunately,
Seaborg decided to make a change in director. This was after I
came back, around 1960, '61 and had failed twice to conciliate
the staff. It was the most terribly painful episode in my life,
because Lamanna and I were old and close friends. It was awful,
as I could not seem to get him to see the problem.


Lage: Was the problem Lamanna 's managerial style?

Elberg: It was a question of managerial and personal style, and there was
nothing the matter with his scientific direction. I think that
the staff had been used to too free-wheeling a directorship from
Krueger's days. I was later convinced that one or two
irreconcilable staff members should have been fired and the
director saved.

But the search for a new director, under Seaborg 's
direction, began. That, of course, upset the whole arrangement
again. It meant that a new director had to be searched for, with
all that, and the Department of Bacteriology began to insert
itself into the matter, when it had no official reason to.


Lage : Raising the same questions.
Elberg: Yes, always the same questions.

Policy Issues Plaeuine the Universitv-NBL Relationship

Lage: I just want to bring up one document I had found in The Bancroft
Library, in the University Archives, that, in '57, refers to a
policy review that made several recommendations regarding the
lab: a closer physical relationship to the University, an end to
secret research, more research under faculty and graduate
students rather than this permanent staff, and, then again, an
objection to applied research, rather than basic. How did you
view those things?

Elberg: I was in complete agreement with those findings and had always
operated on those principles. Every effort was made to bring
about those recommendations. You might say, to this day, it was
never possible to engage significant numbers of faculty in the
place, because it was too difficult to get down to Oakland, and
the same for students. Despite all attractions that were made,
not many faculty felt they could transfer their work down there.
There was always the suspicion that because of the great care in
safety procedures, that there was "something" going on. Well, of
course there was, in the sense of working with dangerous
organisms, but in fact there was no secret research going on, and
had not been for years .

Lage : After the Korean War had ended?

Elberg: Oh, no, it wasn't, not after the Korean War. There was no secret
research, certainly, in those years of the report. But you
couldn't convince certain faculty members.

Lage: What about this emphasis on applied research? You said you'd
seen a- -

Elberg: An emphasis on applied research is perfectly valid. It was the
great emphasis on basic research, and not enough on applied,
which came in later years and destroyed the laboratory's
effectiveness in the doing.

In fact, the thing I always feel that destroyed the
laboratory was the complete reversal of the pendulum, so that
only basic research was considered healthy, to the point where
the navy felt it wasn't getting anything out of the research


program . The lab ' s work now could have been done in any
laboratory anywhere, and the navy felt it had enough laboratories
doing basic research, and this was the one they had counted on to
do applied research. The last two directors brought the
laboratory into an impossible position by taking it in areas
where the research had little applicability to the navy's needs
and reflected the kinds of studies done in dozens of labs all
over the world. As money became harder to get, they had to spend
their money on things they felt that were needed.

We come, then, to the point where it was decided, really,
that if you were going to have a faculty director, you could
probably not any longer always seek faculty from outside the
campus to be directors. Eventually, there came a time when that
was not practical, because new FTEs had to be found to be given
to the director, and ultimately those directors decided to
transfer full time to the University teaching and research and
leave the directorship when their time came to an end.

So it was decided that only existing full-time faculty could
be made directors, and that's what happened towards the end,
except for the last one. After a difficult appointment process,
he was brought up from San Diego, and he lasted about a year. He
took himself off on leave to the National Science Foundation,
where he stays to this day. He was a total loss as a director
and faculty member.

The one who succeeded him as acting director was even more
catastrophic, brought to the University from Seattle, Dr. Nina
Agabian. She was a MacArthur Fellow. Because the School of
Public Health had no space to offer her except in the naval
laboratory, an impossible situation was created for her, too, to
function as a professor and as acting director, because she had
to be at the Naval Lab there most of the time. She set up her
laboratory down there and converted much of the lab's work to her
own interests. The inevitable thing finally happened. The navy
decided to disestablish the laboratory, and it was closed without
any campus deliberation or attempt to negotiate, a shameful
episode in the history of the campus's stewardship of this once
great institution.

Lage: When are we now in time?

Elberg: We're at '86, '87.

Lage: So, very recently it's been terminated.


Elberg: It was terminated apparently with no effort made by the

Chancellor to examine the causes and intervene actively on either
the campus's behalf or the navy's.

Lage: Where had it been located when it was terminated? Did it stay
at -

Elberg: Right down in Oakland at the naval supply center. It occupied
three good- sized buildings, magnificent quarters, which worked
very well.

Lage: It seems there was an effort to site it here.

Elberg: There was, for many years, an effort to relocate here, but only
desultory, never with any realistic intent. The University
administration was never willing to give the space, nor was it
sure that it was a long-enough, permanent, naval interest to
afford to give the space. Space was precious. The navy, too,
was never very anxious for the move to the campus , because they
had more control over on the naval supply center base. They
didn't feel they needed to spend money when they already had good
space in Oakland. It's not clear that there ever would have been
any great gain by bringing it here. I don't think faculty would
necessarily have participated. But that need not have been a
fatal flaw.

Lage: Does it tell us something about the University's relationship
with other outside labs, like the Lawrence Livermore lab?

Elberg: Well, I think, in a sense, it does. It simply is a question of
the overriding importance in the public mind, as well as the
University, of the Livermore laboratory and the Berkeley Lawrence
laboratories, in contrast to the lack of overriding importance of
the naval laboratory in the nation's security and welfare. There
is simply no comparison of the national importance in the case of
the first two, versus that of the other one.

So there was never the constituency supporting the naval
lab, such as the physicists and other faculty here who were so
heavily engaged in the Lawrence laboratories, compared to the
lack of faculty participating down at the naval supply center in
Oakland. If it had been here on campus, it may be that more
faculty would have participated in the naval laboratory. That
would have been its saving grace, because then they would have
known what was going on, would have revitalized the program and
been subject to more immediate peer review.

They wouldn't have needed me, as dean, to assure them that
when I was reviewing the grants and contracts on the campus, I


rejected one that cane up from the navy for a secret project.
That was the end of it.

Lage: When was that?

Elberg: That was sometime after 1961, when I became dean. I don't

remember when the particular contract came up, but it did come
up, and I rejected it and sent it back to the navy. That was it.
The last vestiges of strife, as it were, came with the Vietnam
War business and the dissent and, once again, raised the issue of
the naval laboratory and its work.

Finally, after many difficult times, Professor Loy Sammett,
who was vice-chancellor of research, suggested we have an open
meeting at which questions could be raised about the navy lab,
and we could answer them. That was done. I felt it was very
successful, in the sense that the scientists of the laboratory, I
thought, answered every question so thoroughly that there was
nothing left to be argued about. They showed, conclusively, that
there was nothing to hide. They explained what they were all
working on, and that was that.

Lage: Was it accepted?

Elberg: It was accepted, as much as anything is accepted. It was just
decided that that tactic was not working any further. In the
meantime, I had a few brickbats thrown at me by some of the
student dissidents. I remember Robert Kolodney, one of the
student activists, writing an article in the New York Review of
Books about the graduate dean at Berkeley and his history of
having been engaged in biological warfare. What that had to do
with the Free Speech Movement never was clear to me, but it was
an attempt to discredit my work, on behalf of the University, in
the Free Speech Movement, one of the sillier moments in that
event .

There was an interesting thing, though, in connection with
all of this Vietnam thing, and that was an interesting contrast
between the national professional societies- -the one of chemists
and the one of microbiologists . Professor Alvin Clark, in
molecular biology was in our Department of Bacteriology at the
time; he became quite concerned over the fact that during and
after World War II the American Society of Microbiology always
had a committee of its members acting as advisors on request from
the Chemical Warfare Corps on biological warfare, just as the
American Chemical Society had for chemical warfare.

The American Society of Bacteriologists decided they didn't
like that anymore, and they asked that that be stopped. Since I


had been a longtime member of that committee, Clark came to me to
discuss the matter, and I explained to him what the committee
did. I was chairman at that time. I explained what it did and
what it didn't do. The society went on not to like it, and they
disbanded that group, in contrast to the chemists, who I think
simply rode it through, didn't see anything particularly harmful
to their chemical profession to have such a committee of them
advising the chemical crowd. An interesting contrast in
professional and ethical maturity.

Lage: What did the committee do- -and didn't do?

Elberg: The committee was brought to Camp De trick once a year, to hear an
update on the research that was being done and to offer
suggestions on the quality of what was being done and to follow
up certain leads .

Lage: Was it a security-clearance thing?

Elberg: Oh, it was very secure. Yes, it was secret. Oh, it was, at
Detrick, yes. Now, the naval laboratory had its own naval
advisory committee of academicians nationally, formed by the
navy. That group would come out once a year and hear the report
of the research. I don't know how long that lasted. In later
years, I never heard of it. Both committees would recommend and
would be informed. Their members were cleared for secret work.
This is what we did. We advised what we thought were the
weaknesses of the program and the strengths. It was only
advisory. They didn't have to follow our advice at all. That
was about that.

Termination of the Lab. 1987

Elberg: I think you might say that from the Free Speech Movement years
the naval laboratory slowly went a little bit downhill in the
intensity of its work and the quality and in faculty involvement,
and so on. The administration of the University was in a very
weak position to defend it when the navy suggested that it was
time to close. I had considered, for years, that it had passed
its time and should have been discontinued, that it wasn't
productive, unless much more vital direction was to be provided.

Lage: Did you feel the quality of its research was good? I saw that
there were some critics.

Elberg: In later years it was not what it should have been.


Lage : Did they also get caught up in mechanical apparatus?

Elberg: Not in the later years. In the last couple of years, it was not
bad. It was basic work, but it was the kind of work that could
have been done anywhere. There was nothing unique to it, of
little value or concern to the sponsors. I had nothing to say
about it because I had long retired, but from those years just
before retirement, up to '78 and then after, I began to ask, what
is the University getting out of it now except some funds for
running it? And what is the navy getting?

And that was it. It finally came to a funereal termination,
and it was closed down, I guess, in early '87. It was kind of a
sad formal naval occasion with not a single University official
present at the ceremony. It represented, really, thirty-six,

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Online LibrarySanford S ElbergGraduate education and microbiology at the University of California, Berkeley, 1930-1989 : oral history transcript / 1989 → online text (page 10 of 26)