Reflections by Eldridge Moores, Professor Emeritus, Geology
Speech given to attendees to the College of Letters and Science's 60th Anniversary College Celebration
March 3, 2012
In 1951, UC Davis established its new College of Letters and Science with 76 students, 5 majors, and 50 faculty. At the time, I had just entered high school and had never heard of continental drift. I grew up in small, hard-scrabble mining towns in Arizona, and went to a one-room school. I was often the only kid in my grade. So when my parents enrolled me in a Phoenix high school with a student body of over 2000, I was in shock. Young, shy, precocious, but socially immature, I worked hard and ended up at Caltech on scholarship. Once there I realized that the most appealing major was geology. It would get me into the hills that I loved. From Caltech, I went to Princeton University and earned a Ph.D. Then I did a three-year post-doctoral study that started with 14 months of field work in Greece. When I finished up the project and looked for an academic position, the most promising opening was at UC Davis.
The summer of 1966, I arrived in Davis with my bride of one year with exciting new ideas from Princeton about sea floor spreading and continental drift. Then L&S had some 5500 students, over 30 majors, and 350 faculty.
A couple of years later, the plate tectonic revolution washed over the world-wide geologic community like a tsunami (it still gives me goose-bumps when I think about it). My own work in Greece and in Cyprus proved seminal. In the following years, my Davis colleagues and I devised extensions of plate tectonics to geologic history. We worked on implications for evolution, how sea floors spread, mountain belts form, and California assembled.
By the early 1970’s, the UC Davis geology department had “really put itself on the map”, as one observer noted. Attracting outstanding new faculty and bright students, the department steadily moved from an upstart to international renown.
Today L&S has over 11,000 students, some 40% of UCD’s total, 600 faculty, and 54 majors. School children learn about continental drift. Ideas on plate tectonics conceived at UC Davis are staples in modern textbooks.
Looking ahead, UC Davis has a critical role in California’s future. Our success as a society depends on well-educated citizens and continuing innovative research. I am grateful for my experiences at Caltech and Princeton. However, it is clear that such small private colleges and universities, which educate few students, are not up to the task. Land grant universities such as UC Davis, are essential. They emphasize quality public large-scale post-secondary education, cutting-edge research, and service to society. And as Chancellor Katehi has noted, a distinguished College of Letters and Science is crucial to UC Davis’s success as a whole.
All three L&S divisions have developed visionary plans to enhance the quality of their research and education. Many departments already have reached prominent positions in national and international academic circles. For example, geology ranks #17 in the country and aims to get into the top 10. I think we can do it.
I thank my UC Davis colleagues, staff, and students for the privilege of working with them for the past 45 years. In this time we have deepened our understanding of Earth and helped to build UC Davis into a first class university.
Future progress at UC Davis in the face of decreased public support depends more than ever on private contributions. Those of us who have benefited from this college and university need to give back. Judy and I feel a responsibility to support UC Davis and especially L&S. Our thanks to all of you for your generosity and support. If you have not yet begun to support the college, we urge you to join us. Together we will lift both Letters & Science and UC Davis to new heights.