Chapter 2: Barely There, Bloom, Then Bust

Riviera campus thumbnailThe roots of campus condescension toward Geography went back to the days when the school was a California State Teachers’ College. To round out an educator’s training, the college offered a sprinkling of geography classes, taught by faculty from departments such as Geology and Economics. This practice continued when the Teachers’ College became a campus of the University of California in 1944. UCSB broadened the educational scope, and grew to two campuses – one on the Santa Barbara Riviera, which is now a movie theater and business park, and the other on an ocean bluff, that is now Santa Barbara City College. In 1954, UCSB consolidated by moving to a World War II Marine Base nine miles west of the city. The 408-acre tract just south of Santa Barbara Airport had approximately a mile of coastline and an extant loop of a stream canyon that now is a lagoon – a very picturesque site.30[32][33]

Riviera campus thumbnail SBCC thumbnail 1960 UCSB thumbnail

First Full-Time Geographers

Finally, in 1961, a lecturer was hired to teach Geography exclusively. In 1962, two lecturers were hired. In 1963, the Geography “Program,” which had been administered by the Department of Social Sciences, then the Department of Sociology-Anthropology, was put under the direct charge of the Dean of the College of Letters and Science. The Dean hired two different lecturers, Berl Golomb and Robert McColl. These young men were PhD candidates from UCLA and the University of Washington, respectively. Although McColl left in a couple years, Golomb remained until 1971, struggling to build a Department without the autonomy, funds, and tenure-advancing power that a Department possesses.230[32][33][40]

The Geography Program was located in a building left over from the Marine base, a two-story wood frame bungalow designed to be a “temporary” building. The offices, diagonally across the walkway from the Geology Building, were somewhat campy. Walls were thin, colors dingy, electrical outlets minimal, and furnishings well used. The ground floor was occupied by Geography; upstairs was an anatomy lab. If you knew the right person, you could get a tour of the cadaver du jour. Luckily, the smell of formaldehyde didn’t waft downstairs.[2]34 (Long after Geography moved to Ellison Hall in 1969, “406” was remodeled and expanded. The so-called government temporary building now houses the Equal Opportunity Program and the Chicano/Latino Cultural Center.)

First Bachelor’s Degree

In Fall 1966, the Geography Program began offering a Bachelor of Arts degree. For the first time, the UCSB Catalog described the study of Geography:

“Geographers investigate the surface of the earth as the home of man. The discipline of Geography is focused on a broad range of man- and environment interactions, and encourages a variety of investigative approaches to problems of the ecology of man. Because of the breadth of integration in the physical, biological and social sciences, undergraduate Geography training provides a basic and useful liberal education. Graduate studies in Geography permit specific training in a number of scholarly and technical fields.”[33]

In other words, Geography was still considered a “useful liberal education” for, basically, teachers.


Geography conference room thumbnailNonetheless, because the topics were relevant to current affairs and the personnel were friendly, Geography grew. Beyond the classroom, many students’ first contact with the Program was with the sole staff member, Maggie Greenwald (AKA Maggie Day). With a sparkling smile and quick wit, Greenwald was very welcoming. Students lingered in Building 406, chatting with her, and joined impromptu discussions with faculty at a picnic table wedged between the side door and tall shrubbery. That table constituted the Conference Room.[2][40] By Spring 1967, 23 majors were enrolled and three graduated.[34]




1967 geography program thumbnailIn the 1967-68 school year, Geography blossomed. There were seven faculty: two Visiting Assistant Professors, two Acting Assistant Professors, and two lecturers, all headed by Golomb, who was now an Assistant Professor. Thirty classes were offered, which included the usual general geography classes, regional classes (for example, “Middle East” and “Southeast Asia”), plus some methods classes (for example, “Microclimatology and Climatology Field Methods” and, for the first time, “Geographic Map and Photo Interpretation”).[33]

Oil platform spill thumbnailThe latter 1960s were marked by campus unrest across the nation. Blacks were struggling for fair treatment. At UCSB, Blacks took over the campus computers in North Hall. Students protested the Vietnam War. In the UCSB student bedroom community of Isla Vista, students burned down the Bank of America. Environmental degradation fomented outcries. January 29, 1969, in the Santa Barbara Channel, a Union Oil platform blew, spreading 200,000 gallons of crude over 800 square miles. A Geography student who was a pilot flew over the hemorrhaging oilrig and snapped a spectacular photo.[40]

Noise survey thumbnailGeography student David Pluth (left) and professor Norm Sanders conducting a noise survey on Hwy 101 January 1969.

Geography faculty and students were especially involved in the environmental issues. Drs. Robert Curry and Norman Sanders were highly vocal. For instance, Sanders, in a regular Geography class that was nicknamed “Norm’s Environmental Activism,” required students write a press release and go on a field trip to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power generator.[10] Sanders didn’t hold UCSB sacred from reproach, either. Once, he orchestrated a media event to publicize the importance of considering wetlands when the Administration was planning a campus roadway that would destroy habitat. Alerting the media, Sanders pressed the Geography secretary and a student to climb in a rowboat in Goleta Slough, which is just north of campus, showing that the channel was navigable and, thus, must be preserved.[a] Rumor has it the Chancellor was livid.[2][10] (Sanders, while appreciated by many students, was nicknamed “Stormin’ Norman” by some colleagues.[2]711 He returned to Tasmania in 1974, became a Senator, and received a special lifetime award for environmental activism in 2001.)

On a less controversial note, Golomb hired John “Jack” Estes in 1969. Estes taught air photo interpretation, and would be the one man that survived the razing of the Program in 1974. Aerial photography had been a secret endeavor of the United States government since 1958. Satellites carrying cameras took pictures of, among other places, the Soviet Union. Estes had worked for the CIA, interpreting such air photos, in 1963 and 1964. When Estes was hired by UCSB, this technology was beginning to spread to civilian applications. “Sidebar” article about Jack Estes

Ellison Hall thumbnail1969 was also the year Geography moved over to a structure built for classrooms, labs, and offices: Ellison Hall. There were eight faculty members, although there had been a lot of turnover. Golomb recalls that, with the environmental activism, Chancellor Cheadle became less kindly disposed toward Geography. Any chance of gaining self-governance and departmental status from the College of Letters and Science dimmed. The more academically ambitious faculty saw, without Departmental status, tenure was unattainable.[7] Maggie Greenwald was still THE staff person. By 1970, the Program added a Photographer, Dave Wagner. This was the beginning of the Department’s good fortune to have visual support staff. Golomb convinced the Administration that Geography, being a graphic science, warranted the position.


But the Program was sinking. Berl Golomb believed a prime factor was “Reaganomics”:

“When Reagan was governor, he cut the University’s budget, and the glorious expansion spree ended. Dean Cressey tried to warn Chancellor Cheadle, who was dreaming of the new Grand Entrance over the slough to the Storke Tower (that Norm Sanders helped kill), but Cheadle did not comprehend what was coming. Cressey resigned in disgust. We in Earth Sciences had a meeting with him where he said, in effect, that Geology was in trouble because they had more full time equivalent (FTE) faculty than merited by their enrollment, whereas Geography was in great shape because we merited more FTE than we had. Of course, we couldn’t get more faculty and actually lost a position approved the year before, because the budget was trimmed.”[7]

Discouraged and defeated in his efforts to create a Department, Golomb left in 1971.2[40]

Bruce Rickborn thumbnailSimultaneously, a new person appeared on the horizon who would profoundly affect Geography: Chemistry professor Bruce Rickborn became Associate Dean of the College of Letters and Science. In 1973, Chancellor Cheadle appointed Rickborn as Dean – the man officially in charge of Geography.[10]

Rickborn countered Golomb’s characterization of Dean Cressey and Chancellor Cheadle: “I knew both Don Cressey and Vernon Cheadle very well, and it is simply not true that ‘Cressey resigned in disgust.’ He did a great job as Dean, but wanted to give more effort to his private consulting, which he subsequently did. He never spoke disparagingly of Cheadle, or vice versa. In fact, in all the years that I knew Cheadle, I only once, in private, heard him say something negative about a faculty member (and it wasn’t Norman Sanders).”[10]

The disparity in Golomb’s and Rickborn’s recollections demonstrates how differently life can be experienced and remembered by different people. Who feels supported and valued by whom can especially influence memories and understandings. Golomb clearly did not feel supported by UCSB administrators. Apparently, this wasn’t just in his mind. Geology Prof. Emeritus Robert Norris, who later was on the committee to select Geography’s first Chair, confirmed that the Geography Program had been poorly run by the administration. Norris had taught general geography courses before Golomb was hired. At one point, he and geology Prof. Robert Webb, who also had taught geography courses, offered to take the program under Geology’s wing to lift it out of the administration’s morass.[9]

Whatever really happened when the Geography program was a stepchild of, at first, social sciences, then, the College of Letters and Science, it was not an easy time. And all persons interviewed considered their contributions honorable.


  1. Norman Saunders’ Goleta Slough episode, as related by John Cloud, who was a graduate student in UCSB Geography from 1990-2000:“What was at stake here was the contention of UCSB, lead agency under California CEQA, that only State permission was necessary to pave the slough for a freeway that would bypass the university entrance and go around campus to dead-end in Isla Vista. By traveling up the slough in a boat (to Hollister Avenue, near where, at the time, there was a Shakey’s Pizza) the geography trio demonstrated that the slough was, in fact, arguably a “navigable river,” meaning that the freeway proposal would require review and authorization by the Army Corps of Engineers, pursuant to rules in the US Code that go back to about 1970. The Army Corps of Engineers wasn’t under control of the University of California, unlike California State agencies. As soon as the freeway proposal went to the Corps, enough environmental issues were raised โ€” including the fact that a “navigable river” was supposed to stay “navigable”, which is difficult when it has been paved โ€” that the proposal died quickly.” (Source: email correspondence from John Cloud to Keith Clarke, forwarded to Susanna December 1, 2003. In an email directly to Susanna December 1, 2003, John explained he got these details directly from Sanders via email many years ago.)

Chapter 3: Pivotal Point – To Be or Not to Be ยป