Chapter 4: Simonett Pours the Foundation

Simonett had a tailor-made background. And he had a dynamic, action-oriented personality. He seemed the perfect choice. When UCSB offered him the job in 1974, he accepted, but couldn’t come right away. Nonetheless, he began to build, interviewing people in airports or wherever he could arrange. He hired three assistant professors to teach classes Fall 1974: Alan Strahler, Chris Clayton, and Jeff Dozier. Simonett wouldn’t arrive on campus until Winter 1975.311

Alan Strahler, whose father was Arthur Strahler of textbook fame, left in 1982 to Hunter College of the City University of New York.31143 Chris Clayton left in 1980 to work at a local consulting firm.11 Jeff Dozier, who had been teaching Geography at Cal State Hayward when Simonett tapped him, came to the incipient Department because he wanted more opportunity to do research. (The Cal State schools give greater emphasis to teaching and not as much to research and publishing as the University of California.) He left UCSB Geography in 1997 to becoming founding Dean of a new UCSB graduate school, the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. He still is affiliated with Geography and advises several Geography graduate students.3

One of the first things Simonett did upon being hired was ask who had been his competition. When he learned Reginald Golledge was the prime contender, he began his campaign to win him.3811 Simonett already knew Golledge. In 1970, while Simonett was Chair of the Geography Department at the University of Sydney, Australia, Golledge spent a year-long sabbatical there. Simonett tapped Golledge to teach statistics and mathematics to his faculty and graduate students, which was a required program, and to assemble (literally) and make operational the Department’s first computer. Sitting in the Chair’s seat at UCSB, Simonett considered Golledge, who had just published the text City, Space, and Behavior with co-author Leslie King, the linchpin for Behavioral Geography.68


Also early on, Simonett published an ad in professional journals, seeking senior and distinguished professors who were firm believers in quantitative analysis. One of the respondents was Terence (Terry) Smith, from Rochester, New York. He wrote a 10-page letter. Simonett wrote back tersely: “Dear Dr. Smith, You are neither senior nor distinguished, but we think your work is interesting.” Three or four months later, Smith’s phone rang.

Simonett: “Smith?”
Smith: “Yes.”
Simonett: “This is Simonett.”
Smith: “Who?”
Simonett explains who he is, then asks: “Are you still interesting in a job here?”
Smith: “Yes.”
Simonett: “When can you come out?”
Smith: “In about a month or two.”
Simonett: “What about next week?”
Smith: “How about in two weeks?”14

Smith made arrangements to fly out. As yet, he knew nothing about Santa Barbara. With amazing synchronicity, the airplane Smith took from Rochester to Buffalo, en route to UCSB, was named “City of Santa Barbara.” Simonett, dressed in tennis shoes, met Smith at the airport and drove him directly downtown. He opened the car door at the 1400 block of State Street, saying, “Walk down to the pier. You really should look at this place and make your own mind up.” Smith ambled down State Street to the wharf. Afterwards, he found his way to the Peppertree Inn, in the 3800 block of State Street, where he was to stay.14

During the ensuing visit, Smith interviewed and met people. When he was returning to Rochester, standing in line for the airplane out of Santa Barbara, an airport employee walked up to him and said he had a call on the courtesy phone. Smith left the line and picked up the phone.

Simonett: “Smith?”
Smith: “Yes.”
Simonett: “This is Simonett.”
Smith: “Yes.”
Simonett: “Would you like the job?”
Smith: “Yes.”
Simonett: “You got it.”14

When it was time for Smith to move to Santa Barbara, he asked Simonett how he should get there. Simonett replied: “I don’t care how you get here! Come on the smell of an oily rag!”14 Smith arrived in 1976, the year before Golledge and Tobler.

Over the years, Simonett’s pungent use of language became endeared to fellow faculty, staff, and students. Teresa Everett, a staff member who was with the Department from 1977 to 2002, amassed a collection of Simonett’s savory phrases, which include the following4:

  1. “An expert is someone who understands the sources and the magnitudes of the errors in his own work.”
  2. “Getting grants of sixteen to eighteen thousand dollars saves the necessity of going out to scrub floors, wash dishes, do teaching, et cetera.”
  3. “Tell them Simonett’s hopping mad.”
  4. “What was it I called you about?”
  5. “If you’re not in it, you can’t win it, mate!” (with a pause before and heavy emphasis on the word “mate!”)
  6. “He is a ditherer of the first magnitude.”
  7. “Don’t worry, he won’t cut your balls off.”
  8. “Have algorithm, will travel.”
  9. “With a telephone, sport, no one on the whole bloody planet is farther away than the end of your arm.”
  10. “Graduate school is a God damn monastic experience.”22

The complete collection of sayings is posted on another page and can be accessed by clicking on “Simonettisms.”

Eccentric, Yet Effective

Spicy in language, Simonett, was also fiercely committed in action. Golledge recalls, “If he believed in it, he pursued it wholeheartedly. Simonett would use his summer salary to help Assistant Professors with personal loans, and he’d help students out of his pocket. [He strove to set up] this place in the right way.”6

Of course, not always were Simonett’s ways harmonious with those of others. For instance, Golledge shares, “Simonett wanted to start the day with a faculty meeting at 7:00 am. He went to bed at 8:00 pm and was up by 5:00 am. I worked until 1:00 am. No one, except Simonett, wanted to come to the 7:00 am meeting.” Golledge told him flat out, “No,” he wouldn’t come.6 Saying no to a full professor (and the Chair of the Department!) would be easier for another full professor, but could be intimidating for staff and students.

Everett, however, found it possible to work for him and stand up to him. For instance, “Simonett called me at 6:00 am on a Saturday when he was in Europe. That’s when I took my home phone off the list.” Although Simonett could be brusque and demanding, Everett countered, “His bark was much worse than his bite.” Once when he phoned Everett at the office, ranting and raging, she waited through the barrage, left a silent gap, then calmly asked, “Are you through?” A second gap of silence followed. Then Simonett broke into hearty laughter. In another string of calls, Simonett launched into saying what he had to say without bothering to identify himself. “After the fifth or sixth time, I asked, ‘Who is this?’ knowing full well who it was. He laughed.” Everett understood where Simonett was coming from, thus, liked the man: “Dave wanted the Department to be the best in the nation. He was very tenacious. Driven. A hard worker, he wanted everyone to be on the same team, including staff.”4

Tobler remembers a strategy of Simonett’s that worked well: “Dave, as Chair, had a policy of hiring bright young people, then giving them light teaching loads and no committee assignments and assisting them in getting research grants. In this manner, he was able to get them to tenure quickly.”15

Terry Smith appreciated the mentoring Simonett gave him and others. “When I was a new Assistant Professor, he’d be in our offices almost every day. ‘Are you thinking of writing any other proposals?’ ‘Are you starting a new paper?’ ‘Why don’t you get in touch with Bill Clark at UCLA and write a proposal together.’ ‘Why don’t you go over and talk to so-and-so in Statistics.’ He did this for all untenured professors.” Some of those promptings occurred in the wee hours. “Between 5:00 and 6:00 am, I’d get a call from Simonett, ‘I just got this great idea for a proposal…’ He had ideas a mile a minute.” Simonett offered assistance, too: “‘Can I help you with a work-study student?’ When Dave was dying [1990], he asked me, ‘Remember that work-study person? You know where the dollars came from?’ He answered his own question by pointing to himself.” Smith had another example of how far Simonett went to bat for his faculty. “When I was offered a job at Boston University with a joint appointment, Dave said, ‘I don’t want to lose you. What would it take to keep you?’ I said a joint appointment in Computer Science at UCSB. Dave engineered the joint appointment.”14

Smith reported, “Dave worked on weekends, papers spread across the room. The Department was his life. He had an acerbic tongue, but was also compassionate. He agonized over letting Chris Clayton go [when he didn’t give him tenure].”14

Dozier claims, “A lot of the credit [for the success of the Geography Department] has to go to Simonett. We thrived because of two of Simonett’s characteristics. One, he talked to everybody. In other words, he kept everyone up to date on what everybody else was doing; he helped professors cross-pollinate. And two, he had the least contentious ego. He took genuine pleasure in others’ achievements; he didn’t need to take credit.”3

Master’s and Doctoral Programs

Doctoral hooding thumbnail

From 1977 to 1980, the Department established both the Masters and Doctoral programs. Simonett, Estes, Golledge, Tobler, Dozier, and Smith submitted a proposal for the Masters program in 1977, shortly after Golledge and Tobler came aboard. The program was speedily approved.361415 The first students to earn a n Masters’ were Thomas Logan and Douglas Stowe in spring 1978. In 20 years, 273 students have earned MAs.44

Before receiving approval for the Masters program, the same professorial crew wrote a proposal for a Doctoral program. It was approved in less than two years by a one-vote margin of the faculty legislature. The PhD program was in place in 1980.361415 The first PhD student to graduate was G. Donald Richardson in summer 1982. In 20 years, 117 students have earned PhDs.44

Chapter 5: Golledge Takes the Reins »