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50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950—2000
fitted for advanced instruction or research, finds far fewer avenues than the importance of this field of science demands.
The advance of Oceanography in America now suffers from one of its greatest handicaps, for progress in this science is a matter not only of ships, laboratories and money, but far more of men, which implies opportunities for education. And it is of men that there is now the most serious shortage.
It is in fact, one of the most serious obstacles to advances in this field that it is not now possible for a student to obtain a course of instruction, properly graded upward from the elementary introduction to advanced research, in any one American University. In America the oceanographer must today be largely self-taught in the basic aspects of his subject.
Regrettably, F.R. Lillie then proceeded to ignore entirely what was obviously the key obstacle to oceanography. He focussed on the creation of a facility for research. The report recommended establishing Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The Lillie Report did enhance research facilities that were used by both a small group of resident scientists and a group of visiting scientists and their students, working as was the style of the time in an apprenticeship mode. The report, however, became a model for how education was to be dealt with in future NAS and overview reports in 1960 and 1969! This apprenticeship mode continued and until the 1980s the majority of scientists in the field received their training outside the discipline, most often in chemistry, geology, applied physics, and zoology for example, and after earning a doctorate degree changing fields to enter oceanography.
At the broader federal level, three developments between 1945 and 1950 changed the entire complexion of higher education in the United States and especially in oceanography. In 1945, the GI Bill was passed, which opened higher education to a much wider segment of the population. Prior to 1945, the university was mainly the provenance of the moneyed families: the GI Bill is often referred to as the largest piece of affirmative action legislation ever passed. In 1946, the Office of Naval Research was founded. Its impact on the field of oceanography as a science and on the institutional characteristics of our science has been immense. Finally, in 1950 the National Science Foundation Act was passed.
The establishment of NSF followed the publication of Vannevar Bush's important study, Science: The Endless Frontier (Bush, 1945). In that report, Bush noted:
Before the War in all but a few of the prosperous universities, teaching loads were excessive from the standpoint of optimal research output. During the war, the university scientist had for the first time the facilities and assistance to carry on research. It is of the utmost importance to maintain a favorable competitive position for universities.
When the Bush Report was written only 35 percent of the U.S. population advanced further than Grade Eight at school and less than 10 percent of the U.S. population went to college. Teaching loads were approximately 18 contact hours per week in engineering and 12 hours per week in the sciences. Today, when faculty talk about teaching load, it is instructive to recall the differences! Today, over 95 percent of the population graduates from high school and over 80 percent of high school graduates attend colleges and universities. The role and function of higher education must surely reflect these differences, as must the role and responsibilities of NSF.
The Symposium celebrated the creation of NSF. The Bush Report called for the creation of the National Science Foundation and in 1945 the Kilgore-Magnuson Bill was introduced to create this independent agency. The process of creating and funding NSF now looks like a template of how much of science is funded by NSF today, a process of submit thrice and fund once at less than requested levels, for the 1945 Bill was submitted and rejected. So like you or I with a proposal, it was reworded and re-submitted by Magnuson in 1947. It was again rejected, resubmitted, and yet again rejected. But Magnuson was a tenacious politician, as was Vannevar Bush, so when the bill was submitted after three rejections in 1949 it was passed: NSF was created and funded. On May 10, 1950, President Harry Truman signed the NSF Act on a whistle-stop train pausing at Pocatello, Idaho. Truman referred to the endless frontier of science and the mystique of the western frontier. He said NSF would provide ''new frontiers for the mind and a fuller and more fruitful life for all citizens." Regrettably, NSF only funded research. Education in the form of student support and fellowships was not included. Until the late 1950s, ONR was the major supporter of education and human resources in ocean sciences. From 1958 onward, NSF's rapid growth started to have a major impact, and other agencies such as the Atomic Energy Commission, provided research support and assistantships for targeted research related to nuclear waste or the unintended consequences of nuclear power generation.
By the late 1950s, ONR had assisted in the establishment of many of today's oceanographic institutions. The field of ocean sciences was now established at over a dozen universities, whereas in 1946, doctoral education in oceanography existed mainly through other science departments such as chemistry and zoology. Another NAS report was published on oceanography in 1959 and purported to look to the next decade (NAS, 1959). However, its comments on education and the role of universities was much like the Lillie Report, focusing on producing clones for the research enterprise. Again, there were only three major suggestions:
Universities now providing graduate education for oceanographers should be encouraged to increase numbers and quality of output.
It is desirable to develop oceanographic education at new centers that should be at universities with strong faculties in the sciences.