AN INTERVIEW WITH JERRY NIEBAUM

Interviewer: Jewell Willhite

 

Oral History Project

Endacott Society

University of Kansas
JERRY NIEBAUM

B.A., Math Education, University of Kansas, 1961

M.A., Mathematics, Northwestern University, 1965

Ph.D., Computer Science, Iowa State University, 1973

 

Service at the University of Kansas

First came to KU in 1981

Director of Academic Computing 1981-1982

Director of Computing Services 1982-1986

Director of Academic Computing

Executive Director of Computing

Director of Academic Computing

Developed Digital Library at Spencer Library

Assistant Vice Provost for Information Services

Planning coordinator for the KAN ED project

Executive director of the Great Plains Network project


AN INTERVIEW WITH JERRY NIEBAUM

Interviewer: Jewell Willhite

Q:††††††† I am speaking with Jerry Niebaum, who retired in 2004 as Assistant Vice Provost for Information Services at the University of Kansas.We are in Lawrence, Kansas, on August 30, 2005.Where were you born and in what year?

A:†††††††† I was born in Caldwell, Kansas, Sumner County, south central Kansas near the Oklahoma border on Sept. 11, 1939.

Q:††††††† What were your parentsí names?

A:†††††††† My father was Herman Niebaum.My mother was Grace and her maiden name was Smith.They were married in 1926, just prior to the Depression years.

Q:††††††† What was your parentsí educational background?

A:†††††††† I think Dad didnít complete sixth grade but he went through part of sixth grade.Mother was always proud that she went one semester to high school.But neither had very much education, a lot of self-education over the years.Mother liked to read, so she educated herself pretty well.You would never know that she didnít have a high school education.

Q:††††††† What was your fatherís occupation?

A:†††††††† Well, when they were first married Dad really wanted to be a farmer.Farming was all that he really knew.They did start farming, but then the Depression hit and they were unable to stay on the farm.So they moved to Caldwell, which was a small farming community.Dad became a mechanic.Mother did sewing and odd jobs.I remember Dad saying that in the 1930s he worked for $1 a day and their rent was $1 a week.But those were pretty tough times.

Q:††††††† Did you have brothers and sisters?

A:†††††††† I have one sister.In fact my autobiography is My Sister Was an Only Child.Thatís because sheís 12 and a half years older than I am.So she was nearly a teenager when I was born in 1939.She still lives in Caldwell.

Q:††††††† Did you grow up in Caldwell?

A:†††††††† In and around Caldwell.†† We moved from there to the small community of Corbin, Kansas, which is about nine miles from Caldwell.Thatís where I went to all eight grades of grade school.So that was kind of our home base.About 1944 or 1945, just before I started grade school, we moved into a house that had electricity.That was the first house we had had with electricity since my family had been in Caldwell.It wasnít until I was in high school that we had indoor plumbing.

Q:††††††† Was that school with eight grades a one-room school?

A:†††††††† No, it was huge.It was a two-room school.We had grades one through four in one room and grades five through eight in another.Over the course of my eight years I really had only three different teachers.I had the same teacher for grades one through four and then five through seventh grade and then another teacher for my eighth grade year.But I feel like I really got a good education in grade school.It had a very small library and encyclopedias in only one of those rooms.That was grades five through eight.So I didnít have exposure to encyclopedias until I was a fifth grader.But in spite of that I felt like I had a good education.

Q:††††††† Iíve heard a number of people say that who went to that kind of school.They kind of learned from the people who were ahead of them as well.

A:†††††††† My wife Judy went to an even smaller community school.Her school was truly grades one through eight, a one-room school.††† She was the only student in her class for nearly all her eight years there.I suppose we had five to seven in my class most of the time I was in grade school.

Q:††††††† Then when you got ready to go to ninth grade, did you have to go in to a larger town?

A:†††††††† Yes.We still lived in Corbin.The nearest high school was Caldwell, about 9 miles away.I rode with some neighbors the first year or two, and then I got a car of my own and drove each day to school.I went to high school all four years in Caldwell.

Q:††††††† Did you have influential teachers?

A:†††††††† Yes.In grade school I was really pretty good in mathematics.I had a lot of encouragement from my grade school teacher, one in particular, Oraleen Merritt, who married in my seventh grade year and became Oraleen Urban.She was just really good at helping guide me in my interest in mathematics.Then in high school the first year I was in high school I took high school algebra from Clarence Martin, who was also the superintendent of schools.He was an old Navy guy, who was a pretty strict disciplinarian but also a real motivating teacher.In that first class of high school algebra we had all grades, nine through 12, students who were taking algebra.So I was in there with seniors as well as fellow freshmen and sophomore and juniors.But it was a really good start.Then the principal of the high school, David Shannon, was my math teacher throughout high school, and he was just absolutely excellent.He was motivational but also very bright, so that got me off to a great start.In grade school I had decided that I really wanted to be a math teacher when I completed my college work. I had my sights set on college even when I was in grade school.That was a little unusual in our family, since they had little educational background.Partly it was my motherís push.She was the one who always saw education as very important.So she pushed me pretty hard to make sure I understood that education was important.

My senior of high school I had taken all of the formal math courses that were offered.There was nothing else for me to take.A friend of mine, John Dillard, and I asked our math teacher, David Shannon, if we could study math on our own.He found a small study room for us and we studied trigonometry all on our own.Then Mr. Shannon gave us standardized tests.So we were in pretty good shape to begin our work at the university.John lives in Lawrence now and is still employed at the University of Kansas.

Q:††††††† Were you involved in extracurricular activities in high school?

A:†††††††† Yes.Some of the extracurriculars were really curricular activities, such as the music program.I enjoyed singing.So I was in Boysí Glee Club and Mixed Chorus.Itís pretty hard to go to a small high school and not be involved in athletics.So I was in the track program for four years and the football program the last two years, my junior and senior years.We had a good high school football team.We were undefeated all four years that I was in high school.We had two ties during that period.We had 39 consecutive games without a loss.

Q:††††††† Thatís quite a record.

A:†††††††† Yes.It was fun.

Q:††††††† Did you have honors in high school.Were you valedictorian?

A:†††††††† Thatís a question with an interesting answer.Iíll give you a little longer answer than you might expect.I was salutatorian of my class.I was beaten out by a very bright woman who went on to California.Her name was Sybil Ingle.So I was second in my class.The following year my wife was salutatorian of her class.When our son graduated from Gilbert High school in Iowa in 1981, he was salutatorian of his class.Not to be outdone, when our daughter, Jerri Jean graduated from Lawrence High School in 1984 she was one of the valedictorians of Lawrence High School.

Q:††††††† Your family has done pretty well.

A:†††††††† We were lucky.

Q:††††††† When did you graduate from high school?

A:†††††††† I graduated in 1957.And in the summer of 1956 two friends and I visited the University of Kansas for the first time and decided it was much too large for us.We were small town kids and decided that probably was not going to be the place where we would go to school.I got a Future Teachersí scholarship as a graduating senior to a college of my choice.My wifeís brother, Morris Johnson, who was actually my girlfriendís brother at the time, was a freshman at the University of Kansas and he was in a scholarship hall.He introduced me to the idea of a scholarship hall.Our family was not in poverty, but we didnít have a lot of money for someone to go to school.So I applied for a scholarship hall at the University of Kansas and got it.Thatís the main reason I came to the University of Kansas, the availability of a scholarship hall.

Q:††††††† Youíve mentioned Judy.Did she grow up in the same town?

A:†††††††† She did.In fact, my wife and I were both delivered by the same doctor in the same hospital.She was about 14 months after me, but we were delivered by the same doctor, Dr. Barnes.Then she and I didnít know each other well as kids.But we became acquainted and started dating in high school.In fact, next year in February we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of our first date.

Q:††††††† Did you have summer jobs when you were going to high school?

A:†††††††† Oh, yes.Mostly farming jobs.I once figured out that I had driven about 18 or 19 different John Deere tractors in my time as a high schooler.I remember telling my dad one time that there must be an easier way to make a living than that.I actually started doing farm work when I was 12.My dad, still wanting to be a farmer, bought a tractor and plow with the idea of doing custom plowing.But then his job changed and he was unable to.But he found a job for me.The summer that I was 12, I pulled box cars with that tractor at a local elevator.That was a pretty big responsibility for a 12-year-old.Then we had a custom plowing job that I did that same summer with the tractor and plow.That summer I made between $300 and $400.That was a lot of money for that time.My goal was to buy a television set.And so in August of 1952 I bought the familyís first television set.The family thought I was crazy.There we were in southern Kansas.There were no television stations in Kansas, none at all.There was one in Kansas City and one in Oklahoma City.We could get the station in Oklahoma City with picture and sound, sometimes both at the same time.

Q:††††††† When you went to KU you lived in the scholarship hall.What was your major?

A:†††††††† I was a math major.†† Then my junior year I moved to the School of Education to be a teacher.I actually roomed with Morris Johnson, who is now my brother-in-law, the first year that we were in Jolliffe Hall.He was assigned to Jolliffe.When I found that I had a scholarship hall assignment, I asked to be put in Jolliffe, and it was a good choice for me.I lived in Jolliffe Hall the four years that I was at the university.

Other summer jobs back in high school.One summer my senior year I got the mumps.I had been a roughneck on an oil rig for a while.I couldnít do that after I got the mumps, so I became an ice man.I delivered ice around the city of Caldwell to folks for their cold drinking water and a few ice boxes, which were the predecessors of refrigerators.

Q:††††††† My parents had one.

A:†††††††† People still had ice boxes in 1956 or 1957.

Q:††††††† Did you have jobs when you were in college or in the summers?

A:†††††††† Yes.I was really fortunate.After my freshman year at the university my dad was working for Sumner County government.He was a road grader driver.He helped me get a job with the civil engineering part of the county.I was on a land surveying crew.I did that each summer for four summers while I was at KU.

Q:††††††† Did you have influential teachers at KU as an undergraduate?

A:†††††††† Yes, there were a few who were helpful.Donald Alderson was Dean of Men.He had a special interest in scholarship hall fellows.I got to know him through our scholarship hall.He was very encouraging to all.Actually, when I returned to KU as an employee in 1981 I managed to visit with him about the days of my undergraduate time.That was a very special time, because he died not very long after that.I recall that fondly.Gilbert Ulmer was the mathematics professor who was in charge of student teachers.He was a grand old fellow who was very encouraging and tried to help students in their work.G. Baley Price was chair of the math department.I had a lot of respect for him, although I never had him as an instructor.He had a very excellent math program here at the university, so that was good.Those are the ones who kind of stand out.My wife and I were both in University Chorus.Clayton Krehbiel was the choir director at that time.He was really fabulous.He used to direct concerts in his tuxedo and cowboy boots.

Q:††††††† Were your concerts in Murphy or Hoch?

A:†††††††† They were in both Murphy and Hoch.In 1959 or 1960 we did Beethovenís ďNinth Choral SymphonyĒ with the Kansas City Philharmonic in Music Hall in Kansas City.We had members of the Metropolitan Opera in New York do the solos.They flew in to do the solo work.So that was a very special event.It was a grand thing.I still remember it vividly.

Q:††††††† Lawrence and K.U. were a lot different then than they are now.

A:†††††††† They were.We didnít venture out very far.Of course we had the Varsity and what was the other theater downtown that is still there?And Liberty Hall was actually in use as a movie theater then.It was called something else.So there were three theaters downtown.I donít recall Iowa Street at all because we never ventured out that far.The Dynamite on 23rd Street seemed too far away to ever venture out to.So it was pretty much campus and downtown for us.I remember shopping at Weavers.I did my student teaching at Central Junior High here in Lawrence.I graduated in 1961.

Judy and I were married in June of 1961.Then we moved to Lawrence as a married couple in the fall of 1961 because she was still finishing her degree in education at the University of Kansas.I started teaching math at Leavenworth Junior High School and commuting from Lawrence to Leavenworth.Then the following year we moved to Leavenworth and lived there from í62 to í65.I taught in Leavenworth for four years.I taught eighth and ninth grade mathematics.I really liked it a lot.

But in 1960 at the university I took the first computing course that KU offered.It was a mathematics course, Math 158, I believe.I still have my notes from the course.It kind of changed my life because I was just absolutely enthralled with computing from 1960.

Q:††††††† What kind of computer did they have then?

A:†††††††† I tell people it was the first personal computer I ever used.It was a personal computer in the sense that only one person could use it at a time.You had complete control of all of the resources.It was an IBM 650.It was a big, old, very noisy machine.As I recall, you could hardly talk in the machine room because the air conditioners were so loud to keep it cool.It had punch card input and punch card output.The cards that it punched out for answers didnít have anything on them but holes.You had to take that deck of cards over to another machine and have it printed out so that you could see whether or not you had the right answers.But I was just fascinated.We didnít have Fortran.We were programming in very primitive assembly language.In fact, it was called SOAP, Symbolic Optimum Assembly Program.

Q:††††††† Which building was this in?

A:†††††††† This was in Summerfield.Summerfield was brand new.The computer was acquired by the university in 1957.

Q:††††††† I didnít realize it was that early.

A:†††††††† Yes.They were quite early in getting a computer.G. Baley Price was instrumental in getting the first computer here at the university.It was located in Strong Hall basement when it was first installed.But by the time I used it, it was in Summerfield Hall.I think it was in the basement of Summerfield.Summerfield was brand new at that time.

Q:††††††† So you were teaching in Leavenworth for four years.Were you ever in the military?

A:†††††††† Never was.I never sought a deferment.But because I was a math teacher, that was considered a critical teaching area at that time.And I was classified 2A rather than 1A.It wasnít anything that I requested.It was just because of my profession.Then in 1963 our son Richard was born.So at a time when I might have been drafted, we were married, had a son, and I was teaching in a critical area.So I never did serve in the military.My wife Judy actually taught at Fort Leavenworth in the elementary school there for a year and a half.

In 1963 I was really enjoying my junior high teaching.I decided that I really needed further training and an advanced degree.So I applied for some summer institutes and got a National Science Foundation institute to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.So in the summer of 1963 we moved our six-month-old to Evanston, Illinois.I spent eight weeks in school there studying mathematics.Then we repeated that in the summers of 1964 and 1965.And I completed my masterís in 1965 at Northwestern.

Q:††††††† Did you write a thesis for that?

A:†††††††† I did not.In lieu of a thesis we had a six-hour comprehensive written examination that was just a mammoth thing.It was just totally exhausting.But I managed to pass and got my degree.

Q:††††††† Was Northwestern using computers then in the math department?

A:†††††††† Yes, they were.We had a Control Data computer, CDC3400.In 1964 I took my second course in computer programming.We were using a programming language called Algol, algorithmic language.That just further stimulated my interest in computing.So in 1965 I was looking for a school that had computing or a computing emphasis in which to teach.I moved to Wichita.I taught at Campus High School near Wichita.It was in Haysville.In 1965 they had an IBM 1620 computer at the high school and actually had a curriculum in data processing.

Q:††††††† For high school kids?

A:†††††††† Yes.This was quite unusual.They had gotten the computer with a 90 percent grant from the federal government and a 10 percent grant from the state.The computer they had was just slightly better than the computer at Wichita State University at that time.It was quite a rare opportunity for me.I was able to use that computer as much as I wanted to.In the fall of 1965 I audited a Fortran course at Wichita State.So that was my third exposure to computing.

In 1966 a friend of mine was teaching at the University of Omaha.I had known him from graduate school.He said, ďWhy donít you come up and teach mathematics at the University of Omaha?We have this computer system that you are familiar with and you may get involved in computing up here.ĒSo I decided that I might try to teach at the college level.I applied at Pittsburg State as well as the University of Omaha.Pittsburg State offered me an instructorís position at $6,000.The University of Omaha offered me $7,000 a year.So I decided to go for the big bucks and we moved to Omaha.The first year I was there a fellow there named Bill Walden was teaching the computing courses.He knew of my interest in computing and he had me audit a course he was teaching with the idea that I would teach it the following semester, which I did.So I started teaching computer science as well as mathematics.My position was instructor of mathematics.But I was teaching computing as well.And I did that two years.

Q:††††††† Did you like teaching college students better than teaching junior high school students?

A:†††††††† I did, although one of my big responsibilities was a night class of maybe 150 students, who were primarily young men trying to avoid the draft.They didnít have much interest in learning mathematics or being in school at night.It was kind of hard to get them motivated, a problem that I never had while I was teaching ninth graders.I really didnít intend to leave teaching high school.Thereís a little bit more to the story.I had applied for a different high school position in the Wichita area.And the day after I accepted the job at Omaha the principal of one of the high schools there called me and asked me why I hadnít returned the contract that I had been offered.I had never seen a contract.He traced it down and called me back later and said it had gotten lost on one of the desks in the administrative office.And so but for a bit of fate, I would probably still be teaching high school.It was the University of Omaha at that time.Just when I was leaving they were changing the name to University of Nebraska at Omaha.It became part of the University of Nebraska system.

I had a friend at Omaha who was completing a Ph.D. in mathematics at Iowa State University.On a whim one day I went with him to visit his major professor at Iowa State University.He talked with me and said, ďWith your interest in computing, you really ought to consider an advanced degree and you ought to consider Iowa State UniversityI said, ďWell, will you give me a job over here?ĒHe said, ďNot out of the question.ĒSo in 1966 he did offer me a position teaching computer science half time and working in the computer center at Iowa State half time.So in 1968 we moved to Ames, Iowa.

Q:††††††† Was this to work on a Ph.D.?

A:†††††††† Yes.It was my expectation to get a Ph.D. in computer science, but Iowa State University didnít have a computer science department.Their computer science courses were being offered out of the School of Mathematics.My mentor, Clair Maple at Iowa State, assured me there would be a Department of Computer Science before I completed my degree.And it occurred to me later that that would be a true statement whether they formed the department or not, because I couldnít graduate with a degree in computer science without a Department of Computer Science.So I studied computer science for five years.In 1970, I believe, they did create the Department of Computer Science.I was a full-time employee and a half-time graduate student.By then our daughter Jerri had been born.She had actually been born in Wichita.So I was a father of two with two half-time jobs that were almost full time because I was teaching two courses.Those were years of short nights and early mornings.But in 1973 I completed my Ph.D. in computer science.

Q:††††††† I suppose you knew that we are both from Iowa State too.

A:†††††††† I think I did know that.

Q:††††††† As undergraduates.

A:†††††††† Would that have been in the mid Ď60s?

Q:††††††† I graduated in November of 1958 and Paul in the spring of 1959.So it was a little before you were there.

A:†††††††† Ames is a very pleasant community.We liked it a lot.

Q:††††††† Did you live in Pammel Court?

A:†††††††† No, we didnít.Pammel, for those of you listening to the tape, was like the Sunnyside residences, World War II barracks at Iowa State University.Fortunately, we bought our first house in Leavenworth.So we had a little money put aside to put towards a house in Ames.We bought a house on Toronto Street.I believe we paid $17,500 for that house, three bedrooms, full basement, no garage.The interest rate at that time was like three percent or three and a quarter percent.My wife was teaching, so we had money to put towards a house.I credit her with helping us get our first home.We lived there for five years and then moved to a different home.

Q:††††††† What was your dissertation on as a Ph.D. student?

A:†††††††† Design and Complete Definition of a Systems Programming Language for Data Communications.I was interested in networking and that was a little unusual at that time.But it was the design of a language that could be used for developing systems around data communication.It was nothing that changed the world, but it did get me a degree.

Q:††††††† What year did you get your Ph.D.?

A:†††††††† That was in 1973.

Q:††††††† Then while you were at Iowa State was the time of the Vietnam War protests.There was so much going on here around 1969 and 1970.Did they have things like that going on at Iowa State?

A:†††††††† Not nearly to that extent.We had each year something called the VEISHA parade.You remember VEISHA.I remember students having war protest floats in the VEISHA parade.But certainly it was nothing like they were having here in Lawrence, partly because Iowa State was the agricultural school.It was the land grant college.It was a lot more like K-State than the University of Kansas.

Q:††††††† What did you do after you got your Ph.D.?

A:†††††††† Well, it was my intent to teach mathematics or computer science at the college level.Thatís what I really intended to do.I had been working at the computer center.I liked my work at the computer center.I applied for a job at Wichita State University because we thought we wanted to return to Kansas.I was more interested in that than my wife was at the time.But I discovered that my salary expectations for a job at Wichita were more than they were paying the department chair.And my boss at Iowa State was able to meet my salary requirements and make me an assistant director of the computation center at Iowa State.So in the fall of 1973 I began full-time work at the computation center.I had been a faculty member at Iowa State for five years and they had a five-year tenure rule.Unbeknownst to me, the department chair had put me up for tenure consideration.He did so without my knowledge and without any supporting materials from me.So I was turned down for tenure.But my boss at the computation center said, ďIíll make sure that you get tenure.ĒSo I did have a tenured position at the computation center, an official tenured position, which was extremely rare.I have no idea what it meant to be tenured at the computation center, but I was.

Q:††††††† So you werenít teaching at this time.You were just working at the computation center.

A:†††††††† Thatís correct.I wasnít teaching any classes at all.

Q:††††††† What were your responsibilities at the computation center?

A:†††††††† By then we had some major large computer systems.And we were trying to develop our networking.My responsibility was data communications and networking.I had a staff of four or five.We did equipment maintenance repair, or I should say the staff did.I was responsible for some of the planning, planning for a new computer system that we acquired in 1978.I had just general administrative and manager responsibilities.I was an assistant director all those years.

Q:††††††† How long did you stay in that position?

A:†††††††† From 1973 to 1981.My immediate supervisor at Iowa State University was George Strawn, who is still a close personal friend.His wife and my wife are good friends as well.He went on to become the chair of the Computer Science Department at Iowa State and then later director of the computation center.He is now the chief information officer for the National Science Foundation in Virginia.

Q:††††††† Did you come to KU from Iowa State?

A:†††††††† I did.The story that I tell is that the only reason Judy let me apply for the position here was that she was so certain that I wouldnít get the position here.

Q:††††††† So she liked living in Ames.

A:†††††††† She liked living in Ames and we had been there 13 years.Our son started to kindergarten when we moved there and graduated from high school the year that we left.So those were very formative years.And our daughter had just completed her ninth grade year.She was a cheerleader.She was not anxious to move.I saw the position here, which was director of academic computing services, as an opportunity of a decade.Dick Hetherington had been the director of academic computing from 1961 to 1969.He was replaced by Paul Wolfe.Paul Wolfe was director from 1969 to 1981.In two decades they had had only two directors of academic computing services.So I saw a chance there to return to my Alma Mater.I still had crimson and blue blood, even though cardinal and gold had been pervasive for 13 years.We still had family in Kansas.I really wasnít looking for a job, but someone sent me information about the director position at KU.So I decided to apply.As I learned later, I was one of three or four finalists out of a group of 60 who were considered for the position.And I think there were 22 or 23 people on the search committee.Was Paul the chair of that search committee?

Q:††††††† I donít know.

A:†††††††† Well, he was certainly on the search committee, Paul Willhite, your husband.It was a very large committee.So I visited in May of 1981.I was asked down for an interview that was to run for a day and a half.In the first half day I decided I didnít want the job.

Q:††††††† Why?

A:†††††††† Well, the computation center was in financial trouble.It was clear that they were going to run a deficit.For that year it turned out they had a deficit of $76,000.The university was committed to a 100-month contract on the purchase of Honeywell Computer System.Now 100 months is eight years and four months.It was just an incredibly long time for purchasing the electronics.It was clear that the electronics were going to be outdated long before the contract was ever paid out.The university was paying Honeywell about $1 million a year for the computer system that they had.So things were in less than good shape financially.Morale was kind of low.Iím not sure whether Paul Wolfe was asked to leave his position or just decided that it was time to move on.Honeywell was not a well-known name in computing, so it was a different system from most every place else in the country at that time.Our first impression of Lawrence was not all that positive.We came expecting to see it as we had left it some 20 years earlier.And we found the changes not particularly to our liking.

Q:††††††† You mean because the town had grown?

A:†††††††† Yes, it had. On the positive side the Computer Center was brand new.It was completed in 1978 and dedicated in 1978.So it was only three years old at the time.The day I received the job offer I was out mowing our lawn.I had a riding mower in Iowa and was called in off of the mower to take a call from Bill Hogan, who was working in the administrative offices at that time, inviting me to take the position of director.We haggled a little bit about salary but I accepted the position.We moved in July of 1981 to Lawrence.We lived in town for 6 months and then moved to a three-acre lot south and east of Lawrence, where we still live.We have lived there 23 years now.Itís in Cedarwood Hills.So that was the transition to the University of Kansas.

When I got here, things were not very different from what I expected them to be, except that the staff at the computation center were just really excellent.My mentor at Iowa State said the first thing you do is find your indispensable people and fire them because you canít afford indispensable people.I didnít find any that I considered to be indispensable, but I found a lot of competence there.That was really a bright note for me.They were eager.They were capable.Paul Wolfe had really built a solid base of technical support and service-minded individuals.So I inherited just an excellent staff.There were no surprises on the economic side.In fact, Iíve joked that the first year I had only two financial decisions to make.One was whether or not to change the sign outside my office, which had the wrong title on it.I decided against that because of cost.It was going to cost $20 or $30.The other was whether to put a bulletin board in one of our remote sites that we had on campus.So I opted to buy the bulletin board.But those were the financial decisions that I had to make that first year.The university passed on to me a $76,000 debt that I was expected to erase the first year that I was there.

Q:††††††† In one year?

A:†††††††† In one year.I understand nowóI was pretty naÔve at the timeóthat itís not at all unusual for the university to pick up a debt like that so that the new person coming in has a clean slate to begin with.But we were very, very tight-fisted and managed to end my first year with a positive balance, including paying off the $76,000 that we had from the year before.And from then on until I stepped down as director, we never had a deficit at the computation center.

Q:††††††† Thatís quite an accomplishment.

A:†††††††† I thought it was a good accomplishment.Some have criticized me for it saying that if I had just put us in debt more we would have had more things and the university might have rescued us.But I felt differently about it.Fiscal responsibility, I think, was one of the things that I brought to the position.Iíve often said that I felt I was the right person for the job at the right time and hired for all of the wrong reasons.

Q:††††††† What reasons do you think they had for hiring you?

A:†††††††† They hired me because 1. I had a Ph.D. in computer science, which was of almost no value to me as a director of an administrative unit.I judged that they hired me because I had teaching experience, but I was not moving into a teaching position.There was some concern about my tenure situation.They thought that I would be asking for tenure with the computer science department here.I did not, so that became a non-issue.They were really looking for an academic when they should have been looking for someone with management experience.I had a little, not much.With fiscal experience I had none.I certainly grew into those things, and I think I did a reasonable job as a fiscal manager.But those were not skills that I had coming into the job.

Q:††††††† You must have learned a lot while you were here.

A:†††††††† It was on-the-job training.It surely was.When I came I had my own microcomputer, my own personal computer.I had an Apple II.The computer center also had an Apple II and that was the only microcomputer that we had.Iíve said that we had more vending machines than microcomputers when I came.We had one microcomputer and two vending machines at the computer center.Of course, the microcomputer revolution was about to really catch fire.This was before IBM had introduced its personal computer in 1983, I believe.The microcomputer revolution hit about 1982 or 1983.

I think one of the things that Iím proud of is that I, along with my staff, embraced the microcomputer revolution as something that was a real positive for the institution.Some of the computer centers around the country saw it as a threat.They saw computing moving out of a central facility, which we saw also.But we saw that they were compatible, at least for the near term.So we created a microcomputer repair facility and we really focused on supporting microcomputers.In 1983 we were instrumental in getting a statewide contract for the purchase of microcomputers.It was the efforts of folks here at the University of Kansas who made that happen and created the first statewide contract for academic purchase.Those were good years and good times we had as we transitioned into the microcomputer era.

Q:††††††† It was just a few years later than that when students began getting their own computers.

A:†††††††† Right.And that was something that we encouraged also.In fact one year I sent a letter out to all parents of incoming students encouraging them, if financially possible, to send their kids off to school with a microcomputer.One of the examples that I gave was my own.I said, ďMy parents sent me to college with my own word processor, a Royal typewriter.ĒIt made a huge difference in my ability to my work and do quality work at the university.

Q:††††††† I understand that you worked at the Spencer Research Library to put images from their collection on computers.

A:†††††††† That was much, much later.In about 1986 we decided that with the divestiture of AT&T and the breakup of AT&T and the creation of the Baby Bell Telephone Companies that the university ought to be considering its own communication system as an alternative to Bell.And we were talking about wiring the campus for networking.So we worked with State Department of Information Systems and managed to get a fiber contract let for spreading fiber optics around the campus in 1986-87.We created a telecommunications division that is still in existence as Networking and Telecommunication Services.

Q:††††††† By networking do you mean that computers in various parts of the campus can talk to each other and exchange information?

A:†††††††† Right.It also included in this case getting a voice switch and we had switchboard operators.We had our own telephone system at the university from about 1986 on.

Q:††††††† I didnít know that.

A:†††††††† Thatís another thing that I take some pride in, helping to create the environment for networking to grow on campus.I saw the importance of computer networking.This was still fairly early on.Anyhow, that worked out reasonably well.

Q:††††††† One thing that has come from that is that students no longer stand in long lines to register for classes any more.

A:†††††††† That came along more after my time than during my time.It was certainly something I encouraged.My emphasis was always on the research and instruction side of computing.For a few years I had dual responsibilities for administrative computing and academic computing.But for the most part I was on the academic side, the research and instruction side.

Q:††††††† I understand that with some other people you have designed video games to teach math.

A:†††††††† That was a fun thing that my wife and I did in the early Ď80s.Bill Maxwell and Jerry Chafin had designed some computer games that they had implemented on the IBM PC.They were working on the Apple version.By then I had a Commodore 64 computer and I knew quite a bit about the Commodore.They approached me to convert the games to the Commodore 64.So I took it as kind of a consulting and after-hours job.We eventually did three of them for the Commodore 64, Alien Addition, Minus Mission, and Meteor Multiplication.These were action games for kids to learn their basic arithmetic skills.It was fun and they sold pretty well.Unfortunately, Commodore went out of business as a computer manufacturer.So the Commodore 64 phase of microcomputing didnít last.But at its peak in about 1984 there were Commodore 64 user group meetings in Kansas City that would attract about 400 or 500 people a month to attend meetings to learn about the Commodore 64 Computer.

Q:††††††† There have been a lot of changes in computers through the years.I suppose that is a problem because you have to replace things so frequently.

A:†††††††† Yes, you absolutely do.That is just part of the technology and technology changes.If you choose wrong it can be an expensive change.I was one of the first to buy a Sony Beta Video cassette recorder.In the early days of VCRs there was competition between the Beta users and the VHS users.Even thought the Beta was better technology, the VHS users won out with marketing.So the Beta VCR that I have is obsolete, kind of like the eight-track tapes.With microcomputers, the first small computers had eight-inch floppy disks.Then about 1978, I suppose, with the introduction of the Apple they went to the five and a quarter floppy disks.

Q:††††††† Those are the first ones I had.

A:†††††††† Those are the ones we got at the university then in the early eighties.I remember one faculty member, when the new three-inch disk came out, said, ďYou surely donít expect us to convert over to this new technology, do you?ĒI said, ďYes, indeed.It is just a matter of time.Ē

Q:††††††† How long did you remain in this position?

A:†††††††† I had a variety of different positions.I was director of academic computing services from 1981-82.Then we combined administrative and academic computing and I was director of computing services, which combined administrative and academic, for about five years, until about 1986, I believe.Then I was ready to not be director of both any more and asked to step back to be just director of academic computing.I did that for a couple of years.Then as we expanded with the telecommunications responsibility my boss, Dick Mann at the time, asked if I would be executive director for all of the area and I took that responsibility on for several years.Then I again stepped back to be director of academic computing services, although I have always considered that that was my home, research and instruction computing.Then in 1999 Bill Crowe was just being replaced by Mary Lou Goodyear as assistant vice chancellor for information services.She agreed to have me move into a position in Spencer Library, where I didnít have staff responsibilities and help set the stage for developing a digital library.So I did that for about a year and a half.Then I had a chance to become a liaison for the provosts of the regentsí schools for information services at the Board of Regents office in Topeka.I did that for about a year.

Then the KAN-ED legislation was passed, which created a statewide network for schools, libraries, and hospitals that was to be administered by the Board of Regents office. They didnít know what to do with that.And I was around and was familiar with the executive director and he asked me to be what we called the planning coordinator for the KAN ED project.For the first six months I was the only employee for the KAN ED project.I spent a year and a half getting that together.

Q:††††††† Did this involve putting more computers into the schools that were out in the state?

A:†††††††† It was networking, taking broadband, high-speed network service to schools, libraries, and hospitals in a coordinated effort around the state.Up until then we had no coordinated network.In 2003 we got the legislation and in 2004 KAN-ED got funding, $10 million a year to fund that project.Until then we had planning grants.So in January of 2003 I stepped down as the planning coordinator and we had hired an executive director for the KAN-ED project.I became the executive director of the Great Plains Network, which provides Internet II to schools in the Midwest, including the University of Kansas and Kansas State University.I still technically was employed by the University of Kansas but I was paid by this consortium for the Internet II project.I did that until my retirement, which was August of 2004, almost exactly a year ago, a year ago tomorrow.

Q:††††††† Have you had some honors in the course of your work?

A:†††††††† Some surprises, yes.In 2000 I received an award by a professional organization called Educause.This is a national organization.The award was ďexcellence in leadership in the profession.ĒIt was one of four awards given that year.It was a national recognition for some of the work that I had done over the years in leading the profession.In 2001 I was inducted into the Association for Computing Machinery Hall of Fame, which was a nice honor. In 2002 I was given a State of Kansas Technology Leadership award for my work with the KAN ED project.So I feel like I have been richly blessed with recognition for some of the work I have done.

Q:††††††† Did you serve on committees, or did you not do that kind of thing?

A:†††††††† Yes, I did.I served on many committees, including the planning committee for the creation of Anschutz Library and lots of search committees.I was on the search committee that brought Bill Crowe in as dean of libraries.He eventually stepped up to other responsibilities.So I served on quite a number of search committees.Memories of committee work tend to fade quickly.

Q:††††††† You probably didnít have a lot of contact with students.

A:†††††††† In the early Ď80s, probably í84, I decided there ought to be a course in microcomputing.†† There had been one planned but never taught.I taught the first course in microcomputing that we had here at KU.I taught it for two or three years.I was also an adjunct assistant professor in electrical engineering.†† Dale Rummer was teaching a course in electrical engineering that I sat in on and then taught the following year.So I did some teaching.Then Sue Nishikawa, who just recently joined the Endacott Society, and I reprised the microcomputer course and co-taught a microcomputer course in the Ď90s.

Q:††††††† Do you remember former students who have gone on to greater things?

A:†††††††† No, I donít.

Q:††††††† You probably donít have continued contact with them since you didnít have graduate students.

A:†††††††† I have had a few students come back to me and say, ďI was in your microcomputer class.You made a difference.I went intoÖĒI have had a few things like that that are just real gems.

Q:††††††† Have you been involved in community activities here?

A:†††††††† Yes.Weíve always enjoyed Community Theater.People said, ďYou really ought to get involved in Community Theater.ĒJudy had done a Community Theater production of Oliver back in Iowa.So we attend the Lawrence Community Theater on a regular basis and got known well enough to be nominated for the board.I served three years on the Lawrence Community Theater board and served as president one of those years.So I have a little acrylic star to show that I was president of the Lawrence Community Theater.In the Ď90s I was on the Lied Center Friends of the Lied Board for three years as university representative.In 2002 I was elected to the Douglas County Historical Society board.In 2004 I served as chair of the Douglas County Historical Society board.And Judy and I have been, as you know, active choir members of the First United Methodist Church here in Lawrence.We have been involved in the choir for more than 20 years.

We had just a grand opportunity in June of 2004.Our choir director is John Paul Johnson, who is also the director of choral activities at the University of Kansas.He put together a large group to go to Carnegie Hall and perform at Carnegie Hall.Judy and I were fortunate to be part of that experience.

Q:††††††† I knew some people who went to that.

A:†††††††† We sang the ďDurufle RequiemĒ in Latin.I suppose the hall was half to three quarters full.We did get a standing ovation for our 40-minute performance of the ďDurufle Requiem.ĒWe had about a 300-voice chorus and a 75-piece orchestra.It was a marvelous sound.The ages were from junior high kids to folks in their 80s.So it was a real eclectic group.

Q:††††††† Do you plan to have continued involvement with KU?

A:†††††††† I donít know whether you are aware that the Endacott Society has drafted me to be the convener for the computer study group.

Q:††††††† I didnít know that.

A:†††††††† We are kicking that off next week.I have started planning the programs for the year with the computer study group.I think it is a fun bunch of people.So I intend to be involved in that way.I still do a little consulting, especially for the Kansas Board of Regents.And my friend and colleague, George Strawn, who I mentioned earlier, and I are conducting a half-day workshop in knowledge management and leadership at a national conference in Orlando, Florida, in October.If we are successful in that, we may try offering that other places as well.So Iím still remaining active in that way.

Q:††††††† Anything else you plan to do in retirement?

A:†††††††† I really enjoy computing.Right now I maintain three web sites.So I am still very much involved in computing, only as an avocation rather than a vocation.Iím also converting our old videos to DVD.Iíve done maybe 25 DVDs at this point.I enjoy doing those things.

Judy and I love to travel.This summer has been a phenomenal year of travel for us.We spent two weeks in China.That was a marvelous experience, a study group with Johnson County Community College. Then we did an Elderhostel in Fort Vancouver, Washington, on the Columbia River and learned about the fur trade and early times on the West Coast.In late July and early August we took a 3,000-mile drive through Minnesota, up the north shore of Lake Superior and around to Sault Saint Marie and Mackinaw Island and Door County, Wisconsin, and visited friends and family.Our son Richard lives in the Chicago area so we visited him.Our daughter lives in Vancouver, Washington, so with the Fort Vancouver Elderhostel we visited family there as well.

Q:††††††† Do you have grandchildren?

A:†††††††† We have four grandchildren. We have a 20-year-old step granddaughter, who is a sophomore this year in Washington state, a nine-year-old grandson in Washington, a six-year-old grandson in Chicago and a two and a half year old granddaughter in Chicago.They can occupy as much time as they will allow me.

Q:††††††† To kind of finish up Iíd like to ask about your assessment of KU, the Computer Center, past, present, hopes for the future, that kind of thing.

A:†††††††† Well, computing services has changed immensely in the past few years because the need for research and instruction computing support has diminished significantly.The microcomputers have replaced that.People still need a place to go to get help, and I think academic computing services continues to do that.Iím amazed at what they are doing in administrative computing now.I think they are doing a much better job of supporting the administrative effort on campus than they did when I was active at the computer center.Thatís come about not because of a change of computing administration but because of a recognition by central administration that thatís really important to have.So they have put the financial resources into it to make it successful.I think they are doing a good job.I am concerned and evidently Iím not alone about the overemphasis on athletics that we have taken on in recent years.

Q:††††††† Oh, yes.

A:†††††††† I think it is way overblown, far out of proportion to its importance to the institution.I donít see that changing quickly.But Iíve seen less emphasis on the academics and more emphasis on the athletics, and I think thatís a mistake.We still have a lot of talented faculty.I think the strong emphasis on research has hurt the instructional program at KU.I donít consider the instructional program to be as good as it was when I was an undergraduate.I think thatís a shame.I think the research program is doing well.But I think that one reason that KU doesnít have broad support by other Kansas folks is because of the lack of emphasis on the instructional side.

Q:††††††† Is there anything Iíve left out youíd like to add?

A:†††††††† I think that weíve covered it reasonably well.I hope that someone in future years finds some of this to be of interest.Thank you, Jewell, for arranging this and doing this.Itís a nice contribution that you make.

Q:††††††† Thank you.