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Zhang:  So, whatís your view of the college from being a student and then later a faculty member?  What is your opinion?

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Griffin:  Well I, as I said, I think that overall the student body is just tremendously stronger than it was when I came here as a student.  We had really good students back then, donít get me wrong, and we still do have very good students, but we had many more of those who arenít here anymore.  We still have some students who have talent and when they come here theyíre going to do as little as they have to to get through, and I wish we didnít have those students.  If it was up to me, they wouldnít be here to be quite frank with you.  I donít have much use for that.  But, in a private school with high tuition like Rollins, youíre going to have that.

So, I mean, if I had to change something it would be that those students would be encouraged to find another place.  But there arenít nearly as many as there used to be, and Iíve seen a gradual improvement in that every year.  And so most of the students I deal with I just think the world of.  Theyíre great.

I wish we could do more to improve their life outside the classroom.  Thatís been my frustration since Iíve been here.  The biggest complaint we hear from students who leave this place is that their social life, that is their life outside the classroom, isnít what it should be.  And if you want to have a wonderful place for students to experience over four years, itís got to be just more than what happens in the classroom and in the academic buildings.  Itís got to be what happens in the dormitories.  And I still think we have a long way to go there.  I donít think we have developed enough policies that respect those students who are trying to do the right thing.  And we often take the easy way out, make judgments that allow students who are doing the right thing to suffer and those who are doing the wrong thing not to suffer.  Iíve been very outspoken about that over the years and I will continue to be outspoken because I care about good students and I want them to have the kind of experience they should have.


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Zhang:  What is your view of the faculty structure over the years?

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Griffin:  There is a change, and all of it isnít good.  We have a much stronger faculty than we used to have overall.  Thereís no doubt about that.  Some really good people.  As I said when I served on that Cornell committee, I was just so impressed with what our faculty is doing.

What I donít like, that I used to love here, is that we have become very focused on our own departments and our own areas.  And when I was a student here, that wasnít true.  And when I came back as a faculty member, I spent as much time with people in philosophy and art and history as I did with people in the sciences.  In fact, probably on a social basis more time.  And thatís what I really loved; that I could sit and argue with a philosopher or historianó Someone outside of my discipline, and I spent as much time doing that as I did with those in the sciences.  We are much more focused, because people who are coming from academic institutions today are more focused on their own disciplines and they tend to stay within their disciplines more than we did.  And that, to me, is a weakness.  I wish we could find ways to break those barriers again.  Within my own division, the science division, we met on a regular basis with people in all the departments and talked about issues, and we donít do that much.

So that part is a negative.  But in terms of the quality of the faculty, thereís no comparison.  Itís just really quite, quite good.  In terms of the students that I see, there are also big changes there.

So as I look back at whatís happened with the College over the years, most of it has been really good.  I wish [we could regain some of the informal ways in which students and faculty used to meet.]  Jack [Lane] will talk about that a lot.  About the fact that we used to sit around and have coffee together all the time, and weíd go over to the old mail room, which is now the bookstore, and chat and see students, and it was very informal, but it was great.  And that doesnít happen as much as it should anymore.  So thatís a missing component.  And Rita tried like crazy to solve that problem.  She put in a faculty dining room and did all kinds of things, and none of them seemed to work.  I donít know if you could change that.  Iím not sure.  Itíd be nice to do it.



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Zhang:  What other courses have you taught over the years?  You mentioned quite a few.  Very interesting.

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Griffin:    Iíve always taught a lot of non-major classes.  I find that much more a pedagogical challenge than teaching a group of majors who already have interest.  The students come into those classes often hating you for being there.  Here they are takingó Sheís smiling (referring to Lily; laughter); she knows.  Theyíre in there not because they want to be in there but because they have to do this to get their general education satisfied.  They remember the experience they had in high school where they were told that science is a bunch of facts that you memorize and regurgitate to a teacher.  And my job is to change that.  And I take that on as a pedagogical challenge.  Now sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesnít, but I try to teach physics for those people as a human experience and itís a creative human experience.  Itís like any other field is.  And itís not a bunch of facts.  The fact is, thatís the last thing science is.  Itís a process.  And so I really focus on that and try my best.  Some students buy into that and it changes their attitudes toward what scientists are and what they do and others donít.  And some students I hear from over the years about that experience and some students probably still hated it.  (Laughs) But I try my best.  So I always enjoy teaching the freshman non-majors courses and Iíve done a lot of that over the years.  For years, I taught a course on energy because we were in the early seventies in the middle of an energy crisis and everybody was wondering where the next barrel of oil was coming from.  And so I taught a course in energy, which really allowed me to teach all kinds of physics and relate it to what they were experiencing out there, and so that, I enjoyed that a lot.


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Griffin Discuses Doing Research at Los Alamos Laboratories

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Griffin:  So, Ken Andrew, who was my major professor, sent me to Los Alamos to spend some time with Bob.  He and I worked very well together and he became my major professor at Los Alamos.  So all my research, my theoretical research, was done at Los Alamos in New Mexico.  It had nothing to do with the fancier bombs or weapons or anything else.  It was pure basic research in atomic physics.  But Bob was, as I said, internationally known.  He wrote probably one of the best books in atomic physics, ever, or close to it.  And when he was working on his book I was there with him and he used to make me check all the math in all his chapters (laughs).  He was a taskmaster, boy!  And writing was his thing.  I mean, if you screwed up in your writing he was on your case.  So I learned to write from Bob Cowan.  If Iíd write something down that, when we were working on papers together, he thought was not well organized or well written, he would get all over my case and I quickly learned.  I thought I was a reasonably good writer when I went out there, but when I came back I was a lot better.

So I had a wonderful experience.  I sat in an office where Nobel Prize winners visited regularly.  The seminars were by the most famous physicists in the world.  I remember sitting in my office one day and Hans Bethe [walked by], who is a Nobel Prize winning physicist and was involved with the Manhattan Project and was just a wonderful man.  After the war, he fought against all the build up of nuclear arms and was just a wonderful man.  He came down the hall and I was sitting there in my office and saw him walk by and thought, Oh my God!  So I came out in the hallway to see where he went.  He went down to Bob Cowanís office.  Bob is one of these people that did all this [work] with computers, and he had computer outputs piled up to the ceiling and there was this little space where heíd work.  And Hans saw all this stuff in his office and he said, ďHoly cow!Ē  I remember he just said it like that: ďHoly cow!Ē  (Laughs) In his German accent.  And he said, ďIs there any way I can persuade the guards to let me bring a camera in here and take a picture of this; Iíve never seen anything like it in my life.Ē

But that was the kind of experience I had when I was a graduate student; the people, and especially in the summer time when I was out there a lot, the people who came to visit were gods of physics and you just wanted to be close to them and hear what they had to say.


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Zhang:  So over your thirty-five years of teaching career, can you recall some of your students that you will always remember?

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Griffin:  ve had some kids that Iíve [helped turn] around.  I wonít mention this [studentís] name, but [he was] one of my favorites ever, and one of my wifeís favorite as well.  We have students to our home quite a bit, so she gets to meet all of them too.  I had this one kid (laughs) who was the biggest goof-off I think Iíve ever had as a physics major.  And he used to be late for everything.  So talented, and yet he would be late for everything and heíd miss assignments, and I was always on his case.

So one day I was in my office and heó I give oral exams sometimes and students dread them because I can be pretty tough on them; I put them at the board and make them sweat for a while, and then Iíll tell them how great they are (laughs).  But Chris came for his oral exam and he was scheduled for eleven oíclock, Iíll never forget this.  And that was back when I still had knees that I use to play basketball three days a week with the faculty.  And it meant a lot to me getting out there and playing basketball for an hour.

So Chris shows up; he was supposed to show up at eleven oíclock.  And I sit there and no Chris.  Eleven thirty rolls around, no Chris.  Itís five to twelve, and Chris walks into my office.  He said, ďOh, Iím so sorry, Dr. Griffin.  My alarm didnít go off.Ē  I said, ďChris, Iíve heard that excuse forĒ back then probably ďtwenty years and it has no effect on me whatsoever.  Iíll tell you what Iím going to do.  Iíve got a basketball appointment and Iím going to go play basketball.  Usually Iím gone about an hour and a half.  You sit here.  While Iím gone and while Iím playing and having a great time, Iíll think over whether Iím going to give you this exam or not.Ē  And I left!  (Laughs) And he sat there for an hour and a half.  I got back and heís still sitting there.  I said, ďWell Chris, Iíve decided Iím going to give you a break and Iím going to give you this exam.Ē  So we went down [to the classroom] and after the first five minutes of (laughs) when he was very nervous, he did fine.  And I ended up sending him to work with the group that I worked with at Oak Ridge for years.  He got his Ph.D. in atomic physics, my field, with one of the great guys, a guy named Tom Gallagher at Virginia.  He then went off and got his post-doct[oral] in a laboratory in Aimť Cotton, France.

So that was one I was most proud of because the way he was going, he wasnít going anywhere.  And I think just being supportive, but being tough, you know.  Those are the ones I remember.


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