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Interview with Eric G. Bolen, February 26, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Eric G. Bolen, February 26, 2003
February 26, 2003
Dr. Bolen discusses his life and career with a focus on his time at UNC-Wilmington. In tape 1, Dr. Bolen discusses his biography, with a focus on his career. Dr. Bolen had a career as a scientist and administrator at several institutions, including the Rob and Bessie Welder Wildlife Foundation and Texas Tech University, before coming to UNCW in 1988 to serve as the first Dean of the Graduate School. Dr. Bolen served as Dean for 6 years, and in 1994 began teaching and doing research full-time in the department of biological sciences. As Dean, Dr. Bolen instituted several programs and projects, and worked closely with the Graduate Council to accomplish new goals. As a teacher and researcher, Dr. Bolen's specializations are wildlife ecology and wildlife management.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Bolen, Eric G. Interviewer: Lack, Adina Date of Interview: 2/26/2003 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 68 minutes

Lack, Adina: Good morning. Good morning. Today is Wednesday, February 26, 2003. My name is Adina Lack and I'm here to conduct an oral history interview. Please introduce yourself for the tape, Dr. Bolen.

Bolen, Eric G.: My name is Eric Bolen.

Lack, Adina: Dr. Eric Bolen is here with us today to talk about his experiences at UNCW as a faculty member and also as a dean. We're in the special collections area of the library.

Lack, Adina: Dr. Bolen, could you please tell me where you were born and where you grew up?

Bolen, Eric G.: I was born in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1937 and grew up in a neighboring town about not much bigger than Burgaw, North Carolina. I left home at 17 to start college and went to the University of Maine in 1955 and graduated in 1959. I majored in wildlife ecology with a minor in forestry. From there, I went to graduate school at Utah State University and received a Master of Science and a Ph.D., the latter being awarded in 1967.

Lack, Adina: Your awareness of dates is very impressive. I guess you must be good with numbers.

Bolen, Eric G.: Well, not always, sometimes.

Lack, Adina: So that was your Ph.D., in 1967... Utah State?

Bolen, Eric G.: In 1967, my Ph.D. was awarded from Utah State. I had already started teaching. I was what they called an ABD, All But Dissertation, so I had essentially a year and a half of teaching under my belt by the time I finished my dissertation. So I was teaching for a while without a Ph.D.

Lack, Adina: Were you teaching here?

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh no, I was teaching at what is now known as Texas A&M University in Kingsville, Texas and then after that at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Lack, Adina: What else were you doing as you were working on your Ph.D., or did you have other...?

Bolen, Eric G.: I had some interesting summer jobs. In fact, that kind of cemented my career in a way. I worked for the Vermont Fishing and Game Department for three summer seasons. One of the fellows I worked for had gotten his graduate degree at Utah State and so he recommended that I should apply there also. I followed in his footsteps quite literally. His advisor was my advisor. It was the only graduate school I applied to and it worked out just fine. I had a great time.

Lack, Adina: Did you know, was Walter Briggs at Texas A&M also?

Bolen, Eric G.: I didn't know Walter until I got here.

Lack, Adina: I think he was somewhere over there at some point. What were your interests at this time, your research interests?

Bolen, Eric G.: Well, I studied for my Master's degree. My thesis was on marsh ecology. There was a brand new federal refuge way out in the desert of Utah almost at the Nevada border. It was a series of saline springs that bubbled right up from the desert floor. There was this huge marsh that developed from this peculiar source of water so it was a large oasis quite literally. Of course migrating birds, particularly waterfowl, ducks and geese, would utilize that area in their migratory movements.

They needed somebody to do a couple of things, one was to just be kind of a watchman for the place. They also wanted a basic inventory done of some of the resources there. I was looking for a job and was hired by the Fish and Wildlife Service. My job description, other than the watchdog responsibilities, was literally my thesis objectives. So I got paid to do my thesis by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

It was really quite isolated because I had to drive 20 miles one way to get a jerry can full of drinking water. I had a little generator when I wanted electricity. The Army would fly my mail in and dip the plane over on its side and drop it out the window down to me waiting on the ground below. It was really isolated. This was about 80 to 100 miles away from Dougway Proving Ground where they test a lot of that nasty stuff.

Lack, Adina: You were by yourself?

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh yeah.

Lack, Adina: What if there had been an emergency of some sort?

Bolen, Eric G.: I would have had a tough time of it. I had a car, but it was a long drive to habitation. I was 21 there, almost 22, and those kinds of things you don't think about. You just go out and have a good time.

Lack, Adina: So you were working there and when it came time to do your Master's...

Bolen, Eric G.: I was working on my Master's concurrently. See, I was an employee of the government while I was working on my Master's, at least for the field work part. When I was going to classes, I was not paid, but when I was on the site, I was paid.

Lack, Adina: Oh my goodness, well you were pretty young then to be doing your Master's.

Bolen, Eric G.: I started college when I was 17, so I got out when I was 21.

Lack, Adina: And you pretty much knew that this was your area?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, I did. I never had too much doubts about my interest. These jobs I had in Vermont really cemented it because it was really a good work experience. It was dirty fingernails, field biology. So there was no mystery about what a career biologist would do in the area of wildlife ecology. So it was exactly what I thought it was and what I wanted and exactly what I did.

Lack, Adina: Very hands-on. What made you decide to pursue the Ph.D.?

Bolen, Eric G.: Well, like I said, I was kind of young and fancy free and I had rubbed noses with graduate students at the University of Maine when I was an undergraduate. I was an unpaid assistant for some of them, a gopher in other words. So we would go out on weekends and I would help them do their thesis research work. So I got some exposure to what graduate education was all about even though I was only a sophomore or junior at the time.

It became pretty obvious that to get ahead, a Master's degree was going to be pretty much a requirement. Then, when I got this summer job in Vermont, the guy I worked for, as I said, had gotten his Master's at Utah State so that's what I did. When I finished that, I had no responsibilities, wasn't married and didn't have any payments on anything and so I decided while I'm here, I would just go on and get a Ph.D. It turned out that I had a very good opportunity for a research fellowship and took it and went to Texas and did my field work in Texas even though I was taking my class work in Utah. So everything just sort of fell together.

Lack, Adina: As you grew up, was your family interested in the outdoors?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, my mother particularly, strangely enough. She had been raised in northern New York near the Canadian border and she was a deer hunter when she was a girl. Her father, my grandfather, was an outstanding woodsman and some of that rubbed off on me.

Lack, Adina: Woodsman being...

Bolen, Eric G.: Hunter, fisherman.

Lack, Adina: Okay, I've heard that phrase, but then I started thinking, "What does that mean, really?"

Bolen, Eric G.: He wasn't a logger, but he did refinish for a living, antiques. He was very good with his hands and a very skilled craftsman. He was a hunter and fisherman deluxe. So that rubbed off on my mother and in turn rubbed off on me. As a boy, I always hunted and fished, trapped. When I learned that you could go to college and find out the scientific aspects behind hunting and fishing, that seemed like the thing to do.

Lack, Adina: They didn't have a background in science themselves?

Bolen, Eric G.: No, neither of my parents did. My grandfather, I think, graduated from high school, but I'm not even positive about that. He was a brilliant man, but uneducated. My mother had been a schoolteacher though, she started teaching when she was 18 or 19, would have been, in about 1920. You didn't have to have a teaching degree in those days. She taught a one room schoolhouse in northern New York and she was barely out of high school herself.

She later got some kind of a teaching certificate which required a couple of courses in summer school, I think, but they called it normal school in those days. She had no college degree either. My father was educated. He had a Master's degree from Rutgers.

Lack, Adina: Isn't that interesting. Times have changed, but I'm sure your mother was completely equipped to be a teacher.

Bolen, Eric G.: In fact, she won a teacher of the century award. When she got married and I came along, she stopped teaching, but she did a lot of teaching at homes of disadvantaged children, usually with health problems. She was excellent at it and she became famous far and wide for her skills at teaching, particularly with kids, they didn't have learning disabilities, but they had physical disabilities that affected their ability to learn.

One student in particular I remember had a really severe case of palsy. He could barely write. So that was a difficulty, but he was a brilliant guy. He was just physically kind of a wreck. Her students, she was probably in her late 50's, her students from all these years back, going back almost literally to the one room school when she was teaching full time later on in a regular high school, plus these special students unbeknownst to her, all wrote letters to the governor's office when they heard about this competition for which teacher influenced your life.

There was a teacher of the year award, a teacher of the decade and she got teacher of the century. So she was really good at it.

Lack, Adina: That's inspirational. You being a teacher in higher education yourself, that must have been very inspirational.

Bolen, Eric G.: I'm very proud of her.

Lack, Adina: Right, so she was paid by the school district or the state to go visit these students.

Bolen, Eric G.: Right, she would often go to their home. In some cases they would come to our home or sometimes both. They would alternate days. For example, the student with cerebral palsy, part of his therapy was to walk with crutches and his house wasn't too far from where I lived. Sometimes he would come to our house for the exercise. Other times she would go to his house.

Lack, Adina: Well, that's incredible. Did she receive this a few years ago?

Bolen, Eric G.: She received it well before she died so yeah, they had a big affair.

Lack, Adina: That's great. Once you got your Ph.D., you probably realized you were going to be teaching some as well as doing research?

Bolen, Eric G.: Well, I kind of aspired to a job that my major professor had at Utah State. He had an interesting job. He was what they called the "Leader with a Capital L," that was the official designation of what are known as cooperative wildlife research units. There's roughly one of these per state. There are a few states that don't have them, but there is essentially one per state.

They're housed on a university campus. The Leader has a faculty status, but he's paid by the Fish and Wildlife Service. His job is basically to direct graduate students in research while they work on degrees awarded by the university. So it's a blending of the university and federal government.

Lack, Adina: Kind of like what your experience had been when you were working on your Master's.

Bolen, Eric G.: Well that's right, that's what he does. So I thought, "Hey, that's a pretty good role model. I'd like to do what he does and get a job at a university," but not as a full time professor teaching classes every day 'cause he didn't teach. His job was to direct graduate students. He did it with university students on a university campus. The match was, the university provided the space and the students and the federal government provided the money.

So I thought that was a pretty good deal. In my naivete I didn't realize how hard it was to get those jobs because there was only one per state. So at most there were 50 of them. They're usually only created when somebody retires or dies. There wasn't any vacancy and I wasn't particularly qualified for one of those anyway.

When I was finishing my Ph.D., I was at this research foundation in Texas and my scholarship money had just run out. I was done with my field work, but I hadn't written it up yet. I was in the coffee shop with the guy who ran the foundation, the director, his name was Clarence Cottam, and the phone rang, and this was the second or third week in August of 1965. The fellow on the other end of the phone who I had never heard of before was the chairman of a biology department of a small university 50 miles away and one of their faculty members had just resigned and school was starting within two to three weeks.

They were looking for a warm body. They really didn't care too much about the person's qualifications. They just wanted somebody to stand in front of the class, and Dr. Cottam was on the phone and you could just imagine the conversation on the other end - "Do you have anybody that could start teaching in two weeks?" What I do know is Cottam turned around with the phone to his ear and looked at me and said "Yes, I'm looking at him right now".

So it was a perfect opportunity because I needed the money. It was the start of a career, though I didn't know until the phone rang that I was going to get a teaching job. I was not very good about planning my future other than getting my education.

Lack, Adina: You certainly accomplished that quickly. What was that experience like?

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh, it was great. I taught courses that I had had only as an undergraduate. The courses weren't in my area of expertise, particularly, so I was literally one page ahead of the students in getting ready for class. In fact, I was teaching freshman zoology, which I had myself as a freshman. And so I was totally out-of-date, so I got a hold of the book and said I was going to get two to three weeks of lecture notes in advance so I could attack the problem leisurely rather than rush, cramming.

I was so nervous the first day of classes. I went through the entire what I thought were two weeks worth of notes in one class period. One of the students came up to me after the class was over and said he had writer's cramp, is it going to be like this every class. I said I certainly hoped not because I had blown my reserve of notes.

Lack, Adina: I bet some of those students dropped the course (laughter).

Bolen, Eric G.: Well, no, they had to take it so they toughed it out, but they were real guinea pigs, I'll tell you that, but they toughed it out. Anyway, I learned of course, as everybody does, to adopt a leisurely pace when you're teaching, and make sure they absorb it rather than just lay it on them and then walk away from it. I was teaching this freshman zoology and had no particular expertise in the classical zoology at all. I didn't know cell structure for example very well.

The other course I taught was mammology. I had studied birds or bird habitats. So even though I had a course in mammology, I was in junior high school and this was 1965 and I had mammology as a student in 1956. I had to do a lot of boning up on that too.

Lack, Adina: That must have been a good course in high school. Was it a mammology course that you took as a junior or just classic biology?

Bolen, Eric G.: No, I took a course in mammology as a junior in college, but that was the last time I had any real involvement with mammology as a student myself. Lo and behold, 10 years later I'm teaching it, so I had to hustle.

Lack, Adina: Especially because you didn't have much notice at all.

Bolen, Eric G.: The job paid $6,750 for nine months of work. I was delighted to get it. I went out and bought a brand new Mustang convertible for $2,600. Mustangs had just come out 10 or 12 months before. So I went down and celebrated my first job with a brand new car.

Lack, Adina: Well that's a good story (laughter). How long did that car stay with you?

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh, quite a while. It was a classic. I didn't know it was a classic when I bought it, but it became a classic. So I kept it quite a while. I finally sold it but it had a lot of miles on it.

Lack, Adina: That's really neat. So you did end up teaching. It was a learning experience. How did you make your way to UNCW?

Bolen, Eric G.: Well, I taught, I started out at this school in Kingsville, Texas. I was there one year and again the phone rang. A chap who had been on my Master's graduate committee at Utah had left Utah State, had gone to Texas Tech as the head of a Department of Range and Wildlife Management.

So I was 500 miles away at another school in Texas and they were expanding their department to get into wildlife. He called me up and said, "Would you consider moving from where you are to our shop?" and I said yes because they would give me more direct involvement in what I was trained to do in wildlife ecology whereas at Kingsville, it was the Department of Zoology and they were into cells and things like that. They tolerated me, but it was not a perfect match.

So the job at Texas Tech was a perfect match. So I said yes. As far as I know, I was the only person interviewed for the job. So they offered me $10,000 so I went from $6,750 to $10,000 and I was delighted with that. I went up there, it was 1967 that I started there, when I had this nice raise. So I stayed there and I became a full professor within seven years and again the phone rang.

It was this fellow Clarence Cottam, who had been and still was the director of this research foundation where I had done my graduate Ph.D. work. He said "Would you like to come here as assistant director?" because he was then in his 70's and was looking to retire. I was going to be groomed to take his place. So I said yes. So I went back to the same foundation for five years where I had been a student myself, doing my field work.

Lack, Adina: If I can just interrupt for a second, it sounds like you liked Texas Tech. What department was that in again?

Bolen, Eric G.: Range and Wildlife Management.

Lack, Adina: Yeah, so you liked that, but you were intrigued to go into a foundation.

Bolen, Eric G.: It was a wildlife foundation. It was privately endowed, a multimillion dollar endowment. A very wealthy Texas oilman had set it up on about 7,800 acres of land. It was just gorgeous, a habitat for wildlife, turkeys and deer, it had lakes on it. Just really gorgeous. And he left some money for beautiful adobe administrative buildings, labs and dormitories.

So students from all over the country, they would come from the University of Wisconsin or the University of California and go there and do their research work and then go back and get their degrees from their home institutions. That's what I had done. I was at Utah State, but I went there to do my studies and then got my degree back in Utah State.

So then the phone rang again and said, "Would you like to come back to Texas Tech as an associate dean of the graduate school?" So I did. I was associate dean of the graduate school at Texas Tech for nine years and I decided, well, if I was ever going to become a dean versus associate dean, probably I had as much training in boot camp so to speak as an associate dean as I'm ever going to get, so I started applying for some jobs.

My wife and I decided we'd like to live near the coast. So I saw an ad for a job at UNCW. They were looking for their first dean of the graduate school. They had a director, not a dean, and they had just received authorization, this was in August 1988, to offer some new degrees. They had a graduate degree in history and English. The year before they had just gotten authorization for geology, math and the Master's of Art in teaching had just been authorized. They had marine biology and biology.

So there were these new programs and so the graduate sphere was growing to the point that administration decided they needed a full-time dean to administer these new programs and the ones that were already in the books. I applied for the job, came for an interview, and lo and behold I got the job.

Lack, Adina: I have to admit I didn't quite research you fully before you came so I didn't know that you came to UNCW as dean of graduate studies. And that was in 1988?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes I did. I went on the payroll August 1, 1988.

Lack, Adina: I guess you found that you enjoyed that administrative work, which you sort of thought you would right from the beginning.

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, I had, like I said, nine years as an associate dean, so I thought at least I knew the nuts and bolts of graduate education, plus I had five years at this foundation which dealt exclusively with graduate students. I had spent almost seven years in the classroom teaching undergraduates, which I dearly love.

So I had plenty of chalk on my suits. I thought I had seen all sides of the desk so becoming a dean seemed kind of the logical thing to do, and I was very excited about coming here because this was obviously a school that was growing and had a clear vision about where they wanted to go and how to get there. I was glad to be a part of that.

Lack, Adina: When you came on board, was it the dean of graduate studies and research?

Bolen, Eric G.: No, no, it was just the dean of the graduate school. When I left office in 1994, that was a recommendation I gave to the then-Provost, Marvin Moss. I said "When you get my replacement, successor, I recommend that you combine research under the same umbrella as the graduate dean," and that was the origin of the combined duties. Dr. Neal Hadley took my place. There was a year interim. When he came on board, he was the dean of graduate studies and research, but I had not had research responsibilities.

Lack, Adina: And now it's not that title, right?

Bolen, Eric G.: No, they went back to what it was. There's a director for the office of research administration and the dean of the graduate school. They're separate now. So that was only during Dean Hadley's administration that they were combined.

Lack, Adina: Why did you think it would be a good idea to have it combined?

Bolen, Eric G.: Well the bulk of research on most campuses is done by graduate students with their major professors and mentors. Not all, but the bulk of it is. So graduate students become kind of the work horses for the research engine. So it seemed to me that it was logical to try to get this under one umbrella so that the policies and procedures that govern research don't exploit graduate students, take undue advantage of them, and the graduate students work up to a certain level of proficiency and expertise to make them worthy of a graduate degree, that the research have a sufficient quality to it. So I just thought it was a natural marriage.

Lack, Adina: A good thing at that time. Now that it's separate, what's the reasoning behind that?

Bolen, Eric G.: I don't know, I was gone by that time. It may have been that it was too much of a burden for one person to carry. I really don't know. The idea wasn't unique to me by the way. A lot of schools then and now still have a dean that combines both functions. In part, there's a national model for that. The powers that be decided not to continue that when Dean Hadley left office and I'm not privy to why.

Lack, Adina: We'll talk more about your early days at UNCW, but first let's turn off the tape and I'll get you some more water.

(Tape Break)

Lack, Adina: We're back with Dr. Eric Bolen. We were just hearing about your arrival at UNCW as the first dean of the graduate school. What sort of challenges awaited you as the first dean?

Bolen, Eric G.: Well, plenty. There were very few procedures in place that were consistent across campus. A lot of the requirements for a thesis, for example, would vary by department to department. It was pretty much the graduate school's responsibility to standardize those kinds of things, try to as best one can to make sure there's some kind of a standard level of quality in the way the theses are written.

So I read every thesis and most graduate schools do this. This was not unique to me. Prior to that time, there was no central clearing house that tried to have a quality level. If three people on the students' committee backed department X, said this work is fine, it's written well, pages are correctly numbered, just those kinds of mechanical things, that was the end of it.

Well it turns out that, I would say, maybe three out of five theses didn't have the pages numbered correctly and those kind of mechanical things, and somebody had to act as a clearing house to standardize before they were accepted. So that was one of the things I undertook.

Lack, Adina: Had a group said that UNCW needs a dean of graduate studies or dean of the graduate school had to be from SACS?

Bolen, Eric G.: I really don't know. To my knowledge, whatever discussions were held for the reason or justification for having a graduate dean took place before I was hired. Took place at the time. Somebody put the job announcement out. My guess is that it is pretty much Charles Cahill, who was then the Provost, who was the mastermind of this.

I've heard stories that only he or someone at his level could verify that when they applied for received permission to offer new graduate degrees in English and history and so on I've told you about, math, that part of the deal was okay, central administration said we'll give you those degrees, but part of that package is that you've got to get a dean to administer them. So I think that was part of the mix. Knowing Charles Cahill the way I do, I think he probably would have done it anyway.

Lack, Adina: Speaking of Dr. Cahill, he is one person I interviewed recently. That was great.

Bolen, Eric G.: He knows as much about the history of this place as anyone.

Lack, Adina: That was great. So did he hire you?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes, he was my boss.

Lack, Adina: He was your boss? Was he on the committee?

Bolen, Eric G.: No, the search committee consisted of the deans of the various schools and colleges plus one or two faculty members, probably three or four faculty members.

Lack, Adina: The deans of various... so was Dan Plyler the dean?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes, Dean Plyler, Dr. Kaylor, dean of education, the nursing school, Dr. Parnell from biology. There was an associate dean of education on the committee. I frankly don't remember the others.

Lack, Adina: This is great, your memory is astounding.

Bolen, Eric G.: I think there were probably about 8 people total.

Lack, Adina: When you first visited Wilmington and UNCW, what were your impressions?

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh, I was very impressed. It was a gorgeous campus physically. The setting was just wonderful. Texas Tech also had a nice setting in the sense that the building were all the same architecture. You didn't get this hodge-podge. Most campuses are awful that way. People leave money, bequests for a building and they said it must be Greco-Roman and the next guy that leaves them 10 million bucks, no it's got to be stainless steel and glass. You get this horrible mix of architecture.

Thanks to Dr. Wagoner. The story I heard was, whenever a new building was authorized after they moved from downtown to here, that Dr. Wagoner would talk to an architect who was going to design the new building and would put his arm around the architect and walk him to the front door of the administration building and would say, "I don't care what you do with the inside, but the outside is going to look like that" - and pointed to the other buildings on campus, so they were all the Georgian architecture.

Lack, Adina: I hadn't heard that story, but that makes sense. I know that way in the early days when they were first discussing the campus and they were going to build three buildings, all the Board of Trustees voted for a modern style except for one who was a major bank roller who held out. He was a banker I guess. He held out and said no, no and they finally had to listen to him. So that's one story I heard.

Bolen, Eric G.: They did very well. It's a gorgeous campus. There's not very many places that can match it. It's just too bad, in my opinion at least, as the school grows and it will that it comes at the expense of the landscape, the forest. That's an awful trade to make. It's not the buildings so much because you kind of nest those in the trees, but it's the parking. That's just monotonous blacktop. So you can't nest a parking lot into the landscape the same way you can a building.

Lack, Adina: That's an interesting point. It's true. Until we can get some better transportation, public transportation, but then again as it grows, there's still going to be need for more lecturers, more faculty and they will need parking, not just students. That's a valid point. You and your wife were interested in the coast. I don't know my Texas geography too well. Were you near the coast?

Bolen, Eric G.: Well this research foundation where I was a student and later employed was very close to the coast, probably within 10 air miles. This was in the Corpus Christi area of Texas, what they call the coastal bend area of Texas. Now Lubbock is about as far away from the coast as you can get and still be in Texas, up in the base of the panhandle. But my wife had grown up having a house on the New Jersey shore, a summer home so she was a beach person. I had grown up on freshwater environments, but near the water. My mother's sister had a summer home on the shore of the St. Lawrence River. They lived across in Canada.

It was a gorgeous location and I spent most of my summers growing up in that environment. So I had grown up in boats and outboard motors and fishing tackle and the whole thing. So we were both water rats. Of course, being Lubbock was not near water, when the opportunity came to apply for jobs and one showed up in Wilmington on the coast, it was a natural match.

Lack, Adina: Had you heard of Wilmington or been here before?

Bolen, Eric G.: No, I hadn't. I knew nothing about the school in fact. The only thing I knew was I had heard Jim Parnell give one or more scientific presentations at some national meetings. I went to the national meeting, he went to the national meeting. We didn't know each other, but I was in the audience and I just heard him give his lecture, his presentation on his research on the spoil islands up and down the intercoastal waterway and I was always intrigued by his work. I thought it was quite novel.

In the process of his being introduced and looking at the program, They said Jim Parnell, the University of North Carolina Wilmington. That was the only association. And he was on the search committee. I had never met him before, I just knew of him. So we had a lot in common and we're still friends. We share lots of interest in birds and the outdoors, hunt and fish and woodworking. We had offices...when I left the dean's office and was housed in Friday Hall, my office was right next door to his. We've been colleagues a long time.

Lack, Adina: Right, right, you got to know him. What was the name of the research foundation? You may have said it but...?

Bolen, Eric G.: Welder, W-e-l-d-e-r, Wildlife Foundation, the full name is Rob and Bessie Welder, husband and wife. I don't know how many tens of millions of dollars he was worth. He was a classical case of these land poor Texans in the early 30's when in the Depression they had all this land and were raising cows and all of a sudden they found oil and suddenly became millionaires.

He was a visionary because he realized how important the land and his ranch was. Actually the 7,800 acres was a very small part of his ranch. His ranch was hundreds of thousands of acres. He designated this one spot. It was particularly good wildlife habitat for the foundation.

Lack, Adina: How did that affect your impression of the oil industry?

Bolen, Eric G.: Well I had been exposed to the oil industry as a result of being in Texas. I have mixed emotions about it. They can be quite careless. On the other hand, where there's somebody with any kind of ecological conscience, the oil wells themselves are not particularly intrusive. The problem with oil as I see it at least, in fact one of the things you learn if you're around the oil people very long, is first of all they don't want spills. I mean that costs them money so they don't like to have Exxon Valdez rupture and pipelines breaking and that kind of thing.

Some people, some conservationists, and I consider myself a conservationist, think that these people are evil and they intentionally spill oil and of course they don't. They're losing money big time. They drill slant wells. Some of these are miles away from the vertical point. So if you have a piece of habitat here that you want to protect and you have to get the oil that's under that, you can come in from the side and not damage the surface area particularly. You have to put a pump up there, but that's about it. Sometimes you do.

Lack, Adina: Does that take longer? Is that more expensive?

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh yes, it's more expensive but it's certainly technologically possible. That wheel has been invented. The problem with oil exploration in my opinion and I'm not an engineer, is not the hole in the ground. It's the infrastructure that allows you to get the hole in the ground. You've got to build a road in there. You've got to have tool sheds and you have to have dormitories if you're talking about Alaska to house these people and generators and garbage dumps.

All that infrastructure is what spoils the environment. The hole in the ground by itself is by far in my opinion the least of the damage and in most cases tolerable. The other just becomes intolerable because the roads are going to stay because you have to service the well. The other big thing about the infrastructure is simply you're giving this protected area access to humans.

And they're throwing beer cans out the window or can have a rifle in the back of their pickup and they're shooting at deer or elk or caribou when they shouldn't be, or polar bear, whatever. That's the risk of oil exploration from the standpoint of conservation and protection of natural resources. I don't think the hole in the ground is the problem at all. Getting the hole in the ground is.

Lack, Adina: I hadn't thought about it in that way. The Welders, do they still have oil out there?

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh yes, this is a working ranch and they have cattle and oil and it's just gorgeous. It's a beautiful place. It really is.

Lack, Adina: And the wildlife preserve, that's totally private? Were you able to do research while you were there too as well as administrative?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes. I used to band ducks and quail. I got my thrills I guess mostly by working with the students because there was this constant exchange of students who would graduate and a new flock would come in. I made it a point to go out with them, every one of them, at least once. That would sometimes include going to Mexico on a field trip to have a hands-on experience with them. It was not to look over their shoulders, you're doing good work or bad work, just to find out what kinds of things they were doing, that we were paying for.

I tried to be a hands on administrator as much as possible. It broadened my horizons because one of the virtues of working with young people is you tend to kind of stay young at least intellectually yourself. You learn new techniques and you learn what's going on back at the University of Wisconsin even though I've never set foot on the University of Wisconsin's campus. So I really enjoyed that.

Lack, Adina: That's a great experience. You came to UNCW and Wilmington, interested in being at the coast and I guess your interest being birds.

Bolen, Eric G.: My broad interest is wildlife ecology, but I've usually worked with birds, yes but not exclusively. Sometimes habitat and I had some students every once in a while who worked with...not birds, but sometimes I had students work with plant ecology, vegetation, things of that sort.

Lack, Adina: Salt marshes?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes, my Master's I told you was on salt marshes, but they were inland salt marshes, not coastal. Usually birds. But I don't consider myself a ornithologist at all. I've never taught it for example. Dr. Parnell did. If I had to be categorized, I would say I'm a wildlife ecologist.

Lack, Adina: So you came to UNCW, your impressions were favorable. You thought yeah, I'd take this job if you got it.

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh sure, in fact I came here at a loss in salary. They don't pay very well here, at least then. I don't know what the administrators make now. I took almost a $10,000 cut to come here.

Lack, Adina: Wow. You thought you'd retire here?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes and I have retired here.

Lack, Adina: You came in '88. Dr. Wagoner was the chancellor at the time.

Bolen, Eric G.: Charles Cahill was the Provost.

Lack, Adina: Did you get to know Dr. Wagoner in his last couple of years here?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, I would see him at various administrative meetings. It wasn't a close working relationship. The closest working relationship I had was with Cahill, the Provost, who was my immediate boss, but every once in a while we would meet with Dr. Wagoner, but not regularly at all.

Lack, Adina: Who else did you get to know early on, did you establish contacts, I guess with all the departments?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, every semester I would write a letter, a note, to every chair that offered a graduate degree and say, "I am willing to come to one of your faculty meetings if you wish," I was offering myself, not inviting myself, "with an open forum so that your faculty can ask any questions they want about their graduate program," or what we should fix if something was broken or whatever. Usually the chairs would come right back and say, "Yeah, come on, come to the next meeting." I had no agenda myself. I said that "I'm not here to talk, I'm here to respond, rather than pontificate," so I didn't come with an agenda, only to respond.

Lack, Adina: How was it moving to a centralized system? I would think some of the faculty would say we're faculty, we deem this as a good Master's thesis, were they resistant in some ways?

Bolen, Eric G.: There was some resistance. It wasn't organized, but some folks understandably are all suspicious of administration as meddlers I guess. I think probably this is as true of graduate deans as any other administrative post. Graduate deans are a very unique breed though.

I always liken them, there's a famous story from World War II. Someone was talking to Stalin about the war and mentioned that the Pope was espousing some position about the war and Stalin responded to whomever was speaking and said, "How many divisions does the Pope have." I always liken the graduate dean to the Pope in a secular sense in that the graduate dean has no faculty. He or she doesn't control anyone's salary, office space or any of those goodies that you could dangle or reward with.

So a graduate dean, like the Pope, "rules" if you will, administers by moral authority. That was the thrust of the conversation with Stalin. Stalin was measuring it in terms of might and whoever was talking with him was talking about moral authority. So graduate deans are very different than the deans of the academic shops, arts and sciences, education, business school, because they do control resources. By and large, the graduate dean does not. They have some funds, but not by the same magnitude by any means.

So to answer your question, there were some people who said how many divisions do I have, in effect, and "Why should I listen to you because you can't do a damn thing to me." That's true enough, I couldn't. That wasn't my job to do something to them. My job was to do something for them.

Lack, Adina: Well that's a good approach. I would think, yeah but it was the same thing about I don't have to comply.

Bolen, Eric G.: One of the things I did administratively was there had been a group that was called the Graduate Administrative Board, GAB, and they were the deans and some faculty members who met once a month. This was before I got here. Jim McAllen, I don't know if you interviewed him or not...

Lack, Adina: Not yet, I want to.

Bolen, Eric G.: He was the director of that graduate administrative board. They would individually approve every student program. They say "Yes, Johnny or Susie, you can take this course," that course, whatever, which in my judgment was a total waste of faculty time. That's what you have the three or four graduate committee do, not a campus-wide board. They were operating at almost a custodial level. What I wanted was a graduate council which was a policy making body and leave the nuts and bolts stuff to the individual departments who knew the students, knew the courses and things that the graduate dean couldn't possibly know on a day to day basis and shouldn't and that wasn't the dean's responsibility.

So we abolished the graduate administrative board and created a graduate council that had staggered appointments so you didn't lose everybody overnight when their terms were up. They were the ones who became the policy making board for graduate education. So we just ratcheted it up a couple orders of magnitude from approving individual courses to making broad policy decisions.

One of the things we changed, for example, there was in my opinion an archaic grading system for graduate students. I can't even remember what it was now, but it was not A, B, C, D, F scale at all. It was G for good, P for pass and U for unsatisfactory. So a student would get a transcript, the undergraduate part would have A, B, C's and D's on it. The graduate part had these G, S's and U's on it, as I recall that's what the letters were.

So if somebody wanted to go on for a Ph.D., they sent this transcript off to Cornell or wherever and they'd look at these letters and say what does this mean. So I thought it was archaic and it didn't fit the national norm for grading and no one could make any sense out of it, so I pushed to get that abolished. The graduate council went along with it.

In fact, during the six years that I was dean, no thanks to me particularly, but I never had to overrule anything that the graduate council did which I think speaks well for the people serving on the council, that they knew certainly as well as I did if not better what was the right thing to do.

Lack, Adina: The graduate council was that a committee made up of faculty?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes, originally the deans also served on that and gradually they were phased out. It became more and more strictly a faculty organization, as it should be. Faculty runs universities, that's why we have a faculty senate, for example. It was just a gradual transition from part faculty part deans to total faculty. By the time Dr. Hadley came on board, I think the deans were no longer at all on the graduate council. But it was more than just a change in name from board to council. Council was really a policy making body.

Lack, Adina: When you came on board, were there graduate faculty like there are now?

Bolen, Eric G.: That was interesting too. The graduate faculty at the time I got here, you were a member of the graduate faculty when you had a graduate student. As soon as that student left the campus, you were no longer on the graduate faculty unless you had another student. So it was a transitory position. My concept of graduate faculty, which pretty much I brought with me from my previous job, was that membership in the graduate faculty represents a level of accomplishment whether you have a student of your own or not.

It represented scholarship, that you, the faculty member, had not just gotten your Ph.D. and therefore a union card. You had maintained a continuing level of production of scholarly work, not just one thing and then didn't do anything else forever. So I pushed and the council went with it to develop graduate faculty status for all departments, not just those that offered graduate degrees, so that anyone on the faculty who had a record of scholarly achievement could become a member of the graduate faculty which means they could serve on a graduate committee even if it wasn't their own student and/or they could serve on the council.

Lack, Adina: They could teach courses...

Bolen, Eric G.: And teach grad courses. So what I tried to do was create a lot of players who became players by virtue of their abilities and not just because they said "I'll advise you as a graduate student." That created a little turmoil. That was probably more controversial at the time than the change of the grading system for example. But I think the people, the faculty saw the virtue in it by and large.

The council certainly did. Lo and behold one stands for a membership in the graduate council of a certain term whether you have a student or not and you reapply. When you reapply, you submit your credentials as of that time. The departments made up their own criteria. I told the departments I'm not in a position to say in nursing what a scholarship is. I don't know what is expected of a member of the nursing faculty.

I said I wanted some criteria, but you tell the graduate school what they are and then those will be approved or modified as needed by the graduate council. So every department on campus could submit their own criteria. For example, as I recall history said you must have published a book. So if you had a five-year term, you had to have a book in that five-year term. When your five-year term was up, you'd better have another book to qualify - you couldn't rest on your laurels. I think it's worked very well.

I think that process, and they could change the criteria, it wasn't etched in stone, but each time they changed it, it had to be approved by the graduate council with some kind of justification.

Lack, Adina: And faculty members had to apply or how did they maintain their graduate faculty status?

Bolen, Eric G.: They get it for a given term and during that term, depending on the criteria, the criteria are usually something like many publications in journals, so many grants, so many books in some cases. If you have a degree to award, so many students, not only students but who finished. They didn't wash out because of lack of direction. The number of publications, the number of grants would vary. So every time an application would come in for faculty membership, they were weighed against the criteria from that department, not the criteria of another department.

Lack, Adina: Well that seems to work. What about some of the departments, I know I've spoken to Dr. Dodson. I interviewed Brooks Dodson...

Bolen, Eric G.: In fact, he may have been one of the members on the search committee.

Lack, Adina: He may have been, he could well have been.

Bolen, Eric G.: I knew him very early on.

Lack, Adina: But I was speaking to him about the establishment of graduate programs in English and he said, "Well, it certainly wasn't something we asked for." We were told that "You will have graduate programs." He was worried about getting funding for these graduate students, making sure that they had enough resources to teach graduate students, etc. Did you deal with these issues?

Bolen, Eric G.: Well you're correct, the decision to offer a degree in English in this case was done before I got here. In fact, that was the reason they were looking for a dean, that they had this new program. So all that, the application for new degrees had been done and approved before I got here. And that was one of them. So I didn't have anything to do with that.

The money issue is very pertinent, though, because for whatever reasons when these degrees were approved, there were no dollars that came with it. For all practical purposes, that's still the case. I think there was some money that came with the Ph.D. degree in marine biology for example. The library got some money to improve their resources, but at least then there was no additional budget that came from general administration to fund these five new degree programs.

So Dr. Cahill was in a position of robbing Peter to pay Paul. To the extent that you needed money for these things, he'd have to find it someplace else which made an instant enemy so to speak out of whoever he took the money from to make the graduate program. But Charles Cahill was a strong believer in graduate education and he probably never got as much credit for it as he should have. He was really the father of this move into graduate education big time at UNCW.

Being Provost, he had control of the purse strings for the academic programs so he could make it happen, but it was a painful thing because to put money here, you had to get it from there.

Lack, Adina: If you don't mind I'm gonna change tapes.

(Second tape)

Lack, Adina: We're back on the second tape and we're going to continue a little bit, on February 26, 2003. This is Adina Lack with Dr. Eric Bolen. We were talking at the end of the last tape about the growing pains I suppose of starting all these graduate programs. It just sounds to me, which I guess is necessary, but it sounds like, this was before your time, they started the programs and they kind of had to jump in before everything was perfect.

Bolen, Eric G.: Well things are never perfect. It's almost like playing football. You sweat and groan and practice, but until the whistle blows for the first game, you can't prepare for the first game in practice, only up to a certain point. It's like swimming, you've got to get wet, and so that part of it wasn't even an expectation that everything would be perfect because it's never perfect. You can argue that all academic programs never have enough money. So that's not even a new story. It would just be nice that when new programs are approved by general administration, that there is some formula that at least provided some seed money to get that program going, but there wasn't and I don't know if there is now or not, but it certainly was not then.

One of the big shortcomings were these tuition remissions. Tuition remission enables you to attract a student from out of state who's a true scholar to come to UNCW for graduate work and it pays the difference between resident and non-resident tuition so the student doesn't face a financial hardship to come here.

Tuition remissions have long been used for athletes. If you're 7 feet tall and can dribble and happen to be a native of California, UNCW wants you. So to make it attractive for you to come here and play basketball, they would have tuition remissions. In fact, that's where Cahill got some of the money initially, was he took some of the tuition remission money that had been theretofore allocated to the athletic department, not necessarily for basketball players, but for some of the other sports, and nibbled away at that money to give a few more tuition remissions to the graduate school so we could attract top students from all over the country.

When I got here as I recall there were five tuition remissions for the entire graduate program. When I got here, he had arranged to appropriate some additional ones from other sources so we had something like 10 at about that time. I think it's triple that now, no thanks to me, just over the years they've nibbled away at it. We got more and more money, but that was a major stumbling block. It's a good example of what we're talking about. They said yes, go forth and be great, get the best students you can, but there's no money to get an outstanding student from Montana or Florida or wherever.

Lack, Adina: Right, exactly.

Bolen, Eric G.: So that situation is still not good, but it's remarkably improved over what it was when I got here.

Lack, Adina: That just strikes me, Charles Cahill must have been in an interesting political position to do that because he was a basketball scholarship winner. His story, he had a basketball scholarship to go to college. No, baseball.

Bolen, Eric G.: Right, he had an athletic scholarship. He was the first in his family I think to go to college.

Lack, Adina: Yes, so he had played sports and had been a student athlete so that's interesting. He was always very supportive of athletics while he was here. I just can't imagine, not being of an administrative mindset, having to go in and face people that you're taking away money from here to give there even though everybody of course, in theory, believes in graduate education as well as an athletic scholarship.

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, those are painful decisions, and probably at a different order of magnitude. Administration still faces those decisions. As I said, there's never enough money. If you don't believe it, just ask them. So you say I'm going to fund this one a little more than I used to and I'm going to cut this one a little more than I used to. But supposedly that's why you have administrators. Somebody has got to make those calls. You can't administer those kinds of things usually by committee. Somebody has to say turn left or turn right. You can't sit there and vote on all those turns. Somebody just has to stand up to the plate and say we're turning right. That person typically on campus is the Provost.

Lack, Adina: So that's where it came from. That's true, you have to be a leader. You must have had different kinds of decisions.

Bolen, Eric G.: Well my decisions were what to fight for and I tried to make my decisions fighting for something that I thought mattered. The strategy was and I think still is is that you decide to do something or not do something that hasn't been done in the past and take it to the council and use them as a sounding board.

Now in theory the dean can overrule the council just like the Provost or chancellor can overrule the faculty senate. So that's why I say I take some pride in the fact that nothing I ever proposed did the council turn down nor did any of the council agenda did I have to negate. So we were over the years of like mind.

Yeah, the buck stopped at my desk and in turn stopped at the Provost's desk and the Provost's stopped at the chancellor's desk.

Lack, Adina: How often did the council meet?

Bolen, Eric G.: Usually once a month.

Lack, Adina: It's probably still the case.

Bolen, Eric G.: I think it is. Once a month or on demand. If there's something that came up in between.

Lack, Adina: Are the representatives to the council elected by their peers?

Bolen, Eric G.: That mechanism has probably changed over the years and at the time I was dean, I would consult with the academic deans. We would kick around some names, come up with a candidate and then check with everybody like department head and the person involved. So we didn't go public and say well Joe Smith or Susie Jones is going to be the next representative and they didn't want to do it or couldn't do it or whatever.

So the skids were greased before we went public with it. So we did some behind the scenes work to make sure we had players who wanted to play. It worked well because they never got to be on the council without everybody else giving the green light to it. So there was no opposition.

Lack, Adina: So that was how it worked at that time. It's good to feel like you're in sync with the governing body.

Bolen, Eric G.: Well you had to be. I don't think monarchs last very long on university campuses. If there's ever a constituency that abhors a monarch, I would say it would be the university faculty anyplace.

Lack, Adina: Exactly, that's probably one universal truth.

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes, I think so.

Lack, Adina: That makes some sense. Well I would like to schedule another time because I feel like we haven't even touched on the 1990's, the rest of your time as dean as well as your time on the faculty. So I'm going to turn off the tape for now.

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