BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Eric G. Bolen, March 5, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Eric G. Bolen, March 5, 2003
March 5, 2003
In Tape 2, Dr. Bolen discusses his writing and travel plans during retirement, the role of the library at UNCW, the role of information technology for scientists, and some of his writing and research projects.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Bolen, Eric G. Interviewer: Lack, Adina Date of Interview: 3/5/2003 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 52 minutes

Lack, Adina: Good morning. My name is Adina Lack. I'm the interviewer today. Today is March 5, 2003, Wednesday. I'm here to continue my interview with Dr. Eric G. Bolen.

Lack, Adina: Welcome back. I'm glad to see you again. I thought I'd pick up with what you're doing now. We talked some about phase retirement and the whole structure of it, philosophy of it last time, but what has that been like for you? What have you been teaching?

Bolen, Eric G.: Well, it's been a fine experience. I suppose phase retirement is not for everybody, but it is certainly a very nice option to have for those who want to consider it. For me it was almost a no-brainer. It was a perfect way to do just that-- phase out instead of going cold turkey. So the system works by designing what they call a work plan. You make a proposal to the administration that for the next three years you'll do x, y and z and probably will also state that you won't do a, b and c. So you have a very precise plan of action for the three years of your remaining service to UNCW.

In my case, I specified the two courses I wanted to teach. One was called Ecology of North America, which is a course I started here, and another one was called Wildlife Ecology, which I also started here. So I proposed to teach those two courses and nothing else so I could really focus on those. I've enjoyed the experience very much. I hope the students have.

Lack, Adina: Are these upper level courses?

Bolen, Eric G.: One's a junior level course, in terms of numbering, although it's really open to anyone. I don't encourage freshmen to take it, just because of their academic immaturity. It's just better to have a few semesters of academic work under your belt before you get into it. In theory, anybody can take it. There's no real restrictions or prerequisites. Most of the students are sophomores and juniors and seniors.

The other course is what we call a cross-listed course, which is upper division and open to graduate students under another number. The graduate students sit in the same room and hear the same lectures.

Lack, Adina: And have maybe different assignments?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, graduate students are supposed to do something above and beyond what the undergraduates are doing to get graduate credit for it. In my case, I give them a project to do. Typically that has been a management plan for some piece of land whose primary purpose is for some other reason. For example, in the past we've done some master plans up at Moore's Creek National Battleground, which is run by the park service, and that's a historical park.

So its primary function is to preserve history and to educate the public about the history of the battle there. So my idea was to say, "Okay, without violating the primary purpose of this piece of real estate, what can we do for wildlife management to nest in?" For example, on this campus the primary mission is education, but there are bluebird boxes all over campus. Most people that walk around, it doesn't register, but there's probably two dozen nest-boxes for bluebirds on campus here.

It doesn't hurt the educational process at all. Bluebirds are using them. So it's a win-win situation. Well it's the same philosophy. I'm trying to develop students to think about how to help wildlife and, in fact, educate the public appropriately on land that is dedicated for some other purpose.

Lack, Adina: Do they work in groups?

Bolen, Eric G.: They can work in groups in getting the background information, but the reports have to be done individually. So two students may, even though they're working on the same piece of real estate, will have a different focus to do master plans, which I encourage-- I don't want a cookie-cutter approach.

Lack, Adina: Do either or both of these courses involve field work?

Bolen, Eric G.: No, they're both pretty much lecture courses. The wildlife ecology does have some field trips, and we do a little bit of hands-on stuff that functions kind of as a lab, but basically both courses are designed to introduce students. They're not designed to make them ecologists or make them wildlife biologists, because you can't do that in one course any more than you can make an engineer or a lawyer or a doctor with one course. So they're both really survey courses.

Lack, Adina: To this branch of biological studies.

Bolen, Eric G.: They both have a conservation component to them. The wildlife course is more of a management-oriented course and the ecology course is more an exploration of things like the Everglades, the Grand Canyon, the Great Plains, the Tundra and so on.

Lack, Adina: That sounds great. It sounds like that would get students interested in travel.

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes. One of the things I didn't anticipate that happened is sometimes I'll get a postcard or letter from students who, either during the summer or after graduation, say "Gee, I'm out here in the Rain Forest of Oregon or Washington state, and by golly, it's just what you said it was" (laughter). I enjoyed that. I love to hear from students. Of course, email has made that very feasible.

For some reason, people are willing to sit down and write an email, but they are not willing to put the same words on a piece of paper and mail it. I don't know whether it's the price of a stamp or what, but one is considered painless and the other one is considered kind of a hassle. It's a paradox, I think, on modern life.

Lack, Adina: What's interesting though is sometimes I find that I don't keep in that much better touch with people even though depends on the person. Sometimes with relatives, I may get emails, but it may be these mass emails.

Bolen, Eric G.: I suspect from the standpoint of history too, historians are going to have a tough time dealing with email because they don't always make hard copies, and so there won't be a volume of correspondence like there was, say, with Thomas Jefferson. They'll all disappear into cyberspace. I don't know what the historians are going to do in the future when they go to analyze a prominent political figure, for example, and there's no correspondence because it was done by email.

Lack, Adina: Right, that's an issue for archivists actually. They're getting into electronic archives, the whole concept of trying to store email better and make it safer. In fact, I think the Clinton presidency was the first presidency where there was a lot of email, but the way it's stored, they kept backup tapes and I think in a some ways it's not very useful cause it's just one huge file.

Bolen, Eric G.: It's hard to index.

Lack, Adina: Right.

Bolen, Eric G.: Another thing is, someone I suppose might be prone to say some things by email knowing that at least at their end it could be destroyed. Now if I send you a nasty letter, I can destroy it at my end, there's no record. You can make a hard copy and there would be a record, but if someone doesn't know I wrote the letter to you in the first place, the likelihood of them finding the letter through you is greatly reduced. So I suspect that email can make people a little bit more candid than they might otherwise be.

Lack, Adina: Oh yeah, people have to watch out. Well how has that changed in your academic career? As a scientist did you use email back in the 70's?

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh no, for me at least, emails are a fairly new phenomenon, let's say in round numbers, five years, maybe a little more than that, not a lot. It really has...instant communication has been almost the expectation. Maybe going back to what I was saying before, about people not writing letters in the old-fashioned sense, is just that it takes three or four days to get there and then three or four days for a response back whereas email is instant gratification.

Lack, Adina: Right, around the world in 5 seconds.

Bolen, Eric G.: When one has a question that a colleague on another continent, let alone in another state or town, can answer, you can get that answer very quickly. That enhances the scientific mission or any kind of mission for that matter, history or whatever. You get things done more quickly so you complete your work more quickly rather than wait on the mail or wait on hard copy. There's so many things available on the web for example.

That's a double-edged sword because one of the shortcomings of the web is the scientific material that appears there has not necessarily and very likely has not been through any kind of a peer review process. There's no filter, so I can publish an article on the web to say that the earth is flat and there it is and a naïve student could say, "Well, Professor Jones says the earth's flat, it must be true. I saw it on the web." Whereas you could not get that published in a respectable journal because there's an editorial board. So that's the potential shortcoming of the electronic age we live in.

Now maybe someday that will be overcome and there will be an equivalent of an editorial review board, but that again works against the instant gratification thing. It takes time for articles to be reviewed and processed. It's a tradeoff.

Lack, Adina: Do you find that students, some of them have to work on scrutinizing their web sources better?

Bolen, Eric G.: Well I think the students tend to believe anything they see in writing. That's not to say that stuff in hard copy can't be just as wrong as something on the internet, because there's plenty of things that slip through the editorial review process that shouldn't have been published or are later proved erroneous. Students tend to say well if it's in journal X or I saw it on the web, it must be gospel.

Students aren't by nature, nor was I as a student, have a critical mind. I think that's one of the responsibilities of college instructors is to develop a critical review process for students to think about what they read and not just accept it blindly. A lot of students don't like that because thinking is work, and they want... it's the old cliché about a child doing homework and asking mom or dad to help with homework. "I don't care how you got the answer, just give me the answer to the math problem." Students tend to just get the answer because that means they're right and they get credit and they pass the course. But it's the critical thinking that really marks a good student.

Lack, Adina: Right, it's true. I remember having a hard time when I was in high school being told things like your textbook has a bias. I remember thinking I thought my textbook was objective. There is always going to be one.

Bolen, Eric G.: There's a bias in everything. Even in our court system, which supposedly has justice is blind and all that, it's a very political outfit. Just look what goes on when we have nominations for the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals. The Democrats and Republicans split their vote along party lines so it's not totally objective. We like to think our judicial system is, but it's really not.

Lack, Adina: You mentioned before the tape started that you've been doing some writing. Can you talk a little about that?

Bolen, Eric G.: Well, it's mostly to keep my mind engaged, I think, rather than having a real target for publication in mind. I am trying to do some writing, but I would not call it research. It's more of ruminations, I suppose. I'm interested in history and natural history. So I'm trying to weave the two together. For example, I'm picking out a target area of the New Jersey coastline, which is popularly known as the Jersey Shore, as kind of my target area for focus.

So I'm trying to do some writing anyway on the natural history of that area, but weave in true history. For example, famous folks like John J. Audubon visited parts of New Jersey and a lot of people don't know that. So I'm trying to say, "Well, here's the bird life in New Jersey," and then kind of use a flashback methodology to say, "Well, here's what Audubon saw in the 1830's and at the same site today are a bazillion swimmers that are on the beach." But I don't have a publisher in mind or even a contract of any kind, just hacking away at it.

Lack, Adina: Oh wow, that's interesting. Do you get up to that area of the country?

Bolen, Eric G.: Once or twice a year. Presumably when I retire fully, I'll be able to go more often and I hope not just because of the writing, just because it's an interesting part of the world to visit.

Lack, Adina: Have you seen the big folios of John J. Audubon?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes, in fact I saw them at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Apparently I should know, but I don't, but one of the governors of North Carolina bought I believe two copies of Audubon's elephant folio at the time Audubon was still living and selling it. That's the way he made his living. He and another famous ornithologist by the name of Alexander Wilson would paint a series of bird paintings and then go on the road and sell them by subscription to support themselves for the next series of paintings in the series.

Somewhere along the line either Audubon or some salesman working on behalf of Audubon got a hold of the governor of North Carolina who had the foresight to buy I believe it was two sets. At least one of those sets has survived public ownership and it was displayed at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

I went up to see it and it was outstanding. He painted all his birds life-size. For some really large birds, like a great blue heron or a flamingo, they're very awkward poses on the paper to make them fit. Even with the elephant folio, which is something like big pages like that, he'd have a flamingo that was almost U-shaped so they could fit. The next page there would be this little tiny hummingbird, life-size but on a great big piece of paper.

The other thing people don't know is almost everything Audubon painted, he shot, there were no cameras in the day so he couldn't work from photographs. So for him to have a bird to study and get the proportions right and the colors, he shot them. He carried a lot of shotguns with him when he went on his trips.

So some of the birds had suffered rigor mortis when he went to paint them, and that in part accounts for some of their strange shapes too, because he would throw a bird, let's say a blue jay or a duck, in his saddlebags, go back to wherever his paints were, and start painting. Well, by that time the bird was or could be in a grotesque shape.

Lack, Adina: Right, I've seen those at basically our counterpart at UNC-Chapel Hill Special Collections there, they have at least one elephant folio on display and it's amazing.

Bolen, Eric G.: He plagiarized at least one painting I know about. He copied one from Alexander Wilson and all he did was make a mirror image, same bird, same pose but he just changed it from left to right and he got caught at it. I'm not sure anybody has ever figured out why he did it, because most of his paintings are not plagiarized. But this particular one, which was a bird called a Mississippi Kite, which is a kind of hawk, he just made a mirror image of that.

Lack, Adina: He wanted to get it finished quickly.

Bolen, Eric G.: I guess, or else he couldn't find his own Mississippi Kite to paint.

Lack, Adina: Do you expect to be doing quite a bit of traveling?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, in fact that's one of the things I've enjoyed about phase retirement is I opted to teach full time one semester and no time the other semester versus half time for two semesters. I also opted to teach in the spring and not the fall. So we would travel in the fall, my wife and myself. We took a cruise to Alaska, we went to Vienna, Prague. Most recently we've been to Corsica. In the past we've gone to Morocco, and try to find places that are little bit off the beaten path, not always, but often.

Lack, Adina: Do you go just you two or part of a group?

Bolen, Eric G.: No, just the two of us. Usually they're mystery trips. My wife doesn't know where we're going. I tell her we're going and what kind of clothing to take in terms of warm or cool weather, formal or not formal. We almost never go to places formal. But other than that, she doesn't know where we're going so we just call them mystery trips.

Lack, Adina: So you do all the planning?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, I just make sure that she's ready to go and I try to keep her guessing until the last possible minute. For example, when we took the cruise to Alaska, we flew to Vancouver in British Columbia and we stayed one night in a hotel. I said we were going to go get a rental car the next day and drive up through Canada.

So we got a taxi and I had given the cab driver a note where I wanted to go, which was to the docks to get on the ship. But she thought we were going to the Hertz place to get a car. So until we almost literally going up the gangplank, she didn't have a clue that we were going on a ship, yet alone to Alaska. So that's part of the fun. She kind of likes it.

Lack, Adina: She must like it. Some people I know wouldn't like the surprises as much.

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh no, she's been great about it.

Lack, Adina: That's wonderful. It sounds like you have quite a lot of planning to do though.

Bolen, Eric G.: Well, a good travel agent helps. I like to do the picking out of where we'll go and more or less the kind of accommodations. We tend to like bed-and-breakfast places versus stainless steel glass hotels, which I detest personally. So we like little quaint out-of-the-way places to stay. So I do the shopping for that, sometimes with the help of the travel agent. I make the decisions and the travel agent does the bulk of the work.

Lack, Adina: And then once you get there, you know where you're staying.

Bolen, Eric G.: We usually try to have... on long trips, especially for driving, for example we went to Newfoundland a couple of years ago, I always reserve the first night's lodgings and the last night's lodgings, but inbetween we usually just play it by ear. We just drive until we find someplace to stay with no prior reservations. Sometimes you get stuck. Every once in a while that happens. I can only think of one time when we got stuck badly and had to really hustle to find someplace to stay.

Lack, Adina: Is that because you might choose places that are a little bit off the beaten track?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, but I don't always know where I'm going to be on a given night. I know when the plane arrives, I know that day, and when the plane leaves, I know that day, but inbetween, especially in a rental car, you might say, "Well, let's go up this way today." So when you have a strict schedule or reservations, you become kind of a slave to it. I've got to be at point X by 5:00 or they'll cancel my reservation and I don't want to do that. It takes the fun out of it. I like a very leisurely pace if possible.

Lack, Adina: What were you doing in Newfoundland? Did you do some hiking? Was it cold weather or warm weather?

Bolen, Eric G.: No, it was in the spring. It was in the first week in June, I believe. We rented a car and just drove around. If we saw something we wanted to see, we'd just stop the car and go see it. We saw moose by the side of the road and had a really wonderful time. They were exceptionally nice folks, really outstanding. Just a gorgeous place to visit. It was very uncommercial, almost no billboards, almost no trash on the roadsides. A very clean place and you could probably catch fish in any body of water you saw. No pollution to speak of.

It happened to be the 500th anniversary of John Cabot's voyage to North America, which was in 1497. That was the first English exploration of the new world. So they had a replica of his ship there that had made the voyage from England under the same conditions that Cabot had. So we enjoyed seeing that ship and all the festivities. That wasn't part of my planning. It was just kind of dumb luck.

Lack, Adina: That happens sometimes, that's neat. So you enjoy your traveling. Have you ever been to Hawaii?

Bolen, Eric G.: No, that's the only state of the 50 I haven't been to. I don't have a good excuse either so it's on my list.

Lack, Adina: You are interested in going.

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, as long as I don't have to stay at Waikiki Beach. I want to find one of the outer islands where's there's not too much commercialization. When I do, I will go. Or stop off on the way to the Orient.

Lack, Adina: Wow, that's the only one of the 50. Have you always traveled?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes, I've traveled quite a bit. I guess my first trip to Europe was Christmas in 1970. Once in my case that I got the bug, then it was like where am I going to go next. So it was infectious.

Lack, Adina: Have you recently completed some books? Was that the case?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, I completed the 5th edition of a textbook which was a lot of work. In some ways writing a book the first time is easier than trying to repair it over so many years. So I spent probably close to 14 months doing this revision of the textbook that happened to be the 5th edition. I finished that in April, and it appeared in June or July of this past summer, probably July. That will probably be the last time. The publisher will probably find another author to continue it. I'll be phased out of that too.

Lack, Adina: What topic is that?

Bolen, Eric G.: It's called Wildlife Ecology and Management.

Lack, Adina: Okay, I was speaking some to Madeline whom you've known a long time. She was telling me about a group of people and you might still be active in this - there's a group of faculty that gets together on Fridays and has kind of a happy hour.

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, we meet every Friday afternoon at Tomatoz, which is a local watering hole, restaurant/bar, and it's a nice group because it's varied in its composition by discipline.

Lack, Adina: Really, I didn't know there was anything like that still going on. We're so big now.

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh no, in fact, a couple of outfits have tried to copycat it and to my knowledge it didn't work. I don't know why. We have, let's see, there's one or two other biologists, a person from English and anthropology and history. Sometimes somebody else will drop in. There's certainly nobody excluded. Anybody can come who wants to.

It just kind of built on its own as a regular six-to-eight folks that show up, but on a given day, it could be 12. Sometimes for whatever reason, it might be only four. But Friday afternoon at Tomatoz has become kind of a regular stop, and we solve the world's problems. We find out everything that Chancellor Leutze and President Bush and President Clinton and so on were doing wrong and we decide how to fix it.

Lack, Adina: When did this start? Did this start after you got here?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes, I guess I kinda was the catalyst for it. I think I just invited somebody to join me for a drink after work on Friday and it just kind of built on itself, certainly not structured other than Friday afternoons. We don't have an agenda and there's no officers or anything. It's not a club in that sense, just a gathering.

Lack, Adina: Have a few drinks...

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, most of us just have a beer or two.

Lack, Adina: Well maybe I'll have to stop by some time.

Bolen, Eric G.: Please do.

Lack, Adina: When I was talking about how I'm going to be following up my interview and I told you a couple of people said I had to talk to Madeline, that she used to go out drinking with Dr. Bolen.

Bolen, Eric G.: We'd meet, usually at Tomatoz but not always, and sometimes some other librarians have joined us and we'd solve the problems and get library science straightened out.

Lack, Adina: Right, figure out problems at all libraries, all big and small problems.

Bolen, Eric G.: No problem is too big for us to tackle, that's for sure. We may be wrong, but we're never unsure.

Lack, Adina: And you're enthusiastic, that's what counts. How have you seen the library, you've been an avid user of the library and an avid supporter, how have you seen the library change at UNCW since you've been here?

Bolen, Eric G.: Well it just expanded physically by the time I got here. I really don't know how many years before I arrived in '88 it had been enlarged, but it wasn't too many years. So here was this wondrous new building, apparently a real cavern compared to what it had been. I guess in the old days it was over on the second floor of one of the administration buildings: Alderman, James Hall or Hoggard. So it's really mushroomed over the years. Its holdings have certainly increased.

I've seen just a marvelous change all for the better in the kinds of things the library provides. It's just a shame that the budget won't support even more expansion of its holdings, but that's just a reality of life. For example, just to mention one thing, this table of contents program which I think is marvelous because it's pretty hard for an individual faculty member to subscribe to 25 or 30 journals. It's just cost prohibitive for one thing. Besides that, maybe only two articles in a given issue of a journal, if that, would be of direct interest.

So as you know, with the table of contents program, you specify up to 20 journals, they Xerox the table of contents and send it to the faculty member and then when you do see something that tickles your fancy, you can request a hard copy of it, and get that one article out of maybe the whole year that really has some importance to you, and save the cost of subscription and a lot of shelf space and on and on and on. It allows you though to keep abreast of a vast amount of material that you would not otherwise know about.

Lack, Adina: Yeah, that's true. I enjoy that service also.

Bolen, Eric G.: That's just wonderful. I get an archeological table of contents and a couple of other things, a little bit offbeat, relative to my main thrust of wildlife ecology.

Lack, Adina: I enjoy that too. It's exciting when you see something that really is relevant to what you're doing.

Bolen, Eric G.: I just marvel at the concept. I think, I don't know if Sherman thought that up himself or whether he was copycatting some other library's initiative, but I don't care, it's great.

Lack, Adina: That is a nice service. You were a library representative also for a long time.

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes, for the department.

Lack, Adina: What was that like? Did biology have a problem spending its money?

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh no, in fact, we always spent our money and then some. What typically has happened, as I understand it, is that some departments don't spend their allocation so that departments that do spend their allocation very often have a little slop, and they can go beyond their budget and pick up the money that would have gone to another department had they chosen to use it, but did not. So we've never been turned down on any request for what you folks call monographs.

Now the problem is we can't get any more journals and that really hurts, because science is exploding and there are literally new journals started, new fields. I mean just the DNA revolution has started a whole new sub discipline in biology. Because of budgetary constraints which I understand, we can't get those journals.

Now there's a nice exception to that though. Again I credit the innovation of the library with this program for new faculty who can, in fact, because they are new, get two journals they want assuming we don't already take them. So that's one way to expand. Every time we have a new hire, we start to get some of these newer journals.

Lack, Adina: Yeah, and then they can pick something.

Bolen, Eric G.: So that's kind of half a loaf and certainly supports the new faculty member. Whether it fills all our needs or not is another story, but it's better than nothing I'm sure.

Lack, Adina: That has been a huge issue. I suppose you've been in touch with Arlene Hannerfeld about that.

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes, she's been very good to work with.

Lack, Adina: Oh yes, she knows what she's doing.

Bolen, Eric G.: It's just painful. It's happened twice when I was the library rep, that they have these slashes in the budget that necessitated canceling journals. That's a Sophie's Choice. Which arm do you want to cut off? So it's very painful. There's a lot of internal bleeding. We bite the bullet and just reach a decision.

Lack, Adina: I suppose the monographs, it's a different kind of thing. Most of the new research comes out in these journals, monographs, cannot make up for it at all?

Bolen, Eric G.: The monographs tend to be a work of synthesis, which means it might be, let's just pick an arbitrary number, 10-15 years after the discovery itself appeared in a journal, so somebody that writes a review of DNA fingerprinting or something of that sort is drawing from all these journal articles that appear in a dozen or more journals over the preceding 10 or 15 years and then puts it together in a comprehensive review, kind of state-of-the-art.

But the discovery that you might want to have known about 15 years ago, you only would know if you took the journal. So the monographs are almost by definition out of date. It's like the textbooks. They're obsolete in terms of current knowledge the minute they're published. But that's just the nature of the information explosion. Just deal with it. But the only way to make up for it is to have the journals.

Lack, Adina: Right, you need both in some ways.

Bolen, Eric G.: That's right, you need the synthesis for a big overview and a critical analysis, but you need the journals for what's happening now.

Lack, Adina: I suppose you've been a huge user of interlibrary loan?

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh yes.

Lack, Adina: That can help fill the gap. It's not ideal.

Bolen, Eric G.: Yes, that works very well. I'm always amazed at how rapid the turnaround is between the time of request and the time the hard copy shows up.

Lack, Adina: Oh yeah, it's gotten quicker and quicker.

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh yes, very much so. I really applaud the library's efforts to do that.

Lack, Adina: Are sometimes articles emailed to you and you kind of click on a link?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, I do sometimes. I prefer getting hard copies. I get hard copies off the computer too sometimes, but I'm of the old school. I like a hard copy so I can underline, write in the margins as versus just sitting and reading it off the computer and then turning the computer off and it disappears, but that's just me. Some people thrive on just internet without hard copies. I don't, but again it's just a newer tool and I use it to some extent, but given the choice, I go for the hard copy.

Lack, Adina: It's interesting. In times of budget cuts, interlibrary loan goes up, but in times when we're adding perhaps serials, interlibrary loans still goes up because we're maybe doing more loans so that's a very busy department. Were you ever on the library committee?

Bolen, Eric G.: Campus library? No, just the departmental rep.

Lack, Adina: But you've been a good friend of the library, I understand.

Bolen, Eric G.: Well I try to be, I believe in the library's mission. It's a really a feedback mechanism because I'm so impressed with the library services that I want to do as much as I can to help them.

Lack, Adina: We appreciate that. I've benefited from it because one of the things I have in archives is a faculty scholarship collection where I collect the articles written out by faculty and I have some of your articles and you recently gave some more to Sherman.

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, there's more coming, a lot more. I'm cleaning out so things I don't know whether to throw away or not, I send over here and you can throw them away.

Lack, Adina: I really appreciate that, because it's sometimes hard to go out and solicit those articles.

Bolen, Eric G.: You're going to find when you get your hands on it, there's some strange and wondrous stuff in there that you're going to say, "Do we really want this?" but you'll get the chance to make that choice.

Lack, Adina: It might seem strange to a nonspecialist perhaps.

Bolen, Eric G.: Well, I collaborated with a long-time friend of mine, going way back in my first teaching job in 1965, and he happened to be an acarologist so he studied mites, which I know nothing about. He was describing new species of mites that he would find in strange places like a clump of Spanish moss or something, but he didn't have an ecological background so he would focus on the description of the mite, but know nothing about whether it was in a moist habitat or a habitat with leaf litter or whatever.

So we teamed up and I would do the collecting. I'd go out and a lot of the mites were from soils of different kinds. I'd go to the field armed with a shovel, a highly technical instrument, and dig up a cube of soil about 6 inches to a side and put it in what was called a Berlizi funnel. It's just a funnel named after the guy that discovered the technique. So you put the soil inside a funnel that's about that big around and you put a 100 watt light bulb on top of it so it applies heat.

On the bottom of the tip of the funnel, you just put a vial of alcohol. So the heat drives the soil mites out of the soil and they drop into the funnel down in the alcohol so they're immediately preserved. So he would describe new species that turned up in the alcohol, but I would do the descriptions of the soil and where the soil came from, whether from a forest or grassland or whatever. So when we published that stuff, we had kind of an integrated approach. It wasn't just straight taxonomy at mites, but also to some extent the ecology of mites. So you'll find some papers on that. It was a nice collaboration and it got me out of the field a little bit and it gave more depth to his work.

He's a real famous guy in his field. I was just kind of a hanger on. I was the guy with the shovel.

Lack, Adina: Have you had any species named after you like Dr. Leutze?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, I did. In fact, he did it. He named one after me.

Lack, Adina: Oh, okay, the mites? What's the name?

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh, I don't even remember it now. The last name is something-something-boleni, a mite. This was close to 30 years ago, it was a long, long name, a very obscure discovery.

Lack, Adina: I remember when Dr. Leutze, when it was publicized. That got a lot of publicity when the species was named after him. Madeline again was telling me, this may have been soon after she started working with you on some of your requests, you were doing research one time on birds and large tall buildings, the glass buildings and how some of them...these structures would not be ideal for these birds. A lot of birds would hit the glass structures and die.

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, in fact, that was for one of the editions of my textbook. A colleague at another university in Pennsylvania, Muhlenberg, had studied himself the collision of birds into buildings with a lot of glass. What happens is, the bird sees a reflection either of the sky or the woods behind the bird and they think there's more woods ahead of them or open sky. They just continue flying and they crash into the windows and typically kill themselves by doing so. Most people think they die of broken necks and that's not true. He x-rayed thousands of birds and he never found one with a broken neck, just massive skull damage. Fractured skulls. But people will find birds on the sidewalk below a high building that's glass and they'll say they died of broken necks when they collided.

Unfortunately, some of the common remedies such as putting silhouettes of owls or hawks on the windows to try to get the birds to go in the other direction don't work. There are some things that can work, but not too well. The major way of fixing the problem is in the design of the buildings when they're being constructed, and that is to put a little angle to the window. It changes the nature of the reflection and the birds realize it's not three dimensional. It's two. That will halt it, but try to get architects to change the design of a 30-story building is hard to do.

So there's been various estimates, and they're just that, they're estimates, but it's in the hundreds of thousands of birds that die every year from colliding with buildings. It's not just an office building, it can be your home too. There are certain places when the reflection of the window, the arrangement of the window to thep predominant view, is just ideal to create a reflection that the birds think is more habitat and they fly into it. I have a window at my home that's that way, but I solved the problem by hanging kind of a fishnet that doesn't obscure my view, but it's enough for the birds to realize that that is not more habitat.

Lack, Adina: A fishnet kind of hanging down from the window?

Bolen, Eric G.: Just covers the window. It's kind of equivalent to a ladies' hairnet. But there's just enough there for the birds to queue in on that to realize that it's not some more woods because the wood shows up in the reflection. It works pretty well. It certainly works better than these owl silhouettes they sell in some stores that don't work at all.

Lack, Adina: So that's an example of something you would include in your textbook as an illustration. That's interesting. Wildlife ecology is a varied field, it seems like.

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, it's come a long way, because originally kind of the birthday of it, wildlife management as we conceive of it today, was 1933 with the publication of a book that was the landmark. So it's not a very old discipline compared to mathematics, let's say. It's still on a learning curve and it's still somewhat an art as it is a science in some respects, but it's becoming much less of an art and more of a science every day.

The original focus was pretty much on game animals: deer, quail, turkey, dove. Well, now it's much broader. It's better called wildlife management than game management. So now people are studying things like butterflies, on how you can make a place that is compatible to butterflies. There's been some very interesting work done with so-called non-game animals.

At one time you might do something that would be good for, say, turkeys because they were a game animal, but whatever it was you did, and I'm making this up, might harm songbirds. So you were always making value judgments that a turkey was better than robins, let's say. Well that's a pretty strong intellectual decision to make. Now we try to find ways to make habitat compatible to as many things as we can and certainly not hurt anything. It's not always possible.

In some cases if you're trying to work with an endangered species, that species takes priority even if you hurt on a local level a more common species, you're not going to wipe it out. But if you don't address the endangered species, you will lose it. So sometimes there are some hard decisions to make, but wildlife management has really matured to become a much broader spectrum of concern than it was at one time.

Lack, Adina: People for example at this university who want to go into that field, do they typically major in biology?

Bolen, Eric G.: Yeah, that's the closest thing we have. We don't offer a degree in wildlife ecology here, as I have, that I got at other schools. So my course is just like I said earlier, it's just to acquaint students. It's a survey course. I tell students that each unit is a tip of an iceberg. Virtually every topic I talk about in this one course represents at least a full semester course that I took as a student.

For example, I'll talk maybe three weeks on wildlife diseases in my course. But I took as a student, as do students at universities where you can get a degree in wildlife, an entire semester course on wildlife diseases alone is taught. So what I give my students is just highlights, just exposure. It's not definitive, because I don't consider myself a wildlife disease expert at all.

So I just give them a survey, an overview of all these different topics. So my one course doesn't make a wildlife biologist by any means.

Lack, Adina: Are there some new people in this department who do wildlife ecology?

Bolen, Eric G.: No, as far as I now know, it could change, when I retire, the course will not be taught anymore, so I think it's the end of the line.

Lack, Adina: Is the department focusing on other things?

Bolen, Eric G.: The focus is largely on marine biology, not exclusively. We have some folks that are deeply involved with DNA kinds of things, but the conservation end of the spectrum really is on board now just because it came with me as baggage when I was hired as dean. So when I leave, presumably the baggage will go away too.

Lack, Adina: (Laughter) It must have certainly been worth bringing the baggage on since they wanted you to come on as dean.

Bolen, Eric G.: Well I enjoyed it and the classes were wonderful. The students want that kind of training apparently so I feel a little sorry about that, that the students could be subject to a short drift by not getting that as just an elective course which is all it should be, here. But apparently that won't happen. I don't really know. Other people make that decision.

Lack, Adina: I believe we're covered on certain topics. I can ask you about the students, have you seen them change over the years?

Bolen, Eric G.: Oh yes, they're much better trained than I was at the equivalent stage of development.

Lack, Adina: Are you talking about graduate students or both?

Bolen, Eric G.: Both and probably the computer has had a lot to do with that. The information explosion has had a lot to do with it. What I think has not improved, and I'm not talking about UNCW, I'm talking in general, I think some students have too much of the "me-too" generation. They want something for nothing in some cases. In terms of their training, they're certainly superior. My concern is for what I'll call their work ethic and I don't think that has improved at the same rate as has their training in high school.

Lack, Adina: Their abilities perhaps.

Bolen, Eric G.: It's a shame because with their improved training, if they had an improved work ethic, they could really master the material.

Lack, Adina: Even on the graduate level, do you see that?

Bolen, Eric G.: On the graduate level, the students are a different story. They've gone through a couple of filters. They had to go through a filter to get into college as an undergraduate. Then they had to go through a filter as a college senior to get into graduate school. So they are and ought to be the cream of the cream. So when you talk to a graduate student, you're talking to somebody who represents probably the top 10% of all college graduates and probably the top one-half of one percent of all high school graduates. So you're really seeing students who are exceptional.

Lack, Adina: To put it that way in mathematical terms, that translates into high expectations for them.

Bolen, Eric G.: Sure it does. Generally in my case at least, it has been borne out. I've been blessed to have really great students to work with.

Lack, Adina: Thank you Dr. Bolen for your time here.

Bolen, Eric G.: I want to thank you. I appreciate this opportunity.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign