Department History

Timeline

By John Cowlishaw  (written in 2003)

Moon Jae Pak, Cliff Harding, Nalin Unakar, John Reddan at Club House, 1973

Faculty Timeline

Oakland University was founded in 1959 without a biology department.

Fast forward, to c.1961. Herman Lewis arrived to teach biology, was asked to teach it without laboratories, got frustrated and returned to NSF.

Fast forward, to September, 1964. Our present department was finally founded, by Cliff Harding, who arrived from the University of Pennsylvania. He and Walt Wilson began teaching courses in Winter of 1965.

Joining them were Reuben Torch (from Univ of Illinois, and who later became dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, succeeding George Matthews), John Reddan and Nalin Unakar (John arriving as Cliff’s post-doc), Frank Butterworth, a Drosophila geneticist, and Bill Forbes, to manage the first biology secondary education program.

In 1968, Cliff enticed Everett Kinsey and Ven Reddy from the WSU Kresge Eye Institute to Oakland to establish Institute of Biological Sciences, now the Eye Research Institute, the only institute of its kind affiliated with a non-medical school. Moon Jae Pak and I joined in the fall of 1968. (Moon Pak is now a physician in Rochester and director of a PAC to promote good relations between North Korea and America.)

At this time the department was called the Dept of Biology, but it was changed to the Dept of Biological Sciences to more correctly indicate the breadth and physicochemical rigor of the early members.

Of this group, only John Reddan and John Cowlishaw remain.

What was OU like in the 1960’s?

Walton was a two-lane road. The university was out in the country. There were no golf courses, nor hotels, nor restaurants within miles. Matilda Wilson threw parties for students and faculty at the Hall, and gave diamond-studded class rings to the whole first graduating class. The credit union was in a trailer in what is now the parking lot of South Foundation Hall. Chancellor Woody Varner loved to tell the "Oakland story" and visited the dept each year to see how research was going. A parking road looped in front of Hannah, Dodge, and South Foundation, where the pedestrian walkways now cross the grass. Unakar and Reddan lived in apartments, at Patrick Henry, where Shailesh Lal now lives.

I arrived in August of 1968, wearing shorts, and entered the departmental office where long-time Administrative Secretary Ingrid McDermid had just begun. "Another student," she said. I guess I did look like a short Doug Wendell. My first teaching lab studied bacteriophage, and I decided to isolate our own phage from a natural source of E. coli. When the first sample from my daughter’s diaper came up negative, a student in the lab volunteered to go to the Pontiac Waste Treatment plant on Opdyke and Auburn, where a cooperative gentleman spun the large valve and filled a mason jar with raw sewage. There was no Biosafety committee nor Risk Management in those days. Cliff Harding was so pleased with my first year, that he called me into his office to announce my first raise, from $10,200 to $10,900.

This was the time of the rise of the counter culture, but also the anguish of Vietnam. Oakland had its sit-ins and teach-ins. I remember a student climbing the flagpole beside the library to take down the American flag. I also recall sweating out a student’s makeup final, which if he had flunked would have sent him straight to Vietnam. Our new racial consciousness led to affirmative action programs to raise Black and Latino enrollments.

Phil Clampitt, John Shiff, Nalin Unakar, Pete Schmidt, among others, at Club House, 1973

The department’s first quarters were in Hannah Hall, named after John Hannah, the president of our mother institution, Michigan State University. In 1968, we moved into the brand new Dodge Hall, the 3rd floor of which was financed with matching grants from NIH. Lew Pino had arrived in 1967 from NSF as our first Research Grants officer, and he helped the department receive a ¼ million dollar NSF COSIP grant for major equipment purchases. Thus we had space, we had equipment, we had a research faculty hired with the expectation of a graduate program. And for the 1st 10 years, we had an exclusively undergraduate student body. This mix resulted in a curriculum with inquiry-based lab classes and to student participation in funded research projects. As a consequence, undergraduate students co-authored peer-reviewed journal articles in numbers without equal in the state. And when they graduated they attended graduate and professional schools in large numbers (five of the first class of five). Furthermore, grants from the NSF Undergraduate Research Program helped to support student research at that time, as, more recently, Howard Hughes Foundation and AAAS/Merck funding has done.

To showcase this student research, an annual Student Research Conference was begun in 1969, organized in a semi-formal professional-society manner.

Five of the first eight conferences were held at the Club House. This lovely building was on the east campus, below the John Dodge House, and resembled an expensive hunting lodge, with stone walls and log beams and a huge fireplace. I notice that my student Greg Howells was one of the eight speakers at the first conference. What I recall about Greg was that he slid to the floor in a faint at his first sight of cardiac puncture of a rabbit in John Reddan’s lab. The next day he asked me if he could ever hope to be a physician. Today he is Chief of Surgery at Beaumont Hospital. Howard Birndorf did not know how to do logarithms, but, so he says, I offered encouragement rather than shame, and he went on to graduate school, and to San Diego where he established a succession of biotech firms that have grossed two billion dollars.

In the 2nd conference, Skip Binder spoke; he is now a professor at Northwestern University Medical School. In the 4th conference, Sheldon Gordon spoke.

Hundreds of students have presented talks and posters, and gone on to successful careers. Not much has changed.

Skip Binder (2nd from left), Rex Cole, Sheldon Gordon, John Shif, and Carter Pinchak

John Reddan and Dorothy Dziedzic with students Gary Saldana and Mike Amato

Two early presenters- ? and Diane ?

Nalin Unakar in 1981

Well, John Reddan’s and Dorothy Dziedzic’s hair is shorte ... and dresses are shorter.

Picnic, 1978

In the 1970’s the faculty unionized, and enrollments grew. From 1974 to 1988, the department also grew – under the chairmanship of Nalin Unakar. The growth was for two main reasons.

The early faculty were all cell biologists/ biophysicists. In the early 1970’s, the department diversified into organismic biology. Furthermore, as Oakland developed its allied health programs, nursing, med tech, physical therapy, we expanded our course offerings in service to these programs. In 1974 the masters program was begun with tracks in cell biology and organismic biology. The increase in course offerings led in 1978 to a need to tighten curricular requirements from the earlier smorgasbord-type offerings.

What were the 1970’s and 1980’s like? There were no photocopy machines, just spirit masters, which ran out of quality after about 100 copies, effectively limiting class sizes. Our animal room was in Hannah Hall. Friday afternoons there were TGIF drinking parties in 350 HHS. John Shiff led us on smelt-fishing sorties on the St Clair River.

There were picnics, where Unakar tried to teach us cricket. He also hosted annual departmental parties at his home where the increasing numbers of Indian/Pakistani faculty and staff meant wonderful Indian food.

There was some turnover of faculty as new faculty were hired and others left.

Anne Sakai, an early evolutionary botanist, who influenced how I teach BIO 111, left for Chicago.

Earl Ettienne, a charismatic Caribbean biophysicist, here talking with Mike Riley at the Club House, left for a position on the Harvard faculty.

Some of the oldtimers commemorate John Shiff’s retirement at the Clarkston Café, c. 1999. Thad Grudzien, John Shiff, Egbert Henry, Charlie Lindemann, Nalin Unakar, Sheldon Gordon, Asish Nag, John Reddan, and Esther Goudsmit.

Arun Roy

And the almost mythic Arun Roy, discovered a male-specific urinary protein. With the development of techniques in endocrinology and biochemistry, he rode this protein to fame and fortune, and to San Antonio, where he has received at least two ten-year Merit Awards.

In the first half of the 1990’s, Egbert Henry was chair during several difficult events, but we also remember that he was a first-rate jazz pianist, who played at MBH events and Patio concerts. Additionally, in the 1980’s and 90’s, programs in Biochemistry and Secondary Education were co-sponsored with the Department of Chemistry and the School of Education, respectively.

1996-7 saw our expansion into SEB.

Egbert Henry Dorothy Dziedzic (left) Charles Lindemann (center left)
Virinder Moudgil (center right)  Doug Hunter (right)  
 

By 1997, the aging department no longer had any junior members. Under Virinder Moudgil’s energetic chairmanship, a wave of new hiring brought six new faculty into the department, bringing new expertise and funding, and allowing us to approve a new Ph. D. program in 2002. Those who were shrewd enough to recognize Virinder’s promising career, first as chair, and then as provost, got their requests in to him early, as Doug Hunter does here in this photo unbeknownst to Charlie Lindemann and Dorothy.

Evidence of the new youthfulness of our department is apparent in this photo, at last fall’s picnic.