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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2011

11 - Eviction from Harvard College Observatory



Certainly 100 years from now our observations are going to be of much more value than most of the theoretical work that is being done.

– Margaret W. Mayall, 1953

J. B. Conant's return to the Harvard presidency after World War II set the stage for events that would play out over the next decade at the university and affect its relationship with the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO).

Conant was dedicated to modernizing the administration of Harvard University, streamlining the academic departments and upgrading the faculty while reducing costs. His initial focus in the sciences was on his home department of chemistry but included physics and classical biology. All three disciplines received massive infusions of capital and the addition of new faculty to shift their curriculums in response to new quantum mechanical and molecular knowledge and instrumental techniques.

Eventually Conant's attention reached the Harvard College Observatory (HCO). Instead of searching for a new director, Conant appointed an Observatory Council chaired by Donald Menzel to oversee Observatory administration and necessary restructuring of the deteriorated physical facilities and faculty.

Menzel's task was unenviable in many respects; he had been an AAVSO member since 1917 and served, at that very time, as elected vice-president of the organization. Menzel saw that to some small degree, he could solve some of the Observatory's space and financial problems by evicting AAVSO and appropriating the endowment that Shapley had arranged for support of the salary and expenses of the AAVSO Recorder.

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