Collection of Conversations With Berkeley Profs Captures the Spirit of the University
In New Book, Faculty Use Non-Academic Language to Explain their Research
By . Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Imagine gathering a handful of Berkeley's brightest professors in your living room for an informal conversation about their research. Gone are the lecturn, laser pointer, slide projector and jargon-filled lectures. Instead, an intimate discussion in plain language ensues, illuminating some of the fascinating work that goes on behind Sather Gate.
While this scenario may be a fantasy for most, a new book comes amazingly close, giving readers access to Berkeley professors and their research in terms easily understood by most audiences.
In "The World Around Us: Conversations With University of California, Berkeley Professors," John Banker interiews 10 faculty members and chronicles their conversations on a range of social policy issues and personal anecdotes about life as an academician.
For example, in the first chapter, ethnic studies professor Ron Takaki harkens back to 1965 and his first job at a university -- teaching the first-ever black history course at UCLA.
"I walked into the room, there was this lively, high-level of conversation," he said. "As I started to make my way to the front (of the room), a silence descended."
It was obvious to Takaki that the students were expecting an African-American instructor. Before he could say anything, one of the students asked "What revolutionary tools are we going to learn in this class?"
John Searle, professor of philosophy, ruminates on being an atheist, though he states he's "open to anything" as long as there's good evidence.
"I wish it were true," said Searle of God. "It's just awful that we're going to become extinct, the people we love are going to become extinct, and the universe is going to cool off, and there'll be no consciousness left."
Searle recalled being asked by journalist Bill Moyers if he prays. His reply: "Everybody prays; it's just a mistake to think anybody is listening."
Eating organic food, which farmers can sell for 50 percent more than regular produce, is irrelevant to good health, says Bruce Ames, professor of molecular and cell biology, whose passion is preventing cancer.
The two main causes of cancer, he says, are poor diet and smoking, not synthetic chemicals, as many claim.
"We spend practically no money on informing people about the importance of good diet for health," said Ames. "Yet, we spend $140 billion a year in the cost of EPA regulations."
Mary Ann Mason, professor of social welfare, reveals the plight of stepparents in the United States, who, she says, are treated by the government as "non-persons."
"Stepparents have the least amount of recognition and they are doing a lot of America's parenting," she said.
As an example, she cites her son's girlfriend, who was taught to drive by her stepfather. But when they went to the DMV to get her drivers licence -- their triumphant moment together -- he was not permitted to sign for the licence because he wasn't a legal guardian.
Why do we see so many "old-timers" still trying to compete in professional sports? According to Harry Edwards, professor of sociology, we are "disqualifying, jailing and burying our potential point guards, wide receivers, boxers, shortstops and home-run hitters."
Edwards places some of the blame on high school and NCAA rules that require athletes to achieve certain grade point averages to be eligible to participate in sports. These requirements affect a dissproportionate amount of African-American students.
"When 5.7 black males go to jail for every one black male that goes to college," he said, "it will change the face and character of American sports, and it is already doing so."
Banker said he chose Berkeley "because it has a reputation for being an intellectually open campus. Some colleges aim to be exclusive while Berkeley is more welcoming."
In publishing the book, Banker hopes to help bridge the gap between the academic and real world.
The book, which retails for $15, is available through Amazon.com and the publisher's Web site at www.archpublishing.com.