The Man Who Loved Lucy

ASU's Donald Johanson redefined our understanding of man's origins. But when he told the world about it in books and on TV, some scientists thought he talked too much.

IHO has moved on with its research in Ethiopia, South Africa and Eritrea.
"IHO could, if it chose to, continue for another 15 years in Berkeley with our board of directors chasing the rent and utilities and salaries on a monthly basis, and doing it well," says Bill Kimbel.

Last year, Johanson says, they raised about $1 million, about what they raised in previous years--though in previous years it was doubled by Getty's matching donation. Now IHO was a much smaller entity--though its overhead costs of rent and utilities had not shrunk.

But then came the ASU offer.
Geoffrey Clark, an anthropology professor at ASU and a grad-school classmate of Johanson's from the University of Chicago, made the first inquiries.

"My motivation for doing it is that we have an extremely strong anthropology department at ASU," Clark says. "It's one of the leading departments in the country already, and it just seemed to me that if we could attract an entity like the IHO to ASU, it would make an already strong program that much stronger."

From IHO's perspective, there was no longer any reason to remain in Berkeley. White and the geochronologists were estranged; the rest of the professors--Desmond Clark, Glynn Isaac and others--who had drawn Johanson there in the early 1980s were dead or retired.

ASU president Lattie Coor referred to the move as a "win-win" decision, that Republican phrase that usually means someone's going to get screwed and someone else will make a killing.

But in fact the Republican response was more anachronistic than usual. Regent Kurt Davis, a Symington appointee to the Board of Regents and a former Symington staffer, raised the ridiculous caveat that the university research how much class time and money were being spent by the university to explore alternative theories of human origins. The other regents voted unanimously to pass Davis' suggestion.

Davis did not return calls to New Times. He was evasive in his interviews with the State Press, the ASU student newspaper, and would not explain what he meant by "alternative."

State Press editor Ray Stern fired off a sarcastic editorial asking what possible alternatives Davis could be referring to. Stern's guesses included the Book of Genesis, Native American creation myths and aliens. The administration pointed out that the university already had a religion department, so then the religion department wrote a letter to the school paper, bristling at the implication that it taught creationism as a viable theory of human origins. The anthropology department, which, incidentally, fully supported ASU's offer to IHO, wrote its own letter to point out that it already teaches creation myths from many cultures.

"The courses that these guys are going to teach have been taught by line faculty for over 20 years," says Professor Clark. "We do teach evolution in anthropology, and it is peculiar, to say the least, that the regents would attach that little rider on their approval."

Nonetheless, the university diligently followed Regent Davis' request--though nobody seems able to describe particulars, as if they want to get it over with without generating the usual embarrassment that would ensue if the national press found out a major university in backwoods Arizona were revisiting the Scopes trial.

"We hope our report will be something [Davis] will be happy to see," says Wendy Wilkins, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "What we won't be doing is changing the science curriculum."

Johanson will teach one undergraduate course per semester at a salary of $109,000. Kimbel will be awarded a tenured associate professorship, Kaye Reed a tenure-track teaching position. The university will also pay a salary for the IHO's administrator. It will keep its nonprofit status and raise funds for field work, and then, when the anthropologists go into the field on expeditions, it will pay back the university for the time they spend away from teaching.

Johanson expects the total IHO budget to remain at about $1 million. ASU will be contributing $285,000 annually to that budget, mostly to cover salaries. By having offices in an ASU class building, IHO will be altogether relieved of rent and utility expenses. About half of the rest of the budget will be contributed by IHO's board members, the remainder from individuals, corporations and grants from federal sources, such as the National Science Foundation, and private funders such as the National Geographic Society. That money will pay the salaries of the IHO's other employees, Dr. Eric Meikle and geochronologist Dr. Robert Walter, for outreach and education programs, and for IHO expeditions. According to Bill Kimbel, a typical three-month expedition costs about $80,000 to stage; within the next year, IHO scientists will be returning to Eritrea, Ethiopia and South Africa.

On July 18, movers started rolling cabinets into the new ASU offices for the Institute of Human Origins. Lucy's cast stood silently, locked in a wooden crate in a corner, where she would wait until the moving was done and there were enough reporters assembled and enough video cameras whirring to merit opening the crate.

A TV news truck sat outside the institute.
I love Lucy, you love Lucy, everyone loves Lucy.
Johanson was optimistic about the new start.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets