Skip Navigation

Page Fourteen

Despite such success in its more modest modern role, the astronomy program was threatened with extinction in 1970. As the 1960s progressed, Carleton faced two interrelated challenges: one was to initiate and finance new curricular programs (e.g., Asian Studies, Afro American Studies, off-campus studies); the other was to emerge unscathed through a gradually deepening recession. President John Nason proposed to the Board of Trustees a strategy of "cutting back on old programs in order to have funds available to finance new programs." As part of this proposal, Nason recommended eliminating the Astronomy program entirely-the major, the teaching position, and even the observatory itself. Maps showing suggestions for campus development in the late 1960s show Goodsell replaced by a rectangular student union building. The Carletonian went so far as to predict that "the end of Goodsell is only a matter of time."

History of Goodsell Images But a faculty task force, assigned to study the matter, strongly recommended that no such drastic measures be taken. The task force did allow that the elimination of an astronomy major made sense now that most astronomy graduate programs were more concerned that applicants have strong physics and math backgrounds. And their report did accept the fact that Goodsell might have to be sacrificed as part of an overall campus development plan. However, they strongly recommended that the Clark telescope, at least, be then remounted in another building, so that instruction in practical astronomy could continue. The task force was adamant that, for a variety of reasons, a professor of astronomy should remain on the faculty and an astronomy program should remain part of the curriculum.

In conclusion, they stated their "strong conviction that at a time when trips to the moon are becoming routine, Carleton's proud tradition in astronomy should be protected, if at all possible, not out of sentiment, and not simply out of the prestige the College enjoys because it is one of the few liberal arts colleges which offers instruction in this area.... but primarily because of the intrinsic excitement of the subject matter and its importance to the study of the sciences and humanities at Carleton...."

The task force report, the healthy enrollment in beginning astronomy courses, plus an impassioned plea by some alumni and, no doubt, the ineffable sentimental attachment that many at the school felt for such a venerable program, saved the day. The major in astronomy was abolished in 1971, accompanied into history by the Publications of the Goodsell Observatory, which issued its last monograph that same year. But the astronomy program survived. And Goodsell Observatory survived as well.

Fortunately, perhaps, money to build a new student union did not come to hand as expected, nor was the new science building constructed as soon as was projected. By the time that the Seeley G. Mudd Science Hall was completed in 1975-the signal, it had once been thought, that Goodsell was completely expendable-the observatory had found permanent sanctuary on the National Registry of Historic Places. It was placed on the registry (one of four buildings on the campus to be so honored) because it is "a superbly preserved example of Romanesque Revival architecture..., a complete[ly] intact and basically unchanged 19th century astronomical laboratory," and the site of major contributions to "the scientific literary field" through its publications. The observatory and a new student union came to peacefully coexist, after all, when the old Sayles-Hill gymnasium was renovated into a student center in 1979.

Home | Index | Previous Page | Next Page