Brit J. d’Arbeloff SM ’61
INTERVIEWER: Today is March 25th, 2009. I'm Karen Arenson. I'm speaking this morning with Brit d'Arbeloff, chair of the MIT Council for the Arts, and a kind of first lady for MIT, when her late husband, Alex, was Chairman.
Brit studied engineering as an undergraduate at Stanford and then earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering from MIT, an experience that was not altogether a welcoming one. But in the years since, she has become one of MIT's biggest cheerleaders and supporters. Brit, thank you for talking to us this morning. Before we get to your experiences with MIT, I'd love to talk about how you got into engineering in the 1950's when there were not very many women entering the profession. What made you decide to become an engineer?
d'ARBELOFF: My father was an engineer. And it was a family business. People go into the family business. And there were only two things I really knew I could become. And one was an engineer, and the other was a teacher. And I knew I didn't want to be a teacher. [LAUGHS]. So--
INTERVIEWER: Why not?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh, because when I was going to school, teachers were not allowed to get married. And it was not a particularly nice life.
INTERVIEWER: You didn't head to MIT initially, but for the west coast. What made you choose Stanford?
d'ARBELOFF: It was as far from Chicago as I could possibly get. [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: So you had grown up in Chicago?
INTERVIEWER: And father did what kind of engineering?
d'ARBELOFF: He worked for a company called Sunbeam. And actually when he started there it was called Chicago Flexible Shaft. And he basically started the small appliance industry. He designed the first Mixmaster. He designed the first electric shaver that didn't rip hair out of your chin.
d'ARBELOFF: You know, the toaster. All this kind of thing.
INTERVIEWER: Did he bring them home for you to play with?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh, he absolutely did. My mother was shocked when she discovered that they made them in different colors. [LAUGHS] Because all ours had was little a electric buzz. [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: So you were actually hands-on growing up? You got to play with all these invent--
d'ARBELOFF: And typically, women go into science because they're either an only child, or they're the oldest child. And my brother was seven years younger than I was. And by that time, I had gone to the lumber yard with my father, and done projects and things.
INTERVIEWER: When you got to Stanford and went into engineering, there probably weren't very many women in your class.
d'ARBELOFF: There was me. It was you.
INTERVIEWER: What was it like? Were the classmates welcoming? Were the faculty welcoming?
d'ARBELOFF: Well, in the first place, I have a funny name. And nobody can tell whether I'm a girl or boy without meeting me.
d'ARBELOFF: And, so the first thing that happened was that my adviser was over in the men's dorm. And he was pretty upset that he couldn't use his office, because I couldn't go up to the-- And he looked at me and he said, "Why don't you drop out right now from this. They all do." In other words, women aren't supposed to be engineers. But I knew that if I changed my major, my parents would make me come back to Chicago, so.
INTERVIEWER: And the students, were they any friendlier?
d'ARBELOFF: Once you prove you can do the work. Then it was fine.
INTERVIEWER: Stanford had rules, as you went through. I mean they had even dress codes.
d'ARBELOFF: Oh sure. Yeah. Women we're not allowed to wear pants going on campus. So to go to a lab I had to roll up my jeans under my trench coat, even if it was ninety degrees out.
INTERVIEWER: And you put off some classes?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, it was all the things like machine shop, forging and welding and foundry. And you had to take them. It was the last wave of the fifties hands-on learning engineering. And then for awhile there was all this engineering science, and you didn't get a chance to see what engineers actually did until you graduated. But I loved those classes. They were terrific.
INTERVIEWER: And you put off some of them in hopes that Stanford was gonna get rid of--
d'ARBELOFF: No, I just-- You know. We were talking earlier about procrastination. [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: [LAUGHS] So you did all the hands-on, you got through engineering. Your adviser was surprised?
d'ARBELOFF: After, you know, the first year or so, everybody was very supportive. And I loved it.
INTERVIEWER: What did you do after Stanford? Did you plan to work as an engineer, and did you?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, it was hard to get a job. Even though I graduated first in my class. Nobody wanted to hire me. They would say "Well, you have to work with the machine shop." Well, of course you have to work with the machine shop. They were the only people who knew what do. I worked for the aerospace industry. And that was interesting, because I was working on the Redstone missile when Sputnik went off. And everybody was shocked, just shocked. How could the engineers in Russia be ahead of us? Well because we played two hours of duplicate bridge every lunch, that was why.
INTERVIEWER: [LAUGHS] So, how did you get from the west coast to Boston?
d'ARBELOFF: Well, I went home after I graduated--
INTERVIEWER: To Chicago.
d'ARBELOFF: To Chicago. And that's where I was working for Cook Research, up in Skokie, Illinois. And I worked there for about a year, and then I went back east and went to MIT. Actually I went back east to work. A lot of my friends from Stanford were back east, and I thought that would be interesting to do. And I got a job with a small subcontractor right in Kendall Square. 238 Main street, you know the building with clock?
INTERVIEWER: It didn't look like it does now, except for that building maybe?
d'ARBELOFF: That building looks exactly the way it did before. And everything else has changed. Except the fire house, and things like that. But I spent all my time over at MIT in the engineering lab, doing research for these projects. Because it was one of these things that we never got the job until we were at least six weeks late. Because everybody thought they could do it in house, and we were writing all these government proposals. So once we got the job, we were late. And we worked 90 hours a week, and I thought, hey I'm over to MIT anyway. I might as well take some classes.
INTERVIEWER: So there was that close collaboration between the university and the company, even then?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh yeah. Everybody was either a student at MIT, or a graduate from MIT. And it was just a couple blocks away.
INTERVIEWER: And you figured, why not enroll.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, exactly.
INTERVIEWER: And so you did.
d'ARBELOFF: And the whole area looked like the Rindaldi Tile Factory. These little tiny one story buildings, and they were forging and they were welding and they were doing all this kind of stuff. It was very industrial. On a very small scale. It was very different. And the whole place smelled like chocolate.
INTERVIEWER: [LAUGHS] Because of the Necco factory in Cambridge?
d'ARBELOFF: Well, because of the Necco factory. Because of the Brigham factory. And I think there were one or two others. It was really a center of fairly bad candy. [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: When you enrolled at MIT, you'd been working in the labs around the business you were doing. What was that like?
d'ARBELOFF: It wasn't much different because I was already working with all the students. Because they were working at Northern Research with me. And, it was just a matter of taking some classes while I was-- And I was over at MIT all the time anyway.
INTERVIEWER: But the professors weren't so welcoming, I gather.
d'ARBELOFF: They were fine, you know. I just went to the class and--
INTERVIEWER: Um-hum. But then when it came time to do your thesis?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, that was a problem. The problem was nobody really wanted me in their labs. And I'm a really hands-on kind of person. So I did a theoretical thesis. But--
INTERVIEWER: So even though you'd been working there, and working with their other students, they somehow couldn't accept you?
d'ARBELOFF: Well you know, it was a complete mind change for them. Ellen Swallow Richards, they built a lab for her so she wouldn't have to work with the guys.
d'ARBELOFF: You know, and we're really proud of Ellen.
INTERVIEWER: And she was the first woman to go through MIT about five years after it started.
INTERVIEWER: But they didn't build you your own lab?
d'ARBELOFF: No, they didn't. They just figured I could do something else.
INTERVIEWER: So, you ended up doing a theoretical paper instead of a hands-on?
INTERVIEWER: And sort of not feeling so good about it MIT at that point?
d'ARBELOFF: No. I liked Stanford a lot better. I somehow felt much more accepted and at home there.
INTERVIEWER: And so, you were about to head back to Stanford, weren't you?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. I was enrolled in a Doctoral program at Stanford. And I met Alex, and that was it.
INTERVIEWER: How did you meet? On campus or--?
d'ARBELOFF: No. It had nothing to do with MIT. It was a party on Beacon Street. 333 Beacon Street, where a whole bunch of guys shared an apartment, and used have parties all the time. And we were both there at the same party. And he followed me down the stairs on the way out.
INTERVIEWER: You had started talking and he said--
INTERVIEWER: So he didn't know you'd been at MIT then?
d'ARBELOFF: No, no. That came up later.
INTERVIEWER: And you didn't know he--
d'ARBELOFF: No. Absolutely not.
INTERVIEWER: Interesting so--
d'ARBELOFF: It was just a coincidence.
INTERVIEWER: So here you were on the verge of leaving Cambridge.
d'ARBELOFF: I was. I met him in April, and I was supposed to travel in Europe during that summer, and start Stanford in the Fall. And we got married September 8th that year.
INTERVIEWER: Did you go to Europe that summer?
d'ARBELOFF: Not at all, no.
INTERVIEWER: You didn't?
d'ARBELOFF: No. No.
INTERVIEWER: Oh wow! This was a whirlwind.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. I mean, no matter what silly thing our children did, we had no leg to stand on. [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: Was he involved with MIT at the point you got married?
d'ARBELOFF: No, he wasn't. He had started Teradyne two years before we got married. And he was very involved with Teradyne. Part of our honeymoon was working the booth in McCormick Place in Chicago.
d'ARBELOFF: It was their first trade show.
INTERVIEWER: Oh wow.
INTERVIEWER: And you knew Chicago?
d'ARBELOFF: Of course. My parents still lived at Oak Park at that point.
INTERVIEWER: Ah. What finally brought him back to the Institute? And you? He was invited to be on a task force on engineering education. And he had very strong ideas about what constituted good technical education. And so he went on this task force, and they wrote up the paper, and for a long time nobody did anything about it here. It just kind of sat there. Now everything that the task force suggested has been implemented.
INTERVIEWER: Do you recall any of the highlights?
d'ARBELOFF: You know, hands-on learning, and active learning, and all this kind of thing that now is so much part of MIT, but really wasn't then. It was very chalk and talk.
d'ARBELOFF: And at the time he thought the only thing he got out of it was with a vice president for Teradyne, because he hired one of the young teachers from MIT who was on the task force.
INTERVIEWER: So that was one of his few experiences.
d'ARBELOFF: That was, yeah. And I always said I'd come back to MIT over my dead body, I believe is the way I put it. [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: So it wasn't until the eighties that he really began to get more involved?
d'ARBELOFF: He got very involved. And then at the end of the eighties, he went on the Corporation, and I think Gerry Austin was very instrumental in getting him on the Corporation.
d'ARBELOFF: Because Alex had been on board at Mass General, and knew everybody over there.
INTERVIEWER: And Gerry Austin was chief of surgery there then?
INTERVIEWER: Uhhuh. And maybe on MIT's executive committee at that point.
d'ARBELOFF: I think he probably was, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: He spent a lot of years--
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. It was Alex's thing. It wasn't my thing. And I kind of ignored the details.
INTERVIEWER: So he was beginning to get more involved.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, he got very involved.
INTERVIEWER: And excited by it? Was he beginning?
d'ARBELOFF: Alex always loved MIT. I mean, I can still remember our first date when we realized we both went there. And I could not believe that he loved MIT. I mean, he just adored every minute of it. Thought it was wonderful.
INTERVIEWER: So he was happy to begin to get involved again?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, he loved it.
INTERVIEWER: And then you got drawn into. How did that come about?
d'ARBELOFF: Well, he became Chairman of the Board, and the choice was either getting involved with MIT, or not ever seeing him.
d'ARBELOFF: [LAUGHS] So--
d'ARBELOFF: And you know, when the kids were looking for colleges, I definitely didn't want them to come here. Our oldest daughter and I went over to looking at MIT. And this was in the early eighties. And one of the things for IAP was a science fiction three week marathon in the physics lecture hall, down and what, Building 26?
INTERVIEWER: 10-250 maybe? Oh, no, 26-100.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, 26-100. And they had porta-potties outside, so they never had to leave. [LAUGHS] Kate and I looked at each other, and we went "Ew".
INTERVIEWER: [LAUGHS] She didn't come?
d'ARBELOFF: She went to Carnegie Mellon, which was a good experience.
INTERVIEWER: And the other ones were steered away too?
d'ARBELOFF: Well, [LAUGHS], the second one told his father that he would put in an application as the safety school. [LAUGHS] Alex was just appalled. I had to peel him off the ceiling. [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: Did they go to Stanford?
d'ARBELOFF: No, we kept shooting applications out there, and finally the fourth one went to Stanford.
INTERVIEWER: Ah. So you got--
d'ARBELOFF: And loved it.
d'ARBELOFF: She loved it. Absolutely loved it. She lives in San Francisco. Yeah. She's, out in Noe Valley.
INTERVIEWER: So, when Alex became Chairman, you began to accompany him to lots of events. But you began to carve out a place of your own too.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. I was invited on a couple of visiting committees. Both philosophy and linguistics, which I'm still on. And aero-astro for a while. During the time when they were really changing their whole MO, and became much more of an assistance group.
INTERVIEWER: The aero-astro department?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. And that was very interesting.
INTERVIEWER: Because you had worked in the industry for a while?
INTERVIEWER: Exactly. I mean, I knew the players. I never could watch a live launch, because I knew the players. And I've got all these old stories about the whole industry that, like the time they dropped the Titan Rocket off the truck in Texas.
INTERVIEWER: [LAUGHS] Not so good. Were you surprised when Alex was asked to become Chairman?
d'ARBELOFF: No I wasn't. No I wasn't. I mean, he'd been very involved and, he was surprised. At that point he had just retired from Teradyne. And we were talking about spending half the time out in California. We were looking for a place-- Our younger son was out there, and our daughter was there, and our oldest son was down in Los Angeles, so it made a lot of sense.
INTERVIEWER: Was it hard decision then?
d'ARBELOFF: It wasn't, you know? How could you miss an opportunity like that?
d'ARBELOFF: And he loved it.
INTERVIEWER: What was his ten years Chairman like from your vantage point? Did you ever see him?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh yeah. Because it was kind of "Meals on Wheels" for d'Arbeloffs. We provided the wheels. [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: But he began to spend his days here--
d'ARBELOFF: We spent a lot, you know, a lot of time. And a lot of travel to various places. And right at the beginning of it, Alan Brody invited me to lunch. And I said, Allen you know-- MIT is a technical school. Counsel for the Arts, really?
INTERVIEWER: Allen was Associate Provost for the arts at that time?
d'ARBELOFF: He was provost of the arts at that time.
INTERVIEWER: And he invited you to lunch to see if you would join the counsel?
d'ARBELOFF: To talk me into joining the Council, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: And he said it was very important, and you should be part of it?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: What was the pitch?
d'ARBELOFF: And I laughed, and we got involved.
INTERVIEWER: And was he right?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh, he had absolutely. I had no idea how much the school had changed since I was there. So much of it is the fact that there's so many women there. But also because of the presence of the arts and humanities. And I didn't know there were humanities at MIT.
INTERVIEWER: Because as a graduate student you were in a cocoon?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh yeah, of course.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Let's see. You were deeply involved in the chairmanship, I think, not only by your presence on campus at all the different events. But Chuck Vest, who was president when Alex was Chairman, said he saw your influence in many decisions, ranging from things like funding for the girls locker room--
d'ARBELOFF: Oh that was kinda fun. First of all, Alex went to something like 700 visiting committee dinners while he was there. Well one of them was for the ever- needed funding for the new building that--
INTERVIEWER: A new gym?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah the new gym with the new swimming pool and everything else. Because MIT was sorely lacking in things like that. And I didn't go to the visiting committee dinners. But he came back and he said "Well, I got Barrie and Al to contribute enough so we can get the thing started." Because I said I would match them. Oh good. [LAUGHS] Oh good. Being the athlete that I am, that's something that really interests me.
INTERVIEWER: Are you an athlete?
d'ARBELOFF: Not at all.
INTERVIEWER: Oh. [LAUGHS]
d'ARBELOFF: No, no, no.
INTERVIEWER: Was he?
d'ARBELOFF: He loved tennis. He started playing tennis quite late in life, and he adored it. He played as often is he could. But it was some of the best money we'd ever spent. It's a wonderful building. It's kind of complete Kresge Oval. It's also one of the few buildings that has been used as long as it's open, every single day from the time it was open.
d'ARBELOFF: It's a terrific building.
INTERVIEWER: So he saw it as his mission, one of his many missions to somehow raise money so a building could be built. I guess it has the swimming pool?
d'ARBELOFF: It has the swimming pool. And it also has a wonderful hallway. Connects Rockwell Cage and the Johnston Athletic Center. And it just is beautiful. It's beautiful during the day. It's beautiful at night.
INTERVIEWER: And heavily used.
d'ARBELOFF: Oh. Heavily used. Yeah. Terrific building.
INTERVIEWER: Have you ever used it?
d'ARBELOFF: Not at all.
INTERVIEWER: Did he?
d'ARBELOFF: I think he did. A couple of times. Yeah. But I've never used it. Friends of mine call me up and they say "One of your hair dryers is broken." So a lot of people do use it.
INTERVIEWER: Oh my. And was there something about girls lockers?
d'ARBELOFF: No, no. Originally my friend, Karin, said "Why don't you get your name on the boys' locker room, and Alex can get his name on the girls' locker room?" But that sounds kind of weird.
INTERVIEWER: Are your names on the locker rooms?
d'ARBELOFF: Yes. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: But you're on the girls' side. And he's on the boys' side?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. I don't think the guys have hair dryers.
INTERVIEWER: Huh. There were some other decisions I think that Chuck thought you had a hand in. One was the big gift that you and Alex gave to create a fund for excellence in education.
d'ARBELOFF: Well, you know that's all part of what we'd been talking about before here. The feeling that engineering education doesn't really leverage the skills that the students have coming into it. And doesn't really educate kids in what engineering really is. And it's been terrific. Alex loved it, because nobody wanted it. They suggested that there were many better uses for it. And it's been incredibly popular with incredible upside to it.
INTERVIEWER: So MIT didn't have a fund like that before.
d'ARBELOFF: And the idea was really to set aside a big pot of money?
d'ARBELOFF: So Alex's theory was that if the money was there, the teachers would use it. And for things as simple as mud card. Which are just three by five cards. And the students write down the three things in the lecture they didn't really understand. And they hand them in at the end. Three by five cards! I mean, you could even give a lecture for forty years, and not realize that nobody really knows what you're talking about if there isn't that feedback.
INTERVIEWER: And so a professor actually proposed an idea and asked for funding for the cards?
d'ARBELOFF: Exactly. Yeah. Or for funding for a clicker to vote on answers or-- And that's how the TEAL classroom was started. Which has really changed physics, freshman physics.
INTERVIEWER: So the ideas that people, professors put in grant requests to try this or that or the other thing?
d'ARBELOFF: Exactly. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Had there been anything like that before, I mean, what did they do?
d'ARBELOFF: I mean, the room we're in obviously was something like that. And the MacVicar Awards were really important, because students got to vote on the teachers and--
INTERVIEWER: Was that funded by the grant too?
d'ARBELOFF: No, that was way before. That was way before.
INTERVIEWER: Uh huh. So the MacVicar Awards go to professors who've done outstanding jobs.
d'ARBELOFF: In teaching.
INTERVIEWER: In teaching. And there was never a fund? They had to do it on their own, so to speak?
d'ARBELOFF: No, I think there is a fund. I think there is a fund in Margaret MacVicar's memory.
INTERVIEWER: That rewards them afterwards?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, yeah. But they did it on their own.
INTERVIEWER: Mhmm. And your fund, was it hard to market the idea?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, Alex is very persistent.
INTERVIEWER: You mean just sell it to the-- He and Chuck talked back and forth.
INTERVIEWER: And maybe Roz Williams?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, oh yeah. I have no idea how many people he talked to. Probably hundreds, knowing Alex.
INTERVIEWER: Did he and you discuss this over dinner? Sort of how to set it up, or--
d'ARBELOFF: Oh yeah. I mean, we talked about it all the time.
INTERVIEWER: Uhhuh. And did the fund come with a set of-- Did you dream up rules, or did you just say to MIT "Make it work", or when you gave the gift?
d'ARBELOFF: Alex was very involved with that part of it, because he was much more involved with the nitty gritty than I was.
INTERVIEWER: So every day he'd come back from the Institute with something on his mind.
d'ARBELOFF: Oh yeah.
INTERVIEWER: And then the two of you would hash it out? Were you his sounding board?
d'ARBELOFF: Absolutely. Absolutely.
INTERVIEWER: Any other decisions that come to mind that were particularly interesting? Or challenges along the way that you found interesting?
d'ARBELOFF: Every day was something different. It was very interesting.
d'ARBELOFF: Going to Detroit raising money, and getting a look at the automobile industry was interesting. Looking back on it now, considering how they're floundering around. It was very interesting.
INTERVIEWER: So as Chairman he kind of jumped in wherever they thought they needed help, or he thought they needed help?
INTERVIEWER: And you often went along-- You traveled a lot?
INTERVIEWER: Around the world?
d'ARBELOFF: We went to Singapore. We were in Hong Kong. In Japan. Detroit. San Diego. Lots in San Francisco.
INTERVIEWER: Mhmm. When you traveled, were people generally surprised to find out that you had a graduate degree from MIT too? A woman. Or were they more used to the idea by then?
d'ARBELOFF: They were more used to the idea by then, but I always wore my brass rat.
INTERVIEWER: Did Alex wear his?
d'ARBELOFF: No. No. He was too twitchy to wear a ring.
INTERVIEWER: [LAUGHS] So you wore the--
INTERVIEWER: Let's come back to Counsel for the Arts, of which you're now Chairman.
INTERVIEWER: How important are the arts at MIT? What kind of role do you think they play?
d'ARBELOFF: I think they're very important. You know, undergraduates are so overworked and involved in everything. I think they work harder than any other school in the world. And they are so eager to get into everything. It's absolutely wonderful, the enthusiasm. And you know we have the club arts. We have the classes. Did you know that it's ten times harder to get into the glass class at MIT than it is to get into MIT?
INTERVIEWER: The glass blowing?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. Yeah. Have you ever been on campus for the great pumpkin sale?
INTERVIEWER: Yes. Yes.
d'ARBELOFF: It's wonderful.
INTERVIEWER: How many pumpkins do you have at home?
d'ARBELOFF: A lot.
INTERVIEWER: Have you ever blown one yourself?
d'ARBELOFF: No. I never have. It looks wonderful. My daughter went to Parsons--
INTERVIEWER: In New York.
d'ARBELOFF: And she would come home with burns all over the place, for the glass thing.
INTERVIEWER: They did glass blowing there? Is the glass blowing lab supported by the Arts Council at all?
d'ARBELOFF: Yes. That's one of the things were interested in.
INTERVIEWER: And people who are in that workshop learning to blow glass then produced these amazing pumpkins that go on sale every october is it? Close to Halloween?
d'ARBELOFF: It's, let me see. I think, yeah, it's either October or the end of September.
INTERVIEWER: Uhhuh, in the Fall.
d'ARBELOFF: And all of Kresge Oval is covered with these wonderful pumpkins. And I don't remember ever being rained out. So they're all there glistening in the sun. On the first year they actually had the sale for two days, and there were pumpkins left in the afternoon on Sunday.
I told Peter Houk, who runs this thing, I said "Well you've finally gotten it down to a fifteen second pumpkin sale." Because people line up from eight o'clock in the morning all the way around the block. And they have big boxes, and things like that. They come racing and they look for their favorite pumpkins. They grab them and they pack them away. And then the rest of the time is, you know, the bureaucracy of paying for them.
INTERVIEWER: And these are not inexpensive.
d'ARBELOFF: Some of them are six hundred dollars. They're gorgeous. Absolutely beautiful.
INTERVIEWER: And the money goes back to support the glass lab?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. It's a great thing. They have a sale right before Christmas and they have another sale in the Spring in May.
INTERVIEWER: Where they do other art works besides pumpkins.
d'ARBELOFF: Beside pumpkins.
INTERVIEWER: Uhhuh. Do they do any of that online? I wonder.
d'ARBELOFF: They probably do. I mean, much more things at MIT are online now. You can actually get a map of all the public art online, by going to the MIT website.
INTERVIEWER: So when you joined the Arts Council in the late eighties, probably?
d'ARBELOFF: No. It was late-- It was after '97 I think it was. See I wasn't doing anything until he became Chairman.
INTERVIEWER: Right. Right. Right. It wasn't when he joined the Corporation.
INTERVIEWER: What else does the Council do? Why don't you talk a little---
d'ARBELOFF: Okay, they have a group of students who are interested in the arts, who sign up and they're called art scholars. And they spread the word and do all sorts of projects together with funding help from the Council.
INTERVIEWER: From the Council.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah the Council helped. Big is the Council's other it's a hundred members which is pretty large which is pretty large and some are more involved than others and some give more than others and it was established in the early seventies I believe that you're at least thirty seven years old them right yep we had our thirty fifth anniversary the first year I was chair and the idea was just to bring in people who would be supportive of the arts.
INTERVIEWER: Make connections. And give money.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. Kay Stratton was very involved with it. And that was where the public art collection started. You know, the Great Sail.
d'ARBELOFF: Which was placed there to prevent the wind from swooping up over the Earth Sciences building.
INTERVIEWER: Right. So that got put on campus in the sixties. But, the public art-- What did the Council do? And how does that work?
d'ARBELOFF: They supported it, and helped acquire it.
INTERVIEWER: So other pieces of art?
INTERVIEWER: So most of the collection comes through the Council?
d'ARBELOFF: It comes through the Council. It's supported by the Council. We support the List Museum. And the List Museum is responsible for the art collection, and responsible for the student borrowing, you know, the lottery.
INTERVIEWER: When you were here, did you ever go over and get some art for your room?
d'ARBELOFF: I was not aware of that program then. I think it did exist in hindsight.
d'ARBELOFF: But that program's really grown a lot. It's huge.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Yeah.
d'ARBELOFF: And it's not you're getting Aunt Tilly's etching, or anything like that. It's really beautiful art.
INTERVIEWER: So this is a collection of nearly what, 2,000 pieces or so?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. It's big. It's really big.
INTERVIEWER: That Arts Council helps pay for?
d'ARBELOFF: Helps pay for. Helps acquire, and helps keep in good shape.
INTERVIEWER: Uhhuh. And students then each year are allowed to come put in a lottery, or to borrow one for the year.
d'ARBELOFF: You can borrow one for the year. So you live with a piece of art in your room for a year.
INTERVIEWER: So this is one of the major things the Council does. Out of many.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. Out of many things. And we're the people that are monitoring the McDermott Award. And this is Eugene McDermott, who was a friend of Cecil Green. And his widow put this in his memory. And it's a fabulous thing.
INTERVIEWER: And what's that award for?
d'ARBELOFF: It is an award for artists who are merging and technologically interesting. And you look at the list of people that have gotten this award, and it's absolutely prescient. We gave Diller and Scofidio the award when they had a restaurant to their name. And a cloud in the middle of Switzerland on the planning. And they are now rebuilding Lincoln Center and the High Line. And they were the architects for our ICA building here, which is one of the few really interesting modern buildings that have been built in Boston.
INTERVIEWER: And are members of the Council involved in choosing the winner of that award?
d'ARBELOFF: Some of the members of the Council are on that award. We are now also having a national advisory board to augment that.
d'ARBELOFF: Liz Diller came up and talked at to 35th anniversary of the Council. She was fabulous. She really explained the whole building, and why the back of it looks so awful.
INTERVIEWER: So the Council on this program are help bringing artists to campus, and giving MIT visibility in the arts?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. Part of the requirements for getting the award is spending time with the students on campus. A couple of weeks ago we had Bill Viola, the video artist, and he spent an entire week working with students. He was fabulous.
INTERVIEWER: You talked about being in a kind of silo when you were a graduate student.
d'ARBELOFF: Most graduate students are in siloes.
INTERVIEWER: Right. And I know that some of the graduate students have talked about wanting to do more art, and the Council is looking for ways to help them?
d'ARBELOFF: That's part of it.
d'ARBELOFF: Actually, we gave gave a scholarship to one of the graduate architects to go out to Pilchuck to study class out in Washington.
INTERVIEWER: So you have a committee that figures out how to dispense the money to students--
d'ARBELOFF: Oh, and I haven't even talked about grants.
INTERVIEWER: Oh good.
d'ARBELOFF: And grants, it's three meetings a year to award grants to undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and people who work at MIT, administrative people who work at MIT.
INTERVIEWER: Staff, yeah.
d'ARBELOFF: And then there's the Schnitzer Award, that's for students. And there is the student place over in the Stratton building, where they do the photography and painting and--
INTERVIEWER: In the Student Center.
d'ARBELOFF: In the Student Center, which is also part of what we do.
INTERVIEWER: So, once a year, or more than once a year you have members who meet and what, look at proposals?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. Do the grants thing. We did that last week.
INTERVIEWER: And you have different pots of money. One for students and--
d'ARBELOFF: No, it's all kind of one. And it depends so much on what the grant people want. Sometimes there's a lot of undergraduates, sometimes there isn't so many. You know, we always have at least one or two conversations about, yes this is interesting but is it art? [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: So are there people at MIT who are actually finding time to do art?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh. You would be amazed! And then there's all these student art groups, that we really don't have anything to do with, except when they come to us for grants There's an Indian dance group and the gamelan group. And some of them actually are academic studies. And some of them are just clubs. And the kids make their own costumes and design their own things.
INTERVIEWER: Right. So you define arts broadly. It's not just visual arts, or performing arts?
d'ARBELOFF: It's everything. Music has always been very strong at MIT. But the visual arts have not been for awhile, and they are much more now.
INTERVIEWER: Even with the School of Art and Architecture.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. Well it's getting stronger.
INTERVIEWER: Do any of the awards you've given stick in your mind? I mean, do you have favorite projects that just sort of come to you?
d'ARBELOFF: There are just so many different and interesting ones.
d'ARBELOFF: There's the bicycle, where you get something like 15 people all peddling away on one vehicle.
INTERVIEWER: And was that art?
d'ARBELOFF: Apparently. Apparently we decided it was, except they couldn't get up Mount Vernon Street. [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: Were they videoing this as they peddled?
d'ARBELOFF: Unfortunately not.
INTERVIEWER: And, do you have an agenda as the chair of this group, at this point? A set of priorities, or things--
d'ARBELOFF : There's a couple of things I'm very interested in doing. And one is setting an endowment for maintaining our large art collection, both the student loan pieces and the public art on campus. Because the university doesn't have the money for it, and as the Council since we were so involved in getting those pieces there, they really should be endowed.
d'ARBELOFF: So that's one of things that I'm very interested in doing.
INTERVIEWER: And you think it's possible?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, I think so.
INTERVIEWER: I guess in this time of collapsed markets and financial frenzies, and all the rest, money raising is difficult, and all the budgets are tight. Is MIT looking to this group more than ever, to sort of ante up money?
d'ARBELOFF: Well, everybody's working as hard as they can. I mean, what's going on here, you know? Nobody knows what's gonna happen.
d'ARBELOFF: But, you don't want to ruin the caliber of an institution like this.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think there's a risk of arts being shoved into the side?
d'ARBELOFF: Well, one of the problems is that when you're really strapped for cash, you see it all the time. That's the first place they cut. And I think it's very important to maintain the human side of the campus.
INTERVIEWER: Another piece, activity if the Council is field trips of some sort.
d'ARBELOFF: Oh yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Want to talk about what those are about, and why they exist and how they operate?
d'ARBELOFF: One of the advantages of the Council is the people that are involved with it are all people who were very interested in art. So when you go places, you can find people that know the way to get into houses and collections that you never would be able to get if you just signed up with a travel agent. And the trips have been just wonderful.
INTERVIEWER: How many do you think you've been on?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh, six I think.
INTERVIEWER: And Alex managed to accompany you?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have a favorite trip?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh. It's always the last one I've been on. [LAUGHS] We were in Prague last Fall.
INTERVIEWER: Ooh. Tell us about it.
d'ARBELOFF: It was wonderful.
INTERVIEWER: So how big a group of Arts Council members and others?
d'ARBELOFF: We were about twenty. A little less than twenty. And it was wonderful, except I thought my feet were gonna fall off.
INTERVIEWER: What kinds of things did you do and see?
d'ARBELOFF: We had a special dinner in the Lobkowitz Palace, with Prince William, who actually went to Milton with Nick d'Arbeloff.
INTERVIEWER: And so you had a bit of a hand in that.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. And we went to this wonderful baroque castle out in the country that has been restored and is a repository for art and fresh produce. It was just amazing. Every room had all these different art things in it, and it was just wonderful. Those were the two favorite things. But it was a wonderful trip.
INTERVIEWER: And the real purpose of a trip is what?
d'ARBELOFF: The purpose of the trip is bonding, entertainment, and education.
INTERVIEWER: For the people who are members of the Council? To make them more active and draw them into helping support the arts at MIT.
d'ARBELOFF: Exactly. I mean, it really is a terrific perk.
INTERVIEWER: Uhhuh. And is it hard to get members to join? Is there constant turnover?
d'ARBELOFF: No, it's actually a fairly stable group. And we have 100 people, and I'm sure that no two people in the Council agree about what art is.
INTERVIEWER: Alan Brody, the Associate Provost of the Arts, when he invited you, said he thought of drawing you in because you had been a writer. And had written some novels. How did you move from engineering into writing?
d'ARBELOFF: You know, it's all part of the same thing. I've liked to write for a long time. And when I retired, I did it because I had the time to do it, and it was enjoyable. I never published anything.
INTERVIEWER: Do the novels you've written talk about engineering or science, or academe?
d'ARBELOFF: Sure. All those things. Yeah. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Was one of them about a university I heard?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh yeah, yeah. That was the one that Chuck kind of said "Woo". It was about a college president in a small college in California. And it wasn't terribly flattering to the president. [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: Oh. You hadn't met Chuck yet right?
d'ARBELOFF: [LAUGHS] It was not about Chuck.
INTERVIEWER: And most people struggle to master one discipline, but, I mean, not only were you a successful engineer and writer, but you also created a boutique didn't you?
d'ARBELOFF: Well, no I had a friend who was a retailer.
d'ARBELOFF: And she found this boutique that was already created, that was for sale.
INTERVIEWER: On Newbury Street?
d'ARBELOFF: On Newbury Street.
INTERVIEWER: In Boston.
d'ARBELOFF: And I'd always kinda liked clothes, and so I spent five years in that.
INTERVIEWER: What kinds of things did you do there?
d'ARBELOFF: I wrote systems to keep track of our stuff. You know, inventory control systems. So what I was doing as an engineer.
INTERVIEWER: So you're really applying what--
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, and I handled all the back office stuff. And I did a little buying.
INTERVIEWER: This sounds like a better run store than most.
d'ARBELOFF: No. No store is better run. [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: It's a hard business.
d'ARBELOFF: Really tough.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever think once you were creating one set of systems, gee maybe I could sell them to other stores?
d'ARBELOFF: No, not at all.
INTERVIEWER: Do you do anything with retailing at this point? d'ARBELOFF: No, no I don't. I did it for five years. It was interesting, a real education.
INTERVIEWER: Did your background in engineering contribute to the writing at all? One of the issues for MIT and so many universities is really how do help their students learn to write, because communication is so important.
d'ARBELOFF: It is important. When I was at Stanford as a freshman, there was something called Bonehead english, and most engineering students took Bonehead english, to do just kinda basic writing. Because they couldn't write. You know, there's these two tracks that kind of separate from each other. But in order to do anything, or sell anything that you design, you have to know how to communicate it. And MIT's very aware of that right now. The communication aspect of undergraduate education is really important.
INTERVIEWER: Have you gotten involved and sat on any of the committees?
d'ARBELOFF: No, but when you're on visiting committees it's one of the major things.
INTERVIEWER: Uhhuh. And you were on one of the humanities committees?
INTERVIEWER: Was that an issue that came up then?
d'ARBELOFF: Absolutely. Because the humanities departments are the ones that really bear the brunt of communications courses.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any suggestions for them?
d'ARBELOFF: I always have suggestions.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think there is an art to teaching writing. I mean, how would you go about it, as you look back at your own--
d'ARBELOFF: I don't know, but I know that the teacher I had my freshman year at Stanford made it impossible for me to blather on for hundreds and hundreds of pages.
INTERVIEWER: As an engineering student, how did you feel about your writing course? Do you remember?
d'ARBELOFF: I thought it was pretty good. The first essay that I wrote was a bit of a shock to me. Because, he passed out ten sentences that really had to be changed, and I think I had written nine of them. [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: That doesn't seem very friendly. But by the end of the course, you knew how to do it?
d'ARBELOFF: It stuck, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: And when you talk to professors here, or deans or presidents here, do you say, here's what you should be doing in teaching writing, or--
d'ARBELOFF: No. No.
INTERVIEWER: You leave it to them?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, they're the ones that are involved with it.
INTERVIEWER: Have you talked with Alan as you got to know him over the years, Alan Brody about, he teaches theater and so forth, which is writing too.
d'ARBELOFF: Right. Some day, you oughta get Alan to show you the MIT walk.
INTERVIEWER: The MIT walk? What's that?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh, he's wonderful. It's just this whole body language of walking down the hall. And you see everybody going down the Infinite Corridor when he does that. It's just marvelous. He's got his head jutted out like that, he terrific.
INTERVIEWER: So do you think engineering was a good field for you to go into?
d'ARBELOFF: Terrific. It was terrific. Yeah, I knew that I couldn't go into architecture, because I knew I'd be doing drawings in the back room and not having any say in anything. Because there were enough women that they'd figured out a place for them. And it was good, you know, it allowed me to do things that I never would have done if I had taken a degree in education, for example.
INTERVIEWER: Like, what are some of the highlights, as you look back over your engineering career?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh, I was in at the beginning of the computer industry. And it was the most satisfying thing I had ever done. It either worked or it didn't work. It was instant gratification unlike anything I'd ever seen. You know, when you deal with people or systems or things like that, you're never sure whether you've got it right, or what was going on. But when you dealt with software programming, it either did what you wanted it to, or it didn't.
INTERVIEWER: Did you like programming?
d'ARBELOFF: I loved it. Absolutely loved it.
d'ARBELOFF: Because of that, you know this, ok, I've got it now!
INTERVIEWER: Have you come across other things in your life where you got that feeling?
d'ARBELOFF: No, if that was pretty much it, you know. It's--
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah, I mean there wasn't any nuance.
INTERVIEWER: Have you talked to, or do you talk to or advise women engineering students now, undergraduates or graduates?
d'ARBELOFF: Not on any organized basis. I used to go around and talk to a high schools, when MIT had that-- Amiti, I think, had the program, going around talking to high schools. And it was so depressing, because by the time they managed to gather these young women in, you started talking to them and realize they had opted out of all the math and science that would have enabled them to pursue a career in engineering.
INTERVIEWER: And it was hard to catch up?
d'ARBELOFF: And you can't-- Once you don't do that, it's very difficult.
INTERVIEWER: Why do you think that was happening? I mean, it's a little easier to understand, maybe 50 years ago when there were bigger divides perhaps between what women did and what men did?
d'ARBELOFF: I think there's still a lot of that. A lot of it in families. A lot of pressure not to do that.
INTERVIEWER: What did you say when you went out to the high schools. Did you have a speech you gave to the young women?
d'ARBELOFF: I just talked about what I did, and how exciting if was.
INTERVIEWER: And, do you think they got turned on?
d'ARBELOFF: They got turned on. And then you talk to them, and they haven't had advanced math since-- By seventh grade they were being focused off into something else.
INTERVIEWER: Uhhuh. Your daughters didn't go through that, I take it.
d'ARBELOFF: Oh no.
INTERVIEWER: Did you raise them in a kind of math-science household? You talked about how, when you were growing up you were hands on and some of the appliances--
d'ARBELOFF: All four of them did everything. We all did these projects together.
INTERVIEWER: What kinds of projects?
d'ARBELOFF: Things like, we'd make up these circuit boards, so you could figure out how you'd light lights, and how you can do things in parallel. That kind of stuff. We'd all grow plants. We'd all--
INTERVIEWER: So they thought like scientists. Their minds worked--
d'ARBELOFF: They also all knew how to cook. They all of knew how to sew.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. And how many of them have gone into science or engineering?
d'ARBELOFF: None of them.
INTERVIEWER: None of them.
d'ARBELOFF: None of them.
INTERVIEWER: What do they do?
d'ARBELOFF: There's two in the movie business. And one runs a company that makes loyalty cards for restaurant chains. And Kate the oldest, who has a degree in computer science, designs jewelry.
INTERVIEWER: So she started down that path.
INTERVIEWER: And then branched out. As you come through campus, you say it's a very different place. In what ways?
d'ARBELOFF: There's a lot more women there.
INTERVIEWER: That's true. Yeah.
d'ARBELOFF: A lot more women. And a lot more things going on other than just engineering projects.
INTERVIEWER: Uhhuh. Do you think Alex as an undergraduate here focused very narrowly on science and engineering? Or was he able to broaden out?
d'ARBELOFF: I have no idea.
INTERVIEWER: He didn't talk about--
d'ARBELOFF: He did. But I mean, what we talked about mostly was his friend's car ran out of gas on the Mass Avenue bridge, and they had to push it across. And the fraternity house and hiding the charter and, you know, that kind of stuff.
INTERVIEWER: Did he and you get involved in any of the housing issues for MIT. There was a big question of whether to bring all the freshman onto campus for the first--
d'ARBELOFF: I'm sure he did. Because he was on the Corporation. I wasn't.
INTERVIEWER: Right. So that wasn't something-- I'd love to come back to the visiting committees. Could you talk about, you've served on some very different ones. If you could talk a little about the whole structure and whether they're useful and what people do and what you did on the one you were on?
d'ARBELOFF: I think it is one of the most useful things that we do at MIT with the alumni. It's a real win-win situation. Because you come back to MIT and there's a lot of people that are not actually involved with MIT, that are on the visiting committees. That are just experts in that field. So from the point of the participants, you get to exchange ideas and information with all sorts of incredibly interesting people. But, the other thing is you really get to know that department in the two days that you are there. Of course now with email, there's all these auxiliary discussions to go on. And you really feel on a visiting committee that your voice is heard. The senior administration hears the report. And you can see changes that are made in that department as a result of the visiting committees. There are a lot of schools that have advisory boards. And you get dragged off the campus, and you get shown around. But you don't ever feel that there is a cause and effect there. But the MIT Visiting Committee is amazingly different.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned that one of the ones you served on was the aero and astro department. And was that the first do you think?
d'ARBELOFF: I can't remember what order. It was during a time when Ed Crawley was really changing and enlivening the department, which had gotten kind of small. And it was a little painful.
INTERVIEWER: So he was the department chair and he had a vision?
d'ARBELOFF: He was the department chair and he had a vision. And it was very exciting, because you could see the changes in the department as a result of his vision. Remember the movie Good Will Hunting?
d'ARBELOFF: There's a scene where he's down in the maintenance department.
d'ARBELOFF: And it's just awful.
d'ARBELOFF: It's this dingy, horrible place. And I leaned over to Alex, and I said "It's the Aero-Astro Lab." [LAUGHS]
INTERVIEWER: Was it literally, or did it just remind you of it.
d'ARBELOFF: Oh, it sure looked like it! It was just awful.
INTERVIEWER: So, was he or was the committee able to change that?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. I mean they've got great facilities. It was kind of a prototype for rehabbing a lot of the Bosworth buildings. You know, the way they were able to change to change wiring by having those cages up in the ceiling. Have you seen that part of it?
d'ARBELOFF: So, the wires are kind of exposed, and they run along the corridors. So that if you need to add a different kind of cable, or some more equipment, you don't have to blast holes in the wall to do it.
INTERVIEWER: And, to what extent did the Department Chairman have to run his ideas by the committee before he put them in? Or did he use you as a sounding board?
d'ARBELOFF: He used us as a sounding board during his whole time.
INTERVIEWER: Individually, or as a group?
d'ARBELOFF: As a group.
d'ARBELOFF: And it was a very interesting experience. The one thing that all the visiting committees do, as you know is you can talk to each group of students separately. So you can hear what the undergraduates have to say. You can hear what the graduate students have to say. What the junior professor faculty, the senior faculty. And you can really make changes in the department based on the information.
INTERVIEWER: Uhhuh. Do you remember anything in particular? Ideas that might have come from the committee that then showed up in real life.
d'ARBELOFF: I know when we started the fund for education, one of the incentives was talking to graduate students as to how unprepared they all felt about teaching, about learning how to teach. And that has come through all the visiting committees I've ever been on. That always comes through. Have you found that to be the case?
INTERVIEWER: Yes. That and not enough funding.
d'ARBELOFF: Not enough funding. Not enough space. But the thing that comes through for graduate students is, hey I've got to do this as a profession, and I'm not getting any help here.
INTERVIEWER: Um-hum. What other departments, visiting committees do you recall?
d'ARBELOFF: Philosophy and linguistics.
d'ARBELOFF: Which is fascinating--
INTERVIEWER: Had you done anything-- I mean you'd been in aero and astro.
d'ARBELOFF: I was in danger of flunking philosophy at Stanford.
INTERVIEWER: And here you ended up on this committee. Because I guess they said "You're a writer." [LAUGHS] What was that like?
INTERVIEWER: I love it. So interesting.
INTERVIEWER: It was really two departments under that--
d'ARBELOFF: It's two department, yeah. And sometimes they're closer together than at other times. Sometimes they kind of march in parallel.
INTERVIEWER: Did you feel like the committee functioned the same way as the aero and astro one? Or do they each have different characters?
d'ARBELOFF: Well, it gets different needs and different subjects. But, the basic overall structure for visiting committees is very much the same.
d'ARBELOFF: And you do what needs to be done at the time.
INTERVIEWER: Right. With philosophy and linguistics, do you remember any of the challenges that--
d'ARBELOFF: It's always challenges. In any humanities department, where you have a tiny department, it's very fragile. Excellent but very fragile.
INTERVIEWER: Right. Is there anything you could do about?
d'ARBELOFF: You can't make the world's largest-- But the funny thing about the linguistics group, that all the people on the visiting committee all over the world actually had studied at MIT.
d'ARBELOFF: Noam Chomsky was the seed of all this, and then it got scattered all over.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember him saying very much during the committee meetings, or being there?
d'ARBELOFF: No, he wasn't. He had gone on to other things, you know. He was--
INTERVIEWER: He was still involved in the department but not really shaping it.
d'ARBELOFF: Right. Not really shaping it at all. He had many other fish to fry at that point.
INTERVIEWER: Are you still active with the fund for excellence? Do you get involved in--
d'ARBELOFF: No, Alex was very involved with it. I don't get involved.
INTERVIEWER: Have your children become involved with their universities in the same way? Any of them?
d'ARBELOFF: No. Except Stanford. Alexandra's been involved with Stanford. She's local.
INTERVIEWER: Did they ever say, you know, mom, dad, why do you pour so much time into this?
d'ARBELOFF: No. They understand.
INTERVIEWER: It was a given.
INTERVIEWER: And it's still a big part of your life?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh yeah, it still is, yes.
INTERVIEWER: What types of-- well you're sitting here this morning talking to us.
d'ARBELOFF: I'm sitting here this morning!
INTERVIEWER: And the Arts Council's probably your biggest activity?
d'ARBELOFF: Arts Council, you know visiting committees. I'm on various groups, you know. Picking out people for awards and things like that.
INTERVIEWER: Mostly for the Arts Council at this point, or for others too?
d'ARBELOFF: No, for other stuff too.
INTERVIEWER: Such as?
d'ARBELOFF: You know, Greg and I were on the thing for the alumni awards.
INTERVIEWER: My husband Greg, and the Alumni Association Awards Committee.
INTERVIEWER: Right, which means annually. So yes, you get a big tome to look at.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. That's really fun.
INTERVIEWER: Read everybody's background.
INTERVIEWER: So you're involved in other alumni activities?
INTERVIEWER: After spending this much time on campus and seeing it from so many different angles, if somebody said to you "we're thinking of starting a new college. What should we do, you know, de novo?", would you have things where you would say "Hmm, this is what I'd really like to change." Or, "Here's what I would do differently." or in other words, you did a fund for experimentation. If you could do a whole college?
d'ARBELOFF: Well, there's an awful lot of people trying that right now. The Women's Engineering College at Smith, for example. Olin.
INTERVIEWER: Right. Have you been out to see the Smith Engineering Initiative?
d'ARBELOFF: I have not. I've talked to people.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think they run it differently because it's teaching engineering to women? And is that good?
d'ARBELOFF: I think you have to live in the world that you live in. But sometimes it's nice to get away from all those kind of pressures for awhile. So there's very heavy emphasis on both sides.
INTERVIEWER: Uhhuh. And Olin, that as you say is a new college for engineering that was created from the ground up, I guess maybe five or ten years ago?
d'ARBELOFF: I think they just graduating their first class. I don't think it's that old.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Have you been out to see that? That's in Massachusetts.
d'ARBELOFF: It's over by Babson. I haven't been out. I haven't had time.
INTERVIEWER: Have you heard much about it?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh, I've heard quite a bit about it. But I haven't been out there.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think?
d'ARBELOFF: Ah, I think it's interesting.
d'ARBELOFF: You know, and we can all learn from others.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think a place like MIT could start-- I guess MIT has had various experimental educational things. When I was here in the sixties, there were two or three small educational groups where as a freshman, instead of going to all the big classes you could sign on to these small groups. Did you come across any of that?
d'ARBELOFF: No. I didn't. You know, as I said I was in my own little silo.
INTERVIEWER: Have you gone back to the mechanical engineering department much, since your experience as a graduate student? Do you engage with them at all?
d'ARBELOFF: Sure. Yeah. I know all those people.
INTERVIEWER: And how much has that changed?
d'ARBELOFF: A lot. Mary Boyce is the department head.
INTERVIEWER: So they have a woman as department head.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. Alex and I got involved with a mechanical engineering program, that actually started in the electrical engineering department, called WTP. And what they do is they take young women between their junior and senior year in high school, and for four weeks they teach them a crash course in what engineering is all about. And that's been running for, I think three years now. And, managed out of twenty women something like seven or eight end up at MIT in the department.
INTERVIEWER: Are they local high school?
d'ARBELOFF: They're from around the country.
INTERVIEWER: Around the world?
d'ARBELOFF: It's been just in the United States. MIT doesn't have a lot of undergraduates that aren't from the US.
INTERVIEWER: Well. About eight percent.
d'ARBELOFF: Eight percent. So that's a fairly small number.
INTERVIEWER: Right. Larger numbers of graduate students.
d'ARBELOFF: A lot more graduates.
INTERVIEWER: And this is a program run by the mechanical engineering folks?
d'ARBELOFF: The other mechanical engineering. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: And, do you come talk to these students?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. I've had lunch with them. Alex and I went to the final dinner. And, they love it. It's wonderful. It's a terrific program. And a lot of the women that don't get into MIT have gone to other places in engineering.
INTERVIEWER: And do they ask you about what your life was like in engineering?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. Oh they're terrific.
d'ARBELOFF: It's a wonderful program.
INTERVIEWER: And a good career for a woman or a man at this point?
d'ARBELOFF: Absolutely. If half the world doesn't design it, we're in deep trouble.
INTERVIEWER: And you talk about how special MIT students are. What gives you that feeling? In other words, what led you to this conviction?
d'ARBELOFF: They work so hard. You know, they're so involved in so many different things. And they put so much intensity into everything they do. It's amazing. And that is, you know, still part of the MIT culture.
INTERVIEWER: It hasn't changed over the years?
d'ARBELOFF: It hasn't changed over the years.
INTERVIEWER: Even as other things have.
d'ARBELOFF: Even as other things have. And I'm firmly convinced that at this point in time, it's probably the best undergraduate education in the world. And that's what Larry Summers was trying to do to Harvard.
INTERVIEWER: [LAUGHS] What do you think makes it such a special education? You have the students who are sharp, but what do they get here that's special.
d'ARBELOFF: I mean, there's a lot of students that are sharp. In many different colleges. But they just don't work as hard.
d'ARBELOFF: You know there's that fire hose mentality that's still there.
INTERVIEWER: Where does it come from? I mean, did the teachers--
d'ARBELOFF: I have no idea. You know, I wasn't an undergraduate here.
INTERVIEWER: Right. Do you think it extends to the graduate students?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh, I think so. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: How has your involvement-- I mean, it feels like in some ways it probably took over your life, when Alex was Chairman. It became a lot of what you did.
d'ARBELOFF: It was a lot of what I did. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Do you look at it as a good experience?
INTERVIEWER: In what way?
d'ARBELOFF: I mean, because what's not to like about spending your time with a lot of really smart people.
INTERVIEWER: [LAUGHS] And they took their alumni seriously. In other words, they didn't just say, you know, we're faculty. We have our students.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. We know what we're doing. Leave us alone.
INTERVIEWER: They don't say that?
d'ARBELOFF: Not that. No.
INTERVIEWER: Were there any surprises to you as you went through that period?
d'ARBELOFF: No. I don't think so. No.
INTERVIEWER: Special friends you emerged with?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh. So many.
d'ARBELOFF: You. I never would have met you!
INTERVIEWER: [LAUGHS] Well, and we're just getting to know each other now.
INTERVIEWER: And I think you got to know Alan Brody's wife?
d'ARBELOFF: Oh, absolutely. Just so many people.
INTERVIEWER: And professors that you--
d'ARBELOFF: Oh, absolutely.
INTERVIEWER: Mechanical engineering in particular?
d'ARBELOFF: No, all over.
INTERVIEWER: Aero and astro?
INTERVIEWER: So, it keeps you on your toes?
d'ARBELOFF: Exactly. Always something interesting going on. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Did your children ever say, you're giving too much time to MIT?
d'ARBELOFF: No, no, no. They never say things like that.
INTERVIEWER: You probably gave them a lot of time too.
INTERVIEWER: Other than taking your older daughter through MIT at one point, did they come to many events here?
d'ARBELOFF: They did when they were little. They had one of these end of the year kind of things. It was a fifteenth reunion, or the twentieth reunion with Alex for MIT. And they had a special kids' program there, and after the reunion was over, the kinds program went on, and the kids didn't want to go home!
INTERVIEWER: That's probably par for the course.
INTERVIEWER: Science Days. I think MIT puts on science days for the community. Did they ever come to those?
INTERVIEWER: They got it at home probably?
d'ARBELOFF: They got a lot of it at home. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Most of your action at this point, activity is the Arts Council. And are you on any visiting committees?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. I'm still on philosophy and linguistics. And I'm still on the humanities.
INTERVIEWER: And those meet about every two years?
d'ARBELOFF: Every two years. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: How's humanities at MIT doing?
d'ARBELOFF: They're fantastic. Nobody knows about them. They're wonderful.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think that can be changed?
d'ARBELOFF: Wonderful writing program. It's funny, because when Kate went to Carnegie Mellon. Carnegie Mellon his two streams. One is the performing arts, visual arts stream. And the other is the technological stream. But there's no middle ground. There's no humanities. I mean, a lot of the humanities are actually taught at University of Pittsburgh and they just go over to take classes if they want to. But MIT has this wonderful humanities core, that actually you could major in. Writing, play writing, music, a lot of things.
d'ARBELOFF: And, so there is a way to change your life if you're not really a technology person, but you still have that technological background.
INTERVIEWER: How often are you back on campus these days? Are you here every week? d'ARBELOFF: It depends on whether it's high season at MIT or not.
INTERVIEWER: [LAUGHS] High season being Arts Council, or humanities meeting, or?
INTERVIEWER: In October, you were there a lot. You were there for the international program, MISTI. Was that one you were involved in?
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. I was at that dinner. And I was also there when George Soros was on campus.
INTERVIEWER: What was that for?
d'ARBELOFF: He was over at Sloan speaking with the students at Sloan. Then he spoke at Kresge.
INTERVIEWER: And so you came to listen both times.
d'ARBELOFF: Yeah. And then there was a dinner for him afterwards.
INTERVIEWER: Uhhuh. So you're still coming pretty regularly?
d'ARBELOFF: Pretty regularly, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think MIT needs to change the way it's represented in the world, in terms of the arts and humanities? And do you think that's possible?
d'ARBELOFF: Well, I hope so. Because we're working on it really hard. People are always surprised.
d'ARBELOFF: I think the farther away you go from Cambridge, the more people know about MIT. The school is looked at with great awe in the rest of the world.