Interview with Professor Werner Baum

Dr Taba recounts:

In 1971, the twenty-third session of the WMO Executive Committee (now Executive Council) re-established its Panel of Experts on Meteorological Education and Training under the chairmanship of Alf Nyberg1. It was composed of nine eminent meteorologists, including Prof. J. Van Mieghem, founder of the WMO Education and Training Programme—and Werner Baum. Although I did not know him personally, I had heard a great deal about Werner Baum’s achievements. As head of the education and training activities of the WMO Secretariat, I was well aware of meteorological training programmes at universities around the world and the story of the creation of meteorological studies at Florida State University (FSU) was fascinating


Werner Baum

Werner Baum in 1988

Werner Baum studied mathematics for his first degree and earned his master’s degree and doctorate in meteorology at the University of Chicago. After World War II, educational facilities were sorely needed all over the USA for the returning veterans. Florida was the last state to have public higher education segregated by sex. The segregation could not survive and Florida State College for women became Florida State University in 1947. It was decided to build a strong College of Arts and Sciences. A new Dean for the college was appointed and he decided to make his major moves in the natural sciences. He was struck by the potential in meteorology, a discipline which had emerged on the academic scene during and immediately after the War. Furthermore, there was no academic meteorology in the south-eastern USA. Indeed, with the exception of Pennsylvania State University, there was no public university in this field in the entire eastern USA. The new Dean invited Werner Baum to join him and move as far and as quickly as practical towards a full meteorology course. This was a tempting offer for Werner, who was only 26, but it also involved some uncertainties such as location, segregation and the possibility that the deep South might be a scientific wasteland. He accepted the appointment, effective 1 July 1949, as Associate Professor of Meteorology in the Department of Physics and Meteorology. Soon after, the Dean authorized the recruitment of a second faculty member in meteorology, Tom Gleeson. The Department obtained some meteorological observing equipment which was promptly mounted, announcing the presence of meteorology, and this was followed by the decision to have a separate Department of Meteorology. A bachelor’s degree programme was set up and attended by a few daring students. During these early days of the Department of Meteorology, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) was looking for an editor for its Journal of Meteorology and they found the person they needed in Werner Baum.

In subsequent years, Werner became Dean of the graduate school and, later, Vice-President for academic affairs. In 1963, he left FSU for a series of distinguished positions at other universities: Vice-President of the University of Miami, Vice-President of New York University, President of the University of Rhode Island and Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. He was also appointed Deputy Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) by President Lyndon Johnson. Sixteen years later, Werner returned to FSU as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Finally, after more than 30 years of academic life, he decided to retire but did not stop working.

My main purpose in recounting this short history of meteorology at FSU is to show why I was so happy when Werner joined the WMO EC Panel on Education and Training. A man with his knowledge and experience, I thought, would be an invaluable addition. I was not wrong. During the period 1971–1979, Werner was involved in virtually all aspects of the meteorological education and training activities of the organization, such as promoting the training of personnel of national Meteorological Services of developing countries; coordinating the training activities of the WMO technical commissions; choosing the most suitable training material for use by WMO-supported training centres; advising the WMO Executive Committee on seminars and conferences having a bearing on education and training; and so on. All these duties Werner assumed with great competence and modesty.

When I asked him to express his opinion about the education and training activities of WMO, he said that they were not spectacular but exceedingly useful. In my view, i.e. that of a person closely associated with the initiation and development of the Education and Training Programme, WMO activities in that field are more than spectacular. We only have to compare human resources in meteorology in the developing countries in the early 1960s and today. A few international organizations and institutions set up models similar to those of WMO and we owe this success to people like Werner Baum. The WMO EC Panel of Experts on Education and Training was established in 1965 and is still going strong. It is perhaps the longest lasting group ever set up by EC, as well as being extremely solid and effective.

The first of Werner’s many scientific publications date back to 1944 and he continues to write. At present he is Dean Emeritus, College of Arts and Sciences, and Professor of Meteorology, FSU; Chancellor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; President Emeritus, University of Rhode Island; and Research Associate, Skidmore College. Among the honours he has received are the special citation of the AMS (1962); the Honors Medal of the Florida Academy of Sciences (1964); a Carnegy Corporation Administrative Fellowship (1964); honorary Doctorates of Science from Mount St. Joseph College (1971), Husson College (1972) and the University of Rhode Island (1974); honorary membership of the AMS (1993); fellowship of the AMS, the Geophysical Union, the American Association of the Advancement of Science and the American Geographical Society. His is also a member of Phi Kappa Phi, Sigma Xi, Beta Gamma Sigma, Chi Epsilon Pi and Sigma Pi Sigma.

In his family life, Werner has been even more successful. After marrying the woman of his life, he received two awards: two daughters, born in 1949 and 1951. Shirley and Werner Baum are at present living in a comfortable apartment in a beautiful park full of pine-trees. They had made arrangements for me to stay next door to them and I was therefore able to spend most of my time together with them in this relaxing and calm environment. Our peace of mind was interrupted only occasionally by the news about hurricane Georges, only a few hundred kilometres away— the closest I have ever been to a tropical cyclone!

I was happy to see the Baums again for this interview, which took place in September 1998.

H.T. — You were born in Germany and emigrated to the USA where you became a US citizen. Would you like to say something about it?

W.A.B. — I remember little of my first 10 years in Germany, except for the brown shirts marching in the streets. Fortunately, my father was a far-sighted, bold man. We left Germany in 1933, soon after its darkest period began, and emigrated to Chicago. My father, who had given up a thriving dental practice, had to start all over again and I had to learn English. I eventually graduated from Nicholas Senn High School, where I met my wife in ninth-grade algebra class.

H.T. — You went to the University of Chicago and obtained a B.S. in mathematics in 1943 and an M.S. in meteorology in 1944. Could you please tell us about the meteorological set-up at the university in those days and who were your professors?

W.A.B. — I was a mathematics student looking for a way to apply that knowledge in wartime. The University of Chicago had just started a programme in meteorology and appointed Carl-Gustaf Rossby to head it. Horace Byers convinced me to try the subject. My fist meteorology course was from Victor Starr at 8 a.m. and, despite the hour and Victor’s monotone, I found the subject fascinating.

H.T. — From 1944 to 1946 you were in the US Navy. Was that compulsory military service? What did you do in the Navy?

W.A.B. — I had been deferred from military service because I was teaching meteorology to Air Force cadets and Navy officers. In 1944, manpower became scarce, and I was drafted into the Navy. Not having completed a full decade as a US citizen, I was not eligible for a commission and became the only enlisted man in the Navy with an M.S. in meteorology. Captain Howard Orville, then head of the naval weather service, saw to it that I became a petty officer and was sent to the Atlantic Fleet Weather Central in Norfolk. There I worked with some of my former students but could not socialize with them. Eventually, I was assigned to Russian-language school at Boulder, where I was commissioned, but the War was over by he time I finished. I spent some time supervising the translation of Russian meteorological material before being demobilized.

H.T. — You returned to Chicago University and obtained a Ph.D. in meteorology in 1948. What was the field of your interest and what was the title of your paper?

W.A.B. — My primary field in doctoral work was microclimatology, under the guidance of Prof. Erwin Biel. He was on the faculty of Rutgers University but spent his summers in Chicago and was one of Rossby’s personal favourites. My dissertation dealt with aspects of the vertical temperature distribution in the layer of air just a few feet above the ground.

H.T. — After you obtained your Ph.D., you went to the University of Maryland. What were your assignments?

W.A.B. — I went to the University of Maryland when everything except my dissertation was completed. Maryland had a contract with the Quartermaster Corps of the US Army to study the climate near the ground and they needed someone of my background and interests. A portion of the contract work became my dissertation and, in my second year, I also taught a couple of microclimatology courses.

H.T. — The next 14 years, 1949 to 1963, you were at FSU. You occupied a number of important positions. Could you please tell us about them in chronological order?

W.A.B. — My big breaks came in 1949. I was invited to start a programme in meteorology at FSU, which had just been converted from a women’s college. Can you imagine that happening to a 26-year old? Then, before moving, I was invited to become editor of the Journal of Meteorology, now the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, a position I held for 11 years. The meteorological programme at FSU proved to be highly successful in both teaching and research. I happened to have been in the right place at the right time, but others jumped to the conclusion that I had administrative ability. Thus, I was successively selected for the posts of Director of University Research, Dean of the Graduate School, Dean of the Faculties, and Vice-President for Academic Affairs from 1957 to 1963. Having already given up any research pretensions for the essentially full-time duties of chairman and editor, I felt I might as well follow this path.

H.T. — In 1963, you moved to the University of Miami and stayed there until 1965. Why?

W.A.B. — I had a kind of 14-year itch after so many years at FSU, but basically I moved for money—the only time I ever did this. The University of Miami, which was not much of a university at the time, had a new president and he needed a “hatchet man” to put the house straight. He offered me well over 50 per cent more compensation to make a horizontal move and I had two growing daughters. Most importantly, at Miami I imported a number of new deans.

H.T. — You were Vice-President for Scientific Affairs and Professor of Meteorology at New York University from 1965 to 1967. What did your daily activities consist of?

W.A.B. — New York was my move to a major university. As it turned out, however, it was a boring and unnecessary job. I supervised the office which handled grants and contracts and I was a general consultant and adviser to science departments and on government matters, but I had no feeling of accomplishment.

H.T. — In 1967, you joined the Environmental Science Services Administration, where you occupied a prestigious position. Could you tell us about it?

W.A.B. — Bob White2, who was Administrator of the Environmental Science Services Administration ((ESSA), predecessor of NOAA), learned of my unhappiness at New York University and asked me to become his deputy, subject to approval of the Department of Commerce, the White House and the US Senate. l agreed and was happy this time to take a big cut in pay. Bob spent much time on WMO matters in his role as our Permanent Representative and was active on the Stratton Commission, which was examining US ocean policy mechanisms in detail. This left me to do a great deal of the internal management of the organization, which was responsible for coastal surveying and mapping, in addition to all civilian weather, climate and hydrological activity.

H.T. — You then went to the University of Rhode Island and stayed there from 1968 to 1973. Please tell us about it.

W.A.B. — In 1968, I was appointed president of the University of Rhode Island, a land-grant institution of about 12 000 students. Of the presidents appointed in the USA that year, fewer than half were still in office three years later. It was the period of great campus turmoil in connexion with Viet Nam. In some respects, the problems were particularly pronounced in Rhode Island, a small state with a politically quite liberal but socially conservative population, and this was a time of sexual revolution not relished by parents. While we were able to make some academic progress even under these circumstances, politics caught up with me and by 1973 it was clearly in the institution’s and my best interests to move on.


University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, May 1978—Werner Baum (left) with Robert White, who received an honorary doctorate.

H.T. — From 1973 to 1979, you were at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as chancellor and professor. What exactly did you do there?

W.A.B. — The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is the urban doctoral institution of Wisconsin, an off-shoot of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Although quite young, it has almost 25 000 students and an emphasis on urban matters in its programmes. The Chancellor is the chief executive officer of the campus. In the USA, we use the titles of president and chancellor more or less interchangeably for that position. One of the more significant accomplishments during my administration was to acquire the map collection of the American Geographical Society. The University has the largest map collection in the western hemisphere, including many treasures of the Middle Ages. Further, during my stay in Milwaukee, I led a rather public struggle with the US National Security Agency and the Department of Commerce, which had censored an Assistant Professor of ours who had obtained a patent in cryptology for computer data. This episode led to my receiving from the American Association for the Advancement of Science its Academic Freedom and Responsibility Award. I left Milwaukee reluctantly after six years, not only because I was invited back to FSU but because there were indications that my health would not permit me to continue for long the hectic life of Chancellor.

H.T. — Was it common in those days to move around and change assignments so often?

W.A.B. — The 1960s were a period of significant growth in both American science and higher education. Mobility was far greater than in the 1970s and 1980s. Nevertheless, I suspect I moved more than most. Nevertheless, all the moves— except perhaps the one from Rhode Island— were voluntary and for what I deemed good reason. Fortunately, my wife is an accommodating woman, the children did not seem to suffer, and I gained much experience.

H.T. — You finally learned how to keep a job when you were appointed Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Meteorology at FSU in 1979. How long did you stay there and what were your main duties?

W.A.B. — My main duty at FSU was administrative supervision of the College, consisting of all the science and humanities departments and some related institutes. I had several hundred faculty plus research and support personnel. Almost all my time was spent on recruitment, evaluation and compensation of personnel, as well as on budget and major programme issues. I had an Associate Dean who handled students matters. I stayed in this post for 11 years, through a series of heart attacks and major surgeries, until retirement.

H.T. — In almost all your academic life you have been involved in education and training. After almost half a century of experience, what major differences have you noted between education and training in the late 1950s and nowadays?

W.A.B. — The changes in meteorological education and training over my lifetime have been as fantastic as those of the science and profession itself. Theory has advanced from Rossby waves to numerical models containing fine points of physics. Practice has advanced from map plotting and frontal extrapolation to the interpretation and refinement of guidance products from central offices. All of this has led to major changes, especially in laboratory instruction. Indeed, the once fairly clear distinction between dynamic and synoptic meteorology has long since been washed out.

H.T. — For almost a decade, you were a member of the WMO/EC Panel on Education and Training. Could you reminisce about some of the important events of this period?

W.A.B. — It would be difficult to single out one event, or even a small number, as having been especially important. The WMO’s education and training activity is not spectacular or dramatic; but it is exceedingly useful and important. As a representative of an advanced nation keenly aware of our worldwide interdependence, I derived great satisfaction from playing a small role in enhancing the technical capabilities of developing nations through activities such as training centres, fellowship programmes, preparation of instructional material and the then flourishing voluntary assistance programme. Slowly but steadily, we were improving the quality of meteorological personnel at all levels.

H.T. — Your association with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) started in late 1950s and continued well through the 1990s. What were the main tasks of the group?

W.A.B. — FSU was one of the 13 founding universities of UCAR. Seymour Hess and I were the FSU representatives and were on the original Board of Trustees. Our primary purposes were the establishment and operation of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). My most important assignment as trustee was to serve as chairman of the Site Selection Committee for NCAR, though that became a formality after selection of Walter Orr Roberts as the first Director. He arranged for acquisition of the mesa top, where NCAR is still located, and one of my outstanding memories is flying there in a rickety old helicopter.

Werner Baum is sworn in as Deputy Administrator of ESSA in January 1967 by an official of the US Department of Commerce. Robert White (center) looks on.

In 1963, when I left for the University of Miami, which was then not a member of UCAR, my Board colleagues were good enough to elect me corporate secretary to keep me on the Board. I had to resign, of course, when I entered government service. By 1972, problems arose which caused the National Science Foundation and UCAR to appoint a “joint evaluation committee”, which I chaired. The findings of that committee brought about some major changes, including the resignation of Walter Orr Roberts, though that had not been the committee’s intent. Upon my return to FSU, I served an additional three years as a trustee and chaired several committees. The role which NCAR has played in the evolution of meteorology in the last 40 years indicates the wisdom and fortitude of the key players, such as Lloyd Berkner, Tom Malone3, Henry Houghton, Horace Byers, Earl Droessler and others in developing and implementing this concept in the days when meteorology was a small enterprise.

H.T. — You were the chairman of the Nuclear Safety Working Group of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from 1987 to 1990. What were the main tasks of the Group?

W.A.B. — In late 1989, the USA launched the spaceship Galileo, which is now near Jupiter. The power required aboard the spaceship is generated by a nuclear device. The general concern about anything nuclear in the USA, in combination with memories of the Challenger shuttle accident, caused special concern in Congress about a calamity during the launch or one or the near-Earth fly-bys required by the complex orbit. NASA set up a group of diverse, external experts for an additional safety check; it included, for example, a health physicist and a materials specialist. Perhaps because university presidents are accustomed to dealing with specialists across the spectrum, NASA asked me to chair this group. Before the process was finished, I had to appear before a Congressional committee and the Science Adviser to the President.

H.T. — For most of the period 1971 to 1979, you were a member of the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere (NACOA). Your appointments were endorsed by three US Presidents. Could you please expand on this?

W.A.B. — NACOA, which no longer exists, was, for some years, part of the structure for shaping atmospheric and oceanic policy in the USA. The group consisted of about 20 scientists, businessmen and politicians appointed by the President for three-year terms. I was appointed by Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter. The Committee submitted reports and recommendations to the Congress and to the President. While it had some influence, it was never great and the appointments eventually became political rewards for individuals of limited interest. The Committee is not missed.

H.T. — Your contacts with the AMS have been remarkable. I shall leave you to enumerate your activities.

W.A.B. — Essentially continuously since 1949, I have had a consequential relationship with the AMS. It has played a major role in my life, and for that I am most grateful. It has permitted me to make many good friends and acquaintances, and made it possible for me to maintain professional activities while I was in full-time academic administration; I did not wish to lose touch with meteorology, which took me into academia in the first place.

Shortly after accepting the appointment at FSU and before actually moving there, Horace Byers, then chairman of the AMS Publications Committee, asked me to accept the editorship of the Journal of Meteorology, predecessor of the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences. I suspect he seized upon me because he knew that I had been the sports editor of the student newspaper at the University of Chicago. In those days, the Journal editor did almost everything himself, from receiving the manuscripts to making up the pages in final form. These were years in which I believe I knew, on a first-name basis, every Ph.D. in meteorology in the USA. Had I not enjoyed it, I would not have spent more than a decade in the editorship.

I also served as a councillor, a commissioner and on many committees over the years. In 1976, some 18 years after entering full-time academic administration, I was surprised to be president-elect in competition against Joanne Simpson4, for whom I have the highest respect. She was a fellow graduate student at Chicago and was elected to the presidency a few years later. After my time as president, I returned to various committee assignments, including the chairmanship of the successful Investment Committee and the chairmanship of the Search Committee, which brought Richard Hallgren5 to the AMS.

Surely one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of my life came in 1992, when I learned that I was to become an Honorary Member. I had never expected to join that select group of people! I am now trying, with partial success, to shed my remaining duties with the Society, having to do with the Investment Committee, Meteorological and Geoastrophysical Abstracts, and the new Meteorological Glossary. Perhaps Ron McPherson, the new Executive Director, will be more accommodating. I have surely outlived my usefulness.

H.T. — The list of your appointments in various capacities in the National Academy of Sciences is indeed most impressive. I am not certain where to start my questions. Why don’t you describe them yourself?

W.A.B. — Our National Academy of Sciences, through its National Research Council, has long maintained a series of committees which evaluate the various scientific disciplines, make recommendations to the Government, and study issues at the request of the Congress or government agencies. Over the years, I have, from time to time, served on such bodies in meteorology and climatology, bodies which usually had much influence on policy decisions. Even the birth of the NCAR can be traced back to one of the earliest recommendations of the group, which then had cognizance over meteorology. My own involvement probably peaked in connexion with the National Climate Programme, an outgrowth of the extremely cold winters in the eastern USA in 1976/1977 and 1977/1978, which caused concern about the coming of another ice age; the law setting up that Programme called for a non-governmental advisory committee, which I chaired and which was eventually incorporated into the National Academy of Sciences structure.

H.T. — It seems that you have a special attachment to the city of Milwaukee. How did this come about?

W.A.B. — Milwaukee is a great city. It has the advantages of a big city and virtually none of the disadvantages; for example, it is clean and has few traffic problems. The main shortcomings are the climate and the high taxes—though the high taxes provide good services. For me, it is also significant that Wisconsin has a tradition of respect and support for higher education. This has brought the University of Wisconsin-Madison to the pinnacle of public higher education in the USA, while the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee concentrates on the improvement of the quality of life in the metropolitan area. The Chancellor has become part of the leadership structure of the community. This was quite different from my experience in Rhode Island, where private higher education is king.

Werner Baum's departure from ESSA in May 1968 (from left to right): Joe Smagorinsky6, Werner Baum, Fred Singer and Mort Rubin

H.T. — You were a member of the Board of Directors of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. I did not know you were an expert in the field of music. I am sure readers would like to know more about it.

W.A.B. — I am not an expert in music; indeed, my knowledge is rather limited. As I stated above, the Chancellor has become part of the leadership structure of the Milwaukee community. It was because of this that I was asked to join the Board of Directors of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

H.T. — From 1989 to 1994, you were in close contact with the Southeast Regional Climate Center, Research and Technical Committee. What were the purposes of this committee?

W.A.B. — The regional climate centres, of which there are six, are a remnant of the National Climate Programme. They were envisaged as filling a large gap between the state climatologists and the National Climatic Data Centre as data and service sources for users. On the Research and Technical Committee, we provided guidance on internal and external decisions and problems to the Director.

H.T. — Do you have any specific views on climate change? Do you think US policy is heading in the right direction?

W.A.B. — In my long professional life, I have never seen an issue become as politicized as that of climate change in general and of global warming in particular. It has become difficult to view the subject objectively, but I still try to do so. Remembering that only 20 years ago we were concerned about an impending ice age, and knowing that our precision is limited in determining what the mean global temperature was last month, I am forced to be indecisive with respect to what will happen over the next 50 or 100 years. We simply do not know enough to make a prediction with confidence. As the theory is not unreasonable, however, we should take those precautions which do not adversely impact our standard of living. As to US policy, I cannot determine what it really is. Our actions and our words do not coincide—which may well continue to be the case as long as our politicians treat global warming as a campaign issue.

H.T. — Do we have any serious reason to be worried about environmental deterioration? What are the immediate threats?

W.A.B. — I am not a rabid environmentalist such as those who believe that the preservation of one or another species is more important than the quality of life of our fellow humans. Perhaps those “crying wolf” about the environment are today’s Malthusians. But bad news and scary stories seem always to attract attention. We have some problems—for example, low-level ozone pollution—in this country, but I see no serious or immediate threat of calamitous environmental deterioration which cannot be handled through technology.

H.T. — What are you doing nowadays?

W.A.B. — I am still doing a few things for the AMS and maintain an office at FSU. However, my wife and I have moved to a retirement and continuing-care community. I spend a great deal of time sleeping and visiting doctors’ offices, and I read. And I reflect on how fortunate I was to have been part of the Rossby era at the University of Chicago and the revolution in our science and profession over the last 50 years!

H.T. — On that philosophical note, we shall conclude our interview. Thank you, Werner, for sharing your memories and opinions with us.    

1 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 33 (3) [back]

2 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 30 (1) [back]

3 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 41 (4) [back]

4 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 35 (1) [back]

5 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 46(1) [back]

6 Interviewed WMO Bulletin 32 (4) [back]


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