Walter Munk reflects on UCSD’s impact on La Jolla

Editor’s note: To mark UCSD’s 50th anniversary, the Light is asking people for their thoughts on how the university has affected La Jolla. The first comments come from Walter Munk, who received a Ph.D. in oceanography in 1947 from Scripps Institution of Oceanography where he has spent his entire professional career. Today he holds the Secretary of the Navy chair in Oceanography at SIO and will be one of the featured Founders’ Day speakers.

La Jolla, when I first came in 1939, and La Jolla NOW are different places. I loved it then and I love it now, but for quite different reasons

It was not a high-minded intellectual interest in the ocean that brought me to Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) in the summer of 1939 after completing my junior year at Caltech. Instead, it was the need to get a job so I could date a girl who was spending the summer with her grandparents in La Jolla. Fortunately, Scripps Director Harold Sverdrup offered me a job and it changed my life forever.

At the time, La Jolla consisted of a few summer cottages in the Village and SIO, located a couple of barren miles to the north. Even then it was part of the UC system. It was affectionately known as the “bug house” and had a total of 18 employees (including the gardener). We swam off empty beaches and picked abalones for dinner from the wooden piles of the old Scripps pier every low tide. (I haven’t been able to eat abalones ever since!)

As you know, this idyllic existence is a thing of the past, and the establishment of UCSD was at the center of the transformation. It was viewed with apprehension by most of old La Jolla, and I must confess that I too shared some of their concerns. Looking back, I am glad to have had the opportunity to work with Roger Revelle and others in the formation of UCSD. The university has certainly brought a stimulating group of fellow citizens, challenging lectures, wonderful concerts and theatre to our community.

On the occasion of our 50th anniversary, I view the success of the campus with great pride. I can only hope that most of my fellow La Jollans feel the same.