The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Mike Beilstein Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

July 7, 2016


“A Scientist and Activist on the Corvallis City Council”  July 7, 2016  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Beilstein describes his family background and upbringing in Illinois, his family's move to Salem, Oregon, his interest in science while a boy, and his relative disinterest in politics during this same time period. He then comments on his years as a student at Oregon State University, noting his involvement in the drug culture of the era and sharing his perspective on the campus climate at OSU during the late 1960s and early 1970s. He then describes an important moment in the early 1990s when U.S. military aggression against Iraq led to a rekindling of his interest in political activism.

From there, Beilstein recalls his interactions with Don Reed, an influential biochemist with whom Beilstein worked during his student years. He likewise recounts his sense of the civic and political culture of Corvallis in the early 1970s.

A major topic of the interview is Beilstein's two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho during the era of South African apartheid. In reflecting on this time, Beilstein traces his work and recreational activities, and comments on the socio-economic milieu that he observed, as well as the differing mechanisms used by the South African government to enforce the segregation of races. Beilstein then discusses another two-year period of his life, during which time he lived in the Washington, D.C. area and was involved with the U.S. Labor Party, a radical left activist group.

Next, Beilstein conveys the circumstances that led to his return to Oregon State University, where he worked as a research assistant in the laboratory of Philip Whanger. In describing this period of his life, Beilstein shares his perspective on Whanger's academic work, details the major components of the lab's investigations into selenium deficiency. He also touches upon other research assistant positions that he held during his career at OSU, including work conducted in the laboratory of OSU animal scientist Neil Forsberg, and his final position with the Crop and Soil Sciences department.

The remainder of the session is devoted to Beilstein's years of public service. In this, he recalls his leadership of a successful living wage campaign in Corvallis, and discusses the ways in which this campaign led to an involvement with the Corvallis city council that ultimately lasted for fourteen years. Beilstein also responds to questions on the workload required of city council members; the interplay between city government and OSU; and his hopes for Corvallis looking forward.