MO: It is February 12th, 2013. I am Michael Overholser and my partner isHao Zhang. We will be interviewing Charles Vars.
HZ: My name is Hao Zhang. So, Dr. Vars do you mind to talk about your early lifeand where you grew up?
CV: I'll try to do it briefly. I was born in Westerly, Rhode Island, which is 2hours from Boston and 3 hours from New York, but Westerly is on the mainline of the New York-New Haven-Hartford railroad. So, when I was growing up, because I had cousins located near New York and I had other relatives located near Boston, 00:01:00we would - 2 to 4 times a year - take the train or drive to either of those good size cities. So we saw museums and movies and plays, but we lived in a town that had 12,000 people and my father was a successful businessman. We we're part of the community's establishment, at least as far as I was concerned. I did well in school. I was president of almost every organization of which I was a member. I 00:02:00ultimately was accepted in every college I applied, but I chose to go to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and it's one of the nation's best engineering schools, not because I ever applied, but because nominations were sent in from all the presidents, I'm sorry, all the principals of the high schools in the state of Rhode Island.
There were only about 50 of those. So, principals would nominate people withoutpeople like me knowing they had been nominated and then the group that gave a four year scholarship of full tuition and this was the most expensive school 00:03:00that I had an application in. They picked me as one of the finalists for the state. I drove up to the state capital and had an interview and later that afternoon they gave me the tuition scholarship. Well, I made a mistake and went to an engineering school as a freshman. I flunked out as a sophomore. I'm not going to tell why, but it was usual; you did very well the first midterm because you had a good background, but the second one you didn't study as much. Anyway, I flunked out. I then went to the university of Denver, took a class in 00:04:00economics first term there - principals of economics. The second term was macroeconomics and I was hooked! I've really liked the discussion because I finally learned why president FDR was elected president in 1932, why my father almost failed in business - he didn't, thank goodness - but almost failed in business. So, I really liked economics. I knew I was learning something new, but I was understanding what had been talked about in an American history class and I could explain it. So, my youth had some good success to it, but it had a 00:05:00terrible hole because I just was emotionally not ready to settle down and study when I entered as a freshman. On the other hand, I recovered very quickly and I always tell the person, the student, who calls up once a year for a contribution to the University of Denver, I always tell them, "I hope you keep it open for freshmen and sophomore and junior transfers because that saved me." You know, if they had not saved me, I would have continued selling encyclopedias because between the time I flunked out and when I entered Denver I sold encyclopedias. 00:06:00It was door-to-door. That's forty, no that's fifty-plus years ago.
MO: How long did you do that?
CV: I only had to do it six weeks. Look, it took me a couple of weeks to get thejob and I flunked out in January and I was back in college in the spring quarter, so it was only three months out. Anyway, my mother was very pleased. So, anyway, that's my early beginning and I always am careful - I have always been careful about dealing with students in their "F's" and "D's." I think it 00:07:00was a real learning experience for me because you have to deal with students who are not all at the number 1 and 2 rank - you have to deal with the people that are bringing up the rear as a college professor.
MO: What year did you go to college?
CV: I went to college in 1955 and there was a draft and because I got back in toschool in 1957 - very quickly, I was a full-time student - and I turned age 26 in the early 1960s, before the Vietnam War, so that I was never drafted. You 00:08:00don't understand how important that was at that point because there were many students who were drafted because of the communities they came from - they didn't have many applicants. But, the town I grew up in was only 15 miles from the submarine training base and the submarine manufacturers in New London , Connecticut. Electric Boat was always employing people collected with the war. So, everybody in the community understood that half the income depended on what the Defense Department was doing. So, I was on top of what might affect my life 00:09:00connected with the military because everybody was in the 50s in my section of the country.
MO: Do you think children growing up today are much different than when you weregrowing up?
CV: Yes. Number 1: so much is voluntary. There is no draft. There are so manymore choices for young people. What they major in in college - by selecting some relatively small area that is unique to them. And that happens all the time 00:10:00because if you're really bright and on top of things you can be taking graduate classes before you're finished as an undergraduate and you get off into one area or another. When I was staying there, every liberal arts class, every liberal arts college specified the courses you had to take. Not in the sense of dictating the language you studied, but you had to have a foreiqn language, you had to take mathematics - that was the liberal arts. Engineering was a very lock-step program in comparison to what it is today. Engineers, in fact, end up in their junior and senior year being able to not specialize, but get into 00:11:00relatively narrow areas and some of them never get out of that from that point on. There was lots of that requirement and choice to do things in a narrow way. That was both good and bad, but to get back to your question, there is no necessity to think when you are 16, 17, 18 about what your public service is going to be because, I think, the youth have so many choices and they don't include public service, they end up not understanding what's going on in the world and being as focused as they approach their education. I like focus. On 00:12:00the other hand, I like generality. If people don't have a capacity to focus and understand the general environment in which they're working or living, then it's a bad way to live.
MO: Do you think the youth of today or even the past few generations have lostthe desire to serve the greater good, the public?
CV: Yes. I'm talking collectively. I'm not talking about you and I'm not talking00:13:00about everybody. There are young people who do exceptionally well and deserve the accolades they get. On the other hand, I do think if you look at it generally there's a large section that thinks too narrowly about their opportunities. I think it's wonderful that people want to do "A, B, C," don't get me wrong. You've got to have goals to achieve anything. On the other hand, you don't want that effort to be splintered into things where people don't end 00:14:00up thinking clearly about the world and their choices. And when I say the world and their choices, I mean everybody's choices in the society. When we had a draft, everybody thought about government differently. When they created a Peace Corps, it was regarded as an alternative way, by some people, of providing public services. There are more opportunities to provide public service today than there were when I was growing up, but there isn't the enthusiasm for doing it - as much focus on bolstering one's qualifications for a certain career. It 00:15:00took me a long time going from engineering into the college of business, into the college of liberal arts at Berkeley for a PhD to sort out what I was studying and what I was doing with my life. I've ended up in university teaching because it provided more opportunity to make contributions than anything else I was good at in my twenties.
MO: When did you develop this desire to give to the public?
CV: I've thought about that since Hao called. I used to say it was my mother andfather because they were really plugged into the town and therefore, even though 00:16:00my mother never served in the school board, she was asked regularly by someone to run. She ran the church. She became treasurer and was a long time treasurer for the church. My father's drug store was directly across from the postal office in the square in my home town. That meant he was talking with police officers, doctors, everybody from every class in the town. If my father did anything in his life it was treat everybody the same. I mean, I'm not saying we had a huge minority population, but everybody was treated the same. It permeated 00:17:00our life. My mother and he would discuss whether she should go on the school board and it was never that she was too busy. It was more "well, I don't know if you really want to be taking those positions in front of the community that way, Mary, because you think too clearly." Anyway, that was the sort of thing that they worried about because they wanted to be true members of the community, okay? And it was clear as a bell to my sister and myself that they were. On the other hand, the next door neighbor was the publisher of the local newspaper. He'd come out every morning and if he saw you he'd wave to you and call to you "hello neighbor, is it going to be a good one?" Now the point is he used the 00:18:00term "neighbor" every single day in greeting people and he was the publisher of the newspaper. That meant writing the editorials, supporting this, criticizing that. He was a church-goer. He was a YMCA member. He was a good alumnus of Amherst. I respected him. Amherst is where I would have gone had I not won that scholarship. What I'm getting at is we were plugged in, my sister and I, to thinking about the public sector and the community as a whole. Is that clear?
MO: Could you tell us a little bit more about your parents? Are they educated?00:19:00
CV: My father was a commuter student to the Rhode Island College of Pharmacy. Sohe took a very specialized curriculum, but he had to ride the train everyday from Bradford, Rhode Island up to Providence, then walk a third of a mile over close to the state capital to be at the college. So, in one sense he got a very technical degree. He didn't have much in the way of liberal arts. On the other hand, he was familiar with the crowd of people who commuted to the big city everyday because he was riding on the same train. He also was familiar with 00:20:00state government because he walked within 100-yards of the state capitol to get to the college of pharmacy. So his youth experience... finally his father died when he was 16 and so he and his twin brother ran a pharmacy all by themselves when they were teenagers. Their mother and they continued the store. So, he was sensitive to a lot of things related to business and pharmacy somewhat - not by choice - but by necessity. My mother went to what is now the University of Rhode Island and she went for a year or two on her own and loved it, but her father 00:21:00asked her to join her sister in Providence, going to a secretarial school. My mother didn't realize what she had given up. She did very well at both places. She learned bookkeeping and how to write quick, and use stenography. After she got done with that she thought she ought to go to work. She knew a little history in liberal arts, but not enough in her opinion. That was good because when she went back to her hometown for work she got a position as children's 00:22:00room librarian. Then, the library was located on the same block as our house, so my mother walked to the library every morning. She would walk with this older woman who happened to be a manager of an insurance office and she thought my mother was bright.
So, she says, "wouldn't you come over here and be my office manager so I canconcentrate on sales?" Then, my mother just went across the street of the town square and worked managing that office. So, my mother was a good bookkeeper, a 00:23:00good accountant, a good secretary - she handled all those things very nicely. I don't show you my study, it's a mess. My mother would be ashamed,
MO: It sounds like the women in your family had positions that were not held bymany women at the time?
CV: (Laughter) You don't know it! My mother, for example, was the person whoevery other member of the family chose to be the executor of their will because they could count on my mother doing things right. By that, I simply mean we had 00:24:003 elderly people who weren't living with us simultaneously, but before I was in school Aunt Eta lived with us and died in the house. When I was in junior high school, Aunt Fanny lived with us and my mother was careful to get her into an old folk's home - nowhere near as good as the Corvallis Caring place, but it was still good. She thought it was probably better for my sister and I not to be burdened. Then, when I was late junior high and high school, my cousin, Lewis, 00:25:00came. What they did was slept in the same bedroom - all three of them successively over. They were only with us about 7 to 9 years total, but their bedroom was right off of my bedroom. There were two doors into the bedroom; one from my bedroom and one from the hall. So, I lived close to my aunts and cousins. But, the reason wasn't because they were desperately poor. It was that they were relatives who needed some care and we could give it to them without having to give shots or anything like that. I mean, when they became, two of 00:26:00them died of heart problems, One moved to a different place because she had been living for a couple of years in an old folks home.
MO: So, who were your greatest influences growing up and through your childhood?
CV: My mother and father. My intellectual interests - and this is only intendedto illustrate. We were a member of a church that merged with another church. My mother was on the board of trustees for the smaller church that was asked to join with the larger church. She was asked to be on the board of trustees of the 00:27:00merged church. The merged church was called Central Baptist. Central because it incorporated the first in the Cavalry. Okay. She was on that board of directors for six, nine, twelve years as treasurer of the combined church. She worked hard at that job keeping the books well for them and dealing with the decisions that had to be made. I used that as an illustration because she was the business head in the group, even though there were a number of business people, but she was 00:28:00reporting the figures and she would discuss motions and other things around the dining room table a lot so that we were always familiar with what worked well and what didn't work well in volunteer situations. My father was not a very public person in the sense of being, but literally, he knew everybody in town and they knew him by his first name, Raymond. The most difficult thing I had growing up was being Raymond and Mary's son. When I would go and ask whether someone wanted them to deliver the paper in the morning and I had newspaper 00:29:00routes to deliver newspapers to people. I would be asked "Are you Raymond or Clearance's son?" My father and his brother were twins and they ran the drug store, so everybody, when I started delivering newspapers when I was less than 4 feet tall and I did it for 4 or 5 years, the point being that I was Raymond and Mary's son and I had to watch out because whomever looked at me knew exactly who to complain to about any mistakes, dishonesty, etcetera that I was privy to. So, I lived a very restrictive life in the sense - I'm outgoing -- but my parents 00:30:00were truly why I turned out the way I did.
MO: So, when you went to college you talked a little bit about why you studiedeconomics, but why did you choose to stay in academia?
CV: Let me just say because there was so much talk - I'm talking about 1940searly 50s. My father died in 55 so I remember, clearly, the end of the second world war and then talking about that period from the end of the 2nd world war to 1955, my father never emphasized, but he never let us forget, during the 00:31:00depression he and his brother Clearance almost failed in business. The details are unimportant here, but they overinvested in the late 20s. When things got tight and people cut back on what they were purchasing, my father and his brother's plans to expand the business didn't work. As a consequence, my father would blame it on Roosevelt because he didn't understand a lot of economics, but that's neither here nor there. There was discussion of whether our interest 00:32:00rates were too high or too low. There was a discussion of the deficits. There was a discussion of the 2nd world war. All of those things just figured in. They were not giving my sister and I lectures, but we were informed about their views and everybody else's views of economic affairs.
In addition, my mother always liked to help certain people out if they werereally bright. We had a man who was at Yale divinity school, who came up on the weekends and served as youth director of the church. He had degrees from 00:33:00Haverford College, where he had been the number one student. Haverford College is a small liberal arts school in Philadelphia. It was very famous as a truly wonderful liberal arts school. You had to be satisfied with 400 to 600 students. I mean, it was small. That became a regular thing for two years, for this young man to come up on Saturday morning and work with the youth in the church. Usually, the youth director from out of town is invited to dinner and lunches and suppers because he's unmarried at that time. Okay, this fellow was so bright 00:34:00and so knowledgeable because he not only had gone to a good school and was top, but he had been brought up by a missionary family in India. He knew all about India because he lived in 3 different places in India. And he had a different view about India and Africa and Asia then anybody in the town, literally. In the 1950s, there weren't many people who had been to Europe except in the war. But, okay, this guy was intellectual and my mother really enjoyed listening to him talk and the perspective he brought. I have thought all of my life that those 00:35:00Sunday dinners we would have - not the church - but the Sunday dinner's and listening to him discuss world affairs with my parents was wonderful. It shaped me in understanding the world. Not because I hadn't traveled and all that - I have, but why? It's because John Carman sat there, told stories and events of India and elsewhere. So knowledgeable...
MO: So, did you have your children while you were living in Corvallis?00:36:00
CV: Oh, yes! All three of them. The first two in the hospital that has been torndown on Harrison. The third one at the hospital on the hill.
MO: What year was your first child born?
CV: 1970. He's 43 years old now. One was born in 70, 73, and 76 - three yearsapart. The youngest - all three of them went to Ivy League schools. One is married to a lawyer who doesn't practice; he manages investments and has an office in New York City. He met his wife at Yale and then he put her through law 00:37:00school. She works as a consultant to an endowment fund to help foster children. He tries to make money. The 2nd one is an associate professor of law at the 00:38:00University of Alabama. He went to Princeton and Yale; Yale for law school. He's pretty bright. The third boy is an organic farmer. He has a geology degree from Brown University, but he has worked in a field because he was born in 76, so he's 36, he'll be 37 years old in July, but for the last 10 years he's been training himself and runs an organic farm with about 30 acres with two partners. I don't know of many people with as good of an education as he has who choose to 00:39:00work as hard as he does. He's fluent in Spanish because he took Spanish for 6 years in grammar school, in high school here in Corvallis. While he was in college he went to South Americas - he left college for a year to spend a year in South America. He went back when he was a junior to spend a semester in Ecuador. He went and learned how to do some farming and after 2 or 3 years of 00:40:00experience he took a trip to New Zealand and Philippines, Thailand, India. There's a large organization of, international organization of organic farmers, so he went from farm to farm. The farmer would put him to work and feed him for 6, 8 weeks then he'd move on and he'd do some touring for a couple of weeks, but then he'd go back to work. He would work - lord knows - he would be up close to Pakistan and India. He was in Thailand close to Cambodia working with a wonderful farmer. Anyway, they all turned out pretty well, but not quite what I expected. 00:41:00
MO: How about your political life in Corvallis? You were the mayor for a few years?
CV: Yeah, I was the mayor, but you need to understand that my research and whatI did from 1966 to 1982 in Corvallis at the university gave me a - not unique - but a very, very good perspective on local, state, and federal government. When I teach public finance I don't teach it from the perspective of 'this is the tax 00:42:00law and this is how you minimize taxes' - I teach it from the perspective of collective choice and the way institutions work and how projects influence communities, states, the federal government. So, I teach it from a broad perspective but with rather detailed knowledge. Can I give you a few illustrations, because this is how I spent my life - or half my working life. You should know that I did it with the approval of my department head, the dean 00:43:00of the college, and the president of the university. It turns out that the head of the department when I was most active is on the council and the mayor was a man of which I did one of these reports - namely hospital rate regulation in Oregon, a policy analysis. Well, the point is that I knew him, he knows me. He said he could staff the department if he got support from the dean. The dean, turns out, to be Dean Wilkins , whose office was directly across the hall in the 00:44:00economics department for many years. He became promoted to vice president, acting vice president of the university, and then promoted permanently to the dean of the college. So, here was a guy whose conversations with students - I heard his, he heard mine, for fifteen years. So we knew each other very well. He suggested that I, when I told him I was going to run for mayor or was thinking of it, he said "well, you've gotta talk to John Byrne."
You see many of these things are colored in blue because (a) I liked it and (b)the first one of them was from the Sea Grant college. They ended up funding much 00:45:00of my work in the 1970s and John Byrne was the chair of the oceanography department. He first heard me speak at meetings where you had to go and talk about your research proposal to get approval from the head of the oceanography department for something to get folded into this universities program and proposal to NOAA and Washington, D.C. So, did I know John Byrne when he was president? I had been on the search committee for the OSU president and we selected John Byrne. What I'm saying is the president, the dean, the department 00:46:00head were all personal friends of mine. Now, that didn't mean I didn't teach a full load. I taught a full load of classes and served as mayor, but why did I get away with doing that? A: they thought I was a good lecturer and could handle that and B: they were all anxious that somebody who - don't quote this* - knew as much about local and state and federal government and C: I had done all of these reports from 1966 through 1982 or 83 because I basically gave up doing research and slowly got off all the committees I was on at the university to do 00:47:00the job as counselor then ultimately as mayor. I mean, that's just background so you'll understand I'm no miracle worker. You've got to have cooperation from people. And I made promises to them and they made promises to me. I've forgotten your question, but if you don't understand how unusual careers come about because people are in unusual positions, you don't understand the real world. It's the truth. You do things which you end up seeing later as having benefited you immensely. I never spoke to John Byrne, the president of the university, 00:48:00when I was mayor. I never spoke to him the first two years he had Sea Grant funding. He always was the quite person in committees and he never said anything, but he later told me "I like the way you talk and what you were proposing." That's the way I regard everything is working. You establish relationships and then you use the relationship for good purposes.
They used to say that Hewlett Packard had a management philosophy where peoplejust float around an organization, they wander around. Wander and float were the 00:49:00words because people end up getting ideas, make contacts, suggest things at the right time. I believe it. I mean, I believe it. For example, the report here, "economic analysis of resource allocation in the Oregon State hiring division" We didn't have, in 1968, an Oregon Department of Transportation. We had a highway division. We had a transit division. We had an air division. Okay. We've 00:50:00got all transportation together, so this means that everybody who's doing planning and investing has to pay attention to what the other division is doing.
In 1968 or 69, I was introduced to a man as an assistant professor of economicshere at OSU. In 1969 he began to get assignments to do projects for the port of Portland. In 1970 or 71 , the director of the port of Portland was appointed head of the division of highways. He said to himself, "Well, if I'm going to get 00:51:00an evaluation, maybe I ought to get an evaluation of the academic specialists rather than just the consultant's report." He had been using consultants and reports, all that.The economist from OSU that was the consultant for him happened to live, not only in my apartment, he had his office door adjacent to mine, so we talked all the time because he lived one floor up from me in the Corvallis Plaza which was the corner of 15th street and... I forget the name of the street, but it's just one block off campus. I mean, you can walk directly to 00:52:00campus, that's why we lived there. Okay, this fellow, Frank Miller, was like many assistant professors or young men. He wondered whether he ought to do something that represented an opportunity. He said the port of Portland director has asked me to become his assistant managing the department, the division of highways and the new department of transportation. He wants to have a study done so that he gets the organization of this new department, which is twice as big as any other department in state government; he wants to get it to work. So, he suggested that I form a team to research the highway division and find out how 00:53:00well we're really doing. Well, Frank was still living in Corvallis and therefore in the evening would come over to my apartment and we'd drink a beer and we'd talk about what are you doing? This report is what came out of that. I wrote the section that dealt with benefits-cost analysis and whether the current highway division had been efficient in the previous 5, 10 years in investments and everything else. I happened to write my PhD dissertation in Berkley on tax-costs of freeways in San Francisco, so I Had done benefit-cost analysis on one of the 00:54:00biggest freeway systems in the country and I knew a lot about benefit-cost analysis.
So, who did Fred think would help him most on this project? He thought I would.That's how I ended up doing it. We would just have discussions - a couple or 3 times a week on everything to go into that report and the people in the department who were working on this were three others in the economics department doing it. We used to just meet in the economics conference room and talk about their problems and my problems and give, share opinions, and so on. What on the latest report was good economics analysis - 1960s standards, of 00:55:00course. The department of transportation is still functioning organizationally much as it did 35 years ago, 40 years ago, when it was in operation under our recommendations. Why did I serve as the chair of the league of Oregon cities transportation committee? I was the only one mayor in the state who had a personal relationship with the head of the department of transportation because Fred Miller, the guy I drank beer with, replaced the director that used him as a 00:56:00consultant after he had served once as the head of the department of energy. I happened to know his department manager as well, and I helped somebody else in OSU do a consultant study for that. It goes on and on and on and I should shut up, but the point is simply that if you do a good job at something like this and you establish a good relationship with the agency, the director, and the people who are clients of the department. That is - a report like this is read by the lobbyists and the staff of the department, and if your recommendations end up 00:57:00getting accepted and they feel good about that then you get a chance to work more.
CV: Hao, you haven't asked a question.
HZ: Alright. I've...
CV: I'm only warmed up. We've only been at this an hour or so.
HZ: I was so into your stories... During your research, have you worked with engineers?
CV: Oh, yes! In fact, the most wonderful thing about OSU is that it isrelatively easy to talk people in different colleges to cooperate on a good 00:58:00research effort. Now, notice I used the words "good research effort" and "other departments" because only certain departments really want to cooperate with others to get research. Departments tend to be fiefdoms. They tend to be insular. They tend to want to do things with people just like themselves. But engineers typically don't. Engineers, and then also people who have really good specialization skills... forestry. I mean, forestry is really related to 00:59:00biology, but it's really only the people concerned with seeds and harvest and getting things planted. Otherwise, you get into the management area. These guys are used to dealing with large lumber producers, large harvesters of timber, the Wire Houses, The Simpson's - those are the names of the companies. If they're not Fortune 500, they're Fortune 1000 companies and they're prepared to listen to an economist, or sociologist, or engineer. Industrial engineers, as a group, I don't know anything about you, but they are typically successful because they 01:00:00are applied and are willing to work almost anywhere. They see the principles of the system that they've got to deal with as more important than any turf, therefore they're good people to serve as consultants on projects. I say that having worked with certain industrial engineers.
Let's see, your question dealt with other departments. I worked with the airpollution institute at OSU in this project that dealt with economic effects of field Byrneing - that's changes in air quality. That meant that I worked with people in economy so that I understood how plants responded to the ash that was, 01:01:00the residue from Byrneing because not only did the field Byrneing reduce insects, reduce small animals like mice and so on, it also fertilized the soil in a way that benefits the crop. I worked with the highway division , and that meant we had to get information from several engineers and go to the transportation research institute on campus and get them to help check what we were doing. I then went to industrial engineering again on the hospital rate regulation because the head of the department had with one or two faculty 01:02:00consulted with hospitals up and down the valley about what they could do to improve - maybe it's their accounting - maybe it's their layout to evaluate the plans before a wing was - all the stuff the industrial engineers did. And that's how I met Jim Riggs. Jim Riggs was the long-time head of industrial engineering. You don't know his name?
HZ: I've heard his name.
CV: Sure. So, Riggs occasionally made mistakes and he would have me into hisoffice and we would work out a few things. Anyway, I worked with him and I worked with oceanography on an evaluation of terminating Lorain A. They were 01:03:00going to turn off one navigational system and turn on a new one that was superior. Now, it turns out, that when we were looking at that we were asked the question "well, what about these satellites and why not use global positioning?" Well, we couldn't do that because this was 1977, that is before the pentagon released that. But, when I was working - because I was working on that in 1978, NASA funded me to deal with land-satellites and the resource analysis that could be done by all of the land use agencies in the three states of the northwest. Now, that meant I formed a research team that had people in economics but we 01:04:00went around and talked to every land use agency, state agency in the country in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon to determine if we should set up a laboratory to serve all three states or maybe have an individual one in each of the three states. That meant that I worked with electrical engineers here.
There was a - I'm trying to get to the - there is an office that had used aerialphotographs and then they converted to using land-sat data, then they converted 01:05:00to using global positioning. I mean, those things all came along from 75 through the time I was elected mayor and I worked with individuals from all those departments and interviewed - I didn't personally interview, but my team and I interviewed every state land-use agency. That meant forestry, that meant natural resources, that meant transportation, etcetera. All the state agencies in three states that had concern for land use in a gross sense. In other words, if they could collect the data cheaply they wanted to because that's what happens all the time. You do a big project, you change the regulations of harvesting trees. 01:06:00Then, you have got to know how much, where it's located, can you get there, all those questions have to be figured out from data from satellites. That mean that I was valuable to NASA and in the 80s I served on a research committee for NASA. It was called the fundamental new research. There were people who came in and made presentations such as Vice President for computing for Boeing. The head of institutes that he would be familiar with if he had done research in California because we met at NASA facilities in Silicon Valley - at Johnson Space Center 01:07:00and so on. NASA would just call up and all of the sudden you'd get a presentation of somebody who was thinking big. And they would talk to us about where they thought NASA should be in 10 years. So, why did I get invited by NASA to a thing like that? I'm going to talk about Ronald Reagan in just a minute, but the point was it was because of your college of engineering and your college of liberal arts - although they've written that off now. I mean, sociology is now with what?
MO: It's in the school of liberal arts but they also have the school of public policy.01:08:00
CV: The point, gentlemen, is that it was only because I was accustomed talkingto the faculty in all these different departments in these different forums that NASA was using me on this fundamental research committee. What I did was inventing my own project that I would take to NASA , of course, as the result of this. Ronald Reagan screwed me up. I had a proposal which went from the state to the region to Washington D.C. and I made a successful presentation to the top administrator in NASA. But, I didn't get the project done. I never would have 01:09:00become mayor had I gotten that project because it was a three to four year project and a million and a half dollars. I mean, in the 1980s that was a good-sized project. It was dealing with the economics of information systems, so it would be fundamental economics right from the word "go." We were going to interview the seven largest green producing nations in the world.
I mean, if you don't get the picture that OSU was the perfect place for me to doresearch and teach then you're nuts! I really enjoyed my time at OSU. Now, I could tell you how presidents made the wrong decisions and so on and so forth, 01:10:00but overall, I cannot imagine more assistance, welcoming lower walls between departments for research. I know teaching is worse. Departments don't want to give up the courses they teach, but I tell you, they are always willing if you've got a good deal that they get some money out of your research. Or if somebody on their staff is really excited about participating with you, then a department head is going to help. That's how it was fifteen years ago when I retired. So, the answer to your question is I still love OSU, but for some very 01:11:00specific reasons. I mean, you asked a good question. See?
HZ: As you worked on projects and organized different kinds of engineers to worktogether, do you think this is a function of how the university organizes departments - to seek help from other departments?
CV: I don't really know how Ed Ray, the president, is sending signals to theheads of those new units. I cannot help but think - I listened to him give a 01:12:00wonderful speech 2 or 3 years ago. He had already been here 3 years and he's here three years longer. He has pushed the city and the university to cooperate, to collaborate in ways that are still being formed. So, he has been good news. Ed Ray has been good news for the university and the city to collaborate. Whether the work that is going on now in the last year and in the next year - 01:13:00it's gotta finish up this year, meaning by December or early next year - if they find ways to genuinely collaborate, then I think there will be true opportunities for new partnerships at the university with the city. I believe that Ed Ray is correct that it ought to be done and he's given presentations that lead me to believe that's what he wants, but you know, there are often 01:14:00slips along the way and you just don't know. I haven't told you, but one of the things that I did early in my career - I had been at OSU 10 or 12 years - I was in a situation where I learned that a county wasn't getting along with a community and they had not decided how to share costs at the time they signed an agreement to use a sewer plant. I offered to be an unpaid consultant and just use sound principles to work out what would be the fair-sharing of costs. I 01:15:00said, what I'd like to do is make a presentation to you about the principles that I'm going to use to do this. And I wanted to have the board of directors from both the county, that's the county commissioners, and the board of directors for the community, that's the city council, sitting right in front of me at the same table when I explained those principles. Now, they were simple, incremental costs and then a sharing between the two on the basis of the opportunity costs of going alone. Now, you use that in a freshman course in industrial engineering, but government doesn't understand how the simple 01:16:00principles are sufficiently powerful to do these things.
So, I spent an hour explaining these principles and so on, and they said thatthey would be interested in my paper, my report, the next month. I said, "Okay, your accountants are going to give me information, correct?" And they said "yes." "And it will be the information I request, not what they or you want?" And they said "yes." And so I meant with the department of public works in both places and I got the information I wanted. I had the report done in 10 days. Had I ever done that before? No. But had I used those principles before? Hell, every 01:17:00one of these reports has some variation on the use of them, but what you've got to do is have RELATIONSHIPS. Now, I learned about that because I'd helped the county commissioners' deal with a port problem just ten miles away. I had done the port problem with the undergraduates in my introduction for economic research and I had seen them. They found out that the company in California making an offer in Reedsport, Oregon was staffed by crooks. No, I'm serious! Undergraduates in my introduction to economic research sat there and on a conference phone call with them asking questions, they, all of the sudden, 01:18:00realized that this was a dishonest proposal. And they said "Vars! Professor Vars! What are we going to do now? We have no project to take. We can't do what you wanted us to do." I said, "You have performed the greatest possible service. You have kept Reedsport Port out of negotiating a contract with a bunch of crooks!" That was wonderful from my point of view. I don't think anybody who sat in that situation would ever not do some simple checks on the background of people whenever they sign a contract. Okay? That might be the most valuable 01:19:00thing they get out of college - not everybody is trustworthy. Now, I could tell you one other story about the people there. In that day, the principled student who was on the phone became the head of the department of energy and then became head of the department of public utilities for the state of Oregon. He is no longer the head of the department; he's still on as a member of the board. I guess they call them "members of the commission." He's still a commissioner of public utility. He took his turn being chair, but he has been there for more than a dozen years. I know that man knows how valuable that question was. Can 01:20:00OSU do good things? Can you get collaboration? Yes! Even if Ed Ray hasn't heard that story, but that's one I would tell him because you need to get public policy people out talking to people that they meet that they may ultimately be employed by or employ. So, that's what you ought to do.
CH: When you were serving as mayor of Corvallis, how did you see OSU and01:21:00Corvallis change, especially with regard to work environments?
CV: We have changed city managers. They did it twice while I was here. They'vedone it once this past year. So, there have been four city managers and that meant three recruitments and selection of the manager. So, what I would say is that the council has done its job. The man who was city manager when I was first 01:22:00elected was fired by that council. I was elected in November and that following October the council fired him, so I had been on the job for less than one year. I worked with the council and we hired a man - he was a black from South Carolina and Ohio - he did very well for four years, but the new council couldn't work with him because he was such a tough guy and they hadn't hired him. He wanted direction and because they were unwilling to get together and give direction, he ended up doing some things which spoiled the relationship 01:23:00between the city and the university and the community. I ultimately had to deal with his replacement because I saw that there was no way we could get him to violate his principles, and hence proceed with what he was doing. So, we replaced him. We got him to accept compensation and go away. We hired a new city manager. He lived down the street - Roosevelt, right on the corner. He still lives there. He served for 18 years. He was a friend of mine. I knew him in 01:24:00advance. And so he did pretty well - 18 years, that's an unusually long time. That's almost as long as Jim Riggs was chair of the department in industrial engineering.
We now have a city manager I didn't hire and I haven't met, but we have mycandidate for mayor and she's very satisfied with him and so I think we're okay. All I know is that he only has the disadvantage of being new. He is not adverse to collaboration with the university and Ed Ray is not adverse to collaboration with the city. I regard the year of 2013 as absolutely crucial to Ed Ray's 01:25:00success and the city manager's success. I speak. I leave messages on the voicemail for the current mayor. I haven't done so for the last 3 or 4 months. My messages are dealing with what is going on on the collaboration with the university and how much I hope she is supporting it and that's it. I really think the university and the city have to work together. And I mean have to in order for success to occur for both institutions. I could tell you stories about 01:26:00how I got institutions to work together to do this. My number one thing at the state of Oregon is the construction of a building at the tail-end. When I was on the board of directors of the League of Oregon Cities, then in 1994-5, I was 01:27:00president of the state organization that does all the lobbying for the cities. My proudest accomplishment was to get the counties together with the cities to build a six story building. But, I was able to do that because every single year that I served on the board of directors, there was something new that I supported strongly. I was chair of the state's transportation committee - the league of cities transportation committee - for seven years. Nobody else in city government in the state ever spoke without speaking the line that I would tell them they should speak. But, cooperation is just so, so valuable and its' there. 01:28:00But if you want to talk about the city cooperating with the university, I could talk about Majestic Theatre being used by both groups. I could talk about planning a recreational program at the city that is designed to fit into the dates the university is in session and works. The university provides space for the city to hold Da Vinci Days and other things. I mean, I'm speaking about trivial things now compared to what Ed Ray is concerned with in terms of getting 01:29:00new dorms built and having traffic around the university, have decent parking places, and having a transit system which serves the campus as well as the community and thus reduces cares around the campus. I don't have any details about that, but I know that in the past we've done those things - university and city cooperating. I see no reason in what Ed Ray or the new city manager to interfere with any of that.
I'd like to think that some of that is attributable to what I did as mayor, justcarried forward. Let me tell you one thing. When I was mayor, social service 01:30:00agencies used to fight for revenue sharing money. In the 1970s, there was revenue sharing following the conclusion of the Vietnam War. Social service agencies tended to want to use that money. Corvallis and many cities put it into the budget and earmarked it for social services. That became a real problem in 1986 when I was running for mayor the first time. I said that we were going to try to deal with stable funding for social services agencies. I thought the process of the agencies for the previous four years was really terrible. I was 01:31:00chair of the city budget commission when I was council president and when I was on the city council. I was elected council president at the first meeting of the council because of what I taught and this research. I chaired the budget commission. I was elected because the budget commission liked my values and the previous holder, the president of the council, chaired the budget commission. So, I was chair for the budget commission and that meant for 4 years I listened to all of the agencies come and cut down their rivals for budget-share. I didn't like that worth a darn because what that did was kept the social service 01:32:00agencies fighting one another, rather than cooperating with one another. So, I got the council to make one of our objectives a new process by which budgets for the city are determined for the social service agencies. That became the goal of the city council in February of 1987. After the budget season concluded, that meant in July, in August, we had a series of 3 meetings. I missed the 3rd meeting. Three meetings where we brought representatives of every social service agency in the city into a meeting and they each talked about what they needed and what they tried to do and they shared collectively, which they'd never done before what their goals were and plans, etcetera. I suggested that we ought to 01:33:00go back and there would be a couple of drafts of possible ways of handling this conflict situation. It would be at the second meeting and I said nobody is going to do it because these are only designed to stimulate your discussion. I hoped that there would be a third, a fourth one that came out of that meeting. Okay, so I attended the first meeting, I attended the 2nd meeting. They both went on like this. The 3rd meeting I had a meeting over on the Oregon coast with some group and the meeting preceded without me, but the chair was the then-president of the council because he was the budget committee chair. I wasn't there, but 01:34:00they had adopted the plan that he and I wanted.
Do you know that in the latest vision statement, "Vision 2020," is a littlefootnote that says the social service funding is determined by an agreement signed by all of them, September, 1987? So, the 3rd version, the 3rd meeting's version was then signed by all the agencies and that is the process that they are still using in 2013. I mean, god, I was 80 miles away in Tillamook and called up at 10pm the city manager and I said, "Did they pass it? Did they 01:35:00accept it?" And he said "yes." You can't imagine the satisfaction I got when it was only this last six months or nine months I picked up that footnote in the vision statement and it was quoted in the newspaper during the budget talks. I mean, people don't think agreements last. I mean, there, it lasted. It was wonderful! Twenty-eight year... I don't know, it will probably bust apart this year. But, the people wonder why you ever devote much time for an unpaid job that only allows you to give up something's that you really like. I liked doing 01:36:00reports, don't get me wrong. But, I really do like cooperation, collaboration, victories!
HZ: That's really impressive. Do you want to talk about your retired life? I seeyou still serve on some boards.
CV: Yes. You saw I served on the one board. I've got a list in there ofappointments by the governor. I've been appointed nine times. I'm currently serving on the board of governors of the department of geology and mineral industries. So, for example, that agency is the one that provides guidance for 01:37:00earthquake protections, tsunami likelihood, earthquake likelihood, and etcetera. So, I think of it as very important. It reports information from the big perspective of the state. OSU and the geologists here and oceanography produces an estimate that is in accordance with what he learns from the state and the state learns from him. OSU and the state department of geology cooperate. They make certain that the official estimates are consistent and justified the same 01:38:00way. I have been president of the board of the Corvallis Caring Place. I told you the story of how we changed things by employing a consultant and I was president for 2 years, on the board for 5 or 6. That was very satisfying, in part because my childhood. I mean, I really do like the care of the elderly. It's not a new thing to me at all and it was useful. I serve on the council of the alternatives for lifelong learning group. This is a group of people over the 01:39:00age of 50 that have a program on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays - not every week and not every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday - but, they have set aside 2 hours for talking about the city management; 2 hours to talk about the state of Korea - Korea is the nation that is discussed, both north and south, over the spring quarter. So, we got a 2 hour presentation on one or both Koreas for 8 or 9 weeks this spring. I have delivered presentations on why the economy went into 01:40:00a slump and what was the cause of the financial problem. Somebody else talks about Russia and its problems. But, we also deal with social services and other problems here in the city. The mayor gave an hour long presentation in February. The city manager gave a presentation the first month or two he was in office because he was new. I'm on the council for that, which means we set the general policies for the organization. We don't recruit people and I think that's about 01:41:00all I do other than travel. We usually go on a trip once or twice a year, in addition to visiting our children.
HZ: So, this year you're going to South America?
CV: South America. Yes.
HZ: For 40 days?
CV: Yeah, we're going to go from Santiago, Chile down the coast of Chile,looking in the fiors? And making a couple of stops. Then we get to the tip and we get off the boat in Kuchnia. Then we get back on it the same day. Then we can proceed up the coast of Argentina to Buenos Aires. Then we'll fly over to Iguazu Falls and we join a second group, with whom we go to Rio de Janeiro and then we 01:42:00fly north to LenÃ§Ã³is and we go along the northern half of the Brazilian coast and go up - six days on the Amazon River. The last couple of days we're staying in a hotel or lodge right there in the heart of it, then we fly back. You see, I had my heart operated on in November 15th. I had a aorta valve replaced, so that's the big primary valve. What happened is they heard my heart making noise and they ran a couple of tests and they said I ought to have 01:43:00surgery to remove tissue around the heart because your heart is strong, it's just... the tissue is broken and worn out. So, they did it on November 15th and I'm up to walking two-and-a-half miles now. But, I'll go down on the plane and see. So, I wasn't quite as happy in October as I am now! But, I didn't tell you the best thing about my youth - one of the best things.
When I was 14 - when I was 13 years old - my parents paid $200 and I went to01:44:00Europe. They gave me some spending money so it might have been $100 or $50 and I went to a boy scout jamboree, where I turned 14. I was 13 when I left in June or early July, and in August I had my birthday and turned 14. I was in Europe in 1951. There was still ships in every harbor, that had been sunk. There was still bomb sights. You know, we carpet bombed a number of German cities - it was a quarter mile wide, 2 or 3 city blocks, as far as you could see that were just 01:45:00rubble. Okay, in 1955, I went to the 100th anniversary of the founding of YMCA. It was in Europe. It was in Paris. We did a little touring before and after, the same way we did with the boy scout jamboree. We did a little touring before and after. I then went to college when I came back because in 55 I graduated from high school - and I'll never allow my children to go on a trip like I did when I was a senior in high school - it might have contributed to this big head! I lost it! I lost it! But the point I was going to say is... I really enjoyed going to 01:46:00Europe! Now, I slept in a sleeping bag on the ground. I slept in the university housing. You know, you didn't sleep in fancy hotels and so on. My wife, in 1960 - in 1962 or 3 - went to Norway with a college roommate. They went in a little commuter boat that goes up to the north in Norway and she just had a super time going with her girl, who lived in her dormitory room right adjacent to hers. They were good friends and they did a little touring in Holland and France then 01:47:00came back. So, we both like to travel and we've done it at the low-end. And we do it at the relatively low-end. These are the first cruises we've been on, but we're down in category 4 or 5 to get away with it. In the end, we've been in 40 countries now, so, actually, this trip will push it up to 45. The point is that we like to do that, and when my heart was causing problems I canceled going to India and Sri Lanka last September because the cardiologist told me not to do that trip. What kept me going was the South America trip, just three months 01:48:00afterwards. November 15th, February 16th (laughter).
HZ: I wish you a good trip!
CV: I do too!
HZ: Thank you very much. I think your story might need longer than just 2 hours (laughter).
CV: Well, it's just 2 hours! I'm good for another hour if you'd like to talkabout research (laughter)! I should tell you one more thing. I have all of these research projects which I could talk to you about, but I think the important thing for you to grasp and me to say is that when I was an undergraduate 01:49:00majoring in economics, when I was a graduate student in economics, and I would read about people settling disputes; intervening and getting something to happen that wouldn't have otherwise happened. When I was - when I would read those things and I was impressed. There's a series of books by C.P. Snow called "Strangers and Brothers." He wrote 11 novels. Nobody reads them now, but they were about he and his brother working for the British government. They started poor as... very poor. They went to Cambridge and Oxford on scholarships. That is 01:50:00true. The author did it. The author went into government and served, ultimately as an advisor to the prime minister and so on, but he ran certain agencies and advised other agencies. He had some understanding of the British government and that's figured as the subject in all of these 11 novels. When I was an undergraduate, I'm bringing this to a conclusion - as a graduate student, I learned technique after technique after technique. You know. You look at articles that present things in mathematics and you wonder "am I going to get anything out of this?" I worked on the basis - I told myself that I would 01:51:00probably use my talents, my knowledge, in some way that would allow me to use everything that I went to college to learn and that included the things that were required that I didn't want to study because they were too difficult. I have used all of the major statistical techniques that I struggled with and I only got a "B+" in rather than an "A" that I deserved at Berkley in econometrics. I did the same thing in policy classes, in business fluctuations, and so on, and I came close to making - I Made mistakes along the way in all 01:52:00sorts of situations, but I made mistakes, generally only once. I mean, I'm talking about studying. I talked to students who were a year ahead of me in the University of Berkley, at Denver. I looked on somebody telling me as a professor, what you ought to do is study the syllabus for the course you're going to take the following term. And the man that I quote, Fagg Foster, taught me the best thing of all. He had gone to Mexico in the depression with a trunk full of books on economics. He had spent a year reading those books and living 01:53:00on a beach in Mexico. He went back and got a PhD in 2 years at the University of Texas because he read the syllabus and books they were going to teach when he came back. I have never read a book in economics without spending some more time on the preface, on the table of contents, on the appendices before I read the text. I read abstracts - fewer now, I'm losing my energy - but, my god, why did I subscribe to as many journals as I did?
Just because I knew if they kept coming here I would pick 'em up at home and I01:54:00would read the abstracts. And boy, did I keep up in the field pretty well. I didn't do as well as I should, but it was thinking ahead, looking beyond what you're doing today to what you're going to do tomorrow. That, I really believe, is where people miss out all of the time. They don't think ahead. They don't think ahead. So, if you want to see as what I regard as right, as an important principle, it is to look beyond. I mean, if you don't look beyond the problems 01:55:00of today to the potential success tomorrow; if you don't look beyond the present situation, you won't collaborate in the right way. If you don't look beyond whatever your analysis is, you may miss a constraint or an opportunity that will be wonderful for your organization. If you don't look beyond the problem that your administrator gives you today, or your wife causes you you're going to get divorced, you're going to get fired. On the other hand, does that mean you have to accept everything? Absolutely not! You just gotta know what is beyond - what is important to them as well as you. You know? I mean, I know I just work the word "collaboration" and "cooperation" and talk about this that and the other as 01:56:00if it matters. And other people generally don't. I know that. But, I know that's why I was mayor. I know that's why the governor appointed me cause I've had governors in press conferences that I attend cite me as somebody who is going to ask the first question and wonder why John Kitzhaber did that. John Kitzhaber is the present governor... he only appointed me three times. That's enough. That's enough. That's what mayors do. And what happens is mayors have more 01:57:00opportunities to do that than department heads do at the university. I didn't know that I would express it that way to you, but that is why I really didn't ever serve as a department head or didn't have ambitions that way. I really had ambitions to bring people together; to look beyond what the present problem is to what you can do to fix it. I mean, that's why I tell you about funding social services, but also, also every one of these reports would have something that I would tell you that would be consistent. I mean really, I'm just as easy to read as I am with you. In other words, people think of me as a pleasant person and as 01:58:00a useful person for getting something done. I'll take the compliment.