Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Athelstan Spilhaus: First U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO

In 1954, President Eisenhower named Athelstan Spilhaus to be the first U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. He received 64 out of 65 votes, including 5 from Soviet delegates, to become his country's first Government representative on UNESCO's Executive Board. He represented the United States on the Executive Board from 1954 to 1958.

Dr. Spilhaus was a most distinguished scientist and a man of great influence in the scientific community, and indeed with the public at large. He was prototypical of the leaders from America who participated in the development of UNESCO in its early years!

Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus was listed in "American Men of Science" as a meteorologist and an oceanographer, and made contributions to cartography. He was the inventor of the bathythermograph, a divice to measure water temperatures in the deep ocean. That device contributed substantially to the success of sonar in WW II, and thus to America's victory in the war. He also developed balloons for meteorological and remote sensing applications.

Athelstan Frederick Spilhaus was born on Nov. 25, 1911, in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from the University of Cape Town in 1931, and soon afterward settled permanently in the United States, where he received a master's degree in science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Years later, he returned to Cape Town for his doctorate, which he received in 1948. He became a citizen of the United States in 1946. He died at age 88 in 1998.

In 1955 Spilhaus began writing scripts for “Our New Age,” a science-based newspaper comic strip which ran until the early 1970s. At its peak, an estimated 12,000,000 people each week read his educational strip, which was syndicated in 93 Sunday newspapers.

He became a research assistant at M.I.T. in 1933 and then an assistant director at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, he was named an assistant professor at New York University in 1937. There he started the meteorology and oceanographic department. From 1941 through 1945 he served in the United States Army, teaching meteorology and traveling in Europe and China, where he supervised a network of weather stations and met Mao Zedong. Dr. Spilhaus became director of research at New York University in 1946, but two years later moved to the Minnesota to become dean of its Institute of Technology. After leaving his UNESCO[related duties in 1958, he returned to the University of Minnesota, where he resumed his deanship and stayed until 1966. He then served as president of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia until 1969. Later in his life he described himself, accurately, as a "retired genius."

During his last years Spilhaus and his third wife Kathleen became known as authorities on antique mechanical toys. At the last count his collection of toys numbered three thousand! His home in Virginia had been enlarged by the addition of several rooms to be able to display his collection properly. Just as with all his other activities, special conditions apply. None are battery-operated—all are spring-wound or obtain their energy from some mechanical source like gravity-operation or a flywheel.

His most enduring contribution may well have been the Sea Grant program which he initially proposed and helped to create. It was started in the 1960's and continues today. Hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds and matching institutional funds have gone into a system—involving several hundred institutions—that focuses on the better use of our ocean environment. He also was Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the U. S. Dept. of Interior that planned the National Aquarium in Washington, D. C. He was a member of more than 20 scientific and other organizations, and was elected President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Spilhaus developed the idea of using covered skyways and tunnels to connect buildings, protecting people in severe weather. That concept was put into use in Minneapolis in the 1950s, when he was dean of the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology. He was also the inventor of the Spilhaus Space Clock which was manufactured by Edmund Scientific; today they are collectors items!

Dr. Spilhaus lead the creation of the U.S. science exhibit at the 1962 Seattle World Fair, which remains as the Pacific Science Center. President Johnson appointed him to the National Science Board for the term 1966–72. Spilhaus also served as chairman of the scientific advisory committee of the American Newspaper Publishers Association.

Among his many honors, which included twelve honorary degrees, is the Legion of Merit awarded in 1946. The latter was in recognition of his wartime research, in addition to the bathythermograph, which contributed to and introduced into the battle zone radar and radio upper wind finding, spherics, and meteorological instruments for measurements from aircraft in flight. He was later (1951) director of weapons effects for Nevada atomic tests. For this and other contributions he was awarded the Exceptional Civil Service Medal, by the United States Air Force in 1952.

Dr. Althelstan Spilhaus is but one of many distinguished Americans who participated in UNESCO during its formative years. All Americans owe him and his fellow pioneers a dept of gratitude for that service.

July 29, 1955. Announcement of plans for the building and launching of the world's first man-made satellite. The then Presidential press secretary James Hagerty is shown with five scientists during the meeting at which announcement of President Eisenhower's approval of the plan was made. Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus is standing at the back on the right.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization is unique among the United Nations Organizations in that its charter specifically calls for the creation of a National Commission in each member state. The U.S. National Commission was originally created in 1946, and among its 100 members were such distinguished individuals as
  • Archibald MacLeish, Pulitzer Prise winning poet and playwright and former Librarian of Congress,
  • William Benton, an Assistant Secretary of State, who had previously founded the famous advertising agency Benton and Bowles, and who later served as U.S. Senator and left us the Benton Foundation.
  • Milton Eisenhower, the brother of President Eisenhower, himself the first chair of the National Commission, president of Kansas State College, and later president of Johns Hopkins University.
The original membership included the presidents of eleven colleges and universities, senior officials of the National Education Association, the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, industrial organizations, and many others. As Benton said at the first UNESCO General Conference, that original National Commission was:
a body unique in American history. It unites in one assembly, spokesmen of the arts, sciences and learned professions; of the education system at all levels; of radio, motion pictures and the press; of the education interests of labor, agriculture and of religious bodies; and of many other American groups that are now working for the establishment of peace.
We are fortunate enough to have a fine reference to the early years of the National Commission in Howard E. Wilson's book, United States National Commission for UNESCO. While long out of print, one can occasionally find a copy on the used book market. Wilson was the Deputy Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for UNESCO, a member of the National Commission, and a member of the U.S. delegation to the UNESCO General Conference in Mexico City.

The book makes it plane that the National Commission was deliberately designed so that the majority of the member were to be chosen by civil society organizations, not the Department of State. Moreover, the National Commission would itself determine those civil society organizations privileged to name members, once it had been established. While the Department was required by law to consult with the National Commission, the National Commission also had a direct and very close relationship with UNESCO. American members of UNESCO's Executive Board (who at the time served in their personal capacity, elected by the General Conference rather than as government officials) kept the members of the National Commission informed as to the work of the organization and of upcoming matters before the Board.

That original National Commission was very active. It had a committee working on developing public opinion concerning UNESCO. It had been asked to review textbooks for content. Meetings were held not once per year, the minimum required by law, but several times per year. Secretary of State George Marshall spoke at its first meeting. Its first national conference, held in Philadelphia in 1947, was attended by representatives of more than 500 organizations.

Today's National Commission, created anew with the return of the United States to membership in UNESCO, is a pale reflection of that early body. (Read the most recent annual report on the National Commission.) According to the Charter for the National Commission for UNESCO, published by the Department of State:
The purpose of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO shall be to serve the Department of State in an advisory capacity with respect to the consideration of issues related to education, science, communications culture, and the formulation and implementation of U.S. policy towards UNESCO.
The authorizing legislation for the National Council for UNESCO (as it is termed in the law, Annex I) is much broader, stating:
In fulfillment of article VII of the constitution of the Organization, the Secretary of State shall cause to be organized a National Commission on Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Corporation (FOOTNOTE 1) of not to exceed one hundred members. (Emphasis added.)
The UNESCO article in question (Annex II) states:
National Commissions or national co-operating bodies, where they exist, shall act in an advisory capacity to their respective delegations to the General Conference and to their Governments in matters relating to the Organization and shall function as agencies of liaison in all matters of interest to it. (Emphasis added.)
Thus, by law and past custom, the National Commission is intended to have not only an advisory function, but also to provide liaison with UNESCO, to link educational, scientific and cultural organizations in the United States with UNESCO, and to build public support for UNESCO.

The restricted scope appears to have been in part a result of a misreading of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). That act serves an important function, assuring that advice to the government is both objective and open to the public. FACA not only formalized a process for establishing, operating, overseeing, and terminating government advisory bodies, but also created the Committee Management Secretariat (MCC), to monitor and report executive branch compliance with the Act. FACA requires that advisory committees be rechartered periodically, and allows for the President to grant waivers from standard provisions of the Act for specific advisory committees when appropriate.

It certainly appears appropriate in the case of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, which has functions defined by previous legislation, and by the constitution of UNESCO which the United States accepted on rejoining the organization. If an appropriate waiver the next time its charter is renewed, the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO could serve this nation as its counterparts in the United Kingdom and Canada serve theirs.

Let us hope in the future the National Commission will once again merit the description once provided by Milton Eisenhower as:
a legal body made up of private citizens. It advises government officials and conference delegates who are governmentally appointed and governmentally responsible, but it retains the right to speak its mind publicly on all issues before it. It marshals the educational, scientific and cultural forces of this country for service in both governmental and private channels, and often does not bother to define which is which.

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Sec. 287o. National Commission on Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Cooperation; membership; meetings; expenses

In fulfillment of article VII of the constitution of the Organization, the Secretary of State shall cause to be organized a National Commission on Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Corporation (FOOTNOTE 1) of not to exceed one hundred members. Such Commission shall be appointed by the Secretary of State and shall consist of (a) not more than sixty representatives of principal national, voluntary organizations interested in educational, scientific, and cultural matters; and (b) not more than forty outstanding persons selected by the Secretary of State, including not more than ten persons holding office under or employed by the Government of the United States, not more than fifteen representatives of the educational, scientific, and cultural interests of State and local governments, and not more than fifteen persons chosen at large. The Secretary of State is authorized to name in the first instance fifty of the principal national voluntary organizations, each of which shall be invited to designate one representative for appointment to the National Commission. Thereafter, the National Commission shall periodically review and, if deemed advisable, revise the list of such organizations designating representatives in order to achieve a desirable rotation among organizations represented. To constitute the initial Commission, one-third of the members shall be appointed to serve for a term of one year, one-third for a term of two years, and one-third or the remainder thereof for a term of three years; from thence on following, all members shall be appointed for a term of three years each, but no member shall serve more than two consecutive terms. The National Commission shall meet at least once annually. The National Commission shall designate from among its members an executive committee, and may designate such other committees as may prove necessary, to consult with the Department of State and to perform such other functions as the National Commission shall delegate to them. No member of the National Commission shall be allowed any salary or other compensation for services: Provided, however, That he may be paid transportation and other expenses as authorized by section 5703 of title 5. The Department of State is authorized to provide the necessary secretariat for the Commission.
(FOOTNOTE 1) So in original. Probably should be

(July 30, 1946, ch. 700, Sec. 3, 60 Stat. 713; Pub. L. 87-139, Sec.
9, Aug. 14, 1961, 75 Stat. 341.)

Annex II
Relevant Section of
The Charter of UNESCO



1. Each Member State shall make such arrangements as suit its particular conditions for the purpose of associating its principal bodies interested in educational, scientific and cultural matters with the work of the Organisation, preferably by the formation of a National Commission broadly representative of the Government and such bodies.

2. National Commissions or national co-operating bodies, where they exist, shall act in an advisory capacity to their respective delegations to the General Conference and to their Governments in matters relating to the Organisation and shall function as agencies
of liaison in all matters of interest to it.

3. The Organisation may, on the request of a Member State delegate, either temporarily or permanently, a member of its Secretariat to serve on the National Commission of that State, in order to assist in the development of its work.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

From model, to colleague, to friend: Honoring the memory of Albert V. Baez (1913 – 2007 )

Albert Baez stood as a model of meaningful service at three critical times in my life. The first was in 1954 when, having completed my post doctorate at Harvard, I was determined to find a liberal arts college where I could both teach and have students join me in research. When a Research Corporation representative told me about an Albert Baez who was demonstrating this very practice as a physicist at the University of Redlands in California, I applied for and obtained a position there in the chemistry department. I have deeply satisfying memories of those years at Redlands where both Albert Baez and I combined teaching in our respective disciplines with working with undergraduates as research associates.

In 1963, Albert Baez once again proved to be an influential model to me, calling me, not from his laboratory in Redlands, but from Paris, France, and inviting me to come join him as a member of his team at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He had gone to UNESCO a year earlier to set up an international science education program. He envisioned taking improved content and methods of teaching science to beleaguered teachers in developing countries. Al’s vision resonated with me, for as with many other professionals of that era, I was influenced by John F. Kennedy’s statement: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” When my wife agreed to take five children with us and set up home in Paris, I accepted Al’s invitation and became the chemistry specialist on his team. My part was to plan and administer the UNESCO Pilot Project for Chemistry Teaching, which was implemented in 12 countries on Asia.

The third time I found Albert Baez a model occurred in 1987. After 20-years of service with UNESCO (12 in Paris and 8 in Nairobi, Kenya) and almost a decade as a consultant with the World Bank in Washington, I was open to various options for retirement. Al’s own retirement experience in heading up Vivamos Mejor, a nonprofit organization he founded to serve Mexican families in his native region of Mexico may well have influenced me to accept the invitation from Glenn Seaborg, the Noble Laureate, to serve as Executive Director of a nonprofit organization he had helped found, the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development (IOCD).

I recall with warm feeling the collegiality of my days with Al at the University of Redlands, both of us dedicated to working with students as research associates. Al and I frequently took part in faculty discussions defending undergraduate research. His mature articulation of the case for this hybrid role we were both pursuing proved helpful to me as a relatively junior member of the faculty. Through this association with Al, I came to understand the critical contribution this innovative teaching practice could have in the education of scientists and became a champion for this teaching practice in American colleges through membership in committees of the American Chemical Society.

During that Redlands period, Al and I were both involved in the national curriculum reform projects funded by the National Science Foundation, Al in the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC), and I in the Chemical Bond Approach (CBA). This brought us both into working contact with science teachers from secondary schools. I am almost certain that it was Al’s prominence as a creative developer of instructional films for the PSSC project that brought him to the attention of the leadership of UNESCO in Paris. Frequent visits to the Baez home enabled me to witness Al’s passion for using optical and electronic instruments as teaching aids. His house was filled with every variety and model of film projector, slide projector, overhead projector, camera, tape recorder, etc. Al brought great originality to applying his specialization in the physics of light (optics) to his lectures and talks to student groups.

Al and his wife Joan welcomed my wife and me as family. We stayed in their home many times through the years and shared family concerns with them. Al and Joan were members of the Society of Friends and we often accompanied them to the quiet services at the local Friends Meeting House. We will greatly miss Al. I particularly acknowledge that knowing Albert Baez enriched my understanding of science and gave me opportunity to live a life of service and meaning.

Robert H. Maybury

Read more about Al Baez, the first director of science education at UNESCO.

Editors note: Bob Maybury served as a member of the Board of Directors of Americans for UNESCO for a number of years, and continues to have a close relationship to the organization. He is a distinguished chemist, the Executive Director of the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development, and an expert in science education. JAD

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

UNESCO History and Program References

A set of links has been created on, a social bookmarking site, with links to UNESCO. For those interested in the history of UNESCO or how it operates, these references should prove invaluable.

To access the materials click on the link below:

Most linked publications are online, but some books that can not be downloaded are linked to booksellers. Even out-of-print books are now often available in the online used book market. There are also websites that seemed likely to be of special interest to the students.

One advantage of the online system is that it can be searched. Each entry also tells you how many other people have linked to that resource in their social bookmarking sites. Those of you who use should be able to easily transfer links from the site to you personal collection.

There are also "tags". If you click on one of the tags to the right of the del.icio,us list, you will get a reduced list that contains all those tagged with that term. It is possible to combine tags so that, for example, you can obtain a list of resources on the history of UNESCO that are available online.