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Glenn Seaborg

Discoverer of Plutonium

Glenn Seaborg: Well, it was in Gilman Hall, Room 307. It was a stormy night. Art Wahl, my first graduate student, was performing the oxidation experiment and it was just clear that we were able to oxidize this new alpha particle emitter for the first time under conditions that no other element would be oxidized in that way. So that this led to the discovery and that was exciting. Perhaps another exciting point of my career was when I finally realized that the elements should fit in the periodic table as actinide elements. The actinide concept. I remember that I was preparing a report for a visiting committee to come on the following Monday and I dictated this report to one of the women in the laboratory, a chemist, but who was also able to take shorthand, and by the way who had been a classmate of mine at UCLA, and it was while I was dictating that report that this idea really crystallized. I said, "Oh, it must be this way." I dictated that concept, and that report -- just as it was dictated on that day in July of 1944 -- has been published in what is called the National Nuclear Energy Series, the Plutonium Project Record. That was certainly one of the most exciting moments of my life, when I just got this concept that this is the way the periodic table should be rearranged.
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John Sexton

Education & Law

Now, I got a great deal of credit, within legal education, for creating a paradigm shift in the way law is taught in the United States by starting and pressing at NYU something called "the Global Law School Initiative" -- which really kind of broke the boundaries of American kind of ethnocentrism about law. And there were a lot of things we did to implement that. So here I am climbing the Pyramid of Teotihuacan -- terrified, because I have a fear of heights, but I'm going to do this for my daughter. She's scampering up. And I hear Charlie's voice coming back to me, from 1958 -- very distinct memory of him -- we had read the Book of the Dead, he had the Pyramid of Giza on the wall -- and he says, "Boys -- " -- because we were all working-class kids, "Boys, you will never see these pyramids, because you can't drive to them. But there are pyramids south of here that you haven't heard of because the British did not rob them for their museums." And I said -- it was Charlie that first introduced me to ethnocentrism. And he really created the Global Law School Initiative. It wasn't me. It was just growing out -- and he was the one that impelled me into teaching. And when I started with the girls -- I mean, I worked with those kids a hundred hours a week, because I'd put them in a car on Thursday and we would drive off to wherever it was -- the tournament was -- that week, and we wouldn't be back 'til Sunday. And even as a sophomore, or junior or senior, as I was doing college, I was with them from three o'clock 'til ten o'clock every night, and then off on Thursday and back on Sunday. And then off for these six weeks. It was the center of my life -- which, of course, led to a terrible college record.
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John Sexton

Education & Law

John Sexton: Well, I think I'm a person who asks himself -- I mean, I think I live in a religious dimension. I think, you know, I take the notion of meaning in life and a transcendence seriously. I don't have a triumphal attitude, like -- my wife is Jewish, all my children and grandchildren are Jewish. But I do rejoice in any attempt -- whatever its cultural form -- at embracing the transcendent. So, I think it's an important subject.
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John Sexton

Education & Law

But I had come in relatively new, and I said, you know, "We could be still better, and we're probably not as good as we think we are, because people tend not to be sufficiently self-critical. And the way to do that is for us to come together as a community, and that means not being out of the building." And this meant that the faculty had to be present all of the time, and that we would move away from the practice of faculty being out as of-counsel to law firms -- which meant that the faculty, by giving those positions up and returning to be with their students and their colleagues, it meant huge financial sacrifices. Many of them were making multiples of what they would be paid as professors. But it was a calling to them -- it was a calling to them to the wonderful rewards of being in a learning and creating community. It wasn't a call out of the world of practice. I said, "Do all the cases that you want to do, but do them in the building. If you're good enough, the cases will come to you -- whether they're pro bono cases or remunerative is inconsequential, as long as you do them with colleagues and with students as laboratories of learning and you're engaged in the building."
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John Sexton

Education & Law

Now, the interesting thing about NYU is it carries in it the kind of blood of immigrants. It's very much -- it was founded by Albert Gallatin to be, in his words, "In and of the city." I mean, we embrace New York -- which tends to be a tremendous locational endowment for us, that we have, in a unique way -- I mean, Columbia, you could take Columbia and put it in Iowa and it would be a great university. If you took NYU and put it in Iowa, we would die, because we are symbiotically tied to the city. We're the second largest property owner in the city, I think. And yet we don't have a single gate. We don't have a single blade of grass. You walk out of our buildings, you're on the sidewalk. Except for Washington Square, where many of our buildings are but not most, the building next to an NYU building is likely not to be an NYU building. We're eco-systematic with the city. So this wonderful place has in it the blood of the immigrants. And, of course, the characteristics of that blood is never to be satisfied. I mean, immigrants come yearning for a "better." And the wonderful thing about NYU is it never will proclaim that it's in its golden age. Each generation seeks to be better in the next generation.
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John Sexton

Education & Law

Academic freedom, it strikes me, is something that everyone in the university should have, not just the tenured professors. It may well be that tenured professors get a job security that looks like academic freedom. But we wouldn't want a university where only those people enjoyed the benefits of academic freedom. So, to the extent that you make academic freedom depend on tenure, it seems to me, you're being seriously under-inclusive. So, I think that we have to safeguard academic freedom generally and robustly, severed from the notion of tenure.
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Neil Sheehan

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist

I then began to realize I want to write a book about this. I don't want to just end this with another magazine article or another newspaper story, but I couldn't figure out how to write the book. I didn't want to write a reporter's memoir, because it's my belief that reporters themselves are not that important, not important enough to merit a book about them and their adventures. Their importance lies in what they witness and how they convey what they witnessed to the public as a whole, because a reporter is a professional witness and not a participant. He's a witness, or she's a witness.
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Neil Sheehan

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist

When I went to the funeral, it was an extraordinary experience to walk into that chapel at Arlington, that red brick chapel right outside the gate to the cemetery at Fort Myer. It was like a class reunion. They buried him as a general officer, with the horse and the caisson and all the trappings. The chief pallbearer was William Westmoreland, who had been the commander-in-chief in Vietnam, and William Colby, who had been the CIA head at one point, was another pallbearer, and here are all these others. Edward Lansdale, who put the Diem regime in power in the 1950s for the Eisenhower regime. He was there. Richard Holbrooke, who had been a young foreign service officer in Vietnam and went on to become the youngest Assistant Secretary of State for the Far East. All these faces. I'm saying, "Hi." It was extraordinary. I realized that only this man, Vann, could bring all these people together, because he was such a unique figure. So I decided if I write a book, a biography of John, I can reach out to the larger history of the war and to whom the Vietnamese are, et cetera, and I can bring them into the story, and that's what set me off writing the book.
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