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McGill (William J.) Papers
MSS 0088  
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Preferred Citation
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection

  • Descriptive Summary

    Languages: English
    Contributing Institution: Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla 92093-0175
    Title: William J. McGill Papers
    Creator: McGill, William J. (William James)
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0088
    Physical Description: 26 Linear feet (59 archives boxes and 20 oversize folders)
    Date (inclusive): 1951 - 1997
    Abstract: Papers of William James McGill, experimental psychologist, university administrator, author, teacher and community leader. McGill's research in reaction time measurement contributed to advances in cognitive psychology and his leadership as chancellor of the University of California, San Diego (1968-1970), and president of Columbia University (1970-1980), brought him to national prominence. The collection contains research material, writings, speeches, correspondence, photographs and clipping files, documenting McGill's scientific contributions, his skill as an administrator and his work with corporations and philanthropic organizations.

    Preferred Citation

    William J. McGill Papers, MSS 88. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.


    William James McGill was born February 27, 1922, in New York City. He received bachelor's and master's degrees from Fordham University (1943 and 1947), and completed a Ph.D. in experimental psychology at Harvard University in 1953 with a specialization in signal detection theory. He began his teaching career as an instructor in psychology at Fordham and Boston College (1947-1951). In 1951 he joined the staff of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory, and became an assistant professor at M.I.T. in 1954. In 1956 he accepted an assistant professorship at Columbia University and obtained tenure in 1960.
    McGill came to UCSD in 1965 as a professor of psychology, helping to set up the psychology department, and continuing his work in signal detection and information processing. In 1968 McGill was named chairman of a search committee to select a new chancellor for UCSD. When the search proved unsuccessful, McGill was offered the job, and after some hesitation, accepted. Student political activism was increasing on the San Diego campus, and the reputation of the university was under fire from local newspapers and community groups. One cause of this turmoil was McGill's decision to reappoint Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse to the UCSD faculty. Another was McGill's public affirmation of Angela Davis' right to teach at UCLA. McGill's stand on academic freedom brought him into conflict with then Governor Ronald Reagan and with Superintendent of Schools Max Rafferty. On the campus, he dealt with student anti-war demonstrations, strikes and demands for greater minority representation. He later wrote of this period in a book, The Year Of The Monkey (1983), an analysis and interpretation of the events during his UCSD chancellorship.
    In 1970, McGill returned to Columbia University as its 16th President, a position he held for ten years. McGill brought order to Columbia's financial resources, balanced the budget and continued to deal with unrest. Students, and the surrounding community, protested the war in Viet Nam, minority representation, the Triga nuclear reactor, and the University's role as a landlord. During this period Columbia admitted women students and completed new building and restoration projects.
    In 1980 McGill retired from Columbia and accepted an appointment as adjunct professor of psychology at UCSD, where he taught courses on the psychology of group protest. He also joined the boards of the Weingart Foundation and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, and worked with several community centered organizations. His philanthropic pursuits led him to found San Diego Dialogue, an organization designed to further relations between San Diego and Tijuana.
    William McGill was recognized with honorary degrees and awards and elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was the chairman of advisory panels and commissions, most notably the President's Commission on a National Agenda for the Eighties during the Carter administration.
    William McGill died October 19, 1997.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    Papers of William J. McGill, UCSD chancellor (1968-1970), president of Columbia University (1970-1980), and UCSD professor of psychology (1965-1968 and 1980-1997). He also served on corporate and foundation boards and community organizations. The collection contains research material, writings, speeches, correspondence, photographs, scrapbooks, and clipping files documenting McGill's career.
    The BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL series is arranged in three subseries: A) Appointment Books and Calendars, B) Miscellaneous Biographical Material and C) Scrapbooks.
    A) This subseries is arranged chronologically but lacks material for 1985. McGill and his secretaries used several types of appointment books and calendars to track his meetings, events and travel schedule. Most of the material contains brief annotations of names, times and places.
    B) These items are arranged alphabetically and include awards and honorary degrees, biographical forms and curriculum vitae, published interviews with McGill, and his "Reminiscences," a set of nine interviews conducted by Columbia history professor Henry Graff for the Oral History Office at Columbia University in June-July, 1979, and May, 1980. The interviews begin with McGill's decision to join the Columbia faculty in 1955, his move to UCSD in 1965, and return to Columbia as president. McGill gives detailed accounts of the issues and events of his decade at Columbia The transcript has an index of names.
    C) Eighteen scrapbooks are arranged in chronological order, 1968-1980, and contain a heterogeneous collection of items reflecting the issues of McGill's years at Columbia. The material includes magazine and newspaper articles, leaflets, flyers, photographs, letters, reports, correspondence, and miscellaneous memorabilia.
    The CORRESPONDENCE series is arranged alphabetically by name of correspondent, with the exception of the letters McGill kept in a "Hate Mail" file, which have been kept together. Correspondents include Armand Hammer, Richard C. Atkinson, Arthur Krim, Marianne McDonald, daughter Rowena McGill, Neil Morgan, Alan Pifer, Malvin C. Teich, and Mary Walshok. Note that Series 5, 6 and 7 have their own subseries for correspondence.
    The WRITINGS series is arranged in five subseries: A) Research Articles, B) Books and Chapters of Books, C) Book Reviews, D) Speeches, and E) Miscellaneous.
    A) McGill's scientific writings are arranged chronologically, earliest to latest, and this subseries begins with a chronological list of his publications. Most of them present the results of his work on the analysis of how the brain detects and processes sensory information.
    B) This subseries contains chapters McGill contributed to texts in psychology, proposals and drafts for Studies In Contempory University Administration, and multiple versions of The Year Of The Monkey, his account of the events of his years as chancellor at the University of California, San Diego. It also contains the table of contents for his proposed book about Columbia, Storms Of Time: Columbia After The 1968 Riots.
    C) McGill's reviews of books in experimental and mathematical psychology are arranged chronologically.
    D) McGill's speeches are arranged chronologically and include commencement addresses, eulogies, remarks on the occasion of meetings and dinners of groups and organizations. They cover a range of current issues and topics in education, administration and psychology.
    E) This subseries contains essays and opinion pieces on social, political and educational issued published in newspapers and magazines and reports and proposals based on his work on the boards of corporations and foundation.
    The RESEARCH MATERIAL series is arranged in three subseries: A) Notes, B) Notebooks and C) Writings of Others.
    A) This subseries contains loose notes with calculations, graphs, information on laboratory equipment, reprints of writings by others, and reference material.
    B) The laboratory notebooks contain calculations and data from McGill's studies and analysis of the detection and flow of sensory information to the brain.
    C) This subseries contains reprints and photocopies of publications by others with McGill's annotations. It also contains reprints of McGill's colleague and co-author, Malvin Teich, along with some of Teich's teaching material.
    The COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY series is arranged in four subseries: A) Administrative Material, B) Correspondence, C) Teaching Materials, and D) Clipping Files.
    A) This subseries is arranged alphabetically by folder heading and includes budget data, board of trustees meetings minutes, memoranda from the office of the president, a "Report on Student Protest..." issued by the New York Bar Association, and a collection of flyers, leaflets and announcements distributed by various groups.
    B) Arranged alphabetically by name of correspondent, most of the Columbia correspondence dates from McGill's years as president-emeritus, 1980-1997.
    C) The subseries is arranged chronologically by course and contains lecture notes, reading lists, a final examination, and correspondence.
    D) The subseries contains photocopies of newspaper articles and some magazine articles for the years 1971-1980.
    The UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO series is arranged in four subseries: A) Administrative Material, B) Correspondence, C) Teaching Material, and D) Clipping File.
    A) This subseries is arranged alphabetically by folder title and contains agenda, minutes and reports generated by various university committees, press releases and statements issued by McGill from the Chancellor's Office, much of it dealing with aspects of campus and community responses to controversial issues: the war in Viet Nam, Herbert Marcuse, campus recruiting by the Marine Corps. Material documenting the background and planning for UCSD's Charter High School is also in this subseries.
    B) The subseries is arranged alphabetically by name of correspondent.
    C) The subseries is arranged chronologically by course and containts syllabi, lecture notes, examinations, and student evaluations of McGill's teaching on the Course and Professor Evaluations (CAPE) review forms.
    D) The subseries is arranged chronologically and contains photocopies of newspaper articles and magazine articles for the years 1968-1990
    The BOARDS AND DIRECTORSHIPS SERIES is arranged in eight subseries, alphabetically by name of organization. The material in each subseries consists of agenda and minutes, correspondence, and some subseries contain subject folders. The subject material is arranged alphabetically by type and then chronologically.
    A) Commission for a National Agenda for the '80s. In 1979 President James Carter appointed McGill chairman of this commission to conduct a study of the major issues of the coming decade. McGill presented the final report in January, 1981. The subseries contains agenda, minutes, correspondence, and press releases.
    B) John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In 1983 McGill was invited to become a nominator for the MacArthur Fellows Program. The subseries contains correspondence and list of nominees.
    C) La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation. McGill was named a trustee of the Foundation in 1992. In 1996 the name was changed to the Burnham Institute. The subseries contains agenda, minutes and correspondence.
    D) McGraw-Hill, Inc. McGill was on this publisher's board of directors for twenty years, 1973-1993. The subseries contains agenda, minutes and correspondence.
    E) Richard Lounsbery Foundation. McGill served on the board of directors of this philanthropic foundation 1980-1997. The subseries contains agenda, minutes and correspondence.
    F) San Diego Dialogue. McGill was instrumental in setting up this community-based organization, covened by UCSD in 1990 to "promote a renewal of civic discussion, thoughtful research and consensus building on the future of the San Diego/Tijuana region." The subseries contains agenda, minutes, administrative and financial information, correspondence, and proposals and reports for the period 1991-1998.
    G) Weingart Foundation. McGill joined the board of directors of this philanthropic foundation in 1983. The subseries contains agenda and minutes, correspondence, and descriptions of grants awarded.
    H) Miscellaneous Organizations. The subseries is arranged alphabetically by name of organization and contains material related to McGill's work with local, regional and national organizations involved with health, education and media issues.
    The PHOTOGRAPHS series is arranged in three subseries: A) Portraits of McGill, B) McGill with Others and C) Miscellaneous Photographs.
    A) Portraits of McGill. The subseries is arranged chronologically and contains black-and-white prints of McGill in a studio or in various university settings. There are also color prints of painted portraits.
    B) McGill with Others. The subseries is arranged chronologically and contains photographs of McGill at various professional meetings, university commencements, social ceremonies and events. McGill moved in academic, corporate and political circles in New York and the photographs include Indira Ghandi, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, Bob Hope, Geraldo Rivera, Margaret Mead.
    The ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES series contains the originals of brittle or high acid content documents that have been photocopied.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Student strikes -- California -- San Diego
    McGill, William J. (William James) -- Archives
    San Diego Dialogue (Program)
    University of California, San Diego -- Faculty