Dael Wolfle: Senior Statesman of Science Policy

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When Dael Wolfle accepted an appointment as professor of public affairs at the UW in 1970, he brought with him the experience of a quarter of a century's involvement in the policy, politics, and management of government and private scientific organizations on a national and international scale.

Wolfle has had a long, varied, and distinguished career. "I have moved from one field to another, from one kind of position and institution to a quite different kind, and from one region of the country to another," which, he notes, has required and encouraged constant learning. It has kept his life always challenging and interesting, he says.

When Wolfle graduated from the UW in 1927, he expected to become a teacher of high school mathematics. "That career path was abandoned when, two weeks later, I was unexpectedly offered a graduate student position at Ohio State University to work for the doctorate in psychology," he recalls.

In 1931, both Wolfle and his wife received their doctorates in experimental psychology. "That was a very poor year to enter the job market, and both of us were lucky to be offered one-year post-doctoral instructorships," he notes. "A year later I hit the jackpot. The University of Mississippi invited me to come there to found a new department of psychology." Wolfle spent the next four years there, teaching and conducting research on human and animal learning.

In 1936, he moved to the University of Chicago as examiner in the biological sciences, heading up a team of instructors "who prepared the long searching examinations that constituted the sole basis for grades in the year-long course in biology that was required of all undergraduates and the second year-long course that was taken by many."

During World War II, he spent two years establishing and managing a three-tier set of schools for the Army Signal Corps. The schools trained enlisted men as electronic technicians and engineers to maintain and operate radio, radar, and field telephone equipment. Once the schools were well established, he moved to Washington, D.C. to join the staff of the Office of Scientific Research and Development--the wartime agency that conducted research and developed specialized training programs for the military services.

When the war was over, Wolfle accepted an invitation to found and head the Washington, D.C. headquarters of an organization formed by the fusion of two national associations of psychologists. In that capacity, to his surprise, Wolfle found himself working more as editor, publisher, personnel and financial manager, and congressional lobbyist, than as a psychologist.

Four years later, in 1950, Wolfle took a position that brought him national attention and enabled him to make a major contribution to the national welfare. World War II shortages of scientists, engineers, and other professionals led to the creation of the Commission on Human Resources and Specialized Training. The Commission conducted surveys of the supply and demand for professionals, as well as of the size of the expected student populations with the abilities for careers in those fields.

Wolfle's 1954 report of that study, entitled America's Resources of Specialized Talent, was the first comprehensive national study of supply and demand, future projections, and potential supply of engineers, lawyers, physicians, scientists, humanists, and teachers for the nation's schools and colleges--all the fields that depended on a bachelor's or higher degree for entry.

"That book led quickly to special symposia at MIT and Caltech to examine its implications," notes Wolfle, "and for me led to a wide range of new opportunities. I designed the then-new National Science Foundation's first system for keeping track of and publishing information about the stock of scientists and engineers in the country. Over the following years I was asked to serve as advisor or committee member to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, the Department of Defense, and other government agencies--all on what were called 'manpower' issues."

Wolfle's international activities began with his involvement in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). OECD had moved beyond its original purpose of monitoring the use of Marshall Plan funds to become involved in the education and utilization of scientists and engineers. With three colleagues, one each from England, France, and Norway, Wolfle visited the capitals of the member countries to talk with government officials and business and university leaders. As the OECD programs developed, Wolfle continued as advisor and committee member for the organization. He served as its examiner for the education and utilization of scientists and engineers in Norway and Sweden; as a defender of those policies and practices in the U.S.; and as member or chairman of the committee responsible for international conferences on those issues.

Interest in human resources issues also led to Wolfle's involvement on committees for UNESCO and the International Association of Universities; to a speaking engagement for NATO; to membership on a joint U.S.-U.K. mission to Iran to help that country improve its higher education system; and to membership on a U.S. team that met with Japanese representatives on their educational system and possible opportunities for exchange.

In 1954, Wolfle became executive officer of one of the world's leading scientific societies: the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which holds annual and specialized meetings, publishes scientific books, and works in a variety of ways for the advancement and public understanding of science. AAAS publishes the prestigious journal Science, of which Wolfle served briefly as editor. Science and its British counterpart, Nature, comprise the two most widely and frequently cited scientific sources.

While serving on the faculty of the University of Washington, Wolfle was again tapped for another international responsibility. "Under the terms of an agreement on cooperation signed by President Nixon and Chairman Brezhnev, there was formed a joint U.S.-USSR working group on the education and utilization of scientists and engineers. I was the American chairman of that working group, which also had a Soviet chairman," says Wolfle, noting that the effort culminated in published reports in the two countries.

Since his retirement in 1976, Wolfle has remained actively involved in activities in the UW Graduate School for Public Affairs and around the campus. He says he has "greatly cherished the subsequent annual invitation to teach a graduate seminar on national science and technology policy."

  1. Assistance furnished by Dr. Wolfle in the preparation of this vignette is gratefully acknowledged.

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