Montana State University

Spring 2009

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Mountains and Minds

The former presidents' club April 27, 2009 by Evelyn Boswell • Published 04/27/09

Former Montana State University president Carl McIntosh. Photo courtesy of MSU News Service.
Former Montana State University president Carl McIntosh. Photo courtesy of MSU News Service.

Note: Former Montana State University presidents Carl McIntosh and Bill Tietz were longtime friends who met regularly for coffee and conversation. Those meetings were to be the subject of a Mountains and Minds feature. Therefore, writer Evelyn Boswell was present during one leisurely get-together, which proved to be one of their last. Following their meeting, McIntosh's health deteriorated and he died Jan. 19 at his Bozeman home, his daughter at his side. He was 94.

Carl McIntosh, with a pile of clippings and correspondence beside him, was armed for another wide-ranging discussion with Bill Tietz.

The eighth and ninth Montana State University presidents were about to have coffee on a nice November day, and McIntosh waited in his Bozeman condominium for Tietz's arrival. The two, who had known each other for more than 30 years, met every few weeks for the past couple of years. Whenever one or the other had the urge and enough "accumulated enigmas," he called the other. Sometimes a baking spree by Tietz's wife, Gwen, inspired a meeting. Coffee talks generally started at 10 a.m. or 2:30 p.m. and lasted about an hour.

"Beware of veterinarians bearing gifts," Tietz said as he showed himself in, carrying a bag of chocolate chip shortbread.

Tietz was dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University before becoming MSU's ninth president in 1977. Now 82, he retired in 1990 but remains active in the community and continues to participate in MSU events such as the 2007 ceremony at which the Animal Resources Center was renamed in his honor. In August 2008, he spoke at the naming ceremony for the Jutila Research Laboratory and Johnson Family Livestock Facility.

McIntosh, 94, was MSU's eighth president, serving from 1970 to 1977. He began his career in higher education as an instructor of speech and became acting department head at Park College in Missouri. Before he was MSU's president, he was president of Idaho State College and California State University, Long Beach. An avid reader who kept up with MSU and the wider world, he lived alone with the help of a walker, a Lifeline button, Meals on Wheels (delivered by 95-year-old volunteer Marie Gambill), Bozeman Public Library deliveries, and friends who picked up his groceries. He returned to the public eye in 2008 after donating his boyhood beetle collection to MSU in honor of the late Richard Hurley, his friend, neighbor and associate curator of the Montana Entomology Collection. At the time, Mike Ivie, MSU entomologist and curator of the Montana Entomology Collection, said the collection included at least one specimen that had become extinct since McIntosh collected it as a boy in the Redlands, Calif., area.

Before this day's coffee talk, Tietz pulled clean plates from McIntosh's dishwasher, placed shortbread on each, poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. McIntosh began by summarizing letters he received since their last session and reading aloud from the book, Scott of the Antarctic: A Life of Courage and Tragedy. The passage talked about Antarctic-born dogs that didn't know how to lap water until they were taught, which resulted in comments about nature and nurture and led eventually to Tietz asking, "Are you happy where the world is going today?"

"Not particularly," McIntosh replied.

McIntosh was curious about piracy in the 21st century. Pirates had been robbing ships off the coast of Somalia and targeting canoeists on rivers.

Former Montana State University president Bill Tietz. Photo coutresy of MSU News Service.
Former Montana State University president Bill Tietz. Photo coutresy of MSU News Service.

"Thirty, 40 years ago, I never dreamt that it would be a problem," McIntosh said. "I thought it would have been over in the days of eye patches and wooden legs."

From there, the discussion careened to MSU collaborations, fuel made from algae and fungus, carbon sequestration, foreign language requirements when the men were graduate students and mandatory chapel attendance when McIntosh was an undergraduate at a strict Baptist college. McIntosh said the school wouldn't allow dances to be advertised in the school newspaper, so when bandleader Tommy Dorsey came to town, it simply announced that his orchestra would give a concert.

The conversation progressed.

Tietz said he was impressed with MSU's commitment to reducing carbon emissions across the West, then brought up an e-mail he received that complained about what the writer felt was the superficial reasoning behind global warming.

McIntosh responded by exploring how "we use high-level abstractions instead of the obvious." He talked about the wording in an obituary, a news story about euthanized animals and finally about federal bailouts. Regarding the bailouts, he wanted to know why the country dumps truckloads of money into troubled industries instead of fixing them.

"Let's think about getting rid of high-level abstractions and solve the problem," McIntosh said.

"I object to the level of greed," Tietz added. "People don't want to admit they screwed up."

As the hour wound down, McIntosh pulled out drawings of insects he made as a teenager. The date on one said 1929.

"You had real talent," Tietz said.

The discussion eventually led to challenges the two had faced as presidents of MSU, their contrasting management styles and how they might handle MSU if they were in charge today.

"I have no idea how I would operate now," Tietz said.

"It was a different time," McIntosh agreed.

MSU historians who wrote In the People's Interest: A Centennial History of Montana State University said both presidents served in turbulent times, but they had widely different approaches to problems.

"Carl has always been a gentle and gentlemanly person," Tietz summarized. "I'm not."

And yet, the two--12 years apart in age and coming to MSU at different stages in their careers-became friends through similar experiences, mutual respect and love of a good conversation.

"A great fondness (has) developed, at least from my point of view," Tietz said.

Almost time to part, McIntosh suggested they prepare for their next discussion by reading more about pirates.

"That's a good one," Tietz said. He added that he'd like to see a map of pirate attacks, figure out how international law applies and learn the potential role of submarines.

The two agreed that they would get together after the confusion of Christmas.

"That's a good time for piracy," McIntosh said of their upcoming meeting. "I'll be in touch."