For Sam McCulloch, it’s a favorite Friday ritual. In the morning he heads out the front door of his Newport Beach home, pausing at a sign reminding him what he’ll need for his outing: jacket, keys, cap. Check. He’s 92 years old and he’s headed to UC Irvine, the campus he first laid eyes on more than four decades ago when it was little more than rolling cow pastures. Both the campus and the man have changed with the years, each shaping the other.
“When I came here, there was just one tree and one building,” says McCulloch, first dean of humanities and professor emeritus of history. “I knew UCI from nothing.”
His weekly pilgrimage includes lunching with his wife, Sally, at the University Club, where the library bears his name. Sometimes he strolls the campus to admire the “good-looking” new buildings and keep tabs on UCI’s progress – though he downplays his own role in its rapid rise to a top research university.
“An Aussie doesn’t boast,” says McCulloch, with a lingering accent from his native Australia. Yet he’s proud to say he’s “the oldest living faculty member to put his foot on the ground – in January 1964.” He was appointed by the regents in December 1963 after serving as dean of the college at San Francisco State University.
He soon became the unofficial campus historian, collecting records and correspondence from chancellors, regents, deans and others, including his longtime friend Chancellor Emeritus Jack Peltason. He interviewed more than 100 key campus figures – among them, three talks with founding chancellor Daniel Aldrich – and produced a 1996 book on UCI’s early years, Instant University. He recently donated his papers to UCI Special Collections and Archives.
“UCI was unique from day one,” McCulloch says. “As new faculty members, we were trying to be innovators – and we got away with it.”
His influence can be felt throughout campus. As dean, he laid the foundation for humanities by recruiting and retaining professors who met high standards for excellence. He chaired the Academic Senate from 1978 to 1980 and was president of the Friends of the Library in the mid-1990s.
Since 1981, he has served as moderator of the University Club Forum, which was founded 37 years ago with the simple goal of presenting “an interesting talk” by a faculty member or community leader. He’s stepping down from that role in December because “my wife said 27 years is long enough,” he jokes.
An authority on the British Empire (he got his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate from UCLA), McCulloch officially retired from teaching – “the thing I like best” – in 1987, though he was recalled to the classroom for four years. He’s now writing his memoirs for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“They’ll see their great-grandpa did something,” he says. “I’ve had a very interesting life.”
About McCulloch: Campus voices
“For nearly half a century Sam has been part of the heartbeat of UCI. He not only wrote the history of UCI; he lived it. And the beat goes on.”
“Sam McCulloch is clearly one of the most important pioneers of UCI. As founding dean of humanities, he enabled the recruitment of an outstanding founding faculty. He also served as chair of the Academic Senate and has been a sustained and refreshingly outspoken unofficial ‘adviser’ to all of our chancellors and executive vice-chancellors.”
Research Professor of Neurobiology & Behavior
“Sam’s career coincided with the creation and remarkable growth of UCI, to which his contributions were very significant. In later years, he captured those years as UCI’s official and talented historian. During my three years here in the early ’70s, I failed to realize Sam’s importance to UCI, but that became apparent to me on my return in 1988. His contributions to campus have continued until now, especially via the well-received University Club Forum, where both colleagues and the community have learned about current research and scholarship from a broad spectrum of UCI faculty. Sam’s devotion and influence will not soon be forgotten.”
and 2003 National Medal of Science winner
“Sam McCulloch is a true gentleman – always considerate, courteous, affable and warm. For generations of faculty and staff, he has been a welcoming presence, always available for a kind word or candid advice. For decades, he has worked tirelessly to make the University Club Forum a meeting place for long-term members of the university, new arrivals and community supporters. He is a man of principles and a true believer in the university; when he served as chair of our Academic Senate, he was a ferocious defender of faculty interests. Sam is a genuinely good human being. He has been one of the basic building blocks for decency and community at UCI.”
former dean of the School of Social Sciences
“Anyone who’s met Sam knows he’s the quintessential egalitarian, and he attributes that splendid trait to his Aussie birth. Whatever its origin, that quality is what has earned him the long, broad recognition he has held at UCI since even before the campus opened. And, it has led to many wonderful friendships through all those years and beyond.”
Forum moderator, and editor of Instant University
“Sam McCulloch is a legend on the campus and among those loyal fans of the University Club Forum. Sam’s seasoned, sensible leadership of the forum for many, many years has helped keep the university connected to the larger community and has furthered the broader educational mission of the campus. A campus citizen of the first rank, Sam is a model to any wise enough to have engaged this noble scholar.”