How Scott's Upbringing Set the Course for Academia
AMHERST, MASS. — THE stars and the storms at sea'' were his major entertainment as a boy, recalls David Scott, now chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The tiny Orkney Island of North Ronaldsay off Scotland, population around 100 and latitude about the same as the tip of Greenland, had little else to offer. There were no movies, no theater, no television - ``no electricity, for that matter,'' says Dr. Scott.
People had to make their own entertainment and devise their own hobbies, continues the chancellor, who feels his upbringing as an islander had much to do with setting his later course as a physicist and university administrator.
``One thing of great emphasis was reading,'' he says. ``Every house, no matter how poor, always had lots of books.'' On the Orkneys, as throughout Scotland, education was seen as the key to better opportunities for the next generation. Scott was not the first of his family to travel to the mainland to attend university. His grandparents had 13 children, he remembers, and three of them -
remarkably all young women - had made that odyssey.
And an odyssey it was, a sharp break with the intimate and familiar. If an island child is aiming toward university, he or she has to leave home at age 11 in order to get the ``appropriate secondary education,'' explains Scott. That was a hard decision, he says, because the opportunities to return home for a visit were few after that. It meant growing up very quickly, which had both good and bad aspects, says Scott.
But the effort required to pursue his goal of becoming a scientist convinced Scott of education's value as ``an important pathway'' for individual development. That awareness is ``influential in terms of what I'm doing now at a land-grant university committed to access,'' he says.
``The island life also gave me some insights into issues regarding multiculturalism,'' Scott says. From the time of his youth, North Ronaldsay's population declined steadily as more young people opted for the university or for extended military service. At its low point, only 60 people remained. ``One of the problems,'' Scott says, ``was a lack of diversity - a loss of life and energy'' as remnants of the same families that had been there for years hung on.
In recent years, he says, people have started moving back to the islands - not just returning relatives, but also people from other countries.
``Now they have all the tensions that result from a diversity of views,'' Scott says, and thus face similar kinds of issues to those found in ``more complex organizations'' - like large public universities - that may seek diversity, but don't always welcome a diversity of ideas.