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Record Unit 9582,  Rubinoff, Ira. interviewee,  Ira Rubinoff Interviews, 1989-1990

Repository: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Washington, D.C. Contact us at osiaref@si.edu.
Creator: Rubinoff, Ira. interviewee
Title: Ira Rubinoff Interviews
Dates: 1989-1990
Quantity: 6 audiotapes (Reference copy).
Collection: Record Unit 9582
Language of Materials: English
Summary:

These interviews by Pamela M. Henson cover Rubinoff's education, how he came to STRI, establishment of the marine biology program at STRI, master planning for the island, reminiscences of STRI staff and influential visitors, development of an international mission status for STRI, his role as STRI director, and Acting Undersecretary for Science, and the situation in Panama during the United States invasion in 1990.

Historical Note

Ira Rubinoff (1938- ) received his B.S. from Queens College in 1959. He continued his education at Harvard University, receiving his A.M. in 1961 and Ph.D. in biology in 1963. In 1964, Rubinoff became Biologist and Assistant Director of marine biology at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama where he conducted research on the evolution of fishes. The Barro Colorado Island Research Station (BCI), in the Panama Canal Zone, was a tropical biology field station established in 1923 and run by a consortium of universities and government agencies. This Canal Zone Biological Area (CZBA), was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1946 and was renamed the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in 1966. Rubinoff became the Assistant Director for Science at STRI in 1970, and in 1973 he assumed the directorship. During his tenure, he focused on creating infrastructure for scientists, fund raising, and the transition of the Panama Canal from United States to Panamanian control. Rubinoff also held many concurrent positions: member of the science advisory board for the Gorgas Memorial Institute; Chairman for the board of fellowships and grants of the Smithsonian Institution, 1978-1979; and member of the board of directors for the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands. In 2002 and 2007, Rubinoff served as Acting Assistant Secretary and Acting Undersecretary for Science during transition periods in central Smithsonian administration.

Introduction

The Smithsonian Institution Archives began its Oral History Program in 1973. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives' record and manuscript collections with an Oral History Collection, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff. Program staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. There are also interviews conducted by researchers or student on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Ira Rubinoff was interviewed for the Oral History Collection because of his long and distinguished career as a researcher and administrator at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and role in central Smithsonian management.

Descriptive Entry

These interviews by Pamela M. Henson, Historian, Smithsonian Institution Archives, cover Rubinoff's education, how he came to STRI, establishment of the marine biology program at STRI, fund raising and master planning for the island and other STRI sites, reminiscences of STRI staff and influential visitors, development of an international mission statement for STRI, the situation in Panama during the United States invasion in 1990, and his role in Smithsonian administration.

This collection is comprised of five interview sessions, totaling approximately 8.5 hours of recordings and 281 pages of transcript. There are two generations of tape for each session: original tapes and reference tapes. Preservation masters were created for interview 1 cassettes. In total, this collection is comprised of 2 original cassettes, 7 original 7" reels, 2 original digital .wav files, and 6 reference copy audiotape cassettes and 6 reference digital .mp3 files.

Use Restriction

Restricted.

Preferred Citation

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9582, Rubinoff, Ira. interviewee, Ira Rubinoff Interviews

Container List

Box 1

Transcripts of Interviews

Interview 1: 21 April 1989

Box 1 of 1

Covers his youth and education at Queens College and Harvard University, including:
work with Ernst Mayr at the American Museum of Natural History;
first trip to Barro Colorado Island as a graduate student;
Ph.D. thesis on the fishes of Panama;
studies for a Sea-level Canal Project in the 1970s;
development of a marine program at STRI;
important donors, including Earl Silas Tupper;
effects of the oil spill near Galeta in 1968.
Transcript, pp. 1-72, of audiotape recording, 2.0 hours.

Interview 2: 7 June 1990

Box 1 of 1

Recounts in-depth the events surrounding the United States invasion of Panama in 1990, including:
locating and moving researchers, staff and families to secure locations;
detention of STRI staff and family at the San Blas station and efforts to rescue them;
evacuation of Barro Colorado Island;
communications with U.S. goverment representatives;
securing food and supplies;
evacuating some fellows and staff out of Panama;
return to normalcy;
expansion of STRI facilities beyond BCI since the 1960s;
role of Panamanians on the STRI staff, including Adela A. Gomez.
Transcript, pp. 1-60, of audiotape recording, 2.0 hours.

Interview 3: 11 June 1990

Box 1 of 1

Covers the STRI Master Plan, including:
challenges of budget planning;
development of the fellowship program by Georgina de Alba;
Rubinoff's 1980-1981 sabbatical at Oxford University in England;
new focus on programs to study the sustainable use of tropical forests;
distinguished visitors to STRI, especially members of Smithsonian management and the Board of Regents;
development of a research station in the San Blas Islands;
and securing International Mission Status for STRI.
Transcript, pp. 1-41, of audiotape recording, 1.5 hours.

Interview 4: 12 April 2010

Box 1 of 1

Focuses on the history of development efforts at STRI, the STRI Development Office, and major donors such as Earl Silas Tupper and the Mellon Foundation;
traces the development of research centers such as the Center for Tropical Forest Science, the Canopy Crane Access System, and the Center for Tropical Paleoecology and Archaeology;
proposed reorganization of science under Secretary Lawrence M. Small and Rubinoff's role;
the Panama Free Trade Agreement and its relationship to STRI;
and STRI's role as an international research organization.
Transcript, pp. 1-56, of audiotape recording, 1.5 hours.

Interview 5: 15 April 2010

Box 1 of 1

Covers Rubinoff's role as Acting Undersecretary for Science in 2007-2008;
reviews of Smithsonian governance policies;
role in acquisition of additional lands for the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center on the Chesapeake Bay;
career of Cristian Samper at STRI, the National Museum of Natural History, and central Smithsonian administration;
competing financial demands for research and facilities;
and challenges of setting up specialized research facilities.
Transcript, pp. 1-52, of audiotape recording, 1.5 hours.

Audio Recordings of Interviews

Interview 1: 21 April 1989

Box 1 of 1

Total Recording Time: 2.0 hours
Original Masters: 2 audiotape cassettes
Preservation Masters: 4 7" low torque reel-to-reel tapes, 4 digital .wav files
Reference Copies: 2 audiotape cassettes, 4 digital .mp3 files

Interview 2: 7 June 1990

Box 1 of 1

Total Recording Time: 2.0 hours
Original Masters: 4 7" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Reference Copies: 2 audiotape cassettes

Interview 3: 11 June 1990

Box 1 of 1

Total Recording Time: 1.5 hours
Original Masters: 3 7" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Reference Copies: 2 audiotape cassettes

Interview 4: 12 April 2010

Box 1 of 1

Total Recording Time: 1.5 hour
Original Masters: 1 digital .wav file
Reference Copies: 1 digital .mp3 file

Interview 5: 15 April 2010

Box 1 of 1

Total Recording Time: 1.5 hour
Original Masters: 1 digital .wav file
Reference Copies: 1 digital .mp3 file