Berkeley recalls little about bomb suspect Assistant professor left few traces in 1969 when he abruptly quit TTC

April 07, 1996|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN STAFF

BERKELEY, Calif. -- At first glance, Theodore J. Kaczynski might think not much has changed here since he left in 1969. Then, he was a young, short-haired and conservatively dressed professor. Berkeley was an epicenter of the political and social earthquakes rocking the country.

Today students still march outside the administration building, waving signs and handing out leaflets. On bulletin boards, fliers announce a free speech rally.

But the quiet professor and the fervent community have left much of themselves behind. Now wild-haired and craggy-faced, Mr. Kaczynski, 53, was arrested in his primitive cabin in remote Montana under suspicions that he is the Unabomber, whose explosive devices have killed three and injured 23 over the past 18 years.

And this Northern California community that he abruptly turned his back on, while still a place of gentle tolerance and human side shows, has joined the more conventional times.

On Friday, for example, the students marching around Sproul Plaza weren't protesting anything; they were candidates for student government offices. The free-speech rally was for a fairly limited cause: the right of a radio station to operate without a license.

"The whole 'Berzerkley' thing was always a little exaggerated," says Moe Moskowitz, 74, a longtime bookstore owner. "But this is a very conservative period we're going through, even here."

No one can pinpoint what, if anything, happened in Berkeley at the time to trigger Mr. Kaczynski's abandonment of society. But it doesn't surprise some that he dropped out from here.

"A lot of people dropped out then and changed their lives. They became psychologists or artists or started businesses or went to Katmandu and looked for gurus," says mathematics Professor Morris Hirsch.

Berkeley seems largely placid these days as students returned from spring break only to discover that a former assistant professor is accused of waging a private war against technology.

Mr. Kaczynski taught here long before most of today's students were born. The Unabomber's two strikes here in 1982 and 1985 '' seem distant in the short-term way that students define a past that doesn't include them.

Diogenes Angelakos, an engineering professor, was injured in the July 2, 1982, explosion at Cory Hall. John Hauser, then a graduate student, was injured when another device exploded May 15, 1985, again at Cory Hall. He is now a professor at the University of Colorado. (Another Berkeley alumnus was Gilbert Murray, president of the California Forestry Association, who was accidentally killed in the last Unabomber explosion on April 24, 1995.)

The arrest of Mr. Kaczynski has caused the media to descend on Berkeley in search of whatever scant traces were left by a man who spent two years here about 30 years ago.

Faculty from Mr. Kaczynski's era were pressed to take their faint memories of the shy professor and leap to some sort of conclusion on how Berkeley might have produced the Unabomber.

"It's all speculation," an exasperated John W. Addison says after numerous interviews.

As chairman of the mathematics department during Mr. Kaczynski's years here, Dr. Addison has been fielding questions dealing with the route Mr. Kaczynski took from his cottage to his office and the color of the wall paint.

The mathematics department was in another building then, and Mr. Kaczynski's office was in a temporary trailer while Evans Hall, the current math building, was being constructed. Dr. Addison's only tangible connections to Mr. Kaczynski are the letters the professor wrote in 1969 concerning the unwelcome end to the young mathematician's promising career.

The first, to a University of California dean, is the official notification of Mr. Kaczynski's resignation. "Dr. Kaczynski has decided to leave the field of mathematics. Vice Chairman Calvin Moore and I have tried to persuade him to reconsider the decision but have not been successful," Dr. Addison wrote on March 2, 1969.

Until then, Mr. Kaczynski had been on a seemingly direct flight toward a career in the upper echelons of academia.

He graduated from his suburban Chicago high school in three yearsand won a scholarship to Harvard, where he graduated at 20 in 1962. By 1967, he had received master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Michigan and won an assistant teaching position at Berkeley, then as now considered one of the top mathematics departments in the country.

And so when he handed in his resignation after just two years, a mentor from Michigan, Allen Shields, wanted an explanation.

"He submitted his resignation quite out of the blue," Dr. Addison wrote in his second letter, dated March 22, 1970, in response to an inquiry from Mr. Shields. "He said he was going to give up mathematics and wasn't sure what he was going to do."

Dr. Addison sought to explain further: "Kaczynski seemed almost pathologically shy and as far as I know he made no close friends in the department. Efforts to bring him more into the swing of things had failed."

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