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At CU Boulder, 1941-1960

by Karen Lloyd

Macky Auditorium

Macky Auditorium on CU Campus

December 7th 1941; the bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II and changed the lives of many American citizens forever. Although life at the University continued, it too was affected as students and professors were drafted to fight for their country and those left behind were expected to keep the country on a steady footing. Dr. Alexander remained at CU during the war, and although his duties and responsibilities were much expanded, they did not deter Dr. Alexander from continuing with his research and commitment to reforming general biology courses in undergraduate education.

Dr. Alexander expanded his research on high mountain ecology and grasshopper studies and in 1941 wrote a key for the identification of Colorado Orthoptera. The key containing detailed descriptions of grasshoppers found in Colorado along with original drawings by Dr. Alexander, was, until its publication, the only means of identifying Colorado grasshoppers. Several articles published during the 1940s discuss the altitudinal distribution of grasshoppers within Colorado, and it is clear that Dr. Alexander was concentrating on this area of research (publications link).

During 1944 Dr. Alexander was appointed acting director of the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. The position was only temporary and was a circumstance of the war: The director, H. G. Rodeck, had volunteered to serve in the army and was granted a leave of absence by the Unviersity. His original replacement, Donald Magoon, was drafted into the army and was later killed in the war during fighting in Luxembourg.

According to his son Douglas, Dr. Alexander was unhappy about the condition and infestation (by pests) of the specimens and promptly set about fumigating the whole museum; a practice that is not followed today! It is assumed Dr. Alexander carried out the management of the museum concomitant with his duties associated with the biology department. His position at the museum ended in 1946 when H.G. Rodeck returned from the war and resumed his museum duties.

The Old Library on CU Campus

The Old Library on CU Campus (now the dance theatre)

Following World War II many foreign students came to the US to study. This included many Thai students. Marion and Gordon opened their home to these students and became their Mom and Dad away from home. As their home was furnished with furniture and artifacts they had brought back from Thailand, it was a reminder for these students of their far off homes and families. Marion would help the student spouses with English. She taught student wives of many nationalities conversational English by bringing them together to cook a common meal. She also entertained students who were unable to go home to their own families during holiday times.

In 1956 Dr. Alexander published his textbook, General Biology. He and Marion also returned to Thailand for another year. He was teaching once more at Chulalongkorn University this time under a Fulbright Fellowship.

Dr. Alexander had a strong belief and conviction that general biology should not be abandoned for introductory courses in botany and zoology. In an article, written in 1944, he criticized the U.S. Office of Education for recommending this division. In 1947 he revisited the topic in an article published in The American Biology Teacher.

Dr. Alexander pointed out that there are principles fundamental to an understanding of all living matter, such as metabolism, reproduction and development, and evolution. Illustration of these principles should be supplied by the study of both plant and animal examples. The general biology course should be regarded as a foundation for all undergraduate students to enable them to develop a concept of a unified science of life.

In addition he stated in 1947 that some basic concepts need to be introduced later in the course because they required an accumulation of data for better understanding. These include classification, evolution, and ecology. Concepts of ecology—adaptation, competition, succession, population cycles, food and other inter- and intra specific relations require at least a passing familiarity with many different kinds of organisms. These ideas concerning the organization of an introductory course formed the basis of both his Outline of General Biology and his General Biology textbooks.

The Gugenheim Building

The Gugenheim Building on CU Campus

Gordon was an active member in the Ecological Society of America, which he had joined in 1925, and was greatly influenced by the book A Sands County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. The book, written for the general public, has become a cornerstone of modern ecology, natural history, and conservation and is a highly respected work within the scientific community. Gordon and Aldo Leopold shared common interests in natural history and ecology and both saw the importance of teaching ecology to a wider audience. Protecting the decreasing number of natural habitats from North America's modernization was the responsibility of everyone, not just scientist and academia.

During the 1950s Dr. Alexander continued his work on the natural history of Colorado and high altitude ecology. Specifically, his research on the distribution of grasshoppers along an altitudinal gradient began to take up more of his time. And in 1958 he was awarded a grant (G5007) from the National Science Foundation to study the distribution and population of grasshoppers in Colorado.

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