Thursday, March 4, 2010

Foreigners at ORNL

A recent blog item of Frank Munger's deals with the travails of non-citizens at ORNL. While it's true ORNL overtly brands us as potentially dangerous with glaring red badges, the practical fallout of this and other measures is minimal, and things are somewhat easier than what I witnessed as an "Agent CEA" in the French National Laboratory at Saclay in the 1990s. No, the main obstacles hampering our attempts to get our work done come not from ORNL but from dealing with visas and green cards for lab members - a constant headache.

All this reminds me of my former mentor, Martin Karplus, who tried to move from Harvard to Paris in 1974. The Universite Paris VII (Jussieu) wanted to offer him a tenured professorship, but tenured professors were civil servants and thus had to be French. Enter Jacques-Emile Dubois , a lively man who I enjoyed chatting with occasionally while working with the French Chemical Society. Dubois was a chemistry professor at Jussieu, but he was also Head of Research at the French Minstry of Defence and he had connections high up in the Pompidou adminstration. Dubois got weaving and, sure enough, eventually a decree was published exempting university professors from the citizenship requirement. However, by that time I think Martin had had enough and he didn't leave Harvard (wisely maybe: even a Dubois couldn't cure the deeper sclerosis of the French academic administration), but he apparently received a number of thank-you letters afterwards.

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