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


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."

Even then, when he was in his late 20s, there were signs of the solitary life he would come to lead. Mr. Kaczynski shunned not only his colleagues; he seemed to shy away from interactions with students as well.

"He absolutely refuses to answer questions by completely ignoring the students," was a response on a student evaluation questionnaire. According to six respondents, his lectures were "useless and right from the book."

Although his academic career would take him through three of the most politically turbulent campuses of the 1960s, Mr. Kaczynski was not known to have been involved in any of the movements of the time -- anti-war, civil rights, free speech or any of the establishment-challenging actions.

Like Mr. Kaczynski, Dr. Hirsch, 62, was teaching at Berkeley then, although he has no memories of him. His remembrances of the time, though, are vivid: protests at the military draft offices, successful efforts to bring more blacks onto the staff, students and some faculty who seemed to spend more time in jail than in the classroom.

"I think they were wonderful years," Dr. Hirsch says rather fondly now. He was active in anti-war and civil rights protests. "So many things were going on"

Dr. Addison is less nostalgic about those days, and keeps his personal politics mostly to himself. "There was almost an emotional turmoil here, it was a strain on everyone," he says. "You didn't know if the colleague next to you had opposing views from your own."

It is still a mystery what happened to Mr. Kaczynski in the midst of this swirl of activism. It's all a guessing game at this point.

Something, though, triggered a turnaround, and he quit his academic career and apparently moved to Salt Lake City.

And yet, the speculation is unsatisfying to those who knew Mr. Kaczynski.

"I don't know what happened. He was so brilliant. He got a tenure-track job at Berkeley, and he quit," says Frank Livingstone, an anthropology professor at Michigan who taught Mr. Kaczynski. "It seems like his life took a turn there."

Today, the Unabomber's anti-technology rage would find few adherents here, where students and faculty are as likely to offer e-mail addresses as phone numbers.

The student groups that set up shop at Sproul Plaza seem to be more diverse. There isn't just a single Asian-American student organization; there are different ones for Koreans, Vietnamese, Filipinos, those from Hong Kong and those who are both Asian and Christian.

One group is having a bake sale, another is selling daffodils. No one appears to be calling for the overthrow of the government. "There are only a very few progressive parts of the campus," says Tom Dietrich, 26, who is about to graduate with a degree in conservation resource studies. "It's a pretty conservative place."

That the man now accused of being the Unabomber once walked this same campus is, for some students, hard to imagine if only because it seems to have changed so much.

"They say students are apathetic now," says Kevin Zwick, 20, a sociology student who mostly disagrees with that assessment. "But at his time Berkeley probably was the most liberal, out-there campus at the time."

Some, though, would argue that even then, Berkeley wasn't uniformly radical. Indeed, yearbooks from Mr. Kaczynski's era have photographs that seem out of the 1950s, sweethearts of Sigma Chi, big games and all.

"It's much more subdued now," says Professor Addison. "But if a new mass movement were to start today, Berkeley would still be a likely place for it to start."

Pub Date: 4/07/96

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