Recalling Paul Saltman

A man with glasses and dark hair and wearing a suit and tie speaking to someone as others surround them.Paul Saltman was many things to UC San Diego—professor, provost, author and administrator, as well as a renowned expert on nutrition and wellness. But above all, he was a source of knowledge and inspiration for countless students. Saltman died in 1999 at age 71, but his legacy lives on in the alumni he knew and others he encountered at UC San Diego.

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I started at Revelle in September 1967, at the same time Paul did. He challenged me intellectually, but most of all, he helped me grow as a human being. I hope these anecdotes are helpful in painting a picture of Paul:

His rule for grading tests? Test hard, grade easy.

When he was quite ill and hospitalized as a result of a surfing accident, I was a young medical student and went to see him. He gave me his lunch just as the chairman of surgery walked in. Paul said it was OK because I was his son, gaining a doubtful scowl from the surgeon.

When he was Acting Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, he went to a UC Regents meeting. He returned very proud of himself for speaking what he was sure were the first words of Yiddish ever spoken at a Regents meeting. He tried to teach me Yiddish and would introduce me as “My son, the docta.”

The day before he died, we talked on the phone. He said, cheerily, “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

—Jess Boyer ’71, MD ’74
Revelle College, Chemistry


Did you hear the story about Saltman being a contestant on the Groucho Marx quiz show, You Bet Your Life? This was 1950s black-and-white TV. He was quite a young man with a good sense of humor and could keep up with Groucho.

—Mac Perry ’68
Revelle College, History

Marx: What’s the difference between an associate professor and a full professor?
Saltman: About $2,500 a year.


Read about the Saltman Quarterly, a publication started by students following Dr. Saltman’s passing.


“I worked in Paul’s lab for two summers. Nearly every day, he would come by the lab around 4 p.m. and we would go to Black’s Beach and surf until dark. Sometimes we would walk down the hill, and sometimes we would drive. Paul had a key to the gate.”

—Jess Boyer ’71, MD ’74


Two men wearing caps and gowns shaking hands.

Back in the day, the late sixties that is, Paul Saltman and I had clashed often enough that we were on a first-name basis. He was provost of Revelle College, and I was a loudmouth student activist, class of ’69. Our relationship was generally cordial, if adversarial, and the college was still small enough that students, faculty and the administration interacted pretty casually. One warm summer afternoon, probably in 1971, a bunch of us shaggy ne’er-do-wells were hanging out on campus during the rather perfunctory commencement ceremony and decided to join in on the fun. Most likely, we were in jeans and T-shirts, shoes optional. Before the procession across the platform, there were the requisite speeches. I remember Dr. Saltman’s speech being rather self-laudatory, mostly highlighting his accomplishments as provost.

So, when I went up to be recognized, I shook his hand and said, “That was a pretty lousy speech, Paul.” He just smiled and said, “I know.” That may have been the last conversation we ever had.

—Tom Baer ’72
Revelle College, Philosophy


Dr. Saltman was, in my opinion,  a great professor. He genuinely loved teaching as opposed to some of our other professors, who were far more interested in their research. In my UCSD years, 1967 to 1972, the school was quite small, so we had more access to our professors. My favorite phrase of his? He called m-RNA, t-RNA and r-RNA the holy trinity. He was very witty.

—Leslie Swain Olmstead-Santee ’73
Muir College, Biology


A man on a bicycle heading straight with numerous white columns around him.

He was one of the most accessible administrators I have ever encountered in my student and work life. He and I would sit on the train north on some Friday afternoons—I would get off in Fullerton to see my family for the weekend, and he would go on to see his wife and kids in L.A. until they moved to La Jolla. Bless his heart, he could probably have used the quiet time and rest on the train, but he took the time to quiz me about how life as a young undergrad was going. Amazing and beloved fellow.

—Fran Sticha ’71
Muir College, History


Revelle College had extensive lower-division requirements for graduation when I was in attendance. And it was well that they did because I had no idea what my major should be. In the spring of my sophomore year, I took a biology class from Prof. Saltman, who had a big reputation on campus and deservedly so. He was one of the most charismatic teachers I ever had. His classes were lively and interesting. I heard that he surfed but never ran into him at my bodysurfing spot south of Scripps Pier.

I was inspired to enter a biology major, though I ended up going to graduate school in a completely different field and becoming a civil engineer in water resources. That’s a different tale, but it illustrates the bigger point I have heard stated—that an education at UCSD prepares you intellectually for a wide variety of paths in life. In any event, Prof. Saltman is one of a very small number of people who profoundly affected my path in life.

—Peter Sturtevant ’71
Revelle College, Biology


Though a computer engineering major, I took Dr. Saltman’s Bio 1 series simply because bio was my favorite course and was taught by my favorite teacher back in high school. After the first midterm, Dr. Saltman asked several of us to stay after class to meet with him. It turned out he made answer keys from the best of the student answers rather than his or the TA’s answers. He explained this and then asked our names and majors. It was a litany of bio-this-and-that, then my turn: “computer engineering.” He was taken aback, but I suspect he thought anyone could get lucky once with a good answer.

It happened again on every exam in Bio 1 and again in Bio 2. At that point, Dr. Saltman started leaning on me to switch majors before I was “in too deep.” When Bio 3 started, Dr. Saltman offered me employment in his lab, so I could give up my well-paid off-campus job.

Looking back over the past 40 years, I know I made the right choice to stick with computer engineering, but that little voice in my head still wonders who I could have become under Dr. Paul Saltman’s tutelage. No other professor ever took such a personal interest in me or tried to shape my career. In fact, his work on cellular metabolism, and his mantra of “structure-function relationships,” shaped my subsequent career in real-time embedded systems, both at the system architecture level and at the software level.

Soon after I graduated, the engineering department started fundraising by selling engraved pavers. I bought several, one each for the professors who most influenced me. Dr. Ken Bowles was one, but the first was for Dr. Paul Saltman. I felt it totally appropriate that a paver in the engineering complex be for such an outstanding and gifted biology professor.

When he died in 1999, it felt like a punch in the gut—the light of a world-class researcher who also loved teaching and shaping undergrads had left our world. I still go visit my pavers whenever I get the chance, to reminisce and be thankful. They are a wonderful place to record great memories, and even greater gifts.

—Bob Cunningham ’86
Muir College, Computer Engineering


Campus protests were becoming more volatile in response to the Vietnam War. I recall sitting near Revelle Plaza with four of my classmates when we heard that some students were planning to storm the Provost’s Office—Paul Saltman’s office. As the crowd was being whipped into a frenzy by its leaders, we spotted Dr. Saltman walking down from the library area. My friends and I looked at each other and said, “Oh my God. This man’s dead—he’s a dead man, for sure!” Yet he just walked slowly right into the heart of the crowd and began talking—only no one could hear what he said because he talked in a quiet, calm voice. One person, then five, then 15 people said, “We can’t hear him!” and soon, the crowd quieted down. We could hear Dr. Saltman speak respectfully to some key organizers, and it was agreed that he and six members of the group would go back to his office and continue their discussion. I thought, “That was magic—we just saw magic happen.” He did such a wonderful job of diffusing an extremely dangerous, volatile situation.

For me, everything circles back to Dr. Saltman and what I experienced that day. Throughout my 30-year career in law, as a litigator, judge and mediator, I can say there are always two sides to an argument—if not three, four or five. Witnessing how Dr. Saltman handled that crowd shaped my approach to calm things down and ensure that matters move forward in a civil and professional manner. It is only then that resolution can begin.

 —The Honorable Michael Orfield ’72
Revelle College, Biology


Dr. Paul Saltman taught nutrition when I was an undergraduate in the early ’90s. It was a useful elective class for biochemistry majors, and I still think of the chemical structures of vitamins when I read food labels. Along with the rigors of Revelle’s non-contiguous minor, six quarters of humanities, proficiency in a foreign language, performing or visual arts, two quarters of social, natural and physical sciences and mathematics, my pre-med prerequisites and student government, I was able to advance to obtain higher degrees in health care administration and to research global leadership.

—Daphne G. ’94
Revelle College, Biochemistry


I was in one of his lower-division biology courses, and I distinctly remember him advising us to run on the beach, not on the streets where we would inhale the car exhaust. He was emphatic on this point, and he said to run barefoot too. I have no idea why this stood out so much for me and remains in my memory, but because he was a biologist, I believed him on this point!

—Mary Martin ’94
Marshall College, Literature


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