San Diego State University Oral Histories



about scua

Locations, Hours, Staff, Access, Use Policies

Our Collections

our collections

SCUA Guide, OneSearch, FAD, Comics, Highlights


Exhibits, iBase, dSpace, Digital Resources



Ask Us, Duplications, Instruction


scua blog

SCUA News & Events


icon development

Development, Gift Policies, How to Donate

Dr. Albert Johnson, Distinguished Faculty and AdministratorDr. Albert Johnson

Born in 1926, in northern Illinois, Dr. Albert W. Johnson served as an aviation cadet in the Army Air Corps during 1945 and 1946.  Once he was released from the army, Johnson attended Colorado A&M (now Colorado State University), where he received his Bachelor of Science in Biology.  He decided to continue with his doctorate, also at Colorado A&M, specializing in plant ecology.  While finishing his doctorate, he worked at the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research.  He graduated in 1956.  Johnson's first teaching job was at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.  He taught there for six years and also participated in the Cape Thompson Research Project.  Johnson then moved to California and began postdoctoral work, which lasted two years, at the University of California, Los Angeles.  

In 1964, Johnson was offered a position as an associate professor of biology at San Diego State College.  He taught ecology, genetics, botany, and biology.  Then, in 1969, he became the Dean of the College of Sciences.  Later, between the presidencies of Dr. Brage Golding and Dr. Thomas Day, Johnson became acting Vice President of Academic Affairs.  In 1979, President Day officially appointed him Vice President of Academic Affairs.  During his tenure as vice president, Johnson was extremely active in the faculty senate, and served as the liaison between administration and faculty.  He promoted the teacher-scholar model, and pushed for a flexible teaching load in order to allow faculty to conduct research.  

In addition to Johnson's university activities, he also served as a member on numerous boards and organizations, including the Board of Trustees of the Thorne Ecological Institute, the Environmental Advisory Committee of the San Diego Port Authority, the Research Committee of the San Diego Natural History Museum, the U.S. Polar Research Board, the Arctic Consortium of the United States, and the Institute of Arctic Biology.  

Dr. Johnson retired in 1991.  He now lives in Portland, Oregon.  An avid collector of Mark Twain, Johnson generously donated his Twain collection to San Diego State University's Special Collections and University Archives.

Oral History

Download the PDF transcript.

Dr. Johnson's oral history briefly discusses his childhood and years leading up to his tenure at San Diego State University. His oral history is divided into three parts. Part I illustrates Johnson's childhood, education, and interest in plant ecology, particularly in colder climates. In the second portion, Dr. Johnson gives an excellent account of the development of San Diego State University, focusing on the creation of colleges, the role of the faculty senate, the implementation of the teacher-scholar model, and the changing structure of the administration. In addition, Dr. Johnson reflects on his participation in the arid lands agricultural program in Egypt and Israel. Although un-related to his years at SDSU, Dr. Johnson also gives a fascinating account of the "Firecracker Boys" and the Cape Thompson Research Project in conjunction with the Atomic Energy Commission and "nuclear engineering." The third portion focuses on Johnson's love of Mark Twain and his collection of Mark Twain books.

Interview digitally recorded by Susan Resnik, Ph.D on June 29-30, 2009.

Contact Us

Special Collections & University Archives Contact

Location: SDSU Library & Information Access, Love Library Room 150
Phone: 619.594.6791

black white photo sdsu original new site