Number 39, Fall 2002

In Memoriam
Institute loses two dedicated supporters

UC MEXUS has lost two staunch supporters since the last issue of the UC MEXUS News.

Michael Mahlon Mullin, a leading research biologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, and a member of the UC MEXUS Advisory Committee, died December 19, 2000, of complications following bypass surgery. About the same time, Arthur J. Rubel, a passionate supporter of the Institute and a frequent participant in the UC MEXUS grants review committees, was diagnosed with cancer. Rubel died nine months later on September 2.


As a member of the CONACYT oversight committee, Michael Mullin was deeply committed to the programs cosponsored by the institute and Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT), said International Academic Officer Dr. Marlene de la Cruz. “He was enthusiastic about the way our collaboration was designed,” she said. “He thought that educating doctoral students and sponsoring collaborative projects was the way to go.”

Michael Mahlon Mullin
Michael Mahlon Mullin

As a student, Mullin had been something of a prodigy. A participant in the radio and television show “The Whiz Kids,” by the age of 20 he was working on a second bachelor’s degree at Harvard, where he also received his doctoral degree in biology. At the time of his death, at 63, he had spent 30 years as a professor and research biologist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and was director of the Scripps Marine Life Research Group.

His academic accomplishments did not kill his sense of humor, remembers Dr. Saśl Alvarez-Borrego, who served with him on UC MEXUS committees.

“He always seemed to be smiling, and he was always trying to come up with a comment to make us laugh, said Alvarez-Borrego, a professor and research ecologist at the Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (CICESE). “He seemed to enjoy life and his work very much – and people too.”

As scientists, they would meet up at functions of the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigation – a group of scientists & technicians from Scripps and related agencies who monitor the physics, chemistry, biology, and meteorology of the California Current ecosystem to help provide a foundation for scientists to measure climatological change.

“He was a fine scientist, with a very (astute insight into) what the results and data could describe about reality,” said Alvarez-Borrego.

Mullin’s research focused on the dynamics of phytoplankton, zooplankton, and larval fish in the marine food web. “That meant having to take into consideration all kinds of complicated physical-biological interaction in the sea,” he said. Mullin wrote numerous articles in scientific journals, a book, Webs and Scales, and was chief editor of Fisheries Oceanography journal.

“He was the best of us,” said Charles F. Kennel, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography when he learned of Mullin’s death. “He was one of our best researchers, one of our best teachers, one of our best colleagues, one of our best friends, and one of our best musicians.”

A childhood passion for music persisted throughout his life. In La Jolla, Calif., where he lived, he was a member of the San Diego Master Chorale and conducted the La Jolla Renaissance Singers for more than 30 years.

He was appointed to the UC MEXUS advisory committee in 1997 and served until his death. His family established the Michael M. Mullin Graduate Student Fellowship in Biological Oceanography after his death, as he had wished.


Arthur J. Rubel, professor emeritus of anthropology at UC Irvine, was associated with UC MEXUS for more than 20 years. He received several UC MEXUS grants for his work on perception and treatment of tuberculosis in Mexican and Mexican American communities, and sat on several UC MEXUS grant review committees, where colleagues referred to him as “a professor’s professor,” the kind of academic researcher one aspires to become.

Arthur J. Rubel
Arthur J. Rubel

His involvement with UC MEXUS was a natural partnership for a man who spent half a century in scholarship connected to Mexico, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.

“Art’s ties to Mexico began after his discharge from the Navy at the end of World War II,” said Rubel’s wife Carole Browner, a professor of anthropology in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences. “Studying, living, and working there opened amazing new vistas and permanently changed his life.”

His bachelor’s degree from Mexico City College in 1951 was followed by a 1962 degree in anthropology combined with a minor in epidemiology.

His first book, Across the Tracks: Mexican Americans in a Texas City, appeared in 1966. In addition to many subsequent scholarly contributions to the anthropology of health and illness, he helped form the Society for Medical Anthropology and develop Medical Anthropology Quarterly. He mentored many of today’s medical anthropologists.

Dr. Rubel came to Irvine in 1983 as something of an experiment for the family medicine department, which had never before included an anthropologist. As research professor of family medicine and anthropology, his work on the cultural dimensions of doctor-patient relationships in health and social relations made key contributions to the awareness of the cultural context of health care delivery.

His presentations and informal discussions about the methodology of cross-cultural ethnomedical research led to a significant rise in the quantity and quality of cross-cultural investigation. His work in prevalent beliefs about tuberculosis in the border region highlighted the role of sociocultural factors in developing effective strategies to control the disease, and had profound public health implications for both countries.

After his retirement in 1993, he remained as research professor at Irvine and continued with teaching, research and his involvement with UC MEXUS.

“The existence of a systemwide Institute devoted to enhancing institutional ties between UC and Mexican institutions and student and faculty interchange was an important part of his excitement during his early years in the UC system,” said Browner, who has served on the advisory committee since 1996.

“He was happy to go far out of his way to do whatever he could to further the work of the Institute.

“His enduring ties with UC MEXUS,” she said, “allowed Art to continue to repay his debt to the culture and society that had given so much to him."