Education: Reform on the Coast

Friday, Oct. 11, 1963



While Britons borrow American ideas, many a U.S. campus aims to outdo its 2,000 competitors by copying Oxbridge. Case in point: California's little (2,551 students) University of the Pacific in Stockton.


In 1951, when it celebrated its 100th birthday as College of the Pacific, the oldest college in California was the model of a football foundry. For years, Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg had built teams that trounced the mighty universities of Chicago and California. By 1950, having climbed to tenth in the nation, Methodist-founded Pacific had progressed from stadiums seating 10,000 to 20,000 to 35,000—and into academic oblivion.


Into Competition. In those days Pacific lived in the shadow of President Tully C. Knoles, who was wont to dress up like Buffalo Bill, with his goatee jutting, and lead parades aboard a white stallion. But when Knoles died in 1959, the school found in his longtime assistant a distinctly different leader. Eying California's booming public citadels of learning, President Robert E. Burns saw that private Pacific was out of the competition.


Burns' answer was to make the place bigger yet smaller—large enough to compete with the well-equipped state schools, but not so monolithic. He changed the name from college to university. Then, after visiting Oxford and Cambridge ("draftiest damn week of my life") for guidance, Burns set out to expand the university through "cluster" colleges: small, autonomous schools with ivied walls, beamed ceilings, great halls and high tables, the whole Oxbridge bit. The first to be opened was Raymond College, a $3,000,000 complex of seven buildings with more than 4,800 crop-rich acres as endowment. Though yet to feel the cling of ivy, Raymond has everything else: tutorials for its 124 students, a scholarly faculty of 17, comprehensive exams, and a bold taste for guest speakers from Birchers to Zennists to Martin Luther King. It is generalist to the core. "Students who want vocational training should go elsewhere," says Burns.


The whole university is no longer a place for on-the-field training. The football schedule has been cut and athletic scholarships shrunk. Says Athletic Director Paul Stagg, Alonzo's son: "I'm riding a very thin line at present."


Cross-Fertilization. This month Burns opened another college that appears to be unique in the U.S., one teaching everything in Spanish. The goal of Elbert Covell College is "education for life in the Americas in the 20th century." It will stress math, science, business and school teaching. Equally important, it will throw together 250 dissimilar students, two-thirds of them from Latin America, the rest Americans fluent in Spanish. Already on hand are 60 students from the U.S. and 14 Latin American countries. Faculty is still a problem. Covell has spent months trying to find a Spanish-speaking physicist, for example. "The very difficulty we've had shows how much this program is needed," says Director Arthur J. Cullen.


Covell's birth pangs hardly daunt President Burns, who now plans two more colleges, one to be supported by Episcopalians, the other by Presbyterians. "Within 15 years, I see 15 cluster colleges with 5,500 to 6,000 students," he says. Unless football creeps back, Pacific may become one of the nation's most interesting campuses.

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