When the parents of the freshmen look too young to have college-age children, it is time to move on.
Retirement from the chancellorship was mandatory at age sixty-seven, but it was time to go. Ten years of administration were enough. The routine of the academic year—meeting the new freshmen, reporting to the academic senate, the fall UCSC foundation meeting, the staff Christmas party at University House, the monthly council of chancellors meetings, the monthly regents' meetings, the regular senate meetings, the spring foundation meeting, the myriad annual receptions for Friends of ———, the ARCS scholars' lunch, the athletic awards party, the staff awards picnic, the multiple commencements, the end-of-the-year faculty party, the annual budget sessions, all punctuated by student protests over some issue or other—had indeed become routine and begun to pall.
Old issues, never settled, only patched, began to recur—affirmative action, financial aid, child care, ethnic studies, community unhappiness with campus growth, yet another provost for Kresge College, yet another dean for natural sciences, yet another furor in the music board. The freshmen seemed younger every year. The freshmen in 1986 had been born around 1968. To them the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, and Watergate were as much ancient history as were World
War II, the Great Depression, the American Revolution, and the Roman Empire.
Repetition breeds cynicism. Hearing the same time-worn complaints from each new crop of students, watching and bearing their patterned protests and antics, it became harder each year to muster an open mind, to remember that it was new to them, to respect their need for growth and expression. I had reviewed the arguments many times and come by then to firm conclusions. It thus became hard to enter into a true dialogue with students, to present a paternal rather than a dictatorial face. Having heard all of the arguments many times over, my mind tended to wander, to concentrate on the student personalities in lieu of the substance—callow but earnest, näive but impassioned, incredibly self-centered, incredibly arrogant, and convinced at their tender age of their superior wisdom.
My natural tendency is toward a "liberal" orientation. A liberal philosophy necessarily is based on a belief that people are basically good and well motivated and will, if left free, act for the common weal. Contact with succeeding generations of students, however, corrodes that belief and reminds one how much education is needed to achieve even a modest maturity. An ability to view this frothy scene with a sense of humor had been a saving grace, but even this had begun to ebb.
To be a chancellor is a baptism in a whirlpool spun ever faster by the conflicting forces of modern society, for these forces correctly focus on the university as the fountainhead of the future—and seek to influence its direction by acting on its titular head. But the chancellor cannot directly oblige any of them for, in fact, he or she has very limited power to alter its course. Who does? In truth, very often, no one. Inertia dominates.
UC Santa Cruz was one of a group of colleges and universities launched in the 1960s (e.g., Evergreen, Hampshire, Old Westbury, New College) to "reform" higher education. All fell on hard times. Santa Cruz survived only by virtue of its lifeline to the UC system.
The founders of UC Santa Cruz knew more what they were against (disciplinary and research emphasis with resultant faculty indifference to undergraduate education) than what they were for and how to accomplish it. Incompletely conceived, the birth of the campus was premature. The infant university was then afflicted with the general campus
turmoil of the 1960s and the accompanying drastic changes in student attitudes, while its congenital deficiencies grew increasingly salient.
To create a campus designed in contradiction to the role of UC as set forth in the master plan for higher education in California was quixotic at best. The conflicting objectives of colleges and disciplines charged every decision with resultant partisan bitterness: if one favored the colleges, it was "lowering standards"; if one favored the disciplines, it was "a betrayal of the campus vision." In short, it was a no-win situation.
Does higher education need reform? In my view, yes. Apart from the claims of myriad special interest groups, American higher education in general succeeds admirably in the provision of disciplinary education (indeed, its appeal is international) but largely fails in the provision of broader inter- and cross-disciplinary perspectives and concepts. There is no consensus on the nature of a "liberal" education for the twenty-first century and little incentive to develop one. Lacking this, American universities often become, in good part, training grounds for future white-collar workers and holding tanks for youth in prolonged adolescence.
If reform is to come anywhere, it will require a conception that is thought through well to reflect external context; faculty motivations, incentives, and availability; and student motivations and interests, as well as more abstract educational goals. The thorniest problems involve curriculum and faculty responsibilities. These issues must be thought through before the university is launched, before its energies are consumed in the construction of facilities, the organization of classes, and the stewardship of students. Several years, or at least several summers, of sustained thought and discussion by a committed group of faculty would be needed to develop a consistent and coherent curriculum and work out the details of its implementation before it is attempted.
The new enterprise must be assured of resources adequate to the tasks. The concept should embody a clear vision, but promises should not be made nor expectations raised that cannot be fulfilled and lead only to continuing frustration. Older standards of excellence should not be abandoned without explicit—and tentative—justification. An inherent element of any reform program should be periodic evaluation of its successes and failures and a willingness to "reform" the reforms. The reform movement should not succumb to the pathology of "instant tradition," in which early casual actions become unalterable sacred precedent. And the conductors of educational experiments should at all
times have a conscience with respect to the students whose lives and future careers are in their hands and to the junior faculty whose careers are precious and precarious and must similarly be nurtured.
There were the accustomed bittersweet farewell dinners and events. Many people seemed genuinely sorry to see us leave and I was deeply touched. Karen was named "Woman of the Year" by the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce for her many community activities—the first time anyone from the campus had ever been so recognized in the community. A faculty chair was endowed in my name, thanks in large measure to my old college friend Art Graham and his wife Carol. Even faculty and community people with whom I had been much at odds seemed to mellow and sheathe their swords and wish us well as the time drew near.
But, it was time to go. Science beckoned.