Dean E. McHenry and UC Santa Cruz: An Experiment in Higher Education

Dean E. McHenry and UC Santa Cruz image

Dean E. McHenry and UC Santa Cruz: An Experiment in Higher Education
McHenry Library
University of California, Santa Cruz
Fall 2001

What is unique about UC Santa Cruz? Founded in 1965, UCSC has reached its mid-thirties. Perhaps it is time for a retrospective look at the vision and early history of this unique campus of the University of California, a singular experiment in public higher education in the United States.

The campus was founded as part of the University of California's response to the post World War II baby boom which stimulated an enormous projected increase in college-age students in the 1960s and 1970s. UCSC was one of three new campuses founded in this period. (The other two were UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara.) Then State Assemblyman Glenn Coolidge and influential Santa Cruz politicians and businesspeople worked hard to convince the Regents to build a campus on the Cowell Ranch site, which had been a limestone quarrying business and a cattle ranch. The Cowell Foundation sold 2,000 acres to the Regents for $2 million and donated approximately $920,000 to establish Cowell College, the first of UCSC's colleges.

While many individuals helped orchestrate the new campus (some of whom are featured in the "key staff and faculty" portion of the exhibit), UCSC was truly the brainchild of two men: Dean E. McHenry, who was appointed founding chancellor in 1961 and had been a political science professor at UCLA; and President of the University, Clark Kerr. Kerr's experience teaching at the small liberal arts colleges of Swarthmore and Antioch and McHenry's years at UCLA coalesced at UCSC in a vision of an institution which would have the intimacy of a small liberal arts college with its focus on undergraduate education, and the resources of a large public university.

McHenry and Kerr were also influenced by the British universities of Cambridge and Oxford, in which academic and residential lives were unified. The Santa Cruz version of the residential university comprised a cluster of separate colleges, each with a specific focus and architectural design. Even as campus enrollments grew (original projections were for 27,000 students) and colleges were added, the small scale of each college was meant to eliminate the kind of impersonal and overcrowded atmosphere complained of by students at large campuses such as UC Berkeley.

The founders of UCSC were quick to recognize the stunning landscape of the former Cowell ranch. Consulting landscape architect Thomas Church believed the redwoods were not simply "trees to enhance, screen, and shelter buildings," but "great vertical elements of the topography against which to compose the architecture." Indeed the trees formed a canvas upon which to paint a campus. Colleges and other campus buildings were placed in what is called the ecotone-the boundary between the forest and the grasslands. Ansel Adams, one of the great landscape photographers of the 20th century, became the campus's first photographer. Some of those photographs are included here.

Even as the campus opened in 1965, the anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s were beginning to sweep college campuses. (Please see exhibit timeline.) As professor of philosophy Carlos Norena writes in his report, The Rise and Demise of the UCSC Colleges, "The assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 was for many young people the beginning of a new political consciousness. The gate was open to the politicization of the universities in the mid-sixties, a process that was intensified by the doubling of the draft and the agony of the Vietnam war." The clean-cut students photographed on opening day soon were eclipsed by long-haired radicals. Student strikes and protests created tensions between the founders of the campus and many members of the student body. In 1967, Kerr himself became a casualty of this social upheaval, when he was fired by Governor Ronald Reagan, who was displeased by the level of student activism at Berkeley and other UC campuses and felt Kerr had been too lenient in dealings with campus demonstrators. Meanwhile Dean McHenry struggled with campus unrest, and also with the leaner state budgets of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

These tensions, as well as campus growth altered the University's relationship with the city and county of Santa Cruz. That town-gown relationship is the subject of a case in this exhibit. Other unique aspects of UC Santa Cruz included are the Narrative Evaluation/Pass-Fail grading system, the UCSC Farm and Garden Project, and the incorporation in 1966 of the Lick Observatory into the Santa Cruz campus as the campus's first Organized Research Unit.

This exhibit draws from the archive of founding chancellor, Dean E. McHenry, from the University Library's Special Collections, and from oral history interviews collected by the University Library's Regional History Project. It was curated by Mathew Simpson of the University Library's Online Archive of California unit, and Irene Reti of the Regional History Project, with assistance from Randall Jarrell, director of the Regional History Project, whose article "A Brief Prehistory of the UC Santa Cruz Campus, 1750-1965" is available by the Reference Area as an exhibit handout. Thanks to Paul Stubbs of Special Collections for his invaluable assistance with this project.