Interviewed by Cameron Vanderscoff
Edited by Cameron Vanderscoff and Irene Reti
300 pages, 2020
Professor Jasper Rose and Preceptor Betsy Avery, 1965. Photo by Vester Dick.
For many people, Jasper Rose embodied the spirit and dream of the young University of California, Santa Cruz campus. UCSC first opened its doors in 1965, and Jasper Rose was one of its founding faculty members and a senior preceptor at Cowell College. For Jasper, it meant the inauguration of a powerful shared venture, a space and a time where, as he put it, “it was as though we were a complete society.” He was passionate about that society and his place in it as an educator; animated by a reformer’s vision for change in education, he saw Santa Cruz as a place where something new and remarkable could be realized. In this oral history conducted in June of 2019, Jasper Rose recounts his own life journey to that place and to that vision, and shares his convictions and critiques about what has happened in the decades since at UCSC. While this oral history is Jasper’s story, due to Jasper's fragile health at the time of the interview, it was also fundamentally a shared effort by the Rose family. Three different family members—his wife Jean Rose and sons Inigo and William Rose—joined our sessions in at various times to support him in telling his life history.
Jasper Rose was born in London in 1930 to family of scholars and thinkers. His family was also “adequately Jewish,” as he put it, and the rising tide of anti-Semitism during World War II left an acute impression on Jasper as a child. His parents took in a string of Jewish refugees fleeing fascism, including leading intellectuals like Stefan Zweig, and his father worked as a prominent German language expert in the British war effort. In our interview more than seventy years after the end of the war, Jasper felt that a part of his vision for UCSC had come from his hope for “a humane postwar world”; in Santa Cruz, it mattered deeply to him that young people would have the opportunity to learn in a beautiful, peaceful, and creative environment.
After the war Jasper ultimately attended King’s College, Cambridge, where he met his soon-to-be wife Jean, also a gifted artist, and studied history. He studied under some of the great minds there, such as Christopher Morris and Noel Annan, and moved in a social set that included luminaries like E.M. Forster. He went on to become a fellow at Cambridge, and wrote a celebrated study of Oxford and Cambridge, Camford Observed: An Investigation of the Ancient English Universities in the Modern World. It was at once a caring and irreverent text. Jasper was already then a passionate advocate for undergraduate education and institutional reform—the very word “Camford” was a playful inversion of the more conventional “Oxbridge”—who believed in the residential college as a dynamic learning environment.
The oral history goes on to document how Jasper took these convictions with him to the United States, where the growing family moved after he secured a job at Rice University in Texas. Soon thereafter he was brought on as founding faculty at UCSC, where campus originators like Page Smith were impressed by Camford Observed and his approach to education. Jasper recounts how he threw himself wholeheartedly into the UCSC experiment. The new campus, which had a collegiate system, narrative evaluations instead of letter grades, an enthusiasm for reinventing curriculum, and which prized undergraduate education, was an ideal setting for Jasper. He left an indelible and outsize mark as a teacher, administrator, and artist. He believed in students and their ideas, and he encouraged them; he also believed in the power of education to transform outlooks and lives. Simply put, UCSC was a special place—a kind of California pastoral—where a “new vision” was possible.
Over time, UCSC began to change. Jasper, always known for the intensity of his convictions, became an increasingly fierce critic as the more radical 60s receded into the 70s and then 80s. In these pages, he assails what he saw as an increasing “narrowness of curiosity about what education meant” as UCSC moved away from its original collegiate model towards a more mainstream research university model. Eventually Jasper, feeling like he was fighting a rearguard action, moved from Cowell to Porter College to focus on the arts from there. He retired from UCSC in 1986, when he was still in his mid-50s. The oral history concludes with a reflection on change and continuity at UCSC, and on Jasper’s life as of the time of these interviews in 2019.