OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M.

October 3, 2002

Johnston College -
A Rebirth

Ouellette02.jpg (12092 bytes)

by Eugene G. Ouellette Ph.D.

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library


This paper attempts to present a brief overviewof the relationships between the University of Redlands and its cluster college, Johnston College. It theorizes that, although Johnston college was closed by the university, many of the original educational ideas and principles of Johnston College live on in the now popular Johnston Center.

Background of the Author

Gene Ouellette is an emeritus faculty member of the University of Redlads. He is a graduate of the University of Redlands and holds a Doctorate in Communicative Disorders from the University of Washington. He has served on the faculty of San Diego state University as well as that of the University of Redlands. He retired four years ago after serving for 34 years as a faculty member at the university, department chair and Chancellor of Johnston College.


I think we’ll agree that a rebirth implies a death and a death implies a life- so this is best described as a story of the life, death and resurrection of a college. Perhaps it would be fitting to start with the opening statement from the 1973 Report of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accreditation report about Johnston College, a non-traditional cluster unit of the University of Redlands.

In its short existence, Johnston College has evolved a sane and robust educational plan that in several directions indicate the next step-indeed the next several steps-which many institutions of higher education are struggling to take and some have already begun to follow.

Gene Ouellette is an emeritus faculty member of the University of Redlads. He is a graduate of the University of Redlands and holds a Doctorate in Communicative Disorders from the University of Washington. He has served on the faculty of San Diego state University as well as that of the University of Redlands. He retired four years ago after serving for 34 years as a faculty member at the university, department chair and Chancellor of Johnston College.

A note about the accreditation process : all schools are assessed by accreditation teams whose function is to determine if an academic program is educationally and fiscally sufficient to award degrees.  Typically a new institution is visited two years in a row ,five years later and thereafter every ten years.

Some additional quotes from the 1973 accreditation report:

The Johnston College faculty is among its strongest assets… this is one of the  most elite faculties for undergraduate students anywhere in the country.

And the concluding statement of the report:” The 1972 visiting team found Johnston College to be an outstanding educational institution.  It found the college outstanding in the quality of the educational experience it offers to students and in its efforts to search for a new and more effective model of undergraduate education. The 1973 visiting team concurs in this judgment.

So, after only four years of operation, Johnston College received the first independent and full accreditation of a non-traditional cluster unit of a private liberal arts university and six years later , in 1979, Johnston surrended this valued accreditation and ceased being a college.

To try to understand the death of this commitment of 340 students and 32 faculty members and administrators, it would be useful to revisit its birth.

Possibly inspired in part by the cluster college concept of neighboring Claremont Colleges, discussion about cluster units of the University of Redlands began in 1961. The embryonic model of an alternative college to train students for careers

In international business, the foreign service and related professions  was approved by the U of R Faculty Council in 1967.It was decided that Johnston College would be the first of many cluster units and  would test and evaluate new concepts and practices in higher education.  At about the same time, Dr. Dwayne Orton, a U of R alumnus and Director of IBM’s international education programs persuaded James Graham Johnston, a retired IBM executive, to donate 1.5 million dollars to finance a cluster unit of the U of R which would bear his name.  Actually only $300,000 of Johnston’s donation was available immediatedly with another $250,000 added in 1970. It’s interesting to compare this one-half million founding gift  with the 20 million founding amount of Hampshire College in Massachusetts, Johnston’s major non-traditional competitor at that time.

In 1968 the University of Redlands Board of Trustees decided to establish Johnston College and created a JC Board of Overseers to whom they gave autonomy in three areas: admissions standards, academic policies and graduation requirements.

Dr. Pressley McCoy was offered the position of Chancellor of Johnston College in the Spring of 1968 and he began his tenure in August of that year.

The first year was devoted to academic and campus planning and faculty, student and Board of Overseer recruitment by the first three JC faculty members, Drs Rene Francillion, John Watt and Roger Baty.

It is important to note here that two major issues of disagreement arose between Dr McCoy and Dr. Armacost  almost immediately.

First, the question of approval of JC faculty was raised by Dr. Armacost following the arrival of the first year faculty members.  McCoy contended that this was a part of the academic autonomy granted to the Board of Overseers. Armacost argued that he alone approved all faculty contracts and Armacost won the argument, for at least the next twelve months.

The second issue was perhaps more important for it,  along with the requirement of university approval of the JC budget , contained the seeds of the college’s eventual downfall—this centered on student life. McCoy visualized that living and learning were inseparable and therefore student life was part of the new college’s academic autonomy. For this reason the first JC Catalogue stated that Johnston students would live in coeducational residence centers and would have “moral autonomy.” Students reasonably interpreted this to mean that men and women would live in the same residence halls if they chose and would be relatively free of traditional life styles and codes of conduct.  But when they arrived on campus, the students found single sex dorms with strict house rules. Dr. Armacost’s concept of innovation was different.  It extended to problem-solving learning and combining knowledge of international business and government with an ecumenical moral vision, and this did not extend beyond the classroom. This issue first surfaced at the college’s beginning ten day  retreat at Pilgrim Pines campground in September, 1969. Verda and George Armacost attended the retreat which was structured around the use of T-groups—group meetings led by professional group leaders—and at his first meeting Armacost learned that McCoy had promised living autonomy to the students against the university’s traditional  policy  At that point, personal and professional lines were drawn between the U of R administration and its fledgling cluster unit..

This student life conflict was quickly exacerbated when the Johnston community took possession of its campus which included two traditionally built dormitories with windows that could not be opened and strict hours posted for women students. The community  also learned that it could do nothing about what it considered had been a lie by t he administration.

George Armacost had assured the UR Board of Trustees that rules governing university housing would apply equally to the Johnston community—and this meant that doors to the residence halls would be locked at 10 p.m. Given the heralded promise of a living –learning relationship, the students found such rules to be paralyzing and the newly created Johnston faculty voted to teach under protest.

This early conflict contributed to much of the first year student behavior which was totally unacceptable to Dr. Armacost., but which was becoming prevalent on college campuses nationally.  For example, nine memos were sent from Armacost to McCoy complaining about students smoking on campus. Students committed “ vandalism” on the residence hall lobby furniture; they decorated their rooms and hallways with murals; they built wooden lofts in their rooms to increase floor space; they  painted monopoly murals on the squares of the Johnston sidewalk; they participated in nude sun bathing on the dorm roofs and filled their dorms with loud music; their dress was different, some went barefoot; some students used drugs and some slept together; they continually replanted  the new trees on the Johnston lawn to break up the straight lines of trees. And all this behavior ran counter to university policies of student  deportment and student expectations. But it did parallel McCoy’s contention that the central concern of education must focus on the individual, and that the JC  community , not outsiders, must decide what constitutes a valid undergraduate education.

Johnston students wanted to be responsible to and for themselves.  But the UR saw itself clearly acting in loco parentis—the U of R had little sympathy for such striving for freedom and JC students had none at all for U of R policies and their rationale. According to Kevin O’Neil and  Bill McDonald’s book ,_- A History of Johnston College 1969-1979, Johnston students simply did not wish to live in a world of courteous, well groomed people conducting chaste lives on a quite, safe campus.

While these daily conflicts were taking place, Johnston students and faculty were constructing and implementing an innovative academic program. The cornerstone of this program rested on the idea of a negotiated contract which.occurred on two levels- a class contract and a graduation contract—more on this later.

Again, according to the accreditation report, “ At Johnston College the contract concept comes to encompass much of the educational—intellectual and affective- development of both student and teacher- the concept of the contract is a dramatic lifting of the usual constraints of student-faculty collaboration in curriculum development.” So, a viable academic program was in place by the end of the first year.

And I should add that this contractual process exemplifies the importance and focus on the individual- intellectually and affectively- and it was easily adapted into the many academic programs that developed.

Early on, these programs consisted of inquiring into four dimensions of information and learning – they were environmental, interpersonal, intercultural and international and they functioned somewhat analogous to traditional departments. After a few years, the community developed a series of off-campus programs to supplement classroom learning and since you are more familiar with classroom style I’ll emphasize the experiential side of Johnston learning, such as the University Year for Action , a program designed by Vista, the domestic peace corps, a five year federal grant by which 30 students spent a year in community services, working with local agencies to help fight poverty and discrimination. The Johnston program had three segments: one group worked as probation counselors for juvenile offenders in Indio, a second group tutored in local school systems while a third group participated in a variety of community development projects including a drug counseling clinic, a legal aid clinic and a job counseling facility.

Another program was the cooperative education project which placed twelve students per year in internship settings such as the US State department, the United Nations, the Bronx Zoo, and corporate environments such as TRW and the LA Times.

An interesting program was Roger Baty”s community insight program designed to involve students in cross cultural experiences. Students prepared during the Fall in a class, completed the internship during the January  four week Interim period and participated in a reflective course about their internships during the Spring semester.  This program provided domestic and foreign home stays primarily on American Indian reservations and in Mexico.

The successful University Without Walls program at Johnston was an attempt to establish the free university ethos of the 1960’s in a JC context.   The UWW student, many times a working adult, would build an education by assembling courses, independent studies and credit for prior life experiences. This grouping would be negotiated into a contract with a faculty advisor and approved by a faculty committee. This model provided the educational basis for the later efforts of the second cluster unit, Whitehead College.

The most successful offshoot of the UWW program was Johnston’s Master’s degree in Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology. This combined both clinical and experiential components. Students studied one or more of the following:  encounter groups, gestalt groups, psychodrama groups, the biofeedback program, , meditation workshops, rolfing or structural patterning and spiritual healing. Several counseling internships were available as well as participation in a crisis hotline or women’s groups. The core of the transpersonal movement was a rediscovery of the spiritual dimension in the individual. Johnston had long been a home for the development of humanistic psychology whose goal was to develop the whole person, physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

This   program also contained traditional required courses such as Developmental Psychology ,Theories of Personality., Statistics and others.

Another program was the Wilderness program, approved in 1975.  In this program students would hike, camp out, rock climb, and master survival techniques, as well as study ecology of the local forests.  Additionally, the wilderness courses focused on cultivating attitudes toward physical fitness based on self development rather than competition.

So the off-campus  experiential aspects of the Johnston educational process, the community service, home-stays, in-service clinical training, transpersonal/spiritual experiences and working internships provided Johnston students with a rich set of possibilities for a “hands on “ education.  All of these experiences shared the assumption of the University Year For Action that experiential learning constitutes an indispensable part of undergraduate education.

Of course these  and other programs are expensive, especially for a young , growing college so development of foundation grants became an administrative priority . Grants were received from groups such as the Danforth Foundation, TRW, The National Institute of Mental Health, the Lilly Foundation, the  US Office of Education, the CBS Foundation, First Western Bank of Los Angeles, the IBM Corporation, the Ford Foundation,  The Kiwanis Club, The Shell Companies Foundation, the  Elks Foundation, the Xerox Fund, US Department of HEW, Soroptimist Club, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship,  American Baptist Board of Education, Alberto Culver Company , Board of Education-United Presbyterian Church, The Layne Foundation, National Council of Churches and the Falk Medical Fund. In truth, this is only a sample of total financial support generated by and for the young college,

And since Johnston and its resources were small , it was determined to create alliances with other colleges who were willing to sponsor student exchanges  for Johnston students, thus offering a variety of environmental and learning experiences. Some of these included Prescott College, Simmons College, The World College, Fisk University, Thomas Jefferson College, Evergreen College, Hampshire College, Howard University and fifty-six additional colleges  , all members of the University of Experimenting Colleges and Universities. They included schools such as the University of Massachusetts, the University of North Carolina, the University of Alabama, University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, Stephens College and Skidmore College. Foreign exchanges were negotiated with Ching Chou College in Hong Kong, Thomasatt College in Thailand, Reitaku College, International Christian University, Wasada and Kansai Colleges of Japan, and Edinburgh University in Scotland.

Branch graduate groups were established in the Los Angeles area and negotiations were almost completed for similar locations at UC San Diego and Cal State in Sonoma. But then the college ended.

So what happened to this flourishing college? How did it quickly evolve from a robust college of 340 students and 32 faculty and administrators with a impressive national reputation into a  University of Redlands department of 35 students and one and one-half  faculty/administrators?  It is possible to explain how this happened but not exactly why it happened.

The university publicized in 1976 that Johnston’s decreasing financial resources were substantially contributing to the deficits of the university. The truth is that at this point, Johnston College had accumulated a total $20,000 deficit—this according to UR business office  records. And this is without reception of the total Johnston founding grant. And this is without any of the Overseer Power gift of approximately $800,000 which had been  assumed by the University of Redlands. And this included a first year deficit of $170,000. All of this in spite of the UR Board of Trustees’  approval of a deficit up to $100,000. The university had suffered growing deficits for several years; in 1976 its annual deficit hovered around $300,000 with a debt to the Bank of America of 1.5 million dollars. The 1977 deficit was estimated at that time to be approximately one million dollars.  No wonder that the then current UR Treasurer said to me, “The University is legally bankrupt “ It was apparent that the university had expected Johnston College to be a paying proposition from the start with little leeway for the inevitable period of losses which mark the founding of institutions of higher learning.   I should add that each year  the UR charged Johnston a fee of 16.2 percent of the total UR budget. This is because the UR administration had decided that since Johnston students constituted 16.2 per cent of the total university student body, the college should make this annual contribution to the UR  for use of facilities such as the administration building, athletic fields, library, etc. Financially, Johnston was treated as though it were a separate institution renting space on the UR campus.

Johnston College’s death however most probably began during its first week at Pilgrim Pines in 1969., when Verda Armacost bolted from her T- group in tears because of direct student language   and  George Armacost  first learned of the promised autonomous student life . Perhaps it took six years and three  UR presidents to come to the conclusion stated by President Douglas Moore that “ Johnston College is an incoherence of the Redlands image.” Student dress and behavior, student life, student indifference to UR policies and UR administration, student reaction to the then active war in Vietnam—let’s not forget that at this time the University of Redlands was only one of two California colleges that did not demonstrate against the Vietnam conflict - So basically a bad fit of a liberal institution into a conservative environment .

Regardless of the “why “, what actions taken by the university’s  Board of Trustees were clear. In 1976 they apparently decided that Johnston College must cease so it was time for a reorganization of the college.  It was time to take control of Johnston’s faculty contracts and Johnston College student life. The following changes were made:

The Chancellor was renamed “ Provost “ and directed to report to the UR president and the UR Board of Trustees, bypassing the Johnston College Board of Overseers;

Departing and fired  JC faculty members would not be replaced with any exceptions to be approved by the UR Board of Trustees;

All members of the Johnston College Student Life staff were fired;

The successful Johnston development staff and Public Relations director were fired or transferred to the UR Administration;

The Johnston admissions office was closed and the staff fired; this effectively closed down the Johnston network of feeder high schools since the UR admissions staff did not visit these schools.

The director of the University Without Walls program and the Assistant to the Chancellor were fired;

The Johnston commons was closed and all students were required to eat at the UR commons.

All these changes took place at a time of nationally declining undergraduate enrollments and a national trend among entering college freshmen of primarily seeking undergraduate majors in business training.

I should add that at that time the UR admissions and development staffs failed in their efforts to replace the fired Johnston administrative staff—the UR administrators did not understand Johnston and could not sell what they did not know. A UR vice-president at that time told me that he had never visited the Johnston campus and he was not about to change his behavior in the future.

Now faculty started to leave, followed by students who cited as their major reason for leaving the loss of faculty members. By the fall of 1979, only 18 faculty members and 136 students remained.

The last three years of the college’s life were sad times of disappointing student enrollment and faculty growth.  In 1978, apparently forgetting that academic autonomy had been granted to the Johnston Board of Overseers, President Moore told the Johnston faculty that all graduate programs belong under the aegis of the UR Dean of Graduate Studies and that all External Degree programs belong under the direction of Whitehead College and that there should be only faculty on campus.  In February, 1979,   the strong external degree program was terminated by the president; all the psychology programs were terminated and five faculty contracts were not renewed.  Johnston College was no longer. So much for life and death—what of rebirth?

When the UR administration and Board of Trustees closed Johnston College by disbanding the Board of Overseers and forcing the college to surrender its prized accreditation, it destroyed the semi-independent college and this is apparently all they intended to do at that time. Most importantly, they did not destroy the academic ideas underpinning the college—which really constituted the substance of the enterprise. At that time, most of the university people saw Johnston as a collection of problems but the problems were reflective of student life and budgetary concerns—and they were solved by closing the college. Actually, shortly after the college closed, the UR Director of Development  attended a meeting with the then president, Dr. Moore, who  was making final plans for the closure of the Johnston program—but during the meeting  someone brought in   a recently published copy of the    World News and Report College edition, in which the University of Redlands was heralded because of the presence of the Johnston experiment. That ended the discussion about final closure. And 31 students, a director and a faculty member stayed on with their belief in the academic potential of the Johnston experiment and no one interfered with their carrying out their commitments to it. So eventually under the later leadership  and support of President  Appleton and a new group of UR administrators, the Johnston experiment has continued its careful and steady growth so that now there are two full time administrators and 190 students with access to all of the UR faculty.  It now prepares to celebrate its 35th anniversary.

The Johnston Center for Integrative Studies was born in 1979 and described itself as a contract based, individualized education within a community. It assumed that since students own their learning, they should be free to negotiate their education. It assumed that Johnston Center students are inquisitive learners rather than passive consumers of education and that each student should be expected to take responsibility for his/her education.  It assumed that living-learning is a unity and therefore the Johnson Center experience should be a training for life. It believed the Johnston Community to be a fluid concept, a group of committed people in progress and therefore always open to change while at the same time conservatively perpetuating an innovative, time-tested academic process.

The core of the academic process is still the practice of negotiated contracts, both on the class level and graduation level.

The class contract is a negotiated statement  of commitment between students and professors at the beginning of each semester. In it, students outline objectives for the class and what they will do to meet these objectives. It is a working plan that defines the expected quantity and quality of student performance. Each class contract has two parts: the course description and specific course plans as negotiated with a faculty member. Students can negotiate changes in the syllabus or contract for more or less course work which would be reflected in the amount of credit to be given for the course.

Each student in a Johnston course is required to write a self  and faculty evaluation in which the student assesses the work done and provides the faculty member with crucial information about both student and faculty performance. Each faculty member is required to write a narrative evaluation rather than a grade for each student, believing , among many reasons , that grades focus attention on competition with other students rather than on one’s own objectives. Evaluations describe what the student accomplished, how well they did it and give specific suggestions for improvement. Typically they comment on the quality of student participation and interest in the class and the strengths and weaknesses of student papers, presentations or performance on exams if given. 90% of the UR faculty have agreed to write narrative evaluations for Johnston center students and of course the evaluations become part of each student’s permanent transcript. Although rarely necessary, all evaluations can be translated into units and grades at the student’s request or that of another college or graduate school.

The Johnston Center student’s graduation contract is a written plan outlining each student’s undergraduate education . It meets student goals and institutional expectations. It is typically prepared by the student and advisor toward the end of the student’s sophomore year and includes the following:

A narration about the student’s educational history , preferred styles of learning, and development of a major concentration . It lists the courses that comprise an academic major field of study and academic breadth of study. There is a description of a cross cultural experience and a description of a senior project if planned.  This is not required but over 80% of Johnston students complete them. It also includes other specific requirements such as exposure to languages, physical education and state requirements.

The tentative plan is taken to a Graduation Contract Committee by the student and advisor—and again negotiations take place—obviously negotiating one’s education is the heart of the Johnston Center pedagogy. Typically students `approach this very important committee as though it were a group advising session and after discussing all requirements the proposed contract is either accepted, modified or rejected by the committee. Obviously, no two graduation contracts are exactly alike.

When the student, advisor and registrar believe that the student has successfully completed all aspects of the graduation plan, they meet with a second committee, the Graduation Review Committee. During this meeting, the advisor presents a précis of the student’s work and the student comments on his/her Johnston experience.  These meetings are typically open and often end up as celebrative sessions, honoring the student’s career in the Center.

There are different types of classes available to Johnston students. There are Johnston seminars proposed by either students or faculty and are taught by one of the more than 50% of UR faculty members, who form the new “inner core “ of the Center. There are cross-listed courses which are taught by the majority of UR faculty members willing to write narrative evaluations for Johnston Center students. There are individualized studies performed under the supervision of a faculty member. There are internships sponsored by faculty members and possibly outside supervisors. There are student taught courses under the supervision of faculty members and there are Integrated Semester courses which consist of a full semester’s work with a faculty member, equivalent to 8-12 units. In each of these academic experiences students are expected to share responsibility for the success of the course.

Of course, all the planning and contracting and course completion culminate in the Johnston Center graduation ceremony. This is unlike any other graduation ceremony in the country and I would urge all of us to attend the next one at the conclusion of the Spring semester. Typically a faculty member delivers the commencement address, President Appleton confers the degrees, each degree is presented to each student by people chosen by the student. Then they speak and finally each student is asked to say whatever he/she wishes. Attendance at one of these ceremonies would enable any stranger to the program to understand what Johnston Center is really about for each student.

So what has the rebirth changed?  There is still national recognition for the program. Johnston students still do not believe that one’s undergraduate education should simply reflect expectations of the surrounding culture. Johnston graduates still prosper in various professions and corporate enterprises and they still seem to treasure the joy of learning.. And at reunions the word comes back that the entrepreneurship mode – negotiate, negotiate --  learned at Johnston provides its graduates a basis of success in any field they choose. But the rebirth has brought about, among others, an element of trust that is truly remarkable to see.  During its first ten years of life, Johnston College and the University of Redlands had little personal or professional  regard for each other—there was mutual coexistence at its best , but now, especially thanks to Jim Appleton and his administrative staff, founding faculty Bill McDonald, Kevin O’Neil, Doug Bowman and Barney Childs and the outstanding leadership of Frank Blume, Yasuyuki Owada and Kathy Ogren, trust is evident on both sides of the street. In fact, there are no longer two sides of the street. A university professor recently quoted to me  the belief of other university professors- that it is a privilege to be asked to  teach at the Johnston Center. University of Redlands and Johnston center students live  and work together—all admissions, public relations and development work for the Johnston Center is performed by UR offices, all Johnston Center teaching is performed by UR faculty—this is what trust is about. I should add that while it is true that the Johnston Center is supported from the university operational budget, it is also true that loyal alumni contribute to its support through the Director’s  Discretionary Fund and the Building a Johnston Community Endowment Campaign.

Many of us knew Frank Moore, the former editor of the Redlands Daily Facts. Frank wrote the following editorial about Johnston :  “ Rudyard Kipling once said that prophets have honor all over the earth, except in the village in which they are born. This may have application to Johnston in the village in which it was born. It may be that Johnston is now a prophet of education that in time will bring more honor to Redlands that the people of our town can imagine.”


Bibliography is bound in the hard copy available in the A.K. Smiley Public Library, Redlands, CA.

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