OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M.

March 18, 2004


by James R. Appleton, Ph.D.


James R. Appleton was named eighth president of the University of Redlands in September 1987.

Prior to this he served for 15 years at the University of Southern California as a member of the faculty, as vice president for student affairs and then as vice president for development.  Before 1972 he served in various faculty and administrative positions at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

Dr. Appleton currently serves on several boards and committees outside the University of Redlands.  He is serving a three-year term as Chair of the Western Association of Schools & Colleges Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities and served for many years on the executive committee of the board of the Washington-based National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the President's Council of NCAA.

He received his undergraduate degree from Wheaton College, Illinois.  His Ph.D. is from Michigan State University.



The period of the late 1960's and early 1970's represents an unusually challenging time in higher education in the United States. It was a time of serious dissent and massive social and personal value changes. The Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and women's movements were occurring simultaneously. Moreover, higher education itself was perceived by students as having close connections with what was called the "military-industrial complex" and curricula and pedagogy that was not sensitive to the learning needs of the new generation of students. The college and university campus became the center of much of the protest activity centered on these issues and changes.

Student affairs administrators in our colleges and universities were often in the "eye of the storm" and played significant roles in assisting these institutions to both weather the protests and make appropriate changes. This paper offers the perspective about these years of one such student affairs administrator.

The period of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s represents an unusually challenging time in higher education in this country.  While one can chronicle productive change for higher education and society at large that resulted from that era, for those professionals who were serving in student affairs positions they were demanding and draining.  I had arrived at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan in 1965, a newly minted Ph.D. from Michigan State University.  I was a member of the faculty and Dean of Students and then from 1970 to 1972 served as the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.  I left Oakland in 1972 to accept a position at the University of Southern California and then came to the University of Redlands in 1987.  Looking back on my career, the years from 1969 to 1972 were among the most difficult and challenging.

Recently a number of us were asked to chronicle our experiences as student affairs administrators in colleges and universities during the social revolution movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  A book has been published and will be presented in Denver on March 28, 2004.  This paper draws from my chapter in this volume and represents my perceptions of selected experiences while an administrator at Oakland University.

The Context

Campuses were erupting as a result of so many important events occurring simultaneously - the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the women’s movements, and massive social and personal value changes.   Anti-war protests grew as the war continued.   A rebellion at Columbia University in 1968 ended only after buildings were seized by thousands of students and hundreds were arrested, the 1968 Democratic Party National Convention in Chicago was disrupted and the nation saw via television thousands of young protesters beaten by Chicago police.  Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) emerged as a militant anti-war organization.  Kent State University students became very militant and on May 4, 1970 National Guard troops opened fire on that campus.  Four students died and seven were wounded.  Two more students were killed at Jackson State University.  These events only illustrate the intensity that many of us lived each day.

Higher education itself was perceived by students as having close connections with what they called the “military-industrial complex” and a general education curriculum and pedagogy that was not sensitive to the learning needs of the new generation of students.  Institutions were rethinking their responsibilities in loco parentis.  The students of color being admitted for the first time in any significant number at many campuses felt disenfranchised.  The issues were real and the campuses became the focal point for dissent and protest.   It was a very explosive time; nothing like it had ever been experienced in American higher education.

Oakland University was not immune to the events that troubled our nation.  Anti-war protests abounded, faculty and students had a difficult time understanding each other, and racial tensions grew exponentially from ’69 to ’72.  When I arrived at Oakland in 1965 there were fewer than ten African American students at the college in an environment that was primarily rural and suburban white.  Within a period of three or four years, the student body included approximately fifteen percent urban African American students.  At the same time, Detroit and nearby Pontiac (the national center of the school busing crisis) were literally blowing up.  The text under an AP photograph from 1971 read “Pontiac firemen work to put out the flames in a school bus after opponents of forced busing destroyed ten buses and damaged three others with dynamite.”  I want to add that the crises on the Oakland campus should not necessarily be blamed on the new students but on the situations that resulted from the rapid changes occurring within the academy itself and in America, and the inability of the institutions of higher education to understand the full meaning of such changes.

The sit-in

The most dramatic civil rights event at Oakland was the build up to and the execution of a sit-in at the campus cafeteria in the early 1970’s.  This was not to be compared with Kent State or Jackson State but this could have escalated to these heights.  A number of incidents that occurred over a period of several years might be recounted but this was one of the defining moments.  The representatives of black students decided that there were changes needed at the University and after failed attempts to gain the attention they believed was necessary, they initiated a sit-in in the dining room.  The dining room one early morning was occupied by close to one hundred students, mostly African American with some supportive white students.  The students developed a set of demands.  They were wise in not publishing them, because this gave all of us negotiating room.  When groups published their demands, and most did, there was little room for compromise.  On this occasion, the demands were not outrageous; they were focused on student recruitment, support services, the curriculum, advising, and campus climate issues.

The students submitted their demands to the Chancellor.  He asked me to meet with their representatives and so, in a residence hall office we met throughout the afternoon and the night – we left the room only for food and rest breaks – until dawn was breaking in a new day.  A more detailed account of the events that surrounded this sit-in and these dialogues would provide an intriguing picture of the commitment of several staff and faculty members and the importance of complementary roles and responsibilities among administrators and faculty.   For me, however, it was a long day and night as the single administrator with these students.

In the end, we came to what I thought were good resolutions.  When the “negotiations” were concluded, I met with the Chancellor and said, “If we can agree to get these things done, we’ve got a deal.”  He did agree, and then he met with the faculty.  Some faculty were displeased with both the process and the results, but we had come to an agreement.  Some of the items we could implement immediately, some we could not accomplish, some of them we said we'd consider further.  It is significant that once it was clear that we, as well as the students, were serious, the student representatives went back to the dining room.  Students cleaned up the dining room so that it appeared better than it was when they had entered, and then they walked out.

This recital does not portray the emotional drain and anxiety that accompanied these events and others like them.  And this by no means brought to a conclusion the tensions or occasional outbursts of violence among the students at Oakland but credibility had been established and a context for further work was intact.

Credit should be given to Chancellor Donald O’Dowd, now retired in Santa Barbara, California, for enabling us to engage in the process just detailed and not requiring us to remove the students from the dining room.  Rather, he confronted those who might have clamored for a more forceful response and said, “Start working on this and see what we can do.”  The colleges and universities that moved too quickly had more problems.   I think it worked at Oakland because it was clear we were willing to make progress in meeting reasonable needs for all students even if these needs were expressed as demands.

What was the role of student affairs in responding to these concerns?

To broaden the picture a bit, Student Affairs professionals across the country were the persons who were at the intersection between the students, faculty, and the administration.  Many of us were searching for ways to manage a new sub-set of issues not previously faced in American higher education.  There were few good models.  The faculty members were no better prepared.  Their ideas about students were often a generation or two old.  Their ideas about curriculum and pedagogy had worked for them in the past, but it was a new era in the academy.  In the classrooms, when students would clamor for more “relevancy,” faculty easily translated this into students questioning their authority and wisdom.  When students said, “There is no relationship between what is being considered in the classroom and what is happening out there.” this was not understood very easily by a faculty somewhat insulated from the “out there.”  The students, especially upward mobile black students, wanted their classrooms to be much more relevant to them.  The faculty were not resistant, but had difficulty understanding what this meant.  There were occasions when students would stand up in class and loudly proclaim, “This doesn't mean anything for us.  You've got to do it differently.”  The faculty were sometimes confused and often quite alarmed by such strong behavior.  So, the best of our Student Affairs professionals became resources for faculty as much as for students.  Part of our job was helping the faculty understand the meaning and reasons behind these disruptions, while we also tried to convince students to be more patient and understand some of the traditional values of the academy that could make a difference in their ability to succeed in the years ahead.

 Student Affairs professionals were in a difficult position because students expected us to be their advocate, but the presidents and chancellors also rightfully expected us to be on their team.  My perspective about this was clear from the outset.  I was not the advocate for students, but I was in a position where I ought to be most sensitive to students and their needs and perspectives.  Further, I ought to help them know how to advocate effectively for themselves.   There would be times when, because I was not their advocate and because I was a member of the administration, we would be at odds.   I would work very hard to understand their perspective, then determine an appropriate course of action as I took into account this perspective as well as the mission and objectives of the institution itself.  I think this way of thinking about our responsibilities was absolutely essential for those of us who survived those tumultuous years.

While facing these new experiences, with principles in mind to be sure but without sufficient experience through which to test our principles until under fire, we sought advice from each other.  A network of colleagues was established through the periodic meetings of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA).   Sitting around hotel rooms with these colleagues (I admit I hardly ever went to the formally scheduled conference sessions), I gained immeasurably from some of the brightest and best.  The names of Mark Smith, Tom Dutton, Peter Armacost, Carl Anderson, John Blackburn, Alice Manicur, Alice “Tish” Emerson, and Jim Rhatigan are hardly household names now, and will mean little to you, but they were my mentors and professional colleagues.  Without being critical of our colleagues at Kent State or Jackson State, we would pick each others brains about why Kent State blew up and why Denver didn't.   There is no better educational environment than experiencing the refiner’s fire of criticism and exchange with professional colleagues.

We were not simply trying to “keep the lid” on the campuses.  Of much greater concern was how to enable our colleges and universities to become more effective in educating a new student generation.  Many of these administrators became effective educators as well as adroit crisis managers, and we assisted our colleges and universities to become better institutions of higher education.

What were the personal effects of these experiences

When reflecting back on his experiences at Oakland, it was clear that the social movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s not only had a strong effect on my current views and ideas about campuses and leadership, but also on my personal outlook.  I was very much affected by those experiences.  In the short run, there were days when the situation was almost overwhelming.   They frequently drained all the energy and emotion that was available.  In the long run, however, I certainly became more racially and ethnically aware.  I guess it may also be accurate to say I became more self aware.

‘The best of days and the worst of days also brought a sense of humility.  An example may suffice.  After the sit-in just described, I sat exhausted in my office.  Manuel Pearson, a dean at Oakland who was African-American, came in, closed the door, and said, “How do you feel?”  I said, “I feel really good.”  He said, with compassion in his voice and not meaning to criticize me, “Well, nobody's going to thank you.”  I asked him what he meant, to which he replied, “This kind of attention should have been given 100 years ago.  Why should you get credit for it?”  Those were important lessons.  I was forever changed by that.

            I became more allocentric, which I define as the opposite of egocentric.   A person who thinks this way can have well-established beliefs and ideas, but is able to understand and value the beliefs and perspectives of others.  I am not pointing to myself as a paradigm of virtue in this regard, don’t misunderstand me, but I do believe understanding this and trying to live in this way is important.  I'm still pretty conservative, and many of my values are based in religious thought.  Yet, I have a deep appreciation for the beliefs and perspectives of others.  Much of this comes from those Oakland years.

            I also think it's quite easy for me to admit I make mistakes, because I sure made my share in those years.  This contributes to not taking oneself too seriously.  In the most stressful times, one has to maintain a sense of humor.  So a story may be in order.

Huey Newton, defense minister of the Black Panther Party that reached its peak in the late 1960’s, was scheduled to speak at Oakland University the day after his presentation at Michigan State University.   The Michigan State administration had agreed to let Huey’s bodyguards search all those attending the event and had barred all news media personnel.  We were obligated to follow suit.  So when the news media arrived at Oakland midday with notebooks and TV cameras in tow, I had the “pleasure” of announcing the closed session that was being held in the gym.

I thought I had convinced Mr. Newton’s entourage to have him meet with the press following his presentation, and so I promised this to the media.  They waited patiently, and not so patiently as I remember, in a classroom in the building while Huey Newton raged on.  He was a very rambling speaker and often went on for a couple of hours.  This was our experience that day.

Anticipating the conclusion I encouraged the press to exercise patience if they wanted to talk with the speaker.   However, upon finishing his lengthy performance, Huey Newton wished the audience well and was hurried out the back door of the gym and into a waiting car, to be whisked off campus without any intent of meeting what I had promised.  I do not think it is necessary to describe the scene that I faced upon informing the press with their late afternoon deadlines that my promise could not be met.

I also learned that it is okay not to be liked.  It's quite nice to be liked, but in an organizational sense, it's not necessary.  These are important lessons.  Also, part of my mindset - in everything I do within an organization – focuses on how what I do might help others in the organization be successful in what they do.  So, many of these attitudes about administration and the application of one’s unique style of leadership come out of that era.

How was Student Affairs affected by these experiences?

            There were also a number of lessons learned in those days that have influenced Student Affairs professionals since then.

            For example, when I was the President of NASPA in the early 1970’s, I took the position that Student Affairs had to snuggle up much closer to Academic Affairs.  In fact, I thought that on some campuses the chief student affairs administrator ought to report to the academic vice president or the provost.  I still think this creates a symbol of the importance of faculty and student affairs personnel serving as partners in creating healthy learning communities.  Good personnel can work in any organization, but good personnel can work better in good organizations.  While we made progress in the ’70’s, I think Student Affairs professionals still have not linked as effectively with the academic enterprise as should be the case.

            We also learned that “competency power” can always trump “bureaucratic power.”  The breadth of one’s administrative portfolio, often a measure of comparison among budding Student Affairs professionals, should fit the individual institutional situation and in the end is no more important to one’s influence within the organization than simply being competent in completing the tasks at hand and having a vision of the possible.

            I try to emphasize the value of Student Affairs personnel being resources for faculty – no less important today than in the era being described.   Recently I taught a class that focused on Critical Issues in Higher Education.  One of our good young staff members in Student Affairs was in the class.  She did a fine paper on today’s Generation X students.   I encouraged her to present these ideas to groups of faculty to assist them to be more effective in their work with today's students.   This is a throwback to my early experiences and the lessons learned.

Additional lessons learned from the experiences

            There's a very old story about a person looking at another person and saying, “My, you exercise such good judgment.  How did you get such good judgment?”  “Well, I've had a lot of experiences.”  “Well, how did you get all those experiences?”  “Bad judgment, man, bad judgment.”  Most of what we did in the ’60’s and ’70’s was by trial and error.  We made a lot of mistakes.  We were not as sensitive as we ought to have been.  Yet the colleges and universities benefited from the exercise of leadership by Student Affairs professionals across the country.  We were among the first members of the higher education community to recognize the changes that were in the wings.

            In addition to the lessons already mentioned, many of us learned to give students an escape route.  And I don't mean just physically.  You always gave students a way to save face because, in spite of the bravado, these are fairly inexperienced leaders.  Of course it is easiest to illustrate this value by referring to physical sit-ins or the closing of buildings.  It was necessary to make clear that if an illegal protest continued, the university was going to act to clear the blocked hallway and the disruption of business.  On frequent occasions I can remember stating, “If you continue to block this hallway, we will take action in five minutes.”  In five minutes I might come back and say, “I said you had five minutes, and I just want to tell you that I'm willing to work on this, willing to ask faculty to get involved if you’d like, but I also want you to think again about where this is headed, so I'll give you another five minutes.”  It was made very clear that in representing the institution I could not let this continue indefinitely but there were lots of “five minutes.”  That this situation was a violation of law or regulation was made clear.  The consequences of behavior were articulated.  Sometimes the process resulted in dialogue and resolution, sometimes disciplinary action had to be taken, and, on some campuses, civil action was necessary.  However, if at all possible, we were also not going to back students into a situation where they had to defend a position that could lead to police hauling them out.  There is a huge amount of space between being laissez faire saying, “Oh, what the hell, let them sit-in” on one hand and on the other end of this continuum calling the police.  Patience to establish the dialogue if possible and in implementing sanctions paid off.

            One of the very important things that had to be learned was the difference between institutional racism and individual racism.  Individual racism might be described as consciously or unconsciously treating another individual inappropriately because of race or ethnicity.  Institutional racism might be understood as continuing patterns of the past that no longer fit the present situation.  To disenfranchised persons, these patterns appeared to be racism.  By way of an example, we found at Oakland that for many years when we redid the orientation brochures, we tended to simply update the text.  Well, when we went from less than ten black students to 15 percent of the enrollment, we had a whole new population not represented in these materials, and this to a disenfranchised student was translated as “I don't count.”   Another example of inadvertent institutional racism came from the standard practices that might be employed by someone hiring a residence life staff.  In the old days we would do group interviews.  When you have a homogeneous group of people, group interviews help you understand who might be a better head resident, for example, because of the way individuals respond in that group situation.   When you have a racially heterogeneous group (in those days at Oakland only black and white), people who had different attendant skills or were in the minority find themselves more threatened or awkward being the only black student in a group of seven or eight white students.  This group procedure was considered by the minority person to put them at a disadvantage.  So, the process itself had to change.

How is higher education different today?

            That was a very unique period in history so it's very difficult to make comparisons.  Today’s students almost ask for permission before protesting.  They are very engaged in community service, but they are not as politically active.   While I’m not a good prophet, it is my opinion that this could change quickly if the world situation continues to spin out of control.

            At most good colleges and universities we think more about how students learn and we are the better for this.  Pedagogy has changed, more interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary work is engaged, syllabi look very different.  Once some of the professors in their disciplinary meetings had to talk about texts and the issues that they were facing in their own classrooms, change began to occur in the disciplines.   Liberal foundations programs began to include race, ethnic, and gender as legitimate topics of discourse.  We also are more aware of the need to measure how effective we are, how well we do what we claim to do.

We certainly are more ethnically diverse and have learned that this has enriched the education for all students.   I agree with our former University Vice President Philip Glotzbach, now president of Skidmore College, who states:

“All of us who live in the 21st Century – from young persons just entering adulthood to those with a bit more life experience – need to be adept travelers in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, global milieu that scarcely could be imagined even a decade ago.   Moreover, given the now widespread recognition that increasing the diversity of a university community brings it new vitality, it is important to be clear about how concerns with diversity fit into the University’s fundamental commitment to the values of liberal education.”

            That period of the ’60’s and ’70’s didn’t change us for the moment, it changed us forever.

What was higher education’s contribution to civil rights?

Higher education’s impact on the world condition is not so much through the national bully pulpits afforded to a few high profile leaders in higher education, but is more indirect through the students we graduate.  While we are highly respected institutions in this society, and academic leaders can exercise significant influence in local regions, our direct political clout is typically not very strong.   Indeed, there are many educators who will argue that we ought to stay outside of the political fray unless the issues directly involve the academy.

We have made a contribution to civil rights through our admissions and financial aid policies, our individual and collective support for increasing the diversity of the campus, modifying curricula, creating policies and procedures that ensure fairness and justice, and increasing the support for multicultural centers.  This then leads to what is our greatest contribution – informed and aware graduates.

We have had some impact on the changes that are taking place across the country and the world through our graduates as they take their place in their communities and professions.  If our students learn how to live fully and effectively in a multi-ethnic and global milieu as a result of the lessons from the classroom or laboratory, through study alone with a book or a computer, in rap sessions in their residence hall or chat room, or through the lessons available though the out-of-class curriculum of the campus, then we have made a most important contribution.  The success of our graduates should become the measure of our success.  In this regard, I think our influence has been rather dramatic, not only in the leadership roles played out within the academy in the ’60’s and ’70’s, but also in perpetuating legitimate good changes in society that were prompted by those difficult but wonderful times.

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