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Memories of SSU

Cheryl Petersen

Professor of Political Science 1961-1992

(Excerpted from an interview with Daniel Markwyn, November 5, 1990)

            I learned that the legislature had just passed the bill establishing the Santa Rosa Center, and they needed a social scientist. I was interviewed by George McCabe and Bill Golden and hired as the first social scientist for the Santa Rosa Center. That was really quite a comfortable facility. There were a couple of large picnic tables on the creek in the back. I remember teaching summer session at those picnic tables.

            The General Elementary Credential was the only program that we had. People received a Bachelor of Education degree. I taught in Fort Bragg, Willits and Ukiah. I stayed overnight and went once a week. Through this experience I made some great friends in Fort Bragg.

            The curriculum, as far as the education courses, was fairly well set and duplicated what was done on the San Francisco State campus. There were ten faculty members. As far as the Social Science segment, I did have some leeway to offer an occasional elective course. Instead of the straight American History course, I taught American Economic History. That was a field in which I felt more at home. I even taught Latin American Government once. I read the textbook with the students.

            Initially, the Santa Rosa Junior College was very suspicious that we were a potential rival, although the program that we were offering supplemented what they were doing and met the needs of a lot of people in the community who really couldn’t go elsewhere. There was such a need for teachers; these people wanted to teach and had no other way to get credentialed. Very early on, some of us had good friends on the junior college faculty, but the relationship with the institution, as such, was a bit standoffish.

            As soon as the talk began of establishing a Sonoma County campus of the State College system, most of us were considering going there or being merged with it. When we came down to the temporary quarters in Rohnert Park and began to develop Sonoma State College, I think the atmosphere of collegiality was diluted by departmentalization that a lot of new people brought in. As the departments grew, it was no longer a case of all of us partying together as we used to in Santa Rosa days. And, we were virtually independent of San Francisco State. 

            The experience of teaching there was a pleasant one. Among the students in those early years, both at the Center and at the College, we did get a certain number of people who entered the program simply because they were at loose ends and who probably really didn’t belong there at all. Once we got to around 1963 and 1964, we had a more orthodox student body. We were drawing in younger people, although we still had many older people, and we had some really exceptional students.

            I was the first chairman of the faculty. Amby (Ambrose Nichols) did not want me to preside at faculty meetings; he wanted to do that. We didn’t clash, but I thought his reaction was sort of interesting.

            When we moved to the present campus in the fall of 1966, I think we all thought the buildings (Stevenson and Darwin Halls) were incredibly ugly. I remember Bill Kortum wanted to plant some lichens along the sides, and Dorothy Overly wanted to hold a midnight mural painting.

            The general feeling of the faculty was that we didn’t want deans. For us, the idea of having deans meant a more rigid separation between faculty and administration. We felt as long as we kept them division chairs, there was a much greater likelihood that we, as faculty, would have the crucial voice in naming the chairs and that there would be rotation. The preference for the division chair model sprang out of the conditions, the institution’s history of informality and the Santa Rosa Center. We were determined to hang on to that informal faculty power.

All in all, my experience here was a good one.