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Memories of SSU

Ken Stocking

Dean of Environmental Studies & Planning
Biology Professor

Kenneth M. Stocking Native Plant Garden


            In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Sonoma State and U.C. Santa Cruz were being planned. I decided to apply to the first one to open. When I applied to Sonoma State in 1962, I learned that my good friend, Jack Arnold, was organizing the Natural Sciences Division. He asked me to submit a list of plants that could be planted on our new campus.

            When we moved to our new campus in 1966, we encountered some problems. The state landscape architected banned the planning of Bost Ivy. “It would damage our concrete walls.” We had to wait a few years to get our halls of ivy. In the meantime the campus was called San Quentin North. Our “killer pines,” bunya bunya, became a threat. Their heavy cones can injur an adult or kill a child.

            In 1970 our lakes turned pink. This occurred at a time when we were called by some a campus of pinkos. The cause: trillions of microscopic organisms called Euglena, each with a pink eyespot.

            The area along Copeland Creed was largely a jungle of Himalaya blackberries, poison hemlock and willows. In a somewhat clear place, marijuana was found growing. In a nearby spot, anthropology students built a Hogan.

            The gasoline shortage prevented our taking field trips which are an important part of natural history courses. We planned and developed a Native Plans Garden with 16 plant communities represented: chaparral, grassland, forests, and others. Bob Sherman and Kelly Kjeldsen of the Biology Department worked with Jean Falbo, Rocky Rohwedder and others of Environmental Studies and Planning, planting and maintaining the four and a half acre garden. Large numbers of students were involved.

            George Smith, an early campus landscaper, and his crew helped in many ways. We had a problem with one gardener. Our vernal pool was meant to be watered only by rain, but Jesus, whose command of the English language was limited, insisted on watering it. We couldn’t argue with Jesus, so the area was changed to a marsh. Karen Tatanish who has an M.A. in Environmental Studies and Planning, is a long-time member of the grounds department, and has been the number one person in the garden since almost the beginning. We owe her much.

            The faculty under Amby Nichols was quite democratic. He supported the creation of the Appeals and Administrative Appointments Committee. A few people appealed their failure to be promoted. The recommendation of people to be appointed deans was a major responsibility. In the mid-60s, the committee came up with the idea that SSU might become the Pomona College or the Oxford of Northern California. At that time our FTE was projected to be 12,000.

            Not all student activities made life easy for Amby. There was skinny-dipping in the lakes. A student body president had served time in San Quentin for possessing marijuana. On one occasion that was billed as a student body meeting in Ives Hall, a riot threatened. It appeared to me that a minority group wanted to take over the campus to duplicate what was in progress at San Francisco State and UC Berkeley. I found myself shouting at the top of my lungs with the moderates. Extremism failed. Campus politics were of interest to me although I must preferred teaching.

            The faculty became involved in athletics. The majority believed that sports were for fun; they should not be overemphasized. We established a Board of Athletic Control composed of students and faculty. To me, Sonoma State’s athletic program has been well balanced through the years.         We dropped football some years ago. Ed Rudloff deserves thanks for his leadership. He kept physical education, health education and sports in one department.

            We planned to have several schools, each with an enrollment of 800-1000. Warren Olson was the leader in the creation of the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies. Red Thomas led the creation of the School of Expressive Arts.

            In 1968, Warren approached me and said “Why don’t you start a School of Environmental Studies?” I replied, “It won’t be long before I retire. I’m 57 years old and am retiring as Chair of Biology.” I ended up as Provost of the School of Environmental Studies and Planning.

            Very soon after, Jim Enochs, Academic Dean, called me into his office. He said “Ken, I’d like you to start a nursing program.”  “Why me” I asked. Jim said: “I think you can do it.” I learned that what he wanted was to have someone persuade the faculty to accept such a program. This I was able to do by taking up the question with each division separately. The biggest objection was that nursing was a low student-faculty ratio program. As a result, other programs would have fewer faculty and smaller budgets. However, the nursing program was accepted. I’m glad that we have our excellent nursing program.

            President Amby Nichols was very close to the small but rapidly growing faculty. He would regularly be a part of informal discussions in the lunchroom. In the national turmoil of those days, I believe that he an d many of our faculty sympathized with most student aims. However, many students couldn’t believe that middle-aged people could have the same goals they had.

About Environmental Studies and Planning

            A large group of faculty and students were involved in planning the Environmental Studies and Planning program. Although approval to start the program was given in 1969, we were delayed a year because of limited funds. Among the planners were Dave Eck, Chemistry; Bud Gralapp, Art; Kelly Kjeldsen, Biology; Phil Northen, Biology; Phil Tempko, Philosophy and Bruce Woelfel, Social Science. Bruce Woelfel, Helen Calkins, our excellent secretary, and I were full-time. All the others, except Kelly Kjeldsen who had a prior commitment, were part-time.

            Our planning involved much study and some visits to other institutions. I visited Evergreen State College in Olympia and Western Washington State in Bellingham. We hired no outside experts to aid in planning. Sym Vander Ryn and UC Berkeley, a leader in the environmental field, and later Jerry Brown’s state architect, helped us in many ways including the making of our first energy center.

            At first we didn’t have any regular labs or classrooms. We used available space in the new student housing. An office, bathroom and laundry room in Traminer was our center. The world was our laboratory, so we did not suffer. A new building, the one that now houses the ENSP program, was soon added. Well-equipped labs, seminar rooms, offices and a large lecture room have served well.

            We were able to relate the landscaping to our studies. An “ancient” area with tree ferns, horsetails, and more primitive plants and occasional amphibians; a “Jurassic Park” with conifers, cycad, ginkgo—no dinosaur—as well as a more modern area, now grace the area.

            Our study of the environment was to some extent patterned after that of the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay. For purposes of relating our curriculum to traditional disciplines we emphasized the human, social, biological and physical environments. We were limited to the upper division—no freshmen or sophomore courses. Internships in planning, environmental education, energy management, water quality and other areas were encouraged, as was independent study.

            In those early years, students were regularly interested in small and large projects: saving the swallows in the library building, keeping our lakes free of algae, studying and affecting environmental legislation in Sonoma County and Sacramento. To some students, saving the environment seemed to be a substitute for religion. We seriously tried to practice participatory democracy, I believe with real success.

            Our growth was rapid. I’ll never forget a meeting of the Dean’s Council. When I made the point that our enrollment justified more faculty and money, one division chair said, “That may be true, but all the environment problems will be solved in a few years. Then what will you do with all those positions?”

            I have long believed that the success of long-term enterprise is measured in large part by the ability of its initiators to pass on the leadership, then to retire. The successors carry on and improve. The present success of Environmental Studies and Planning gives satisfaction to the initiators of the program.