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Rediscovering PUC: The 1950's and 60's

Beth Whittemore
“Did you know that West Hall Annex used to be the prized new physics building?” The words across the screen brought a chuckle from the audience as they reflected on the currently run-down condition of the building. To the surprise of some, Pacific Union College also did not used to have a student senate or student association. PUC students had a glimpse into these and other changes from the college’s past when Lisa Gilbert, PUC senior graphic design major, did an honors project comparing the old and the new. Gilbert’s 40-minute documentary film showing interviews with former students and faculty gave an idea of what PUC used to look like. As Keith Francis, associate professor of history and Gilbert’s faculty advisor, said, the project came about as a result of “Lisa’s fecund and furtive mind” and an interest in PUC history.

Gilbert says, “I just wanted students to be aware of what PUC used to be like so they could better appreciate how it is today. If they know how strict the rules used to be they won’t take for granted the freedom they have now, and hopefully they’ll use their freedom more wisely.”

The three faculty members Gilbert interviewed were Paul Stauffer, former English professor; Alice Holst, Honorary Professor Emerita of Secretarial Studies; and Louis Normington, Professor Emeritus of Education and Psychology. The comments of these three alumni, along with old public relations footage of PUC, showed just how different the college used to be. Many things have been lost, but many have also been gained.

One of the most significant changes brought out in the film is the fact that PUC used to be a more close knit community. Most entertainment occurred on campus because many people did not have cars. In fact, those who did have cars had to surrender their keys to the deans. They were only allowed to have them for certain occasions. For this reason, picnics and vespers programs were commonly viewed as “dates.” As Normington said, “Dating has become more expensive.” Students today drive to Napa, Santa Rosa, and San Francisco for entertainment.

There were also other aspects that made PUC more community oriented, such as having assigned seating in the cafeteria for periods of six weeks at a time.The Campus Chronicle used to be more of a news, events, and gossip newspaper, whereas it now includes editorials. Another major difference is the fact that most students expected to work for the Adventist church when they graduated. The church can no longer supply the number and variety of jobs needed for Adventist students graduating from college.

PUC has also grown and developed in some very significant and positive ways. There are so many advantages now that students don’t notice because they’ve never been without them. Holst commented that most students have lost “the feeling of how much the school has grown, changed, and become more effective.” Looking back at history helps us to see the many ways that PUC has improved. People in general feel more freedom to express their differences of opinions. For instance, the Campus Chronicle no longer goes out to the whole community and can therefore carry criticism as well as praise of the college. Stauffer also pointed out that when he was in the theology program, students revered their professors to the point that they did not question them. Because of this, students were not ready to face the questions they encountered in the real world.

Normington pointed out that today, students have a better focus in making career choices. They are no longer as concerned with making a living as they are with fulfillment in their career. This is healthy because students are now finding ways to gain happiness and not just wealth.

By highlighting these changes at PUC, Gilbert wants to cultivate a more positive attitude in students. “Hopefully having a better sense of PUC history will give them a heightened sense of school pride and spirit,” Gilbert says.

As part of the new honors program at PUC, Gilbert and other students receive a more centralized, interdisciplinary approach to their general education requirements. Instead of taking several classes in different areas, they might take a class that covers parts of three or four different subjects. Doing the honors project their senior year gives the students an opportunity to pick an issue of interest and explore it. Dr. Rob Stretter, a professor in the honors program, says, “The honors project is meant to be the capstone of the students’ education.” Honors projects are similar to research projects done at large universities. After the student looks into the issue in depth, he or she presents the research to the public. The presentations of the projects are advertized and open to anyone who would like to come.
Note: This is an archived article and does not necessarily represent current issues at Pacific Union College.