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What's In a Name? The Long Saga of Third College
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Hurt Locker Robots

Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

What's In a Name? The Long Saga of Third College
Interview by Sylvia Tiersten

Third College opened in September 1970 with 176 students. The story of its creation mirrors the historical moment, when student radicalism confronted traditional academe.

Reflecting on the launch of Third College, Frazer says: “We were led to try things that a saner person would realize would fail . . . We were idealistic—and over time, the college has reverted to the norm. It is a shadow of what it was.”

UC San Diego founding ­father Roger Revelle ­favored a college system patterned after the Oxford-Cambridge model. He envisioned 10 to 15 small colleges—intimate communities of living and learning—within a large research university. The third college, set to open in 1970, was born in troubled times.

Clio was the history muse in ancient Greece—and the name proposed in 1965 for UC San Diego’s third college. Revelle, which opened in 1964, was the science college. John Muir College, the University ’s second college, was established in 1967 around a humanities theme.

College III—slated to open in 1970—was to focus on historical and classical studies. But history-making events intervened—and the history college never happened.
Armin Rappaport, a UC Berkeley history professor, arrived in 1967 as provost for College III. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated—and Clio wound up on the cutting-room floor.

Talk turned to founding a college in Dr. King’s memory—with programs for recruiting disadvantaged students, tutoring local children and promoting the integration of majority and minority students. By 1968, the UCSD student body of approximately 3,600 included 33 Blacks and 44 Mexican-Americans. Chemistry instructor Joe Watson was the faculty sponsor for the Black Student Council (BSC), later to become the Black Student Union (BSU). Literature professor Carlos Blanco was his counterpart at the Mexican Ameri­can Youth Association (MAYA), soon to become MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan).

In fall 1968, Rappaport asked the two groups for suggestions regarding possible ethnic studies programs. Their joint response in March 1969 was the Lumumba-Zapata College demands, which blindsided the provost and infuriated Chancellor William J. McGill.

When Black and Brown students served up the “extremely militant Lumumba-Zapata proposal, I shouted ‘betrayal’ at the meeting,” Rappaport told San Diego Magazine (Sept. 1969 issue). “I had been looking for an accommodation in the system on which faculty committees had been working for more than three years, not destruction of the system.”

Rather than settle for a handful of ethnic study courses, the students demanded an entire college. “We were the first, if not the only campus in the country to propose a third-world agenda for education,” says Blanco. “We had joint meetings of MEChA and BSC in which we broke down racial barriers and specific ethnic interests with the intent of finding common ground between the two groups.” The multiethnic coalition stipulated that minority students would run the admissions committee, with the aim of attracting a student population that was 35 percent Black and 35 percent Mexican-American.

Fighting Words
McGill choked over the radical language as well as the content of Lumumba-Zapata. “It was an outrageous document written in the cliché ridden style favored by the Marxian ideologists of the New Left,” he noted in his journal in 1969.

For openers there was the controversial name, which celebrated Congolese revolutionary Patrice Lumumba and Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. The BSC/MAYA demands touched on all manner of issues, from campus architecture (it was to be of Mexican and African style), to minority contractors, to curriculum.

Among the subject areas were Revolutions; White Studies; Analysis of Economic Systems, including “the crucial roles played by colonialism, imperialism, slavery and genocide” in the development of Western capitalism; and Science and Technology courses, excluding “the theoretical inanities taught at Revelle College as well as the military research conducted at Scripps.”

The framers of Lumumba-Zapata did not sign their names. “I drafted one or two or three or who knows how many drafts of it. But so did Angela Davis, M.A. ’69, so did Joe Watson, so did our Jamaican professor of literature, Keith Lowe, and so did the students. So it really is a collective piece of work,” recalled Blanco in 1990.

Opposing Timetables
Most coalition members viewed the plan as a general guideline and didn’t expect to win on every point, but they did expect to be taken seriously, according to Vincent Z.C. de Baca, Third/Marshall ’81, Ph.D. ’91, a radical MAYA member at the time and today a history professor at the Metropolitan State College of Denver.

 “McGill was egotistical and deceptive—and opposed us at every step,” says de Baca. “He was caught between a rock and a hard place—between the larger, right-wing political forces that characterized this community, and the student radicals.”

When, for instance, McGill floated the idea of building a junior college on campus so that under-qualified students could combine remediation work with more rigorous, for-credit courses, some students dubbed his experiment the “back-of-the-bus college.” Meanwhile, an unfriendly San Diego Union called it “a questionable plan.”

Recalling those difficult times in his 1982 memoir, The Year of the Monkey: Revolt on Campus 1968-69, McGill wrote: “I was fearful—all of us were fearful—of a fatal rupture with these paranoid and increasingly militant students. The last thing we wanted was a minority-student strike. All of us sought to reach out to the Blacks and Chicanos in our student body. We were virtually paralyzed by anxiety over the possibility of racial conflict at UCSD.”

In retrospect, Edward J. Spriggs, Revelle ’70, says he can understand McGill’s concerns. “He was a decent man and in pretty deep, and wanted reforms that would work—without breaking the paradigm that ‘we’re running the institution—not you.’ But it was very difficult,” says Spriggs, who became the first chair of the newly formed Black Student Council in 1967, and is currently UCSD’s associate vice chancellor-student affairs.

The student activists and the administration were “two trains moving at different speeds,” says Spriggs. The students were on a fast track, had a short-term horizon and wanted to see that the ­institution was being responsive on their watch.  Academia, with its emphasis on shared governance and collaborative decision-making, was operating at a slower pace.

“The administration didn’t know how to deal with our timetable,” says Spriggs. “We interpreted this as they were not taking our issues seriously.”

In response to Lumumba-Zapata, McGill proposed developing independent majors in Afro-American Studies and Mexican-American studies, which would be available to students in Revelle and Muir as well as Third College. But as early as 1964, a few minority students at Revelle had requested such courses—and nothing much had happened.

By 1969, the students no longer trusted McGill and his staff to do the right thing. “After more than a year of trying to cooperate, to be reasonable, sitting on committees, taking time away from studies, and of hearing the administration saying, ‘Let’s wait, we can’t do certain things now,’ the students were in no mood to look at the good aspects of anything,” Joseph Watson, who retired in 2007 as UCSD’s vice chancellor of student affair, told San Diego Magazine in 1969. “The students wanted to look at all the bad aspects of our society, and how their own needs could be met most rapidly and effectively.”

To the Barricades
Flummoxed by Lumumba-Zapata, McGill turned matters over to the Academic Senate. William R. Frazer, a young physics professor at the time, began to attend Senate meetings. Lurking behind the inflammatory language of Lumumba-Zapata, he decided, was some serious thought. He and his colleague, physicist Francis R. Halpern, aimed to persuade other faculty members that “Joe Watson, Carlos Blanco and many of the students involved were not flaming radicals. They were ­really quite sincere and had some good ideas,” says Frazer, professor emeritus of physics at UC Berkeley and former UC senior vice president for academic affairs.

 For 10 Sundays running, the pair hosted informal discussion groups of students and faculty at Frazer’s home. “By the time we got done with this we had a core of about 100 faculty who understood and supported a version of Third College that flowed in some sense from the Lumumba-Zapata demands,” says Frazer.

On May 6, 1969, the Senate agreed in principle to several key coalition points. But the next day, as Senate members continued to wordsmith the agreement, students threatened a walkout. A short time later, about 50 of them bolted the Senate meeting and headed for the registrar’s office. One of them, Milan Molina, Muir ’73, kicked down the glass door. Angela Davis entered—followed by the others, while hundreds milled about outside.

The occupation barely lasted 90 minutes. Dean George Murphy showed up unexpectedly with the resolution, proposed by biologist and academic senator Silvio Varon, in his hand. It had passed the senate 94 to 5 with 7 abstentions and it ended the student takeover.

There was to be a college with a minority-student orientation and a planning committee consisting of eight students and eight faculty members. The occupiers were not prosecuted for the break-in, though they did agree to pay $80 for the broken door.

“The vote to leave the registrar’s office was decisive,” McGill wrote in The Year of the Monkey. “Angela Davis and her radical supporters had lost their bid for a revolutionary college preaching slavery and genocide as the goals of white society. Soon afterward she lost interest in the Lumumba-Zapata protest and moved on to interests in greener pastures.”

McGill himself left La Jolla in 1970, to serve as chancellor of Columbia University for the next 10 years. He returned to UCSD as an adjunct professor of psychology in 1980 and taught courses on the psychology of group protest. McGill died in 1997.

Shared Planning Sessions
Rappaport withdrew as provost in 1969, and Lowe’s brief teaching career at UCSD ended abruptly in 1969 when his visa was confiscated by the U.S. State Department. Frazer took over as acting provost until the formal appointment of Joe Watson in July 1970. Davis went on to get her Ph.D. at Humboldt University in Germany.

The remaining student organizers worked with faculty on shaping curriculum, admissions and governance. “They were a remarkable group with considerable academic and political ability and deserve a lot of credit,” says Frazer. “There were a lot of 10-hour days, and it took a year out of their educational lives.”

The Third College admissions policy utilized UC’s so-called 4 percent rule—granting acceptance of up to 4 percent of students on a UC campus who fell below traditional academic standards. While UCLA and Berkeley used the measure to ­recruit top athletic talent, UCSD’s 4 percenters, per McGill’s decision, would be minority applicants who showed academic promise.

In 1970, the Regents approved the Third College academic plan without a dissenting vote. The unorthodox governance plan, however, allowing the board of directors to override the provost, was never officially approved.

Third College and its Discontents
Third College opened on schedule in September 1970 with 176 students—two-thirds of whom were either Black or Chicano. About 60 students were admitted under the 4 percent rule. While their high school grades were acceptable, they lacked some of the specific subject requirements.

“I felt lucky to be there. I knew I was poor, but my professors didn’t make me feel poor. They made me feel like anything was possible” says Marta Lomeli, Third/Marshall ’73, a member of a farm worker family, who is currently member relations manager for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Nationally syndicated columnists Rowland Evans, Jr. and Robert Novak had a different take. “On the peaceful, sun-washed San Diego campus is evidence that there are worse though less obvious threats to higher education than a rock through the window or a building in flames. To appease Black militant agitation in 1968, then Chancellor William McGill agreed to establish the Third College. … Not surprisingly, political conservatives most abhor the Third College as an alleged training ground for revolutionaries,” they wrote in February 1971.

Closer to home, UCSD sociology professor Jack Douglas, who headed the faculty-created Com­mit­tee to Save the University, complained in a 1970 Los Angeles Times article that “They packed the place with substandard students and then gave these students a veto power over faculty appointments.”

The coalition of Black and Brown students did not have staying power. COINTEL­PRO, an FBI counter intelligence program, was suspected of bringing agents to campus to foment racial tensions and undermine the fragile BSC/MAYA
alliance. “Most of the students and faculty ­involved with the Lumumba-Zapata project took for granted the presence of undercover agents on the San Diego campus,” wrote UCSD literature professor Jorge Mariscal in his 2005 book, Brown-Eyed Children of the Sun: Lessons from the Chicano Movement, 1965-1975.

Armed Black Panthers visited the campus in those days, and although BSC/MAYA never subscribed to carrying weapons, there were the occasional gun-toting, radical students. “It was an unfortunate tactic, a sign of the times, but it was dumb,” says Spriggs.

“It was a violent period in history and a lot of that filtered down,” says Mariscal. “There were standoffs in the dorms between militant Black and militant Chicano students—and there was also another problem: violence against women in all these organizations.”

Lomeli recalls sleeping with an ice pick under her pillow for several days, after her room had been trashed by a “fringe element of 12 Black students.”

Efforts to remove Watson as provost in 1972 took on a racial tinge. He had opposed certain faculty hires—contending they were radicals who did not have the best interests of minority education at heart. A mostly-Chicano group of faculty and students demanded his ouster for violating the consensual nature of the Board. Watson tendered his resignation, which UCSD Chancellor William D. McElroy refused to accept. “I told Joe, ‘You have my backing and strong support to go ahead and try to do the things that need to be done to make a strong college,’” McElroy said in 1990.

But others were not so supportive. “Joe Watson was the main architect of the slow but steady ­demise of the Lumumba-Zapata demands,” says de Baca. “He removed the students from the ­decision-making process.”

Jury Still Out
By the mid 1970s, the Board functioned solely as an advisory body. The Third College Recruitment and Admissions Committee (TRAC), which employed students as recruiters and provided a $22,000 budget for the purpose, was eventually abolished.

Mariscal lumps Lumumba-Zapata with other late 1960s movements that were all but dismantled later on. “What turned things around in the 1980s and ’90s was privatization of the UC system, decreased state funding and increased
reliance on corporations,” he says. “You are not going to find donors to support programs such as third-world studies that question the status quo.”

Reflecting on the launch of Third College, Frazer says: “We were led to try things that a saner person would realize would fail . . . We were idealistic—and over time, the college has reverted to the norm. It is a shadow of what it was.”

But that may be selling the effort too short. “I think that without Third College, there wouldn’t have been a Preuss School, no outreach, no Gompers Charter Middle School, and there may not have been a base for a teacher’s education program,” Watson told @UCSD magazine in 2007.

To Cecil Lytle, professor emeritus of music and Third College provost from 1988 to 1995, the Lumumba-Zapata project is neither success nor failure, but more of an ongoing process. “It has to do with how you take a large institution like UC and ask it to respond through the ages to progressive movements,” he says.

The Lumumba-Zapata struggle was about diversity and expanded opportunities for underrepresented minority communities—but there was something more. “You weren’t just dealing with objective issues,” says Watson. “You were dealing with people’s issues of self-value and identity. Those things were symbolically important.”

And so they remain in 2010—as the recent events on campus have proven.

Sylvia Tiersten is a freelance writer living in San Diego.