On January 23, 1976, UC Santa Cruz’s second chancellor, Mark N. Christensen, resigned from office. He had served the campus from July 1974 to January 1976. These two oral history volumes, comprised of interviews conducted between 1976 and 1980, set Christensen’s resignation within the broader context of a tumultuous and transitional moment in the campus’s history. Founding Chancellor Dean McHenry had brought to fruition his singular vision for UC Santa Cruz as an innovative institution of higher education that emphasized undergraduate teaching centered in residential colleges, each with a specific intellectual theme and architectural design, within the framework of what he envisioned as a major public research university. McHenry oversaw the planning and building of UCSC from 1961 until his retirement in June 1974. In the early years, UCSC drew high caliber students and gained considerable national visibility as an innovative university. But by the mid-1970s, applications were declining and enrollments were on the verge of falling. Internally, the campus was fracturing along fault lines created by debates over the colleges’ academic role and over the relative weight to be placed on research and teaching, while UCSC struggled to weather a variety of external political and economic pressures and to hold its own as a distinctive campus within the traditional University of California.
Christensen’s tenure as chancellor rather tragically ended in controversy after only eighteen months. Although most of the faculty liked Christensen as a person, they lost confidence in his ability to govern the campus. The Regional History Project never conducted an oral history with Mark Christensen, who passed away in 2003. But former director Randall Jarrell completed a series of interviews with key faculty members and administrators who had been directly involved in the Christensen case. Jarrell decided to withhold publication of these oral histories due to their sensitive political nature at the time. Now, nearly four decades later, we are able to publish these volumes as part of the Project’s Institutional History of UCSC series.
This is a two-volume publication. The five oral histories in volume one not only illuminate the painful events leading up to the resignation of Chancellor Christensen, they capture and reflect on the “McHenry years” and on a complex and challenging period in the history of what was then a young, still experimental, and somewhat vulnerable campus of the University of California. The second volume contains a brief oral history with George Von Der Muhll conducted by Randall Jarrell in 1976 and then a much longer, follow-up oral history with George Von Der Muhll conducted by Irene Reti in 2014, in which Von der Muhll shares his thoughts not only on the Christensen administration, but also on the reaggregation and reorganization programs of the late 1970s, in which he played a central role. He also contemplates UC Santa Cruz as an experiment in public higher education, from the perspective of fifty years after the campus was founded. For reasons of chronology and length, we decided to dedicate a separate volume to Von Der Muhll’s interview. A third oral history volume, Daniel H. McFadden: The Chancellor Mark Christensen Era at UC Santa Cruz, 1974-1976, also originally part of this series was published in 2012 and is available on the Regional History website.