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Reviewed by:
  • The People's University: A History of the California State University
  • Cristina González, Professor
Donald R. Gerth . The People's University: A History of the California State University. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Public Policy Press, Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 2010. 664 pp. Paper: $35.00. ISBN 978-0-87772-435-3.

This book presents a comprehensive history of the California state colleges and their transformation into the California State University (CSU), the largest state university system in the world. Drawing on a broad array of written and oral sources, including extensive interviews with numerous key players, Donald R. Gerth offers an amazingly detailed account of the evolution of this important institution of higher learning. Gerth, who spent his entire career (1958-2003) at CSU, where he served for many years as president of the Dominguez Hills and Sacramento campuses, offers new perspectives [End Page 707] on well-known events and introduces extensive new information about CSU's evolution.

The book is divided into five sections, covering the creation of CSU, its work (academic programs), its people (students, faculty, and staff), its support (funding) and its agenda for the future (need for a rational growth plan). Gerth studies CSU in the context of the development of public higher education in California. Thus, its relations with the University of California (UC) and the community colleges are explored in multiple ways. As a result, this book will be of interest to historians of these institutions as well as to students of CSU history.

Gerth points out that, unlike UC which grew from the center out as the model of excellence established by Berkeley was followed by the other campuses, CSU developed "like a puzzle without a frame" (p. 4), with each campus evolving independently. Unlike the University of California, which is a national institution, California State University is a regional institution with each campus closely linked to the particular area of the state it serves. This fundamental difference had an impact on the outcome of the master plan negotiations, as in 1960, the University of California was well organized and united in its aspirations, while the state colleges were not.

According to Gerth, "The playing field was not level" (p. 81), which was one reason why the state colleges failed to obtain the right to grant doctoral degrees. Typically, regional universities offer a handful of doctoral degrees, but California State University has not been allowed to do so, due to the terms of the master plan, which assigned doctoral education exclusively to the University of California.

What California State University got from the master plan, however, was independence from the State Board of Education through the creation of its own board of trustees. This development turned out to be very important, as it allowed the state colleges to become a true system—a brand. As a teaching institution, the scope and effectiveness of California State University are unsurpassed among public institutions of higher learning. The master plan thus brought the concept of systemic excellence to both UC and CSU, which have since striven to become the best institutions of their respective kinds in the world.

Gerth reviews the contributions made by the various California State University chancellors, who brought the institution to its present level of accomplishment with their efforts. Following the interim administration of Donald Leiffer (1960-1961), Buell Gallagher (1961-1962), an expert in race relations who favored greater integration of African Americans and other minorities in academia, was appointed as the first chancellor of the newly created system. Due to his progressive ideas, he was relentlessly attacked by right-wing groups even before he arrived. The attacks never subsided, so after seven months on the job, he decided to return to his previous position as president of the City University of New York.

After this crisis, California State University turned to a well-known internal candidate, Glenn S. Dumke (1962-1982). Dumke, president of CSU San Francisco, was more conservative and less aggressive than Gallagher. In fact, as lead negotiator for the master plan, he did not fight for doctoral education for California State University, going along with Clark Kerr's proposal to reserve...


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pp. 707-709
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