A learned perspective: Chapman's History through the eyes of professors

Donald Booth, professor of economics, watched a young black minister speak to a packed house 48 years ago.

“At the time he wasn’t all that famous, we just thought he would be,” Booth said.

Afterwards Booth watched Martin Luther King Jr. drink lemonade and eat cookies with Chapman’s student union.

Professors from all departments tell the story of their first years here and how they watched Chapman grow from a tiny college in Orange to a University vying to become an Ivy League type.

“Chapman struck me as a little, sleepy teaching institution,” Marvin Meyer, religious studies professor wrote in an email. “Pleasant, friendly, but hardly a mover and shaker in the broader world of scholarship.”

Chapman’s legacy is not limited to the history books but in the memories of the professors who have spent several decades here.

“Professors shape the school, we are the ones who have contact with students. If they don’t have a good experience with us no amount of institution would keep them here,” said Martin Nakell, professor of English, who came in 1983.

Professors’ lives have become as much a part of Chapman as Chapman became a part of theirs.

“Teaching at Chapman was a commitment, it was like joining into a priesthood,” said Paul Apodaca, professor of American studies, who came in 1978.

Close faculty, small student body and a valued relationship with the Orange community distinguished Chapman from many colleges in Southern California Apodaca said.

Teaching began as a job offer for most professors, but unique opportunities and their students made them stay for thirty, forty and fifty years.

“I never really thought I’d stay. Maybe a year or two and move around but I didn’t have to just teach,” said Booth, who’s been at Chapman for fifty-one years, the longest of any professor.

The Artist Lecture Series of the ‘60s, which brought prominent figures like Eleanor Roosevelt and Richard Nixon to speak at Chapman, kept Booth at Chapman for so many years.

The chance to see Richard Nixon give his first public speech after resigning from the White House was amazing, Apodaca said.

“Here he was as a Quaker talking about how materialism had changed him as a Christian, we were witnessing history and the people who form it,” he said.

Prominent authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Allen Ginsberg and Tom Wolfe spoke as part of the Distinguished Writers Series during the 80s said Myron Yeager, professor of English.

“Calvin Coolidge” was the name of Chapman’s elephant in first intercollegiate Elephant Races at Cal State University of Fullerton in 1962 said William Cumiford, alum (’63) and professor of history.

“Yes, these were actual pachyderms,” Cumiford said.

Over the years, the school has evolved institutionally, as well as aesthetically.

The library was housed on the second floor of Memorial Hall, a campus mail delivery system was almost non-existent and Campus Safety had one patrolman, John Yules, who began teaching on the World Campus Afloat program in 1966, wrote in an e-mail.

In the mid ‘70s the school was contained between Sycamore Ave., Center St., Palm Ave., and Glassell St. said Steven Schandler, psychology professor.

“Back then it was a very, very close community,” he said.

Chapman’s size gave professors the ability to work in many areas of the university said Richard Turner, co-director of the Guggenheim Gallery.

“There is opportunity here that I wouldn’t have had at other universities,” said Turner who also teaches a studio art program and art history.

The benefits of small class sizes, a hallmark of Chapman’s education, kept Yeager coming back since 1984.

“You have more opportunity to work closely with students,” he said. “To help them achieve their goals and dreams, and that’s not hokie that’s real.”

A tight-knit family atmosphere in its former years allowed for the exchange of ideas to flow on the small campus.

“I used to go to lunch with a philosophy professor, a music professor and the basketball coach,” said Booth. “Now couldn’t even tell you who the basketball coach is.”

Faculty once went on weekend retreats to Idyllwild to discuss college concerns. Now these trips have turned into single day events within each department, said Turner.

“Higher number of faculty, increasing speed of life, people are just too busy,” he said.

Walking through the changed campus is a daily reminder of those who have passed on for Richard Doetkott, professor of communications.

“I miss the people we no longer have with us, both faculty and students,” Doetkott wrote in an e-mail.

Former giants like Tom Massey, Paul Frizler, Henry Kemp-Blair, William Boaz and Ronald Huntington shaped the school and the professors here.

“There are many, many people, though, that I miss very much. Were I to start listing names, almost all would be completely unknown today. The institutional memory of Chapman University is about 14 months,” Yules wrote.

Financial solidarity is a major development as many of the professor recall Chapman’s former years to be riddled with fiscal problems.

“Chapman was amazingly poor in the early days of my career here,” Yules wrote. “I used to think of it as equivalent to teaching in the Peace Corps, but without ringworm.”

Icons of Chapman like American Celebration, the film school, Holocaust studies, leadership program, Chapman Radio and faculty governance all came from the professors said Doetkott.

“Now it’s top down and we have to rely on administrators for these wonderful things,” he said.

President Doti’s vision and fundraising abilities has pushed the university into the twenty-first century allowing it to compete with top schools, wrote Meyer.

“It’s exciting, it’s one of the fastest growing dynamic schools in the country,” said Cumiford.

Although growth is expected to bring changes, it also can bring room for error.

“As an institution like Chapman grows, it gains significance but the dangers are it becomes more bureaucratic and we lose our creative edge,” Nakell said.

A shift in the university’s values, placing less emphasis on creative work is evident to professors over the last 20 years.

“We equate professionalism with success, that was not a measure of success in the past,” Apodaca said.

Still, it is the students and the promise of the future that fuels professors desire to stay said Yeager.

“They keep me on my toes, they make me want to be a better person,” Yeager said.

Thank you cards, random visits, and invitation to students’ weddings are not uncommon for professors.

“They are some are my best friends, which I talk with almost everyday,” wrote Doetkott, of his former students.

Chapman’s values gave professors opportunities unmatched anywhere else and their love for the school and students continues to set Chapman a part from other universities.

“Chapman has made me a better person and I don’t think I would have found that anywhere else,” Schandler said.

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