Inevitable roadblocks arise when trying to open an institution of public higher education in California: space, funding, parking, environmental concerns. And if that institution is run jointly by the University of California and California State University systems, another thorny problem arises: quarters or semesters?
“We just called them ‘quarmesters,’ ” said Joyce Kennedy, laughing, as she talked about scheduling conflicts when the UC/CSU Ventura Learning Center opened at 3585 Maple St. in Ventura in 1974.
Kennedy is the author of Conflict of Visions: The Birthing of a University. Yes, at the end of the book, California State University, Channel Islands, is “born.” Kennedy’s own vision — for the public university to be built in Ventura — didn’t materialize. She didn’t work at CSUCI. But as one of the first employees, and later the director, of the UC/CSU Ventura Learning Center, she was one of many who championed a new state-funded, four-year university in Ventura County.
Kennedy, now retired, writes that the self-published book is “intended to be a historical review, from an insider’s perspective,” of her efforts.
Even the name “Learning Center” caused problems, Kennedy said. The center was established as an alternative, off-campus option for higher-education degrees in Ventura County. People confused the center with “extension” programs, however, which offer continuing education, not degrees, and are paid for by student fees.
Eventually, the name was changed to UCSB/CSUN Center (for UC Santa Barbara and Cal State University Northridge, the program’s main administrators), then University Center at Ventura. When state funding was established to find a site for a separate, permanent county campus, it was dissolved and became the CSUN Ventura Campus. The new permanent university, California State University, Channel Islands, opened in 2002.
Kennedy, in a phone interview from Phoenix, Arizona, where she moved nine years ago, said she initially argued against the image on the cover of the book: an artist’s rendering of CSUCI buildings.
“I never worked there,” she said. “but it’s what I had been imagining, so I was overruled. I wasn’t the founder of Cal State, Channel Islands, but I think I was a trailblazer, a pathfinder.”
Her story “is one of dedication to higher education,” said Mike Hoffman, a journalism professor at Moorpark College and friend of Kennedy who helped edit her book. “She fundamentally believes in the power of education and how it has transformed lives.”
Native Canadian Kennedy, who came to the U.S. in 1965 for a job (she’s now a dual citizen), was asked by a former colleague, Barbara Walker, if she wanted a short-term consultant job helping to publicize a higher-education learning center in Ventura. Kennedy, who had a bachelor’s degree in journalism and experience teaching and working for nonprofits, stayed around for much longer than two months. For 23 years, she helped with just about everything at the center: publicity, fundraising, scheduling, counseling, purchasing, typing, mailing, accounting — even babysitting, for a student who had to take a test and couldn’t find childcare for her infant. Eventually, Kennedy became the director. Always, she was a constant cheerleader for keeping the center open, despite setbacks.
Kennedy believes that because she was a woman, her bosses didn’t take her work seriously.
“Being a woman administrator in that era . . . had inherent drawbacks,” she writes in the book.
Kennedy said she is “delighted” that the current president of CSUCI, Erika Beck, is a woman, and hopes to meet her someday.
The “conflicting visions” in the book’s title, she said, refer to the many different ideas over the years for a new university, from where it should be located (Ventura? Oxnard College? Camarillo?) to what kind of education it should offer (Online? A full-fledged university experience?). Politicians, community members, students, business leaders, faculty and others all had different goals.
Kennedy ran into writer’s block for two years while trying to figure out how to end the book.
“I left with some disappointment, and I didn’t want it to be a disappointing book,” said Kennedy, who resigned in 1997 due to budget struggles and other issues. “I was blissfully happy for Ventura County, but it was like saying goodbye to your baby who someone else gets to watch grow up,” she said.
So she decided to provide some advice in the epilogue about the importance of mentors and community support, and especially about perseverance.
“We complained. We signed petitions,” Kennedy said. “We did everything in our power to keep the vision in front of the people.”