The Vision, the Struggles: How Metropolitan State University Began

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The Vision, the Struggles: How Metropolitan State University Began
Series Title:
The Vision, the Struggles: How Metropolitan State University Began
Leonard, Stephen J.
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Denver, CO
Center for Colorado and the West
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Auraria Library
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Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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The Vision, the Struggles: How Metropolitan State University Began | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 2:40:14 PM] Home The Vision, the Struggles: How Metropolitan State University BeganThe Vision, the Struggles: How Metropolitan State University BeganSubmitted by barlowk on 9-6-2015 08:44 PMAuthor: Robert E. Bowen Publishing: Centennial, CO: Rebals Press, 2015. 347 pages. Black-and-white photographs. 7 x 10. $19.65. paperback. Reviewer: Stephen J. Leonard Reviewer Affiliation: Metropolitan State University of Denver With dust jackets designed to keep dust in rather than out, many histories of colleges and universities deaden readers minds. As an antidote, administrators sometimes assign the chore of telling the story of Old Such-and-Such to public relations professionals. Their efforts, although they may entice a donor, often suffer from superficiality and fail to deal with anything beyond the institutions glory. Both academicians and PR people tend to overemphasize the contributions of administrators and faculty and to overlook the importance of students. Perhaps because he is neither a PR man nor an academic apparatchik, Robert Bowen has authored an account of the early years of Metropolitan State University of Denver (usually known as Metro) that in many respects refreshingly rises above average institutional histories. Bowen enrolled at Metro in the fall of 1968, became its student body president in 1969, and in 1971 graduated with a major in history. He went on to a political career and served in the Colorado State General Assembly. His involvement with the school gave him firsthand experience with its formative years. Decades of political experience gave him a clear view of the complex competing forces that shape public education. He understands that state-funded institutions more often resemble mighty and bellicose fortresses than ivy-clad ivory towers. He recognizes that the kings of those castles, college and university presidents, are often as plunder-driven as any fifthcentury Visigoth. Bowen begins Metros story in the late 1950s when state lawmakers belatedly recognized a looming crisis. Legions of World War II baby boomers were about to reach college age. How would the state provide higher education for at least some of them? Could Colorados public colleges and universities, mainly located outside of Denverthen by far the states largest cityprovide affordable education to thousands of students from families with moderate or scant means? Some legislators, including Democrat Roy Romer and Republican Palmer Burch, saw the need and advocated for a state-supported college in Denver. On May 5, 1963, Republican Governor John Love signed House Bill 349 providing for creation of EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanNow, thats wrong! Some of these Japanese are citizens of the United States. Colorado Gov. Ralph Carrs response to Executive Order 9066 forcing Japanese into internment camps during WWII.


The Vision, the Struggles: How Metropolitan State University Began | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 2:40:14 PM] Metropolitan State College, which later became Metropolitan State College of Denver and still later Metropolitan State University of Denver. The school was to be a no-frills, no athletics, low-cost place. Those who wept over the absence of football may have taken comfort in the realization that Metropolitan State was itself a football in a high stakes and brutal struggle. Team One included fiscal conservatives and an alliance of the University of Colorado at Boulder and other schools which feared that a Denver college would siphon enrollment and scarce dollars from them. Team Two included Denver business interests who wanted an educated workforce and progressive Democrats and Republicans who agreed with the workforce argument and who wished to provide affordable, accessible higher education. They saw merit in giving working people who could not afford the time or money to be full-time students a chance at college, and some thought that students who had not done well in high school should have a second chance. Bowen deftly chronicles many battles during Metros exciting early years. He portrays Governor John Love as a flip-floppersometimes bending to CU, sometimes permitting Metro to inch forward. Not until May 17, 1965, did the state fund the school with a measly appropriation of $750,000 from the states general fund. Bowen recounts the Herculean labors of a small cadre of administrators, including the colleges first permanent president, Kenneth Phillips; its first dean, Keats McKinney; its librarian, Charlene Alexis; and superwomen secretaries such as Sandi Jones, who almost single-handedly did jobs which today occupy brigades of bureaucrats. In less than six months they hired faculty and rented space on the southern edge of downtown Denver where on October 4, 1965, Metro opened with nearly 1,200 enrolled. During the next six years they scrambled to build an institution which mushroomed from eighty-one student applications on June 8, 1965, to a college with accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and more than six thousand students in fall 1971. Bowen also shows the key role students played in advancing Metropolitan State. Student leaders became effective lobbyists. They fought to secure legislative approval of four-year degrees at Metro. Some campaigned to get Denver voters to approve a $5.3 million bond issue as the citys share of the cost to secure acreage bordering downtown for the Auraria Higher Education Center to house Metropolitan State, the Community College of Denver, and the University of Colorado at Denver, which CU created from its protomorphic Denver extension center. Rapidly establishing a large college would have been challenging in the calmest of times. Vietnam War protests and counter protests, demands for fair treatment and equal rights from blacks and Chicanos, political unrest, and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy made the late 1960s and early 1970s tumultuous times. As a student leader in those fractious years, Bowen was threatened and mugged and had to be protected by bodyguards. Nearly half a century removed from those fights, he is still passionate about them but maintains a surprising degree of balance. For example, although he ardently supported the Auraria Campus bond issue, he sympathetically details the objections raised by Chicanos displaced from their homes to make way for classrooms. Bowen lauds Kenneth Phillips, a friendly, low-key, avuncular man, who skillfully piloted the Metro ship through constantly troubled waters. He did not overreact to student unrest as some in the community wanted. Buffeted by opposing forces, Phillips struggled to placate legislators who controlled the purse strings and students and outside activists, including Chicanos and Black Panthers such as Lauren Watson, who wanted rapid change. No one could satisfy every camp. In January 1971 Phillips abruptly resigned the Metro presidency and returned to California. More than forty years later, in an interview which Bowen quotes, Phillips explained:


The Vision, the Struggles: How Metropolitan State University Began | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 2:40:14 PM] Auraria Library 303-556-4587 1100 Lawrence Street Denver, Colorado 80204 In the News Partners & Donations About Us Contact Us Well, as you know, the s was a very difficult time. We started in and we were every so often getting bomb threats and fire bombs thrown into windows. . I was getting threats that people were going to shoot me and people were going to blow up my car and stuff like that. And they threatened my family. . So it got to be quite a pain in the neck and strenuous. The Vision, the Struggle has plenty of detail to delight those who attended or taught at the school in the 1960s. But its importance goes beyond that. Historians will read it to get information on the tenor of the times. They will find that Metropolitan State was, despite the tumult, mainly a place where blue-collar students took advantage of the opportunity to get an education. Readers will find that those students included Larry Strutton, who became CEO of the Rocky Mountain News a major Denver newspaper; Richard Castro, who became a leading Chicano politician; Peter Boyles, a longtime fixture among local talk show hosts; and others who also enjoyed distinguished careers. They will find that some students picketed state officials demanding that the school be provided with a computerone computer. They may fault Bowen for a few mistakes and technical glitches and for the books sometimes jumpy organization. But they will appreciate his clear, lively, and direct style, his treatment of important issues and his ability to put the college in the context of the times. They will also thank him for taking on a huge task without compensation and for getting the meaty volume published in time for Metros fiftieth anniversary. Whether or not the public will ever get as detailed and student-friendly a history of the schools years after 1971 is an open question. Will someone with Bowens talent, energy, and passion be willing to write it? Will that person be free of institutional strings and constraints? Will the next historian have access to the archival material available to Bowen thanks to nearly four decades of dedicated archivists at the Auraria Library? Time will tell. At least now we have a noble history of Metros birth and formative years to serve as a foundation for other efforts and as a yardstick against which those accounts will be measured. Reviewer Info: Stephen J. Leonard has authored or coauthored half a dozen books on Denver and Colorado including Lynching in Colorado, 1859 (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2002). He has been a Metropolitan State History Department faculty member since 1966, serving as chair from 1977 to 2015.