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Bits & Pieces
 A Walk Through the Twentieth Century
by Joe Crotts, Librarian

The Northern Branch of the State Normal School of California, eventually evolving into California State University, Chico, entered the 20th Century at the tender age of eleven. 

282 students were enrolled in 1900, and women outnumbered men four to one. 

Tuition was free.  Students did not purchase textbooks.   All textbooks were available in the library.   However, room and board, ranging from $8 to $16 dollars per month, was considered "outrageously high," and miscellaneous course fees for chemicals, art supplies, and the like, had already crept into student's budgets, but could not exceed $5 total for the entire four years of study. 

Twenty-two faculty provided instruction leading to the baccalaureate in a single major:  education.  Students were expected to "master education and develop sound moral character. Football players were specifically cautioned against the display of profanity, vulgarity and smoking. Faculty were expected to serve as role models, and in the early years of the century, two presidents were dismissed for, among other things, the public consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

In 1921, the college was granted it's unique and everlasting identity.  The Northern Branch of the State Normal School was renamed "Chico State Teacher's College."   "Chico State" has remained the moniker of popular choice identifying the campus throughout the remainder of the century.

1924 brought several long lasting traditions to the campus. The football team captured its first conference championship, and the school celebrated by referring to the players as "Wildcats," a name quickly adopted as the official symbol of athletics.  

The tradition of an annual spring "Senior Class Picnic" seemed a bit too tame, and students sought release from winter days and welcomed spring by celebrating their western heritage in a much more rowdy affair called "Pioneer Days." 

By 1925, enrollment had grown to 583 students and 35 faculty.  Education remained the sole degree offered.  However, options were offered in seven areas, ranging from kindergarten through junior college teaching.  Of these options, only Home Economics has failed to survive in some variation.

Tragedy struck in 1927, as the Administration Building burned down.

The building, within which we are presently sitting, was rebuilt in 1929, and the university's motto "Today Decides Tomorrow" was inscribed above the portals of the main entrance. 

The Great Depression brought more students and a fundamental change in focus to the college.   Jobs were scarce but classroom space was plentiful.  By 1932, during the depths of the recession, enrollment had increased to 766 students, with 51 faculty.

Students unable to find jobs in K-12 education, began demanding programs of study beyond teacher education, and in 1935, the college responded by offering  degrees not tied to teacher training, and dropped "Teachers" from its name and became "Chico State College."

As the winds of war clouded the horizon, enrollment exceeded 800 in 1941.  However, as students were called to arms, enrollment plunged, and by 1944 only 284 students were in attendance, and again, men were much in the minority.

The postwar years, fueled by veterans on the GI bill, quickly returned enrollment to prewar levels, and by 1947 over 1000 students were registered along with 95 faculty.

The campus took a major step in 1950 as the curriculum expanded into graduate studies, and the initial masters’ degrees, only in education, were awarded.  In that graduating class stood one who would become one of our most illustrious alumni, a woman who would literally venture, as Captain Kirk would say, "where no man has gone before."   Carolyn Shoemaker was an historian turned astronomer.  Peering through a giant telescope in a career spanning over 40 years, she would discover more comets than any woman and all but a very few men.  Teaming with her husband in 1983, they discovered the giant "Shoemaker Levy 9" comet, and charted its course as it proceeded to crash into Jupiter the following year. 

In 1955, the Faculty Council, the forerunner of the present day Academic Senate, convened in these very chambers.  Margery Anthony presided as the first chair.  

In 1961, Chico joined with 12 other state colleges in the formation of the California State College System, eventually to become the California State University System, the largest system of higher education in the world. 

The state and the university found themselves on the receiving end of unbridled growth.  In 1962, California exceeded New York as the nation's most populous state, and Chico experienced unprecedented growth, with enrollment  soaring above 6000 students by 1967

In that year, the Faculty Council became the Faculty Senate, with Charles Adams as the first senate chair. 

1964 saw the beginning of a lengthy process of reorganizing academic departments into schools, adding a Graduate School in 1967, and culminating in the redesignation of schools as "colleges" in 1986.

Along the way, in 1972, Chico State College became a bona fide university, and was renamed California State University, Chico, to which it answers today. 

The 1980s and '90s were heady times for Chico, bringing unprecedented progress in technological innovation, collective bargaining, achievements, high and low, in scholarship and athletics, and the loss of several long-standing traditions so dear to the hearts of many Chicoans.  

In 1982, Chico led the CSU system in taking a bold step that forever changed the way library's provide access to information.  On that date, the most basic tool of research, the card catalog, that had so faithfully guided researchers into the book stacks for hundreds of years, faded into history.  In its place stood an unfamiliar and primitive version of a computer terminal that appeared more like a television than anything one would expect to find in a library.  The online catalog had replaced the card catalog.  A few eminent scholars decried it, not as any innovation, but as the worst setback to research imaginable.  But even these, soon began to appreciate, the efficiency of entering a keyword, rather than flipping through endless drawers full of cards in search of that elusive publication. 

The "information explosion" was accelerating faster than a supernova, and Chico was riding the crest.  In 1997, the library connected with the "World Wide Web," and with a click of the mouse on a box that said "Internet," researchers literally had the world at their fingertips.

Faculty and staff had struggled long and hard to have a stronger say  in matters relating to working conditions.  Efforts culminated when employees entered upon the initial "collective bargaining contract" in 1983.

In 1986, Chico achieved the highest accolades of any institution of higher education in the nation.  For once, the campus was ranked number one, but not in an area to which we aspired, and not by a critic of which we respected.  Playboy Magazine bestowed upon the university the dubious honor of top party school.  Unfortunately, too many reveled in celebration, and Pioneer Days that spring devolved into drunken decadence.  An exasperated President Robin Wilson stood true to his word and  "took it out back and shot it in the head"; and thus perhaps Chico's most venerable tradition, serving as the rites of spring for 63 years, came to an abrupt and inglorious end. 

However, traditions die hard, and St. Patrick's Day and Halloween quickly filled the gap and proved equally infamous as forums for unrestrained rowdyism.  However, even these events have moderated as students of the latter days of the 20th century have come to realize that it is upon their shoulders that rests the responsibility for shaping the 21st century.  

In 1992, Chico bested arch rival UC Davis on the gridiron for the first time in 21 years and recaptured the conference championship.  The taste of victory was not long to be savored, however, and in 1997 the pigskin was laid to rest.  A Saturday afternoon staple of autumn had come to an end. 

What we lost on the gridiron, we more than made up on the diamond.  The baseball team captured the NCAA national championship in 1997, and repeated in 1999

While Chico's batters were slamming balls out of the ballpark, so too were Chico tracksters sailing out of the sand pits.  The women's track team captured the NCAA championship in the long jump and triple jump in 1993, and the records set stand as school records to this day.

Performance on the playing field was equally matched by performance in the classroom, and laboratory.  The final decade of the century saw several Chico faculty achieve international reputations in areas of third world economics, the entomology of central African ants, and mathematical error theory, a field so esoteric that perhaps no more than 25 mathematicians worldwide could comprehend it and nobody could describe it in words. 

The University offers 87 bachelors and masters degrees distributed among 130 majors, minors, options, patterns and certificates.  Students in mechanical engineering and construction management consistently score high in national competitions, nobody can out talk our forensics team nor outrun our people powered vehicle, and nursing students lead the nation in scores on national exams.  The campus newspaper, the Orion, has received the "Pacemaker" award for excellence in journalism for five of the past seven years, and our Students in Free Enterprise placed first in the 1999 International Exposition.

The University has rebounded from the dubious honors bestowed by Playboy and MTV.  Prospective students are increasingly designating Chico as their campus of first choice, and Chico consistently rates among the best in the West in college rankings. 

The Faculty Senate, recognizing that all we do and who we are, goes well beyond the realm of just the faculty and reflects equally upon the concerns of students, was renamed the "Academic Senate" in 1994, with Jim McManus as the first chair.   

As the century comes to a close, we may feel secure in knowing that we have fulfilled our primary mission, as recently stated by the President:  "No matter what innovations lie ahead, the bottom line always will be student success." 

 
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