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CARE Member Contributions to The Next Thirty Years

The Beginnings of Las Positas College: One View
Submitted by Esther Goldberg
Las Positas College


Original Sin

"The Valley" was set up in the spring of 1975, despite the fact that the much-hoped-for Bond issue had not passed. The District had purchased the land some time before and now it allocated for building $8,000.000; some Chabot staff objected that it had come directly our of their children's mouths. The facility was four buildings, the minimum amount possible to create a facility and the maximum possible from funds Reed had squirreled away. Barbara Mertes lured some faculty, hired some new faculty and the place opened in the spring of 1975 under her leadership. The plan was for an "open campus" with faculty available all day every day in an open setting with no barriers to students.

Most faculty hated the plans. Almost from the beginning, they wanted offices, phones, designated parking, food and warm bathrooms. They were willing to wait the many years before those niceties appeared, but the Dan'l Boones and the Davy Crocketts did not want to live in log cabins forever.

Most faculty initially had desks in Bldg. 100. A kind of rumpus room without ping pong.. The smart ones early staked out the better desk locations, but one of the less-sophisticated ended up at the doorway. Dee brought that poor misbegotten soul her own desk sign: "Miss Information," which she gave out aplenty. Snapping fingers, "Miss?, Miss?, Miss?," "Why don't you answer my question before I ask it and immediately?," "Where is the bathroom?," were constant refrains.

Out on the frontier was one thing, but the passage of Prop 13 put grease on the rails and ol' Paint began skidding down hill.. Somehow, the facility remained open. Some classes were initially small but faculty compensated with multiple preps in multiple disciplines, long hours, extra paperwork and fatigue..

The need for space caused a lotta pain. One faculty person who taught 15 preps per year in three disciplines asked for storage and was told to take her materials home. But that was the point, references and support materials were needed on campus. Lack of security (for exams in process, grades, student conferences, exhibits), lack of space to prepare materials, and equipment to type our own exams (no staff) was also a serious problem. (Serious course preparation had to be done at home at night.) In a staff meeting, Esther asked for a person to answer the phones in Bldg 700 (for about 25 faculty), and was refused. Then she requested another handset phone (there were only two) and was refused. Phones rang constantly and, as people developed selective deafness, they went unanswered and rang and rang and rang. Then, one person who spent zero time at a desk decided that the peasants needed to have "good" music to listen to while slaving away. His face was very puzzled when he discovered that the radio was mysteriously turned off each time he left behind his "gift."

Even the request for a typewriter was rejected. The crowding was so intense that it was impossible for each faculty person to have a personal typewriter. We thought ourselves lucky to have four-drawer filing cabinets, a cut above the Chabot faculty who only had two drawers! But because even this space was inadequate, shelves for our desks appeared. Because that was inadequate, things got stacked on top of things. Faculty person X's pile of exams from the top of the filing cabinet, reused each semester, suddenly was cut in half - somebody swiped a bunch. It didn't make any difference in grades, though. Curving does miracles.

One benefit Valley faculty had was access to a copier; many an exam was taped together with magic tape - has to be done very carefully or the lines show. Chabot faculty did not have equal access - chalk one up for the valley guys! (out of their children's mouths…)

Faculty and Staff

Esther was invited to move her desk to Building 700, where about 20 faculty were crammed. It was a thrill to be asked to join a real sorority. The facility there was just as inadequate as in Building 100, except there was not as much smoking. Quarters were so cramped that a person getting out of a desk sometimes ran over the toes of somebody who was working next door. She took the back corner, stacked up her stuff and, knowing she was either at the top or the bottom of some list, tried to be inconspicuous. That wasn't possible as she was viewed with suspicion. As a climate of hostility grew, (rats do terrible things to each other when they are crowded) Esther was sawing her wood and looked up to see Faculty Person G coming around her standing screen with a face that said, "I am here to spy on you." Her face said, "I know what you are up to." Pop! The face vanished.

Faculty Person G usually carried a unique sweetish personal atmosphere on campus, bragged about snorting cocaine and an unparalleled ability to charm policemen out of issuing tickets when pulled over drunk. Increasingly hostile and aggressive, students pried their leader out of bars in the wee hours. A maturing process, no doubt. One parent bearded a fellow faculty person at every holiday occasion and wanted to know, "Does the administration know what is going on?"

The answer was "yes." Faculty person G bragged of friends in high places whose names were dredged up in confrontations. One Monday morning G appeared after having been rolled, still enjoying the latent effects of some medicinal powders inhaled over the weekend, All that was left to wear was an old beat up pair of cowboy boots with holes in the soles and raggedy clothes. The hat would have looked well on a derelict. Loudly repeating, "I am just a plain person," as well as how much mama had adored her child. The nicest, least controversial faculty person warned that such behavior was "cuckoo."

Screaming at students, trying to intimidate them, and then promising them an A if they never again darkened the classroom door became standard practice. Finally, the behavior became too dangerous and a wonderful manager took the responsibility to relieve the faculty of this person, despite threats of a lawsuit on the grounds of sexual harassment. When one person attempted to report repeated misbehavior to a seriously important manager, the response was, "Don't criticize Faculty Person G to me." because they were friends. The shouting was frequently aimed at Innocent Esther, followed by a limp apology and an explanation that menopause could explain intemperateness.

She refused to accept the apology and drew another belligerent, brutal personal attack, especially when she characterized the behavior as near-violent and frightening

Before G was forced off the faculty, there was a good deal of bragging about sexual conquests. Having struck up a relationship with a high-echelon individual of the newly designated college, the bragging was that the person in question had been sad when their evening had begun, but smiling when morning came. Everybody on campus soon heard where G‘s car had been parked the night before...

Usually it was difficult to get somebody to run for the senate, but Esther's tenure threw a frenzy into the ranks of a special group. Two months after her first election to a one-year term, an old-timey faculty person tried to engineer another election, claiming that he didn't know when the next election was due. Reminds you of James Garner's description of the vice presidency as not worth a bucket of warm spit, a fairly accurate description of the way many viewed the power of a single senator. The anxiety that her position created was puzzling until her intuition clicked on. The position did carry with it access to Faculty Senate minutes which went to everybody on both campuses.

Our belligerent hero, G, decided to serve on the District Senate when Esther was on sabbatical. Of course, the election was uncontested. Other senators quickly tired of G's full-throated, incoherent positions and empty rhetoric. Mostly, the Senate was very informal, but the new senator stood erect as a Marine, eloquent, bellowing orations full-throat, wasting great wads of time. On the occasions when the wig was on straight, "resplendent" is the only adequate description, but that was a sometime thing.

Blaming Joan for betrayal when Esther won the next election, term limits were bandied about, but that would leave her in place too long. So intimidation was the next tactic against Joan (innocent as the new dawn), for betraying a life-long dream, the quest for High Office. She was accosted with, "You're a fine woman!" She responded with, "Exactly what do you mean?" The perp repeated, "You're a fine woman." She said, "Let's step outside and discuss this." She did NOT - although it was widely reported that she did - place a swift kick where it would do the most good. But the bravado disappeared almost immediately in a sea of self-pity.


After the first couple of free-floating years, faculty person O (who eventually became an Incredibly Important Person) and Administrator N collaborated on a committee structure that was lovingly called (by faculty) the Three Martini Lunch Work Product. The names of the committees/task forces were abstract and confusing, such as : Business Industry Network (function?) or other monikers too bizarre to remember. In fact, as of this writing, nobody asked has been able to recall the name of a single other task force. Faculty Person O was heard to say that the task force structure had to be good because the faculty hated it so much, no doubt intensified by the entrophe (sic) O introduced in an academic paper. The task forces were supposed to meet whether they had business or not; anything done by one task force had to be repeated by each and every other. G immediately figured out it was a sham and simply ignored the meetings, but the Girl and Boy Scouts plugged on, at least those whose children had no soccer games and couldn't get special dispensations to escape.

After some time a semblance of a curriculum committee was put in place, but its actions were not accountable because organized academic disciplines did not exist to feed suggestions to it ("democracy.") Its very pliant chair remained in place until elevated to head the Faculty Association, when he became potentially an important figure in the transformation of what was then called "Valley Campus" into a second college. As a f'rinstance, the curriculum committee decided to cut Political Science 7 to a three-hour course (without notifying the faculty teaching it or anybody who taught social sciences.) UC Berkeley was already complaining that it was impossible to complete the required material in the four units then assigned. A little bird saw to it that word got around (little birds do wonderful things) however, and the masked offender arrived unannounced at the next meeting, cited the reasons the course needed to retain its four-unit value and won the day, with the perps staring straight ahead and/or inspecting their fingernails. The strange thing is, there was no opposition to the objections, just silence.

The general faculty meetings (lovingly called "show and tell sessions") were often clocked at two hours as faculty was entertained with such vital information as details of student registration cards. The endless time for the meetings resulted in the invention of a "torture quotient" that mathematicized the amount of pain involved and assigned scores for the destruction of good will and enthusiastic creativity. But they were often a good time to grade papers.

The first library initially housed the break "room" (actually a corner and vending machines). Bldg. 100 hada sorta private conference room with a window in the door. It was decided that the "lead faculty" would design the Tech-Voc program, but even the most devoted followers stormed around and announced they "wouldn't do it." Knowing that a maximum of negative steam merely meant they would each extract some personal favor in return for doing the job, (smile at the birdie) Esther suggested a meeting to establish a group position. Some wanted to go into the HPMR (Holy Private Meeting Room)) with the window that would exhibit the ill-considered resistance, but she who knew the traps insisted on hiding in plain sight. Theory was, with nothing to hide, nobody would have any reason to retaliate. Theories often don't work. Suspicion was a way of life, which became clear as various observers passed past the passel of political petulants numerous times, reading lips and body language to elicit and diagnose the danger of this deviation from proper Orwellian behavior by the Great Unwashed. The incident blew over after a beautifully crafted letter was sent, saying something like, "Hell, no. Won't go." Although she was not the instigator of the rebellion, the suggester of openness was blamed for it.

Political Correctness

Jack Healy and Art Deleray wanted a phone in the science laboratory, but were told that it was out of the question because it would cost thousands of dollars. Whether they were interested in student safety or another telephone on campus (were only six handsets available?) is probably irrelevant. Art crawled up in the overhang and found that the connections were already there and the total cost was the line and the handset.

Similar problems surrounded the parking question; it was as politically incorrect to have separate parking for staff as to have telephone availability or offices, as everything was supposed to be equal between students and faculty. Besides, an empty staff parking lot on Friday afternoon would signal how lazy we were. Hell, we all knew that. One administrator regularly announced to us that we were all "feeding at the public trough" while leaning against a building and smoking. This person had a remarkably clean desk, but would put down the phone when somebody knocked.

But as the number of students grew, parking was inadequate at peak hours. Faculty sometimes had assignments at other locations, or otherwise could not or would not heed the advice to get there early, real early; after all, they were already staying late for those marvelous meetings and "other activities as assigned." When Carol Clough and Art Deleray could not find parking; both nosed into illegal spots and were ticketed. Art consulted the Magna Carta, the Dalai Lama and the Declaration of Independence and argued their losing case in court. On the other hand, the judge did suggest that management could be nice to the staff. Finally, an area was blocked off for staff parking, after a long enough interim so that nobody could suspect anybody of being soft on staff. That the most consistent toady had a bad heart was probably responsible for this staff victory. One faculty person was tasked with parking in the student lot, to which she is supposed to have replied, "Fitz the students," or something like that. She insists she didn't do it

The Light of Heart

LPC faculty. staff and students enthusiastically partied, throwing themselves into anything frivolous, irresponsible and fun. Halloween featured a parade around the Quad, with memorable fashions sometimes belly-laughing tears to the eyes of spectators. Ellen Owen came resplendent in a brilliant purple uh, well, uh, palm reader's outfit. In a real head-turner, she dyed her hair brilliant black for the occasion. (This particular parade was on the day a political science class had a guest speaker who clearly expected a more docile crew.) Joan Long came as Juan Valdez, the coffee bean grower from Central America. She wore full makeup, sandals, serape, straw hat. Even her best friend did not know her. The counseling staff all came as characters in Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz one year, and topped that the next year when all dressed as Charlie Chaplin.

Students got "into it." Two young men came well turned out as a dominator and .... friend, the consensus winners of all time...The Dominator waxed his hair into a Mohawk, skinning down his sidewalls, wore spikes round his wrists, waist and legs. His leather jacket added class with its deep fringe. But the eye catcher, the bonebreaker, the amazing partner fella wore white chiffon, high heels and a blonde wig, complete with chest hair - spectacular. All perfectly straight-faced, no simpering, no grimacing; and no sexual overtones.

Nobody ever thought to give prizes; being in the wingding was its own and only reward. One faculty person came as a rhinestone cowgirl dressed in excellent taste in cowboy hat, boots, jeans skirt, and lavish "di'monds." A putative college president arrived to visit in the midst of one Parade and was impressed. As soon as anybody attempted to codify, formalize or organize these or other spontaneous eruptions of creative juices, they were no longer fun and died on the vine.

Female staff organized an annual very special event, the Crystal Day. They raked out old sets of crystal necklaces, rings, bracelets, and/or ear rings and piled them on in incredible combinations until they risked carpal tunnel syndrome in neck, ankle or wrist. The more the merrier. Clanking around like Sparkle Plenty was a surprise to visitors and students alike. Why crystal? Why not?

The Mellerdrammer grew like Topsy from misty beginnings. Perhaps a rational story line tied it together, but you couldn't prove it. The audience had to work hard to fathom what it was all about. Nevertheless, the audience engaged in full-throated demonstrations of adoration for the heroes and disdain for the villains, followed by raucous applause for the good guys. Shouting, hissing, booing adding to the dignity of the occasion.. Jim Forcier was a giant St. Bernard in a pert brown and white furry (that means it was, at best, dacron) ensemble; he stole whole acts with his dainty drooling and plentiful panting.

Margaret Emery played the ingénue in a demure turn-of -the-century costume that only she could have worn. Ellen was a sad-eyed cleaning lady wandering at random across the stage with her floor mop. Dudley Do-Right (Gary Svihula) and Margaret made a perfect couple whose love triumphed over all in the end. Carol Clough, Ellen and a cast of thousands were behind-the-scenes producers of this lovely event. Often afterward it was proposed to produce another stage event, but perfection could not be improved upon and the suave images remain indelibly etched on the eyeballs of all who attended or participated. Money was made for a worthy charity. Was it given to keep the event from being repeated?

Some riveting stage productions were advertised in front of the library building on a sandwich board boasting the name of the play in smaller type than the producer's. Another drama director managed to turn left-booted near-psychotic students into gifted thespians, in a true miracle, really making. lemonade out of lemons.

Our Dear Leader and faculty put on various readers' theatres commemorating the Cowboy, Norman Rockwell, an illustrator also known as a Great Artist, as well as other creative productions. One faculty person who once was in a production only escaped by pleading great emotional upset when on stage. In one of these productions, staged at Chabot, the music was not notated but noted with asterisks and stars; the singer and musicians hadda invent what a "sparkle" or a "starburst" of sound meant. The singer grasped it - get out of Dodge, fast. The husband of one performer "had to" attend each time the play was staged not out of admiration for the production, but to protect her against expected flying fruit. In remembering other productions at the Valley Campus, the mind's eye glassyfies at the memory of short and fat Faculty Person X and long and not-so-lean Faculty Person G reading their lines in rented tuxedoes that might have fit better had they exchanged them. But that probably wouldn't have helped, because the short man's pants were much too long, and the tall man's pants were, too. Extreme tightness around their middles made them look as if they were wearing potato sacks snugged up with rope. But the voices were sonorous, serious and stentorian. All the details of these performances were well publicized at the time, and even went on the road to another college.

FOOD and its consequences

Lindel Bruce organized a series of volunteer lunches. The sum and substance of the entire eating facility was a vending machine which did not always keep cold food cold enough or hot food hot enough. Occasional stomach miseries resulted in removal of all items with any nutritional value. Busy day? Lunch was M&Ms and dinner a Clark's bar.

Probably because food was randomly stored in inadequate containers, we had a plague, not of locusts, but of voles (i.e., mice). They rivaled lemmings in their numbers, specializing in Shakespearian death scenes during classes. It was hard to compete with mouse histrionics in lecture. It was doggoned unpleasant to take out a source book and find it stained with mouse stuff, electrifying to sit down at a typewriter (bootlegged for the faculty by Carol Clough - it must have weighed 50 pounds, it was so old) and witness five mice pour out when the electricity was turned on. The faculty person uttered a loud exclamation. Only one person reported being bitten. One mouse ran inside a faculty person's boot. Fun.

Most faculty hated to have the college use poison because of Ralph the black and white cat. Ralph set up his domicile in Bldg. 700 where about half the faculty had desks. .Ralph's kingdom was usually on Jim Landry's lap, petting was licensed for approved admirers every third Thursday from 11:00 to 11:01. Dee was also favored with adoration time, but probably not quite as much. Ralph was semi-wild and administered sharp punishment at every infraction of his rules, whatever those were. Those rules often were punctuated with punctures when Ralph's annoyance factor was engaged. The mouse poison got Ralph in the end. Eventually the mice decided it was time to end their 17-year cycle and just disappeared.

After the faculty succeeded in getting offices, Judy's office acquired its own resident mouse. Unable to trap it, she brought in some poison which the mouse stole, opened (cut along the little dotted line), and ate. It then died somewhere behind her two million books (all of which Judy had read.) Its remains smelled to high heaven and despite Judy's and maintenance staff's best efforts, its little corpse was not found until she retired and emptied out the other one million nine hundred thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine books.

The number and quality of restrooms, especially for the distaff side, was never sufficient. One restroom was damned cold because there was no heat. Compensation was a cot in case one should need a rest (the relevance escapes). When a student center was designed, it had no restroom despite the intent to serve food. Faculty person M went to the Board of Trustees and was successful in getting restrooms installed. Even after the Library was built and new restrooms were added, they were few and far between. Students decided to use the staff room, supported by those who believed in democracy, but faculty objected to lining up cross-legged in their few minutes between classes. When the women's restroom was filthied, the staff argument became much stronger, and a paper sign was added to the door, designating this as a Staff Restroom. The sign was regularly removed. Few respected it..


A multipurpose room was built, mostly a facility for the physical education faculty and larger meetings. The p.e. faculty had a special cross to bear in the good ol‘ days when all p.e. classes were outside. It is wonderful to admire the spirit of outdoors, vigor and physical fitness, but it is not so nice to have to teach classes in the wind, rain and mud with no shelter. One faculty person came in with hair poured over his eyes, drenched clothes and shoes and said, "Time really flies when you're having fun." He left the District.

As with all public entities, building was controversial. Temporaries came to house a student center (called Vesuvius because the used cigarette smoke poured out whenever the door was opened.) Sophie started a tennis team. Then she started her fencing program, decorated around the edges with marathoning. Somehow she kept all the oranges in the air. Gradually the Boys added Frisbee (national champions, yet!) and soccer to the program. First a weight room, then the new enormous physical education facility was added; it can be converted into an auditorium. It's cute that it was designed with an internal track at the second floor for runners.

Temporary buildings were added as classrooms and were converted to offices when more classroom space became available. The offices were built like lavatory cubicles, walls were 18 inches from the ceiling. Dark and gloomy, nevertheless an office was an office if it was lockable and could hold the faculty person and materials. It was here that confidential conferences were hatched to make Valley a separate college and select the only possible person for president. The attendees failed to take security into account and were unaware of the information they were evanescing into the ether.

The library was added and attached to it were real, ipsy-pipsy faculty offices, with doors, bookshelves, locks and windows. It was a dream for so many who had camped out for so long. Here, Linda Lucas was able to ride herd and set up a proper facility for students and faculty. She was extraordinarily tenacious and determined, characteristics that often served the college well. Workrooms, a computer facility, book stacks, and offices; moving in was Christmas morning.

Building the science facility was a rougher go for faculty. Biological and physical sciences were both included and most faculty had highly specialized and individualized needs. Numerous nightmares were the result. The poobahs had decided that the science faculty would have their offices in the new building, but one office could have doubled for a small broom closet and the question of personal security, as faculty were isolated and scattered, was a significant factor. Cabinets were installed for the microscopes, but were too small. The designers seemed unaware of the specialized needs for non-grade school science courses. Underground advice from a specialist helped, but the science faculty was forced to spend an inordinate number of hours preventing mistakes and correcting those already made. It took more than a whole summer. A lotta donated hours.

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