Orbie Ingersoll remembers the date well: Sept. 11, 1967. That was the first day Moorpark Community College opened its doors and the then-25-year-old Ingersoll began his career as a college music teacher.
Aside from the administration building, campus center and library, construction workers still had much to do to complete most buildings on campus.
“It was not good,” recalls Ingersoll. “I had carpenters in my classroom with electrical saws and sanders going off. I asked them if they would leave and they wouldn’t. So it was pretty crummy.”
Dean Floyd Martin recalls the energy and freedom he felt as a young math teacher that first day, clean-cut and wearing a suit and tie--a look that evolved into sideburns, longer hair and, briefly, even polyester leisure suits.
“I looked at it as a special opportunity to be on the ground floor of a whole new college and bring in some new ideas,” said Martin, who now oversees the math, science and engineering department.
Though they may have felt a mixture of excitement about the newness of it all and annoyance at the early inconveniences, the school’s veteran instructors have been reminiscing about the campus’ history this week and discussing the challenges it faces.
The campus celebrates its 30th anniversary this afternoon with a reception at the administration building at 2:30. The college’s first president will be on hand, and historic photos from the school’s past will be exhibited.
From its beginnings in a sleepy agricultural town, the young college built on a 134-acre site in 1967 was caught up in the national unrest of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Since then, Moorpark College has earned a reputation for academic excellence and has grown from an enrollment of 1,400 to more than 11,800 students, making it the largest community college in Ventura County.
And college officials see the school playing an even greater role in the future helping students make the transition to four-year colleges.
“I think it will be an interesting time,” said college President James Walker. “We’ve got a big challenge just dealing with the number of students coming out of the secondary schools.”
Another challenge, he said, will be to adopt new courses that reflect the county’s changing marketplace, which has shifted from mostly aerospace jobs to more high-tech and bio-tech positions.
The campus, along with community colleges in Oxnard and Ventura, is planning a partnership with the proposed Cal State Channel Islands--a pact that could draw more students to the Moorpark campus, which was developed in the middle of a cattle ranch.
In 1965, nearly three-quarters of the voters approved an $8-million school bond, paving the way for the county’s second community college to serve students in eastern Ventura County; it also attracted students from western Los Angeles County.
Administrators and the college’s initial 46 teachers struggled to lay their own foundation that sometimes reflected the ‘60s mood of constant change.
The school’s original goals were to limit bureaucracy, emphasize the importance of student dignity and allow for innovations--concepts that not everyone supported, said the school’s first president, John Collins.
“There was not only anxiety, but resistance to the plan,” Collins said. “We were a brand new sister [campus] for Ventura College, and Ventura was a traditional place. They thought we were crazy.”
One humanities class placed students in experimental situations. For example, on the first day, students were told they had to register again for the class. They were lined up for more than an hour, first by height, then by gender, then race. Then the bewildered but obedient students were accepted or rejected by an administrator who first guessed their weight and height.
Once back in class, the students were told it was an experiment--a lesson in the dangers of passivity--and told to relate their feelings as they discussed matters, such as the loading of the Jews into freight cars or racism in the Army.
The early days of teaching at Moorpark Community College, Ingersoll said, underscored a larger theme in U.S. society: questioning authority.
“What the ‘60s were all about is if you believe in what the Constitution of the United States says and the Bill of Rights, then with a certain amount of restraint and responsibility, stand up for [those rights]. Scream. Fight. Stand up for yourselves.”
Yet, in a college where many of the students worked full time, not everyone got involved in political matters, whether protesting the Vietnam War or an unsuccessful fight by students to save the pepper trees along Los Angeles Avenue.
When UC Santa Barbara students arrived on the Moorpark campus to solicit support of their stance against Vietnam, some Moorpark students wondered how they had the ability to stage an out-of-town demonstration.
“Some students said: ‘How do they have time and the money to come here,’ ” Martin said. “They said, ‘I’ve got to go to work. I’ve got to study. I don’t have the time or money to do this.’ ”
In fact, in the college’s first few years, when a police cadet training program was on campus, several future officers alerted sheriff’s deputies about other students smoking marijuana on campus. Angry students, in return, argued that a college campus should be an ideological sanctuary.
During the ‘70s, the college added to its reputation by creating such innovative programs as the Exotic Animal Training and Management program, one of two animal training programs offered by community colleges nationwide. The program attracts students from around the world.
With the addition of other training programs, such as nursing and laser technology, enrollment topped 9,000 by 1977. State funds helped add five buildings in the 1980s, but by the early 1990s, decreased money from the state for community colleges resulted in increasing student fees and a plunge in enrollment.
Enrollment dipped from more than 12,000 in 1993 to 10,600 two years later. But with a stronger economy, enrollment has continued to grow since 1995.
“We’re excited about the prospects,” said Walker. “Based on demographics, graduation statistics at high schools and from local statistics, we will grow again for the next five years at least.”
By early 1999, the school plans to open a $5.1-million two-story math and science center. Along with providing increased Internet access and more televised courses, the school plans to add more evening classes by using classrooms at Westlake, Newbury Park and Simi Valley high schools.
The proposed partnership with a four-year Cal State campus could significantly benefit Moorpark College students, who may be able to transfer all their credits to the state school.
Many of today’s students say the college offers them what they need: a new chance at a career, an opportunity to exercise the brain muscles or to focus on studies.
“My friends at universities say the bad thing is that . . . the students party all the time,” said Karleen Chan, an 18-year-old graduate of Royal High School who was studying the chemical composition of sugar in a biology text. “Without their parents, they end up slacking off. This school gives me a chance to go home and study.”