Reflections for CSUN 40th Year Celebration's Northridge Alumni Magazine

CSUN has published a special edition of the Northridge alumni magazine.  When past A. S. Presidents were contacted and asked to write some recollections, I wrote a few words and share them with you here.  The magazine editor had space limitations, so he edited my few words down to really a few words.

Northridge V (Fall 1998).  E-mail


Your Name: John A. Cagle

Address: Department of Communication
California State University, Fresno
Fresno, CA 93720
(209) 278-5103

Class: BA 1966 and MA 1967

BA in Speech and in Theatre
MA in Speech


When one night I had to go to the new Valley State College to pick up my mother who was taking an statistics course in Fall 1961, and as I was wandering the hallways of the Speech-Drama building, a really big professor asked me what I was doing. I told him that I was going to start Valley State in February and be a drama student. He said, "Well, I’m Bill Schlosser, I’ll be your advisor, so come in my office and let’s get it over with." He took out a piece of paper and laid out a five-year curriculum for me that would get me a teaching credential. Anyway, I followed that paper and finished the major, even though I changed to Speech when I was a junior--I was afraid to tell Dr. Schlosser that I was changing my major.

When I ran for Associated Students President in 1966, I was in a debate with Paul Shinoff. One of my professors, Malcolm Sillars, came by after and said, "John, good speech, but remember you can’t major in student government—you’d better start coming to class again." That’s the sort of place it was.

Valley State in the early days was a place of continuing growth. New buildings were going up all the time. Dean Robert Lawrence used to say, "A tradition at Valley State is what we did last year." Because we grew by 1500 to 3000 new students each year, student government not only couldn’t come up with new activity programs fast enough to keep up, but the student budget was also growing, which gave students a unique position of power.

The central fact about me, I think, is that I was in Pi Kappa Tau Fraternity ( , now Sigma Alpha Epsilon. My fraternity was the center of my life and continues to be with me today. The fraternity gave me a sense of independence, a core of close friendships that have lasted over the years, and a constructive philosophy of life. As most fraternities and some sororities did, we rented a house in a residential neighborhood. From 1963 to 1969, we had a large ranch house about 3 miles north on Nordhoff—we had hundreds of acres of empty land around us. Because most everyone worked in the evenings or took classes, life in the fraternity houses began about 10:00 each evening when almost all the brothers would come by the house to talk or work on committees; sometime around 12 or 1, large groups would leave to go to Van De Camp's or Bob's for coffee, hamburgers, or something. Although we had beds for about 20 brothers, no one kept food or ate at the house. In the mornings we'd get up to go to classes. We did that all year long. Did we ever get tired? In my own case, I had every other Sunday off from work and I would generally sleep most of the day.

Fraternities and sororities in those days were new. We were aware that fraternities and sororities had flaws, but in Valley State’s early days there was a conscious effort not to repeat those flaws in creating these new groups. We didn’t haze, for example, and I didn’t hear that the other groups did either. We also tried to not discriminate in recruiting new members. Valley State had very few minority students in those days, but there was a multi-cultural character to all the Greek organizations. There were many Greeks in student government, and I remember that we had a common conviction that as student leaders we were to serve the student body, not benefit individual fraternities or Greeks. In certain positions, such as yell leader or A. S. President, the tradition was not to wear a pin because you were representing all the students.

In the mid-1960s, there was a lot of interest in affiliating with strong national organizations. Many people contributed to that work. We had excellent advising, Deans John Palmer and Robert Lawrence, Chuck Lindahl (now CSU Vice Chancellor, by the way), Helen Waller, Robert Ebersol, and Helen Krahn. We tried to forge a Greek system that would promote educational values, but also achieve a long-term viability. David Smith, Judy Foohey, Don Gere, Al Soss, Gregg Brewster, Nate Lam, and Vicki Randall were Greek leaders instrumental in these efforts. Jeff Matz (a Pi Kappa Tau) went to a National IFC conference and talked the Pi Kappa Alpha national president into starting a chapter at Valley State, and many fraternity leaders at Valley State helped recruit members for the new group and even ran a pledge program the first semester.

I was a yell leader in 1963 with Gil Taylor and Bill Hardy. In those days we used short, double entendre yells with none of the gymnastics common today. At games the favorite yell was called Alley Garoo. We also tried to spell out the entire name of San Fernando Valley State College, but seldom finished all the letters. As Head Yell Leader, I got called into Dean Palmer's office twice for a reprimand concerning off-color cheers.

We planned a pep rally on a Thursday to promote interest in the LA State football game that weekend. We were wickedly planning to drive a Volkswagen into the cafeteria followed by the Marching Band—we knew the campus police would be angry. Anyway, I wore my yell leader outfit to class that morning. At about 9:45 Professor Richfield walked into the class and said, "Thank you for coming. Under the circumstances, I am dismissing class today. See you next Tuesday." As I walked out of the room, I heard people whispering and learned for the first time that President Kennedy had been shot. I went to the cafeteria—the atmosphere was "so thick you could cut it with a knife." I took my sweater off.

Student government was calmer in the early part of the 1960s, certainly less so in the late ‘60s. The Associated Students structure was activity based, with various levels of student councils to plan activities (Associated Men and Women Presidents, class presidents, and so forth). I was on the student senate each year I was at Valley State in one capacity or another. We did things like have a Senior Proms with bands like Nelson Riddle; at parties we did variations of the Surfer's Stomp or the Twist, although occasionally someone would shout "Gator Time!" and you wouldn't believe what happened next. We focused on Homecoming activities (the Claim Jumpers Night carnival and the Homecoming Parade were two major events) in the fall, and had a Men’s Week and a Women’s Week in the spring semesters. We also funded Intercollegiate and Intramural sports, forensics, theatre productions, the student newspapers, various clubs and organizations, and lectures and concerts (one of Bob Newhart's great comedy albums was taped on campus). We had excellent leadership and guidance from the administration. President Ralph Prator, Vice President Delmar Oviatt, Dean Palmer, and Dean Lawrence had a shared vision that the student government should be autonomous, and each gave sound guidance and facilitation.

We had an active sense of building for the future. People like Wendy Johnson (Senior Class President) thought of things like buying a carillon system for the university; it is neat to go on campus today, hear those bells, and think of Wendy. Or when George St. Johns came to me with a plan to build a football stadium, based on $10,000 a year in Associated Students moneys matched by $10,000 from the Foundation, we presented the plan and actually got it approved. Where is that damn stadium today, anyway?

Student government got more political during the decade. Valley State was founded in 1958, but the California State College system was established in 1960 with many new features. The moneys student governments had (in the 1960s we budgeted a million dollars a year) were unmatched in the University of California or the Big Ten system, so the California State College student presidents had power and money. The California State College Student Presidents Association (CSCSPA) was created about 1964 and did a lot of try to focus student government on constructive participation in building our university system. When Ronald Reagan was elected Governor, he proposed tuition for the UC and CSC systems. CSCSPA organized a successful statewide campaign which convinced him and the legislature to maintain California’s commitment to free public higher education; this commitment held for almost two decades. Student leaders like Joe Perret and George St. Johns were energetic and creative in designing strategies. A funny story in this period of crisis concerns a incident in the office of Lt. Gov. Robert Finch. Chancellor Glenn Dumke was waiting a long time to get in to see Finch when George St. Johns entered. The Chancellor of the largest system of higher education in the world was surprised when Finch came out personally, ignored him, and took George into his office. The Chancellor thought George got this special treatment because the awesome power students had acquired, but in fact, well, George’s grandmother was Finch’s good friend. Anyway, Finch gave us important inside information and helped us develop a strategy to influence Governor Reagan.

The mid-1960s began to reflect the student activism that grew and came to dominate. A. S. Vice President Bob Swaim wrote an essay on "The New Student" in 1965; he believed the nature of students had changed and colleges need to change to meet their needs. I remember a student senate meeting in 1966 when Students for a Democratic Society were requesting approval of their charter. There was some verbal sparring over the nature of the organization’s purpose and leadership structure. I remember the A. S. President Gary Wartik saying, "Well, if you don’t like the way we do things here, why don’t you run for office." Anyway, they did. I ran for A. S. President that semester with Chris Latham as my Vice President; interestingly, so did Paul Shinoff and Syl Rogers. The general election resulted in a run-off and received a lot of publicity—"traditional student government" vs. "the new student." Amazingly, about 60% of the student body voted in that election, and Latham and I won by only 92 votes. In my administration, I appointed Shinoff, Rogers, and a number of their supporters to important positions in student government; it impressed me that they had gotten twice as many votes as any past president who’d been elected.

The war in Vietnam was getting and looming larger. In Spring of 1967, it seemed most students still supported the war. I remember a girl I knew crying in the cafeteria one day and was told her boyfriend had been killed in Vietnam; he was a Sigma Chi and the first person I knew to die there. When Vice President Hubert Humphrey spoke on campus about the aerospace industry, besides all the secret service agents on campus, I remember a small group of students were protesting about the war with very little support from the thousands of other students there. Student sentiment had not changed yet.

One of my greatest memories of life in the Valley in the 1960s is the knowledge that the San Fernando Valley was third on the Soviet list of first-strike targets in a nuclear war. I heard this "fact" in a public lecture on the Valley's place in the aerospace and missile defense system and assumed it was true; many times in the Sepulveda drive-in we'd see the sky above Chatsworth light up with the Nike rocket testing. At that time the electronics for the whole space and missile program was in our valley. Remember that the Cuban Missile Crisis was in October of 1962. I learned at another lecture on nuclear weapons that in our valley, surrounded by mountains all around, it would only take a 10-megaton bomb to level everything. Anyway, we lived with that reality and I think it gave me a certain hedonism that lingers with me even today.

In August of 1967, I got on a bus and went off to Iowa. I told some of the guys in the dormitory I lived in about how the Valley was the third Soviet target and that I was so relieved to be in now living safely in Iowa. Everybody laughed, and then told me that Iowa City was first on the list—the communications center for the Strategic Air Command was only fifteen miles from campus.

Impact of college on your life:

My parents urged me to go to Valley State instead of UCLA because it was a new college and would have lots of opportunities over even a great established university. I found this to be true. The faculty were extraordinary. In my speech major there was Malcolm Sillars, Charles Mudd, and Fred McMahon. In theatre, the faculty were extraordinary. Years later at the University of Iowa when I was talking to a Theatre professor, Arnold Gillette (one of the greats), about stage lighting, he asked me where I had learned it. I told him somebody named Bellman at Valley State taught me, and he said, "My God, he wrote the textbook!" From Jerome Richfield in Philosophy, to Edmund Carpenter, Dorothy Lee, and Fred Katz in Anthropology, to Mitchell Marcus and Richard Blakeslee in English, to Robert Oliphant in Linguistics, to DeWayne Johnson in Journalism, to Fadil Zuwayliff and Joe Buchwald in Business, to Richard Peairs in Psychology, to Len Glass in Health—we had wonderful teachers in anything we wanted to study.

I went to the University of Iowa for my Ph.D. studies. Although it was literally the best communication program in the country, I found I was well prepared—I didn’t have to be re-taught anything. Over the years I have been continually impressed by how Valley State gave me the foundation for everything that followed.

I met my wife, Eve Weisinger, at Valley State. We were married in 1968, 30 years ago, and we’re still happy. What could be better?

What are you doing now?

My first teaching job was in 1970 at Fresno State College. My wife and I fell in love with the college and the community, and I am still there. I have been a full professor since 1978, a department chair for 12 years, a statewide academic senator, and parliamentarian for most of 28 years. The thing I am proudest of is being the Academic Coordinator for Fresno State’s Summer Bridge Program since 1971; my work with EOP has its roots in my education at Valley State and San Fernando High School.