Recession and Recovery
Heading into the 1980s, Dr. Masakuzu Jack Fujimoto, was placed in charge of the college and, for the time being, construction on campus had come to a halt, in part due to the passage of Proposition 13, which altered educational funding statewide.
Still, West had momentum, goodwill, successes, a charming if still incomplete campus, and a good atmosphere among the students. And so, enrollment continued to increase, even as the
facilities began to be pushed to their limits.
Professor Betty Jacobs was hired away from Los Angeles City College in 1983 to take over the journalism program, which included the student newspaper The Oiler. Quickly, the staff grew to 18 college journalists who often worked on stories until the wee hours of the morning. The consistency of The Oiler contributed to the community feel among the students and conveyed both campus news and news affecting the college.
BUDGET CUTS & ENROLLMENT CRISIS: The later included the after effects of then Governor Jerry Brown losing his seat to George Deukmejian in in 1982. Significant changes for the State education budget would follow. For starters, the 1983 Spring budget put an end to free education at the State community college level. While the new fee was only $5.00 per unit, attendance began to drop, immediately, significantly, dramatically. This was not unique to West. Enrollment in community colleges dipped statewide, but especially for colleges like West and others in the Los Angeles Community College District that relied heavily on students from urban areas.
By 1986, WLAC had lost 44 percent of its enrollment. With a reduction in students came a reduction in class offerings and full-time faculty. At a January 1986 meeting of the LACCD Board, Chancellor Leslie Koltai appealed to West faculty about a growing image problem that could lead to a massive reorganization of the college. “If you can help me, then I can help you,” he told them. But he also told them that the district would have to consider whether it should close one or more of the nine colleges with West being a likely candidate.
DR. THOR APPOINTMENT PRESIDENT: Weeks later, in a midnight meeting of the LACCD Board, WLAC President M. Jack Fujimoto was removed from his position. Between the drop in enrollment and the grumblings from staff, the Board decided to act.
Dr. Linda Thor, the Director of Communication for the LACCD for the past 4 years, received a call in the middle of the night appointing her as the Acting President. “I was unknown to most WLAC employees. When the folks came to work the next morning, they were greeted by the Chancellor, and the staff was told their president had been removed,” Thor explained.
Thor was the first female president at WLAC and one of the few female community college presidents in the country. Only 70 or 80 out of approximately 12,000 community colleges had female presidents.
Thor had significant tasks on her To Do list. “Faculty morale was very bad,” Thor said. “But they realized that if they chewed up and spit out yet another president, the institution’s survival was in jeopardy. So with that going for me, the faculty was really incredible at the time.”
ENROLLMENT UP DRAMATICALLY: More important to the long-term future of the college, Thor had to stem the tide of declining enrollment, immediately. She was told, in no uncertain terms, that enrollment needed to be increased by 20% by Fall or the college might close. On her first official day as president, March 3, 1986, Thor held a meeting and announced the 20% mandate. Remarkably, by August, WLAC had NOT increased enrollment by the requested 20%. It was up 36%!
Crediting the increase to “a whirlwind of activity and a great demonstration of teamwork,” Thor had not only achieved the goal, she had blown by it. The “Acting” was soon removed from her president title. The following year, enrollment increased another 5%, and the trend continued. By the Spring of 1988, WLAC enrollment was up 16%, and the college had the best enrollment percentage increase in the district.
PACE & JUMP START: With enrollment back on an increase, and positive feelings all around campus, other programs flourished as well. By 1989, more than 75 students became the first PACE (Program for Accelerated College Education) students to graduate WLAC. PACE began in the Fall of 1986 to keep working students on track to graduate within two years with a degree.
Also that year, WLAC, working with UCLA and Hamilton High School, introduced the “Super Graduate” program, offering college-level classes to academically qualified high school students in an effort to prepare them for advanced studies. This would lay the foundation for a number of partnerships with local high schools including Jump Start which, over the years, has allowed high school students to earn college credit while still in high school.
WINNING AGAIN: In the early 1980s, athletics had difficult times often tied to shrinking and uncertain budget allocations. But as enrollment and funding increased in the mid-1980s, there was an environment of winning. By the end of the 1985-86 school year, WLAC had established itself in all sports as, at the very least, a competitive factor in the Western States (Athletic) Conference, one of the most powerful athletic conferences in the State.
The football team had earlier accumulated two Conference Championships, and finished the 1985 season in second place. WLAC’s baseball team won a division title. The men’s basketball team, the only program to survive continuously since the school opened, was also competitive.
WLAC was providing an opportunity to continue growing as a serious athlete – providing the “next step” on the academic/athletic ladder. And there were already role models to follow.
ALUMNUS WARREN MOON HONORED: In 1989, at WLAC’s 20th anniversary, NFL Hall of Famer Warren Moon (Houston Oilers Quarterback) received the first West Los Angeles College Distinguished Alumnus Award. Moon had been a Hamilton High School graduate, and had led the WLAC Oilers to a conference championship in 1974 before transferring to the University of Washington and going pro. (Other Professional Athlete Alumni).
Also in that year, plans were announced to move the Aviation Technology program from the satellite near the airport to a new on-campus facility. Unfortunately, that same year, budgetary concerns reared once again. And again, cuts were made to the athletic program, as well as to the college’s Theatre program.
As the decade drew to a close, the college had survived one scare, was dealing with adjustments and setbacks after 20 years, but still had countless success stories, with plans and visions of even greater success.
West Los Angeles College was not going to close down.
It would Go, and Go Far
This is an edited excerpt from “West Los Angeles College 1960s through 2010s”