Friday, May 8, 2015

COCC turning 66, not 50

COCC is situated on some of the most scenic land in Oregon
The local papers, daily and weekly, have stories touting the 50th anniversary of Central Oregon Community College.

Actually, that milestone was reached in 1999.

In 1949, COCC started as a night school in the basement of the current Bend-LaPine School District's administration building, which also housed Bend High and the junior high school during the daytime.

In September 1964, the COCC campus opened for daytime classes on the west slope of Awbrey Butte.

The 1965 Oregon Legislature decreed that the word "community" would be used for all the "junior" colleges in the state.

On Veterans Day 1965, Gov. Mark Hatfield officially dedicated the campus at COCC.

The reason COCC is using this year to tout its 50th anniversary is because it will rename the Campus Center as the Coats Campus Center after the family that donated most of the land  in the early 1960s that would eventually become COCC.

That's important in light of the fact that no land was donated for the new OSU-Cascades campus. (Oregon State University was first established in Corvallis on donated land from the federal government.)

A group of doctors in Bend sold the initial 10 acres to OSU-Cascades at 22 percent over the assessed value.

The adjacent 46-acre pumice pit, that nobody but OSU-Cascades wants, will cost much more than the $8 million budgeted just to make it capable to accommodate a parking lot, let alone a multi-story building.

COCC, a two-year college, has more than 200 acres, which is 20 times the initial size of OSU-Cascades, a four-year university on Bend's west side. Now, if anyone can do simple math, a four-year university will have more full-time students than a two-year school.

Anyway, the siting of COCC in the early 1960s was also a contentious affair.

Don Pence, the president of COCC and a pioneer in the community college movement in Oregon, pushed for the Coats property on Awbrey Butte with a breathtaking view of the Cascades.

Bob Chandler, former editor/publisher/owner of The Bulletin and a member of the COCC board, wanted the school built on the northeast side of Pilot Butte, near where Pilot Butte Middle School now sits. Chandler lived on a multi-acre parcel adjacent to the Pilot Butte site but said he would sell the property to avoid a conflict of interest. Chandler noted later that the money he made selling that land paid for his kids' college educations.

Redmond, the geographic center of the region and why it was called The Hub, made a strong pitch to have COCC sited there.

But, board member Owen Panner made the crafty move to include Lakeview in the COCC district which made Bend the geographic center of the proposed college district.

At a key COCC board meeting in 1962, board member Bill Miller (of Miller Lumber)  left the meeting early because his wife was giving birth to their child, Charley, who, coincidentally, is running for re-election to the COCC board this month.

After the board voted for the Coats property, Chandler abruptly left the meeting in a huff.

Panner then remarked, "It looks like we had two babies tonight."

In the mid-1960s, Chandler got his revenge against Pence when he sided with assistant professor Ashleigh Brilliant as he defied Pence's orders not to play a recording of Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl." When Brilliant's contract was not renewed, the issue festered in public.

The adverse publicity in The Bulletin proved to be the eventual downfall of Pence, who was hit by a vote of "no confidence" from the faculty. Pence, though, became the founding president of Central Arizona College in Coolidge before returning to Bend and becoming a pivotal player of the United Senior Citizens of Bend.

When Fred Boyle became COCC president in 1967, he considered moving the community college to more accessible land on Bend's north end. Ironically, decades later, the Bend City Council created Juniper Ridge, in the same area that Boyle coveted, to include a "world-class" four-year university.

COCC continues to have a big impact on the region. Its foundation is now 60 years old. Let's hope that COCC can still fill a need even with a four-year university just a couple of miles away.

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