It's all about U
The 1958 name-change campaign galvanized Arizona State-and recast the institution's future Thousands of happy Arizona State College students surged through the Memorial Union on the evening of Nov. 4, 1958, primed to celebrate the passage of an unprecedented statewide referendum that would transform their school into a university, despite the fierce opposition of their University of Arizona nemesis.
But inside the improvised election command center, Student Name Change Chairman Ron Ellenson watched Arizona State President Grady Gammage's expression with growing dismay. Gammage held the thin strip printing out vote tallies as they came out of the teletype machine, his face ashen.
"His heart fell right down to his feet someplace," recalls Ellenson, one of perhaps two dozen students who put their lives on hold in 1958 to work with a grassroots network of alumni and political leaders to promote Proposition 200, a measure that would change the name of their school from Arizona State College to Arizona State University.
Until that moment, the 100,000 votes that had already been tallied had given the measure a comfortable lead, in spite of vocal opposition from the state's Board of Regents, the state legislature and the University of Arizona's far-flung network of alumni. But the figures in Gammage's hand now showed that a huge block of 40,000 votes had come in almost entirely against the name change.
"It was terribly disheartening. We knew it was do or die. It was our one chance, and losing would have been a terrible embarrassment - and probably would have doomed the name change forever," recalls Ellenson.
Bringing the campaign to that point had entailed an enormous effort. Thousands of students had circulated petitions, lobbied their parents and rung doorbells. Hundreds of alumni had served as foot soldiers in a campaign by the Arizona Jaycees to gather the most initiative signature petitions in history.
Gammage and his wife had spoken at scores of rallies across the state, defying his bosses both at the Board of Regents and in the Arizona legislature. Students and alumni had marched on the capitol en masse, flooded lawmaker mailboxes, held parades, pressured their parents, flown a gaily painted private campaign plane all over the state, delivered petitions in an armored car and enlisted the help of celebrities - including television and radio mega-star (and former student) Steve Allen.
But suddenly Proposition 200 wobbled towards defeat on the smudged chalkboard tallies. To dampen the mood even further, a new rumor rippled through the crowd at about the same time: smug and domineering Wildcat supporters had crept onto campus and lit a fire behind the Memorial Union. Up until that moment, it had seemed Arizona State might finally win the right to call itself a university. Now, all that was in doubt. How could such a passionate effort have come to this?
This year's 50th anniversary of the historic name change campaign revisits a singular moment in the state's history and one almost unparalleled in the history of higher education. The recollections of people who played a key role not only illuminate the history of the university, but the profound social and demographic shifts that shaped both Arizona and higher education nationally.
"It's still the seminal event in the history of ASU and in many ways of Phoenix too," said Grady Gammage Jr., who recalls the ceaseless comings and goings connected to the campaign in his father's house. "It was really a different era, but my dad may have realized, earlier than most people, what was going to happen to growth in Phoenix."
"That was perhaps the only time such a name change ever went to the vote of the people," says Don Dotts, editor of the State Press in the late 1950s and a key campaign organizer, who later worked for the ASU Alumni Association, first as editor of the Arizona Statesman magazine and ultimately as executive director. "You have to remember, in those days the whole state was run by U of A graduates. The campaign really sent a message that this is a sleeping giant in Tempe, you'd better watch out. The old politics ain't going to work."
"We knew that the future of the university was going to be determined by getting that name changed," recalls the Rev. Bob Reynolds, a student organizer who was so consumed by the campaign that it delayed his graduation by several years and diverted his own future into a career of service as an Episcopalian minister.
"It was such a different time. It was a small school, rather intimate," Reynolds said. "There was a great deal of pride in who we were - with lots of veterans on campus. There was just one place in the student union to get your coffee or coke, so you could connect with people easily."
Changes brew after WWII
The roots of the campaign dated back to the legislature's decision in 1885 to establish a single land-grant university in Tucson, plus a teacher-training normal school in Tempe. By the end of World War II, the Arizona State Teachers College at Tempe had just 500 students. But in 1945, President Gammage convinced the U of A-dominated Board of Regents to rename his institution Arizona State College and authorize issuance of a handful of liberal arts degrees.
Almost immediately, the renamed Arizona State began a period of explosive enrollment growth. By 1951, Arizona was gaining 50,000 residents each year - three-fifths of them in Maricopa County. By 1954, enrollment at Arizona State Teacher's College had risen to 4,000 and President Gammage was once again pushing for a reorganization and name change to put the school on roughly equal footing with his own alma mater - the U of A.
He proposed abandoning the departmental model left over from the teacher college days to establish seven schools - each with a dean and a mix of undergraduate and graduate degrees. The proposal set off a fresh, fierce debate at the Board of Regents, which ultimately approved the College of Arts and Sciences and just one of the other seven proposed new schools. However, the debate also spurred the decision that would set up the next stage of the struggle: a request for a study of the structure of higher education in Arizona by the U.S. Office of Education.
The resulting blue-ribbon panel spent a year interviewing faculty, students and administrators before issuing a book-length report in 1954 that largely validated Gammage's position. The report concluded that Arizona State College was already rapidly becoming a university and was "literally bursting out at its academic seams." Moreover, the report added, "uncontrolled institutional competition tends to divide the state's influential citizens into more or less permanent factions that sometimes take a sanguinary delight in defeating the efforts of the other institution and its factions, usually without too much regard for the merits of the case."
The panel recommended reorganizing Arizona State into four colleges - Liberal Arts, Education, Applied Arts and Sciences and Business and Public Administration, with an array of undergraduate and graduate degrees.
On Nov. 20, 1954, the Regents debated the recommendations as "fireworks erupted" and "heated regional arguments flared," according to the Arizona Republic. In the end, the Regents approved the federal panel's recommendations on a 5-4 vote, with Gov. Howard Pyle casting the deciding vote.
Now claiming the title "university" was surely just a formality, Sun Devil supporters asserted. Guess again.
Petition Fever Quelled
A solid majority of the Board of Regents favored the University of Arizona and so were resistant to a name change for the rival college. Curiously enough, one of the first spurs for a change came from student Ron Leed's search for a topic for a paper in his American Problems class. Urged to research Arizona State College, he discovered that it was classified as a university nationally - since it had multiple colleges and offered liberal arts degrees. Leeds wrote a paper, "When is a Hot Dog a Hamburger," which ended up catching the attention of the school's administration. Several administrators urged him to pursue the politically sensitive issue, Leeds recalls.
So Leeds and other students organized a rally on campus, which drew more than 2,000 students in 1955, the first of a series of meetings and rallies intended to spur the legislature to change the name through an act of law. Leeds recalls that at least one major business offered anonymous financial support for the campaign. But the resistance also emerged quickly. Leeds father was a Tucson businessman and both he and his son soon found themselves under strong pressure from Tucson business and civic leaders to drop the campaign, Leeds recalls. In fact, one prominent business leader advised Leed's father to "take him out and drown him."
Despite the rallies and meetings with top politicians, the name-change bill never made it out of committee in 1955. Gammage persisted in the next session, working quietly through the legislature, to avoid alienating either the Board of Regents or the lawmakers controlling the purse strings, according to "The Arizona State University Story" by Ernest Hopkins and Alfred Thomas. But the 1956 version of the bill also died in committee.
By 1957, recent graduates Owen Riley Dean Jr. and Bill Kinnerup had decided to take matters into their own hands by convincing the Junior Chamber of Commerce to launch an initiative drive to change the name, partly as a way to boost otherwise low turnout rates. They were printing up the petitions when they got a call from the administrators at Arizona State, Dean recalls.
Dean and Kinnerup sat down in the Memorial Union faculty dining room with Gammage and a phalanx of deans to listen as Gammage asked them to hold off on a petition drive. Friends in the legislature had vowed to push through a name change bill, he said.
"Do you think we can trust them?" asked Dean skeptically. "Oh, yes. Definitely," replied Gammage.
So they put their effort on hold.
But the promised name change turned into a Trojan Horse when Senator Harold Giss of Yuma introduced a bill to change the name to Tempe University, a move which provoked a furor that ultimately fertilized the grassroots campaign.
In a largely spontaneous moment of indignation, several thousand students attending a campus rally against the proposal piled into cars and led a wild, honking caravan down to the Arizona Capitol.
The students milled about in front of the capitol building, angry but restrained.
"I remember saying over the bullhorn 'stay out of the Rose Garden,'" recalls Reynolds. "It was really the most orderly riot I've ever seen."
Soon, Giss appeared on the balcony overlooking the indignant crowd, by now covering every space but the rose garden, and promised to withdraw his bill. After the Giss incident, Dean and Kinnerup vowed to renew their campaign.
Once more, they received a summons to campus, Dean recalls. Kinnerup refused to go, but Dean met again with Gammage and an array of deans and professors. Once again, the administrators fretted that a failed campaign would doom the name change. But this time, opinion was divided. When Dean insisted the Jaycees would go ahead with their drive no matter what, Gammage directed Dean of Students Weldon Shofstall to help coordinate the effort.
Power of the pens
So the war was on. It would essentially pit U of A's graduate network of lawyers, doctors and politicians against Arizona State's 20,000-strong alumni network of teachers and principals - not to mention the still largely unrealized political clout of fast-growing Maricopa County.
But first, name change advocates needed 29,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot, despite almost universal failure of such measures in the past. The Jaycees mounted a statewide effort, even enlisting clubs in Tucson, whose members were convinced that the measure would lose and settle the matter for good.
Meanwhile, Reynolds and other student leaders handed out petitions to hundreds of student volunteers.
The frequent front-page articles and hand-wringing editorials in the State Press in the ensuing months capture the suspense and anxiety. Hundreds of petitions disappeared into desk drawers of students, with few names turned in as the weeks dragged on. The State Press fervently touted the efforts of sophomore James Green, 39, a mechanical engineering major with five kids who drove a Phoenix city bus and still had time to gather more than 400 signatures - working for hours each day between his last class and the start of his work shift.
But after weeks of exhortations, the State Press concluded dismally, "the way things look now, the students of this campus are too lazy to get 30,000 signatures on a piece of paper. The fact that we aren't over the top yet looks bad. It is bad."
But the editors should have recalled that students put off everything until after finals.
Shortly after 1,139 students collected their degrees in the institution's 72nd graduation ceremony in May of 1958, students fanned out across the state with their long-neglected petitions - even as the well-organized Jaycee signature-gathering campaign reached its climax.
In early July, signature gatherers converged on the student union in front of a giant thermometer tallying the signature count. Nearby, three armored cars, an Army ROTC squad, and a convoy of cars, including one containing Gov. Ernest McFarland, waited. The caravan rushed the petitions to the Secretary of State's office with the maximum possible fanfare.
In the end, the Jaycees and the procrastinating students gathered 63,956 valid signatures.
The band played, ROTC marched, cheerleaders cheered, students hollered, administrators gave speeches - then the whole, blaring, impromptu parade careened down to the state Capitol.
In that heady moment, they felt almost finished.
But then the opposition formed - specifically, an anti-Prop. 200 group in Tucson that vowed to mobilize a statewide network of U of A graduates to kill the name change idea once and for all.
So the campaign to gather the signature shifted gears quickly and became a low-budget, free-form, grassroots effort to get the measure passed. Fraternities and sororities played a leading role in organizing students, since the Greek organizations dominated the social and political life of what was even then chiefly a commuter campus.
Making the argument for ASU
One alumnus painted his private plane with slogans supporting Proposition 200 and barnstormed across the state, according to the State Press. Students and alumni organized phone banks and sold buttons. During one football game, the card section added "U" to "AS," enraging the U of A onlookers. Someone retaliated by burning a swath in the grass of the newly completed football stadium. The Arizona State and U of A debate teams fiercely debated the issue on television and radio stations in both Tucson and Phoenix.
Arizona State's argument rested on the assertion that the institution was already a university in all but name. U of A backers countered that the name change would force a budget increase that would cost at least $5 million. That argument drove Prop. 200 supporters into purple-faced indignation, decrying a campaign of "un-truths, half-truths and implications," the State Press fumed. "This is sad commentary on the intellectual and emotional age of some citizens of the nation's fastest-growing state, for their opposition is borne of thoughtless, unnecessary sectional jealousy," concluded the editorial.
One wag noted that if the University of Arizona's argument was true, then taxpayers could save $5 million by renaming it Tucson College.
Dotts recalled that President Gammage and his wife spent months traveling throughout the state, speaking to alumni clubs.
On one such trip, Kathryn Gammage stopped at a pharmacy in Casa Grande to see if she could leave some pro-Proposition 200 brochures on the counter.
"I'm Kathryn Gammage and I'm campaigning for Proposition 200 and I'd like to leave some brochures," she explained.
The pharmacist glowered at her. "You're not putting those in my store - I'm a University of Arizona pharmacy school graduate."
Ironically, says Dotts, Kathryn Gammage got to know the pharmacist's daughter a few years later - when the girl became a Sun Devil cheerleader.
After all the rallies, accusations, speeches and pavement pounding, the issue came down finally to the fateful election night of Nov. 4, 1958 - when for a terrible hour, defeat (and possibly destruction) loomed.
But then it turned out that the supposed U of A "attack" behind the Memorial Union was just some Sun?Devil fraternity brothers firing up a barbeque. And the mysterious 40,000 anti-Proposition 200 votes turned out to be ballots somehow counted twice. After an hour of nail-biting confusion, the elections office corrected the tally.
The final vote for Proposition 200 was 101,811 YES to 51,471 NO. The measure lost in only Pima and Cochise Counties and won by an 11-2 margin in Maricopa County.
The crowds gathered at ASU cheered wildly, having having learned an intricate lesson in politics and commitment that changed the lives of many. Parties erupted all over campus. Reynolds recalls watching a happy professor dancing on a tabletop.
"That victory rally was the crowning glory," recalls Ellenson.
For Grady Gammage, the campaign proved to be the final triumph of a distinguished career. Tragically, barely a year after his triumph at the polls, Gammage died of a heart attack in December 1959.
For many of the exhausted student activists, the campaign spurred a personal transformation.
Reynolds dropped out of school as soon as the campaign concluded, got a job in a bank and pondered his future. Then the fraternity council came to call and made him a regional representative, due largely to his success in the campaign. That led him back to ASU to finish his degree and eventually to service in the ministry - a path, he says, that hinged on his involvement in the name-change campaign.
The campaign gave Ellenson the confidence to overcome painful childhood shyness and launch a successful business career.
"The campaign would never have succeeded without the students, and I think it changed everyone who worked on it," he said.
So in the end, it's hard to know who learned the most from this singular triumph of the grassroots activism - the students or the institution. Which is, after all, how education is supposed to work.