A People's History of Spokane Community College

The 1980s


  • And the 1980 Best Picture Oscar goes to Ordinary People. Robert DeNiro packed on 60 pounds for his role as boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull - and won an Oscar for his efforts, while Sissy Spacek claimed the Best Actress award for Coalminer's Daughter.
  • The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum) and Firestarter (Stephen King) were favorites on the 1980 New York Times Bestseller List.
  • And "Hill Street Blues" and "Taxi" went home with Emmys for best TV drama and comedy.
Let's be careful out there.
Tank you veddy much.

With the dawning of a new decade, the times, they were a' changin'. In his 1979 annual report, LaGrandeur had warned, "We will keep looking at our instructional programs to be certain the content is current, the delivery is effective and the existing programs are really suitable to current needs. Buggy whip-making may have been suitable 50 years ago, but it isn't now - although may be again 10 years ahead."

And, indeed, the other shoe dropped soon enough in 1980 when the first in a series of state budget reductions would require the community colleges to cut enrollments for the first time in their history. Summer school would be cancelled in 1981 with SCC only offering health science classes for students completing clinical experiences. The college closed all buildings except for the Health Science and Administration Buildings.

And districtwide, employees went to a four-day, 40-hour work week. Funny how history repeats itself.

By September 1982, the colleges had already undergone six budget revisions with more anticipated. In his greeting to faculty and staff that fall, District 17 President C. Nelson Grote wrote, "District 17 will be different and we will need to respond to the changing expectations. We need to be proactive as well as reactive. We will be tested as perhaps we have never been tested before.

"Perhaps by coincidence, a number of circumstances are coming together at the same time - diminishing state revenues, declining enrollments, reaccreditation, basic questions concerning our role and mission, personnel vacancies, and a new district president. These are only a few of the factors that provide a catalyst for re-examination and change."

In 1982, despite wrestling with daunting budget challenges, faculty and staff from SCC and SFCC undertook a six-month-long internal self-study called Decade III, to examine, among other things, the district versus multi-college model and corporate image. The Sept. 27, 1982, staff newsletter, Inside District 17, reported, "Suggestions for new [district] names were extremely varied. Inland Empire, Northeastern Washington, Eastern Washington, Greater Spokane, and Spokane Area figured into many of the options. One frequently mentioned possibility was a college name followed by a site designation, such as 'Spokane Community College at Mission.'"

The end result? In February 1983, the district renamed itself Community Colleges of Spokane, and re-committed to the multi-college structure. District president, C. Nelson Grote, became a "chief executive officer," while LaGrandeur's title of president, and that of his SFCC counterpart Gerald Saling, remained unchanged.

A new district logo followed in the spring - the now familiar signature with a sun, three mountains, and six trees. It was designed by the district's graphic designer, Joan Gisselberg, and first used on the fall 1983 class schedule. It would be retooled and updated 26 years later in 2009.

Budget and enrollment woes continued in 1982-83, LaGrandeur's last year with SCC. SCC processed 7,719 applications to fill 3,000 openings for Fall Quarter 1982. District President Grote warned CCS trustees in January 1983 that state budget cuts would force the community colleges to curtail spring quarter enrollment by 38 percent.


Nevertheless, SCC added a 160-hour pilot program, "energy management technician," to teach experienced sheet metalists how to retrofit buildings to use less energy, as well as a one-year mid-management certificate and microcomputer training tailored to specific vocational programs. SCC automotive students could now choose between automotive mechanics and automotive machinist classes, and its culinary arts program added a pastry chef to its faculty for the first time. SCC also joined seven area colleges and universities in an agreement to create a computer-assisted manufacture and design center at Gonzaga University to train students in this new technology.

SCC enrollment totaled 7,283 - 4,721 day (i.e., credit) and 2,562 evening/extension/off-campus (credit and noncredit), while tuition and fees increased to a maximum of $197.67 per quarter for full-time students and $19.36 per quarter for part-time.

And oh. Before we leave 1980, did we mention the small matter of a volcanic eruption? The top blew at Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, resulting in an eight-day campus closure - the longest in district history to date. Total clean-up cost the colleges $665,000.

Watch repair - 1980s
Printing press - 1980s

SCC's dean of instruction, Bill McMulkin, became acting president following Ramon LaGrandeur's resignation to become superintendent/president of the Santa Clarita Community College District in Valencia, California.

Later that year, a districtwide administrative Cabinet devised a new program evaluation system and, by June 1984, 12 programs had been reviewed. Two SCC programs - transitional nursing and truck driving - were declared inactive, along with musical instrument repair, custom apparel and upholstery, and chiropractic assistance at SFCC. Later, the college also would discontinue printing and watch repair.

Viticulture - 1980s

On the plus side, SCC added automated equipment/robotics and, are you sitting down? viticulture. According to the district's 1983-84 annual report, "Already armed with the state's second largest agricultural education program, surpassed only by Washington State University, SCC will offer the first viticulture degree in Washington, without expanding its teaching staff."

Ummmmm, has Walla Walla Community College gotten the memo yet?

The campus was humming. SCC's nursing program saw its largest first-year class ever - 80 strong, with 40 on a waiting list. The waiting list was the first since 1982. And Legends, the college's literary magazine, made its debut.

The college also had scored a major coup with the Legislature, receiving $900,000 in capital funding to purchase a 40,000-square-foot facility on Fancher Road where 10 SCC apprenticeship and journeyman programs were housed. The college had previously rented the two buildings and estimated it would cost some $3 million to construct a similar facility. The number of students served by this facility exploded, going from 400 to 700 over an 18-month period. Elsewhere on campus, construction of a 4,480-square-foot day care center, financed by Student Services funds, was approved (1984); a 5,473-square-foot SCC Science Building addition was completed (1986); and in 1987, the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges approved purchase of a 6,000-square-foot hangar at Felts Field for a proposed helicopter repair program.

Max Snyder Building - 1980s
Old Building 7 - 1980s

And speaking of construction, in 1984 the college's carpentry students built their first "highly energy-efficient house" at Newman Lake with technical assistance from Inland Power and Light Company and construction techniques identified through the Super Good Centers Program of the Bonneville Power Administration.

By 1985, enrollments topped 6,440 with 215 full-time and 179 part-time instructors as well as 18 full-time administrators. Tuition was $230.50 for students taking 10 to 18 credits - or $23.05 per credit. Parking permits were $5 per quarter.

Quality Circles. Wellness programs. Remember those? They. Came. From. The. 80s.
Both were introduced to CCS in 1984 and CCS was the first state agency in Washington to implement them.
Wellness programs are self-explanatory - and still alive and well across the district. Quality Circles? Not so much. Quality Circles were composed of groups of employees with similar job descriptions or duties. Once every week or every other week they'd meet to identify problems and develop solutions to be considered by administration.
Hmmmmm. Kinda sounds like a staff meeting.

The year 1987 marked a notable arrival; the year 1988, a notable departure.

District Chief Executive Office Terry Brown was hired in June 1987, stepping into the job October 1. He replaced C. Nelson Grote who had accepted the presidency at Morehead State University in Kentucky. "One of Brown's strengths is his open style of leadership, in which he makes himself easily accessible to all constituencies. We felt this was a management style the community colleges need right now," noted Don Olson, a member of the CCS Board of Trustees.

And on March 8, 1988, Walter S. Johnson, SCC's first president, died at home. He was called "one of the great educational futurists in Spokane's history."

Don Bressler
SCC President
Don Bressler

Following a national search, Don Bressler was hired as Spokane Community College's sixth president July 1, 1984. Shortly after accepting the appointment, Bressler told The Spokesman-Review, "We need to look at making investments in professional development...to put money into teachers. This is a big business. We don't make decisions just on educational programs, but on how we manage and how we support those programs."

When Bressler arrived at SCC, the college was experimenting with the fledgling concept of cooperative education - working with local businesses, industries, and government agencies to set up paid work experiences for professional/technical students. Approximately 450 SCC students participated in the program in 1983-84, many landing full-time jobs at the conclusion of their experience. It was the largest number ever recorded at the college.

Robotics - 1980s

Computer technology was cutting a wide swath across all types of educational programs, prompting SCC to start a computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) program in fall 1988. The program incorporated both vocational and liberal arts classes including math, computer technology, machining, electronics, robotics, management, communications, and CAD. Instructor Wayne Elinger explained, "International trade has made the marketplace extremely competitive for all types of companies. In order to compete and succeed, companies are using automation and computer integration. By working hand-in-hand with industry, we have custom designed this program to prepare students for careers in the CIM field."

In October 1988, the CCS Board of Trustees held a two-day retreat to examine the status of the IEL, evaluate each unit's responsibilities and review the role of intercollegiate athletics. One outcome of the retreat - a decision to write a district mission statement and direct each unit to develop mission statements that spoke to their distinctness - triggered "a year and a half of negotiations, politics, arguments and compromises," the CCS staff newsletter, On the Inside, reported in May 1989. At the heart of these passionate district discussions - agreeing on whether SCC and SFCC were primary or comprehensive providers of liberal arts and vocational education.

At the May 1989 Board of Trustees meeting, SCC President Don Bressler presented a SCC mission statement describing the college as offering "a broad liberal arts program fully transferable to a four-year institution." SFCC's president, Vern Loland, revealed a revised, yet-to-be-previewed SFCC mission statement that included a new paragraph: "The college's distinctive mission is to be the district's primary provider of a comprehensive liberal arts/college transfer program."

And so the gloves came off. The meeting raged on into the afternoon with AHE president Jim Schroeder pointing out SCC had complied when asked to delete the word "comprehensive" from its mission statement and that the words "primary provider" and "comprehensive" had not been discussed among the other units because the statement hadn't been shared prior to the board meeting. According to an On the Inside report, "Pete Allen, SCC faculty representative, said he was 'shocked, upset and quietly seething' that SFCC would describe itself as a primary provider of liberal arts programs in the district."

In the end, CEO Brown and members of the Board of Trustees said they believed SFCC's mission statement did not mean its role in liberal arts was exclusive or separate and voted to accept both institutions' mission statements as presented.

But the conflict, which continued on through the summer and into the fall, created a growing rift between Brown and Bressler. There were faculty/staff petitions, heated open forums and closed-door sessions with the trustees, and in the end, Bressler announced his resignation in early November. Bressler told The Spokesman-Review, "I learned the average tenure of a community college president is five years. And I’ve been here five years. I hate to be average."

The 1990s