Public Affairs

History of the California State University Captured in New Book by former CSU President

tweet this button
History of the CSU Captured in New Book

Media Contact

Claudia Keith (562) 951-4800

Related Links and Information

(January 28, 2010) – The California State University’s rich history, beginning in 1857 with a single campus to its now 23 campuses covering the entire state, is portrayed in a new book, The People’s University: A History of the California State University, by former CSU President Don Gerth.

"In 1976, I wrote that the building of the California State University and Colleges (then the name of the CSU system) since 1960 is one of the major educational achievements in the history of this nation," said Gerth, former president of California State University, Dominguez Hills and California State University, Sacramento."The California State University that has emerged from 150 years of the hard work and leadership of faculty, students, trustees, administrators, alumni – so many individuals from all walks of life, including government and public policy leaders – is directly relevant to every citizen of California."

The nearly 700-page book traces the history of the CSU from its inception in 1857 as a "normal school" that taught budding elementary school teachers in San Francisco. That institution moved shortly thereafter to San Jose, which then "created" the beginning of the oldest public university campus in California, now San José State University.

Gerth, who co-authored an early history of the California system in the 1980s (a monograph that is now out of print but located in CSU archives), retired in 2003 from the presidency of Sacramento State and 45 years with the CSU system. When he retired, his passion turned from administering a campus to writing the complete history of the system. A political scientist, Gerth knew instinctively what the California State University meant to the people of California.

"California built a model of a people’s university, and the values of the California State University began building in the mid-nineteenth century. The model is not only respected but often copied nationally and around the world. There is a certain timeliness about the book being released now. The CSU’s core values of access, affordability, and quality have become central to the economic and social fabric of this state.  Doing the research, interviewing and talking with so many people took time, but it was a labor of love in many ways, and as a political scientist I recognize this as a fascinating story of organizational development," Gerth said.

The book is filled with anecdotes from the system’s early founders and its subsequent leaders, faculty, staff and students. It focuses much attention on the California Master Plan, created in 1960 and which delineated the roles of the University of California, California State University and the California Community Colleges.

The Master Plan, which is entering its 50th anniversary, created a "finely balanced structure" in which students knew what system they were qualified for and where they could gain admission, knowledge, a degree, and a career that would propel them further up the ladder in California’s workforce. The Master Plan, emulated around the world, is being studied again this year, the sixth review of its principles since 1960.

The bringing together of the UC, CSU and community colleges into an orderly system for students was not an easy task, especially during the turmoil of the 1960s and the protests of the Vietnam War, the "hippie movement," civil rights, women’s movement and all the rest of the world’s events. But, as Gerth explains, that planning resulted in a system that set the standard for the rest of the world and to this day is still admired and copied.

Gerth unveiled the book at a meeting of the California State University Board of Trustees on  Jan. 27, and presented the book to CSU trustees, presidents and others.  The book is being published by the Berkeley Public Policy Press and Editor Ethan Rarick.

The book, now available on Amazon at and in CSU campus bookstores, is a definitive look at the country’s largest system of higher education, fondly called “the People’s University” by its author.


About the California State University
The California State University is the largest system of senior higher education in the country, with 23 campuses, approximately 427,000 students and 44,000 faculty and staff. The CSU awards about 99,000 degrees annually and since its creation in 1961 has conferred nearly 2.6 million. The CSU is renowned for the quality of its teaching and for the job-ready graduates it produces. The mission of the CSU is to provide high-quality, affordable education to meet the ever changing needs of the people of California. With its commitment to excellence, diversity and innovation, the CSU is the university system that is working for California.

Connect with and learn more about the CSU at CSU Social Media.