Phoenix Rising

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of innovative, interdisciplinary living and learning at Raymond College
Students at Raymond College

Raymond College was one of the "cluster colleges," a college that is a living community and that only focuses on one field of study. For Raymond, it was liberal arts and the students were not graded by class, but rather evaluated by faculty at the end of each semester. Above is a photo of Raymond freshman students heading off to the annual campout.

Jul 19, 2012
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In 1962, Raymond College arose as the first cluster college of University of the Pacific. It fulfilled the vision of President Robert Burns - to reinvigorate the liberal arts and grow the University while maintaining a student-centered focus.

It also brought national attention to Pacific.

"Pacific may become one of the nation's most interesting campuses," observed Time magazine in an October 1963 article.

Ten years later, when universities across the country were struggling financially and cutting programs, Pacific's cluster colleges were still being talked about, in the San Francisco Chronicle, the L. A. Times, the Wall Street Journal and others. And schools such as UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, Michigan State University and Western Washington University were beginning to follow Pacific's lead.

On Aug. 3-5, alumni from Raymond will gather at University of the Pacific's Stockton campus to hold a reunion of sorts. They will be there to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Raymond and the legacy that the liberal arts college has left behind at Pacific and other institutions that copied its success.


It wasn't just the cluster concept that brought attention to Raymond; its program was unique on virtually every front. Raymond offered a three-year bachelor's degree program in liberal arts. That's it. There were no departments, no majors - and no grades.

In the early years, the program included 27 courses, of which 22 were required. Students had the freedom to explore other topics through independent study and research. Though in some ways the prescribed curriculum seemed constraining, it also added to the cohesiveness of the community.

"The strength of the program was that students had the same common background," said Raymond physics professor Neil Lark.


In Raymond College, community was key. Students and faculty studied and ate together on a regular, almost daily basis.

Classes were small - no more than 15 students - and focused on seminars and independent study.

"Small seminar-type classes require total participation in discussion," Ralph Holcomb '73 reflected on his experience at the time. "I became involved with my classes as never before."


The curriculum incorporated the classical divisions of the liberal arts: humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, with a focus on integrating the learning experience. It also encompassed a global perspective, including non-Western studies and foreign language.

Weekly High Table dinners included a presentation and discussion and were as broad in scope as the curriculum. Notable speakers included Austrian-born concert pianist Karl Ulrich Schnabel, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke and Black Panther attorney Charles Garry.

But no grades? Really?


"Raymond College from the very beginning shunned letter grades as a way of evaluating a student's work," said George Blum, a former Raymond College sociology professor.

Students received term letters, which included an evaluation of their achievements, strengths and weaknesses.

"Overall, Raymond remained true to its philosophy of treating students as individuals who deserved an evaluation that went beyond a mere grade symbol, even though some concessions had to be made in communicating our evaluations to the wider public," said Blum.

The first graduating class set the bar high, with 14 of 39 graduates earning prestigious fellowships, including three Fulbright awards and two Rockefeller grants. Graduates parlayed their liberal arts degrees into a wide variety of career paths, with more than 70 percent going on to graduate and professional schools.

As the 1970s drew to a close, financial and other challenges resulted in the eventual dissolution of the cluster colleges. But though the physical institution no longer exists, Raymond's essence is still very much a part of Pacific today.

Small classes, close faculty-student interaction, an integrated foundation for liberal learning and respect for diversity are pillars of Pacific's mission. Innovation and interdisciplinary research and programs are common and encouraged across the entire University. Beyond the classroom, producing graduates who can think critically and who care about creating and sustaining a good society are primary Pacific values.

As Raymond alumni gather together this summer for a celebratory High Table, they can take pride that their legacy is still very much alive at Pacific today.

For more about the Raymond College 50th Anniversary, visit


Students having their after-dinner discussion, which was a Raymond tradition

Where are they now?

Read a short list of some of the more notable alumni who attended Raymond College more

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