A look at the presidents throughout the history of Richard Stockton College:

Richard E. Bjork

1969-1978

Stockton's founding president did not want Stockton to be just a regional state college. He wanted the college to strive for a statewide and even national reputation and is credited with pushing to name the college after Richard Stockton rather than one of the more geographical names favored by some trustees.

Not many people get the chance to create a college and Bjork admitted the opportunity was "seductive."

"I saw it as fun," he said in a 1978 interview.

In 1969 he warned the Rotary Club to be prepared for an influx of social activist students and faculty who would question everything. Still, he also said he would not tolerate disruptive dissent and complained that too many colleges had become too permissive.

In 1970 he fought with groups opposed to the Galloway site as too close to the airport and not conducive to construction.

While recruiting in 1970 he promised a non-traditional "now" university with low-rise, simple, modern buildings.

"We don't want to engrave the desires of one generation of students too deeply in stone, because the next generation may need something different," he said in a speech in 1970. "You might say we'll have rubber walls."

He oversaw the construction of those first buildings, low-rise structures that blended into their environment. He touted a college that would be woven into the fabric of the county and not be a majestic island in the middle of the community.

Bjork could be controversial. In 1973 he denied contract renewals to some faculty angering the union and students who threatened to strike. A cabin used by Bjork as an office was burned by a group claiming to be radical students, though picketing students denied knowing the group.

In 1978 he left to become chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges. He died in July 1984 at the age of 53.

Peter M. Mitchell

1979-1983

Peter Mitchell arrived from Seton Hall University in 1979 promising to use the resources of Stockton to benefit the entire community. He also said that during its second decade the college would transform itself into a more "traditional higher education facility" according to a speech he gave in 1979 to the Kiwanis Club of Atlantic City.

"Stockton was an experiment in higher education and as such must be willing to change," he said in a 1979 interview. "Those who shaped the school put new ideas into practice. Some of them worked and some of them didn't"

He said the students, many of them the first in their families to attend college, needed more guidance and new course requirements were adopted. But he said he also wanted the college where students could learn and make mistakes before entering the reality of the working world.

"College should be a place where students can be idealists," he said.

The relationship between Mitchell, the trustees and the faculty was often tenuous. The appointment of a white woman librarian over a black male generated a state investigation that found no racism, but left bad feelings. But he also increased the percentage of minority students and employees.

There was some progress. In 1980 the college set up a health services program, and set up a branch of New Jersey Public Television. More housing was built, but Mitchell also faced an ongoing struggle to control tuition amid reduced state support.

He left in 1983 to become vice chancellor of the Massachusetts Board of Regents.

Vera King Farris

1983-2003She began her career as a scientist, but she left the lab in 1983 to work under the public microscope as a college president.

 

Vera King Farris spent 20 years running the biggest experiment of her life. Over the years, Farris and Stockton became almost synonymous.

"I really came here for the long term," Farris, an Atlantic City native, said in an interview on her retirement in 2003. "I had other opportunities, but I wanted to give back to the community."

In a way, Stockton and Farris were a perfect match. The small state college was young and still had a reputation for being nontraditional. She was also a woman, and a minority, both rarities among college presidents.

Farris was smart, charming and promised creativity, innovation and flexibility. She wore eye-catching hats, occasionally carried a parasol, and could be just as funny as she was tough.

An interest in Jewish studies germinated with her mother, Ida E. King, who was horrified when Farris told her about the Holocaust. Farris helped establish the Holocaust Resource Center at Stockton and in 1989 announced the Ida E. King chair in Holocaust studies in her mother's memory. She even took Marcia Fiedler's Hebrew I class, taking the tests and writing papers along with students.

Being bright, motivated and determined were qualities Farris developed very young, she said. Growing up poor in Atlantic City, she understood early that she was smart and that education was her ticket to a better life. She worked two jobs to help support her family, graduated third in the Class of 1954 at Atlantic City High School and went to college on a scholarship.

Scraping to make ends meet, and her gratitude to those who helped her, made Farris a champion of student scholarships and affordable tuition. She steadily increased full-time enrollment, minority enrollment and the SAT scores of those accepted to the college.

She saw herself as an agent of change. "You have to welcome change, embrace it and make it your own," she said.

But change at Stockton has not come without controversy. She had tenure battles with faculty who criticized her management style and said her claim of faculty collaboration applied only to those who agree with her. Still, some admired Farris' support of innovation, saying she encouraged creativity and collaboration.

"I've got no second thoughts," she said on her retirement. "I believe in leaving the stage while they're still applauding."

Farris, who would never give her age, died in November 2009.

Herman J. Saatkamp Jr.

2003-present

As Stockton enters its fifth decade, its reach has extended far past its 1,600-acre campus. Saatkamp has taken Stockton into Atlantic City with the Carnegie Library building and a lease agreement for Dante Hall. A branch campus in Hammonton is under development, graduate programs have grown, and enrollment at about 8,000 is beyond what Richard Bjork envisioned with his estimate of 7,500 back in 1969.

Stockton's programs have also expanded. The college has now embraced its location in a tourism-centric environment, buying the Seaview Resort which is still privately run, but is also being incorporated into the college's hospitality management programs.

The campus itself has been transformed by the construction of a new Campus Center that is not just a building, but a formal center and gathering place for students and a message about the mission of Stockton to teach students to dream big, but also to live in and appreciate their environment.

Saatkamp is already focused on the College's plan for 2020. A new science building is under construction. He is kicking off a capital campaign this month to raise money for more construction. At 68, he has no immediate plans to retire.

"You don't really accomplish much until you've been at a place at least six years," he said.