Frank Sinatra, center, greets Albert Koppes, O.Carm., left, and President Donald P. Merrifield, S.J., at LMU's 1984 commencement exercises.
Published: May 7, 2012
May 2012 marks the end of LMU’s centennial celebrations. To help honor the occasion, we asked Albert Koppes, O.Carm., who has witnessed more than a third of the university’s history since being hired in 1975, to share his memories of events and developments — road marks along the path — that he witnessed and often shaped. During the past 37 years, Koppes has been a professor, department chair, dean of the school of education, academic vice president and associate chancellor, his current post. His comments here are a combination of interviews he gave to Michael Peterson ’12 and LMU Magazine Editor Joseph Wakelee-Lynch.
In May 1985, after the 1984 Olympics, Peter Ueberroth came to campus to give the commencement address. As Ueberroth was giving his talk, James Loughran, S.J., who was president, pushed his own chair back and fell off the back of the stage. Fortunately, he didn’t hurt himself. But everything stopped. Ueberroth looked and then, without missing a beat, turned back to the microphone and said, “I think I’ll give him a 9.5.” The crowd erupted with laughter.
I also remember when Frank Sinatra gave the commencement address in May 1984. He was given an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. He told the graduates his parents would’ve been very proud, because he didn’t graduate from high school. Sinatra was very nervous, and he had written his comments on cards and was careful to keep them in the proper order. When he finished, he got a big ovation, and the graduates started humming “New York, New York.” I think they hoped he’d sing, but he went right to his chair. He was very friendly, and he enjoyed the entire day.
I was academic vice president from 1982–90, and Loughran came in as president in 1984. A big decision he made, which I also worked on, was reducing the faculty teaching load to emphasize research and scholarship. Until then, faculty taught four courses a semester. Loughran changed the course load from four a semester to three. Some faculty members wanted to continue teaching four courses and not be expected to do scholarship. But Loughran said, “Everybody has to teach three, and everybody has to do scholarship.” The only way you’re going to be an outstanding university is if your faculty members are recognized as scholars.
We also changed the way faculty were hired. I was hired as chair of the Education Department in one month’s time after the position suddenly opened, because I had taught here part time and I was known. But we immediately changed that when I became acting academic vice president. We set up national searches that lasted a year and brought in three candidates for each position.
University Hall Acquisition
LMU purchased University Hall in 1999, and in 2001, we moved in. The purchase was particularly good for the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts and the School of Education. Before, the BCLA faculty were spread all over the campus. But having University Hall allowed us to bring the BLCA faculty together in one place. SOE used to be located in the basement of Sacred Heart Chapel, and space was tight. Moving to University Hall allowed that school to expand in size from 300 students to 1,200 and grow in quality and programs. Lastly, University Hall allowed us to increase overall enrollment. We were at 4,000 and couldn’t enroll any more. Now, we’re up to 5,900, and we’re happy with that size.
The Merger's Impact
Other universities have joined forces, but few have merged like we did. After five years of sharing facilities, Marymount College and Loyola University officially merged in 1973, becoming Loyola Marymount University. By keeping both names here, both identities of Loyola and Marymount continued on. I wasn’t here at the time, of course. I came a few years later. But I give almost full credit for that to Raymunde McKay, R.S.H.M., who was president of Marymount College. She took a stand and said we either keep the Marymount name or we don’t come to Loyola. She was determined that Marymount not lose its identity. I see the impact of the growth of the areas that came with Marymount: communication and fine arts. We see now that the arts are very important as a part of a liberal education.
Looking Back on Presidential Achievements
Donald Merrifield, S.J., (1969–84) wanted to serve the poor and disenfranchised, but he also wanted LMU to be a major university in the West. Commitment to diversity was his single biggest achievement. He was also very good at finances, better than many presidents are. He just had a mind and interest in budget matters and made us very stable financially. When Loughran (1984–91) became president, raising academic standards to make us a more high-powered university was part of his mandate. Thomas O’Malley, S.J., (1991–99) was a builder. I consider his big commitment as building residence halls and the Conrad Hilton Center for Business. Robert Lawton, S.J., (1999–2010) had a vision of LMU being deeply committed to the city and to being a national and international university. Father Lawton’s support for SOE’s doctorate in education, our first doctoral program, also was important, because that’s the crucial credential for a teacher education program to offer. His vision of LMU as a national and international university had implications for educational quality and strength of faculty. High-powered faculty, for example, may think twice before they come to localized, regional universities.
The 1986 Baseball Team
That was a great team, and they went to the national College World Series. In the previous year, they finished one game over .500. Two of the big stars were Billy Bean and Tim Layana, both of whom, we thought, would go pro after their junior year. They were drafted by pro teams, but they both chose to come back and play their senior season. So that year the team won 50 games. At one point, they were rated No. 1 in the nation. At the College World Series, they were seeded seventh or eighth. They won their first game and were leading in the second, but that game was postponed due to rain. LMU lost when the game was resumed. Several members of that team went into major league organizations and had pro careers. I knew that team well. A few had gone to Crespi High School, where I had been principal, and I knew their families. I did weddings for five or six of them afterwards.
Koppes PLACE Corps Legacy
PLACE Corps (Partners in Los Angeles Catholic Education), which we started 11 years ago, prepares teachers to teach in inner-city Catholic schools. The program fits LMU’s goals and mission because it is based on community living by the participants, an experience in spirituality, and, of course, an education focus. PLACE Corps connects us to the Catholic school system, because those teachers carry the message about LMU to a lot of kids who might want to come here. Also, as a high school principal, I saw the struggles to hire teachers who were Catholic or committed to Catholic education in the inner-city schools. The Catholic school system needs those people or it’s not going to survive. I consider it among the most important things I did in my years as dean.
"Look at This!"
In 1986, Liliore Green Rains made a bequest of $44 million to LMU. Her husband, William Rains, had graduated from Loyola Law School, and the gift came in almost as a total surprise after she died. As president, Loughran’s policy was to have his secretary open his mail and put it in a pile that he would take home to read at night. Loughran received a brief letter telling him about the gift before the official letter arrived. The secretary opened it and put it in the pile. Jim and I lived in the same residence on campus, and at 9:30 p.m. that night, he came to my room, pounding on my door, saying, “Look at this! Look at this!” The Rains gift supported scholarship, research grants for faculty and salaries for part-time professors. That gift changed the university, and it’s still having an impact.