William Rust. As Rust’s international university took shape, he became all the more eager to gain complete control over it.
"We announce a building, and most campuses are announcing four or five, and that’s expansion?' exclaims William C. Rust. The president of United States International University was understandably touchy at the suggestion that the Scripps Ranch university appears to be expanding. In question is a $2.9 million structure, to begin construction this year, that will house the Asia Pacific Rim Institute, a center promoting cultural and intellectual exchange with Asian nations.
Graduation at the Point Loma campus in the mid-60s
It is the first of five such institutes Rust envisions building on the USIU campus — others include Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe-Russia —at some point in the more distant future.
Rohr building, Pt. Loma campus. The names of the buildings at Point Loma form a roster of leading San Diegans in the Fifties and Sixties: Morley Golden, Irving Salomon, Ewart Goodwin, T. Claude Ryan, Henry Boney, William H. Evans, Harold Starkey, Robert J. Taylor, and Fred Rohr.
Coming in conjunction as they do with the announcement of a new “Friendship Hall” (complete with theater, television studio, and art gallery), a multipurpose sports complex, and three new international “centers” (something more limited than a “campus”) in Wiesbaden, West Germany; Vienna, Austria; and Hong Kong, plans for USIU’s Asian institute raise an eyebrow among those who know the school’s history. “It sounds like he may be overreaching again,” says one former USIU dean.
Robert Castetter, former dean of the Cal Western University law school: “When I first got there in 1960, the president wanted to lick all the stamps."
“You have to admire Bill Rust’s imagination. He has good ideas, but you wonder, ‘Where is the money going to come from?"
David Feldman: “Entrepreneurs push hard, and they alienate a lot of people in the process.”
This is a key problem for all private universities, but particularly for one headed by a man with as expansive a vision as William Rust’s. His dream, literally, is as big as the world. For thirty-four years, he has made it his mission to promote global understanding by creating something that had never been accomplished before — a single university with campuses all over the world.
William Rust among the eucalyptus at USIU in Scripps Ranch
The march toward international brotherhood, unfortunately, has been fraught with problems. Anyone who lived in San Diego during the early 1970s remembers the financial nightmare United States International University went through during that period. From press accounts, it appeared that USIU’s difficulties resulted from uncontrolled growth. Between 1966 and 1971 Rust had taken a small liberal arts college, California Western University on Point Loma, and expanded it into an international phenomenon called USIU, with campuses in England; Kenya; Mexico City; Hawaii; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; and Scripps Ranch. When it became apparent in 1972 that USIU was in trouble, reporters were at no loss for inside sources (many of whom hadn’t received paychecks for months) who claimed that the “autocratic” president was destroying the school. Rust’s idea for an international university was a boondoggle, they said, a great and noble vision on a collision course with reality. In pursuit of this dream. Rust had extinguished another, more limited one — that of a small liberal arts college at California Western University. Cal Western’s lovely Point Loma campus, many believed, had to be sold in 1971 to fend off the financial disaster that Rust’s expansionist policies had brought upon the university.
Today, eleven years after a financial crisis forced Rust to sell all of USIU’s worldwide campuses except Scripps Ranch, the president still insists that there was no mismanagement at the time and that USIU’s problems had nothing to do with his international vision. He says that USIU had to sell the Point Loma land because the city placed a restrictive 2000-student limit on the Cal Western campus, making it impossible for the school to grow. The problems would never have resulted had the school’s assets not been frozen during the bankruptcy litigation surrounding the 1973 fall of the San Diego-based conglomerate U.S. Financial Securities Corporation. A division of U.S. Financial was then involved in new construction on the Scripps Ranch campus and was providing long-term, low-interest financing for USIU. “That (overextension) didn’t cause the problems,” Rust asserted in a recent interview. “The problems came from a number of strange things that took place. Who would expect the largest firm in San Diego to go bankrupt? We were never near bankruptcy. We were in a strained position because of tight cash flow, but not because of lack of assets. Some of our assets were frozen, and when those assets became loosened, everything began to flow again.”
Few people share that opinion. Just about everyone who was connected with USIU in the early Seventies — and is willing to talk about it — will tell you that William Rust’s dream, however noble, has always been broader than his pocketbook was deep. Circumstances such as U.S. Financial’s bankruptcy contributed, yes, but were not the cause, these people say. The school simply expanded too quickly, depleting its resources to the point where it had to sell numerous assets in order to survive. “In the Sixties Rust got in so fast and so deep that he had no choice but to sell everything,” says Jack Edling, a former USIU vice president who examined USIU’s records in 1973 and helped determine that the university had a $26.5 million debt and that all of USIU’s satellite campuses would have to be sold. “Rust wanted every innovation. He had ideas, but he didn’t have the resources. He expected a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
In January of 1952, Rust, a Methodist minister who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from USC, left his job as head of religious education at the University of Denver and came to San Diego to become the executive dean of Balboa University, founded in 1924 and not very well known for its business and law programs. In June of 1952 Balboa University changed its name, becoming California Western University, a new school with about 200 students and a valuable asset in its campus on Point Loma. The campus, which Rust called “the jewel of the university,” was on the grounds of the old Theosophical Society, founded by Madame Katherine Tingley in 1897. The site of Tingley’s utopian experiment, which had religious/intenationalist undertones strangely similar to William Rust’s, is a gorgeous place for a campus, overlooking the Pacific and planted with extraordinary vegetation imported from all over the world. Rust wasted little time gaining control of the place. Less than a year after he arrived, Cal Western president Robert Griffin resigned (for personal reasons), and Rust was made president.
During the 1950s the vision of an international school took increasingly clearer form. Carroll Cannon, a Methodist minister who would become provost of the liberal arts school, met Rust in 1956 and discovered that the president’s religious humanism and internationalist sentiments matched his own. “Rust had strong humanitarian values,” recalls Cannon, a Point Loma resident now involved in the United Nations Association. “If there’s a God, creator of men, then nothing should separate them, including borders. We must struggle to overcome them. A school without borders could undermine prejudices and lead to a better world.” As Cannon understood it. Cal Western would remain a reasonably small college but would emphasize its international character by encouraging students to go abroad for a year early in their studies.
From California Western University’s beginning, support from the Methodist church was crucial. Though the curriculum was not religious, several prominent Southern California Methodists were on the board of trustees, and the church made Cal Western its accredited Methodist university for Southern California and Arizona. Rust didn’t stop with the Methodists, though. His goal was to make Cal Western a “San Diego university,” one embraced by local business leaders. Rust became well known as an eloquent, even riveting, speaker. He delivered several hundred speeches per year, always dwelling upon his global vision for Cal Western. As spirits were lifted by Rust’s rhetoric, purse strings were opened, and Cal Western became the beneficiary of millions of dollars in donations from wealthy San Diegans. The names of the buildings at the present Point Loma Nazarene College, which owns the school today, form a roster of leading San Diegans in the Fifties and Sixties, men such as Morley Golden, Irving Salomon, Ewart Goodwin, T. Claude Ryan, Henry Boney, William H. Evans, Harold Starkey, Robert J. Taylor, and Fred Rohr.
The school grew steadily during its first fifteen years, from 200 students in 1954 to 2000 in 1967. The influx of baby-boomers on campuses in the Sixties prompted Rust to report in 1966 that “the need for higher education [these days) outstrips our ability to provide it.” To enable Cal Western to grow. Rust applied in the early Sixties to the federal General Services Administration for 350 acres of the dismantled Camp Elliot marine base in Scripps Ranch. In 1964 it was granted to the university, and a year later another fifty acres were added — all free of charge, with the condition that the land be used for educational purposes. At the time people wondered what Rust intended to do with the property. Cal Western had always operated on a tight budget, and it certainly had no capital to develop the Scripps Ranch land.
In January of 1966, Rust announced his five-year plan to turn his rhetoric into reality. The newspapers announced that Cal Western would soon have seven locations around the world: the Point Loma campus, two large campuses (3000 students) in Scripps Ranch and in Nevada, and smaller campuses in Arizona, South America, the Pacific basin, and Mexico. All this was part of a new concept with the grandiose title United States International University, or USIU. Several months later, the ever-industrious Rust announced that the U.S. Office of Education had granted the school $934,860 to help build the $2.8 million Scripps Ranch campus, which was to open in 1967. The year 1966 also saw the beginnings of the School of Performing Arts (SPA), the School of Human Behavior, and the first doctoral programs (in educational leadership and general psychology) at USIU.
As Rust’s international university took shape, he became all the more eager to gain complete control over it.
The Methodist board members, so essential to building Cal Western, became an obstacle to USIU in the mid-Sixties. Some of them were unen-thusiastic about Rust’s expansion plan; they were more interested in building a fine liberal arts college, a San Diego version of Stanford or USC. Furthermore, they weren’t contributing much money, and the church affiliation made it difficult to obtain the major donations an international university needed to proceed. Rust says he and the Methodists “worked things out” and that they left the board of trustees with little bitterness. Others tell a different story. “The Methodists talked for years about the ‘tragedy’ of their relationship with Bill Rust,” says Carroll Cannon. “You can’t blame the Methodists for wanting control. They raised about three million dollars in the late Fifties and early Sixties, including building and scholarship funds. And Rust had raised money in the name of the Methodist Church.”
According to Cannon, the Methodist split was only one symptom of what he calls “Rust's inability to share his dream with anyone else. He had a sense of possessiveness, or ownership, of the university and of the vision. His identity with the school was so strong that no one else could function.” Robert Castetter, former dean of the Cal Western University law school, has similar recollections of Rust: “When I first got there in 1960, the president wanted to lick all the stamps. He didn’t have the capacity to use other people’s strong points and to delegate authority to others. He couldn’t use others to minimize his own weaknesses.”
No one has ever questioned Rust’s charisma and brilliance as a promoter and fundraiser. Friends and enemies alike are awed by his tenacity, his dogged persistence, his astounding ability to persuade, and — most of all — his toughness. “Rust has more guts than anyone I’ll ever know in my whole life,” said one education professor who has worked for Rust for twenty-two years. “He had the whole community against him [in the early Seventies), and fte pulled it out.” Another professor, David Feldman, who says he continually quarreled with Rust during his years as an instructor and as dean of the business school, nonetheless has respect for him. “Rust is an entrepreneur; he’s strong willed, argumentative, conflict oriented, and cantankerous,’’ says Feldman, now vice chancellor of the Grossmont Community College District. “Entrepreneurs are that way. What they believe, they tend to think is real. They believe they have a secret knowledge of things. They push hard, and they alienate a lot of people in the process.”
Robert Dunn, former vice president of USIU and now a professor, has worked closely with Rust for twenty years. “He is a man of great physical and moral energy,” Dunn says. “He only sleeps three to four hours a night. I’ve gone with him on the red-eye special to D.C., arriving at 6:00 a.m., working all day, taking the 5:00 p.m. back to San Diego, then catching a plane to San Francisco the next morning and getting back to San Diego for an afternoon meeting. That’s the way it was for years. There was never a month in his life I could have lived without ending up in the hospital.” “Bill Rust believed he was born to be president of a fine university,” observes William Clarke, a former USIU dean now with the San Diego County Department of Education. “The president didn’t know what the word ‘constraints’ meant. Nothing was going to stop him. I think Rust saw the day when at the peace talks where world leaders get together, the problems of the world would someday be contested by graduates of USIU. I think Rust wanted USIU to be as important to the world as the United Nations.”
When USIU first opened in the fall of 1967, Rust was a long way from scratching his signature on world politics, and in the next decade he came close to being history rather than making it. Evidence of financial difficulties surfaced in the late Sixties, when Rust received a second piece of government surplus property at Adair Air Force Base in Corvallis, Oregon. He might still own the land had it not been for the vehement opposition of Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield. In an effort to determine whether or not USIU was qualified to acquire the government land, Hatfield probed USIU’s financial state but found answers to his queries “nonresponsive and vague.” Rust repeatedly failed to come forward with financial reports and audit figures, and Hatfield had discovered that USIU was late in making payments on loans from the U.S. Office of Education.
In the late Sixties USIU was growing fast enough, and its intentions were novel enough, to merit the scrutiny of a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist. Acting on a tip from Senator Hatfield’s office, William Lambert of Life magazine came to San Diego to investigate the university. As a reporter for the daily Oregonian in Portland, Lambert had won the Pulitzer for a series of articles he wrote about corruption within the Teamsters union in the Pacific Northwest. In 1969 he wrote a story about improprieties by Abe Fortas that forced the Supreme Court justice to resign. “This guy [Rust] pops out of the blue and starts acquiring property; it looks suspicious as hell,” Lambert said in a recent telephone interview from his home near Philadelphia. “Here’s a guy who creates a university from scratch, and then somehow, with political clout, he picks up two pieces of valuable government property [Camp Elliot and Adair] for nothing. That just doesn't happen! I thought Rust might be a religious kook who was trying to build an empire.”
Lambert came to San Diego several times during a three-month period. Although he'd already chosen a working title for the story, “A House of Cards,” he eventually decided to drop it. “Rust gave us a lot of garbage, stuff fhat sounded like fantasy he’d somehow made into reality, but there was nothing criminal going on,” recalls Lambert. Rust abandoned the Adair AFB land in 1970, deepening skeptics’ suspicions that USIU, though apparently free of scandals, was in financial trouble.
In December of 1971 Rust announced his intention to sell the Point Loma campus, the beautiful ninety-acre “jewel,” and move Cal Western University to Scripps Ranch. It is difficult to overestimate the effect this decision had on the future of USIU. It caused a visceral surge of antipathy against Rust and his “international university” that lingers to this day. Why he parted with the campus is debatable. Many say he’d overextended his loans and needed the cash. One former professor said wryly, “What do you do when you spend too much and need money? You sell your jewels.” Rust vehemently denies that USIU was in financial trouble at that time, and he insists the 2000-student limit on the campus made the sale inevitable. “Whatever happened, you can’t back up,” he says. “Under the circumstances, it was exactly the right thing to do.”
The reason why Rust sold the campus is less important than to whom he sold it. and how. Some weeks after the announcement to sell, he asked provost Carroll Cannon to assemble a group of prominent local businessmen who might buy the campus. Among the group Cannon assembled were aircraft pioneer T. Claude Ryan and wealthy businessman and humanitarian Irving Salomon (the father of San Diego City Council-woman Abbe Wolfsheimer), two major donors to Cal Western who had fallen out with Rust. In the spring of 1972 the newspapers reported that Rust was considering two offers for the campus, one from the local group and another from the Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena. Everyone assumed that Rust would sell to the local group. It made sense — Cal Western was a “San Diego university,” San Diego money had built it, and many San Diegans had devoted their careers to it.
But in June of 1972 Rust announced that he would sell the campus to the Church of the Nazarene for $11 million. He told the press that the local group “didn’t offer nearly what we had disclosed in total amount, [and] only a small portion of that had been raised.” Cannon, who resigned over the affair, says that Rust was given an offer, but he never made a counteroffer or even sat down to negotiate with the local group. Cannon claims that a San Diego bank guaranteed Irving Salomon a five-million-dollar loan if the local group succeeded in closing the deal. “We could have swung it,” says Cannon. “Claude Ryan said he would contribute, too. Rust knew that Ryan could have bought the campus.”
Though he specifically denied it in the press, there is little doubt that Rust feared competition from another local college, especially one similar to his own. Had Rust sold the Point Loma campus to the local group, Carroll Cannon would almost certainly have stayed and become president. The name Cal Western would have remained unchanged. Many students would undoubtedly have chosen to enroll in Cal Western under the new administration rather than move to USIU’s Scripps Ranch campus. And what’s worse, faculty members, most of whom had been hired by Cannon, might have abandoned USIU. Rust denied that he feared competition, but he admitted to the San Diego Union that some faculty would have jumped ship.
Students and faculty were upset over losing the campus. During the last week of classes in June of 1972, they even held a mock funeral. No group, however, was more miffed than the numerous local donors who, over a twenty-year period, had placed faith in William Rust and contributed millions of dollars toward the building of California Western University. “Some of the donors picked up the paper one day and read that the Cal Western campus on Point Loma was going to be sold,” says former law school dean Robert Castetter. “They didn’t even know about it. That went over like a dead sea gull with the donors.” Morley Golden, who donated the Golden Gymnasium to Cal Western, was perplexed when Cannon asked him to join the local group and buy the Point Loma campus from USIU. “Why should I buy a building I already paid for?” he asked. Many donors abandoned Rust as a result of the sale.
By selling the Point Loma campus to the Church of the Nazarene, Rust orphaned a San Diego child. He destroyed the cherished, sentimentally charged liberal arts school — which for all practical purposes died in the transition from Point Loma to Scripps Ranch in 1972 — and left the community wondering what Cal Western University might have become had it survived. “That campus would have really blossomed, I think,” says Cannon. “Rust is a giant who walks through the flower garden. He had no empathy and no sensitivity. You nurture a flower, make it grow, and then it gets stepped on.”
In the early 1970s Rust found himself fighting a three-front war against the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the dissident faculty holdovers from the defunct Point Loma campus of Cal Western, and the local press. The moral force behind the tripartite assault was the state accrediting agency, WASC. Depending upon whom you talk to, WASC either had a political bone to pick with William Rust or was genuinely concerned about USIU’s deficiencies. The foot soldiers were the dissident faculty, who were interviewed extensively by visiting accreditation teams and who fed WASC documentation concerning USIU’s suspicious money management and Rust’s autocratic rule. The Union and Tribune, as well as local TV stations, were in contact with both WASC and the dissidents, and they shelled USIU with stories of bouncing paychecks, failure to pay taxes, and failure to transfer monies promptly to the faculty retirement fund.
“The media brutally savaged USIU,” says former business school dean David Feldman. “They were trying to kill off a university. People didn’t want to send their kid there after they read those stories, so enrollments declined. That press coverage set USIU back ten years.” WASC had never seriously challenged Cal Western University, which was a traditional four-year liberal arts school. With the birth of USIU in 1967, however, came a series of affronts to the academic status quo. The idea of campuses the world over raised suspicions that resources may have been spread too thinly, thus jeopardizing academic quality. Rust says that WASC’s attitude at the time was: “We ought to drive those crazy ideas of an international university out of their head. At that time nobody thought that it could be done.” Rust denies that money problems led to a drop in standards, and he scoffs at rumors that USIU evolved into a “diploma mill.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” he says angrily today. “We’ve got some of the finest professors in the United States on this campus. Do you suppose they’d be associated with anything like that?” In fact, USIU’s faculty was part of the problem. With the birth of USIU in 1966, Rust initiated his policy, which still exists, of hiring distinguished retired professors from other universities. The list of past and present faculty is impressive indeed, including as it does academic names such as Victor Frankl, Max Lemer, Carl Rogers, Ben Wattenberg, Igor Ansoff, Herman Kahn, Rollo May, Albert Ellis, R.D. Laing, Ashley Montague, Seymour Lipset, and Herbert Blumer. But, WASC suggested, some of USIU’s faculty members, however distinguished, were too old.
Rust indicates that USIU’s most significant break from tradition was its “weekend doctorate,” introduced in the late 1960s to allow older students to continue working while they completed their degrees. “We came out with a weekend doctorate, and WASC didn’t like it at all,” Rust says. “People were flying down from the Bay Area every weekend to do their doctorates. The idea of doing it on weekends was considered demeaning.”
In 1969 a WASC accreditation team came to USIU and wrote a favorable report of the school. But when the WASC administrators — notably director Kay Anderson — read it, they balked. The doctoral dissertations were of uneven quality, and the members of the faculty were too old, WASC said. USIU responded to the attack by bringing in Hamid Lasswell, a noted political scientist from Yale, who read a sampling of dissertations and reported that overall they were not unlike those at any other school. The accreditation was eventually awarded for reasons, WASC’s Anderson insists, that had nothing to do with Lasswell. But in 1973, when the financial crisis was in full swing, a new accrediting team came back and put USIU on probation, a rare move that can severely damage a school's reputation. “They couldn’t nit-pick with regard to the faculty, which had excellent reputations, and they couldn't nit-pick about academics, so they talked about financial problems and about Rust’s autocratic manner,’’ says David Feldman. “But the real issue is whether financial problems or managerial style affects quality. They didn’t demonstrate that.”
Anderson, who still heads WASC, would speak only generally about USIU during this period. “Our job is to evaluate the total institution, including resources,” he says. “You can’t have academic quality without money.” There is nothing mysterious about WASC’s allergy to William Rust. The USIU president felt contempt for their starchy, antiquated way of thinking, and academics thought of Rust as an opportunistic huckster, an enemy of conventional scholarly tradition. “In his presentations to accreditation committees, he was like the head of IBM talking to a group of Japanese subcontractors trying to convince them to buy his computer instead of the Apple,” Feldman recalls. “Rust and the accreditation people were like oil and water.”
Rust claimed that the WASC study was conducted by friends of his opponents. It was “a hatchet job,” he told reporters, adding that it is impossible to kill a school. “If it were, then we would be dead. We have been going through hell...” Rust’s references to enemies trying to destroy him were more than mere paranoia. In 1974 a group of dissident faculty members emerged in an effort to consolidate support for Rust’s ouster. Angry over Rust’s “academic imperialism” and his “total mismanagement of USIU” — the latter of which was blamed for failure to receive paychecks —dissidents filed a class-action lawsuit against the school. “We wanted to force the university into bankruptcy; we wanted to force reorganization of the university under a new administration,” says Benjamin Banta, one of seven faculty who put their names on the suit. The professors, who came to be known as the “Seven Dwarfs,” admit they were engaged in willful subterfuge. They met regularly for weeks, carefully planning their coup d’etat. Some would come to class and say, ”I didn’t get paid today. Class dismissed.”
Banta insists that he and the other Dwarfs loved their school and were loyal to it. When he arrived at the Point Loma campus of California Western University in 1969, Banta was extremely impressed. “People were working very hard,” he says of his first three years, before the Cal Western campus was sold. “I’d never seen such dedication of faculty at Michigan State, San Diego State, or other places I’ve been. People were really busting butts. People were dedicated and hard working, and to see it wrecked by the egomania of one man ... it was a real tragedy.” Most of the “dissident minority,” as Rust called them, were holdovers from the idyllic days of Cal Western. The extent of support for their views at the new Scripps Ranch campus of USIU is unclear. Banta says the majority of the undergraduate faculty, unhappy about the sale of the Point Loma campus three years before and now having to cope with rubber paychecks and academic probation, favored Rust’s departure. The more recently hired professors at USIU, which had primarily graduates, were less hostile to Rust. In fact, sixty-five of the 150 faculty signed a petition to express disapproval of the class-action suit. This was apparently enough to sway the judge, who in a hearing ruled that USIU would have to give the Seven Dwarfs back pay and a year’s salary but dismissed the class-action suit. The Dwarfs, who were encouraged not to attend the hearing, met their attorney afterward. “He smiled and told us, ‘We won,’ ” recalls Banta. “But we’d lost. We’d won the battle but lost the war.’’ All of the Dwarfs left the university on what was euphemistically called “terminal sabbatical.”
Between 1970 and 1975, Rust was interviewed several times by the Union and Tribune, with whom he has had a strained relationship over the years. In response to very pointed questions by reporters, he specifically denied that USIU was overextended or that there had been mismanagement. He denied that he ruled autocratically. And he denied vehemently that the school was in financial trouble. “Ws are quite healthy. as a matter of fact,” he said in 1972. “USIU is one of the nation’s most financially strong private universities,” he said in 1973. And in 1974, “USIU is better off than ninety percent of colleges and universities that are accredited.” No one doubts that the USIU president truly believed everything he said. Many pointed out that his belief in an international university was stronger than all the evidence suggesting that USIU was crumbling.
Even as Rust’s optimistic statements were appearing in the newspapers, USIU was building a monstrous $26.5 million debt — a fact that was revealed internally in about 1973, after vice presidents Robert Dunn and Jack Edling examined USIU’s financial records. It was clear that neither optimism nor belief would make it go away, so USIU started peddling assets. During 1974 and 1975, the university sold its campuses in Hawaii, Mexico, Steamboat Springs, Kenya, and England. In February of 1975 —during what must have been the blackest days in USIU’s history — the university even considered hocking its Scripps Ranch campus for the Black Mountain Road campus of Miramar College, which was owned by the San Diego County Community College District. Fortunately for USIU, the deal never went through. But to this day Rust appears visibly pained when reminded of it. To have gone in a period of just four years from the exquisite grandeur of Point Loma, to the pleasant but unmajestic eucalyptus groves of Scripps Ranch, to the nondescript Miramar College campus, may have been too much even for the spirit of William Rust to bear. Particularly given that only a few months later, the cash crisis forced him to sell his most prestigious holding, the Cal Western School of Law, for $1.75 million. (The school now operates independently on Cedar Street downtown.) Losing the law school was a devastating blow, but along with the other sales, USIU’s debt was reduced to a manageable four million dollars, and the school pulled through the crisis. “The only reason Rust survived that period was ‘the dream,’ ” says David Feldman. “When the dream was falling apart, when the walls were falling down, if he ever for a minute thought the dream wasn’t real, he’d have given up and lost.”
When William Rust was told that many who had worked with him had commented on his tendency to desire more than his resources allow, he hastily replied, “I hope so! It would be a fright, wouldn’t it, if people only did what was easy, and comfortable? You’ve got to reach as strongly as you can.” It’s hard to disagree with Rust, particularly while speaking with him in person, where his power to inspire is greatest. And yet the path to Rust’s global university is strewn with people who were intoxicated by Rust’s vision but ultimately let down. Some are very angry and feel they were used by the USIU president; others, such as Jack Edling, a USIU vice president from 1972 to 1978, can look back with amusement at the frustrations they felt working with Rust.
When Edling arrived at USIU in 1972, he was extremely impressed with Rust’s tremendous energy and his maverick style, so different from every other university president he’d known during his career in education. He didn’t know at the time, however, that USIU was in financial trouble and that the school would never have the resources to match either Rust’s energy or his style. During his seven years as a vice president, Edling often found himself in the awkward position of promising students things that Rust couldn’t deliver. “Almost every year Rust would say, ‘We’re almost out of the woods. It’ll be next year that we’ll get such and such facility or program,’ ” recalls Edling with a laugh. “At first I’d tell students we’ll have the gym, the stadium, the student union, or the theater next year, but after five or six years of having egg on your face, you figure out that it’s always next year.”
Though Edling was a vice president at USIU, he never felt his duties corresponded to his title. “There were lots of administrative duties that I thought I’d have but never got,” he recalls. “Rust ran everything. I spent a lot of time just trying to smooth over problems that had to do with not paying bills.”
Faculty who worked for Rust in the Fifties and Sixties confirm Edling’s experience. Carroll Cannon, provost at Cal Westerns liberal arts school, refers to Rust’s pattern of “fits and starts,” his “tendency to dump programs and start new ones, which left a lot of students hanging.” Dr. Edward K. Distler, the school physician and a faculty member, recalls that “plans were constantly changing. The machinery was constantly moving. You never knew what was going on.” In the early 1960s Rust asked Distler to work with an architect to design a new student health clinic. “Six months later we went to a board meeting and showed our plans on an overhead projector,” recalls Distler. “We talked for a few minutes, and then Rust stood up and said, ‘We’ll have to move on to the next item.’ The architect and I were dumbfounded. Six months of work went out the window in one clip sentence.”
The School of Performing Arts (later to become the School of Performing and Visual Arts), created in 1966, offers a poignant example of William Rust failing to deliver on the dream. Whereas other disciplines pursued the ambiguous goal of “universal brotherhood” or “international cooperation,” the performing arts school was driven by a vision you could see in three dimensions — it wanted to put its actors, dancers, and musicians on stages all over the globe. The “International Company” was going to tour.the world and bring renown to the school, recalls Professor Q, who requested anonymity. “We wanted the School of Performing Arts to be to the United States what the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts is to England. As it turned out, we traveled to La Jolla. That’s as far as we got.”
Professor Q spent eighteen years with USIU, during which time the school operated out of six different locations. These years, according to Professor Q, were marked by constant, at times incomprehensible, juggling of real estate and by continually renewed but always unfulfilled hopes that the “International Company” would travel. One of the performing arts school’s greatest disappointments occurred in 1982, when Rust decided to sponsor a major concert series in San Diego. Floyd Herzog, the dean of students at the School of Performing Arts from 1968 to 1973, was key to the plan. In a recent interview, Herzog said that although it never did travel, SPA in the late Sixties was “one of the finest performing arts schools in the country, anywhere. Rust really let it fly.” But it suffered during the financial debacle of the early Seventies, and Herzog left in 1973 to head an arts program at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Nine years later, in 1982, Rust called Herzog and asked to meet him at the Cincinnati airport. 120 miles from Danville. At the meeting Rust “unveiled his master scheme.” He offered to hire Herzog back as his impresario in the concert series effort. Herzog’s job would be “to book the world’s greatest artists and attractions,” including the New York Philharmonic. USIU was either going to build a performing facility on the Scripps Ranch campus, or rent a major facility in San Diego. And after years of merely talking about it, USIU was finally going to form an international company of graduate student performers, who would be integrated into the concert series. “Knowing how things had always been there, I said I’d think about it,” recalls Herzog.
Though Herzog had offers from elsewhere around the country, he resigned from Centre College and came to San Diego on November 1, 1982. Professor Q had left USIU in 1980 and was working in the UCSD drama department, but he too resigned his position and returned to USIU, fully convinced that this time the performing arts school would finally flourish. Herzog immediately began discussions with Spreckels Building owner Jacqueline Littlefield, who was agreeable to renting the Spreckels Theatre to USIU. But Herzog started hearing rumors there was no money. Then he was instructed to drop discussions with Littlefield and work on other things. Six months after arriving, Herzog resigned from USIU having accomplished nothing he had been hired to do and having had to "beg” for his monthly paychecks. “What we did is we made something tangible out of the dream,”
Herzog says. “As soon as it became tangible, everything stopped. It’s wonderful for a human being to have the dreams Rust has, but not when it’s at the expense of other people’s lives. Rust is so immersed in the dream that he loses sight of the practicalities of what it would take to pull the dream off. His dreams are other people’s nightmares.”
To this day Rust, who is in his late sixties, still travels about 400,000 miles per year in a tireless effort to make his international university a reality. So far in 1986, he’s traveled to Korea, Taiwan, mainland China, the Philippines, England, Kenya, Germany, and Austria — some of these places twice. Rust has made undeniable progress in the past eleven years. In 1975, divested of all but one of its satellite campuses (a scaled-down version of the English campus had moved to Evian, France), USIU was an octopus with its legs hacked off. All that remained was the Scripps Ranch campus, noted primarily for its graduate programs in human behavior and education, both of which attracted mostly American students. The international character of USIU was revived in 1977 when the school reopened Universidad Internacional de Mexico in Mexico City, which now has eighty-six students, and International University-Africa in Kenya, now with 181 students. In 1978 a new campus just outside London called International University-Europe was added. Most of its 671 students today come from Africa, the Middle East, and the Orient. The Scripps Ranch campus now has 2616 students, about forty percent of whom are from foreign countries. In addition to these campuses, USIU has “extension centers” in Oceanside, Irvine, Glendale, San Jose, and the Imperial Valley.
In the fall of 1980 USIU suffered another scare when the federal Office of Student Financial Assistance in Washington, D.C. accused USIU of “misspending” $400,000 in student loan funds. The government office threatened to cut off an additional $600,000 due to be allocated for the 1980-1981 school year and eventually to exclude USIU from federal student loan programs altogether, which may have meant the end of the school. But USIU agreed to repay $335,000, insisting that it was merely a matter of “accounting differences,” and the affair blew over. Since then USIU has been relatively free of the press scrutiny it bore so heavily in the early Seventies, and WASC has accredited all of the university’s programs. Rust is happy with the current state of USIU, a school that, he says, has no peer in the world today. “I was walking in the evening on the England campus, and I thought to myself, ‘This isn’t a dream. This is reality.’ Students are coming from all over the world. The campuses are thriving. They say an idea whose time has come is unstoppable, and I think this is one whose time has come.”
Rust has not been deaf to signals that the Far East is the key to USIU’s future success. Whereas the bulk of USIU’s foreign students in the late Seventies came from Iran and other Middle Eastern countries, the student body has recently seen an influx of Malaysians, Thais, Japanese, and Koreans. Rust becomes excited when he talks about the school’s future relationship with Asia. “It’s a massive, exciting, dynamic place,” he says. “It’s beyond the comprehension of most people you talk to. China, with 1,100,000,000 people. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh with another one billion. Japan and Korea. Taiwan, with 17 million people — it’s amazing what’s happening in that place. You go down to Djakarta. I’m supposedly cosmopolitan, but I didn’t know Indonesia was the fifth largest country in the world in population, with 165 million people. I was flabbergasted! And the eagerness for education is unmatched anywhere in the world.”
The Asia Pacific Rim Institute, for which ground at Scripps Ranch should be broken sometime this year, portends to be a conduit for cultural and intellectual exchange between the United States and Far Eastern countries. It is precisely the sort of organization Rust needs to give USIU the prestige he believes it deserves. “We intend to have courses, seminars, professor exchanges, language training, and cultural programs such as plays and ballets from various Asian countries,” says Leon Sinder, USIU professor of international relations and director of the Asia Pacific Rim Institute. “We’d like to have international figures come and speak, and make it open to the general public. And wouldn’t it be great to have the heads of three or four different Asian states come and hold an open forum with students?” Sinder comes to USIU with high credentials, having been director of two United Nations “missions” to Laos and Taiwan in the 1960s. He is confident USIU will obtain the $2.9 million (two-thirds of which has already been raised) to build the institute, as well as funds to operate the building once it is in place. “Ws won’t know until we give it a try,” he says. “But Fm confident the administration will solve that problem.”
Only time will tell whether William Rust can close the gap between the enthusiasm he generates and the financial realities that have continually plagued him in the past thirty-four years. He now has a tremendous asset in television station KUSI, Channel 51, which Rust struggled fifteen years to obtain for USIU. The university was granted a license to operate the commercial station in 1983, and it is worth, according to Rust, more than $40 million. Insiders claim that the USIU president hasn’t changed a bit over the years. He’s still intransigent and single-minded, and his dream is as big as it was twenty years ago, if not bigger. He is as suspicious as ever of the press, and he exudes the cockiness of someone who has faced great adversity and survived. Rust wouldn’t confirm one USIU administrator’s claim that some forty countries have expressed interest in hosting a USIU campus. He would only say that “quite a number have talked to us. It used to be we went to them — now they come to us.”