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Despite struggles D-Q University looks to the future

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DAVIS, Calif. - In 1968, after the launch of the first communication satellites into space a small piece of unassuming land west of this famous college town in the Sacramento Valley was declared as surplus land by the federal government.

Since 1951 the square mile tract had been used as an Army listening post to relay intelligence coming in from the Pacific. It was a tangle of uninspiring government buildings and telephone poles that served as antennas for army intelligence.

Partially as a result of the 1969 Alcatraz occupation in which American Indian protesters took the island in San Francisco Bay the government leased the land for the purposes of creating a two-year tribal college, and thus D-Q University was born.

D-Q University was then established at the old Army site in 1971 under the auspices of the Tribally Controlled Community Colleges Assistance Act and began offering two-year courses in 1971. The school was accredited in 1977 and lost its accreditation in the 1990s though a series of management blunders; though it managed to gain it back in a few years.

The "D" in the school's name stands for the name of the Peacemaker of the Iroquois who inspired their confederacy and is only supposed to be used in religious context. The "Q" stands for Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god and the amalgamation is supposed to show unity between American Indians and Chicanos, the groups to which the school caters.

However, things have not always gone smoothly between the two ethnic groups as tensions erupted in the 1970s at the school because each group felt the school should primarily serve one group or the other.

Ethnic tensions have, at least in general, long since eased at the school though minor controversies remain. American Indians currently make up a little more than half of the student body and Chicanos still make up more than 40 percent of the campus. The remaining students are mainly part timers from various backgrounds, including several exchange students from nearby University of California (UC) at Davis who supplement their studies, especially American Indian studies, by taking classes at D-Q University.

Though the school has endured some growing pains, things are far from settled. Money is a constant issue at the school that often has to endure the indignities of so-called "soft money" grants that will fund a program for a few years and then disappear.

The school, however, has managed to hold on to, depending on who you talk to, somewhere between three and seven full time professors. Part of the reason for the discrepancy is that the amount of funding available for professors often fluctuates from year to year.

D-Q University does manage, though, to keep at least three full time professors every year, one permanent professor each in English, math and science. The rest of the faculty is largely comprised of part timers and many of these are moonlighting professors and instructors from nearby UC Davis and California State University, Sacramento.

When available, professors come to the school and teach a class in one of the American Indian languages and have in the past offered classes in, among others, Maidu and currently are offering a class in Cherokee.

Dave Childress, who has worked at D-Q University in one capacity or another since 1977, currently serves the school in three capacities. He is the Management Information Services Director, Acting Dean of Student Services as well as a computer science professor.

"The first winter I was here, I even had to empty the plastic garbage cans that we had to use to catch rain leaks in the roof," says Childress.

In fact when Childress began teaching at D-Q University as an instructor while he was a graduate student at Sonoma State University he did not collect a salary.

Given the patchwork and often fleeting funding at the school, which had to survive for several years without even a maintenance department, the fact that they can even field a two year accredited program is almost miraculous.

"It's a struggle, a damn struggle," says D-Q University president Morgan Otis.

Otis reports that, in addition to soft money grants, the school gets its funding from the federal Department of Education, while the rest is made up with tuition and the various grants including a fairly steady one for minorities in the sciences.

Per student spending is far under that of California's public colleges and universities. D-Q University spends on average about $3,500 on students per semester, while the public junior colleges spend nearly twice that amount. Students attending the various California State University campuses get nearly four times that amount every semester and the University of California spends in the neighborhood of $20,000 per semester per student.

Childress says that the main problem is that "we just don't have $20 million to run this place."

Otis maintains that the state's public schools and universities have several professional grant writers on staff and receive far more public assistance than D-Q University.

One potential funding source that has not come through is from California's much publicized gaming tribes. One source in University administration claims that large casino tribes have thus far donated a total of only $7,500.

For example, the nearby Rumsey Rancheria, which has only a handful of members and whose Cache Creek casino generates an estimated $10 million in revenue and is in the process of expansion, has only donated some bleachers for the school's athletic field.

President Otis believes that one of the reasons that the large casino tribes have not donated in large numbers is the fact that most are still paying off debts for construction and are locked into management contracts.

Childress is a little more succinct. "We really haven't gotten anything from them (casino tribes)."

However, the school still survives. Last month they received some good news in that the college finally owns the title to the land on which it sits after surviving on a 30-year quit claim deed.

D-Q University now operates four satellite campuses in addition to the main campus. The satellite campuses are located at the Sycuan reservation; in Bishop at the Owens Valley Educational Development Center; the Soboba reservation and will begin operating at a fourth site east of Los Angeles in Fountain Valley.

All five campuses have 1,500 students total with 600 attending the main campus, which also features dormitories for student housing.

For more information on D-Q University, call (530) 758-0470.