A Legacy of Leadership: 1960s

President Malcom A. Love with Miss San Diego Pat Heighton and A.S. President Terry Flanigan

by Leonardo Castaneda

The 1960s were a decade of change and new beginnings for San Diego State. The biggest of all was the opening of the Aztec Center, the student union hoped and planned for since Norman Brinkley’s 1956 Associated Students presidency.

Built using money from an A.S.-supported mandatory fee (the precedent for which was set in 1955), construction ended in 1967. It opened the following year with the leadership of A.S. President Terry Flanigan as the first student union in the California State University system. Flanigan told KPBS in a special interview that before the Aztec Center opened, the closest thing to a student center was the small Scripps Cottage structure that stands on campus to this day.

Associated Students President Terry Flanigan
Photo courtesy of SDSU Library Archives

Flanigan defeated Karen Grace for the A.S. presidency by a vote of 2,448 to 870 in April 1968, succeeding his brother, Jack Flanigan. In September of that year, he joined SDSU President Dr. Malcolm A. Love in opening the new Aztec Center. Flanigan told KPBS in a special interview that the new building revolutionized campus life, allowing students to come together in new ways. The building offered facilities such as a pool hall and a bowling alley that were unheard of on a college campus at the time, Flanigan told KPBS.

But Flanigan’s leadership led him to use the Aztec Center to serve students in a way the original planners had never considered. Following demonstrations at San Jose State University and San Francisco State University during the tumultuous late 1960s, Flanigan establish San Diego State’s first ombudsman. History professor Nelson Norman was appointed to the position as a mediator between student and school administration, and housed inside the Aztec Center.

Flanigan also pushed A.S. to create an Academic Affairs Board, a brand-new board that, he told The Daily Aztec at the time, would deal with students’ academic role on campus. Today the Academic Affairs Board is a centerpiece of the A.S. University Council.

Flanigan’s tenure as A.S. president gave him the opportunity to preside over the opening of the most transformative campus structure ever, built with student-voted fees. It also forced him to deal with the troubles afflicting college campuses throughout the state. At a time when other colleges in the nation were being accused of failing to represent the needs of diverse students, Flanigan’s A.S. Council voted to create two new seats for black and Mexican-American students in the council. Flanigan told The Daily Aztec at the time that the representatives were needed to better hear the needs of all students on campus.

Flanigan’s leadership skills during these sometimes challenging times can best be seen in an episode shortly after his graduation. The former A.S. president spoke with The Daily Aztec in 1969, following a meeting he attended of student body presidents with Gov. Ronald Reagan to discuss the state of the California State College system. Ron Breen, the A.S. president at the time, came out of the meeting disheartened, telling The Daily Aztec there was “no hope of working with Gov. Reagan.”

However, Flanigan showed a vision and willingness to work together that served him well during his time as A.S. president.

“You have no alternatives if everybody starts off with a closed mind,” Flanigan told the newspaper. “Things don’t get done unless the groups involved are willing to keep trying to communicate and cooperate.”

Photo courtesy of SDSU Library Archives