Ralph Prator, 97, former president of SFV State

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Ralph Prator, founding president of the college that eventually became CSUN, died Monday, July 25, in a retirement community in Camarillo at the age of 97.

Prator was the president of San Fernando Valley State College when it was founded in 1958. He resigned in fall of 1968. During his 10-year presidency, he fought at the city and state levels to acquire land for the growing college, which was renamed California State University, Northridge in 1972.

An interview with Prator, in which he reminisced about his work acquiring land for SFVSC, was published in the fall 1998 issue of Northridge magazine.

“We had to go to Sacramento frequently to gain as much influence with the Legislature as we could,” Prator told the magazine. “-We entertained the governor, Pat Brown, and I remember vividly taking him on a little trip when he came down to see us.”

CSUN president Jolene Koester, said she credits the university’s academic buildings’ existence to Prator’s work for the university.

“During the time he was president, many of the core academic buildings were built,” she said. “He established the foundation of strong academic programs.”

“I think (his vision) was to meet the needs of the people of this community. He wanted to make sure that they had academic programs that helped people here,” Koester said.

Prator is also credited with increasing the student population from 3,500 students in 1958 to more than 16,000 by the time of his resignation.

Prator resigned in 1968, at a time when many schools in Southern California were experiencing change and tension over the status of minority students.

Rodolfo Acuna, a professor in the Chicano/a Studies Department and a CSUN alumnus from the class of 1969, said he feels Prator failed to bring multiculturalism to SFVSC.

“My condolences to Dr. Prator’s family,” Acuna said. “(But) he did little to bring minorities to San Fernando Valley State.

“At the time, the college was 95 percent white, and would have remained that way if it had not been for the sacrifices of black, Chicano and progressive white students. I am sorry I cannot rewrite history and construct a multicultural heaven,” he said.

In a 1968 interview, Prator told the Los Angeles Times he believed a college president’s role had become more oriented toward crisis than education.

As a legacy, Prator leaves behind a 118-page book published in 1963 titled, “The College President,” in which he shares his personal thoughts, ideas and experiences as college president.

Prator also leaves behind a transcript under the CSU Oral History Project titled, “A New College in a New System,” in which he writes about the then-new SFVSC under a new college system.

Prior to his tenure at SFVSC, Prator served as administrator at Mesa College in Colorado from 1936 to 1939 and held several positions at the University of Colorado from 1940 to 1942. He was president of Bakersfield College in Kern County from 1950 to 1958.

“The vision has helped the institution become what it is today,” Koester said. “And it will continue to guide us in the future.”

Rosario Mendoza can be reached at rsm70949@ csun.edu.