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About Chapman

» Our Story: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going

Smiling students covered in flowers

The earliest incarnation of Chapman University  was open to all people in the belief that every person should have access to an education. In fact, our first class included women and people of different ethnicities and faiths. Our heritage of diversity and inclusion provides us our strong foundation as we participate in building a more equitable future.

Chapman University has always been a place where potential translates to possibility. Our history is a wealth of unique cultural experiences, connecting us to the past, tuning us to the present and ushering us into our future.

A lot has changed since we first opened our doors in 1861, originally in Woodland, California. However, since day one, we've been proudly dedicated to the education of all people, and we stand committed to creating an inclusive and more equitable world of opportunity.

At Chapman, we have always believed in more: more knowledge, risk-taking, discovery, passion, creativity and exploration. We believe in being exceptional — in unlocking unlimited potential, in creating experiences that last a lifetime and in doing work that changes lives.

We began with inclusivity, a passion for teaching and learning, and forward-looking optimism.  We’ve continued to champion those goals throughout Chapman’s existence -- and we’re still growing. Good things are happening because we make them happen.

  • The Cheverton Award
  • The Four Pillars
  • Pete the Panther
  • a large vase with inscriptionsOne of the oldest awards presented by Chapman, the Cheverton Award was first bestowed upon the university’s top graduate in 1930. The original bronze cup was a gift of the Class of 1929 and remains on permanent exhibit in the Argyros Forum on campus, along with its successor, a silver bowl.

    Upon the trophies are engraved the names of all Cheverton awardees. In addition to academic accomplishments, awardees must demonstrate a “high moral character” and “represent the spirit of Chapman University.” The award is named for Cecil F. Cheverton, Chapman’s sixth president, who served from 1929 to 1941.

     

  • Fountain with four pillars and water splashAt Chapman, we holistically educate each person through a focus on what we call The Four Pillars: the intellectual, physical, social and spiritual dimensions of life.

    You will see representations of these four pillars around the campus - at the front of Memorial Hall, for example, and at the main entrance to our Leatherby Libraries. The most visual symbolization of the four pillars is the Marion Halfacre Fountain, the dramatic focal point of our Fahmy Attallah Piazza.
  • team mascot hugging childThe earliest incarnation of our beloved mascot "Pete the Panther" got his start in Hollywood.

    Before the 1920s, when we were known as California Christian College in Los Angeles, we had no mascot. We were known to our competing colleges as The Preachers, The Parsons or The Deacons. While respectable, it didn't necessary strike fear into opposing teams.

    Searching for something that was a little grander, we wanted to pinpoint an animal exemplifying power and strength. 

    In the mid-1920s, someone brought a leftover silent film prop to school: it was a paper-mache black panther. 

    That panther lived a good life on campus, getting trotted out for sporting events, student activities and just about anything for which as good excuse could be found. That was until New Years Day in 1934, when the Los Angeles flood struck, wrecking our basement dining hall - and panther storage.

    While the physical form panther took a hiatus from Chapman for a long time, its symbol was not forgotten. After seven decades, our mascot came back in his high-spirited and huggable form, named after Chapman Hall of Fame basketball and baseball player alumnus Julian “Pete” Peterson'41.

Chapman: An Experience, A History

Like any good story, there’s a lot to us. Here’s where we came from and how we got here. If you want all the details, take a look in our library archives.


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From the Start: 1860s

old college campus

On March 4, 1861, at the very hour of Abraham Lincoln’s  inauguration, Hesperian College, the first manifestation of what is today Chapman University, opened its doors in Woodland, California. In the late 1800s, a public education system didn't exist in California. We were fulfilling a need — and we were doing it for everyone.

Our founding members were a part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Their members placed a high value on educational freedom. Their concept of education was radical and unfamiliar for the times. They believed that men and women of all races and faiths should be served by higher education.

Although a committee of the church approved their proposal for a new college on June 20, 1860, the founders delayed the opening of Hesperian College. They waited until the date of President Lincoln’s inauguration, making a statement about their belief in equality to a country on the brink of the Civil War.

Evolving Identity: Early 20th Century

college graduates holding vines

In the early days, we changed our name a few times. After California’s education system adjusted in the new century and more public schools opened, we became Berkeley Bible Seminary in San Francisco at the dawn of the 20th century.

While the Teens and Roaring Twenties were relatively quiet for us (we’ve always been a studious bunch), we moved from San Francisco and shuffled monikers: we became California School of Christianity and then California Christian College.

During that time, we were trying to find our path. Who were we in this new century? Changing needs in education shifted our model, making the road a little bumpy. With a bold vision and a matching gift challenge, Charles C. Chapman was a transformational leader. He forged our opening in southern California as California School of Christianity, as we traded foggy hills for palm trees in Los Angeles.

A few years later in 1923, we kept things fresh and changed our name (again) to California Christian College – or “Cal Christian” for those who knew us.

What’s in a Name: The '30s

Man wearing hat and glasses

The Great Depression spared no one — but luckily, we had someone in our corner. Banker and citrus-growing magnate Charles C. Chapman never once flagged in dedication to our success, helping us keep the lights on and the doors open in the toughest of hours. He was our first chairman of the Board of Trustees and our most passionate champion.

 

In 1934, we wanted to honor him for being our anchor, so we surprised our greatest friend at commencement, announcing we’d changed our name to Chapman College.

He was so moved; he cried.

In a letter to the campus publication The Alumnus in January of 1935, C.C. Chapman described the impact of the honor:

“Every time my eyes fall upon the printed words ‘Chapman College’ or my ears hear the announcement over the radio or I hear the name spoken by anyone, I experience a thrill. At times this honor seems only a dream.”

War and Change: The '40s

domed huts on a college lawnDuring World War II, we gave it our all — literally. When our students left to fight, nurse, build or otherwise aid the war effort, we rented our entire campus on North Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles to the U.S. Navy for the duration of WWII. We kept one faculty member on and a handful of students who took up lodgings at Whittier College for three years.

After the war, the massive influx of returning men and women swamped our L.A. campus and we added “Quonset hut” homes on our lawn to house postwar student population influx.

While we were thrilled to fill our classrooms again, there simply was not enough space to accommodate everyone. Then we got word of an abandoned high school campus in Orange County.

Mid-Century Modern: The '50s

Smiling students at a lunch counter

In 1954 we packed up and moved south from bustling and glamorous L.A. to the peaceful, blossom-scented orchards of Orange County. Housing was a little tight at first, but the community of Orange helped our students, offering up bedrooms and apartments until we got settled.

Education, even in the changing times of the middle century, was a formal event for our students. Thursday nights had a dress dinner followed by candlelight singing on the spacious lawn.

We held our first Homecoming event in 1957 on the Orange campus — but without a football game.  (The Chapman Panthers had fielded a football team from 1921 to 1932, and then there was a 62-year hiatus with no team until football returned in 1994.)

We gave our campus a facelift, painting the buildings a spruced-up, “modern” coral color, which we found out dried to Pepto-Bismol pink. Luckily, this paint job was only temporary.

We grew into our new community and opened our first adult-learner education program at El Toro Marine Air Station in 1958. That grew to become a network of more than 20 campuses, mostly on or near military bases, called Chapman University College (now known as Brandman University, which is a separate university that is part of the Chapman University System).

Changing Times: The '60s, '70s and '80s

two men sitting on couch

We kicked off the 1960s with a speaker for our Artist Lecture Series who was then not quite a household name: Martin Luther King, Jr. Standing on the stage of Memorial Hall on Dec. 10, 1961, he discussed history, the ethos of non-violence, civil rights milestones and also current events of the time, like the Freedom Riders, school desegregation and a new African commonwealth that would later become Tanzania.

In 1965, we acquired what is now the Semester at Sea program, then called World Campus Afloat, and we gave it degree-granting qualifications. This seafaring education program operated for 10 years aboard the ships The MS Seven Seas and The SS Ryndam.

The 1970s and 1980s were somewhat quiet, but each decade had its moments. The ’70s saw students protesting the Vietnam War. And while the liberal arts comprised the core of Chapman’s educational foundation, we began to expand into new areas under the leadership of the chairman of our Board of Trustees, George L. Argyros ’59. Our business school, now the Argyros School of Business and Economics, was founded in 1976.

In December of 1978, two young professors, James Doti (now president emeritus) and Esmael Adibi, hosted an economic forecast that soon became and continues to be an important annual mainstay of the Orange County business community. The A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research, established in 1979, has been essential to refining the model used during Chapman’s Economic Forecast and Update and has received national attention for its accuracy.

It wasn't all academic work over these decades.  In fact, our men’s baseball team won the national college championship for the first time in 1968, an accomplishment they repeated in 2003 and 2019 for NCAA (Div III).  And in 1987, the tennis team took the NCAA (Div II) championship.

Our arts community also started a beloved Chapman tradition at the start of the ’80s. In 1981, Dr. William Hall gave life to American Celebration, which is today known as Chapman Celebrates. As a fundraiser for student scholarships, the event brings together students across the different disciplines of the College of Performing Arts to put on a Broadway-style song-and-dance extravaganza. Over its lifetime, it has raised nearly $40 million in scholarship support, opening doors for students and making sure they graduate.

A New Era: The '90s to Present-Day

president shaking hands with man

The '90s were pretty good for us — nothing succeeds like the dedicated quest to achieve greatness.  In 1991, economics professor James L. Doti became the 12th president of Chapman College. We revived an old tradition: we changed names again and became, as you know us now, Chapman University. Doti’s administration ushered in transformational progress for Chapman University, launching an academic trajectory that included the steepest 25-year climb in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings of any university since the rankings began.

These monumental moments spurred further developments for our campus. 1991 also saw the transformation of the Department of Education into the School of Education (now known as the Donna Ford Attallah College of Educational Studies) and the establishment of what is now known as Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

We brought back football in 1994 after that 62-year hiatus, becoming the only four-year university in Orange County with an NCAA football team.

And we also opened two schools that have been recognized nationally since their beginnings in the mid-’90s. Our School of Law, now the Dale E. Fowler School of Law, opened in 1995. Since its inception, it has been recognized as one of the top 25 law schools for practical training and has ranked among the top 5 in the national ABA Competition.

 Our School of Film and Television, now Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, opened in 1996. Recognized worldwide for its cutting-edge programs and renowned faculty, Dodge College has been notably ranked among the best film schools in the nation consistently. Each year, students excel in competitions, and alumni’s names will be present at award shows and film festivals. A few of the notable alumni from Dodge College include the Duffer Brothers, creators of the award-winning television series Stranger Things; Justin Simien, creator of the hit movie and subsequent TV series Dear White People; Brenda Brkusic Milinkovic ’04, Emmy-winning television producer and executive; and James Smith ’01, co-producer of the blockbuster movie Drive.

We closed up the ’90s with developments that would lead to enormous transformation for our academic community. Our business school became the George L. Argyros School of Business and Economics in 1999 and found its home in Beckman Hall, constructed in 1998 and dedicated in 1999.

The growth over the past 21 years that resulted from the creation of the Argyros School includes the business school’s number of full-time faculty quadrupling, more than 7,000 graduates for a school that only had a graduating class of 179 in 1999, and being ranked among the top 100 business schools in the nation. Last year, in 2019, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Argyros School, highlighting its prominent rise and honoring its namesake with special guest President George W. Bush.

The new turn-of-the-century ushered in vast campus expansion: the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education, the Leatherby Libraries, the Fish Interfaith Center, Marion Knott Studios — home of Dodge College, the College of Performing Arts, the creation of the Argyros School’s Economic Science Institute — led by Dr. Vernon L. Smith (the 2002 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences), the Erin J. Lastinger Athletics Complex and the Schmid College of Science and Technology became part of the Chapman campus between 2000 and 2010.

Almost as a sign of our future focus on developing the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics at Chapman University, Chapman theoretical physics professor Yakir Aharonov, Ph.D., was awarded the President's National Medal of Science in 2010.

Our evolving approach toward the STEM fields truly began in 2013 with the opening of the Rinker Health Science Campus in Irvine, which became the home of Chapman’s School of Pharmacy — established that same year. A portion of Schmid College gained autonomy as the Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences the following year. Most graduate programs in Crean College are housed on the Rinker Campus.

The inauguration of Daniele C. Struppa, a renowned mathematician, as president of Chapman University in 2016 further illustrated our leadership’s dedication toward the STEM fields. Having served as Chapman’s chancellor for nine years, Daniele C. Struppa gracefully stepped into the role of president, prepared to lead our University and its great minds from all over the world.

The arts remained just as important to Chapman’s future development. 2016 also saw the opening of the acclaimed Musco Center for the Arts, an 1,100-seat state-of-the-art concert hall  hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “an ideal opera house, potentially the best in the West;” as well as the Hilbert Museum of California Art, which is now a top-ranked California attraction on Yelp and TripAdvisor, drawing more than 30,000 visitors per year. Both of these critically acclaimed venues have exponentially elevated our students’ access to professional arts offerings and have helped distinguish Chapman University as a focal point for the arts in Orange County.

With the opening of the Keck Center for Science and Engineering in 2018, Chapman University launched itself toward an era of innovation, research and discovery. As the home of Schmid College and the recently opened Dale E. and Sarah Ann Fowler School of Engineering, the Keck Center plays a crucial role in the development of a notable scientific community at Chapman as well as the cultivation of a strong research community in Southern California.

Over the past two years, we’ve seen national recognition for our unrivaled efforts. We were invited to establish a chapter of our nation’s oldest honors society, Phi Beta Kappa, and inducted our first cohort. We achieved the Carnegie Classification of R2: Doctoral University — High Research Activity in recognition of our commitment to research. We had our first Rhodes Scholar, Vidal Arroyo ’19. And, perhaps most importantly, we were ranked by U.S. News & World Report #125 in the National University category, an elevated category that includes institutions of higher education like Harvard and Princeton. Such a distinction acknowledges our rising reputation, student excellence, world-class faculty and growing research programs.

As we get bigger, we're also getting better. We're ambitious, we're confident — and we're comfortable with that.

At every stage, in every era, we find growth. Whether it's a test of our ethos, our endurance, our will to survive, our growth in spirit or our growth in offerings, we keep moving forward. Our most recent accomplishments are, of course, both humbling and gratifying, but they exist as stepping-stones toward the next echelon.

Chapman at a Glance


  • Location: Orange, Calif.
  • Founded: 1861 as Hesperian College in Woodland, Calif.
  • Mascot: Pete the Panther
  • Chapman Colors: Cardinal & Grey
  • 8,542 students
  • 110 areas of study
  • 14:1 student to faculty ratio

Building with columns and sunshine

A Namesake Story


man and family

Perhaps because Charles C. Chapman couldn't afford college for himself in his youth, he devoted himself to keeping student's dreams alive and our doors open in the toughest of times.

After we renamed in his honor, Chapman wrote to the University that:

“Every time my eyes fall upon the printed words—Chapman College—or my ears hear the announcement over the radio or I hear the name spoken by anyone, I experience a thrill.  At times this honor seems only a dream.”

To learn and read more about Charles C. Chapman, visit our archive in the Leatherby Libraries.

 

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Quick Rankings

  • 6 in the Western region - U.S. News and World Report 
  • 378 Best Colleges - Princeton Review 
Emmett Ashford

Chapman Greats: Emmett Ashford '41


Alumnus Emmett Ashford '41 was the first black umpire in organized baseball, paving the way for future generations with his impact on the sport. Read more here »
Ship on the water

Semester at Sea


Started at Chapman in 1965 and originally known as University of the Seven Seas and World Campus Afloat, Semester at Sea has taken thousands of students and educators around the globe.