Jack Leary set out to create a college that would embody his ideals of teaching and learning. Jack, a Jesuit priest and teacher of philosophy, had recently resigned as president of Gonzaga University in Washington State because of his dissatisfaction with the current American model of undergraduate education. He wanted to start over. And so the New College of California began as a handful of students and teachers meeting in Jack's Sausalito living room.
One central goal was to study the Humanities, that is, all aspects of human culture without the rigid disciplinary separations imposed by conventional schools. Another was to achieve a true mentoring dialogue between teacher and student, in which the teacher, as advisor, would help the student chart his or her own path through various domains of knowledge and synthesize the learning experience.
The undergraduate humanities program was accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges in 1976, and has continued ever since. The program is now an integration of academic clusters in the arts, music and literature, community and global studies, and cultural studies.
In 1973, shortly after moving to San Francisco, the college created what is now the oldest public-interest law school in the country. Many well-known lawyers and activists have taught and studied at the school, including Roberta Achtenberg, Stephen Bingham, Angela Davis, Tom Hayden, and Mike Henley.
In 1979, the college created the Science Institute, an accelerated program of basic undergraduate science courses, which has sent thousands of students on to chiropractic and nursing schools.
In 1980, undergraduate education took a new direction with the Weekend College, a BA degree completion program in humanities for working adults.
In 1982, the college launched the Graduate Psychology program, which is aimed to prepare students to earn the Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) license.
Today, New College occupies four buildings in San Francisco: 50 Fell Street and 777 Valencia Street, which are owned by the college. It leases 766 and 739-741 Valencia Street. In addition, New College has an East Bay campus, and the Arlene Francis Foundation provides the beautiful landmark 8,000-square-foot building for the Santa Rosa Campus.