Concord Campus Clocktower

The Concord Campus clock tower is repaired and the Concord Campus is back

  • May 29, 2014

Roughly four years ago, nobody really remembers when, the hands on the western face of the Concord Campus Clock Tower reached 5:05pm (or was it a.m.?), and stopped moving. The eastern face of the clock stopped keeping time as well, although whether that occurred simultaneously or shortly after the western face, is a matter of campus debate.

What everyone does agree on is that the time piece was considered irreparable. With Cal State East Bay hammered by massive budget cuts, the university’s facilities team was hard pressed to maintain the systems necessary for daily operations, let alone support mechanisms that were largely decorative. After the clock’s state of disrepair moved beyond months into years, most of the discussion surrounding its future involved the removal of the time piece altogether, replacing the faces with boards bearing the university logo.

But now, after years of budget induced slumber, and thanks to the hard work and persistence of our Facilities team, the Concord Campus Clock Tower is keeping time again. The little clock between Contra Costa Hall and the Campus Union is finally back.

And maybe not so coincidentally, the Concord campus is back too.

A clock tower, especially one as diminutive as the one at the Concord Campus (it only stands approximately 20 feet tall), wouldn’t seem terribly important in this day and age. Most students don’t even wear a wrist watch after all, preferring to get the time off their phones. And here I thought phones were for playing video games.

The clock tower’s seemingly functional irrelevancy is nothing new. Clock towers date back to antiquity, and were usually located at the center of cities or towns as a public time keeper. Before the 1880s, almost every urban community in the United States had a central, public time piece, maintained by a local resident, who adjusted the clock according to the local position of the sun. But the railroad companies figured out pretty quickly that you can’t make a regional railroad schedule if every single town in the United States was on its own time system. And so the railroads created standard time zones (you know, Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific) so they could make a railroad schedule that made sense. With that the town time keeper became obsolete, and with the increasing availability of cheap pocket watches, who really needed a clock tower anyway?

But some institutions, especially universities, continued to build large multi-story clock towers, really as an aesthetic statement more than anything else. One has to admit, many of them are pretty impressive. You’ve seen Sather Tower at Berkeley. But few people rely upon them to keep time. And that begs the question: if clock towers aren’t really there to tell the time, why do we have them? The answer is simple. Clock towers are symbols of community and institutional relevance.

Community and institutional relevance.  Now that’s something.

When the Concord Campus was being designed over twenty years ago, an architect or official chose to either suggest at a meeting, or draw into plans, a small clock tower that would serve as the center of the public quad. Former university president Norma Reese, who passed away last June, at some point reviewed and approved those plans. My assumption is that the group, led by the President, wanted to give the campus a “collegiate” feel, to have its students sense that they were at the center of a vibrant community of learning, to appreciate that the institution of which they were now a part was relevant to the growth and sustainability of the surrounding region.  

The little clock tower was from its inception more than a symbol, a metaphor for Cal State East Bay’s commitment to improving access to public higher education in Contra Costa County. When the clock stopped working, it ironically also served as a constant reminder of the recession driven crisis in California's system of public higher education.

Well, the clock is ticking again, and once again, its motions serve as symbols for the fate of the wider campus. The road ahead is full of challenges, but we are driving numerous initiatives to bring it back. We are working with the University’s four colleges to return popular programs lost during the budget crisis, while investigating new majors that speak to the educational aspirations of our students. We’ve introduced a free student shuttle between the campus and the Concord BART station; opened a new, state of the art organic chemistry lab; increased student support services in a variety of areas; and are reaching out to our community partners to garner their ideas on how the campus can best meet the educational needs of Contra Costa County. These steps are just the opening moves in our aim to rebuild our learning community.   

And you thought I just wanted to talk about a clock tower. Well, its back. And it matters.    

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California State University, East Bay is the San Francisco East Bay Area's high-access public university of choice. CSUEB serves the region with campuses in Hayward and Concord, a professional development center in Oakland, and an innovative online campus. With an enrollment of more than 14,000, the University offers a nationally recognized freshman year experience, award-winning curriculum, personalized instruction, and expert faculty. Students choose from among more than 100 professionally focused fields of study for which the University confers bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as an Ed.D. in education. Named a "Best in the West" college, as well as a Best Business School, by the influential Princeton Review, Cal State East Bay is among the region's foremost producers of teachers, business professionals and entrepreneurs, public administrators, health professionals, literary and performing artists, and science and math graduates.

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