Eyes grew moist and looks of disbelief spread over the faces of the students, staff and faculty as Perrin announced he would leave soon to head the Council on Postsecondary Accreditation.
Then, after the message had sunk in, nearly everyone seemed to want to shake Perrin's hand, wish him well.
What a difference eight years makes.
In June 1983, when Perrin became the university's 12th president, the staff, students and faculty were in near-revolt over the unceremonious dumping of Perrin's predecessor, Charles G. Mayo.
For most of his eight years on the job, Mayo had feuded with State Rep. Elinor Z. Taylor (R., Chester), whom he ousted from her job as an academic dean. Though both Taylor and then-Gov. Dick Thornburgh denied it, students, legislators and others believe Thornburgh fired Mayo in August 1982 in exchange for Taylor's support for the governor's budget. Mayo was fired after university trustees voted no confidence in his administration.
Perrin, then acting provost and academic dean, was made interim president and eventually won out over several other candidates to keep the top job.
"I came (into the job) under the worst conditions," Perrin said after yesterday's announcement. "A terrible cloud hung over the university."
Perrin, a man skilled at turning a humorous phrase, immediately waded into the hostile college environment. After numerous faculty and staff get- togethers and informal chats with students, he created a we're-all-in-this-together atmosphere that still thrives.
"The ambience of the campus has improved," said Dennis Klinzing, chairman of the University Forum, which includes students, staff, faculty and administrators. "That's one of Dr. Perrin's skills, to make the campus a family. He's very well-liked."
Despite regrets at leaving his "family," Perrin said he is looking forward to the challenge of overseeing accreditation issues, a job he starts in July. An interim president at West Chester University has not yet been named.
Perrin oversaw the growth of West Chester from a college into the second largest university in the state system. The university reached out into the community with a satellite campus in Exton.
Student retention from freshman to sophomore year has increased from 71 percent in 1983 to 84 percent in fall 1990, according to West Chester University figures. Perrin said he is especially pleased to see applications
from blacks up by 24 percent over last year.
"I want diversity on this campus," said Perrin, a noted researcher of communicative disorders who holds a doctorate in speech science from Stanford University.
Perrin also is credited with straightening out the fiscal problems that plagued the college during Mayo's time. Contributions are up, enabling the university to revive its Philips Lecture series, which brings noted speakers to the campus, and to build an addition to the science center, according to Klinzing. Additions to cope with a shortage of student housing are planned.
Perrin said his one disappointment was his inability to stop the borough
from retaking control of streets that run through the university.