John W. Cassell, who had been serving as academic dean of Pacific Union College when he was selected as president in 1972, saw the College's highest enrollment ever - 2,300 in the 1975-76 year - during his administration. When Dr. Cassell's presidency ended, enrollment was nearing the bottom of a free-fall - at 1,443 in the 1983-84 year.
In the midst of his 11-year leadership, President Cassell brought to campus the widely-known Seventh-day Adventist theologian Desmond Ford. As the result of some of Ford's public statements, first the campus, and then the constituency was thrown into turmoil. Historian Walter Utt was led to write in his history of the College that PUC's centennial year (1982) was "perhaps the most difficult the school has had to face since the closure of Healdsburg."
The theological turmoil spread to a decrease in constituency confidence in the College, and that led to a rapid decline in enrollment. It quickly erased from memory many of the positive accomplishments of President Cassell in the earlier years of his administration, and led to his resignation in 1983.