Bob Parsons


Bob Parsons

Physics Instructor Bob ParsonsI'm almost positive of this, that I was the last person hired the first year and there were some 30 or 32 of us. Jim Thorpe hired me. I taught at Costa Mesa High and I figured I wanted to get the shot, and I'm not gonna get it if I don't have something special. So I put down that I was the best that there was (which I believe still) and Thorpe, to his credit, didn't hold it against me. He said some people did. Some people thought that I was arrogant. I said, "Hell, I had to do something different." So that's how I got in here in Physics. I was the last one. I think Thorpe liked me, and I liked him. Then I got interviewed by Fred Bremer and somebody else. Bremer said, essentially, "Are you gonna do what we tell you?" And hell yes, I wanted this job! I wasn't going to worry about some little, petty things. "Will you work at night?" I said, "Hell yes, I'll work at night. I'll do whatever you want; it's too good of a job." Finally, Thorpe got them to appropriate the money for one more person. I think there were only 32 of us. We were in that one room. I remember Grace Lange being right behind me in this big office we had. We were all together. That was kind of neat ' cause everybody knew everybody.

Well I got to teach Physics, which is really fun. We had five quarters of Physics here: A, B, C, D, and E.  I do remember this: On the last quarter, I was down to eight students I had to volunteer to teach for free at seven in the morning because they were going to cancel the last step. (There was no union or anything.) I said, "Look, you can't have a Physics major if you don't offer the courses." So I said I would do it for nothing. And they relented, and they paid me. I think we got great students here. I love this place.

I was on the original campus before it got moved, and I can describe the night before they started pouring asphalt. I mean, there was dirt around the temporary buildings, and I actually worked until four in the morning in my classroom putting stuff away. I went home, took a shower, and came back to start school. That was how hectic it really was at the beginning. You know, we had these temporary buildings. We did have money for equipment, but wasn’t there when the equipment was ordered, so I had a lot of stuff I didn't know what it was. But we were kind of rich beyond all dreams before Proposition 13. So we had good equipment. We had kind of a makeshift lab.

Another thing was registration. Faculty was there. Faculty was right there talking to students face-to-face. I thought that was a really good deal. I remember Andrew Kish saying to a guy who was complaining that his classes were closed, "No, no, no, there's Russian, Physics. They're not closed." The guy was looking for some "skater" classes, you know.

They pretty much just turned the whole program over to me. I had a course outline of what was done at other community colleges. We had stuff from Santa Ana, Cerritos, Pasadena City College. I went to Pasadena City College, so I was somewhat familiar with the curriculum, and I just decided to use the standard text. The labs I pretty much invented myself. I never used canned labs. The tough part is the lab. I had a course outline. There are standards from the state that say if you're gonna be accredited you're gonna do this, this, this, this. And then the other thing you've got to look at is if people can transfer. And so I checked. I called local places. I said, "Is this gonna work, and is this gonna work?" And as far as I know we've never had a challenge.

My favorite school story, I think, is (I actually did do this) when we were on the original campus, there wasn't enough electricity. I knew where the electric panels were, where the circuit breakers were. They weren't too far from the Physics Building. So in the afternoon the power would go off. It was pretty routine, particularly at the beginning of school when it was hot. I had stuff going on and felt I needed electricity. So I would actually go over to where these circuit breakers were and turn off the Administration Building. I turned off Fred Bremer and whoever else was down there, and I turned on Physics. Now ultimately they caught me, and they locked it up and said, "You can't be doing that." But I thought my priorities were appropriate. Physics needed the power more than the paper shufflers.

I've always had what's called a gut-level approach to physics. I had this Vietnamese girl;  I'd never forget this. We had this quite difficult lab to do, and she was almost legally blind. And you'd have to look through this telescope and Millikan's oil-drop experiment to measure the charge on an electron. So I had people working on this, and it's kind of tedious. I said to her one day when she had turned in the assignment, "So did you really measure this?' She hesitated, and I said, "Now, how much time did you spend doing this?" She said, "Well, I just sort of copied it." But then she decided she was really going to do it. And she probably spent, I don't know, 20, 30, 40 hours doing it. You know, I sort of caught her, and she decided, "All right, I will do what's the right thing." I thought that was a great story.

Here's another student's story. I never knew what happened to her. Her name was Doris Early. She was in our first class of seven guys and one gal. She was the best. She was as good as we ever had, and she went on to school, but then she dropped out. The last I knew, she was a bartender, but she could converse with people about physics as a bartender. Her favorite musician was Joe Cocker. But I always wondered what happened to Doris Early.

The first thing that comes to my mind about the challenges that I've faced is that I've always been willing to take too many students. Never complained, and I tried to act professionally. But then they start messing around and saying, "You've got to have exactly this number." That used to really get my attention. I'd say, "Now wait a minute. What about some average?" I finally managed to keep everything going. They were going to cut back and just run things like a bunch of bean counters, you know, a bunch of bottom-liners, and I don't like that. I think they should treat me more professionally, because I act that way. I never complained. It's weird. This was a strange place in one way. If I do the right thing, if I don't do anything wrong, I'll never hear from anybody. If I make one mistake, oh, oh, look out. The administration around this place! Half their job is to make the place run right, make the trains run on time, but the other half is to try to be helpful, friendly, cooperative, supportive -and they don't do that half of the job, a lot of them. When I was Division Chairman, I did. I realized, okay, what I'm supposed to 'be doing is being helpful, not being obstructive like a lot. And that's my biggest gripe.

Over 30 years, the first big change was to move up here (to the new building). Then, I was involved in the Faculty Association and Academic Senate when the senate first got started. I was trying to get the senate started so they could handle the difficult issues. I was the Faculty Association President, and I wasn't going to have all these problems. The biggest change is just the size. You cannot be as intimate, knowing people and have as much fun in a big institution.

You know, it's the people who have made this place exceptional. I think when we hired originally, we had a very high percentage of really dedicated teachers. We were going to try to spend more time with office hours, more classes. We designed a classroom so they couldn't get too big. And we just had good people. It's the people; and it started out with a bunch of good people 'cause you have the good salary schedule. I mean, we could hire a guy like Harold Freeman who came in with a lot of experience. Other schools couldn't hire him, he was too expensive.

I'm glad I went back to teaching. There is no one experience that stands out. I was a paper shuffler for seven years, and I'm glad I went back. [Chancellor] Larry Stevens had a lot to do with that. I didn't want to work for that guy. And so I got to go back into the classroom, which I thought was great. I know what it's like to be a middle administrator. That's a tough job.

To the faculty of the future, I would say: "This is a really good job because you are free to teach. You're paid well to teach. You have good students. You do not have to do research. And research is a problem. I've been there. I've been to UCLA, where people didn't have the time of day. They had to do this publish-or-perish deal. I think the community college system is a marvelous deal. And I think it's an incredible bargain for high school students. And to the faculty, you can't have a better job than this. You're paid well. You have reasonable hours. You have a nice area. How can you beat it?

Maybe another story -field trips. The original board was petrified of field trips. They thought there would be all kinds of problems. I remember we had a [faculty] guy in Geology who went on a field trip without permission. He went somewhere in Death Valley, and the students all loved it. But when they came back, he got in all kinds of trouble. There was going to be a board meeting about it, so he put up on the bulletin board for students to come to the board meeting to express that they wanted to have field trips. Well, this was up on the bulletin board. So Fred Bremer sent R.L. Platt out there to take this posting down off the wall and bring it as evidence. And this faculty guy saw him doing it. And they almost got in a fist fight. I said, "Wait, wait, wait, you guys better cool it here." Well, ultimately we got field trips, but it was like pulling teeth. You know where the library is, well, it looks like a fort like Fort Knox because the original Board were afraid of the students.

Another original faculty member was Frank Sciarrotta. He was killed by cigarettes. He was the strongest individual that I had ever seen. He was a boxer, and he could catch flies with his hand. Frank was a good Division Chairman 'cause he said, "Hey, we can do anything. We can get more money. We can do more." He went one time to Fred Bremer with a budget for supplies that he had doubled, and Bremer okayed it. So we got twice as much money as we thought. He thought big. That guy thought big ... he wasn't a little, narrow-minded guy. I mean, that's why the Science/ Math building is like it is, we never really used it all. It had this big photography lab. I don't even know if you know it's down there. All this stuff we had, and that was because he was kind of a visionary, Frank Sciarrotta.

Yeah, to the faculty of tomorrow, you know, be professional and do a really, really, really good job, and then if you've got time to bitch and raise hell, go for it.