Jim Thorpe


Jim Thorpe

As it turned out, instead of people interviewing me, I actually started here at Saddleback because I happened to interview the Dean of Instruction at Saddleback for a job at a college up in Northern California the year before. He didn't take our job; he took the one down here to start Saddleback. I thought he was a pretty good guy, Fred Bremer. I decided to go and interview for the job down here. So because I recommended him to be hired, he recommended me to be hired. It's a trade-off, but whatever happened, I got the job. I was on the quarter system up there, which was part of the reason I may have been hired, because Saddleback started out on the quarter system. It was unique in Southern California for a community college to be on the quarter system.

We started out in two model homes across from Mission Viejo High School. Only one of the model homes had plumbing though. My division was Science, Math, Engineering and Technology, and we would be over in line in the other building because they had two bathrooms. Jack Roper, who was the Superintendent of the District, insisted on having an executive bathroom. So he and the secretary got to use one bathroom and about 12 of us got to use the other one. So that was actually our major consideration when we started out.

We had no desks to speak of, but we worked pretty hard on a bond issue for the college at that time. And I established my credentials right before the bond issue by taking out a slide rule, shifting it back and forth, and telling the members of the Board of Trustees that we were going to get 69.8% of the vote. I just made that up. And the vote for bonds hit exactly 69.8% of the vote, and passed. We had to get the two-thirds. Everybody tried to figure out how I could do that with the slide rule. And, of course, that's the way to do it. In elections you use all your scientific data and then you guess. But you never let anyone know.

We had to have funding down the line to build the permanent buildings. The library was the first one of those. But in the meantime they used the bond funds to buy temporary buildings. The original campus was located where Mission Hospital is now. Crown Valley Parkway was our access, because Marguerite Parkway wasn't actually built at that time. You came up Avery on one end of the campus or Crown Valley on the other. After one year, Mission Viejo Company had not really consummated the land sale to the college and decided that they wanted to use the temporary site, so they welded I-beams around the outside of these temporary buildings and rolled them on rollers over the hill and down to the flat area down below where they are now, on the old campus that Cal State Fullerton uses. Most of these buildings are still there although the floors have been changed a number of times.

During the first year, we were plagued by frogs. During our first final exams, the water had seeped underneath these temporary buildings and was sitting there. There was a huge mass of frogs down there, and they wanted the heat, I guess. And they were all calling each other. So here were people trying to take a math final exam, and then about every about 15 minutes or so they would just break into laughter. The frogs would seem to get higher and higher all the time. Someone made the suggestion that since we had a lot of rattlesnakes on campus, because we were kind of out in the open, that we could just keep catching rattlesnakes and throw them under the building until they ate all the frogs.

Our faculty office was kind of a bullpen. We had wooden dividers between us and we would have interesting conversations, but you never saw anybody you were talking to. Every once in a while you'd be having a conversation and somebody would get up and go to class, and you'd say, "Jean, what do you think?" And there wou1d be silence and then you would get up and look around the corner and find out that Jean had gone to class. Of course, when the students came in, it was sort of like an old one-room school. Babble, babble, babble going on all over the place. The secretaries were sort of jammed in out in front of the area. But it had the kind of esprit de corps, you know, that really makes a beginning operation work well because we were all there together, literally building the college in some cases.

I remember we had other problems, like a strike that kept a lot of the furniture in St. Louis until Christmas. Maybe that was the second year. The lab tables finally arrived on Saturday, and I remember Lee Rhodes and I came down and helped the maintenance people get out the tools and start putting those lab tables together so we'd have them on Monday. We only had one or two maintenance people. It would have taken them another week, probably, to get it together. We got out with students and built sand volleyball courts and things of that sort. It was a real group effort. We buiIt  the college, literally. All of us.

A number of the students just kind of hung out a little bit in the afternoon. Since we were all neighbors, you know, we saw them as they grew up. I've had grandchildren of some of my original students in class in the last couple of years that I taught. It's a generational thing. And then sometimes I'd get mothers and fathers of the students I had who had come back to school to change careers or retired and decided to come back and just use education as a way to keep their minds sharp.

Community colleges are very unique. We do all kinds of things. We' re really integrated in the community, and most of us live here or close to here. We participated in the lives of the students in and out of the classroom, and they in ours.

One of the things that was really great about Saddleback was that Fred Bremer, who was then the Dean of Instruction and later became the Superintendent, was very good at delegating authority. As a chair of the division, I had to do that too. I was the second or third faculty hired. (George Hartman in P.E. and athletics, the football coach, was hired first, and then I think Mitchell came in as Director of Community Services and Public Relations.) We had a Dean of Students, Bud Weber, who had a lot of disagreements with people and never made it to the opening of the college. Then we had other division chairs, Howard Marcou in Business, and Bill Williams in Social Science, and Doyle McKinney. He was the guy that I always talked to because he and I were the most liberal in the faculty. J had a crew cut at the lime, so nobody knew that. It didn't seem that Science/Math would end up being the political area, but about nine out of the ten of the first Faculty Association and Academic Senate Presidents all came from the Science/Math Division. We ended up being the radicals. However, we didn’t 't plan it that way.

Hiring faculty was one of the first things that we did, and we also worked on curriculum. Since we were going into the quarter system, we spent a lot of time going over the catalog of Chabot College up east of Oakland, which happened to be on the quarter system. Where we could, we talked to a lot of people, got on the phone a lot and talked about how they were doing things, but we really sat down and wrote the curriculum. We had some great discussions about how things should be done.

Even if there were only two chairs in a particular room, we ended up going back and forth. In the summer between the first and second year when those buildings were getting ready to be moved, we had to get out, and so the Department Chairs worked in the summer. We moved over to Crown Valley Elementary School where the prized possession was an adult-sized chair. They stored most of our equipment down in some storage areas over by Forbes Road off Crown Valley Parkway. We had to move back into the buildings after they'd been moved. We were all jammed together, working together all the time, sharing secretaries in some cases, and arguing about which secretary we should hire. It was collegial, but we certainly didn't agree on a lot of things. We had different attitudes that came from different places and wanted to do different things.

I was relatively young with experience, and my background was actually that I have a master's degree in political science as well as one in math. I'm not a mad science person. I went out and hired people who had been department chairs in science-Rhodes came in, Frank Sciarrotta, people who really knew what they were doing, Bob Parsons, who was a physicist. There were people I could just say, just as Fred Bremer would say, "Okay, you make this division work." And they had to order materials and things. After Jack Roper left, there was no "status," and we got to start sharing the restroom and things of that sort. We pretty much became a group trying to get things off the ground and get the bookstore setup and the textbooks ordered. Arlene Moore was the first librarian ... did a wonderful job of throwing together a library. That was part of what we had to do, too, put together a whole, big book list to get a library going at the time fall came around.

Back then, we were making all kinds of policies about things. There were some policies that the Board made that we didn't like. Clipping-the-hair policy was one that most of the faculty were not really very happy about. In fact, there were some clashes when they tried to enforce that by pulling people out of the classroom and telling them to get a haircut.

The great thing about teaching is that you go into the classroom and that's yours, and you and the students’ progress. We got off and running--900 hundred or so students the first year, and then we added a second (sophomore) the next year. And we began to grow, and we've been growing ever since.

We pretty much took it all as it came. It was a Board that had some definite, conservative, political philosophies. One member was a John Birch Society member. I'm sure that they didn't want to have students running things, because there had been a lot of student uprisings in the '60s. They didn't want that to happen here. We kept pointing out to them that these were Southern Orange County students, and we didn't really have a whole lot of radicals. A few from Laguna Beach looked like radicals, but they were really just surfers.

I had really almost an unlimited budget to go out and buy science equipment. The biggest challenge was that we had to pry students away from Orange Coast College, which had drawn most of the students from this area. The whole purpose of forming the District was that it was costing the taxpayers a lot of money. We had mostly students going to Orange Coast, some going to Santa Ana. and in addition to that there was a $300 seat tax. We actually built many of the buildings at Orange Coast College with our taxpayers' money. Orange Coast grew bigger and faster than we did, and they had a lot of buildings and a lot more facilities. So they were really competing with us, and we had to sell people on the idea that we could get them just as good an education and that we were going to do a great job and that they would be happy when they left here. I think what happened was that the 900 students or so that we had the first year became our sales people. We had a high-quality faculty. Saddleback's had the pick of the litter, so to speak.

Classes weren't very big. In many cases we probably had classes to begin with that were a little smaller than some of the ones that they had in high school, because high schools were bursting at the seams about that time as growth was taking place throughout the District. Because we spent money on equipment, we had first-class stuff. Our science equipment was first-class, and we had programmable computers right away, actually programmable calculators (that was before we got computers.) And it wasn't too long before we got into the computer age, but we stayed right out there on the front edge of technology. Students could see that they were going to get a good education. We didn't do the old balancing scales with the little weights anymore, we had electronic scales that did the balancing and first-class electron microscopes early on and things of that sort.

Over in some areas like Fine Arts, they had Doyle McKinney who was always coming up with things like oral interpretation festivals. I was just talking about the early days of theater. I got drafted into theater since I was the first one to have the guts to grow a beard, partially because I was on the San Juan City Council by then. I didn't think they would fire me for it. It wasn't part of the faculty dress code, but I had a beard for the Hairiest Man contest, and I kept it. So they drafted me to be in the Shakespeare play. They were doing "Hamlet." So Jim Hines, who was teaching the Shakespeare course at the time, got to be Hamlet's uncle, and I got to be the ghost of Hamlet's father, which was a lot of fun. I really hadn't done anything like that before. It was in Building R, but we had to run out back and go over to the next building, whether it was raining or not, to change clothes and get ready for the next scene. But again, here's the faculty and students working together. Jo Bennett and Bonnie Cogbill worked on that one. It was just a lot of fun. The people in the community began to come and tryout for the plays and get involved.

Our football team did well from the beginning. People were getting involved at all levels. It was in the days when student populations were a little more traditional, but we pushed right away for total inclusion: older students who were coming back to school, and very early in the process we got a lot of women. That was a time when women were coming back and training to go into various professions as families changed to two occupation families. So the returning women began to get involved in student government and so forth. Even one of the faculty member's wives got to be involved in student council and became very outspoken ­probably caused him a lot of pain, but that was good. And we had the veterans coming back from the Vietnam War, so we had a good mix of ages, and I think that helps in a college setting.

Since I was state president of a couple of facuIty association groups, California Community College Association, California Higher Education Association and on the Board of Directors of the CTA, I kind of went around the state a lot. I don't think that things ever got as bureaucratic here actually as they did in many of the other districts, especially the big districts like L.A. and Peralta/Oakland area. But, little by little, I think what happens is, the management gets pushed further and further from where things are happening. We started out as chairs, we didn't have deans but we did the dean's job (what would now be a dean's job). We all taught half-time and were administrators half-time, and then they gave us an additional contract to be around in the summer to do more management things. So, you know, we knew, if the heat wasn't working in one of these temporary buildings or that the frogs are making a lot of noise, we could respond pretty quickly to needs. In fact, we didn't have to have somebody write us notes, we wrote ourselves notes.

Well, pretty soon there were department chairs and deans, and then there were deans who became vice presidents over the other deans, and little by little things changed. The state also became much more bureaucratic. We went through a period of time when they de-funded a bunch of courses. Then my wife, who still teaches in the Emeritus Institute, was teaching synchronized swimming, and synchronized swimming was taken out. The macramé courses were the big ones, and they took out a lot of P.E. courses because community colleges were growing so fast that they'd become a big part of the state budget. As a result of that, we had to go through these changes as the state changed its mind and got lobbied. After they' d thrown tennis out, they got a whole lot of tennis people starting to go to the Boards and the State Boards. Pretty soon tennis carne back. Synchronized swimming never did, for some reason or other.

At one point they told us, "Okay we' re gonna reduce the number of units that part-timers can teach without having to be put on contract." And the Board went ahead and decided to cut every part-timer back from 60% maximum to 40% maximum. And that has a big staffing implication. Though it was never worked out through both houses of Legislature, they decided to do it in advance. So that's one of the things that I saw over a period of time. To start with, we could pretty much do whatever we needed to do. We were sort of a committee of the whole, and just about every faculty member was involved in the committee. Now, we've got a huge faculty, and some of them can kind of do their own teaching thing without getting involved in the government structure.

In fact, I've seen some of the problems Saddleback 's had. The depoliticalization, you might say, of the faculty in the way that they used to be. Saddleback was one of the most active faculties, and still is. We didn't agree a good deal of the time, but we were very active in a lot of things. We were making things happen from the top to the bottom over the years. That sort of got lost. We also changed the nature of the Board of Trustees several times by getting out and working in elections to work against those people we thought were not creating the best educational opportunity, to try to get some more friendly people elected. Even when we lost, we had an effect there. So that's changed a lot, I think, over a period of time.

We wanted our own Board of Governors in the State and got separated from the State Board of Education, but our Board of Governors then began to get very bureaucratic and sent us regulations. Then we had to start doing all this paperwork stuff, and we had to have people who did paperwork. The Dean of Instruction's position at Saddleback College, ever since Fred Bremer, has never been what I think the Dean of Instruction should be. They have to deal with scheduling and bureaucracy all the time; and deal with the state requirements; and try to make the schedule come out; and distribute the OSH [One Semester Hour], which determines how many part-time instructors you can have. They never get a chance to say, "Oh, here's a new instructional idea. Let's do something like this." Once in a while, the chancellors would come in with some wild idea like Larry Stevens did, and we went through all kinds of little groups and did all kinds of stuff. Then, in the middle of the summer, he said, "Well, it was a good exercise, but we decided we didn't like the conclusions."

The best thing that I ever did at Saddleback College turned out to be the Interdisciplinary Studies Program, which unfortunately has kind of petered out. but at the time, we won a couple of awards from the National Endowment for Humanities. It was really Bob Lombardi and Jody Hoy's idea, but we had a group of people get together and create these courses, which were cross-disciplinary. We had as many as six faculty members, 120 students, and then we met in small group sections, too. We brought in all kinds of great people.

One of the great experiences under this program was created jointly with Fine Arts and Doyle McKinney. Maya Angelou, who was to speak at one of the Oral Interpretation Festivals, came on campus to do a session with all our interdisciplinary studies classes in Science/Math 313. I remember it was just packed. She was working on a musical, which she sang for us a cappella. I got the chance to go to Doyle's house and meet with her afterwards.

We had a former Harvard faculty member who, at the time, was named Richard Alpert. Little did I know at the time, he was doing experiments with Timothy Leary and later went on to become Baba Ram Das. And he came in robes and sat cross-legged up there on the desk in the front of the room and shared philosophy. We found out later that the guy had come full circle and he was doing corporate seminars. He'd helped corporate executives get in touch with themselves.

I remember Bill Heffernan doing a great poet series, bringing in authors and poets. I got convinced that all courses should be interdisciplinary, actually, and team-taught. I've been really lucky to team-teach. I team­taught in Math with Jean Vincenzi. I team-taught with about 12 or 15 different people in the Interdisciplinary Studies Program -more recently, Mike Merrifield, who is always a kick, and with Pat Grignon.

In the early days, we had a number of us who did pretty well at the State level with awards, and Vincenzi won an award at the state level . And I got one. And Pat Grignon got one. And then we've had some really outstanding faculty members like Bill Holston, who I still fish with. I've learned more history from him! And I learned a lot from students. Interdisciplinary Studies Program was set up so that there wasn't just straight lecture, there was a lot of feedback and discussion. We had a woman who would come in and tell us they just got off a battleship and told us about the drug problems among the enlisted people on battleships. We had people, a woman from Leisure World who was married to a producer in Hollywood. We had people talking about subliminal seduction, about subliminal messages, who said that she was working as part of a business program on creating subliminal messages for Bell Potato Chips at a time when everybody said, "They don't do that anymore." And she said, ''I'm doing it now."

A tremendous amount of interaction. And it underscores what you can do at the community-college level. I've spent a few years at the university level, mostly as a teaching assistant, and I know how slowly curriculum changes there. You have to jump over a lot of hoops. Well, you can move things through a curriculum at Saddleback College a little faster, only the State bureaucracy has slowed that down. But, you know, if we decide that we've got people who are committed to do something, we're going to spend the time and the effort. We're going out to grab a grant someplace, you can do that.

I put in for a grant one year and did a whole series of tapes on intermediate algebra in the TV studio with one camera hanging over the top of a set, which crashed down on me at one point. I was there with a grease pencil working on just some paper and using an overhead projector, and we threw this thing together. You could do that 'cause people were willing to let you try, and your colleagues were usually not territorial. When the budgets have been tight, "Don't take any money out of there!" But most of the time, you know, we were really willing as Saddleback faculty and faculty of the District to say, "Yeah, let those people try something new and different because that's the only way that the whole educational program improves." So we got into each other's areas. We supported the athletics, and we had coaches who actually tried to get their students to be able to transfer to other places, so we were happy with that. They brought us in to help them academically. We got involved in things.

One night, when I had a very small role in a production -and I would take a break in the middle of my three-hour class and go over and get fitted, made up and do a role and come back -I gave them a long study break in the middle. They'd say, "What are you doing for math over there in the theater?" I said, "Well, you know, if you're gonna have a life, you' ve got to be interested in more than just mathematics. You've got to be interested in everything." And we supported each other. In the Interdisciplinary Studies we gave people credit for going to things they'd never seen before. We took them up into East Los Angeles and drove around to look at the art on the walls; and we put them on a train and took them downtown in L.A. Many people had never been on a train before ­probably the only time in some of their lives that they took that much time on public transit. But they became aware of the fact that this can be done and that many people don' t own cars, especially in the eastern part of the United States, of course.

Just a few years ago, I had a student, a woman who went through this campus after having been attacked, having her face disfigured and blinded, who came to class with her dog, and even though she couldn't see the blackboard, she listened. I had had some blind students before, and I kind or learned that if you repeal everything you're writing on the blackboard, they've developed the skill to listen to that. She got an A in the class. I blatantly used it to shave a few of the other students in the classroom who complained about going too fast. She's getting it and she's getting perfect scores on the quizzes. The fact that we deal with such a wide range of people!