By Ronald Trowbridge (public statement to the Board of Trustees, Lone Star College in Texas)
Emily Dickinson observed, “Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed.” We tend too often to take things for granted and should instead count our blessings. Now living in Oakland, California, I wish to compare community colleges there to Lone Star College in Texas. Lone Star triumphs mightily in the comparison. There are four community colleges close to my home. All are in trouble financially, requesting bailouts; all are losing student numbers; all seem glorified high schools, with 5,000 or 6,000 students and all are explicitly political in their missions. During the six years I taught at Lone Star College, Montgomery, the administration never once imposed or required politics. During the six years I served on the Board of Trustees, the Board never was political, even though the Board was comprised of roughly half Democrats and half Republicans. Politics never entered our deliberations, not once.
In San Francisco, City College of San Francisco, with 69,208 students, presently suffers a $32 million deficit and no reserve funding. Even worse, a new state law will dumb down regular classes by eliminating all remedial English and math classes that give no college credit. Lone Star College has over 85,000 students, a reserve fund of over $60 million, and does not dumb down regular classes for college credit. A recent audit reveals at City College that 178 faculty members had been paid $5.4 million beyond what they had worked. And recently a Board of Governors representing some 9,000 instructors took a no-confidence vote in the state chancellor’s office that oversees the 114 community-college campuses.
I moved to California last September to be near my daughter in my old age. I wanted to consider teaching at one of the four community colleges near my home—until I looked at their mission statements. All focused on the same mission to teach “education, diversity, and social justice.” In other words, teaching was to be political. I wanted to teach English, not politics. And frankly, my having worked for President Reagan and later Chief Justice Warren Burger was not a plus. I heard Reagan described as “racist.”
What I absolutely loved about teaching at Lone Star College, Montgomery and being on the Board of Trustees was that the college helped so many low-income kids get an education, a degree, and a good job. Having myself grown up in poverty, I especially appreciated the humanity of the college. This had nothing to do with politics, but rather with education for a human and humane purpose. The highlight of my twelve-year career at Lone Star College occurred when I asked the graduating class at Lone Star College, North Harris, “How many of you are the first in your extended family to go to college and to graduate?” An amazing 40 percent raised their hands. This was sheer beauty. This was poetry.
The voters in California have democratically chosen to make their state politically left leaning in virtually every governmental and administrative capacity. That is, I must emphasize, their choice. But it includes political, left leaning instruction at community colleges. Here at Lone Star College the focus, instead, is on education—by the faculty, the administration, and the Board of Trustees.
In sum, Lone Star College is a beautiful, humane, human, well managed place. Not so in California. Count your blessings, Texas.