Monday, July 30, 2012

SOCCCD's first superintendent: clashed with trustees; bailed fast

     The SOCCCD has a history of rogue boards and it is clear that the phenomenon, for us, started with our first board, way back in the sixties. Back then, while other districts concerned themselves with, oh, instruction, the original SOCCCD trustees occupied themselves with male students' hair length and with fears that Saddleback College’s new library might not be defendable against imagined student protesters (who never materialized).
     One possible chapter in that story concerns the district’s first Superintendent/President, a man named Jack Roper. In a Times article (“Saddleback College Chief Rejects Offer of 3-Year Contract”) from June 26, 1968, we learn that, a few months before the college’s opening, Saddleback College’s new (and first) superintendent, Roper, declined to sign a new contract:
     Roper, in a letter submitted to trustees at the close of an executive session Monday, indicated his reason for leaving is the failure of trustees to accept “certain key recommendations made by me and my staff.”
     In an interview Tuesday he said there was not any one reason for his decision but mainly “general displeasure with the job itself.”
. . .
     He said the board’s action on the budget—increasing reserves and cutting out staff-recommended positions—may have been a culminating factor in his decision because there were “negatives” but were not the main reason….
     Roper said he has not definitely decided on his next position, but he may return to the Orange County schools office where he had been serving as a deputy superintendent prior to going to Saddleback last September.
     Board President Hans Vogel also discounted any disagreement between Roper and the trustees as a major factor in Roper’s decision.
     Vogel said Roper was questioning four months ago whether to stay in junior college administration and that he had urged Roper to give the work a full trial.
     However, Vogel said, Roper’s rejection of a new $25,00-a-year contract came as a “shock” to the board Monday night. “But it left us no choice but to accept his resignation—with sincere regrets,” he said.
     The Times article explained that, at a meeting the next Monday, the board would “set criteria for Roper’s replacement and may actually make an appointment.” It appeared then that the job would go to Dr. Fred Bremer, recently named VP of the college.
     That is indeed what happened. (Bremer had been president of a community college in Nebraska and then a dean at Santa Ana College. He was chairman of the education division at Chapman before arriving at Saddleback in October.)

The "GOP" community college district, c. 1968
     When Roper accepted his 10-month contract at Saddleback, he “had taken a year’s leave of absence from the County Schools office.” While secretary to the OC Committee on School Organization, Roper had assisted in developing plans for Saddleback College. After Saddleback trustees interviewed 57 (evidently unsatisfactory) applicants, they asked Roper to make himself available for the job. (It appears that Roper was involved in hearings concerning a possible south county district starting in 1966.)
     The Times quotes Roper’s letter:
     “It is with regret and long thought that I must decline the new three-year contract…. There have been many rewarding successes this last year to be sure, but certain key recommendations made by me and my staff have not found approval by the representatives of this school community.
     “Because I am deeply committed to the concept of the true community college spirit, I feel it would be in the best interests of the school district and the young students whom it serves if I would step down as superintendent and president.
     “To move forward rapidly to meet emerging deadlines and crises, a new district must have an administration and school board with congruent goals and philosophies. I sincerely hope that the board will find such a man as my successor.”
     According to the Times,
     Roper said he was concerned because the board had not approved proposals on staff organization and felt financing for the start of the new college was not flexible enough.
He confirmed he was also disturbed because the proposed 1968-69 budget had been pared by the board to provide more than $200,000 in reserves, the extended-day program was curtailed and limited to the campus and several new positions recommended by the staff were dropped.
     Sounds like “micromanagement” to me.
     A minimum in “reserves” for community college districts is required by the state. Indeed, the SOCCCD was placed on warning by the state for falling below the minimum in 1997 or 1998. It sounds as though, back in Roper's day, the board insisted on exceeding that minimum by quite a bit.
     It appears that Mr. Roper went back to his old job at the county after his brief community college episode.
     As we reported recently, the initial board took some unusual actions, including "resigning" from a state "board of trustees" organization on the grounds that such a private organization should not receive taxpayer funds.
     According to some readers, Roper's replacement, Bremer, met a bad end at the district. Is that true? Does anyone know the details? Any documents?

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