“State of the Heart”: Jonnah Laroche, the First Faculty Member on the Board of Governors

April
2020
David Morse, History of the ASCCC Project Chair

(In 2013, the Academic Senate Executive Committee approved a project to record and preserve the history of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. The April 2017 Rostrum contains an article that explains the intent and structure of this project. The following article was written as an aspect of the history project and is the first in a series of planned articles remembering individuals who made outstanding contributions to the work of the ASCCC.)

In 1983, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill 1204, which granted nomination responsibilities to the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges for faculty positions on the California Community Colleges Board of Governors. AB 1204 was sponsored by the Faculty Association for California Community Colleges (FACCC) and passed despite “opposition from the administrators, the CCC board, and even the California Teachers Association” (McCallum 2000). Granted this new authority, the ASCCC conducted an extensive application process before submitting six nominees to Governor Deukmejian (Conn, 1986). In 1984, the governor appointed Jonnah Laroche, an English professor at Allan Hancock College, as the first faculty member of the Board of Governors.

Laroche, who had previously served as president of the ASCCC from 1982 to 1983, would be reappointed to the Board of Governors three times and would remain on the board until 1989. Since that time, many faculty members have served on the Board of Governors with dedication and distinction. Yet Laroche will always remain the first, and she set a very high standard of performance to which all of her successors have had to aspire.

Tom Nussbaum, who worked in the California Community Colleges system as Vice-Chancellor for Governmental Affairs, as Vice-Chancellor for Legal Affairs, and finally as Chancellor for the system from 1996 to 2004, recalls that Laroche “was highly regarded by her fellow board members. In fact, she was appointed chair of the Education Policies Committee.” Nussbaum further comments that “She had a quick wit and a dry sense of humor, and she never took herself too seriously. She was a calming influence for the board, always wearing a smile and never letting herself get caught up in heated discussions between board members. It’s hard for me to think that there could possibly be a better first faculty member of the BOG” (Nussbaum, 2020).

As a board member, Laroche was an independent, strong thinker who spoke her mind and acted in what she believed to be the faculty interest without being intimidated by anyone. Karen Grosz, ASCCC president from 1987 to 1989 and later a faculty member on the Board of Governors beginning in 1989, notes that after joining the board she was advised by Scott Wylie, the board president, that she should break her ties with her local academic senate and should not attend ASCCC area meetings. Grosz shared Wylie’s comments with Laroche and asked for advice; Laroche shrugged off the suggestion and “said she never even requested permission to attend area meetings, but just attended” (Grosz, 1990). This exchange shows the attitude Laroche took toward her service on the board: she was responsible to the faculty she represented, and neither the board president nor the chancellor would direct her actions or comments.

Throughout her service on the board, Laroche maintained her commitment to the role of faculty in the community college system. At the Fall 1988 ASCCC plenary session, shortly after the passage of the landmark legislation AB 1725 (Vasconcellos, 1988) defined the rights and responsibilities of academic senates in college governance, Laroche addressed the plenary attendees in a luncheon presentation. The 1988-89 ASCCC Annual Report includes the following recap of that speech, including comments that still ring true today:

Affirmative action policies and practices will be as effective and strong or as ineffective and weak as the faculty let them be. Another area for faculty leadership involves staff development. Finally, Laroche commented, faculty must renew their sense of value of a community college education and its unique role in California. In closing, Laroche noted that community college faculty are members of a particularly noble and valuable profession which can shape the future.

Yet perhaps even more present for Laroche than her commitment to faculty was a keen focus on the issue that should be at the forefront for all Board of Governors members and indeed for all who work in the community college system: serving the success and needs of students. Upon her retirement from the board, Laroche spoke at the Spring 1990 ASCCC Plenary Session. The 1989-90 ASCCC Annual Report summarizes a part of her comments on that occasion as follows:

[Laroche] reminded [the plenary attendees] also of the embarrassing, disgraceful transfer rates for minority students and for the disabled. She pointed out that the [ASCCC] Executive Committee had proposed a resolution to the session that would commit to raising the transfer rates by 5% each year. She challenged her listeners to return to their campuses and to ask their local trustees to endorse the resolution, to create a campus task force to address the issue, and to personally commit to mentoring at least two students in each class . . . She said, “If we do not make an effort of this sort, make it happen and make it work, we run the risk of condoning the presence of a permanent underclass. Teaching at the community colleges should be state of the heart.”… She concluded that community colleges are built not only on the premise of opportunity but also on the promise of opportunity.

One can perhaps debate as to whether Laroche was ahead of her time, since her comments addressed very real issues that faculty, students, and colleges faced as she spoke, but one can hardly question that her reflections and exhortations remain as relevant today as they were then.

The ASCCC honored Laroche as a senator emeritus with Resolution 1.05 in Spring 1990 and again with Resolution 1.02 in Fall 1994 upon her passing. In 1994, the Jonnah Laroche Memorial Scholarship for continuing and transferring community college students was established. Yet Laroche’s impact on the ASCCC and on faculty in the California Community Colleges system goes beyond recognition and honors. First as ASCCC president and later as the first faculty member on the Board of Governors, Laroche blazed a trail of faculty leadership for all who followed her, speaking for the faculty with a clear and unrestrained voice and demonstrating her constant dedication to serving the interests of all community college students.

REFERENCES

1988-89 ASCCC Annual Report. (1989, June). Sacramento, CA: Academic Senate for California Community Colleges.

1989-90 ASCCC Annual Report. (1990, June). Sacramento, CA: Academic Senate for California Community Colleges.

Conn, E. (1986). “60 Milestones in the History of Senates and the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges.” Retrieved from Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. https://www.asccc.org/papers/sixty-milestones-history-senates-and-academ....

Grosz, K. (1990). “KG Bog Notebook.” Unpublished notes of Board of Governors meetings and experiences.

McCallum, P. (2000). “Favorite FACCC Memories.” FACCTS, December 2000. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED454888.pdf.

Nussbaum, Tom. (2020, March 8). Electronic communication to the author.

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