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California Community Colleges chancellor stepping down

Jack Scott, 78, will retire as of Sept. 1. 'I figure 58 years of work is enough,' he says. The search for a successor will begin immediately.

March 07, 2012|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
  • Jack Scott became chancellor of the nations largest community college system in January 2009 after a long career as a state legislator and college campus leader, giving him rare insights into both politics and academia.
Jack Scott became chancellor of the nations largest community college… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

Jack Scott, a veteran and popular educator who has headed the state's community college system during a period of brutal budget cuts and was often a voice decrying the impact on students, announced Tuesday that he will retire as chancellor overseeing the 112 campuses.

Scott, 78, became chancellor of the nation's largest community college system in January 2009 after a long career as a state legislator and college campus leader, giving him rare insights into both politics and academia. A Democrat, he served in the Legislature for 12 years until 2000, as an assemblyman and senator from the Pasadena area, and previously was president of Pasadena City College and Cypress College.

In an interview Tuesday, Scott said the last few years of budget battles in Sacramento had not been easy but he emphasized that he was not retiring because of discouragement with the funding of higher education in California.

"I figure 58 years of work is enough," he said. "I'd prefer a less demanding life."

After he steps down Sept. 1, he said, he will write, do some part-time education consulting and cope with another challenge: rebuilding his Altadena home, which was destroyed in a Christmas Day electrical fire.

A grandfatherly figure who charms audiences with witticisms, Scott has been an important advocate in the recent effort to make it easier for students to transfer from the two-year schools to four-year universities. Parts of this and other reforms are awaiting review by the Legislature and face some opposition because they would ration classes and give priority to students who have such concrete goals as a degree, vocational certificate or transfer.

"Aerobics classes have a good purpose, but I don't think they are quite as urgent as educating the high school student who wants to transfer to a four-year university or the vocational student who wants to train for a career in nursing or auto repair," said Scott, a historian with a doctorate from Claremont Graduate University.

During his three years at the community college headquarters, state revenue for the system dropped about 13%, course offerings declined about 10% and overall enrollment fell from 2.8 million to 2.6 million, Scott said. Meanwhile student fees rose from $26 to $36 per unit and will go to $46 in the summer.

Scott, whose annual salary is $198,500, frequently has denounced what he described as the "disinvestment" in public colleges and universities.

"I hope in the future that California realizes how important higher education is to the economy of the state and the well-being of the state," he said.

In the Legislature, Scott was the author of numerous laws that benefited community colleges.

Scott Himelstein, president of the community colleges Board of Governors, praised the chancellor and said his leadership "will be evident in the success of our colleges for generations to come." Officials said the search for a successor to Scott will start right away in hopes of naming one in the summer.

Carl Friedlander, a statewide leader of the California Federation of Teachers' community college union, said Scott provided stature and principles during a difficult period.

"He's not a miracle worker, but he's been effective in his advocacy," Friedlander said. "He brought such knowledge of the community college budgets and the whole state budget to the position."

Scott used the budget crisis to his advantage in pushing for the recent reforms, according to Nancy Shulock, executive director of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy at Cal State Sacramento. "If there was one silver lining to the cuts, it's that he got some things done that might not have gotten done when times were not tough," she said.

Scott convinced people "that things have to change," she said.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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