COVER STORY: End of an Era
C O V E R S T O R Y
End of an Era
As Roueche Departs, Changes In Store for CCLP
By Paul Bradley
When John E. Roueche retires in August as director of the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin, he’ll leave behind arguably the most successful program of its kind, one that has produced more community college administrators than any other.
As he packs his office mementos into boxes and prepares for his departure, Roueche says he has been humbled — embarrassed, almost — by effusive praise calling him an unparalleled leader in the community college movement. He has been feted at community college conventions, received plaques and awards, recalled as a leader whose keen intellect and warm heart have changed lives.
“He has been a life changer for me,” said Terry Calaway, a CCLP graduate and president of Johnson County Community College in Kansas. “I would not be where I am if not for him. I have had a lot of teachers who have influenced me, but with John, it’s a lifelong commitment that he makes.”
Calaway’s sentiments are widely shared. The 500 or so graduates who have made their way through the CCLP doctoral program during Roueche’s 41-year tenure there feel like an extended family led by Roueche and his wife Sueanne D. Roueche, a senior lecturer at UT and editor of publications at NISOD. Family members have been rallying around their mentor as his Aug. 31 retirement date nears.
But the celebration has been tempered by the circumstances surrounding his departure and a sense that the renowned program he built is being dismantled. After Roueche leaves, the CCLP will be folded into UT’s Higher Education Administration Program and become part of a combined, renamed Higher Education Leadership Program. The CCLP, as a separate enterprise, will no longer exist.
Roueche has been told that the future of the CCLP lies not in the applied research and instruction that so characterized his tenure, but rather in more extensive writing and publishing based on scholarly research.
“The new approach is going to put more emphasis on research, we’re going to make sure that people are writing more and publishing more — as if we haven’t been doing that,” said Roueche, who has authored some 40 books and hundreds of articles. “I don’t think there is anybody in my world, in the community college world, who has published more. We have been about that.”
. “To say that we are not going to continue this strong field presence is a bad, bad decision,” he added. “And down the road it will cut off the very support that has made the CCLP program the very best in the country. It’s a misadventure.”
“We really are involved with colleges, not just in Texas but around the country, and not just because we want to be involved with them. We care about them. We care about the quality of their work. We want to have an influence on their policies and procedures. Someone asked me many years ago, ‘What would it take to feel like you have been successful here?’ I said, ‘Well, when a community college is looking for a leader and they say let’s call CCLP and see if they have some nominees for us.’ I am not sure that every college does that, but most do, and I think that speaks to a level of respect and regard. But you have to earn that. You don’t get that by writing books.”
UT has no immediate plans to replace Roueche, said Norma V. Cantu, chairwoman of the university’s Department of Educational Administration. Cantu, who holds dual positions in the College of Education and the College of Law, is taking over Roueche’e duties. She insists a replacement will eventually be hired, but can’t say when.
In the meantime, she said, the fundamentals that made the program a success will remain, but changes can be expected, too.
“John’s departure means a lot,” she said. “His is a very well-earned retirement. But after that amount of time, people should expect nuanced change.”
Changes already are apparent. While the CCLP recently admitted a new cohort of students, it numbers only four. In the view of some supporters, that is too few for students to get the rich, interactive experience that distinguishes CCLP from other community college leadership programs. Cantu attributed the diminished cohort to campus-wide budget cuts; others contend that absent Roueche’s prodigious fundraising talents, the program doesn’t have the money to fund fellowships for its customary 12 to 15 students.
Walter G. Bumphus worked closely with Roueche at UT for nearly five years when he was a CCLP professor and chair of the Department of Educational Administration. He is now president of the American Association of Community Colleges. He said the pending changes in the program are dismaying.
“This is a time when community colleges need more leaders and better leaders,” he said. “So it’s sad for me to see any program that is less productive than before.”
While Roueche remains vital and energetic at age 71, his retirement is not entirely unexpected. He has worked at the university for more than 40 years, following stints at Duke and UCLA. When UT offered a generous early retirement incentive package to veteran employees, Roueche decided to take it.
But among his supporters, there is a strong belief that the skids toward a premature retirement were greased by a dispute involving College of Education Dean Manuel J. Justiz.
At the root of the dispute are NISOD and CCSSE, two programs which sustain themselves with external grants and membership subscriptions. A long-simmering dispute over the money the programs take in boiled over two years ago when Justiz disclosed a plan to divert more than $1 million from their budgets and use it for general purposes within the College of Education. The sum represented about a 25 percent cut of NISOD and CCSSE revenues.
Justiz also reassigned the endowed A.M. Akin Chair for Community College Leadership — which had been vacated by Bumphus when he went to the AACC — to a faculty member working outside the CCLP program.
Those steps prompted a flood of complaints from CCLP graduates and supporters. More than 50 alumni wrote letters of protest to UT President William T. Powers imploring him to overrule Justiz. The Texas Association of Community Colleges also stepped in to the fray. In a letter to Powers, TACC President Reynaldo Garcia and then-Board Chair Richard Rhodes said that Justiz was improperly diverting funds.
“Our member colleges do not fund or join these groups to provide funds for the College of Education,” the letter said. “Our funds are provided to these organizations to support their mission and to provide direct services to our member colleges. The fastest way to erode support for UT, CCLP, NISOD and CCSSE is to divert funds from these programs for unintended purposes. We view any diversion of funds from these programs as unethical and a violation of trust.”
The letter added that changing the Akin chair would undermine CCLP’s ability to train future leaders.
“We are in need of a corps of newly educated leadership to continue the work of our colleges,” the letter said. “The CCLP has been an integral contributor to the leadership of colleges across the state and nation. The loss of a tenured professor in the CCLP program means a necessary reduction in the number of students that the program can serve. Simply put, this is exactly the opposite outcome that community colleges in this state need.”
In an interview, Garcia said that steps to scale back the CCLP “defies rational explanation.”
“You’d think that an institution would want to create more leaders for the fastest-growing segment of higher education,” he said. “It makes a lot more sense for it to continue. You want to create an environment that would create that pipeline.”
Powers never formally responded to the TACC’s letter, prompting the group to file a complaint with the state attorney general’s office. No formal response has ever been received from Attorney General Greg Abbott either.
Through the university’s communications department, Justiz declined to be interviewed for this article. He instead provided a prepared statement praising Roueche.
“Over his 40-year career in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin, Dr. John Roueche has built the nation’s most highly regarded doctoral program to produce community college leaders,” the statement reads in part. “This program has graduated and placed more community college administrators than any other graduate program, and their collective vision has shaped the community college movement in this country.”
A Secure Legacy
“Dr. Roueche’s own research and writings have been used by government and professional organizations to initiate policies related to community colleges.”
“As a result of Dr. Roueche’s vision, these initiatives have led to the growth and prominence of community colleges in educating our nation. We are proud of Dr. Roueche’s remarkable career and honor its achievements.”
Whatever the fate of the CCLP, Roueche’s legacy is secure. Among community college groups, CCLP ranks in influence and prestige behind only the AACC and the League for Innovation in the Community College, both of which happen to be headed by CCLP graduates.
CCLP and its progeny have a profound impact on community colleges. NISOD has become the country’s leading provider of professional development for community college faculty, staff, and administrators and has more than 700 member colleges. CCSSE is now the foremost provider of information about effective educational practice in community colleges. Achieving the Dream is the country’s leading organization promoting community college student success and completion.
Roueche worked his way through Mitchell Community College in his native Statesville, N.C., before earning a bachelor’s degree from Lenior-Rhyne College, a master’s at Appalachian State and a Ph.D. in higher education administration from Florida State University. He worked as a high school history and English teacher, community college dean and faculty member at UCLA and Duke. When he accepted his position with the University of Texas, Roueche was just 31, the youngest full professor in the university’s history.
The nurturing environment he encountered at Mitchell Community College stayed with him throughout his career.
“No one said that the faculty members there were spectacular,” he said. “But they cared tremendously about us. I don’t think I had one teacher at Mitchell College that did not spend time with you. Not just about your writing or about your behavior, but ‘how are you doing?’
Roueche’s work embodies that approach, said Bumphus, who calls Roueche “my friend, my mentor, my brother.” Long after they leave UT, CCLP graduates turn to Roueche for career advice. His vast network of friends and contacts has allowed him to connect CCLP graduates to jobs and colleges around the country.
“He cares,” Bumphus said. “It becomes clear to any student that he epitomizes the best of the best of the teachers that you’ve had…he does everything a good teacher would do. He is challenging and demanding, and you don’t want to disappoint him. He is the kind of teacher that I wanted to be.”
His teaching skills extend beyond kindness. When Bumphus worked at UT, he devised a quantitative evaluation system that ranked professors on a broad range of criteria. Points were awarded for things such as the number of dissertations supervised; research papers and books published; grants secured; and committees served on.
At a time when he could have rested on his laurels, Roueche was consistently the top-ranked instructor, his point total four times that of the nearest competitor, Bumphus said.
“He’s the best of the best,” Bumphus said.
Roueche himself said he looked beyond academic aptitude when screening applicants for the CCLP.
“A lot of students come here not having any idea what their true talents are,” he said. “If you go to a grad school anywhere, Columbia or Berkeley, you’ll find the students have a strong set of academic credentials, maybe stronger than ours. What’s the difference? We absolutely load up on outlook, on attitude, on personality. Do you like people? Can you work with people? If we think they have the least bit of arrogance, or self-centeredness, we recommend they go someplace else. If you talk to our graduates, you’ll find they have good hearts and they really care about what they are doing.”
It was left to Terry O’Banion, a longtime friend and president emeritus of the League for Innovation in the Community College, to sum up the feelings of Roueche’s extended family during a reception at the AACC convention last month.
“No one has touched what John and Sueanne did,” he said. “No one has ever come close. I think he set a record that no one will ever match. He is our leader, our mentor, our friend.”
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