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Dec 06
Jim Carnett
By Jim Carnett

(Jim was an Orange Coast College student in the early 1960s. Now in his 37th year as Director of Community Relations, he is editor of Coast-to-Coast. This is a regular column that focuses on OCC’s history and distinctive characteristics and characters.)

Robert Dees

Robert Dees

It’s been said by Westerners (perhaps erroneously) that the Chinese ideogram for "crisis" is made up of two characters symbolizing "opportunity" and "danger.”

It’s a lovely illustration to drop on a lecture audience but, truth be known, the analogy was probably cooked up by one of those self-help gurus who regularly appear on PBS…hawking books and DVD packages. How many of us speak Mandarin well enough to refute the paradigm’s veracity? But I digress.

True or no, that coupling of Chinese characters underscores the opening point of this essay. For Robert Dees, 1977 was an ideogram kind of year, fraught with crisis and danger. It was also a breakout year that presented him with the opportunity of a lifetime…though that fact went unnoticed for a time.

“The year 1977 was rough for me,” he says circumspectly. “I was in the final stages of my doctoral degree at UCLA, working on my dissertation…and going through a divorce. Suddenly things began to unravel.”

Robert DeesThe marriage ended and he dropped out of grad school. Then, an old friend, Lynda Bose, showed up at his doorstep.

“Lynda and her husband stopped by with a job description and application in hand,” he recalls. “She said, ‘Bob, this is an English position at Orange Coast College and I feel strongly that you should apply. The application says they’re looking for a generalist, and boy is that you!’”

She was an angel sent from heaven.

Now fast forward nearly three decades. It’s April 6, 2005, and the five trustees of the Coast Community College District publicly announce that Robert V. Dees has been selected president of Orange Coast College.

The following morning, still flush with excitement and gratitude, Bob gets on his computer and composes an email to Dr. Bose, now a Shakespeare professor at Dartmouth.

“I hadn’t seen or talked with her in 25 years,” he remembers.

He wrote something like this: “Dear Lynda, I just wanted to thank you. Last night I was named president of Orange Coast College. I would never have come here were it not for you. I just wanted you to know how grateful I am. Thank you so much!”

The great gears of civilization sometimes turn on seemingly innocuous events. A friend gives a friend a job description for said institution, then pats him on the back. He ends up becoming president of that institution. Who knew?

“Lynda emailed me back in typical Lynda fashion – an email that was five pages long,” Bob says. “She was pleased with what had happened in my life, and went on to discuss geopolitics, women’s rights, the latest developments on the Dartmouth campus, and a little Shakespeare. It was like those 25 years vanished into the ether.”

When Lynda mentioned Orange Coast College to Bob in 1977, he knew next to nothing about the place.

The job description said it was a one-semester replacement for a person on sabbatical. It required that the successful applicant teach composition, remedial English and several different types of literature. Lynda was so convinced that Bob should apply that she typed out his application.

“I came to the campus in the summer of 1977 for an interview,” he recalls. “I was wearing a three-piece suit. Everyone on the hiring committee was in beach attire. Larry Carlson served on the committee, and I think Gary Hoffman was the chair.”

“Buttoned-Down Bob” sailed through the first interview and was invited back as a finalist.

Bob Dees“The college actually had eight English positions open in the fall of 1977. Only one was permanent, the remaining positions were temporary replacements or part-time positions.”

The finalists for all eight positions were invited to meet OCC’s faculty and staff during a grand two-hour free-for-all in the Faculty House. One of the other finalists was Raymond Obstfeld, who has taught writing at Coast for 30 years. The eight positions would be divvied among the top eight finalists.

“I met Ray for the first time at my first interview, and met him again at the Faculty House event,” Dees says. “We became friends. Ray landed the one full-time position because it was a writing job, and he was the perfect match.”

Bob got the generalist’s-one-semester-sabbatical-replacement post.

He taught during the fall of 1977, and made many – what turned out to be – lifelong friendships.

“I became close with Mike Finnegan, Ed Dornan and Muriel Allingham-Dale. I taught an evening lit class, and every week before that class Finnegan and I played tennis.”

Bob returned to L.A. the following spring.

“Though I’d thoroughly enjoyed my OCC experience, I didn’t necessarily think I’d ever have an opportunity to go back.”

Before becoming a permanent Coast faculty member in 1978, Dees taught English at UCLA, California State University, Northridge, Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles Trade Technical College and OCC.

In the summer of 1978 he received a telephone call from Virgil Sessions, chair of OCC’s Literature and Languages Division.

“Virg said an English faculty member was experiencing health problems and was going to have to retire. He immediately needed someone to fill in for the fall, and the position would ultimately become a full-time contract. He asked me if I’d like to come back to campus. I said absolutely.”

Midway through the fall Bob was offered a permanent contract.

“I lived near the campus in an apartment, and one afternoon – after having taught my morning classes – I was sitting out on my sundeck. The phone rang and it was Virgil. He said, ‘Welcome aboard, Bob, we’ve got a full-time job for you.’ He was a really great guy. I owe him a lot.”

Dees was beguiled by Coast from the beginning.

“OCC was such a warm place, I fell in love with it. I’d had ambitions to teach at a four-year university. My mom once asked me, ‘Why are you at a community college?’ I said, ‘Mom, they have more here than most four-year schools, and they have a brilliant faculty.’ What I saw the faculty doing was truly impressive. I was convinced that I couldn’t do better than OCC.”

Did Bob have any inkling early-on that he would one day assume the presidency of the college? The short answer is no, but more about that later.

After having been a permanent, full-time staff member for three years, Bob was elevated to chair of the English Department. He served in that capacity for three years, from 1981-84. He began to show his mettle as an academic leader. When his mentor, Virgil Sessions, retired in 1984 Bob replaced him as dean of OCC’s Literature and Languages Division. He held the position for 14 years, from 1984-98. In 1998, he was selected the college’s vice president of instruction, and worked in that capacity for seven years, from 1998-05. He worked under presidents Margaret Gratton and Gene Farrell.

As vice president, Bob was responsible for overseeing the college’s entire instructional program. He was charged with carrying out long-range instructional planning and program development, and he worked to maintain a campus environment that assisted students in achieving educational goals. He facilitated the infusion of new technology into programs and into campus classrooms and labs.

4 presidents

(Left to right) David Grant, Gene Farrell, Margaret Gratton, Robert Dees

 In 2005 he was named OCC’s ninth president.

In addition to his teaching and administrative accomplishments, Dees is author or co-author of four nationally used college textbooks on research and writing.

Dees familyBorn in Pasadena and raised in Monrovia, Robert was the product of a hard-working extended family that migrated to California from Oklahoma in the 1930s, during the dustbowl era. They were Oklahoma farmers who’d been wiped out by the severe drought.

“We were Okies,” he smiles. “My aunt Thelma once said ‘We wuz the rich Okies because we had a mattress on our car.’”

Bob’s father, a landscape gardener, was a high school dropout. His mother, a high school graduate, was a stay-at-home mom to Bob and his older sister.

“I wasn’t certain how I felt about our background until I read Steinbeck in high school – ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ That novel spoke to me. I saw my relatives in that story. I had a new respect and appreciation for my family.”

That went along with his growing respect for great literature.

Bob Dees as studentAn excellent student who needed no motivation to succeed in school, Bob was freshman and junior class president at Monrovia High School. An excellent athlete, he played football and ran cross-country and track.

“I also tried out for basketball, but was lost,” he laughs. “I had absolutely no aptitude for the game.”

School suited him. He was often singled out for praise and placed in advanced classes.

“I had fine teachers and I enjoyed school,” he says. “I remember my sophomore year I had Miss Bartlett for English. She liked me. I remember that she came up to me in class one day and poked me in the ribs. ‘When are you going to start working in this class?’ she asked. ‘But, Miss Bartlett,’ I replied, ‘I’m getting straight-A’s.’ ‘But you’re not where you could be. You’re not challenging yourself.’”

Bob took Mr. Janssen for advanced English three years in a row.

“He was one of those legendary types you see in movies. We did a lot of reading and writing in his class. He loved to have students lead the class. He’d say, ‘John just read this book about such and such…tell us about it, John.’ We’d always have lively debates. We’d frequently meet after school to continue our discussions.”

His favorite teacher was Miss Elgren, in world history.

“My fondest memory is walking into her class and seeing no teacher visible at the front of the room. All of a sudden, a huge wad of toilet paper comes sailing over her desk and lands in the middle of the students, and simulated shots are heard. She stands and declares, ‘Gavrilo Princip has just shot Archduke Ferdinand of Austria…killing him and his wife and starting World War I.”

Though a model high school student, Bob could also exhibit a modest stubborn streak.

“I sat out of football my junior year and worked nights at Alpha Beta.”

An automobile was an important accoutrement for a high school junior of the male persuasion.

“I told the coach I wasn’t interested in playing that fall, so I ran cross-country instead. He tried to get me back, but I refused. I played football again my senior year.”

During his senior football season he was not the most compliant athlete on the roster.

“The coach wanted us in the gym during the lunch hour for ‘chalk-talks.’ Well, I wanted to have lunch with my friends. As a pulling tackle on sweeps, I’d end up pulling the wrong direction during afternoon practices. The coach would yell, ‘Dees, you’re pulling the wrong way. We went over these plays in the chalk-talk!’ My punishment was to push a blocking sled around the field after practice…but I was okay with that.

“I was strong-willed.”

Bob also had a run-in with the aforementioned Miss Elgren.

“She wanted me to write a paper on a certain topic and I refused. She said in front of the class: ‘Well, it seems Mr. Dees is unsuited to be an honors student. Perhaps he’d like to lecture to the class on the topic that he refuses to write about.’ I declined…and stuck to my guns.”

Dees became a voracious reader in high school, a habit that has persisted to this day. He loves fiction and literature and, since becoming OCC’s president, has read lots of biographies on such luminaries as Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

“When I was in high school my uncle would occasionally visit and he’d invariably ask the same question: ‘Bobby, how many more books you read since I last saw you?’”

Robert Dees’ high school career came to a resounding crescendo. He graduated with a green chord, symbolizing superior scholarship, and was the graduation speaker.

Bob DeesDuring his senior year, Bob told his father that he wanted to go to college. “What are you going to do there?” was his father’s straightforward reply. Bob’s elder sister went to Pasadena City College to become a dental assistant.

“My parents ended up supporting my decision to go to school.”

Bob went to L.A. State for a year.

“I knew nothing about colleges and neither did my parents. I went to L.A. State because a girl I knew went there.”

He transferred the following year to San Jose State. Another girl told him that he needed to get away from home.

“San Jose State was a great school. I was an English major and had great professors, scholars and teachers. The breadth and depth of the literature classes was amazing. I read all of Melville, all of Faulkner, all of Hemmingway and many others. That’s what you did at San Jose State. That stood me in good stead when I pursued my doctorate at UCLA.”

He also sniffed the enchanting aroma of other academic disciplines. He took an entomology class and fell in love with insects; so much so that for a short while he contemplated becoming an entomologist.

He became enamored with Chinese history.

“I was deep into Chinese history and even took Chinese language classes. I also became fascinated with the history of the American west.”

He lived in a three-story, Victorian boarding house just blocks from campus, and enrolled in 22 to 24 units each semester.

“We started with 30 guys in the house my first semester and ended up with eight at winter break. I christened the place ‘Toad Hall,’ and we had lots of fun. Not much studying went on, and we’d play cards all night.”

Bob then moved in with a roommate in the boarding house, the son of an American ambassador. Bob’s roommate had studied for a year at the Sorbonne, and had also been kicked out of William & Mary.

“He was a good influence on me,” Dees says. “I admired him a great deal. He was as close to being a genius as you could get. My grades were not so good my first semester but, because of my roommate’s influence, they improved dramatically. I saw what he was doing with his intellectual and academic life, and I wanted the same for myself.”

Dees in football jerseyDees began cracking the books. He also played football, until suffering a career-ending knee injury, and was a track and field athlete. He was a member of the university’s highly regarded mile relay squad.

After completing his B.A. degree, Bob landed a teaching position at Overfelt High School in San Jose. He taught English.

“It was a rough school but a great experience,” he says. “During the lunch hour 25 to 30 kids would hang out in my classroom because they didn’t want to be out on the campus. It was too dangerous. We had some great discussions, and I allowed only one radio to be playing at a time.”

Bob’s department chair taught Latin.

“I regularly sat in on her Latin class and really enjoyed it,” he says. “I learned a great deal. Later, I took the GRE in Latin at UCLA.”

Late in the spring semester that year, the school’s principal cornered Bob in the hallway.

“Mr. Dees, let’s talk about your contract for next year,” he said.

“I’m not coming back next year,” Bob responded. “I want to teach English.”

“But you are teaching English, Mr. Dees,” the principal said.

“No,” Dees replied, “I teach smoking rules and discipline.”

Dees’ officemate had had his car torched in the school’s parking lot during the year. Robert decided to return to San Jose State to finish his master’s.

“I wasn’t the right person for that high school,” he reflects. “The staff was composed of good, dedicated people. But I was half social worker and half teacher, and that’s not what I wanted to be.”

As a graduate student working on his M.A. in English, Bob worked nights in the university library, stocking the shelves.

“I learned how a library works, and how to conduct research. I came to work at 10 p.m. and worked all night. Every night there were several carts stacked with books that I was responsible for placing on the shelves, but, after I emptied the carts, I would open up some of the most wonderful books and read them. It was almost like completing a second graduate degree.”

With all his time spent in the library, Dees became something of a research expert.

“I was in a grad school class and the professor asked me to help her with research on a book she was writing. I enjoyed the work, and she gave me credit as a coauthor.”

Years later, after he was at Coast, English professors Charles Dawe and Ed Dornan wrote several textbooks together. For one book, they asked Bob to write a section on research papers.

“Later, Chuck and Ed’s editor called me and asked me to write a book on the subject. I gladly did so. I could never have written that book had I not had the library job at San Jose State.”

While a UCLA doctoral student, Bob held a reader’s card at the Huntington Library in San Marino. With the reader’s card he was able to look at the original manuscript of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden Pond.”

“I went into the room to view the manuscript and my heart was pounding and my hands trembling,” he laughs. “I couldn’t believe that I was actually looking at the original manuscript. It was a thrill.

“I seem to have an affinity for libraries. I love to visit them.”

Bob DeesSince his boyhood, Bob has enjoyed nature, and has been an avid hiker and camper.

“I like classification. I like identifying things and putting them into the right categories. I love systematics. I’m currently writing a book about classification.”

Early in his career at Coast, Bob fell in love with birding.

“My wife and I took a short vacation up north. As we drove up Interstate 5 we pulled off at a rest stop. A ranger handed us each a pamphlet. There was a short nature trail next to the rest stop, and the pamphlet had a listing of ‘critters’ you might encounter on the trail.

“We did the loop and found several critters. We then did it again, and again, and again…all day. I was fascinated. Later, on that same trip, we drove to the coast and I went bird watching. I was hooked. I became an avid bird watcher. It’s an activity that you can engage in without taking anything away from – or harming – the environment. It’s a wonderful avocation.”

Bob has led numerous OCC bird watching excursions to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and other places.

As a UCLA doctoral student, Bob majored in modern American poetry. His specialty was American expatriate, T.S. Eliot. He worked as a UCLA T.A., and lectured on popular fiction and taught three or four literature classes.

He applied for a teaching post at San Jose State and was invited back for a second interview, but the position was abruptly cancelled due to state budget cuts. That’s when things began to unravel and he dropped out of UCLA. That’s also when Lynda Bose made her fated – “They’re Looking for a Generalist” – visit.

“Not long after being hired at OCC did I realize that I loved teaching there,” Bob says. “I decided early-on that I would NOT be ‘The UCLA Guy Who Taught Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot.’ That would win me no friends. Everybody on the English faculty wanted to teach literature.

“That first year I taught science fiction. I had no interest in science fiction, none…but the students did! I discovered that when one is a science fiction buff, one is A SCIENCE FICTION BUFF! Those students exhibit great passion.”

Bob also went on to teach composition, American literature, contemporary fiction, world literature, Shakespeare and even spelling. His favorite class has always been composition.

Bob Dees in classroom“At Coast, you can teach anything,” he says with mock amazement. “Had I gone to a four-year institution I would have taught American literature forever.”

Dees became English Department chair.

“I loved it,” he says. “I had a ringside seat for the department’s wars and love affairs. It was fascinating.”

Bob initiated a team-teaching project with OCC English professor, Judith Eastman.

“Judy and I had wonderful debates that would get students aroused in our class. I remember one particular debate over Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five.’ Judy and I held strongly opposing views. It was a very animated discussion.”

Dees and Eastman authored an NEH grant and were funded to develop a “Crossover Program” on campus that built interdisciplinary bridges. The grant connected history, anthropology, geology and early childhood education with English. The four disciplines were each linked with a three-unit English 101 section to create a six-unit amalgamated course.

“Geology professor Jim Reese and I taught a geology-English section,” Bob says. “Anthropology professor Theo Mabry and Judith Eastman taught an anthro-English section – and, if you know Theo and Judy, you know that that was one dynamic section! Early childhood instructor Katie Elson and English professor Peg Langhans taught an early childhood-English section. History professor Doug Mason and English instructor Muriel Allingham-Dale taught a history-English section.”

All compositions had to relate to the geology, anthropology, early childhood or history subject matter.

“In a traditional solo English section, we don’t always have good topics to write about. This program solved that problem. It provided students with ample built-in material and subject matter.”

When Dees first approached Reese about team-teaching the class, Reese was less than enthusiastic.

“What will it take to convince you?” Bob finally asked. “A good lunch at a Mexican restaurant,” Reese replied. “You’re on,” Bob said.

The Crossover Program lasted two years – until the grant money ran out – and everybody loved it. Several other colleges sent faculty members and administrators to Coast to observe the program. A couple of colleges duplicated it on their campuses.

“It’s one of the best experiences I had in teaching,” Bob says. “The classes were back-to-back, so they ran for three hours, two days per week. Jim would lecture on the geology stuff, and I’d talk about writing and composition.

“Occasionally, I’d teach a little geology and he’d teach some English. We’d often end up correcting one another. I learned a lot of geology. I remember one time giving each student in class a rock. They were required to write a history of that rock.”

The final paper that first semester had to answer the question, “Where’s the safest place in Orange County – geologically speaking – to buy a house?”

“It so happened that I was preparing to buy a home at the time, so the information contained in the papers came in very handy for me.”

While Bob was English Department chair something came into being in the department that, today, has taken on mythic proportions. It was called “English Coffee.” English Coffee was not a type of South American-British java blend…it was much more than that.

“English Coffee was launched by Muriel Allingham-Dale,” Bob says. “It was designed to build esprit within the English Department.”

English Coffee was observed weekly during the fall and spring semesters for five or six years. It grew to envelop the entire Literature and Languages Division and, ultimately, much of the campus.

“Everybody loved it,” Bob says.

English Coffee was staged Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon on the second floor of the Literature and Languages Building.

“Two faculty members were assigned each week to provide the food. No packaged pastries or coffee-in-a-cardboard-cup were allowed. It had to be prepared food, and it was served on China. I remember one time having caviar and roast duck…it went way beyond coffee and pastries. Some people even brought in caterers to take care of their responsibility.

“I remember once preparing food with speech instructor, Jack Holland. Jack was a gourmet chef. I did enchiladas, and was pretty proud. Jack brought in some amazing French thing that made my contribution look like a C-minus.”

After a year or two, people began dropping in from all parts of the campus for English Coffee.

“We had a hard-and-fast rule: If you come to English Coffee you are absolutely forbidden to talk shop. You can talk about books, movies, history or politics…but never shop! Sometimes people would critique books that they had read. Book publishers would occasionally set up displays and cater English Coffee.”

Dees became division dean in 1984.

Dees on construction site“The farther you move up the ladder the farther you move away from students,” he observes. “I remember thinking to myself my first day in the new position, ‘This is my job, now. Is this what I really want?’ I knew I was going to miss teaching. Now I was facing budget sheets, absence forms, book orders…it was like I was pursuing a completely different career.”

For many years he continued to teach an evening composition class in order to remain close to students and to not lose sight of his purpose for working at Orange Coast College. Finally, he had to stop teaching when he became vice president.

“I’m a perfectionist and I just didn’t have the time needed to adequately prepare for my class. When I teach a composition class, I want to be so familiar with each of my students – through reading their essays – that I know what’s going on in their daily lives. I want to be able to look each one in the eye and say, ‘I know you.’ I wasn’t able to do that as vice president.”

Bob loved his experience as division dean.

“I had five great department chairs and we met on a weekly basis. We trusted and supported each other through tough decision-making periods. During my 14 years we had to cut budgets and fire two tenured faculty members. It wasn’t easy, but it was worthwhile and gratifying.”

During his tenure as dean, Bob declared ESL a separate department – separate from the English Department – with its own classrooms and budget.

“ESL had been the stepchild of English for years, and it always seemed to get the leftovers. Besides, they’re two completely different disciplines. ESL teachers are trained in linguistics but can’t necessarily teach English. English teachers are trained in writing and literature and can’t necessarily teach ESL. I felt we had to separate ESL from English.”

That separation took place on OCC’s campus and, later, when Bob became chair of the statewide English Council, the separation extended up and down the state. From 1994-98, Dees served as a member of the statewide English Council of California Two-Year Colleges, and was the organization’s president for a year. He was also a member of the editorial board of “Teaching English in the Two-Year College,” and was a member of the State Chancellor’s Office Basic Skills Task Force.

Dees at commencementIn 1998, president Margaret Gratton tabbed Bob to become interim vice president of instruction. Later he applied for the permanent position and landed it.

“Being a division dean is the best possible training to become vice president,” he says. “It’s a huge leap, however. You have to know your stuff all around…you have to know the campus inside out. I’d been actively involved as dean, and had served on statewide committees, so I was prepared.”

As dean of the Literature and Languages Division, Bob never had to worry much about equipment purchases. Basically, it was paper and pencils for his classrooms.

“The Technology Division has equipment needs that are unfathomable to an English guy,” he says. “I learned all about supply budgets when I became VP. I learned that every spring we needed to buy welding rods for Bill Galvery’s welding classes.

“When I used to add last-minute English sections to the schedule to meet demand, the only real cost was an instructor’s salary. But, what if you try to add a couple of chemistry sections? It’s a $3,000 investment to support each section, plus the instructor’s salary. In English, you just open a section and teach. Not so in science and technology.”

But being vice president had its rewards.

“The great thing about being VP is that I could use my position to fix things. You can work on scheduling and budgeting problems. The vice president’s position is the most complex, challenging and exciting job I ever had. I loved it. If you love instruction, it’s the perfect job. It’s very rewarding.”

Dees entered the position in September of 1998.

“Margaret told me that she was delighted to have me aboard when I accepted the interim job. She then told me that my first assignment would be to write the midterm accreditation report, which was due in just three months. Nothing had been done on it, so I had to write it from scratch.”

Bob was up to the challenge.

While serving as vice president, Dees took an active leadership role in managing OCC’s accreditation process. He co-authored the college’s accreditation and mid-term reports, and took part in several accreditation site visits to other California and Hawaii community colleges. Orange Coast College recently underwent its own regularly scheduled reaffirmation of accreditation. Bob’s expertise made the task – if not enjoyable – wholly endurable.

Bob became OCC’s president in 2005.

“College president has a whole different pace to it than vice president,” he says. “There’s more responsibility, yes, but you can also breathe. As vice president, things hit you every minute.”

Bob began to seriously think about becoming a president in about 2001.

“Actually, I applied for the president’s position on this campus in 1990, when Dave Grant became the permanent president. I was still a division dean. I really didn’t want the job, even though I was a finalist. I just wanted to see what it was like to play the game at that level. In my interview with chancellor Al Fernandez, I told him candidly that I thought Dave Grant would make a great president. I meant it.

“Not until about halfway through my seven-year vice presidency did I even think seriously about becoming president. I had a great job as VP, and loved every minute of it. The presidency wasn’t on my radar. During Margaret’s last year before she retired I realized that if I wanted to stay at OCC I had to be prepared to take the next step. People were encouraging me.”

Dees and wife, Van

Bob and Van

Gene Farrell came on board and served three years as president. Bob applied for the presidency in late 2004. On the evening of April 6, 2005 Bob received a telephone call from vice chancellor of human relations, John Renley. Renley offered him the job.

“When I hung up, my wife, Van, came alongside me,” he remembers. “I looked at her and said, ‘Well, it turns out that I’m the president.’”

“Finally!” Van said.

“The next morning it hit me. I thought, ‘My gosh, I am the president!’ I felt very humble that such an honor would be bestowed on me. My upbringing…my English-teacher background. What a wonderful thing to be able to come to Orange Coast College and 30 years later be named its president. What a great career and life I’ve had!

“I fired off my thank you email to Lynda.”

Bob talked to the media his first day on the job. He was asked what his goals were for the college for “the next five years.”

“I hope to see OCC continue to be a premier academic institution,” he replied. “And when I say academic, I include vocational education as well, because our vocational programs are also academically based and equally important.

“I would like us to boost our degree and transfer rates, our vocational certificate and job placement rates, and the extent to which we attract under-represented or minority groups on the campus.”

Fitness Complex ribbon cuttingTo date, during his brief two-and-a-half-year Orange Coast College presidency, three new campus buildings have come online and have been dedicated, including: the Watson Hall Enrollment Center, the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion and galleries, and the Fitness Complex. The spectacular new Library – the largest building on campus – will be dedicated in February. Other projects are moving through the pipeline. Bob appears destined to become the top CEO in OCC’s history for opening shiny new buildings.

“I can make a lot of important directional changes,” he says. “It’s an exciting time to be on this campus. We have new buildings going up; we’re in a transition period with our local community; the diversity and mix of our student population is changing; and we’re addressing statewide standards and accountability.”

No Pollyanna, Bob sees the college moving into a period of tight budgets and enrollment challenges.

“We’re running out of land, and we’ll soon have no money for new buildings. We must find new ways to grow. We’re challenged to foster support from our local community.”

Dees frequently reflects on important words spoken by his mentor – Virgil Sessions, chairman of the Literature and Languages Division. Sessions uttered the words while delivering a farewell address at his retirement reception in 1984.

Dees with Giles Brown

(Left to right) David Grant, Robert Dees,
Dr. Norman Watson, Dr. Giles Brown

He said: “I want to say something to administration: Trust the faculty.”

“I’ve never forgotten that,” Dees says. “The faculty is what make this place what it is today. Most of the time their instincts are right. We must listen to them.

“Hiring good faculty members…that’s the key to Orange Coast College’s future. As an OCC faculty member myself, I always felt trusted. I take that to heart. Look at the people who built this place – the Dr. Giles Browns of this institution. Coast wouldn’t be what it is today were it not for them.”

Brown, who is 91, served as an OCC history professor from 1948-60. He went on to serve as a dean and vice president at California State University, Fullerton. Last month he had a building on OCC’s campus dedicated in his honor and named for him.

“Our goal is to hire young Giles Browns…lots of them.”

Bob DeesRobert V. Dees, son of a landscape gardener and housewife, has been a professor, department chair, dean, vice president, and president at – not just any college, but – Orange Coast College! And it’s his sincere desire to make that college better than it’s ever been before. No small task. OCC has a rich heritage, built by an exceptional – almost heroic – collection of people. It stands today as one of the BEST community colleges in the land.

But, can it get better? Absolutely. Will it get better? That remains to be seen.

This we do know, however: the Monrovia High School “flash” is committed to excellence. If someone can move the college to the next level, it's Bob Dees!

How many books you read lately, Bobby?


Orange Slices archive button


Dear Jim:

Herb LivseyThank you very much for the many kind comments in the online article you wrote about me in the Nov. 7 issue of Coast to Coast (“Herb Livsey: Lugubrious, Longsuffering Loser; or Luminescent, Lionhearted Leader? (I’ll Help You Make the Call!),” Orange Slices, Nov. 7).

I did not know most of what had gone on behind the scenes; I was hurt, I thought my “life” had been taken from me. Little did anyone know that that decision would take me deeper into classroom teaching and a career in being an assistant basketball coach. Now in my late years – a career in the NBA.

It has been a great run; I think back and realize how important Orange Coast College was to my growth as a person, as a teacher, as a coach.

Thank you for the article. I appreciate your thoughts more than I can express on paper.

With much respect,

Herb Livsey,
OCC Head Basketball Coach (1969-76)
OCC Professor of English (1969-96)