Twenty years ago I was a motivated young professor with a temporary appointment at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. I didn’t plan to come to work at Bakersfield College, but I had always wanted to see the sequoias so I dragged my family across the desert to do a practice interview at BC, then a jaunt to the big trees and back to UNLV.
But something happened along the way. I was taken in by the people of BC and Kern County, and, I won’t fib, the excellent pay and benefits didn’t hurt their recruitment pitch.
When I arrived at BC I was especially impressed with the facility — its location on the bluff, its vastness, and the immense football stadium that made quite a statement for a community college. I felt like I was at a four-year school, and I knew right away I would spend my career here in Bakersfield. I had the honor of teaching approximately 17,000 students before a series of spinal problems forced me into an early retirement this year.
Once I settled into my new position I began to realize that our venerable old campus had a host of infrastructure problems not far under the surface. I taught the majority of those 17,000 students in the Humanities Building. Indeed, Humanities 18, my classroom, was a disaster that got progressively worse as the years went on, to the point it began to impact our student’s ability to learn.
Every time it rained, for years, the north side of the classroom would pool up with water that leaked down through the windows. Buckets would appear throughout the building and some of the leaks would fill trash cans in a few hours. After several years of temporary fixes someone came up with the idea of screwing all the windows closed. They could no longer be opened. It stopped some of the moisture but left a room jam packed with 75 students and no way to let in a breeze.
Of course, like the rest of the building, water and alkalinity issues eroded the paint and then the walls of H-18 itself. Every summer there would be much digging and scraping and refurbishing, but it was sending good money after bad.
The original tiles on the floor, asbestos in nature, would frequently come loose until the floor was finally replaced a few years back. The desks in H18 date back to the 1950s, a time when American students were a bit more lithe, so to speak, and there were only two table style desks for plus-sized students.
Many days were lost when the administration had to cancel classes due to a broken air conditioning system or a busted water main that rendered the toilets inoperative. We even had an audio-visual projector break loose from its mounting and nearly crush a professor while they were lecturing.
The Humanities Building is a symbol of the crumbling infrastructure of the United States. It is an infrastructure that was built over 60 years ago for fewer people being asked today to do more in times of budget scarcity. The maintenance staff, comprised mainly of older, highly competent employees who know all the tricks to keep the campus tied together with bailing wire and bubble gum do a heroic job, but what happens when they leave?
I never cared I had to share a crappy office and use a shoddy desk, but I always felt like the students deserved a safer, more comfortable, and more uplifting campus infrastructure. I always felt that the elite of this county, if they had to work a single day in the Humanities Building at BC, would have demanded an upgrade a long time ago.
This November the voters of Kern County will have the opportunity to correct these shortfalls and provide our citizens with the college they deserve.
In the recent past the voters of Kern County have rejected bond issues for the intellectual upgrading of our community. Having friends who are some of the largest taxpayers in Kern County, I understand the frustration the business community has with government. They know government is necessary, and that community colleges are a great investment, but there are always concerns about waste and extravagance and inefficiency.
The Kern Community College District is one of the most fiscally prudent districts in the state.
Under the leadership of Chancellor Sandra Serrano and Vice-Chancellor Tom Burke, our local community colleges did not shut down summer school or fire a bunch of new and energized professors during the Great Recession. KCCD’s fiscal conservatism and large cash reserve allowed KCCD to persevere while others across the state folded and frayed.
Bakersfield College, under the guidance of perpetual motion machine Sonya Christian, is poised to become one of the most effective, innovative community colleges in the world.
Please help Dr. Christian and the outstanding staff and students of Bakersfield College reach a new level of excellence by surrounding them with a functional, safe, and uplifting environment by voting yes on Measure J in November.