Foreign Student Admissions Officer
Santa Barbara City College and Me
The Early Years – 1959 -1980
My introduction to SBCC came as one of several listings from the Stanford University Placement Office. I was teaching psychology half time and counseling students the other half at San Jose Junior College, and interested in a summer teaching assignment somewhere in California. Like all young teachers, I was always on the edge of starvation. Unexpectedly, in addition to an evening psychology class at Monterey Peninsula College, I received a listing for a full time counseling position at Santa Barbara Junior College, as it was called then.
My wife, Mary Alice, and I stopped on our way home from her sister’s house in Camarillo during the Easter break. The college was still on the Riviera campus. Here, I met Joe Cosand. He put his cigar down, came forward and greeted me with a cordial handshake. I remember nothing of our conversation, only that he immediately put me at ease and I left his office feeling very good.
My undergraduate studies were completed at Chico state. I majored in Psychology and minored in English, finding it very difficult to choose between them. As a result, I accumulated enough units in both to declare twin majors. I went to Stanford first as an English major. At the end of three quarters, I left English and moved back to the Education Dept. with an emphasis on Counseling. There I stayed until earning my M.A. In the Fall of 1957 I moved from a small high school near Fresno where I had spent two years instituting and directing a guidance and counseling program, to San Jose Junior college. I was hired to teach Introductory Psychology and counsel students half time. I enjoyed my assignment there, and had no plans to leave until subjected to the lure of Santa Barbara two years later.
My arrival at SBCC in the Fall of 1959 coincided with the move from the Riviera Campus down to the former UCSB Industrial Arts Building, a product of vintage 1930’s WPA labor on the Mesa. The only evidence of this transition I can remember was the jumble of books scattered about, some in boxes, some on the floor in a room at the end of the hall; a room lined with half-filled shelves; a room destined to serve for several years as our library. Standing tall, (close to 6 feet), our new red haired Librarian Ruth Little appeared to be in total command. Across from the President’s Office in what is now the Mail Room, the Dean of Student Personnel had her office, with a secretary, Mary Moffet, and two counselors. Our Dean, Marie Lantagne, was a very competent administrator, but her educational background was physical education not counseling.
Ernie Berg, the only counselor until the two new hires, met me at the door, and introduced me to my fellow freshman, Lisle Bresslin. I found them both very compatible. Ernie was a relaxed, easy going Canadian, whose interest in higher education later impelled his return to school, and subsequently through several intermediate steps to assume presidency of a community college somewhere in Northern California. Lisle and I were asked to choose which of two special assignments we would prefer. Lisle chose Student Activities (For a sample of student/faculty events during the ’60’s , look at NOVADADES, Vol 6, no.2, 11/76). Foreign Students I knew nothing about but it sounded interesting. In the beginning, there was very little to do with that assignment. Our Foreign Student enrollment in the 1959 Fall semester was approximately 25 out of 914 students.
Our responsibilities were amorphously defined, but clear in the expected outcome; namely that all applicants should be given whatever assistance was needed to successfully complete their chosen course of study. The registration process included an aptitude test for all new entering students. We started with only the School and College Aptitude Test 1A, but later added the STEP Writing 1A .Testing was left to us. Selection of classes was done with the faculty taking part. We soon found serious flaws in this practice, and finally eliminated all but a few whom we found to be the most reliable.
In the Fall of 1959 our Student Personnel Staff Introduced the Basic Entrance Program. Our goal was “to limit low-ability students to certain basic courses for the purpose of excluding them from regular academic classes while giving them an opportunity to improve and qualify for college work.” The program included students who fell at or below the 15th percentile on the Total score of the School and College Aptitude Test. Exceptions included students scoring at or above the 26 percentile on the Verbal section of the SCAT or whose high school grade point average was “C” or higher. Required courses included the following: Basic English, Basic Math (neither give credit towards graduation), Orientation to College, and Physical Education. Enrollment was also allowed in Beginning Typing, Choir, Hygiene, Auto Services, Printing, and a few vocational business courses. If a student earned a grade of C in English and Math, he would be eligible to enroll in academic subjects in the following semester. One of my favorite people, Gordon Price, liked to come in, exchange pipe tobacco with me, and agonize over the miserable performance of so many of his so-called English 1 eligible students.
In 1966 our Counseling Staff initiated the Santa Barbara City College Preview. We had been talking for some time about inviting interested parents to attend an informational meeting at the college, rather than conducting such a program at different schools. Our first effort was held in the Campus Center. This was before the West Campus and Garvin Theatre existed. It was a very wet November evening and we wondered if anyone would show up. Despite the weather, we had a full house. So began an annual tradition that continued at least until my retirement in 1991.
Individual counseling for freshmen gave way to group advising around 1966 as enrollments mushroomed (between 15 and 20% per year) We started with small numbers, using the T (temporary) Buildings, then increased the size, beginning with groups numbering 100 and more followed by separation into smaller ones (40 – 50) based on English 1 placement or the student’s major.
Placement in English classes was based on test results. In a memo to the Placement Testing Task Force Committee dated 1/27/72, I wrote: Traditionally, we have built our assumptions about the merits of a placement testing instrument upon the effectiveness with which it predicts success in academic subjects, especially English and Math. The Counseling Division is now questioning the validity of this assumption for the following reasons:
- A student may no longer be excluded from English 1 on the basis of a low SCAT V score.
- Test scores, like high school grades, no longer mean what they meant in the past. It isn’t possible to predict now from these tests how well a student will perform in college with significant reliability, because our own evaluative criteria for grading has changed.
Beginning in the early ’70’s, Grade Inflation became widespread both at the secondary and higher education level. Bob Carmen (Prof. of Mathematics) wrote the following: “In the spring 1967 semester at SBCC, the fraction of students receiving either an A or B grade in a course was approximately 27%. In the Spring 1975 semester this number had risen to 48%.” Carmen pointed out that “in the Spring of 1973, the 19 California State Colleges reported that the average fraction of A and B grades had reached 68%. A group of Northern California Community Colleges reported this statistic at 48%.
Unhappily, while grades were rising, many indicators of student ability were falling. “A recent study at the University of California in Los Angeles indicates that the Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of entering freshmen have been decreasing over the last eight years. The University of California at Berkeley reported that in the fall of 1974, more than 45% of the entering class of their very select students, failed diagnostic tests and were required to enroll in remedial English classes to learn the fundamentals of reading and writing.”
In a 1970 memo to the faculty, President Julio Bortolazzo gave his approval to the granting of a “W”, “E” or “I” grade when appropriate. Our faculty, as so many others, was trying to get rid of “D”s and “F”s. There were, of course, exceptions ranging from mere ambivalence to outright defiance, especially in Math and the hard sciences. I don’t remember exactly how long before tradition reasserted itself, but as Foreign Student Admissions Officer, I do know it existed also in at least two other countries: Iran and China.
In the Spring of 1960, Dr. Peter Merkl of the UCSB Political Science Dept., serving as interim Foreign Student Advisor while the permanent FSA was on sabbatical, initiated, with my assistance, a Summer Orientation Program for new arrivals anywhere in the western states. Enrollees fell far short of expectations. Instead of 50 or so, there were only 12, one of whom, an Iranian, chose SBCC. Assisted by the Junior Women’s League, whose solicitations supplied us with a bushel basket full of home-stay offers, we had no shortage of community support. Five Field Trips were scheduled, one of which was led by Pearl Chase. Santa Barbarans in general seemed eager to open their homes and hearts to students from other countries.
I mention all of the above because, in the aftermath and for many years to come, we at the City College were able to capitalize on the friendships formed during that summer.
Most of our foreign students were from Iran in the early ’60’s. There were no admission requirements, and no tuition. Typically, our foreign students would enroll in courses requiring a minimum of English, such as Automotive Services and Math, moving gingerly into the Physical and Life Sciences, and finally classes in Social Science and Humanities.
One of our Iranian students, Mansour Farhang, more fluent than his countrymen, who had just transferred down from a Junior College further north, suggested forming a club. It would serve as a useful vehicle for integrating foreign and American students with regular meetings at a designated time and place. My wife, Mary Alice, remembered an International Student Dinner we once attended at Stanford University, and thought we might do something similar. Perhaps an International Night to include both dinner and entertainment. The club became an immediate reality and our first Annual International Night came to life in April, 1961. I wrote about the event several years ago. It appeared in a 1976 issue of Novadodads and I will quote it here.
Since our club was dominated by Iranian Students, the President was Mansour Farhang, a political science major and a fortunate choice in that he commanded the respect of his countrymen, and was a very articulate spokesman for the club. As we planned it, the evening would include a wide variety of food and entertainment. The dinner was prepared in the McKinley Elementary School kitchen since we had no facilities for such a large culinary effort in the existing cafeteria. We started with the food preparation at (As I look back on it, I am awed by the magnitude of the task and meagerness of our capacity to cope with it. Most of these students, coming from upper middle class families, had never cooked anything (especially the men) and yet here they were, fearlessly preparing a banquet for an indefinite number of guests.
We estimated 150, but advance ticket sales were not encouraging. No one worried except Mansour, my wife, Mary Alice, and me. He was especially worried about the Persian dish shish-kabob, and with good reason. His chief cook, Nosrat Sabouhi, arrived 5 hours after expected and exhibited no great interest in the cooking operations following his appearance. He seemed more committed to providing music on his santour (Persian stringed instrument) then slicing meat and vegetables. What we lacked in expertise, was well compensated with ésprit de corps. Laughing and joking in 12 different languages filled our ears while exotic odors regaled our noses. There was a constant shuttling back and forth from kitchen to store for new supplies or forgotten items such as saffron and pea pods. At 6:00 p.m. people began to arrive, and by 6:30 when we started to carry the steaming vats of Taboule from Egypt, Yata Kleti Kil Kil from Ethiopia, and Papos a la Husnesina from Chile in through the front door of the Administration Building, our path was clogged by hungry, milling guests of whom there were far more than expected. Dinner was advertised for 7:00 p.m.. Well before that, a long line had formed outside the door extending clear to the street.
All but one dish arrived. The shish-kabob was late. Finally, at 7:30, it arrived and many frustrated people began to move slowly toward the serving table. It was an hour before everyone was served (some, at the end of the line had to make do with rice and pot liquor.), and another hour before they were finished. The entertainment had been scheduled to begin at 8:30, but it was 9:30 before we could get everyone seated in the auditorium (now the Board Room). Mansour, our President, discovered at 8:00 p.m. that we had no key to open the cabinet door behind stage that housed the audio equipment without which his part of the evening could not begin. The custodian had no key. Only Max Whittaker, our Drama Instructor, could help us now. Mansour raced over to his house, got the key, and ran out of gas. Somehow, he got back just as the last rows in the auditorium were being filled. When everyone was seated and the houselights dimmed, Mansour came forward to deliver his introductory remarks.
Mansour was thin and pale. He looked tired as well as hungry (none of the participants could eat a thing). As he began to speak, I noticed a slight hesitancy in his voice. Suddenly, I saw him totter and sink to the floor. We flipped on the house lights and asked if there was a doctor in the house. Up leaped Dr. Ben Wininger from the second row. Dr. Wininger, a local psychiatrist, rushed to the stage and asked for cold compresses. These were delivered and soon Mansour began to stir. With the resiliency of youth, he was back on his feet in minutes and insisted on completing his introductory remarks which occupied another 20 minutes.
The rest of the evening was free of mishaps. In fact everyone, performers and audience alike, enjoyed it. One act was especially well received. Sohrab Mavi, who claimed to be the nephew of the Shah, and an Afghan boy, David Moosa, dazzled the audience with a belly dance in full regalia (rented costumes). So extravagantly did the performers enjoy it, they found it difficult to stop. Finally, as midnight approached, people began to yawn, look at their watches and some made for the nearest exit.
The entertainment must have been successful. The next day Mansour received a note from President Cosand saying, “I do want to congratulate you on what everyone is telling me was an outstanding evening. While attending Rotary Club, four different men came up to me and stated with enthusiasm that they thought the evening was one of the most outstanding programs they had attended in a long time.” (Mansour went on to a broader stage after leaving us. “Iranian-born author and former diplomat. He served as revolutionary Iran’s first Ambassador to the United Nations and worked as a mediator in the early months of the Iran-Iraq war. He left Iran as a dissident in 1981, and now teaches International Relations and Middle Eastern Politics at Bennington College, Vermont. He is the co-author of U.S. Press and Irn: Foreign Policy and the journlism of Deference (UC Berkeley, 1987) and the author of U.S. Imperialism: From the Spanish-American 66(South End Press, 1981))
Mary Alice and I wanted our foreign students to experience American life in a personal way given the limited resources available in a two-year community college. So we, several of our friends, and a few faculty members invited them to share holidays in our homes. There were Montecitans who were widely travelled and actively engaged in international organizations such as the Experiment in International Living, American Field Service, and United Nations Association among others who happily made themselves available for social events.
In September, 1983, 27 people (including 12 foreign students) attended a luncheon at the County Savings and Loan Bank, 1200 State St. That year’s President of the International Student Association Majeed Samara (Golan Heights) gave a brief address. Mary Alice Floyd took a few moments to discuss the problems foreign students face upon entering our community, and their continuing need for contact with American families to promote a greater understanding and sense of involvement with our culture. From this evolved the Council of Friends of International Students, a collection of Santa Barbarans with a shared interest in supplementing the college environment with a more intimate American family experience. It proved to be a mutually enriching relationship both from the standpoint of informal exchanges, and formal presentations by different students structured around “Culturegrams” published by the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, Brigham Young University. Our Council of Friends of International Students continued well into the ’90’s
P.S. For more on Faculty Social Life read: “Remembrance of Things Past: Probability Seminars”; Faculty Voice, Fall, 1996
The International Student Club the Year it won the Outstanding Club Award