Mike Mallen


SBCC 1963 – 2001


Mike Mallen Mathematics Dept.

Mike Mallen
Mathematics Dept.

The following very personal account is a collection of discontinuous, opinionated, non-chronological  remnants of a retreating memory of my years from 1963 to 2001 at SBCC, with a prelude from 1958-63. This account is not limited to the mathematics department. I cannot separate my memory of its history and development from the history of the college.

I make no pretense that this writing is other than a series of impressions – not objective, unbiased history (if such exists). It also is not all rosy.

I know that omissions by my rapidly retreating recall will slight the memory of some wonderful people and important events. Math department colleagues Elizabeth Hodes, Jim Edmondson and Robert Elmore who shared many of my 38 years at SBCC are invited to fill in the gaps with their own versions.

For accurate overall, proper SBCC history read the memoirs of retired Social Science department members including (but not restricted to) Robert Casier, Barbara Lindemann, George Frakes and my beloved deceased friend, anthropologist Hank Bagish, who was “present at the creation” of the modern SBJC -SBCC and who several of us consider the “first of the founding fathers.”

Thanks to my wife Mary Lynn for trying to edit this for accuracy, exaggeration, aggrand-izement, lies, delusions, logorrhea (though the length belies her success with the latter). However, after a final reading, she accepts no responsibility for content – in fact, she wants nothing to do with it.

I also appreciate the ambiguous “encouragement” from my “frenemy” Peter MacDougall who told me that I should write this, “but, of course, it will be wrong.”


I graduated from Loyola U of Los Angeles in 1958 with a BA in Business Administration with an emphasis in Industrial Relations. However, by my junior year I had fallen in love with learning in general and philosophy, logic and business law in particular. It seemed that fields with an obvious axiomatic-logical structure appealed to me, and this was a harbinger of my unanticipated mathematical future.  Because I was self-supporting, I could not afford to change majors.

Upon graduating, I applied for jobs with several corporations and took their aptitude tests. These revealed much about their desired candidates: organization men not interested in intellectual life, and who desired to merge their identity with the company. I had worked as an employee of several companies while a student and got fired for being part of an effort to unionize one of them.

I was incompatible with being an “Organization Man” in a “Gray Flannel Suit” – to name a couple of anti-corporate books of that era. Quite an attitude for a graduate with a business major!

I had also passed the Loyola Law school entrance exams, checked out the first year texts and in spite of a deep interest in business law, decided that this was not for me. It looked like three years of memorization.

Enrollment in the Air Force ROTC was compulsory at Loyola and I hated it but wanted to be a jet pilot. A cousin was wing commander and excused me from most of the drills since I had disrupted one of them by swiftly reacting to a Nazi-like student officer who slapped me for not having a straight tie. My cousin wanted to keep his good reputation as a wing commander and did not want me around during reviews by AF generals so I appeared on the rolls in absentia.

I took the ridiculous AF courses, passed the 9-hour officer’s exam with a high score and was ready for the “wild blue yonder” (of the AF song) only to be felled by my first ever eye exam in my senior year. Instead of pilot training, I was offered AF training for Weather Officer in the wilds of northern Canada and then in business management (mostly of PX stores) but refused both.

If I couldn’t fly, I wanted no part of the military. A friend took the business position and was head of PX’s in Germany and France, and traveled the length and breadth of Europe and the Middle East. The AF didn’t tell me about that perk!

Later, when I was settled into marriage, fatherhood and teaching, the military tried to get me again via the draft, but some physical residual paralysis from  childhood polio, which the AF physical ignored (with my help), disqualified me and I was classified 4F.


 A part-time job while in college had affected me deeply. I lived at a military academy taking care of pre-high school boys who had been virtually abandoned by their wealthy parents. I coached their football team, helped with homework, read to them before bedtime and generally was a kind of substitute parent. This experience struck emotional chords within me which I did not know existed. I was really touched by these kids. I felt a desire to connect and help youngsters in some capacity.

This experience made me think about teaching. I enrolled in several education courses, quit one and was kicked out of two others when I challenged the pablum level of the content as compared to the rigor I had experienced at Loyola.  I was aghast that 24 units of such nonsense was required to get a public school teaching credential at the time. Thus later, to avoid such courses, I applied to private schools throughout California. Santa Barbara Catholic High School, in its last year of existence (its building now inhabited by Dolores School), responded. They offered me a job teaching Business, Bookkeeping, Speech and Math. I had no qualifications in the latter two. My wife Mary Lynn, who had a math scholarship to Mt. St. Mary’s College, said she would help with the math and I took the job. Mary Lynn and I arrived in Santa Barbara in 1958, penniless and just married.


The first year (1958) was hectic, scrambling to stay ahead of the students, coaching a speech team (we advanced to the Lions Club state finals with the help of my enrollment in Toastmasters) and doing lunch duty breaking up the fights in Alameda Park which seemed be a lunchtime tradition.

When presenting the offenders to the sweet elderly nun principal, she gave them Hail Marys and Pater Nosters to say for  penance. They should have been arrested for assault and battery.

Now, here I was a newlywed in beautiful SB, with a teaching job involving two subjects in which I was unprepared and managing gangsters during lunch hour, with no real disciplinary support from the school.  So I set up my own detention center after school in my classroom.  Soon lunchtime discipline was under control but I hated this role.  I had no desire to relive the violence of my boyhood. I would look for another job.

Mary Lynn talked me out of quitting because in the following year the school was being folded into a new campus at Bishop Garcia Diego. The “gangsters” were not allowed to enroll by the new Franciscan administration of the boys’ half of the school. I was virtually the math department from 1959-63. It was a different world of good discipline and fine colleagues.

To avoid victimizing my students via my deficient math background, I took calculus at Santa Barbara Junior College (SBJC). This course was surprisingly easy and very interesting for me and made me wish I had been exposed to it earlier. I joined Toastmasters to help me coach the speech team.

In 1960 I got a summer National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study mathematics and was enchanted by my first exposure to abstract mathematics in a course on Group Theory. It was effectively taught by a Stanford professor who was the comic-strip caricature of a mathematician including personal tics and glasses thick enough to be mistaken for the bottoms of wine bottles. Beauty emanates from strange packages.

Good teaching, as subsequent experience verified, often comes from socially awkward people – contrary to the criteria of some administrative job interviewers looking for glad-handing extroverts like themselves.  I wondered again why I was not exposed to this beautiful math in high school? It certainly seemed accessible to high school students.

Luckily for me and the country, the Russian Satellite sputnik spurred the US government into a space race. Money flowed to upgrade science and mathematics. I was “exhibit one” of the need to upgrade the math and science backgrounds of US teachers. In 1961 I received a National Science Foundation grant leading to the MS in math during three full summers at Western Reserve U (now Case-Western) in what I, a native Californian considered to be a lamentable environment: Cleveland, Ohio.

The weather, the dangerous ethnic neighborhoods I walked through on the way to school, the boring, relatively flat terrain and the suffocating humidity was a shock. Santa Barbara spoils its inhabitants’ adaptability to other environments. However, the teaching and the interaction with other teachers was wonderful.


I was quite happy at Bishop – except for the pay, which could not support my growing family: three kids in three years with number four on the way. We lay teachers had a saying about our pay: the clergy take the vow of poverty but the lay teachers practice it. Negotiations with the archdiocesan dispenser of salaries, the upper class, plushly ensconced (at Montecito’s Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish) Monsignor Ozias B. Cook, resulted in little improvement of salary status. My quotes from the Papal labor encyclicals supporting living wages was either ignored or the Monsignor was unfamiliar with them. My shaky connection to the Church continued downward.

I think I was hired at SBJC in 1963 because the math department chairman, Gary Mouck, was in love with my beautiful wife Mary Lynn, who was taking a calculus class from him. SBJC was part of the SBHS district and I was officially hired by Doug White after being interviewed by a very impressive SBJC temporary Dean of Instruction, Bob Casier. These splendid people helped sever my affections for Bishop Garcia Diego HS.

The 1963 math department consisted of my pal and neighbor Gene Gingrich (who conflictedly opposed my nomination because of my computer programming deficit), Gary Mouck, Ralph Vernon and Sue Culler (who also taught German). Gene and I shared a love of symbolic logic and subsequently taught independent summer seminars to select students in our homes. Gene eventually went into industry after years of effective teaching and participation in faculty government.

I came out of graduate school imbued with the unfairly denigrated “New Math” now repackaged as the “Core Curriculum.” This was (and is) an attempt to wrest curricula out its rote memory rut and was (and is again) part of the US’s math/ science reform.  It represents the best thinking and experimentation in math education but sans the dollars and released time for training teachers, administrators and the public, it largely failed – as it is failing today again for the same reasons.

Untrained teachers emphasized the wrong things, uninformed parents and administra-tors reacted negatively, and consequently the program spiraled toward doom. On the other hand, the Japanese ran with these same American-made materials, providing time and money for training all involved. They created a formidably successful math education system. Later they visited US schools in the belief that the country which wrote these wonderful materials would be the nirvana of mathematics education. They were shocked by the backwardness of US math classrooms, the result of a public reluctance to financially support the training and time to implement these wonderful materials.


My initial interaction with the administration strengthened my wariness of administrative interference in teaching.  In my first teaching semester, Pat Huglin, the dean of instruction, a non-science major, avid sports enthusiast and subsequent very good friend called me into his office based upon one student complaint that the trigonometry I was teaching differed radically from that which the student had flunked in high school.

I agreed completely! I was teaching what has now become the standard, more applicable functions approach which was applicable to myriad scientific applications rather than the two-thousand year-old right triangle trig. The dean suggested that I teach it from a more practical point of view, such as with baseball scores!

I was angry at being called in because of one uninformed complaint. The dean’s pedagogically and academically naïve suggestion launched me into a lecture on the superiority of the function approach. I suggested that administrators innocent of mathematics should not advise faculty members about pedagogy or subject matter.

I stomped out of the office, convinced that I would be fired.  I was discouraged and did not want to teach under such uninformed interference – but my department was completely supportive of minimizing administrative influence over course content as was the faculty in general.


The next thing I remember most is the brilliance of the SBJC staff (including administrators). This became evident during our informal lunch meetings in a small room in the now remodeled administration building. My anti-jock prejudice (learned as a mediocre high school football player) was soon derailed by meeting coaches Chuck Rheinschmidt, Dick Weist and later, Rusty Fairly, and numerous early PE teachers such as Maxine Dekker and Eleanor Simmons. Other academic luminaries were Hank Bagish (who taught Mary Lynn in a UCSB Marriage and the Family class), Bob Casier, Frank Dobyns, Gordon Price, Bob Profant, Marie Lantagne, Jim Cook, Phillis Hodes (mother of colleague, Elizabeth Hodes),  Frank Cox, Bill Miller, Charlie Atkinson, and Ray Loynd to name a few.  It was such a joy to be in the company of such people, although I was largely rendered silent by the surrounding brainpower.Mr Charles Atkinson

I was also impressed by some of the bright new staff who joined me in entering SBCC (or shortly followed) and became close social friends during the ’60’s decade:  physicist Elwood Shapansky, English instructors Royce Adams and Ronald Billingsley, historian Curtis Solberg, chemist Ray O’ Connor, nursing instructor Sydney Siemens, to name a few.

Elwood Shapansky red

Elwood Shapansky

In one exemplary luncheon meeting, Bob Profant showed a film of a cadaver dissection and Hank Bagish’s reaction was, “Bob, did you have to — at lunch time?” We all roared. Another recollection was a presentation by the adventurous Hank of his memorable film clips of his sabbatical among the Dani headhunters of New Guinea. These valuable staff bonding experiences diminished when the lunch hour was later axed because time and space were needed for an ever-growing enrollment. This was a terrible loss which presaged the subsequent increasing distance between staff members. However, we continued gathering on some Friday afternoons or weekend evenings in multiple-topic discussion groups.

Robert Profant c 1960s

Robert Profant c 1960s

Another memorable evening presentation was a lecture on Gregorian chant by the charismatic music instructor, Hal Dunn. Some of the new faculty noticed the strong, almost exclusive discussion emphasis on scholarly concerns but felt the need for ideas on classroom teaching so we began such discussions. One of these meetings led us to create the ill-named but now official Faculty Enrichment Committee, “Instructional Enrichment” would have been a better name. Later the FEC was influential in creating: the Tutorial Center, faculty grants to implement teaching innovations, The Faculty Voice with Barbara Lindemann as editor, and the Honors Committee which offered either enriched sections of current courses or new courses to a select group of students.

As SBCC grew, on-campus unity (other than committee work) with the whole faculty became harder to achieve, but we maintained a great off-campus social life. Our families often attended SBCC athletic events preceded by staff barbecues and many other school related functions.  We had some memorable, perhaps notorious parties. One wild Halloween costume party in particular comes to mind!

John Forsyth

Many of the gatherings were at John Forsyth’s (Spanish Teacher and first Senate President) beautiful and secluded (fortunately!) Montecito home. We were a family. The male staff had a regular semester-end gathering of playing cards, drinking beer and BS and “philosophy” discussions in a cabin on the Santa Ynez river. This was later resented by the women faculty and thus eventually disbanded. Some of the women faculty later had women-only parties in various departments( ahh…..consistency)!  When an all-female baby shower was thrown for Jane Brody, we threw an uproarious all-male counter-shower for her husband Royce Adams, attended by teaching faculty and administrators.

The brilliant “founding faculty (my definition: anyone hired before 1960)” of SBCC managed to reproduce their kind by hiring similarly excellent teacher/scholars. I know, I observed and participated in it. Three of my four children attended SBCC full time, and the fourth, after attending a summer SBCC biochemistry class from Larry Friesen, wished that she had.  Space does not allow reference to all of the great teachers who taught my kids. Some, but not all of them were: Dianne Handloser, Bob Casier, John Kay, Doug Fossek, Phil Olsen, Guy Peterson, Curt Solberg, Bob Elmore and many more. All of them found the teaching at SBCC to be vastly superior to anything they encountered in their subsequent undergraduate or graduate work. This has been a constant refrain from visiting ex-students who had transferred to four-year institutions.

Curtis Solberg, 1991

Curtis Solberg, 1991


In 1964, SBJC decided to break from the Santa Barbara High School District. Others have documented this successful transition well. I recall faculty working with other faculty in the door-to-door campaign supporting a slate of seven candidates (including the long-serving and competent Kathryn Alexander) which won the first district election. The Board of Trustees of Santa Barbara City College was born. This was yet another faculty-staff bonding experience. The campaign was under the leadership of Jim Cook, English professor, wonderful southern gentleman and ex-journalist. His subsequent diagnosis of stomach cancer and his suicide broke our hearts.

It was a time of the rise of the John Birch Society, a holdover from the infamous McCarthy (House Un-American Activities Committee) hearings, which ruined numerous reputations by accusations of Communist Party activity. A local businessman, Bob Kallman, following suit in his weekly radio show, accused political science teacher Frank Dobyns of teaching communist ideas.

Frank was a liberal democrat, but no communist. Apparently Kallman had at least one classroom “spy” reporting to him. The faculty rose up in unison and demanded an apology, which we got. It was an example of the confidence and unity born of the new district independence and the strength of the strong faculty leadership. Bob Kallman substantially moderated his views (haven’t we all?) and contributed much to Santa Barbara as a prominent citizen.


Bob Traughber was the first math teacher hired after me. He taught at San Marcos High School and was hired in the mid-60’s  to replace Gary Mouck, who had left with SBCC president Robert Rockwell, Chuck Rheinschmidt and others to found the College of the Canyons. I had been invited, but could not understand why anyone wanted to leave Santa Barbara.

Bob was another southern gentleman of impeccable manners, education and perhaps one our hardest-working and effective teachers. He was single but married to his profession. He corrected every homework paper whereas most of us used readers for some of the correction. He was a tough taskmaster respected by all serious students. The unserious could sense the ice.  He eventually left us, and I surmised that he was working himself to death and wisely chose life.

Like most math teachers, the gap between our expectations and the efforts of many of our students in the pre-college level math courses was frustrating. Bob never lowered those standards or expectations. I missed Bob.

I became math department chair in the late 1960’s.  With prior approval from my department colleagues, I hired the next department member, Gene Brady, away from El Camino City College. I was never forgiven by their dean who for years humorously pointed me out as a faculty thief at math conventions. Gene had student-taught for us and was very good. He had been a champion lifeguard and a dory/rescue expert for LA County and an avid surfer. In El Camino math classroom visits I was impressed by Gene’s presentations and approachability.

Gene became a popular and demanding teacher and a strong participant in departmental governance, and in Instructor’s Association salary negotiations. His surfing and athletic experience enabled him to relate to many of our students.

Gene and I retired together with Hank Bagish in 2001, but Gene was almost immediately afflicted by multiple health issues and died within few years. Hank Bagish died shortly after. They never got to enjoy the full retirement they so deserved.

In 1970 Jim Edmondson, a UCLA math whiz, was the next math teacher we hired. His liberal idealism, particularly with respect to fairness in hiring, would play an important role in a department hiring crisis. Jim replaced Ralph Vernon, who moved his wife and sons to Canada to avoid the Vietnam war draft. Ralph was an excellent teacher and an anti-war fixture, spending every spare moment holding up protest signs in downtown Santa Barbara or writing and speaking against the war. How right he was!

The chairmanship had a five year term, but three was enough for me, and Bob Traughber became chair and kept it for five years. He felt that teaching was paramount and not to be interrupted by trivial administrative communications.  When his mailbox filled up with unread mail it was tossed. As a consequence, we lost some of our memberships in professional organizations and missed quite a few conferences and administrative deadlines.  The workaround was for other department members to re-ceive the mail. Bob thought little of administration, though he carried out the essential chair duties well.

We subsequently reduced the time served of the department chairperson to 3 years and decided to rotate it through the department. This gave everyone who assumed the chair a wider perspective on the relationship  between the depart-ment and the rest of the school and avoided conflicts over who should take on the onerous job. The department returned to communication with the outside world!

Another early department hire was Merlin James, a fellow graduate student at UCSB and another student-teacher for our department. He was very shy but blossomed in the classroom and we hired him. One morning we got a phone call: our new hire and my friend killed himself. We were devastated and saddened at the loss. This incompre-hensible death caused me to seek some understanding of depression – an understanding I did not achieve until it ambushed me, as well as some other faculty members, some of them quite prominent.

The disease was not always met with understanding by our colleagues. Once we had somewhat recovered from this loss, we realized that we needed to fill the position to accommodate our burgeoning enrollment. Adjunct Byron Culbertson, who worked as an engineer locally, was hired in the late 60’s.


Two well mathematically-educated young women applied for a department opening in 1971. After sifting through interviews, they and an adjunct male friend of all department members were the finalists. The majority our five-member department was inclined to hire our friend – or, perhaps were not comfortable working with a women full-timer, though we had adjunct and interdepartmental women instructors.  A taped post-interview comment was: “If we hire a woman, we won’t be able to swear or tell the kind of jokes we enjoy.”

By accident, the dean was observed pledging support to the majority to hire the male. The minority immediately informed the dean that ACLU would be contacted through SBCC history teacher/lawyer and subsequent Board member, Desmond O’Neill. I believe this changed the dynamics of the hiring. The problem was re-solved in the final analysis of the educational background of the three candidates. At this point, we finally looked at the male candidate’s background as extensively as we had the women’s.  Amazingly, it had been assumed that all had the same academic qualifications.  His background was not academically equivalent even to a bachelor’s, much less the required masters. His friendship and some apparent discomfort with the prospect of a woman colleague had clouded judgement.

HodesElizabeth c1989 red

Elizabeth Hodes c1989

One of the majority finally changed his vote and our first full-time woman mathematics teacher, Elizabeth Hodes, was hired. She was an extraordinary and exemplary teacher (my son David was taught by her), department member, scholar, future Faculty Lecturer and citizen of SBCC until her recent retirement. Her presence changed old attitudes and paved the way for many excellent women full-time math instructors.

Women now (2015) comprise about one-third of the full-time math department. It was a case study in how integration changes attitudes. It was a part of the widening consciousness of the nation toward the integration of women, gays and minorities.  It was also a costly decision which killed a friendship with the rejected male candidate. It confirmed our determination to minimize administration influence in hiring – which, unfortunately, has increased enormously in recent years.

It made us aware of our own unconscious biases in hiring.  Later, new affirmative action laws reduced such bias in hiring from all sources. The math department was not the only department infected with favoritism. Some prominent departments were conflicted regarding the hiring of outspoken and activist female supporters of feminism, Title IX or new and different approaches to instruction. In most cases, their fears were overcome by the intelligence and eloquence of the new women candidates.

One such situation involved a president colluding with the minority “old guard” in opposition to an activist woman candidate who had advocated for more women-centered programs and courses. The administration scuttlebutt indicated that she was “divisive” – a refrain often heard against activist candidates by those uncomfortable with change. The majority of this department favored hiring her, but the president ignored the department’s top choices and hired a lower ranked candidate to appease the very influential “old guard”.

Fortunately, the hired candidate turned out to be also a vigorous women students’ advocate. The rejected candidate eventually was hired and joined the majority in creating an outstanding program benefiting all students and the community at large. This administrative collusion with a department minority against the majority plus other instructor grievances caused Ray O’Connor and me to try to form an AFT union on campus.

Great enthusiasm was expressed by the number of faculty sending us checks for the initial dues. Such enthusiasm disappeared when we sent out requests for faculty to chair and form committees. Unable to carry the burdens alone, we returned the checks and the effort died. Since then, the Instructor’s Association and the Academic Senate have adequately represented the faculty, obviating (in my opinion) the need for a union.

The administration was not innocent of friend favoritism. One summer, after a year-long laborious series of faculty- administrative (College Council) meetings hammering out a budget, an administrator hired a friend into one of the departments. This negated our exhausting efforts to fairly apportion funds among departments.

It was demoralizing and a disincentive for faculty to participate in such meaningless committee efforts.  All this happened after many administrative assurances of “shared governance” with the faculty. To top it off, it suspiciously happened after the end of the spring semester when most of the faculty had departed. In the subsequent fall, I wrote an article called “Summer Surprise” for the Faculty Voice describing faculty fury.

The administrator apologized. I was impressed, though I wondered if this had been a case of “easier to apologize later than get prior approval.” Though heated disagreements followed, particularly over spending priorities, such an action was never repeated that I know of. It may have been part of the learning experience of a relatively new administrator.

The SBCC Math for Elementary Teachers course was eventually dropped when UC moved their equivalent course into upper division and would not give transfer credit for SBCC’s. I believe it is now being revived. It should be.

Years later (1981) we would hire Robert Elmore into the Math Department, partially on the basis of his enthusiasm for teaching expressed as my TA at UCSB.  Robert and Gene Brady improved our diagnostic testing program. This was used for placement of incoming students and for advancing through our curriculum. They formed a company and these materials are still used by our department and other community college math departments.



A female member of MacDougall’s hiring committee in 1980 jokingly referred to MacDougall’s good looks as a factor in choosing him. I’m not so sure it was just joking.

After all, Peter subsequently appeared in Sears’ full-page News-Press ads as a men’s clothing model.  I hung one of these ads up in the Social Science building with a few inserted comic-strip-type bubbles representing alleged “quotes” from him such as on his preference for erecting buildings over faculty salaries:  “I believe in concrete results.”

I labeled him as having an “edifice complex.”

He took it in humorous stride and we exchanged many such pointed but good-natured barbs which continue to this day.

Sure enough the school renamed the remodeled administration building after him, ensuring his legacy in concrete.

No president I experienced in my 38 years at SBCC was more approachable, efficient, had such a great sense of humor and was so supportive of the math department.

At each semester’s beginning, when faculty anxiety over facing new students was high, we had to sit through MacDougall’s welcoming speeches (groan). They seemed to to contain nothing that was not available elsewhere. I wanted to get back to class preparation for the new semester – always an anxious time.

I asked him why he couldn’t pass out copies of the speech. He responded that they were for morale and contained public recognition for the accomplishments of faculty and staff.

I was impressed by the humanity of that response and the care in giving credit where it was due. I once wrote MacDougall an email apologizing profusely that I had to miss one talk because of multiple course and new computer lab preparations. I expressed sorrow at having to miss such an event. I laughed when he wrote back, thanking me for my “confession” (a reference to my once-Catholic background) and that it would be taped and he would verify via my wife Mary Lynn that I had watched it!

I did watch his recent video for this Legacy Project. It brought back the nightmare of sitting through his talks plus the fun we had in subsequently teasing each other. MacDougall’s, stereotypically Scottish, tight-fisted approach to monetary distribution was legendary and it could spill over into some hilarious moments in extra-SBCC activities. For example, the time he went on a Sierra camping trip with some buddies and almost froze because he slept in a cheap packaging insulation instead of buying an expensive sleeping bag.

There was the time he ordered a beer at Cold Springs Tavern and complained about its $4 price, saying, “I could buy a six-pack for that.”

Another:  “I never buy a bottle of wine over $5.”

Or the time he gave me some advice on places to stay on a New Zealand trip, all of which were ranked near the bottom by travel groups. Knowing Peter, we automatically chose a higher level.


At some point in the 80’s, I was a Division Chair of three departments: Math, Computer Science and Earth Science. I soon realized that the math department ran quite smoothly compared to the other two. There were powerful personality and subject-emphasis conflicts in Earth Science and Computer Science. After the end of my term, a retirement eased the conflict in Earth Sciences. The Computer Science conflict was resolved when part of it split off into a new business-oriented department.

As a result of this job, I lost a little more of my idealism about fellow faculty members but gained respect for their humanity. The effect of these conflicts was very stressful on all the participants. I began to appreciate the stresses administrators endure in dealing with such educationally disruptive conflicts.

Later, faculty-staffed Division Chair positions were replaced by a plague of new Division deans inserted between the faculty and the top administration. This infamous administrative tendency of self-replication diminished faculty participation in “shared governance” – and was aided by the unfortunate reluctance of faculty to fill the positions, so the distance between faculty and the top administration increased again. We then noticed the predictable increase in the difficulty of timely action on some of our day-to-day needs.

We now had another bureaucratic hurdle to impede our complaints, suggestions and needs. This often led to several frustrating boiling points in the math department and other departments in the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) which we shared with the English and Social Science departments.

Fortunately, math department deans were great. They included my dear friend Elaine Cohen who could ignore the heat generated during campus disagreements and socialize amicably off-campus. Losing her when she advanced to a higher position in another college was tough but not as tough as when we got a call from her husband Tom Casselman. He held the phone and she bid us good-bye as she was dying of cancer.

Elaine’s characteristic of compartmentalizing our campus lives away from our personal lives was a characteristic I valued highly of many of our administrators, including Peter MacDougall, Pat Huglin, John Romo and Julio Bortolazzo, to name a few.

Hot disagreements on campus issues rarely spilled over to personal animosity in my experience. I think this contributed to the relatively smooth operation of the college. It would have been easier if some faculty and staff had not had the tendency to demonize those with whom they disagreed.


In the early 1980’s I got a Mathematics for Liberal Arts Course approved as part of the Honors program. Its purpose was to expose students to some exciting topics unavailable in the regular math sequence and thus try to make a dent in the deplorable level of math literacy of non-science majors. It was a joy to teach.

It was a small enrollment of largely enthusiastic students some of whom still express their appreciation for the course long after its demise. It lasted for a few years until the University of California axed their equivalent course and therefore no longer gave transfer credit for ours. Many UC math teachers supported the continued transfer of these community college classes, but the purist UC re-search majority was opposed at the time.

They were not interested in departing much from their traditional math sequence – the general, non-math public be damned.


I had entered the Math Department in 1963 sans knowledge of computers. From 1964-1970 I took courses at UCSB in computing and numerical analysis. I used very advanced (for the time) desktop machines in a class taught by Glen Culler, one of the “fathers” of the Internet and husband of SBCC math/German teacher Sue Culler. I did not realize it at the time but I was present at the origins of the Internet (I risk allusions to AIG lore here) known then as ARPANET( Advanced Research Projects Agency Network – later DARPA (Defense Advanced Projects Agency) when the Defense Dept. took over) a consortium of UC campuses and Stanford.

In 1966 I got a NSF grant to attend a program in computer-based numerical analysis at the U of Missouri at Rolla ( AKA UM School of Mines). I loved the programming, but the IBM 360 computers were an insomniac’s nightmare. Students had to leave a stack of cards containing our programs with the computer operator. Our printout results, which sometimes indicated programming errors to be fixed, were often not available for hours. Some came in the middle of the night, because of heavy demand on the 360.

While sitting with my readout at 3 a.m. one night I decided that the ratio of programming time to time spent on math was too high and decided that whatever programming I would thence need, I would delegate to a programmer and get back to math.  I backed out of teaching in an SBCC programming lab in 1967 and merely assisted in the lab.

An aside:

I remember returning to SBCC from a Missouri summer and meeting Pat Huglin in the mailroom. We exchanged information about our respective summer activities.

I had grown a beard during my stay in Rolla, primarily because shaving was too time-consuming given the intensity of the program. I had intended to shave before school started. Pat asked me, “When are you going to shave that beard?”

I replied that I would keep it and did for 27 years. I think this was the beginning of the legendary math department informality. As department member Greg Armstrong, an extreme advocate of informality who initially taught at SBCC in suit and tie but ended in shorts and bare feet, put it:  fear is a big obstacle to mathematics teaching and informality is an attempt to bridge the student-teacher distance.

We dressed in practical clothing, including shorts in the balmy weather, outraging some staid staff members at first. Many of us also rode bicycles to school for exercise, to further this connection to students and to give an example of a “green” mode of transportation which could save them money and parking frustration.

After a decade and a half I jumped back into programming when relatively inexpensive, faster and less time-consuming desktop PCs arrived in the ‘80’s.

All of this computer background led to a 1980’s sabbatical project to evaluate all the computer programs available which might aid math learning and give students a leg up in the rapidly growing world of computing. I used both an Apple II computer and an IBM and laboriously studied the available programs and arranged them on spreadsheets and databases.

I presented this to the Board and the administration. Both were impressed (mostly because they lacked knowledge about computing!). It became quickly evident to me that this endeavor had been a bit premature and most of the early  computer programmed attempts to facilitate the teaching of math were mediocre.

However, this project saved other math teachers time in reviewing such programs, and was the beginning of a constant department search for better programs.

Our department in the 1980’s welcomed Robert Elmore, Peter Georgakis, Greg Armstrong and Margie Reinhart.



The new IDC recovered somewhat the interdisciplinary atmosphere that had characterized faculty togetherness in the early ’60’s and 70’s. Members of theMath Department felt enriched at being able to communicate easily with our IDC colleagues in English and the Social Sciences.

New math department members Ronald Wopat, Jim Kruidenier (who had previously read Calculus for me and taught with Mary Lynn at Dos Pueblos High School), Lindsey Bramlett, Sherry Masooman, Myriam Steinback and Ignacio Alarcon. These wonderful additions vastly increased the breadth and depth of the math department in pedagogy, subject matter and outreach to minorities.

The sabbatical leave math program review plus my increasing computer experience led to an administrative/math department appointment to organize, furnish and manage a new math computer lab in the new IDC building with help from Gene Brady, Jim Edmondson, Robert Elmore and Elizabeth Hodes.

After some planning hiccups, including the belated discovery that the future lab’s wiring did not allow enough space between workstations, we regrettably reconfigured what had been intended as a large and badly needed tutorial lab as the computer lab. An adjacent classroom room was made into a tutorial lab, which was inadequate. Later, we got some IDC rooms converted to a good tutorial center with the assistance of the highly qualified classified staff member Barbara Dunaway plus Robert Elmore and, later, new colleague Shari Masooman.

One of the difficulties in coordinating curricula with the new computer lab was that the faculty did not have computers in their offices. A battle with our dean Elaine Cohen ensued. The administration was at first resistant to the idea. How they figured we were to teach computer-oriented classes without computers on our desktops mystified us. Logic, however, prevailed and the computers arrived with the help of a recommendation from the Computer Assisted Instruction Committee (CAI) The math department had set a precedent for desktop computer acquisition for all faculty.

The CAI began to get computer requests from every department. Eventually the whole faculty and administration were linked together by a computer network. The math department was proud of initiating this expansion of computing to all departments.

We set up committees for each of our math courses which would utilize the computer lab. We coordinated lab assignments and created suitable materials.

For example, Jim Edmondson, Elizabeth Hodes and I wrote a lab manual for a calculus software program so that our students could have tools which aided in learning and which could simulate on-the-job computer utilization.

I directed the math computer lab for 10 years with the day-to-day essential assistance of a very talented classified staff member, Frank Besig, until I retired in 2001, and a new Math department dynamo, Pam Guenther, hired in 2000,  took over. This lab was continuously supported by Peter MacDougall, as was every subsequent attempt to improve our teaching success.

Mathematics, 2000

Mathematics, 2000


Students with jobs could not stay at school to use our computers and they let us know about it. Home computers were initially too expensive.  About that time  hand-held computers (i.e. powerful calculators) became simultaneously cheaper and more powerful. We hired outside math teaching experts, who used calculators extensively in their colleges, to give us a seminar.

The administration provided us with a grant to help students afford them in some experimental classes. Later, as calculators became less expensive, they were required in most sections of courses such as intermediate and elementary algebra which used texts which integrated these into the curriculum. As they advanced, calculators gradually included more of the rote math algorithms thus making their memorization and pencil/paper calculation questionable, particularly when calculators became commonplace in employment.

Some of the assignments previously done on computers, shifted to the more accessible hand-held calculators, though computers were indispensable for the more complex calculations and graphics in our Calculus courses.

Instructors varied in the degree to which calculators were allowed on tests and in the classroom, but calculators and computers changed math teaching forever and are now ubiquitous necessities throughout the curriculum. Home computers became more available. Technology was an increasing part of the pedagogical repertoire.


Another instance of what is today called the Core Curriculum was being taught in many schools across the country, including Dos Pueblos (DP) High School, where my wife, Mary Lynn, was co-chair of the math department and also taught a calculus course for SBCC. It was called CPM (College Preparatory Mathematics) and emphasized students collectively attacking problems posed by the text and/or teacher instead of the straight lecture method.

Students were assigned, by varying means, to groups of four. A problem would be posed, some background material presented by the instructor who would then circulate among the groups, giving hints and strategies where needed. The instructor summar-ized results at the end of a period or the beginning of the next.

This could be scary for instructors and required more extensive preparation because unexpected and interesting (and fun!) questions often arose.  Myriam Steinback, Lindsey Bramlett-Smith and Ron Wopat and I got it started.  Ignacio Alarcon and Myriam Steinback taught sections in Spanish. We started with a few experimental algebra classes and it eventually spread and was variously modified by others in the department. A year before I left, the department hired Pam Guenther, the first teacher whose university training included implementing the cooperative learning/ technology approach throughout the curriculum, calculus included.

She became a strong advocate of this approach and constantly researched math teaching pedagogy. It was most satisfying to observe students spending class time thinking, discussing and arguing about applications and solutions and implementing them with technology.  It also taught teamwork, a requisite for higher courses and jobs. Homework sets recycled material covered weeks before to provide continuous reinforcement of concepts and techniques, i.e., Retrieval Practice.

The cooperative learning approach was eventually integrated to a varying extent by most of the staff in algebra. As time went on, we used other materials, but the cooperative learning core eventually influenced all of our courses, calculus and statistics included. Teachers incorporated some problem-solving/ discussion-based group activities in almost all of their courses, sometimes combining and alternating it with lectures. It was another transformative change.


Did these changes, using technology, fewer rote algorithms, more applications, discussion and problem solving make a significant difference in success rates? Not enough as far as I was concerned.

The success rate increase did not match our expectations in the critical pre-college level math classes. Too many students did not follow through on the homework – an ancient problem particularly endemic to junior college students. Either their jobs, immaturity, family obligations or heavy course loads were some of the obstacles. I was frustrated by the discrepancy between the innovations and the barely significant increase in success rates in pre-college math.

In 2001, I could not see any new ideas in the math literature which solved our unique pre-college math course learning problem. I took some comfort in teaching at the Calculus level, where students seemed more likely to follow up class-work with homework.  I almost always taught a 3rd-4th semester Calculus, a  Differential Equations course or a Linear Algebra section as did the able Greg Armstrong, Jim Kruidenier, Jim Edmondson, Ron Wopat and Elizabeth Hodes.

The preparation, especially at the third and fourth semester level was always a challenge which I enjoyed immensely. These upper-level courses remained a delight.

Statistics, which I taught for 25 years at SBCC, was also a favorite of mine but the success rate was as resistant to the reforms as the remedial courses for all math teachers trying to maintain some semblance of performance standards.

I was further comforted by the knowledge that at least our students were being exposed to some of the best learning approaches and technology, whether or not they met our expectations.

Perhaps their success would kick in with maturity or changes in jobs or family obligations or in later on-the-job experiences. Or, perhaps our expectations were too high. There have been many departmental bright spots. Our junior year math transfer students maintained higher GPA’s than their university/college classmates who enrolled as freshmen. Our course success rates compare very favorably with the first two years in other colleges and universities.  The number of our visiting math graduates who extol our teaching compared to the teaching at their transfer institution is gratifying.

We’ve had students who have gone through our math sequence and ended up in high positions in companies, such as my ex-students Yoky Matsuoka and Dr. Barbara Finck. Yoky is a vice president of Google and a MacArthur fellow and Barbara is a vice CEO at a successful biotech company. Barbara helped develop and then shepherded a wonderful rheumatoid arthritis drug, Enbrel, through the FDA and is now working on its affordable generic.

Angela Belcher, another MacArthur fellow and renowned researcher at MIT, took our math courses and was heavily influenced by Jaime Julca, SBCC chemistry professor emeritus.  Some teach at SBCC – e.g. Salman Masooman and Jan Dependahl. Others teach math or science in the high schools. Diana Sloan, a past SBCC dean took my calculus class and moved to higher administrative positions (instead of using her good brain for science or math, but I’ve forgiven her!) in another district. Some are local physicians, such as Dr. Greg Olsen of Cottage Hospital. Greg was a calculus student of mine (when the surf was not up!) and son of Earth Sciences colleague Phil Olsen, who stimulated a life-long interest in weather in my oldest son, Kevin, a PhD candidate in meteorology.

I began to think, along with some others, that more improvement was now beyond the department’s (or my) capacity to influence. The role of exterior social factors working against the full realization of our expectations became larger in my mind. Perhaps my expectations and ideals were too high. Perhaps it was just fatigue or age.

Such thoughts reflect a diminishment of hope, without which one cannot sustain the energy needed to meet our goals.  My intensity, age, the felt pressure, and the course load and my mental and physical health seemed in conflict. In committee work, discussion of issues which had surfaced repeatedly surfaced once again – and again- and challenged my attention at best and bored me at worst, diminishing my effectiveness as a department representative to the committees.

Perhaps one must subscribe to an illusion of an ability to significantly influence educational outcomes in order to teach math at the community college pre-college level – to hope endlessly.

My hope is not gone – it is now just hope that others may make the break-throughs we have all strived for. Hope is again springing eternal in some of the fabulous and long overdue evidence-based research in learning, whetting an ancient instinct in me to once again try some of the new ideas in a classroom – perhaps my grandchildren’s.

After 43 years of teaching (including 5 years of high school teaching, 38 at SBCC) it was time to go. Fourteen years ago at retirement, I turned the page and entered a new life but often miss SBCC and the experience of continuous contact with students and colleagues of all departments.

I thank my many past supportive colleagues whether retired, deceased or forgotten, plus colleagues still at SBCC who are now surrounded by a younger cadre of bright, hopeful and idealistic instructors who are continuing in this greatest of all professions.

Mike Mallen (July, 2015)

I apologize for any omissions, mistakes, memory lapses, unintended insults, defamations, bad attempts at humor, unpalatable opinions and encourage your non-violent corrections (I believe there is a comments section included in the SBCC Legacy format for non-profane comments.)

∼ ∼ ∼ ∼ ∼

The opinions expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily the college.





Leave a Reply