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(From left) Don Rippey, John Roueche and George Baker of the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin circa 1983.
Photo: Courtesy of George Baker
When Edmund Gleazer, Jr., who served as president of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) from 1958-81, was honored by the AACC board of directors last fall, John Roueche traveled from Texas to support his friend.
When Gleazer returned home that evening, he found a note from Roueche waiting for him.
“That’s so typical of John,” Gleazer says. “He writes thank-you notes that are person-centered with a spirit of love. I can talk about all his achievements, but I can’t leave out the fact that he’s filled with love. I hope that spirit of love continues after he leaves.”
Texas college offices named for Roueches
Roueche, who since 1971 has directed the Community College Leadership Program (CCLP) at the University of Texas at Austin (UT)—the national benchmark of two-year college leadership programs—is retiring this year. Over those four decades, Roueche has written or co-written 37 books and more than 150 articles and chapters about community college leadership. He has also visited more than 1,300 community colleges and universities to talk about the topic.
But what Roueche will be most remembered for is the legacy of leaders he’s helped to mold: Leaders who will carry on the work he’s done and continue to strengthen community colleges.
“There’s no one who’s done as much as John to advance the community college cause,” says Terry O’Banion, president emeritus of the League for Innovation in the Community College. “I think he is a Renaissance man, and I don’t say that lightly. John is tops in every category you can come up with.”
An auspicious beginning
From his own days at Mitchell Community College (MCC) in North Carolina—where he was named “Most Intellectual” by his graduating class in 1958—Roueche went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Lenoir-Rhyne University (North Carolina) in 1960 and a master’s degree from Appalachian State University (ASU) in North Carolina in 1961. A doctorate in higher education administration from Florida State University (FSU) followed in 1964.
But it’s the faculty at MCC that helped him discover the power of teaching.
“The Mitchell instructors were so centered on helping their students, being available, taking an interest and mentoring us,” Roueche says. “As a 17-year-old freshman, I thought, ‘This is what college and the undergraduate experience should be about.’”
He credits some of that faculty with challenging him to be more dedicated to academics and to want to be even better.
“I’d never thought about teaching before that. I’d been encouraged to go into law,” Roueche says. “But I enjoyed and appreciated the way in which the faculty challenged us and motivated us. It was a wonderful insight into what teachers can do in such a positive way if that’s the reason they’re in the profession.”
A change of direction
He began his career as a high school teacher but it was while he was teaching history at ASU in 1961 when a professor from FSU came to do a junior college workshop. Roueche helped him with various tasks and played tennis with him. They chatted about various topics and the professor—learning that Roueche was interested in intellectual history, equity and democracy—suggested Roueche look into teaching at a community college.
“He sent me a plane ticket and I went to Florida State for my Ph.D. on a full scholarship, majoring in higher education with a focus on community colleges,” Roueche says.
From there, he went to the University of California, Los Angeles, and then to Duke University (North Carolina), where he was the director and associate professor of education at the Institute on Junior College Administration. Then UT called, asking him to chair CCLP.
A generation of leaders
As he prepares to retire and reflects on his career, Roueche says he is pleased with the impact he’s had on community colleges and is hopeful for the future.
“I feel very good about the wonderful graduates of CCLP and at Duke,” he says. “So many of those wonderful men and women went on to become chancellors, presidents and vice presidents of some of the most notable community colleges, and quite a few became presidents of national groups as well.”
The father of three—whose children all attended community college—refers to the 500 graduates of CCLP as his extended family and treats them in kind.
“We know where they are and what they’re doing,” Roueche says. “It’s been great fun to see them grow, develop and make a powerful contribution to their community and state. That’s what I feel best about.”
Many of Roueche’s colleagues note that his wife, Suanne, is the perfect partner. The two met when Roueche went to Dallas in 1971 to meet UT staff and tour the building. Roueche was impressed when he saw Suanne gathering students from the basement and learned that she was rounding up students who had not come to her developmental English class. Suanne’s roommate, an old friend of Roueche’s, encouraged him to take Suanne to dinner. They’ve been married for 37 years.
The pair has written 10 books, authored about 30 articles and led hundreds of workshops.
“There aren’t many husband-and-wife teams in education and very few in community colleges, but they have been such an asset to each other,” O’Banion says.
What comes around
Roueche says that he is proud that some of his earliest ideas about leadership and the issues future leaders would face have come full circle. For example, he wrote the first book on developmental education; four decades later, the issue is “the major Achilles heel of our college work,” he says.
Forecasting future issues at community colleges—and using that information to prepare future leaders—was the focus of CCLP from the beginning and remains central to the program, he says.
“We’re always looking at the issues, challenges, and opportunities that will arise five or 10 years down the road,” Roueche says. “Colleges have to be more aggressively entrepreneurial, cooperative and collaborative. There has to be more partnering with constituent groups.”
Even when his students are well into their own careers, Roueche still considers himself their lifelong adviser.
“He takes as much pleasure in the progress of his followers as in his own success. Every graduate from his leadership program—every student in a leadership program anywhere in the world—will call him and ask for help and he’ll stop whatever he’s doing,” says George Baker, who taught with Roueche in the early years and was one of Roueche’s first graduate students at Duke. “We will continually have wonderful people in this business because of the stage he’s set.”
Leaders in the field recognize the network he has developed.
“The alumni network he’s created is incredibly strong and supportive,” says Gerardo de los Santos, president of the League of Innovation in the Community College, who met Roueche when he was researching doctoral programs. “It provides doctoral students with access to everyone they need.”
Roueche has also helped community college leaders find new employees that are the right fit for their institution.
“He was an enormous help when I ran Greenville Technical College,” says Tom Barton, who met Roueche while the two were at Duke. “Whenever I called about a resume I received, he would know the person if he’d ever seen them or heard of them. I called him dozens of times for that.”
One of Roueche’s students was AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus, who earned his doctorate through CCLP. He returned to UT to teach in the program after serving as president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.
“I went to CCLP because of John. You have to be there to fully appreciate what he was able to create,” Bumphus says. “He has created a program like none other in the country. He used his genius in amassing resources in a university environment, which is not easy to do. What he did with CCLP, the National Institute of Staff and Organizational Development and other programs is unlike what any other leadership program had ever done.”
Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, says the support and educational experiences Roueche has created for doctoral students is unparalleled. Each new class entering in the fall becomes a learning community and goes through a carefully designed program that is atypical of graduate programs, she says.
“Faculty helps these students finish their doctorate and learn to collaborate,” McClenney says. “If you can’t do teamwork here, you won’t do it at your college.”
Copyright ©2014 American Association of Community Colleges