ORLANDO, Fla. — It is clear that Dr. Walter Bumphus, president of the American Association of Community Colleges, has a soft spot for Dr. John Roueche, who after 42 years as director of the Community College Leadership Program (CCLP) at the University of Texas at Austin is retiring.
Bumphus was a former student of Roueche, who worked hard to recruit him to CCLP’s faculty following Bumphus’ six-year tenure as system president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.
During the Presidents Academy Hail and Farewell Luncheon on Sunday at the AACC conference, a moving tribute video honoring Roueche was shown in which a number of former AACC presidents lauded his many achievements. The luncheon was among a several events over the past few days here at the AACC annual convention devoted exclusively, or partially, to hailing Roueche’s extraordinary contributions to the community college movement. Following the video presentation, Bumphus presented Roueche with an award recognizing him for his many years of service.
“John has been a mentor to me and certainly a great friend of mine over the last 30 years, and I’m especially pleased this afternoon to acknowledge and congratulate him on behalf of AACC for a very distinguished career as he retires,” Bumphus said during the tribute to Roueche.
When Roueche hit the stage, he quipped that he told his wife, Suanne, that he “would have retired long ago if I knew there would be this kind of send-off.” Roueche was very self-effacing as he related an anecdote about seeing a well-worn copy of Institutional Administrator or Educational Leader: The Junior College President—a book he authored with Dr. Arthur M. Cohen, published in 1969—on the desk of a friend who was president of Roueche’s alma mater, Mitchell Community College in Statesville, N.C. Impressed that his friend had taken on his task as a community college leader so seriously, Roueche asked him what he had learned.
“Without hesitation, he looked at me and said,” concerning community college leadership, to much laughter from the audience of community college presidents, that it was “‘easier to write about it, than it is to do it.’ So you guys are the doers, and I congratulate you very much,” Roueche said to much applause.
Many of Roueche’s former students here at the AACC conference had poignant reflections on the key role Roueche has played in their professional development. Roueche has worked tirelessly to recruit women and minority students to CCLP, and African-Americans such as Bumphus and Dr. Belle Wheelan hold some of the highest posts in higher education leadership. Wheelan currently serves as president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, and she formerly served as president of Northern Virginia Community College.
“I have had a career while being a single parent. And part of being able to do that was constantly hearing John (Roueche) in my ear saying, ‘You play the hand that you were dealt. You don’t sit back and lament about it. You find ways to go around it.’
“Those kinds of encouragements are things that, for me, started in the program. He’s never turned down a telephone call from anybody I know who’s ever finished the program. He’s opened doors for us … and he’s just always been there,” Wheelan said.
Wheelan added that she has consulted closely with Roueche on career moves well after her time at UT-Austin. Though Roueche gave direct advice on whether to apply or not apply for a position, “it’s not ever been a criticism that he’s ever come forward with. It’s just the honesty of, ‘Here’s what I see as your strengths; here’s where I see things on which you need to work, and, if you’ll work on those, then they’ll suddenly become strengths. And if you can’t develop those as strengths then we’ll deal with the strengths that you have and try to find an institution with which you can fit. Those are the kinds of things he’s done for me.”
Editor’s Note: Diverse: Issues In Higher Education is planning a special tribute edition to honor Dr. Roueche slated for publication on May 10, 2012, coinciding with our annual listing of the Top 100 producers of associate degrees for minority students. Diverse will also be in attendance and will make a presentation to Roueche at the upcoming annual National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) conference, one of CCLP’s marquee events. The conference will be held in Austin, Texas, May 27-30, 2012. Please stay tuned for continuing coverage.