Recently I authored a book titled Destination USC via Luck, Pluck, and the GI Bill. It was based on a series of my stories published in Hawaii after I had retired from the faculty of the USC School of Education. I transmitted a copy to Dr. Janette Brown, Assistant Vice Provost of the USC Emeriti Center. After reading it, she invited me to establish a website, with her assistance. I asked myself, “At the age of ninety-three, what use would I have for a website?”
Fortunately, it occurred to me that a website might enable me to acknowledge the various advantages which made it possible for me to complete an odyssey that began in Modesto, California, before World War Two and eventually reached the campus of the University of Southern California.
One major advantage was my having immediate access to a junior college after I finished high school. Modesto JC offered me two years of free and convenient college transfer courses. Those two years provided me with numerous benefits, beginning with my military service and continuing into my return to civilian life as a student on the GI Bill.
In 1943 I enlisted in the US Army. After finishing infantry basic training and beginning training as a combat engineer, I was abruptly reassigned and scheduled for immediate overseas duty in the European Theater of Operations. The Army must have felt my two years as a science major at Modesto JC had qualified me to serve as a laboratory technician in an evacuation hospital. “Evacs” were later labeled as MASH units during the Korean War. Perhaps you’ve seen MASH episodes on TV.
The benefits of MJC continued beyond my military service. Soon after my discharge, I returned to Modesto and married my fiancée. We moved immediately to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, where I began the final two years of my BA in English at the University of Illinois. The U of I gave full credit for my MJC courses.
My two years at the U of I were supported by the higher education benefits of the GI Bill. Even our housing was provided indirectly by my training as a laboratory technician. I was able to exchange my service as an emergency lab tech on night call and all day Sundays. A local hospital provided my wife and me with a “free” one-room apartment only one block from the campus.
Later on, veterans’ housing benefits rescued us several times: First, by providing temporary quarters in former military barracks while we searched for housing near the UC Berkeley campus.
After I finished my MA at Berkeley, we moved to Bakersfield, where I began teaching at Bakersfield (Community) College. Again we were housed temporarily in former barracks at a deactivated Army airfield.. Later we bought our first new home, financed by a GI loan.
Our odyssey continued to be assisted by community colleges as well as veterans’ benefits. At Bakersfield College I earned my living first as an instructor and later as an administrator. In addition, while at Bakersfield College, I enrolled in a PhD program. For several years I commuted to USC School of Education classes and spent full summer sessions on campus, thanks to the GI Bill.
Completing my degree was made possible by the encouragement and cooperation of Bakersfield College administration as well as the USC School of Education graduate courses scheduled late in the day.
While at Bakersfield College I had gradually moved away from teaching English and into administrative duties. During the year I completed my doctorate, I also registered for placement as a community college administrator. I was interviewed by the superintendent and trustees of two small, remote California community colleges. I declined one offer and accepted the second: Barstow College.
Soon after my family and I had moved to Barstow, I learned that the first president of Barstow College had left after one year to preside over a new community college system in Cleveland, Ohio. Barstow College was still housed on the high school campus. The new site was across the freeway, on raw desert land. Yes, my first two years as the college president were busy ones.
Midway through my third year at Barstow College, I was confronted by a major decision: Should I continue as community college administrator or exchange that role for a university faculty appointment? The Barstow College Trustees offered a new contract with an increase in salary. The dean of the USC School of Education offered me an appointment as tenure track assistant professor.
I had initially considered the presidency of Barstow College to be a stepping stone to a university faculty position. However, I had found I was immensely satisfied by playing a major role in converting raw desert land into a college campus and community center.
At USC, starting as an assistant professor I would receive about half of my potential salary at the college. That financial sacrifice was simple to predict. On the other hand, as an assistant professor I would have seven years to demonstrate I had satisfied the university and School of Education standards for promotion and tenure. University policy required I be promoted with tenure, or dismissed: “Up or Out.”
My ultimate goal was to secure a university faculty position, ideally at the USC School of Education. Consequently I accepted the dean’s offer. It was an opportunity that included major risks and some financial sacrifice. However I was convinced it could provide substantial rewards. Besides, a few years as a community college president had been enough to persuade me that I would have a much less hectic life as a professor.
In community colleges as well as the university, I was assisted by associates and friends. They are too numerous to mention—with two exceptions: my wife and my mentor. I acknowledged in Destination USC… her major contributions to my life.
I met my mentor, Professor Earl V. Pullias, for the first time as a graduate student in his class on higher education in the United States. His course imbued me with appreciation for the major role access to higher education played in the growth and achievements of our nation.
We became friends; our friendship continued. He became my mentor as well. His mentorship continued throughout my doctoral program and my years as a community college administrator. When I joined the faculty at USC he became my colleague as well as my mentor.
Occasionally I was assisted by an associate who became a friend as well. Some of those friendships continued for decades. Nevertheless I’ve declined invitations to join Facebook or LinkedIn.. Perhaps this website will enable me to renew a few of those friendships. It may even result in a few new friends.
A January 2019 website update: In 2017 Destination USC was published by Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.
A cordial Aloha,
Leslie (Les) Wilbur
1434 Punahou St. #1031
Honolulu, HI 96822