December 18, 2013

Reporter Michael Dougan talks about career
The challenge of covering major stories like the Polly Klaus murder trial

By Sophia DeFelice

Former San Francisco Examiner reporter Michael Dougan retired last year after a decade as adviser to the Echo Times campus newspaper.

Former San Francisco Examiner reporter Michael Dougan retired last year after a decade as adviser to the Echo Times campus newspaper.

On the weekend Polly Klass was kidnapped, Michael Dougan was camping with his wife, Andrea, and friends in the Russian Gulch region south of Mendocino.

“Sunday morning I saw a newspaper on the stands with Polly’s picture and a headline about the kidnapping on the cover, but I didn’t think much of it. Monday morning my editors called to say I was on the story,” said the former San Francisco Examiner reporter.

“After Polly’s body was recovered, I realized that camping weekend 2 months earlier, we drove within 100 yards of her body –  stashed beneath rubbish off the west side of the highway south of Cloverdale.”

For the next three years Dougan covered the developments in the Polly Klaas case, beginning with her kidnapping and murder to the conviction of Richard Allen Davis.

“Not many reporters get the opportunity to spend the best part of three years working on the same story,” said the recently retired COM journalism instructor. “I think it made me a better journalist, because of the intensity of it, and the sensitivity.”

Among the other high profile cases Dougan covered were the Oklahoma City Bombing, Columbine Shooting, and Kent Woodlands murder-for-hire trial.

During his 40-year working career, Dougan worked as a propagandist for the military, and as a social worker, journalist, and teacher.

“My job in the Army was propaganda writer in the psychological operations unit, (aka PsyOPS). I worked in Japan, Korea and China writing things that were translated into those languages. My writings were mostly broadcasted into North Korea, the target audience,” Dougan said.

Michael Dougan, 67, retired from COM last year. He was born in Oklahoma City.

“As a child, I read a story about a boy hired as a reporter for a newspaper. I knew right away that is what I wanted to do. The teacher would have me read my stories in front of the class – more so than the other students,” he said.

Mrs. Jones, his 3rd grade teacher, chided Dougan about his penmanship. There was no need to worry he assured Mrs. Jones. When he grew up he would be a newspaper man, and newspaper men use typewriters.

Decades later Mrs. Jones read an article written by Dougan and contacted him.

“You are the only student who became what you told me you would,” she wrote.

Dougan, who graduated from Oklahoma State University, said, “I had some great teachers who prepared me very well for my career.  Most of them were old time reporters, all males. I thought to myself at some point I may do that.”

He landed his first journalism job in 1977 with the Tulsa Tribune, where he worked until the paper fired him a year later.

“The Tulas Tribune was a conservative paper. One of my beats was Indian Affairs –a big beat. The paper felt I was too sympathetic toward Indian causes. One opinion piece I wrote drove them over the top. They fired me on the basis of “philosophical incompatibility. I agreed.”

After leaving the Tulsa Tribune, Dougan travelled through Europe.

Returning to Oklahoma flat broke, he took a job as a psychiatric social worker in a mental institution. Two years later, he got a job at the Denver Sentinel in Colorado.

Shortly afterward, Dougan pursued a girlfriend to Lake Tahoe, where he soon became co-publisher of an alternative newspaper called the High Sierra Times. He then moved over to the larger Tahoe World weekly paper, specializing in in environmental reporting.

From there he moved to Newport Beach and worked for the Daily Pilot in Orange County, where he edited the weekly entertainment section. When he was offered the television critic job at the San Francisco Examiner, he couldn’t refuse.

“When the powers that be offered me the job, it took me all of 7.5 seconds to think it over. I then drove away as quickly as possible before they changed their minds,” he said.

The TV critic job, which lasted five years, gave him an opportunity to meet many stars – including the entire cast of Hill Street Blue, Dallas’ J.R. (“Larry Hagman – no one could drink like Larry”), and comedian Bill Cosby.

Dougan also became acquainted with CBS’ Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather, singer Willie Nelson, and actors Rock Hudson and Jimmy Cagney.

“It was a big thrill for me to meet the stars who were on TV when I was a kid, like Donna Reed, and the Nelson family,” Dougan said.

Dougan shares a story about the night he got into an argument with Mr. T – the A Team actor and former professional wrestler.

“Boy George feared the argument would come to big blows and got between us. Boy George was wearing a dress at the time. I got a whole column out of that little drama,” he said.

Later he would go back to reporting hard news.

“The S.F. Examiner is what I referred to as the lean, mean reporting machine. Before the merger of the Examiner and the Chronicle, I competed against 4 to 5 people at the Chronicle. The S.F. Examiner got updates off the wire. My time was spent on location “doing color” – also known as feature stories or human interest stories.”

For a couple of years, Dougan was the Examiner’s North Bay Bureau Chief.  He covered stories north of the Golden Gate, including forest fires, floods, crime scenes, and courtroom cases.

“During my years as a reporter, I would keep a go bag in my car. It contained Nomex gear for fires, latex rubber gear for floods, a few changes of clothes, toiletries, notebooks, pad and pens. When I left for work in the morning, I couldn’t be sure I’d be going home that day.”

In 1991, Dougan covered a sensational trial in Marin County – the nearby Kent Woodlands murder-for-hire case. Rich McDonald, the owner of a successful pest control business, and the fifth husband of Ann McDonald, was attacked in his home. The bumbling hit men attempted to kill him.

“First they tried to shoot him, but the gun jammed. Then they beat him with a fire place poker. And finally they smothered him with a pillow. Mr. McDonald later died at the hospital. The inexperienced killers planned to get away in McDonald’s truck. But the giant cockroach artwork on the side of the (pest control) truck informed them that was not a good idea.

“Covered in blood, both men walked to COM where they proceeded to ask terrified students for change to make a phone call,” Dougan reported.

He later wrote a short story about the case and sold it to a producer, who turned it into a made-for-TV movie – names and locations changed.

“All the elements for drama were there – the South American beauty, the Jewish lover, the Latino hit man and his black accomplice,” said Dougan. The jury gave McDonald’s wife and her lover life sentences. The hit man got immunity for testifying against the pair, and the accomplice served two years.

In ’93, Dougan was assigned to cover the Polly Klaas kidnapping case.

Twenty years ago, on October 1,1993, Polly, a 12-year-old middle schooler, was enjoying a slumber party with two friends at her Petaluma home. Her mother, Eve Nichol, and younger sister, were asleep in a nearby bedroom.

Richard Allen Davis, who had recently been released from prison, broke into the home, tied-up her friends and abducted Polly at knife point.

Davis, a career criminal, was arrested on December 3, 1993, 63 days after the kidnapping. Two days after he was arrested, Davis lead the police to Polly Klaas’s body.

At that point, more than 2 billion images of Polly Klaas had been distributed world-wide, mostly via the Internet. The Polly Klaas case – and the use of this new technology – would change how law enforcement handles child abduction and missing persons cases.

On October 1, a commemorative 20th anniversary event was organized by KlaasKids, a non-profit organization founded by Polly’s father, Marc Klaas. Dougan attended the event, held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.

“It’s always good to see Marc and Violet,” Dougan said of Polly’s dad and his wife, who had become his friends. “Basically, I think it was an opportunity for them to bring attention to their KlaasKids organization and the good it does.”

Klaas, who had obsessed about getting his daughter back after she had been abducted, founded KlaasKids.

Today, Klaas devotes his attention into helping others.

During Dougan’s coverage of Polly’s case, he interacted with the Klaas family almost on a daily basis.

“He is the consummate professional,” Marc Klaas said of Dougan in a recent interview with the Echo Times. “He has compassion. He was never intrusive.

“Some journalist have their own agenda and dismiss you if you don’t give them what they want or need,” Klaas observed. “Certain journalists have said to me, ‘you’re wasting my time.’ Dougan, on the other hand, has professional integrity.”

It was not an easy case to cover. Dougan had been getting little sleep.

“I spent two months covering the search for Polly and her abductor,” Dougan recalled. “A lot of weird things happened during that time. One night I got a tip that there had been police activity at a condominium neighborhood in east Petaluma. I drove up there about 10 p.m. The Petaluma police were none too thrilled to see me. An officer reluctantly told me there had been an arrest of a man who claimed to know where Polly was. He was willing to give up information for a bundle of money.”

The next day Dougan attended the extortionist’s arraignment in court.

“He was young, none too bright and shaking with fear. He had no clue where Polly might be. It was a crude, and poorly planned attempt at extortion,” Dougan said.

He often warned Marc and Eve, Polly’s parents, about developing details before they became breaking news so that they would not be shocked by headlines.

“They didn’t need the extra trauma,” he said.

Two months after it all began, the Petaluma Police Department held a press conference to announce that an arrest had been made in the case. Polly’s body had not been located yet.

Two nights after Richard Allen Davis’ arrest Dougan got a tip: Polly’s body had been uncovered in a spot south of Cloverdale. He drove to the crime scene where a uniformed cop stood guard, under orders to say nothing to the press.

“Is it what I think it is?,” Dougan asked, looking beyond the crime tape. The officer grimaced and nodded.  The following morning, the FBI and the police were on the scene. Polly’s body was under a white tent.

“The press watched it all unfold from a vantage point up a hill across the highway. One FBI agent reached into his car, removed a bouquet of flowers, and left them on the spot where the body had lain,” Dougan said.

For the next three years he covered investigative and legal developments in the case.

A reporter never knows when, where and what story will break next.

Dougan was in Oklahoma taking care of his deceased mom’s affairs, when the Examiner asked him to cover the Oklahoma City bombing on April 9,1995.

“I was amazed, and horrified, to see the Alfred P. Murrah building cleaved in half, with body-searching teams disappearing into the wreckage,” he told the Echo Times. “I spent the day interviewing witnesses. All the locals were assuming it was perpetrated by Muslim terrorists. People in Oklahoma City looked at the invading media very favorably. They wanted us to tell the world that a horrible wrong had been visited upon their fine city. It had, and we did,” said Dougan.

The former Echo Times adviser also covered the Columbine Massacre, which occurred on April 20, 1999.

“I spent time at the school to capture the mood. Initially, it was believed the shooters – Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris – were Goths,” he said. It would prove to be a false lead.

“On my flight to Denver, I was seated next to a father of a student at Columbine. I got a great story out of him,” said Dougan, who had also attended a service that had lost several of its members to the shooting.

“It was one of the most powerful church services I’ve ever been to. One politician who talked with me on the phone cried,” said Dougan, who wrote a story about how the Columbine shooting impacted Colorado politics.

After it was purchased by the Hearst Corporation ,which owned the Examiner, Dougan began working as a travel writer for the Chronicle in 2000.

For a more than two years, Dougan filed stories from Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Costa Rica, Slovenia, and all over the American West.

“It was the best job in the world,” he said. “I’d still be doing it if they hadn’t phased it out.”

The dot com bubble burst, which caused a restructuring at the newspaper, forced the down-sizing of staff, and Dougan’s travel beat was axed.

With his favorite assignment gone, the paper offered him one of his former beats. Dougan decided it was time for change. He made a list of colleges where he wanted to teach. College of Marin was at the top of the list.

When he called to inquire about a position, his timing was perfect.  Soon he made the transition from reporting the news to teaching students how to do it.

Dougan, who taught journalism at the College of Marin for a decade, was a member of the Academic Senate, and at one point its vice president.

“You will probably never get rich in journalism but you will have a rich life, I told my students. Many times in the field, I’d say to myself, I can’t believe they are paying me to do this. I got into journalism for adventure and was never disappointed,” Dougan said.

Each semester he invited Marc Klaas to speak to his Mass Communication students here.

Klaas remembers speaking to Dougan’s students.

“I spoke about the importance of ethics in the profession,” Klaas told the Echo Times. “It was something I enjoyed doing.”

Dougan said his students were always riveted by Klaas’ talks.

Last month, Dougan and his wife, Andrea, moved from the Mill Valley home they had lived in for 30 years to Uptown Oakland – near Lake Merritt.

“I’ve loved every minute of living in Mill Valley,” Dougan said, “but I’m ready for our move. (Uptown Oakland) is an area that is artistically thriving. I’m told tube socks and Birkenstocks won’t cut it there.”

The Dougan’s have two children. Jennifer, 44, is a doctor in Monterey. Their son, Michael, 47, who lives in Fremont, is a screenwriting consultant and former taught part-time here at College of Marin.

Michael, Sr., retired from his position as journalism instructor here in 2012.

“One should retire into something,” he said. “I’ve been traveling a lot and am associated with several theatre companies. I am currently working on plays.

“I am also doing a lot of photography, mostly for non-profits. Last year I went to Romania and photographed a music camp event there. The photographs were used to create a book as a give-away to those who donated money to the orphanage. I love doing this kind of stuff,” Dougan said.

At the 20th commemoration for Polly, Michael volunteered his photographic services to the KlaasKids Foundation.

“We greatly appreciated his offer,” Marc Klaas said. “Our friendship has grown and continues to grow.”

Dougan has made a lot of friends as a teacher and journalist.

“I’ve traveled the world. I’ve seen things most people never see. Some of them beautiful. Some of them horrible. But all of them interesting.”

November 26, 2013

Adjunct faculty are always on the move
By Leslie Lee & R.J. Heckelman

Part-time faculty often commute between several campuses throughout the Bay Area to teach their courses, which adds to the number of hours they put into a workday.

Part-time faculty often commute between several campuses throughout the Bay Area to teach their courses, which adds to the number of hours they put into a workday.

Some part-time community college teachers drive themselves crazy. In order to pay the bills, they work several jobs at numerous colleges and campuses scattered around the Bay Area. They call themselves “Freeway Flyers.” They sometimes drive more than 100 miles a day getting to and from classes –hours that could be better spent preparing for class, grading papers, and counseling students. Formally they are known as part-time or adjunct faculty.

There are many challenges associated with commuting four hours a day between classes, not the least of which are the logistics of getting to each college. They often arrive in a sweat, carrying their file boxes, instructional materials, and textbooks.

“One of the biggest challenges of teaching at multiple colleges was making it work logistically,” said David King, an English instructor at College of Marin, and former freeway flyer.

“Scheduling was especially difficult because, as a newer faculty member at each institution, I had little to no say in the classes I was offered or the days and times I would teach them.”

One major challenge associated with being a part-timer is qualifying for benefits. Unlike full-time faculty, part timer’s only receive medical benefits if they teach more than  50 percent  of a full-time workload.

Many part-timers are not eligible for  CALSTRS’  pension plan. In addition, they are laid off at the end of each semester. Consequently,  many of them have to go on unemployment during summer and winter school breaks. Although they are often rehired at the beginning of each semester, there is no guarantee. It depends on enrollment.

Familiarizing themselves with every campus is also a challenge. Even something as simple as getting their e-mail can be problematic when each school has its own communications system and web portals.

“Each college has its own local procedures and idiosyncrasies too, from basics like copying and office supplies to more significant differences like course content and expectations for students,” says King.

“This resulted in a lot of scrambling to figure out how things work in each college. I often felt fragmented.”

Even after successfully navigating freeways and cities to get to a college campus,  they must adapt to different college cultures, facilities, procedures, and technological infrastructures.

While one college’s deadline for submitting grades is midnight, another might be noon the same day.

Getting WiFi and Ethernet access for themselves and their students can also be time-consuming and problematic.

If they’ve prepared a Powerpoint lecture with internet links and they don’t have access to a smart classroom their lesson plan gets compromised.

Adjunct faculty comprise more than 50 percent of COM’s teaching staff. The reason is obvious: It’s sometimes cheaper to hire part-timers.

There are some 46,000 non-tenure track faculty in California’s community college system.

“More colleges and universities are relying on such “contingent faculty” –people they can easily lay off – as a less expensive alternative to degree-laden, tenured professors,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2011.

“The worst part is the insecurity,” one part-timer told the Chronicle. “You don’t know from one semester to the next whether you’ll have a job or not. I was afraid to turn anything down.”

By the end of this year, College of Marin will have hired 44 new full-time professors since December 2010, when COM President David Wain Coon was hired. That will represent 36 percent of the full-time faculty. Twenty-two of those positions were created by converting part-time into full-time positions. Twenty-three vacancies occurred as a result of the Supplemental Employee Retirement Program implemented last year. Once hiring is completed for this year, Coon intends to evaluate the possibility of converting additional part-time units to full-time positions.

There can be drawbacks to students when a college has too many part-time faculty. Getting in contact with freeway flyers can be a difficult. They usually don’t have office phones, and sometimes don’t answer school e-mail promptly. Occasionally, their office hours are not posted on the COM website. Some, though, drive great distances on their own time to meet with students.

Cliff Nelson, an Adjunct Math Professor, teaches classes at Santa Rosa Junior College and College of Marin on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He commutes an hour and fifteen minutes one way in a small car, which causes him back pain.

At COM his parking permit is free, though, and he is allowed to park in any lot. At SRJC he has to buy a parking permit, and often struggles to find parking.

Even though part-time professors struggle, they are valued by the College of Marin. They bring their real-life experience and expertise to the classroom.

“We could not do what we do without our valued part-timers,” says Coon.

David Snyder profile: Dean of Arts & Humanities
By Leslie Lee

David Snyder, dean of Arts and Humanities.

David Snyder, dean of Arts and Humanities.


David Snyder has worked with eight different vice presidents in the eight years he has been the Dean of Arts and Humanities at the College of Marin. During his tenure, the college has faced budget cuts, accreditation issues, and major construction challenges.

Snyder manages six departments: English/Humanities, Modern Languages, Communications, Fine Arts, Performing Arts, and one of the largest departments at COM, College Skills, which includes English as a Second Language.

His administrative responsibilities include scheduling, facilities, resource management, and resolving disputes and problems with faculty and students. Part of his role as administrator involves planning meetings, coordinating faculty evaluations, and balancing the buget for six departments.

His favorite part of the job is when he is able to collaborate with faculty and staff on creative ideas and solutions to problems. He finds working to resolve disputes between individuals the most challenging, and recently resolved some issues with facilities. Although he feels that things are improving at COM, he would love to see the college attract some good administrators who would commit to staying at the college longer.

As a manager, Snyder is liked and respected by his staff. Eileen Acker, his administrative assistant, said, “He is very smart.”

Jamie Tipton, an adjunct instructor in the English Department, said, “He seems to be genuinely interested in the humanities.  When he observed my creative writing class, on a purely business basis, he ended up participating in the class and said he would like to take it.  People may not know it, but he’s supportive of students and faculty who engage in the creative arts themselves: I’ve seen him at several plays put on by the COM Drama Department. He read my novel, and once, when I dropped by his office, I noticed my book of poetry behind him on top of a stack of papers.”

Snyder was born on January 25, 1958 in Duluth, Minnesota. When he  was in kindergarten he wanted to be an archeologist. In junior high he aspired to be an architect. And in high school he dreamed of becoming an adventurer. These early aspirations contributed to his career path and his choices in educational institutions.

His time at Evergreen State College, in Washington, where he received his B.A. in Liberal Arts, initially framed his outlook on education. The college provided an alternative to a standard college education. The only major offered there was Liberal Arts, emphasizing a coordinated studies program including but not limited to organic agriculture, community policies, anthropology and literature. College-wide enrollment ranged from 25 to 60 students. Each student had one to two instructors throughout their four-year education.

Snyder engaged in a career outside conventional endeavors. In his early 20s he took a job at The Off Campus School, a drop-out prevention program for high school students. Forty pupils attended this alternative high school, which was located in two old houses in Olympia, Washington. Within two years Snyder advanced from teacher and bookkeeper to head administrator.

In the late 1980s, his thirst for adventure and work experience with troubled teens led him to VisionQuest, an innovative rehabilitation program. Juveniles were sent to live on a wagon train, comprised of 10 covered wagons, five tee-pees, and 50 horses and mules. Seventy-five students, ages 16 through 19, were referred to VisionQuest by the California Youth Authority, as an alternative to going to jail.

Snyder was a tee-pee parent on the wagon train for a year.

The wagon-train traversed the deserts of the Southwest and the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains. To earn the right to ride a horse, people had to walk 25 miles in the desert… in a day. Snyder passed the endurance test, and enjoyed riding a horse as a scout, either in the front of the wagon train or at the back. He said he enjoyed the solitude, the desert and the early morning sunrises.  He noted that the kids were less angry after the program, but he was uncertain if it had a lasting impact upon them because once the kids completed it, they returned to their original neighborhoods.

After this job, Snyder worked on a fishing boat in Alaska, then drove a bus in Seattle. Later, he enrolled at U.C. Berkeley, where he earned his master’s in City Planning with an emphasis on Community Development in 1992, and got his Ph.D. in Education, with an emphasis on social and cultural studies, in 1995.

After graduate school, Snyder spent three years as a camp counselor in Encampment for Citizenship, a youth leadership program at the Marin Headlands. Youth from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds participated, including Lakato, Navajo, and inner-city kids.

Over the next several years he held jobs at three different colleges: Albernia College (now Albernia University) located in Amish Country one hour outside Philadelphia; Middlebury College in Vermont; and San Diego Mesa College, where he served as associate dean of Humanities and Languages for two and a half years.

In a family whose names all start with “D”, (parents: Don and Diana; siblings: Dori, Debbie and Dan) Snyder stands out from the crowd.

At 6-foot-one, green-eyed and lean, his skin has that ruddy tone normally attributed to young men in the prime of their life. He claims living in the Pacific Northwest for much of his adult life has shielded his skin from sun damage, He’s a pescetarian who enjoys yoga, biking, and weight training.

He also loves to garden. He grows vegetables, such as kale and carrots, herbs such as St. John’s wort, and recently planted some gardenia bulbs that his mother sent to him.

Snyder also enjoys camping in his 2005 green Honda Element because its seats can be configured to maximize car camping needs for sleeping and cooking. He has traveled around the world  and enjoys seeing other cultures. Bali is one of his favorite spots because the people are so warm.

Two of his  friends – Hobie and his wife, April – are living with him this semester while they attend classes at College of Marin. Both are Americans who live and work in Nicaragua. They run a yoga and health spa and are starting a farm there. Hobie is taking classes in Integrated Pest Management at the Organic Farm at the Indian Valley Campus, while April is pursuing her general education requirements at Kentfield.

Snyder’s interests, education, and career experience contribute to his unique vision for COM’s future. He says he’d like to see the college move toward offering “accelerated transfer learning communities, where you can get all of your general educational requirements out of the way by linking your classes together to fulfill more than one general education requirement.”

He notes: “College is a place for students to open their minds. Students should use all the resources we have to offer to enable them to do that. Take advantage of the faculty’s office hours if you need help and talk to our counselor’s for support.”

September 20, 2013

New librarian has doctorate in education
By Erika Rosales

Librarian David Patterson is excited to help students reach their academic goals.

Librarian David Patterson is excited to help students reach their academic goals.


As of August 2013, College of Marin has a new librarian. David J. Patterson is originally from Millbrae, only 45 minutes south of San Francisco, however he has been residing in Mill Valley for the past eight years. Originally a K-12 educator, Patterson decided to shift gears and start a new career in the library industry.

“I wanted to be in education still, however, I wanted to have a different role. I can be an activist every day. I love libraries, because in my mind, they are sanctuaries for everyone and you meet a large variety of people there, including students who want to study as well as those who are homeless and are just wishing to get out of the bad weather.”

Patterson came to COM with extensive experience under his belt as a librarian and professor. He has worked at many other universities and colleges, including Cañada College, Stanford University, as well as McLure Education library and as an ESL instructor in community colleges and adult education programs.  Patterson is also the founding board member of Homework Central in San Mateo. Before pursuing his career in education and as a librarian, he attended the College of San Mateo where he earned a bachelor’s degree.  He then studied and earned his teaching credentials at U.C. Berkeley, a master’s degree in library information studies from the University of Alabama, as well as a doctorate in education from U.C. Berkeley.

“I want to help students find information for their research assignments, and to build their research skills so they can be really powerful researchers,” he said, speaking from his office in the library. “We want to have more computers in the library, and we want to have more E-books. So, this is the trend, especially in libraries. We’ll continue buying print books to some extent, but also transition to having more E-books. We’re also trying to turn the library into more of a place where people can collaborate on projects together.”

Patterson hasn’t been on campus long enough to get involved in any new literary or library-related initiatives or programs, but he intends to collaborate with other campus figures to boost participation in library-based activities. “Librarians like to collaborate across the board, or at least that’s my style. I love to collaborate, especially with professors, student clubs and student organizations… anything we can do to reach out to the campus, I think, is a great thing.

So far, Patterson is enjoying his time at the Kentfield campus. “It’s great to be on such a beautiful campus. Both the students and the faculty have been very welcoming,” he said.

May 13, 2013

COM teacher receives volunteer of the year award
By Cecilia Jordan

Oak Downing’s commitment to volunteering has earned him Outstanding Civic Center Volunteer of the Year.

Oak Downing’s commitment to volunteering has earned him Outstanding Civic Center Volunteer of the Year.


To continue to be selfless after retirement is not on a lot of average men’s minds these days. They want to play golf or travel the world–things that were missed because of the long hours on the job. After serving the community as an attorney in Marin County, Oak Downing has spent his time continuing his service to the community.

Originally from Chicago and went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied law and met his wife of 50 years and they had two children. Together in 1973, the whole family picked up and moved to Marin. Three years later he had his own law practice in then same office on Fourth and A Streets for 31 years.

Downing started with general practice law, but ended up working in estate planning and litigation. In 1990 he decided he needed to do something a little different.

“So I started doing legal terminology for court reporting students at College of Marin,” he said.  He has been teaching that here for 23 years.  In this time he also received an AA in Dramatic Arts degree from COM, drama being one of his many passions.

Just before his retirement in 2008, Downing took a class put on by the County of Marin, that was “used to educate police officers about elder abuse. And [he] really got into [volunteering] then,” He said.

Since then Downing has volunteered his time, protecting the elderly against fraud, abuse or neglect. In 2010, he joined the county program FAST, or Financial Abuse Specialist Team.

Downing says “FAST is a committee made up of a couple dozen people, from different fields ranging from law, county, real estate, insurance and nursing.”

Marin County uses FAST and its experts during police investigations. The volunteers dedicate their free time to going over files related to investigations. They try and build a paper trail to give clear evidence of theft or other wrongdoing and give law enforcement suggestions on how to build, if needed, a case against abuse.

FAST also gives informational seminars all over the Bay Area to educate the elderly and their family members about criminals who target senior citizens. Sadly, a lot of the time these criminals are in the immediate family.

The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse says that  “is generally believed that 4-6% of the elderly are abused.”

Downing is proud that FAST, through the education he and the other volunteers give out, is allowing people to be sensitized to this topic.

Downing is fearful that this problem is only going to get worse. With the recession and the increasing age of baby boomers, “there is more of a need for people to be taken care of, ” he said.  Downing believes “an ounce of preventions is worth a pound of cure.”

For his efforts, Oak Downing is being honored as Outstanding Civic Center Volunteer of 2012-2013. He and fellow honoree Roberta Robinson are being recognized by the county of Marin and Marin Civic Center for their time and effort in battling and preventing elder abuse in the county. These two citizens, along with the other members of FAST, are an exceptional example of caring individuals in the community.

Downing is hopeful that with this recognition, more people aware of the problem. He encourages students to get educated and involved in what ever they are interested. Downing adds, “We are always looking for new [volunteer] members.”

Downing can be reached by email at roaklaw@gamil.com. He is a very kind, gracious man who has dedicated his life to helping the helpless. His willpower is a shining example of service to the community.

March 15, 2013

Sociology professor wants her students to make a difference
By Cecilia Jordan


There are a multitude of teachers at the College of Marin, and they all know the value of a good education, and are passionate and want to inject that passion for learning. In this respect, Susan Rahman of the Sociology Department is no different. Even though she is a relatively new teacher, she has already made quit an impact at College of Marin. Rahman wants all of her students to change the world. She knows the power of a few like-minded individuals getting together to make a difference, and she has made it her career to push students to do things outside their comfort zone to benefit the world around them.

Rahman’s passion began with her undergraduate degree from Humboldt State. She first went to college with the intention of being a biology major, but took a sociology class “and loved it.” In 1995, she graduated with a Bachelor’s in Sociology and four years later she also received a Master’s from Cal State. She began teaching at the City College of San Francisco in 2003, but left in 2012. Since 2007 she has also taught at Santa Rosa Junior College, and since 2010 at College of Marin.

On top of all this, Susan is in her first year of a PhD program at Saybrook University. She believes going back to school is making her a stronger teacher because she is being reminded of the student’s perspective, which is helping her communicate her ideas and lessons to students.  All of her classes are geared toward students learning about the behavior of people around them. She wants her students to be compassionate, empowered members of society.

Part of Rahman’s message to all of her students is to be conscientious, informed citizens and to utilize different media outlets in order to receive their news from sources other than CNN, FOX or their favorite local news station. She does this by having her students be contributing student reporters for the news media website, Media Freedom International. They are required to search non-corporate news media and find news reports that are interesting to them, write a short formal report and submit it online. Students can have the opportunity to be published online and be recognized for their work. Rahman sees this as a way to get her students more actively involved in the world.

According to her, in today’s world people have to really search for news that is not fueled by corporate money, and Rahman wants her students to be aware of this.

Another class project has Rahman and her students really fired up. Rahman had her students research how popular clothing companies produce their products. She feels it has opened up many eyes to the harsh conditions woman and children around the world are subjected to when making the clothing we wear on our backs every day. She taught her students about a sweatshop factory that caught fire, and 112 employees were killed due to insufficient safety measure not seen in America since the March 25, 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York.

Rahman’s students were upset and wondered if they could do anything to make sure this never happens again. This group of students formed the student organization “Students 4 Social Justice,” and Rahman was asked to be the faculty advisor. Students 4 Social Justice meets every Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. upstairs in Fusselman Hall, and discusses topics of social injustice all around the world. As of Spring 2013, Students 4 Social Justice is not recognized as an organization on campus. However, they are in the process of writing a proposal to present to the Academic Senate so they can be considered an official student organization. They are all optimistic that the faculty will see their passion and believe in them enough to accept them.

Even though there is no official recognition on campus yet, the students wasted no time in starting their first project. Students 4 Social Justice are trying to make sure College of Marin knows where and whom they are buying products from. If the Association of Students at College of Marin, ASCOM, approved this measure, an organization called Workers Rights Consortium would go over what the college buys and if any factories were flagged as substandard for any reason. WRC would suggest an alternative company that produces the same product, but whose factories are considered safe by today’s standards. By doing this, COM would be saying we will not support unfair treatment of workers, no matter where in the world they are. Students would not be affected in price difference and without even trying, the student body would be supporting fair treatment of workers. This has become Rahman’s newest passion. She and her students are trying to improve the world we live in. They are always open to suggestions of the public, and invite anyone to join them in Fusselman Hall.

Susan Rahman definitely isn’t your average teacher. Her classes are filled with passionate talks of sociological topics, and she welcomes different opinions, which is what keeps her classes interesting. Rahman wants her students to be inspired and go out and change the world. With her hiring, College of Marin has gained a valuable asset to the educational curriculum.

February 25, 2013

Experienced VP of Student Services new on campus
By Lisa Kelly

Student Vice President Jonathan Eldridge in his new office, which is covered in his favorite movie posters.

Student Vice President Jonathan Eldridge in his new office, which is covered in his favorite movie posters.


College of Marin welcomes Jonathan Eldridge as the new Vice President of Student Services. He brings with him extensive college administrative experience. Eldridge was previously the Dean of Students at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon for a number of years. After that he was Vice President for Student Affairs at Southern Oregon University for six and a half years. During that time, Eldridge says, “I had the privilege of working with many students with many different needs and experiences. Additionally, I had to lead the student services areas through difficult budget reductions that actually led to improved services for students and increased student persistence.”

As for College of Marin, he plans on learning a lot about the college, its students, and its culture.

“I plan to engage folks from across campus in discussions on how we can improve the student experience and maximize student success. And we then need to implement those steps that will concretely accomplish this,” he said.

Eldridge received his bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in Political Science from Central Washington University. His masters degree is in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Colorado State University. This degree allows Eldridge to focus on integrating distinct elements of an institution in order to guarantee students have a successful experience in college.

When Eldridge is not working, his interests include sports and film. “I love baseball and movies. And while I grew up north of Seattle (and thus have been a life-long fan of the Seattle Mariners), I look forward to both Giants and A’s games. I also hope to get some Wiffle Ball games going on campus – I have already identified a couple of promising areas to showcase my 12mph slider.” As for his interest in movies, Eldridge made it known that, “hanging on my office walls are posters from two of my favorite movies. But you will have to stop by to find out what those are!” Eldridge is also an enthusiastic cook and wine aficionado. Additionally, he loves spending time with his wife and kids and quips: “Should I have put that before the movies and baseball?”

Eldridge is married to Rima DasGupta, a newly tenured sociology professor at Santa Rosa Junior College with whom he has four children.

Eldridge’s new position as Vice President of Student Services was created to replace the Dean of Student Development position while also incorporating a portion of the duties previously held by the Vice President of Student Learning. The position was created as part of the college’s Strategic Plan 2012-2015, which focuses on the reorganization of the institution of College of Marin. Eldridge’s duties include carrying out statewide initiatives which were designed to improve educational outcomes. These include acquiring new technology and more college counselors, discovering new ways to assess the skill levels of new students, and to strengthen the professional abilities of the faculty and the staff.

When asked about his first couple of months here at College of Marin, he replied, “It has been great, everyone has been very welcoming and I have enjoyed getting a sense of all the great things going on at COM.” Eldridge commented on his favorite aspect of his job thus far: “Besides the beautiful view from my office, I love looking at and understanding systems – how the college works is fascinating to me. And that provides a good context for helping staff do their good work to help students succeed.”

As for what he hopes to bring to COM, he says, “A passion for students and their successful attainment of their educational goals, curiosity, and a sense of humor.”

February 2, 2013

The ‘Walking Man’ retraces his steps
Tom Graham fills retired professor’s shoes
By Tyler Botn

Editor-in-Chief Nash Kurilko, Professor Tom Graham and Design Editor Chelsea Dederick review the front cover for the first Echo Times issue.

Editor-in-Chief Nash Kurilko, Professor Tom Graham and Design Editor Chelsea Dederick review the front cover for the first Echo Times issue.


College of Marin has hired a host of new professors to replace previously serving instructors, most of whom were bought out into retirement late last year, including John Gaiz. Another professor plunged into retirement is Michael Dougan, who worked as advisor to the Echo Times during the Fall 2012 semester. Dougan is not unhappy at the thought of retirement, and intends to “consider a career in competitive bowling, or perhaps modern dance. Otherwise, I’ll be writing and taking pictures and traveling like a monkey on meth.”

One such newly-hired professor is Tom Graham, 64, who had previously worked at the San Francisco Chronicle for over 20 years as a feature copy editor and prolific writer. He is well known for his epic six-year “SF Walking Man” project with the Chronicle, in which he hiked every hill and street in San Francisco.

“Only a handful of people have done it. And now I can say I have. All 2,612 streets,” said Graham on his website detailing the project. “When I first started, I thought it was a pretty original idea. I thought, ‘Nobody in their right mind would do this.”

One Chronicle reader warned that Graham would get mugged “at least 11 times,” according to an article in his series published in December 2005. Yet, the closest to trouble he got was just north of McLaren Park in 2009. Two sinister men in a suspicious car pulled alongside him while he was walking his beat. Tom was able to escape in good order.  “The sense of danger was palpable,” Graham described.

Apart from doing his walking series, Graham also holds the distinction of being one of the few remaining individuals who directly edited the at-first daily, then semi-daily column of the late and famous Herb Caen, who died in 1997. Caen had been writing for the Chronicle since 1938.

He has also won numerous California Newspaper Publisher Association awards for his stories, editing, photography and format design.

At COM, he’s been hired as special advisor to the journalism department, and in that capacity he aids the student-run Echo Times newspaper. His role with the newspaper is to help with organizational facets of production, and to guide new journalism students through the basics of the printed news industry. This includes helping new writers develop reporting and editing skills, coaching student-editors on the deeper details of newspaper production and managing deadlines.

This is not the first time Graham has taught at COM with the Echo Times, and it is not the first time Graham has taught anything journalism-related to begin with. Graham has also been teaching classes like Magazine Editing and Contemporary News Media at City College of San Francisco for nearly 20 years. As of 2013, Graham continues to act as a part-time professor who works primarily with CCSF’s ETC Magazine.

Prior to working with the Chronicle, Graham was the editor of the Pulitzer-Prize winning Point Reyes Light newspaper. In addition, he spent time as a managing editor with the California Farm Bureau in Sacramento, and as a reporter for the Mountain Messenger newspaper in Sierra and Nevada counties respectively. Graham also has experience with the North Star ski resort, and as a general assignments reporter with the Tahoe City-based Tahoe World newspaper.

More recently, Graham worked for five years as a full-time volunteer naturalist at Camp Mather near Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite State Park.  He is excited to be back at College of Marin.


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