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Bill Jason Priest, Community College Pioneer

Kathleen Krebs Whitson

Publication Year: 2004

There are few things that are purely American. On that short list are baseball and the two-year community college. Bill Jason Priest possessed skill and acumen for both. The better part of his life was spent developing and defining the junior college into the comprehensive community college. His contributions earned him a prestigious place in the annals of higher education, but his personality was not one of a stereotypical stodgy educator, nor is the story of his life a dry read. After working his way through college, Priest played professional baseball before serving in Naval Intelligence during World War II. His varied experiences helped shape his leadership style, often labeled as autocratic and sometimes truculent in conservative convictions. The same relentless drive that brought him criticism also brought him success and praise. Forthright honesty and risk-taking determination combined with vision brought about many positive results. Priest’s career in higher education began with the two-year college system in California before he was lured to Texas in 1965 to head the Dallas County Junior College District. Over the next fifteen years Priest transformed the junior college program into the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) and built it up to seven colleges. He performed major roles in the evolution of nursing education, the founding of a telecommunications center for the production of televised courses, the delivery and acceptance of vocational education, and in greater breadth in noncredit courses. After his retirement in 1981, he continued to serve as Chancellor Emeritus until 2003. Drawing from archives as well as from numerous interviews with Priest and his personal and professional associates, Kathleen Krebbs Whitson presents the life of a giant in Texas education and reveals his lasting influence upon the community college movement.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Title Page

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Copyright

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Contents

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pp. vii-

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-ix

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Foreword

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pp. xi-xii

This is the story of the remarkable development of a new kind of educational institution, through the experiences of Bill J. Priest, a maverick who took the reins in building for Dallas what Bob Thornton called the “the best damn junior college in the country.” I enjoyed this book. There is nothing dry or abstract about it. Is the story well told? It is. I have known Bill since we first came ...

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Preface

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pp. xiii-xvi

As people began to learn that I was planning to write the biography of Bill Priest, the responses were expressions of surprise followed by comments of approval. Several added that they could not believe someone had not already done this. Those reactions assured me that my own sense of the importance of this project was ...

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1. Early Influences

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pp. 1-11

Bill Priest stood chuckling as the more than seven hundred people who had gathered to honor him laughed and applauded. The occasion was his retirement from the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) after fifteen years as chancellor. A group of college administrators and faculty gathered ...

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2. The War Years

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pp. 12-18

While a junior in college, Priest had been invited, along with most of the community, to the wedding of a rather prominent couple. He attended, and at the reception, he saw her again— the beautiful girl who used to ride horse back by his house, Marietta Shaw. The difference in grade-level had separated them in high ...

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3. The Wave Swells

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pp. 19-29

After returning stateside and to civilian life, Priest continued his studies full-time for his master’s degree at the University of California Berkeley. He completed it in May, 1946. Utilizing some of those graduate courses toward the doctorate and his master’s thesis, “Administration of Philippine Education Under the Commonwealth ...

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4. The Dallas Story: Establishing the District and Hiring the President

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pp. 30-42

There were early attempts at establishing the junior college in the Dallas area, but those built in the late 1800s did not survive. The junior college movement did not reach fruition in Dallas until the mid-1960s when two-year colleges were being opened nationally on the average of one per week.1 Efforts toward the establishment ...

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5. Building a National Model: The Flagship

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pp. 43-68

Selecting a president was only the first of many tasks facing the newly elected Board of Trustees of the Dallas County Junior College District. At the top of the list was securing a site for the campuses. They chose to wait to involve whoever the president was to be in the land acquisition and planning process. Once Priest ...

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6. Building a National Model: Then There Were Seven

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pp. 69-89

El Centro opened the fall semester of 1966 with all the essential elements in place and an enrollment of 4,047 students. That was 2,047 more than had been projected.1 It was a success. That October, Priest marked one year with the Dallas County Community College District. Thornton asked Priest how much he wanted for a ...

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7. Bill Jason Priest: The Man Personally and Professionally

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pp. 90-107

In a Dallas Morning News article in 1995, the description was given, “He was a thoroughly upright, cantankerous, feisty individual, and Americans have always had a soft spot for that type of figure.”1 Those were the words of a political science professor from Tulane University about Harry S. Truman. It could have been said of Bill J. ...

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8. Retirement: The End of an Era

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pp. 108-113

By 1980, the Dallas County Community College District had grown from a concept and to the fourth largest community college district in the country. Seven college campuses had been built placing every citizen in Dallas County within fifteen minutes driving time from a campus. That surpassed the “twenty-minute ...

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9. Legacies

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pp. 114-129

The word legacy by definition denotes something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor from the past. It is derived from the middle English and middle French word, legate. A legate is an official emissary. It is akin to the word legend which is a story or body of stories coming down from the past. Not ...

End Notes

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pp. 130-141

Appendix: Publications and Vitae of Bill J. Priest

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pp. 142-146

Bibliography

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pp. 147-154

Index

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pp. 155-165

photo section

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E-ISBN-13: 9781574414189
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574411744

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 36 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2004

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Subject Headings

  • Priest, Bill Jason, 1917-.
  • Community college administrators -- Texas -- Dallas County -- Biography.
  • Dallas County Community College District.
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