Firm but fair: A retired communications instructor’s views on classroom ethics

Zoey Roundy, Contributing Writer

Retired Santa Rosa Junior College mass communications instructor Ed LaFrance reflected on 34 years of teaching and dished out dirt on SRJC’s administration.

LaFrance retired in 2010. Mass communications involves the structure of mass media systems, television, radio and the internet and its social, economical and political affects on culture.

When asked about his media class, LaFrance said, “It was always interesting, because you would always be teaching about television and its impact, the internet and social media, etc. Everything changed every year. Then of course there’s Sept. 11, 2001, where you can literally throw away your class syllabus and say, ‘So what is going on here?’ And look at it through the eyes of media and the impact it has on culture.”

LaFrance helped with public relations, recording commercials and audio production. He created a broadcast journalism class and radio station operations.

Before teaching, he owned and operated his own radio station with his partner in the 1970s for 15 years. His KVRE AM/FM radio station had nationwide coverage with big names like Billboard Magazine and Chicago Rambler.

“Music was going through some radical changes in the ‘70s,” LaFrance said. “Most radio stations had a strict format. We broke that format; we went free-form. The music went from hard country, like Hank Williams, to hard jazz, like Herb Hancock. But I hired people for their sophisticated knowledge of music because they can appreciate it, not for their voices.”

LaFrance shared his advice for his disk-jockeys. “Your four hours on air are like a blank canvas; put on it what you will,” he said.

After 15 years, LaFrance and his partner were ready to move on to other things and sold the station.

The technology world changed the way classes are run in the last 34 years and can take an effect on learning.

“The input and focus on technology is something radically different; it was changing the nature of teaching. There is much less interrelationships with students, and teaching with too much technology,” LaFrance said.

There are things LaFrance misses about the college, like his students. LaFrance said his students were, socially, economically and ethnically diverse.

“They were fun. I had students who were 17 years old and I had students who were 57 years old. I enjoyed that the most,” he said.

Not only did LaFrance teach at SRJC, but his wife, Beth LaFrance, is an instructor for the Petaluma campus. But that’s not the last of the LaFrance clan —Elaine LaFrance also attended SRJC as a student.

As any employee, there’s always something to complain about or change to make the workplace better.

“I had people that I didn’t get along with,” LaFrance said. “Usually those people were the administration. I tended to be very outspoken; I’m from New England.”

When approached with this question, LaFrance definitely had a thing or two to say about SRJC. He hates bureaucracy and believes SRJC has become “top heavy” with administration.

LaFrance said if you look at a flow chart of the college, you’ll discover there are at least 17 deans. “These are people who do not teach. They do nothing but shuffle papers, draw salaries and cause problems for faculty,” he said. “At the junior college, there are three levels of dean, I don’t know why. There are managers and there are people you don’t even know, and they don’t do much of anything but get paid better than the faculty.”

LaFrance said if you talk to most faculty members you’d discover that they love to teach, but can’t stand bureaucracy. “Filling out forms, going to meetings that really accomplish nothing but suck away a lot of money, which should really go into curriculum, teaching, faculty, classes, stuff like that,” LaFrance said.

LaFrance was on the hiring committee that hired Anne Belden, SRJC journalism instructor, who commented on LaFrance’ teaching methods.

“He was very strict. If you were a minute late to class, he would lock the door and count you absent,” she said.

When approached about this, LaFrance agreed that he had strict guidelines in attendance. He said people were there to learn, so when student would show up to class 20 minutes late and texting on their phone, he didn’t have a tolerance for that.

“When you give people strict guidelines, people will usually adhere to them,” he said.