Race didn't get Robert W. Judson his job, talent did. And a two-county community is the beneficiary.
Judson, the first black person to preside over one of Florida's 28 community colleges, announced Tuesday he is retiring as president of Pasco-Hernando Community College at the end of January. He will be missed. Judson is personable, persuasive and decisive, whether tackling issues of academics, diversity, funding, growth, job-training or even an affiliate's dubious academic background.
Judson provided a steady hand during a tumultuous growth period in two counties while expanding the college's viability. Over his career, the student population grew from less than 700 in storefront operations to nearly 7,000 per semester at four campuses.
Meanwhile, the emphasis remained on community in the college's response to area needs. It bought land for a planned campus in Spring Hill, began offering classes last month in the high-growth area of Wesley Chapel with an eye toward a full-fledged center there within 10 years and improved course offerings and the physical campus in Brooksville. In conjunction with the University of South Florida, PHCC now allows local students to obtain four-year degrees from a public institution without driving to Tampa or Pinellas County. PHCC also is working with the private sector to train nurses and the college has reserved slots in its paramedic classes for local firefighters to help ease a shortage of cross-trained emergency workers.
Judson's professional growth matched the college's. He began at the school 32 years ago as an instructor and counselor, moved to administration and became an assistant dean, dean, provost of the west Pasco campus and executive vice president - the college's second in command to its first president, Milton Jones, who retired in 1993. Judson emerged as Jones' successor after the nine-person board conducted a national search for a replacement.
Judson is smooth politically, an attractive asset considering he was hired on just a 5-4 vote amid concerns he was too inexperienced in the workings of Tallahassee. Those feared shortcomings proved unfounded and Judson showed he was deft at partnering with legislators while building unanimous consensus among the board of trustees on nearly every issue.
A couple of examples: A year after a board member suggested the newly hired Judson was overpaid, Judson froze his own compensation until faculty salaries could be established. After the 1998 election brought Jeb Bush in as governor and a new Republican-appointed board of trustees to the college, Judson withdrew pending plans to purchase land in Spring Hill, allowing the new trustees to have the final say on what had become a controversial matter.
"You've got to know when to fold 'em," he volunteered afterward.
Judson's byline appeared above a guest column on this page earlier this week. In it, he wrote about the value of a community college.
In the three decades that PHCC has been in existence, we have produced more than 15,000 graduates. Most PHCC alumni live in the local community and contribute to its social and economic welfare. Ninety-seven percent of PHCC career graduates work successfully in their field of training. They are our children's teachers. They are the nurses and medical technicians in the area hospitals and doctors' offices, the paramedics who come to our aid in an emergency. They're our dental hygienists, computer service professionals, police, paramedics, paralegals. PHCC graduates are among our bankers, Realtors, lawyers, legal assistants and business leaders. Imagine how much poorer we would all be without them.
We don't disagree at all. But imagine how much poorer this community would have been without Robert Judson as one of its leaders.