This is an excerpt from a June 28 column I wrote for Deadline Detroit.

 

By Chad Selweski

Raised in Brooklyn, New York, an Ivy League leftist from Princeton, Jim Jacobs came to a place in suburban Detroit called Macomb County in 1967 to deliver an anti-Vietnam War speech at the local college.

At the time, Macomb Community College was hardly a bastion of anti-establishment views that matched Jacobs’ standing as a member of the radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). But during the height of that ’67 “Summer of Love,” somehow hippie-clad Jacobs “immediately fell in love with” blue-collar MCC. Far from the political drama of the East and West Coasts, Jacobs was intrigued by the college’s wide array of working class teens and adults seeking a better life through post-high school educational opportunities within a community setting.

Faculty members urged him to take a teaching job at the two-year college and he accepted an August starting date. Back at Princeton, where he was completing his dissertation for a Ph.D. in economics and political science, his career choice surprised professors and colleagues.

But Jacobs stuck with his decision, and he stayed at the suburban community college for 50 years.

Now 73, Jacobs retires this Friday, and he still marvels at his transformation from rebellious ‘60s activist to leader of a 2,000-employee, 21,000-student institution where hundreds of mainstream business and political leaders attended his recent farewell party.

Over time, the professor grew accustomed to wearing a suit and tie, engaging in policy discussions with corporate executives, and showing up at nearby Selfridge Air National Guard Base for press events armed with a speech, not a protest sign.

Asked if it ever still occurs to him that his career journey diverged wildly from his twenty-something left-wing ways, he responds candidly:

“It occurs to me every day. People like me walk a fine line. …. . . When I was 25 years old, I would have been appalled with some of the decisions I’ve made.”

With time comes perspective. Earned respect leads to credibility. Change comes from pragmatic approaches.

So, the outsider turned insider learned to work with key members of the business community, through compromise and collaboration, as the college emerged as a leading force in boosting the Macomb County economy. Jacobs developed into one of the nation’s widely regarded experts in workforce development at the community college level, mastering the interactive link between employers’ needs and students’ desires to land good-paying jobs.

Continue reading here.

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