For the first time in four decades, Sacramento State is starting a new academic year without Bill Dorman. Professor Dorman celebrated his retirement in June. Getting out was good for Dorman but not so good for those of us who love Sacramento State.
Dorman is a Sac State legend, a guy whose teaching career was built around one address: 6000 J St. He taught a blend of journalism, political science and history. Basically, he taught the art of questioning authority, of looking beyond fake icons, of pulling back curtains to confront little men pulling levers.
In the early days of Dorman’s career at Sac State, Black Panther Party members signed up for his classes. Forty years later, he taught youngsters eager to make fortunes in the digital tech world. Dorman covered a lot of territory at 6000 J St.
He ran his classroom like a talk show, minus the microphones, commercials and folks watching at home. Dorman was the host. Students alternated as guests and audience. Dorman roamed the aisles and peppered students with questions. More formal or pompous professors might consider Dorman’s method theatrical, but it worked.
Bill was as compelling as Oprah, only more upmarket. His material was always fresh, embracing the era. Generations of Sac State students testify that Dorman was the most entertaining, enlightening and inspirational professor they ever witnessed. As a classroom ringmaster, he was without peer.
Dorman practiced what he preached. This means he sometimes found himself at odds with Sac State administrators and colleagues. He feuded with then-President Donald Gerth over what Dorman considers the university’s duty to serve students of mediocre academic background and modest intellectual ambition. This past year, he lectured faculty members about the danger of putting research and fundraising ahead of teaching.
Professor Dorman had no interest in selling Sac State as a local version of UC Berkeley or Stanford or even UC Davis. Those schools have their roles, he always said. Sac State’s job is to embrace students who can’t or won’t make it at Stanford or Cal and to help those kids succeed. Honorable work, in other words.
Dorman knows Sac State is a haven for students who arrive with limited help from their families, or who tried and failed at big-league universities, or who need more time to figure out what they want to do when they grow up.
Unlike a lot of people at Sac State, Dorman has no problem accepting the school for what it is: the local commuter college for the rest of us.
As Sac State moves toward the future, there’s talk about capital campaigns and alumni drives and a sports arena for the campus. There’s talk about building a college village around 6000 J St., with theaters and condos, shops and restaurants catering to the Sac State community. Arenas and theaters and ivy-covered buildings aren’t bad goals for a university. They can be found at hundreds of college campuses across the nation.
But you have to wonder how all those bells and whistles fit with Sac State’s mission. I’m not talking about the official mission. I mean the real mission&emdash;to educate people who are the first member of their family to graduate from college, to teach kids who have failed at fancier schools.
Bill Dorman has retired from Sac State, but Sac State will never be rid of his mission.
R.E. Graswich writes a twice-weekly blog for sacmag.com, co-hosts the afternoon news on NewsTalk 1530 KFBK AM radio and reports nightly on CBS 13. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.