Bill Jason Priest, Community College Pioneer
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.
“This book tells 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 the DCCCD.” —Edmund J.
Gleazer, University of Texas at Austin
“The book captures not only the spirit that made Bill Priest such an
effective and commanding presence in DCCCD, but the spirit that embodied
the growth and evolution of today’s community college. Priest remains a
legend to many familiar with the history of community colleges, and the
book is a fitting testament to the genius of his vision.” —–Stephen B.
Kinslow, executive Vice President: Academic, Student, and Campus
Affairs, Austin Community College