Robert DeHart5 min read

De Anza College's Visionary

Meera Kumbhani

A new student approaches you and says, “Excuse me, can you tellme where the A. Robert DeHart Learning Center is?”

“The wha … ? Huh?” you respond dumbfounded, until she showsyou a De Anza map and points to her destination. “Oh, you mean thelibrary? It’s right over there.”

So many students pass by the large bronze statue in the entranceto the library and disregard the bold letters above the buildingthat spell out “A. Robert DeHart Learning Center” without giving asingle thought to who this man was.

Who was Robert DeHart? And why was he important enough todedicate one of our most widely-used buildings on campus tohim?

“I’ve heard he was, like, a teacher who got shot or something,”said third-year student Alicia Montasano.

On the contrary, Dr. Robert DeHart, or Bob to those who knewhim, was De Anza’s founding president and spent a quarter of acentury creating and shaping the college we have today.

“So much of what today’s students have … is directlyattributable to his vision and his commitment to making De Anza thebest it could possibly be,” said Lorie Prouty, Director of theFoothill-De Anza Business and Institute Program. “De Anza was bornfrom his ideas.”

The birth of De Anza

Before De Anza opened its doors in the fall of 1967, DeHartspent many years with the superintendent-president of FoothillCollege, Calvin C. Flint, researching and planning for thedevelopment of Foothill’s new sister college.

“He wanted [De Anza] to be the best college,” said Prouty. “Notthe best community college, but the very best institution of higherlearning.”

DeHart already had an extensive background in education. Hereceived his doctorate in education from Stanford University andwas teaching at Monterey Peninsula College when he was recruited byFlint as the Dean of Students at Foothill in 1958.

He was soon appointed as the Director of Research for theplanning of De Anza and became the obvious choice for De Anza’sfirst president. He then traveled the nation recruiting the beststaff and faculty he could find.

Even in the very early stages of De Anza’s development, DeHartmade sure programs such as La Voz, musical chorales and bands,sports teams and automotive technology were created.

Providing the opportunities

Once De Anza was in session, DeHart continued to “constantlyinnovate and improve on the programs we have,” said Prouty. “Hisvision was responsible for so many [programs] we have on campusthat other colleges don’t have.”

Prouty also said that he was particularly skilled at gettingfunding for programs.

Some of the programs and resources DeHart orchestrated andfought for the development of include the planetarium, FlintCenter, the Middle College Program, an open house to showcasedifferent divisions’ work called “De Anza Day,” a week focused onschool spirit and club activities called “Fiesta Week,” and theAdvanced Technology Center (ATC).

“The ATC was his baby,” said Prouty. “He fought very hard forthe center, and we wouldn’t have it if it wasn’t for him.”

He also implemented one of the first “Business and Institute”programs in the state, where De Anza would sell training andeducational services to companies. “DeHart felt it was another waythe college could serve the community,” said Prouty.

DeHart also founded the California Community Colleges SatelliteNetwork, making De Anza one of the first community colleges in thenation with such a network. The program provided students withaccess to greater educational resources, including cabletelevision, radio stations and virtual conferencing. In addition,the network allowed all community colleges in the state to shareand exchange resources.

“He was a big supporter of the Distance Learning Center as well,because he thought it made educational opportunities available tomore people,” said Prouty.

An educational philosophy

DeHart was quoted in the Oct. 27, 1967 issue of La Voz saying,”It is society who will suffer if we don’t educate as many peopleas we possibly can. The student isn’t the only one who benefitsfrom higher education.” DeHart was speaking in opposition tocharging students tuition for attending community colleges.

“He believed we should embrace everyone, and that we shouldprovide educational opportunities for all,” said Prouty. “He wasvery committed to diversity and to providing an educationalexperience that would be welcoming to every group. He did not wantDe Anza to be an elitist school; he wanted it to serve everypopulation.”

Prouty also added that DeHart worked hard to make sure budgetdifficulties did not affect students’ educational opportunities.”When we had really full enrollment, he continued trying to attractstudents to the campus. He really understood how important it wasto … keep pushing on.”

Big man on campus

Although working for DeHart wasn’t always easy, his colleaguesappreciated the dedication and determination he had for theschool.

“He was very demanding,” said Prouty. “He wanted so much donethat it was hard to keep up with his expectations. But at the sametime I was just so awed by his genius; he was so visionary and socommitted.”

Dean of community education Caron Blinick said, “He was anextremely focused person. He knew what he wanted and when he wantedit and your job was to do it. He could be quite demanding. And thatwas only because he had very strong visions in terms of theprograms that were important to build the college.”

A legacy left behind

DeHart passed away on Jan. 21, 1993 after more than a decade ofbattling cancer. He was 69 years old.

Eventually DeHart’s cancer had become inoperable, and he wasunable to continue working. He retired in June 1992 with plans tocontinue working on special projects. Unfortunately, his health didnot permit him to do so.

However, his 25 years of dedicated service to De Anza manifestsitself in what De Anza is today.

“His touch is everywhere,” said Prouty. “There’s no way De Anzawould be where it is today if it hadn’t been for all of his hardwork and achievements.”

Because of DeHart’s close work with the Accredited Commissionfor Community and Junior Colleges and his founding of the satellitenetwork program, De Anza received national recognition within thefirst 20 years of its establishment.

“One of his goals was to make De Anza an outstanding institutionwith a very well known reputation, and to make its programs reallyaccessible to the community,” said Blinick. “He definitelyaccomplished that.”

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