During a monologue on NBC’s “Tonight Show” in late April, host Jay Leno poked fun at a San Francisco group that offered a one-day program to educate prostitutes about the sex industry.
The program, he said, “will teach women how to become prostitutes. Isn’t the purpose of an education so you don’t have to do things like prostitution?”
Leno’s parting shot, though, was what sent Betty Young, president of Northwest State Community College in Ohio, over the edge: “It’s actually less embarrassing than going to a junior college,” he joked.
Young tried to get in the last word during a news conference Wednesday at Los Angeles Valley College, after a nine-day, Ohio-to-California road trip called “The Lessons for Leno National Tour.” Traveling much of the way on her 1992 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail motorcycle, she was eager to garner helpful publicity for the nation’s nearly 1,200 two-year colleges.
The college president didn’t get the chance she wanted to ride with Leno, also an avid motorcyclist. And in a brief, arranged visit with Leno at his studio after he taped his Tuesday night show, Young said, she failed to come away with a promise that the barbs would end, although she found Leno “a little defensive” about her complaints.
Still, Young, who arrived at the Valley College news conference on her Harley as the song “Born to Be Wild” blared on loudspeakers, was undeterred.
“What we want is a little more respect for our students and for our colleges because that’s where quality education for most people begins,” said Young, who started at a two-year school as a single mother at age 28 and went on to earn doctoral and law degrees.
NBC officials declined to comment on the brouhaha, but a spokesman for Leno said the comedian had no misgivings. “He’s an equal opportunity insulter. That’s the whole point,” the spokesman said.
Young’s nine-day adventure marked yet another protest over the years by a group that had been the butt of Leno’s jokes -- and, occasionally, had turned it into a publicity bonanza.
That includes the state of Kentucky, whose governor, Ernie Fletcher, wound up being invited to appear on the show; as well as South Korea; West Virginia; and Amtrak, which retaliated by reportedly pulling $2 million in advertising from NBC.
In this case, Leno and his staff were accused Wednesday by Young’s spokesman, Michael Marshall Brown, of “Ivy League elitism.”
But Leno earned a bachelor’s degree in speech in 1973 from Emerson College, a school in Boston, but one rarely confused with nearby Harvard or MIT.
Young’s tour was financially supported by the Ohio Board of Regents and the American Assn. of Community Colleges, along with various businesses.
It dovetailed with debate in Congress over an array of issues -- such as Hurricane Katrina-related aid and other funding -- with big implications for two-year schools.
Young was joined at the morning news conference by Darroch “Rocky” Young, chancellor of the nine-campus Los Angeles Community College District. He said that various Hollywood celebrities and public officials, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, had been educated at community colleges. He also said that about 80% of his district’s students were Latino or black, that their average age was 28 and that most were working at least part-time.
Although the speakers drew bursts of applause from a crowd, mostly students, estimated at 170, not everyone was sure if the fuss was justified.
“We know what we’re here for. We’re getting an education,” said Jesus Esquivel, a 21-year-old journalism student. What Leno “has to say is just jokes and fun, no big deal. I wouldn’t take it personally.”
Louis Borden, 23, another student, agreed.
“I’m kind of surprised that they actually got so riled up,” he said. “It’s an old, tired shtick, if you know what I mean.”
Still, Borden said of the assembled community college officials: “I’m actually kind of glad that somebody gives a damn.”