Gordon Alexandre has never shied away from confrontation.
As a student at UCLA during the 1960s and ’70s, he rocked an enormous afro while serving as a vocal grass-roots organizer. Later, as a history professor at Glendale Community College, he held key faculty union positions for two decades, taking on administrators and trustees with glee.
On Friday, his colleagues celebrated his willingness to confront and engage, giving Alexandre the Parker Award, bestowed annually on a faculty member who demonstrates exemplary service to the college.
“I have been active in an oppositional organization for well over 20 years,” Alexandre said. “I have been a pain in the neck for the administration for well over 20 years. I have been a thorn in the side of the board for many years. So to get an award for being a pain in the neck is actually gratifying.”
First presented in 1993, the award is named after its inaugural recipient, former Glendale Community College philosophy professor William L. Parker.
“Gordon has been a member of the campus for a long time, and he has always been someone who cared deeply about the campus and what is going on,” Academic Senate President Mike Scott said.
After earning his doctorate from UCLA in 1979, Alexandre began teaching at a private North Hollywood high school while picking up an occasional college class. When a full-time position opened up at Glendale in 1984, he debated and then took it.
“I decided that I wanted to give back more than I could at a private college-prep high school,” Alexandre said. “I thought community college was where I wanted to teach.”
There, he began team teaching with economics professor Steve White.
“We had a unique way of team teaching our class,” said White, who is now retired. “One of us would lecture, and the other would sit with the students and we would trade off. What we would do is basically ask really hard questions when we were sitting with the students in order to try and get them to participate in give and take.”
Sometimes they took their efforts a step further, showing up to class in character. When students began studying the drafting of the United States Constitution, for example, Alexandre assumed the role of Thomas Jefferson and White played Alexander Hamilton.
During the industrial revolution, it was Andrew Carnegie and Karl Marx.
They always judged the success of a class based on how fun it was, White said.
“We have been corrupting the minds of Glendale students for the last generation,” he said.
Alexandre’s colorful personality served him well as he assumed more responsibility within the faculty union, formally known as the Faculty Guild. Starting in 1989, the history professor held the titles of either union president or chief negotiator for 20 consecutive years.
His leadership proved especially valuable during the tumultuous college presidency of Audre Levy, who was hired in 2006 to replace John Davitt. Levy was heavily criticized for alienating faculty members with what some described as an exclusionary management style. She resigned in June 2009.
“The administration and teachers union, or the board and the teachers union, often see things differently,” Alexandre said. “My job over the years has been to protect the interests of the faculty, wages, hours, working conditions, benefits, grievance procedures.”
Reflecting on his career at a luncheon in his honor Wednesday, Alexandre said he made the right decision when he joined the faculty at Glendale Community College 27 years ago.
“Community college is a place where anyone virtually can start higher education,” Alexandre said. “The principal of community college is open access, and you teach young people from all kinds of diverse ethnic, class, racial backgrounds. And that is what I wanted to do.”