By Brett Friedensohn
Dr. Jim Bising, professor of history at CCM, attends his of office hours in DeMare Hall. Photo By: Brett Friedensohn
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article initialed CCM’s faculty union as “FACCUM.” The correct initials are “FACCM.” The current version reflects that.
Two years after County College of Morris opened with Henderson Hall as its only academic building, CCM had not yet started on construction on DeMare Hall and Cohen Hall, and Dr. Sherman E. Masten was still the college’s inaugural president. It was November 1970 when Dr. Jim Bising’s beloved New York Giants played the Jets for the first time, and Bising taught his first class at CCM. Since then, Bising has taught history from the Medieval Era to the Modern Era for 48 of the college’s 50-year existence.
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1937, Bising, founding president and current member of the Faculty Union of County College of Morris (FACCM), said that he has stayed involved with CCM for several reasons, including complacency and his health.
“You might call it inertia,” Bising said. “Also, there are worse places to be, and in the old days before Chris Christie, when the union was stronger here, raises were good. And it’s a convenient location, and climbing the stairs is good for the arthritis in my knees. So I’m getting exercise that I need. I could retire, but the couch is death. You often hear about people who die a couple of years after they retire. Jeez, they’re old. They’re gonna die. Others just become a coach potato, and that’s a fast road to death. I guess I like it here.”
Bising said that his arthritis plus other ailments caused by his aging have hindered him from doing all that he likes.
“I’m too old to be active in the union,” Bising said. “I’d probably like to do more. It’s just my eyes are bigger than my capacity, and I have to keep that in mind. I just move more slowly now than I used to. Old men used to annoy me, as I said, because they were so slow. Now, I’m an old man.”
Eric Hagee, a former student of Bising’s modern Europe class, served in active duty in the United States Army from January 2013 to May 2016 and said that Bising accurately depicts war in a way that students can easily understand.
“I think that he’s very knowledgeable, and he puts his own twist on a learning style, and I think it’s good because it keeps people interested and actually learning factual information,” said Hagee, a liberal arts major at CCM. “He’s very personable. He gives accurate depictions on what things are, not like dumbing it down but putting it layman’s terms, like saying something that happened back then that people nowadays wouldn’t understand.”
Bising said that he has had a lifelong fascination with war and history that started in his childhood.
“We were in World War II, and all the wartime propaganda went right in front of my face,” Bising said. “And my father worked on the New York waterfront … There was barbed wire everywhere, and there were sentries with rifles and bayonets. I thought it was great. I really thought this was great stuff.”
Bising studied as a European history major in college, graduating with a master’s degree from New York University in 1968 and a doctorate from NYU in 1972. He said that while he attended NYU, colleges would recruit history professors before 1969, when the job market for students studying history declined so much that it “resembled that of the Great Depression.”
He applied for full-time positions at many colleges, but all turned him down. With a part-time teaching job at Monmouth University, which paid him $2,000 per year, he lived with his parents until the end of the 1960s when a companion of his suggested that he apply to a local community college. Having never heard of community colleges before this, his companion explained the purpose of them, and he applied to several community colleges in the New York area. CCM was the only one to offer him a full-time position.
Bising taught his first class at CCM Monday, Nov. 11, 1970 after swearing to the college that he was not, nor had he ever been, a member of the American Nazi Party or the Communist Party of the United States of America.
Afterward, he began to notice what he found as injustices with the way CCM worked, and these prompted him to start the union.
“It took me a while to find out that, jee, three men and two women had been hired for the same academic year, which would be 1970-1971, and the men were started at $10,000,” Bising said. “Then, the woman I replaced was started at $8,500, and I got her salary. And I went, ‘What? What’s going on around here?’ I’m doing the same work. I was closing in on my Ph.D., and these other guys just had a minimal master’s, and I’m getting paid a lot less than they are.”
Bising said that the union has brought about some positive changes including higher wages for faculty, but he fears for the future of the union and said that the union should take a stronger stance on certain issues.
“Young people aren’t picking up the ball, and I think it’s essential for the health of the college to have faculty who take their professional betterment seriously,” Bising said. “The law that set up the county colleges: The state pays a third, the county pays a third, and each student pays a third of his tuition. The students are paying a lot more than a third with tuition because the political structure does not want to raise taxes, and I think that’s self-defeating.”
Dr. Matthew Jones, chair of the communication department and current president of FACCUM, said that he agreed with Bising in some ways.
“I agree with Dr. Bising’s statement concerning the consequences (to students and society) of failure to meet the original statutory funding obligations for community colleges. However, I would also say that young faculty are hard at work finding better ways to negotiate successfully with the administration and communicating the importance of supporting our community colleges beyond the boundaries of this campus. I would also point out that negotiation is a bilateral process and the responsibility of arriving at an equitable contract cannot fall squarely on one side of the bargaining table. Based on my past experience in negotiation, the process would benefit tremendously from increased transparency and autonomy on the part of the administration’s bargaining team.”
According to the New Jersey Council of Community Colleges, “New Jersey’s community colleges were founded on the basic funding principle of one-third, one-third, one-third – that is, one-third funding from the state, one-third funding from the counties, and one-third funding from tuition.” When CCM’s Board of Trustees agreed to raise the price of the college’s tuition in January 2017, CCM’s Vice President of Business and Finance Karen VanDerhoof told Youngtown that the hike came because New Jersey and Morris County refused to give the college necessary funding.
“I would anticipate as prices go up, utility prices go up, cost of living goes up, salary, and wages go up a little bit; then we’ll have to do a modest tuition increase down the road as well,” VanDerhoof said. “We don’t see the state or the county in the near future increasing their support.”
Early Youngtown records show Bising at a Board of Trustees meeting in March 1977 advocating on behalf of FACCM regarding a proposal to add a late afternoon class to the schedule. At the time, the latest classes ended at 4:45 p.m.
“Why does the board wish to extend the workday by adding an additional class which begins at 5 p.m. and lasts until 6:15 p.m.?” said Bising, who added that the proposal was “outside the scope of negotiation ruling.”
Brenna Hopler, a former student in Bising’s Modern Europe class, said that the professor helps her understand information better than most professors do.
“He’s fun, and he makes you remember things,” said Hopler, a liberal arts major. “It’s not that hard to study for this class because you already know what he’s talking about, I guess you can say.”
Bising has recited pertinents facts for his classes mostly from memory, he has been able to do this because he reads often.
“I read a lot, certain things that I like to concentrate on in class, and sometimes, I don’t like the way the textbook handles them, and I also have to keep in mind what students are capable of learning,” Bising said. “I think it’s better to learn a lot about a little than a little about a lot. If you spread it out to thinly, it will not adhere. Also, if you spread it to thickly, it will not adhere. Too much gasoline will flood a carburetor.”
Since the time he started at CCM, Bising said the college has changed “not as much as you would think.”
“There’s something about CCM students, I think maybe all, but one size does not fit all, and there a lot of varieties and variations in the student body as you are aware, and one thing that annoys me is on the first day of class, to see the people who sit in the back row because they’re trying to hide,” Bising said. “And they’re making that obvious, and so I know that they’re not very bright. If, let’s say, police were looking for you, and you were walking down the street in Dover, and you see policemen in uniform come toward you. The worst thing that you could do is turn around and run because he’d probably notice you and probably start chasing you … Sit up front. Pay attention. Take notes. If you don’t understand something, raise your hand and ask. Do not let let anything go by you because Heaven forbid. If you’re in a business, and you do that, you could cause a disaster. If you’re in your professional life, what if you’re around moving machinery or moving equipment and someone gives an explanation you don’t understand? And that can lead to injury or death or serious damage to equipment. You know what I mean? You can be responsible for crippling someone, and you don’t want to go through life knowing that.”
Bising has continually visited France since the summer of 1959 between his junior and senior years of college. He has since learned how to speak French fluently and now has a house there. Because of health concerns, 2016 was the first year since 1990 that he did not visit the European country. However, he did say that he enjoyed his visit in the summer of 2017.
“To me, being in France is what Bill Parcells once described as ‘the big game thrill,’” Bising said. “I get out of the airport into the city of Paris, and for me, that’s a big game thrill. And I want more.”
Bising said that France has impressed him since his first visit there when he found himself at awe with the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
“It was and remains impressive, and for 57 years now, I still find myself going back there often,” Bising said. “I can’t stay away … It’s like a magnet pulling in iron filings.”
Bising said that one of his regrets in life is not having children although he enjoys spending time with his nieces and nephews.