Contrary to JCCC president’s comment, there aren’t a lot of fancy cars in school lot

Vehicles in the JCCC parking lot

Looking at cars in the Johnson County Community College parking lot on Feb. 21, 2019
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Looking at cars in the Johnson County Community College parking lot on Feb. 21, 2019

Johnson County Community College President Joe Sopcich is struggling to explain his overheard (and recorded) comments that “no one” attending the school struggles, so no one minds paying $1 more per credit hour.

“Show me anyone who struggles at JCCC,” Sopcich loudly told board trustee Angeliina Lawson in a Washington, D.C. restaurant on Feb. 13. “I walk the parking lot, and I see a whole lot of very nice cars.”

First, Dr. Sopcich, you know how you got on that plane to attend a national summit for community college leaders that was being held 1,000 miles away? Others travel, too, and you never know who will be sitting three tables over, do you? Matter of fact, if you want to see just how small the world is, start gossiping about people you know.

More to the point, though, we walked the parking lot at JCCC, too. And apart from two Jeeps and one Saab, which aren’t cheap, saw no particularly fancy rides among a bunch of older Fords, Hondas and Toyotas and several rusted out cars and pickup trucks.

We also met students who said that if you want to be shown “anyone who struggles,” they’d be happy to sit down with you.

“That’s a lie,” that no one at JCCC struggles, said Jamir Aldrich-Philips, who is from Lenexa. “I struggle financially.”

“That’s definitely a lie,” agreed his friend Nydia Menchaca. “I struggle, too. Are there rich people here? Definitely. But there are people who’ve had to drop out” because they couldn’t afford it.

Including, for a while, Aldrich-Philips. “And I had a nice car at the time — a Honda Accord.”

A community college president shouldn’t have to be told that not everyone with wheels is financially flush. Or that appearances can be deceiving. Or even that he’s using a very narrow definition of what it means to struggle.

At last year’s fundraiser for the JCCC Foundation, the crowd heard from several students who spoke movingly about their struggles, financial and otherwise. Dr. Sopcich, are you suggesting that they were not on the level?

The school president also told Lawson, who had opposed the recent increase to $94 a credit hour for Johnson County residents, “I think it is hilarious you think anyone cares about a $1 increase. Hilarious.”

That is an appallingly out-of-touch thing for any college president to say, but for someone leading a community college, it’s especially lacking in awareness.

At Thursday’s JCCC Board of Trustees meeting, Sopcich did not apologize and said he stands “behind my years of work and service.”

Instead of complaining that this was a setup, or that the remark that “no one” struggles only needed more context, Dr. Sopcich, please let students, parents and the community know what you’ve learned from this mistake. And correct the impression that you’re cavalier about students like Aldrich-Philips, who does have to sweat tuition increases and does not find your indifference particularly hilarious.