New Vice President Wants to Change Lives

Mt. SAC’s new vice president of instruction knows a thing or two about the “Hot Mess” that is community college students


in a photo of the times, Vice President of Instruction Richard Mahon sits between Zoom meetings in his study. Photo courtesy of Richard Mahon.

The Civil Rights movement. Anti-war protests. Marches for women’s rights. These are some of the major events in American history that Mt. SAC’s Vice President of Instruction Richard Mahon grew up watching. Seeing all of these movements, Mahon said that watching the government’s response to it all bothered him. But Mahon remembered going to a public school where they taught students to be patriotic.

“To be growing up in [a time] in which there seemed to be a lot of lack of honesty from American national leaders, I found [that] to be very very troubling,” he said.

It was through these experiences that he developed an interest in education. He wanted to learn how the country got to that point.

“One [ethical virtue] that was most strongly instilled in me growing up was honesty. That foundation was an important part of my education. If your mayor or your governor or senator or your president lied to you that’s a very serious problem,” Mahon said.

Mahon was raised by a single mother with help from his aunt and uncle who had a big influence on his life.

“She was 19 at a time when it was really hard and pretty stigmatized to be a single mom,” Mahon wrote in his bio.

No one in his family attended college and he was never encouraged to do so. During a one year break from school, he was at a crossroads. Mahon said he didn’t do much of anything for a year and didn’t have any direction in life. He decided to pick up some classes at West Valley College in the San Francisco Bay Area. He found a surprising amount of compassion in his professors which gave him a newfound freedom to control his education and to stick around.

Mahon transfered to University of California, Santa Cruz where he obtained a doctorate in the History of Consciousness, an interdisciplinary graduate program that combined his interests of religious studies and political theory.

He started teaching religious studies and political theory courses at several community colleges across California as well as at UC Santa Cruz. He held the value to always give his students honest information, and would even make a promise that they would never know his political affiliations. He explained:
“It would be an abuse of my role to teach you that my political views are the right ones, so by the time we’re done with this class, you will not know if I’m a Republican or a Democrat, in the Peace and Freedom Party or American Independent.”

Mahon said he is interested in getting to know staff and students beyond who they are in the workplace.

“We’re human beings first and everything else second,” he said. “In the classroom, if you’re a student and the faculty member clearly cares about you as a person first, that creates a bond on which all the teaching work is built.”

Professor of Journalism and Adviser of Student Media Toni Albertson recalled meeting him for the first time at her newly-joined Commercial Arts and Entertainment meeting.

“He started by introducing himself and handing each of us his phone,” Albertson said. “He asked that we each take a photo of the person next to us, and then tell him something unusual about ourselves.”

Albertson said she was wracking her brain to figure out what to tell him.

“When it was my turn, he said that I didn’t need to tell him anything because he already knew about me and our wonderful journalism program.”

Albertson said she was impressed.

Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, Jeanne Marie Velickovic, had similar things to say about Mahon and his personal touch when it comes to getting to people

“Dr. Mahon brought deep knowledge of accreditation and curriculum to Mt. SAC. He is very accessible, faculty friendly and truly values teaching practices that support student success.”

Mahon hasn’t forgotten where it all started. He said he attended graduate school with the intention of becoming a community college staff member.

“You get to change people’s lives. What is better than that?” Mahon said.
He said the following with “deep affection and respect:”
“Community college students are a hot mess. If you move 20 miles from your family and live in dorms, or [are] living near the campus and your classes are what your world revolves around that makes the life of a student just indescribably easier. Most community college students don’t do that and so they’re trying to be good students while they’re trying to be good siblings and good children and pay bills and that makes their work harder and it makes the work of being a community college faculty member much harder.”
Much of Mahon’s life has revolved around the success of his students. Mt. SAC President and CEO Dr. William Scroggins said that the college is lucky to have someone with his experience and passion.
“Dr. Richard Mahon brings extensive academic leadership experience to Mt. SAC. In particular, his role in accreditation, shared governance, curriculum processes, and online education are critically important to Mt. SAC,” Scroggins said.

While his job is important, his family is what he values deeply. Mahon is married with four children, three of which are adopted. He said the quarantine has allowed him more time to spend with his family. Mahon lives in Pomona, and his family live in Santa Maria. Before the pandemic, Mahon and his wife would take turns driving to where each other were living each weekend, but the quarantine has allowed them to spend more time together in only one house since he is able to work from a distance.”

In regards to the rest of the online semester Mahon said, “We are still figuring out how to do online instruction well. We are doing the best we can. Be patient with us as faculty, as departments, as a college as a whole. We’re learning a lot…We care too much about students not to make ourselves continue to improve.”