ARCHBOLD, Ohio - The wheels of Northwest State Community College President Betty Young's motorcycle kicked up grass as she made her way across the campus lawn yesterday at the start of a 10-day, education-oriented trip to the West Coast.
Ms. Young, president of the two-year college here who received a formal send-off complete with well-wishes from Gov. Bob Taft, is bound for California with a truck, a bike trailer, and a small college crew on a road trip dubbed the "Lessons for Leno" tour.
Along the way, she plans to stop at other two-year schools in major cities to help spread the word about the worth of community colleges.
She also hopes to meet comedian Jay Leno, whose negative remarks about community colleges were the impetus for the unusual trip.
Ms. Young and others have tickets for the Sept. 27 taping of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno - and they have been told that they'll have a photo opportunity afterward with Mr. Leno.
"Even if I'm not on the show, it doesn't matter as long as the message gets through," Ms. Young said yesterday, as she prepared to leave her campus sporting a cream-coloredHarley-Davidson jacket, black pants, and black riding boots.
Around her, many college leaders were dressed in the school's signature dark green, dozens of curious students watched the send-off activity, while others stopped to sign a large white billboard in support of the trip.
Promotional music for Northwest State, a community college outside of Archbold, played on a loudspeaker.
The event was complete with a Leno look-alike, the college's own director of admissions, Mark Thompson.
Mr. Taft gave his support for the effort, which he believes will help show the nation that community colleges are making a difference in economic development. He described two-year schools "as the pathway to the American dream."
"When I heard about this 'Lessons for Leno' tour, I said I've got to be here," Mr. Taft told a crowd of more than 100 at Northwest State. "This is fantastic."
He later told Ms. Young to give his regards to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's a community college graduate.
Ms. Young, a motorcycle buff, attracted national attention in the spring when she challenged Mr. Leno - also an avid rider - to a motorcycle ride after he made negative comments about the two-year colleges and their students.
She later decided to take this trip to see him, using her own name and face - as well as her school - as a means to combat the image problems two-year colleges face nationwide.
The trip, which is projected to cost just under $10,000, is being funded with donations - not college money.
Sue Derck, chairman of the college's board of trustees, said he board backs the venture; so do local officials who spoke yesterday.
"All this support shows to me this project is much larger than what some naysayers believe is a glorious vacation," Archbold Mayor Jim Wyse said.
The event comes during a trying time for college relations, though, as union employes issued a press release yesterday denouncing the administration's recent decision to change the management of its own child care center to the Northwestern Ohio Community Action Commission.
In doing so, members of the Northwest State Community College Education Association said administrators violated their contract - and they fear employees could be laid off.
The action followed a no-confidence vote taken this summer against Ms. Young and the trustees.
Ms. Young said from the road yesterday that the college was forced to make the move after four employees resigned from the center just before school resumed.
Ms. Young added that the center has been under review for some time, in part because it was being subsidized by the college.
She described the timing of the union's announcement as unfortunate.
- Kim Bates41.5223 -84.30632