Chair of the agriculture and natural resources department, Leland Shapiro, retires after 39 years

Leland Shapiro, chair of the agriculture and natural resources department and longtime instructor, finished his final class at Pierce College on Tuesday before beginning his retirement.

Shapiro, a full-time instructor at Pierce for 39 years, said he was overcome by emotion during his final lecture.

“The reason that I left 15 minutes early is I started to lose it,” Shapiro said. “I started to cry, because I know I’m going to miss it. So that was hard.”

Shapiro began teaching agriculture math in 1976 as a full-time instructor, and said since then he has taught about 35 different classes. Prior to starting the full-time position he worked at the Pierce farm part-time doing anything that needed to be done.

“I was a laborer, cow-milker, farm tour guide and fence-fixer back in ‘71,” Shapiro said. “Even though I was part-time working at 20 hours a week, when you worked on the farm you got paid for 20 hours, but you were there 40 hours. You know, a cow is calving in the middle of the night, you were there. I lived at the swine unit, I didn’t want to drive home and be back here at 3 o’clock in the morning so I slept up high at the pig unit. That was a mistake, because I smelled like pigs for a while.”

Shapiro was also an original organizer of the FarmWalk, the college’s annual festival aimed at increasing student and community involvement in the Pierce agriculture and veterinary science programs. Shapiro first started the event in 1976 and has been involved in 39 FarmWalks since.

After the lecture, several of Shapiro’s colleagues and former students took the chance to say farewell and pose for photos. Among those present was Lu Dao, who will be taking over Shapiro’s introduction to animal science and animal nutrition courses. Dao was one of Shapiro’s students, but the two had met years earlier when Dao was a child.

“Dr. Dao sat on this leg when he was 8 years old milking a cow,” Shapiro said. “He was a little 8-year-old boy running around the dairy farm and I said ‘Hey you, you can’t be here,’ and he said ‘Why not,’ just like that.”

Shapiro told Dao if he came back with his parents he could stay. Several days later, Dao returned with his parents and Shapiro taught him how to milk a cow. Twenty years after that, the two met again when Dao joined one of Shapiro’s classes.

“I took over a couple of his classes,” Dao said. “I’ve known him a very long time.”

Pierce College President Kathleen Burke spoke highly of Shapiro and said Pierce is still looking to fill the vacancies he’s leaving in a number of classes.

“He’s leaving a great legacy here at the college, we’re going to miss him certainly,” Burke said. “I’m glad that we have at least one replacement in, Dr. Dao, who was of course a student of his.”

Burke said she has put forward a proposal to the Faculty Position Priority Committee and the academic senate to replace Shapiro. The position of agriculture and natural resources department chair can only be filled by the American Federation of Teachers, the union which represents instructors in the L.A. Community College District.
Shapiro, who received two post-doctoral degrees in ethics from Georgetown and Iowa State, said in addition to spending his retirement tending to the 61 fruit trees he has growing in his Simi Valley backyard, he is considering teaching an ethics course at the college.