Professor Dennis Frisch: History behind the history department

In an office full of overflowing bookcases, Santa Monica College History Professor Dennis Frisch reclined behind his desk, nonchalantly regarding a stack of papers with sharp eyes behind his trademark thick-rimmed, tortoise-shell glasses.

Frisch is retiring this year after teaching for 28 years at SMC. He arrived at SMC in 1981, originally working as an executive secretary and was instrumental in setting up the faculty administration office scheduling still used at the college to this day.

“I feel like it’s a good time to step away. I believe I have accomplished all that I set out to. I am ready for the next generation to take the reins,” Frisch said. “Education is changing and I don’t like the direction it is heading. The trend is private sector business practices. The measuring of professors is based on number of students who graduate. Qualification is a tool, not an end in itself.”

Frisch is one of the longest tenured professors at SMC. Born in San Francisco, Frisch earned his undergraduate degree in chinese history from San Diego State University. Afterwards he traveled to Hawaii to work on his postgraduate degree and spent time studying in Taiwan at the prestigious East/West Center. He had to return to the States due to the draft of the Vietnam War.

“I was ready to go to Canada,” Frisch said. “I have a cousin who still lives there.”

Frisch’s student status kept him from being drafted however, and he eventually received a Masters in chinese history from the University of California, Los Angeles, a subject he has had an immense interest in since high school.

“I remember taking a course that covered the Chinese Revolution of 1898, and it sparked a great interest in me,” Frisch said.

After six years of teaching part-time, Frisch was finally offered a full-time teaching position at SMC, something he always yearned to do.

“I always wanted to teach,” he said. “I loved the idea to be one of those people that really gets others interested in something.”

Frisch created the East Asian history courses offered at SMC and has taught since 1986. He said his students achieve academic and professional success.

“Many of my students have gone on to Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA,” Frisch said. “It’s the single thing I take away saying, ‘Yes, I’m proud.’”

A few of Frisch’s former students have gone on to teach chinese history themselves.

“He’s a very intelligent man,” said SMC History 25 student Kelly Kravchuk. “He’s funny and he relates to modern days a lot, even though it is a history class. It makes it easy for us students to understand the material.”

Cooper Hathaway, who has taken Frisch for four courses over the span of two semesters, was sad to hear of the professor’s retirement.

“He’s really willing to help his students. He’s always open for office hours and will sit down with you and help you understand anything you have questions on,” Hathaway said.

As for his plans for retirement, Frisch is looking forward to some relaxation.

“I’m looking forward to sleeping in,” he said. “Maybe after a few months of that I’ll spend some time on a beach somewhere.”