I had the privilege of attending three of the four student-forums, including Dr. David Rule’s brief presentation and Q&A. While the other two candidates that I met and talked with were certainly qualified for the job of college president, Dr. Rule was my personal favorite, and I was very happy to hear that he was elected (especially after hearing that the runner up was Dr. Jack Daniels; despite his entertaining name, he came across as a policy-driven bureaucrat, who answered my question about how to deal with the stagnating effects of mandatory paperwork and guidelines by ambiguously deferring to the current Bellevue College-policy).
Dr. Rule is an extremely progressive man with extensive experience in seemingly all aspects of running an effective college. He showed particularly outstanding knowledge in sustainability-based programs and in supporting minority students, but his main strength was, in my opinion, his receptiveness and focus on listening first before making decisions.
That said, no one is perfect, and there was one particular issue that concerned me regarding freedom of expression on campus. When asked about where the line was to be drawn between bullying and First Amendment protections, Dr. Rule expressed that in his view freedom of speech is not absolute.
While it is true – as it stands currently, freedom of speech isn’t absolute – there is a level of subjectivity in judging what is deemed inappropriate on a campus-environment that isn’t reflective of the open society we have in the outside world. Dr. Rule explained: “It doesn’t matter if I didn’t mean a comment in a way that is a sexual advance, let’s say. In my mind, what I thought doesn’t matter; it’s what the victim feels.” His example perfectly mirrors the bias-incident standards we have in place at the moment. Similar standards have resulted in banned books, videos, and even curriculum material as important as the Holocaust or the Crusades because someone ‘feels’ offended. But I digress. This is a more minor complaint than it may seem, since both of the other candidates I had the opportunity to ask about the issue replied with similarly toned but less comprehensive responses.
So what might we expect from Dr. Rule as a president? One of the things that Dr. Rule made clear in his introductory speech and that the board observed when they visited him at his previous college in Rock Creek, or, is his down to earth involvement in campus life. Chairman of the Board of Trustees Paul Chiles noted that Dr. Rule sat down and ate in the cafeteria with students, walked around campus frequently and would talk with “anyone, anytime.”
With all of his experience and involvement however, ultimately it will be the students who make the most significant changes on campus. No college president is a superhero. The cliché saying is that a teacher can only open the door; it’s up to the students to walk through it. While some teachers and faculty members are better at opening doors than others, Dr. Rule won’t be able to bring his closed-loop compost system to BC without active student involvement, nor can he work towards adding more four-year degrees without vocal student support.
Overall, I think it’s wonderful that the board chose such a humble, receptive, experienced and innovative educator to lead our school. As students we should do everything we can to help him help us strive forward in improving Bellevue College.