Students question board candidates

Bellevue College is getting closer to selecting a new president, and it is giving students a voice in the process. Last week, a series of student-only forums were held from Oct. 22 to Oct. 25, where students were given the opportunity to openly quiz the four candidates one by one and fill out evaluation sheets to submit to the board of trustees.

Ronald T. Brown, Ph.D, was the first to present. He addressed student’s questions in the Library Media Center on Oct. 22.  Dr. Brown is currently the Provost of Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich.

Dr. Brown addressed  a variety of concerns, ranging from general questions of intent to specifics on bullying, sustainability and financial aid concerns. Dr. Brown said he believes the college needs to focus on student success in order to be successful. “I understand you have a percentage of students that doesn’t come back,” said Dr. Brown, commenting on student graduation rates. “You can’t have a good college unless students are successful.” Dr. Brown also opined on the need to hire a more diverse faculty. Students have said they want to see a more diverse faculty that reflects their demographics, said Dr. Brown, but he added there are difficulties in doing this. “Those people tend to get swept up right after they graduate, so we want to go to them before they do and recruit them.”

On the topic of sustainability, Dr. Brown said that if it doesn’t happen on a college campus, it isn’t going to happen anywhere. “I’m talking about having energy efficient vehicles on campus, [and]reminders to turn off the lights.”

Members of both the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Resource Center and Black Student Union asked Dr. Brown how he planned to address bullying on campus.

“At an institution such as Bellevue College, there should be diversity of thought and opinion,” said Dr. Brown. “On the matter of violent or aggressive action, there would be sanctions against that.

Dr. Brown repeated multiple times that BC has a lack of “philanthropic support” and that he planned to ramp up fundraising in an effort to help students with scholarships. “I think we won’t always be able to count on federal student aid,” said Dr. Brown, “and we need to reach out to people who want to invest in students.”

Dr. Brown said he planned to host fundraising at least three nights a week.

Educational Psychologist and Statistician David Rule, Ph.D, was the second candidate to present.  Currently the President of the Rock Creek Campus of Portland  Community  College, Dr. Rule’s short introduction covered his background in performing arts and education, with a little humor infused throughout.

A self-proclaimed fan of Washington weather, he admitted that he loves the rain.  “You have no idea how much easier it shovels than the snow and ice of New York and Michigan.”

When asked about his views on various campus issues, Dr. Rule referred to Rock Creek as a reflection of his administrative decision-making.

PCC at Rock Creek is a leading college in sustainability, featuring a closed-loop garden and food system.  Dr. Rule’s campus in Portland also has the distinction of being the first school in the state of Oregon to open an LGBTQ center, and boasts an active program for helping undocumented students, veterans, and the diversity of students and staff without treating people unfairly.

His presentation  ranged  from connecting legislatures and students to sustainability, bullying, and financial aid, Dr. Rule’s answers to student’s probing questions were specific and concretely based on his experience as a faculty administrator.

When asked about how he would identify veterans to help them escape graduation rates as low as 3%, he replied that he had found the most success by getting veterans to self-identify through visibility and acceptance.

“Just like any ethnic group, you have to make them feel comfortable to identify themselves, and with veterans they’re invisible.  Half this room could be veterans.  You’re all the right age… I’m too old, they wouldn’t take me even if I signed up.”

His sentiments about acceptance, with the additional focus of “safe-zones,” were reprised in answer to another question about the LGBT community on campus.

When asked about undocumented students and seasonal workers, Dr. Rule talked about his policy of keeping the front desk staffed with multilingual faculty members, pushing for equal tuition for undocumented and documented students (currently, undocumented students can pay up to three times more in tutition), and modifying school policy to allow for students to complete all monetary transactions in cash and without a social security number.

Despite having a wealth of ideas and experience in tackling issues and improving the functioning of college campuses, Dr. Rule plans to get to know the student body and staff before making any major changes. “It would be presumptuous of me to come in and say, ‘this is the most important thing here at Bellevue College.’  It would take some time to hear from the students, the faculty, the staff and the community at large.”

Jack Daniels, Ph.D, presented on Oct. 24. Daniels is currently the president of Los Angeles Southwest College. Dr. Daniels began the session by saying he looked forward to having a good dialogue, and he acknowledged the importance of BC having a student on its board of trustees.

“I think it’s a long time coming. I’ve always worked students that had at least one student trustee and I’ve worked with two districts that had two student trustees, so I think it’s very important to have the voice of the students participating at the board level.”

Dr. Daniels said that he believes BC is at the top of community colleges in this country, adding, “and I think I have a very good experience with community colleges in this country.” Dr. Daniels also said that he wants to come to BC because of its innovativeness and the strength of its programs, staff and students. “I look at where this college is going, and I’m looking past tomorrow. This college has taken a lead in this state when it comes to applied baccalaureate degrees, well we can’t stop at the three that have been approved.”

Dr. Daniels also addressed recurring student questions such as tolerance and bullying. “If the policy says no bullying, as in no tolerance, what does no tolerance actually mean in the policy?…But you’ve got to be able, if you’re going to follow any type of policy to make sure its an equitable policy, a fair policy…This goes back to awareness issues, how will two populations, two individuals, be able to works some things out?”

Dr. Daniels also said the importance of implementing policies is to avoid bullying in the future. Dr. Daniels thanked students for attending the session, saying that their questions demonstrated a genuine care for the college and its leadership.

The final presidential nominee, Terrence Burgess, Ph.D, held his open forum on Thursday the 25.  A biologist by education and the residing president of San Diego Community College for the last 11 years, Burgess’ main topics of discussions echoed the forums from the three previous candidate’s sessions: sustainability, financial aid, diversity, and LGBT issues.

Like Dr. Rule, Dr. Burgess’ stance on many of the issues was to listen and learn, and to “have that conversation” with students and faculty.  Unlike Dr. Rule, whose sustainability program focused on compost, food, and recycling, Dr. Burgess’ plan for sustainability revolved more around building renovation.

“My board [in San Diego] has adopted a policy that all of our new construction and renovation will meet minimally what’s called LEED silver-certification,” an architectural sustainability standard that only BC’s S building meets.

For financial aid, Burgess said that there isn’t much that the school can do to change state and national policy, but that BC can take an active part in supplementing governmental aid with grants and scholarships.

In terms of undocumented students, he said, “I’m a huge supporter of the Dream Act” and explained how he had implemented a plan in his California campus that gave undocumented students residential tuition rates.

As for gender-neutral bathrooms, Dr. Burgess admitted that he wasn’t particularly familiar with the issue, but that the subject was “worth a conversation” and proposed, as a possible solution, to put at least one such restroom in each building on campus.