The presidential search: what BC really needs

Over the next few months, Bellevue College’s Board of Trustees and the appointed search advisory committee – with the help of Gold Hill Associates – will begin to scout a new president for the college. The position, temporarily filled by Dr. Jill Wakefield, was originally occupied by Dr. David L. Rule who resigned in Aug. 2016. As the college’s leaders approach the end of the school year with their finalized candidates for the presidency, it’s crucial for all members of the BC community to prioritize what qualities uphold this 50 year-old institution and how the new president will both maintain those characteristics while improving the college’s mission of being student-centered, comprehensive and innovative.

During the past few years, Bellevue College has grown academically, providing broader areas of knowledge and adding new and lucrative degrees – a Bachelor’s of Science in computer science being the most recent addition. BC’s first and foremost responsibility should be to its students and with the development of new studies, the college has been successful in accommodating the varied interests amongst its student community. Since its name change in 2009, BC has taken significant steps to identify itself as a four-year institution rather than being characterized as a community college.

However, regardless of how many degrees BC offers, its current primary role is to prepare students who wish to transfer into an established university with renowned programs and professors. As a result, this raises the question of what direction BC is advancing towards. With its growing degrees, BC will obviously gain a few more students, but as an institution that has been defined for its large number of transfers – around 62 percent were awarded a transfer degree in 2016 – will it continue to fortify and maintain its transfer routes or will the college place more focus on students who wish to stay and pursue a four-year degree? It’s highly possible that BC will try to keep the best of both worlds, providing degrees with a high job outlook while assisting in transfers who wish to pursue a more interdisciplinary study. There’s no question that if a student were to pursue a four-year degree, BC trumps its neighboring universities in the contest of affordability.

Whatever the case, it’s important for BC to keep all students at the center of their growth, and that requires proper student support from empathetic faculty and staff. At this institution, nearly half of the student population is comprised of people of color, with Asian and Pacific Islander at 22.4 percent, 6.7 percent who are African American, Hispanics making up 13.8 percent and Native American and multi-racial together adding 6.1 percent. It may seem obvious, but a strong institution acknowledges its diverse population and strengthens its current system to help those who are underserved succeed. This system should extend beyond cultural clubs and events by including more instructors and advisors who are from these cultures and backgrounds.

BC clearly houses a rapidly diversifying student population. Like other higher education institutions, however, the rate of diversity amongst BC’s faculty and staff has remained stagnant with little improvements. In a survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA in 2000, faculty rated the importance of diversity in the community and classroom on a scale of one through five, which would translate from strongly disagree to strongly agree respectively. From the 55,000 faculty members, around 30 to 50 percent agreed that diversity would have positive effects in classrooms, especially in confronting stereotypes and broadening experiences. Conversely, there was resounding disagreement that diversity would have negative effects on campus. There are numerous studies that have shown similar results.

It’s undeniably important to have more faculty of color. Beyond the benefits in pedagogy, having faculty of color reaffirms BC’s duty to their students. When a student of color has access to a professor from the same culture and background who can understand the student’s story, it improves the learning experience, giving hope to a student’s passion and dreams.

As the choices for president whittle down, the perfect candidate must show genuine care to the students. The two best aspects of BC are its mission to provide open-access education to all students and its vision to continue providing four-year degrees comparable to other universities at a competitive price. Whatever BC becomes in the next few years, it must continue to advance its diversity in its student, faculty and staff population, and the next president must share that dedication.