During the past two weeks, four open forums were held to introduce the Bellevue College community to the four finalists running for BC’s President position.
According to his biography, Dr. Cory Clasemann was the former Vice President for Student Success at Ivy Tech Community College, where he “worked with faculty and staff to implement and scale evidenced-based approaches to increase success and completion for all students, including the implementation of transformative initiatives.” Additionally, Clasemann is a member of the “2021-22 Aspen Institute’s Rising Presidents Fellowship Program” where he “has served on statewide policy implementation groups focused on implementing changes to increase the success of low-income students receiving a state scholarship, changes to the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA), and the state’s kindergarten through workforce longitudinal data system.” Currently, though, he works “as a consultant with educational institutions and non-profit organizations.”
In his diversity statement, Clasemann stated that diversity is of “critical importance” to him and that he is “a firm believer in on-going professional development for all faculty and staff, as we all must continue to grow and develop.”
On March 9, Clasemann held his Open Forum.The first question, which all candidates were able to prepare a presentation for, asked, “As president of Bellevue College, what strategies would you employ to mend the campus culture and bring us together as a community?” Clasemann proceeded to discuss our new definition of community as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic and that it starts with leadership from the top of the school. His guiding principles were as follows:
- Culture begins at the top with the President and leadership team
- Creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace
- Build an open, honest and transparent culture
- We must re-recruit our current team to stay
- Everyone deserves a voice in charting the institution’s path forward
Clasemann shared that a “President should be a lifelong learner” and that as BC’s President, he wants to learn from our current faculty to hear what is and is not working from their perspectives. Additionally, he prefaced the importance of two-way communication throughout the campus community where we share information and “talk through challenges.” Clasemann continued to emphasize community involvement, bringing up his past work with larger organizations which had a goal that “at least 50 percent of everybody actively engages and participates.”
Following his answer’s conclusion, faculty member and co-monitor Jenny Mayer asked Clasemann what shared decision-making looks like to him.
“I’m a big believer in shared governance,” he stated. “I think that we arrive at our best decisions when we involve the people at different levels of the organization in the decision making process.” Clasemann continued by sharing how important it is — formally or informally — to get views from students when decisions about students are made: “I feel like far too often we make decisions for students and not with students. And so I think it is important that we involve students. […] And so, whether it is through informal conversations — depending upon what the meeting venue is — inviting an individual representative in to have a conversation.”
The next question was asked by the designer and director of Bellevue College’s nationally recognized Neurodiversity Navigators program (NdN), Sara Sanders Gardner: “How would you transform our campus culture to create a culture that is welcoming and diverse at all levels from students, faculty, staff, administrators and the board of trustees?”
“I think it really starts with, we have to get to know each other,” Clasemann responded. “I think it is really important that we are being intentional about creating activities and events where everybody is invited to come. And just get to know each other — whether it is formal or informal.”
“How have you worked with staff and faculty to improve student access and success?” Mayer asked. “How will you bring about systemic change in our college culture to achieve that?”
Clasemann answered by stating, “I think it has to start with students, frankly. First and foremost, I think we need to ask students where the challenges are, where the barriers are and get their input on what is happening. […] I think anytime that we start a new initiative, it is very important that we have professional development that goes along with it — a communication plan to let people know what’s happening.”
Gardner followed by asking, “How can and should a community college address anti-blackness?”
Clasemann responded with, “We have to be willing to have the conversation. We have to be willing to say this is what we stand for and this is not what we stand for. And when we find things that go against our values, we have to be public about that and take a strong stand. We have to live our values and I think that is really important. So that is behaving and encouraging the behaviors that we want.”
“The college needs a systematic plan for recruitment and retention of faculty and staff of color,” Gardner shared. “Please give an example of something you’ve done in this area and what resources and platforms you’ve allocated to achieve this at your institution.”
Clasemann shared, “I think traditionally in higher education as we work to recruit both faculty and staff, we tend to go to the same places. […] We need to go to where they [people of color] are. We can’t expect them to come to where we are. And so, I think making sure that we are diversifying the air, the places where we’re going for recruitment, I think is very important for both faculty and staff. If we are finding that we have more diverse applicant pools but the people that we’re hiring are not more diverse, then that is a very different conversation that we need to talk about in terms of professional development and training for people who are making those decisions as well.”
“BC, as well as many community colleges, depends on contingent labor,” Mayer stated. “How would you set an appropriate level of contingent labor, particularly adjunct faculty? And then how would you support an improved job satisfaction for adjunct faculty?”
Clasemann responded that, “I believe in a strong faculty, both full time faculty and adjunct faculty as well.” He continued by sharing his beliefs that faculty should be involved with the appropriate levels as, “I don’t think it is just a level that should be set at the administrative level.” In regards to Mayer’s second question, Clasemann “would also want to make sure […] that adjunct faculty and contingent faculty have access to the professional development that go along with that, that they have the tools necessary to be successful.”
“As President, what actions would you take to support and elevate the campus community in its efforts to address issues and impacts of environmental and climate justice on our students, faculty, staff and community?” Gardner asked. “How have you demonstrated a commitment to environmental and climate justice in your past work?”
When making any changes to campus, Clasemann shared that they should be “from an approach of sustainability.” He continued to mention the importance of considering lead certifications for buildings “as we think about adding green space and trees.”
Mayer brought up the discussion of in-person and online classes. Some students prefer one format over the other, some believe there are not enough options and some teachers are not able to handle both options. “What do you think about student choice and modality, and how do you plan to meet student and faculty needs in this regard?”
“This is one of the times that I think we really need to have a hard conversation about what is best for students,” Clasemann answered. He continues to say that this is a sort of “give and take” situation from both sides, and that evening class times should be accommodated for. Additionally, Clasemann shared that there should be more information given on online class expectations and more resources for students to figure out which medium would work best for them.
After two more questions that centered around student mental health and low-income backgrounds, at around 41 minutes into the open forum, questions from the audience were asked. The second-to-last question asked of Clasemann was: “With current budget constraints, in what ways would you bring celebrations to staff and students?”
Clasemann answered, “I think in many cases it doesn’t even need to be something that costs money. Sometimes it’s just publicly standing up and saying ‘good job, I really appreciate the work that you’re doing.’ […] Showing that you value and respect people doesn’t always cost money.” Nevertheless, he did go on to mention that, in his past, “One of the things that I worked to do is, we had faculty awards for both full time and adjunct faculty members — kind of teacher of the year [award]. […] That cost us a trophy. And a plaque which was a couple hundred bucks, but it was a way to stand up and recognize individuals who are doing great work.”
Bellevue College requested individuals to complete the Finalist Feedback survey for Clasemann, which closed on March 15.