Santa Monica had an opportunity last week to hear from the three people in the running for the presidency of Santa Monica College.
The three finalists emerged from a nationwide search for a new president that began after former president, Dr. Piedad F. Robertson, left in January to become the President of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.
They were chosen by an SMC presidential search committee comprised of SMC faculty members and other employees, students and residents.
Each of the three appeared at a two-hour public forum that were held last week in the school’s gymnasium. During the forums, candidates responded to questions submitted by SMC faculty, classified staff, management, students and residents.
Dr. Deborah Blue was the first to take center stage. According to college documents, she is currently vice president of policy and research for the Accrediting Commission for Community & Junior Colleges (ACCJC) in Novato, a position she has held since January 2004. Prior to that, she served for 3 1/2 years as president of Laney College in Oakland, a community college with an enrollment of approximately 14,000. Before that, she served as vice president/assistant superintendent of educational programs and services for Sierra Joint Community College District for 6 1/2 years and held several administrative positions in community colleges and four-year universities throughout central and northern California.
Addressing a question about solving problems, she said she would first “determine what college practices currently are through consultation, through assessment and through getting to know more about the College and the Board’s expectations.” She said she would also want to know what’s working well and what needs improvement. After that, she would be prepared to “weigh in” with her own recommendations.
Blue stressed her “deep passion for participatory government” and said that as a dean she worked on a “collegiate governance process” for her division, and would like to bring an “interest-based approach to problem solving” with the City of Santa Monica and as a new President would make “new efforts.” In addition, she would sit on numerous community boards and organizations in an effort to balance the needs of the College with quality of life issues for residents.
Blue sees fund-raising as “friend raising” and would hope that her involvement in the community, such as sitting on boards of different organizations, would be a help.
Finally, Blue, a grandmother, stated that the College’s “vision and mission statement are the visions and missions that would be developed through a shared collegial, collaborative process with buy-in and consensus from the faculty, staff, students administration and the College Board of Trustees.”
Dr. Chui L. Tsang was the second finalist to appear. He has been president of San Jose City College, which has an enrollment of about 10,000 students, for eight years. Prior to that, he served five years as dean of the School of Applied Science and Technology at the City College of San Francisco. He has also taught at two- and four-year institutions and served in several capacities in education-related organizations.
Tsang, who began his college education at a California community college, said that his management style was based on some advice he got from a Silicon Valley entrepreneur years ago — to “keep his hands in his pocket, but put his nose everywhere,” which he took to mean that he must be “aware of what’s happening in different parts of his institution but not do the work himself…you communicate with people doing the work by giving your opinion.”
Tsang believes participatory government is “a good way to solicit input from all constituency groups on campus…and brings harmony to a campus.” He would like the College to have someone on campus, as his current college does, to deal with “neighborhood concerns.” He went on to say that while he has the skills to mediate issues between the College and the residents of the City, he is “not a politician.”
In his view, fundraising is the “most important task of a CEO” of a college. His vision for the College included boosting its vocational educational programs “based upon relevancy” and having a global approach to liberal arts and general education.
The last finalist to appear was Dr. G. Jeremiah Ryan who is currently president of Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey, where he has served for six years. Raritan has an enrollment of approximately 30,000 students. Prior to that, he served four years as president of Quincy College in Massachusetts, which has about 9,000 students. Previously, he held several administrative positions in community colleges and higher education organizations in Maryland, New York and New Jersey. He received an Ed.D. in higher education from Nova Southeastern University, a master’s of science in education administration from State University of New York at Albany, a master’s of arts in organizational leadership from Stanford University, and a bachelor’s in government and speech from Hamilton College.”
Ryan sees his role as president as being an expert in three rooms with the first being the classroom. He would meet regularly with the faculty and academic departments and would like to teach a Political Science class. Ryan’s second “room” is the boardrooms of organizations on whose boards he serves in order to be active in the community. The last room is the backroom, as he believes “a college president should be comfortable with politicians.”
Ryan views participatory government as an opportunity to “work with student government.” He also proposed a “summit with the City and other stakeholders” as a means of solving problems. He believes such an approach would facilitate everyone “putting it all on the table and working on negative connections.”
Ryan stressed that he likes working with politicians, his parents were politicians and he views being a “college president as being a politician.”
When it comes to fundraising, Ryan believes it should be “an aggressive operation,” which he said he enjoyed.
Speaking of his vision of the college and his mission, he said he saw his job as “listening” as “I don’t want to force my vision on you.”
If he becomes president, Ryan promised in the “first 100 days to make every attempt to meet every employee of the institution, hear what’s important to them” and meet with student leaders as well. He also would want to meet with the 100 most important people in the community. He would learn who they are from meeting with the school’s employees.
Carole Currey, president of the SMC Board of Trustees, said as the forums ended that her Board hopes to make a decision by December 5.However, the Board is not bound to appoint any of the finalists.