President’s Monthly Report
As the LBCC board knows, a couple of weeks after I was announced as the next president, the college (like most across the U.S. and the world) began unexpectedly moving to remote operations due to COVID. As a result, the passing of the leadership baton from my predecessor, Dr. Greg Hamann, had to happen virtually. Though I’m starting my new job under circumstances none of us could have ever expected, there is nothing like the lens of a crisis to bring some important issues into greater focus. Here are a few of the things that have been on my mind during this time...
Importance of Networking: Now more than ever, the COVID crisis has required me to stay in close contact with my connections across our state and throughout my network of community college presidents nationwide. As an AACC board member, I have been fortunate to take part in weekly web meetings with Dr. Bumphus and the AACC board as well as the ACCT board and its CEO, Noah Brown. These exchanges have been extremely valuable, covering topics such as reopening plans, enrollment, insurance, liability, and more. Closer to home, I have also been a part of valuable meetings of the Oregon Community College Association, led by Dr. Cam Preus. We have been in meetings with our governor, our business officers, state and federal legislators, and more. Networking also extends to our employee unions, and I have offered to have more frequent meetings with association leadership, including the option of meeting face- to-face (with masks) given the health and safety - and economic - concerns being expressed by many employees right now. In all of these relationships, the key ingredients have been authenticity, flexibility, and concern for our students, communities, and employees.
Focus on Equity: Moving to fully online instruction due to COVID has amplified existing equity issues in our communities nationwide, and that is true in Linn and Benton counties. In some parts of our district, students are disadvantaged by not having sufficient technology hardware, and in rural areas, there are many who do not have broadband access. Oregon’s painful racial legacy has also left profound income and education gaps between ethnic groups, and African Americans have been particularly disadvantaged for many decades. Community college leaders are focusing anew and with greater urgency on equity efforts; Linn-Benton recently delivered a great session on Race, Society and Athletics, available to the public here. As I get settled into the LBCC President’s Office, I remain keenly focused on how the college can become even more active in breaking down barriers so that our students have access to the education they need, with which they can better position themselves, their families and our communities throughout this crisis and beyond.
Nurturing Partnerships: Community colleges are known for our creative and innovative partnerships, but now we are having to forge and nurture them in an online setting. During the transition process, then-President Hamann took the time to arrange numerous “meet and greet” sessions with external partners using the Zoom platform. While not as personal as a handshake or cup of coffee, these sessions allowed him to give a friendly introduction to me, and to show our partner organizations that they were highly valued, having both a current and a future president in attendance online. After we reopen, I will follow up in person to keep these relationships at the center of our work in the community.
Adapting for Enrollment: Enrollment has been on my mind during the transition. Spring enrollment suffered due to COVID, especially in the CTE areas which are so vital to our communities and their economies. Summer enrollment at LBCC is up 19%, and we are hopeful this is a sign that students can rebound and get back on track after the disruption caused by COVID. I have been thinking a lot about words to use besides “reopen,” because our colleges never closed. Instead, I like the analogy about rebounding, because, like students, we will get back on track after this interruption, and will likely come out stronger. Many of the adaptations we made during COVID will become a part of our permanent operations, such as giving students more flexibility in modes of instruction.
Interpersonal Creativity: Creativity, another community college tenet, is on my mind as I try to build relationships with employees, students, and board members at my new college. Masks are now mandatory in Oregon, which should help reduce the spread of new COVID cases, but they hinder our ability to read non-verbal messages. I will work to continue to sharpen my communication skills to include other ways of being friendly, since smiling and shaking hands are temporarily on hold. I am scheduling more outdoor, “walking meetings,” which are better for our health as well as preventing COVID spread, and will allow me to get to know my new co- workers in a different setting. Again, I draw upon the relational groundwork laid by my predecessor Dr. Hamann, and the strong commitment of the LBCC Board of Education to welcome me to the community -- both of which have made this a lot easier, even from behind a mask or via Zoom.
Thank you to all who have assisted me in a smooth start at Linn-Benton!