Change begins with an understanding of reality the chancellor lacks, allowing him to fail us as a leader.
Guest Viewpoint by Michael Berrier
I read the piece by the chancellor, “Changing Our Student’s Experience,” and I am disturbed. His fundamental perspective is dismissive, as when he writes about our … and he means the faculty … thinking too small … “Perhaps it’s because we are so classroom-centric. A small space with a few students creates a closed perspective … ”
So in addressing a big vision for changing the student experience, he begins by dismissing the value of the very faculty on whom our institution depends to make the “student’s experience rewarding and successful.”
Stop for a moment and note the profound manner in which our faculty members in the classroom are engaged in the world. For example, think about the physics instructor whose teaching excites because he or she reads about current conceptions of the expanding universe, which postulate a programming of all reality on the thin membrane of that expansion. Or of the English professor who thinks about Hemingway, and who has visited his boyhood home or the wonderful house he owned in Key West … or who went to Pamplona, all to better understand that giant of a writer, and to bring that understanding to class. These are people in a small space with a closed perspective?
Can he lead this faculty?
But the issue is not just the chancellor’s disrespect of the faculty, but his misguided search for solutions. Who would look to Walt Disney when facing the critical issues that we must address at Alamo Colleges? Please do not, as the chancellor might be inclined, put me in too small a space, as I recognize that Disney has important lessons to teach. Like for example, their management asking all employees to be committed, that everyone should stop and pick up rather than walk by the discarded paper cup. Surprised that a member of your faculty would be reading about the management practices at Disney, chancellor?
And rather than address real issues, he creates straw men. For example, the chancellor writes … ” because our day-to-day view is small, it places us in a limited mindset: traditionally, that only the best, the few may succeed.” What an absurd observation.
I have some students in my classes who might in fact become the next Walt Disney. The high expectations I have of my students, I think, might just help such a student along that path to being exceptional. Anyone of our students might be the next Disney or Bill Gates. And I know of no member of the faculty who would conclude that only a few can succeed when success is defined in realistic terms of getting a job, creating a family and being a good citizen. Many of the people in our community are Alamo College students who have succeeded, and we believed in their potential for success when they were students.
To suggest that we believe only the few succeed allows the chancellor to ignore the reality that many of students do not have the skills necessary to succeed. Having misrepresented reality, the chancellor asks …” Wouldn’t a greater vision be that every student succeeds both as a learner and citizen?” This envisioning also ignores reality. If only the faculty would believe in our students, then every student would graduate.
The Chancellor engages us in this rhetorical game because he does not have real solutions. The problem is that too many students fail, but our simply believing in them, as we do, is not the solution. As a faculty member, I want to act, to act quickly, dynamically and effectively to help these students.
Because I spend time in the class working with the students to build reading and writing skills, I help some students step up. But I only have a limited amount of time to impart knowledge of my discipline and cannot dedicate more time to remediation.
After two or three weeks, I absolutely know which students lack the reading and writing skills necessary to succeed in my class. I also know which students have behavioral issues that contribute to their failure. And of course, I know that many of our students face overwhelming difficulties in their lives. I know which students cannot succeed in my class, and I know why. How has the chancellor responded to this reality? What options has he given me to help these students?
We need to help these students, but we cannot follow a chancellor who believes that the problem is a faculty of narrow-minded thinkers, who think only a few can succeed, who don’t believe in our students. The chancellor is a smart man, but a man without solutions. Like the Wizard of Oz, he hides behind the language of leadership, smoke and mirrors, distracting with his vilification of the faculty, while he fails us as a leader. The sooner the board recognizes that failure, the better for our community. And by community, I do not mean the faculty, I mean the community in which I live. We need real leadership exactly because I don’t want to fail my community.