Editorial: Presidential forums interesting, but have little impact

The Oak Leaf

The candidates for superintendent-president of SRJC recently engaged in a series of open forums in which students and faculty had the opportunity to ask each candidate questions about leadership style, experience and vision for the future of the college. While the forums were a great opportunity for SRJC to meet the candidates, the exchange seemed empty because the final decision rests in the hands of the Board of Trustees; students, staff and faculty have no direct say regarding who will be their biggest advocate to the board.

We at the Oak Leaf could put our stamp of approval on one of the candidates, but the point is moot because the large majority of our readers has no say in the decision. The candidates chosen by the selection committee for the most part appear to be equally qualified. They each offer a depth of experience in administration at community colleges with multiple sites. They all understand the budgetary hardships facing SRJC and community colleges in general, and they seemed to understand the responsibility that comes with leading a school with a diverse history and strong reputation such as ours.

While the candidates provided interesting responses as they engaged with the faculty and staff they may lead in the near future, the forums were an appeasement to the faculty and staff to make them feel included without actually involving them in the process. Forum moderator Ricardo Navarette said it best as he introduced each candidate, “This forum is an opportunity to acquire more information.”

That’s not to say that the forums were meaningless. The forums were an excellent opportunity for the candidates to feel the pulse of the college and to catch a glimpse of the issues that members of the college feel strongly about before accepting or officially starting the position. Faculty and staff also gained more information, which they can use to write letters or send e-mails to department advocates and members of the board. But the board still decides.

The consequence is apathy among members of the college community.

Only a hand full of students showed up to participate in the forum and teachers think discussing the candidates would clog their e-mail inboxes unnecessarily. They’re not wrong, but a hundred e-mails and four hours should be a small price to pay, considering the weighty topic and the longevity of past presidents.

The candidate who becomes the school’s next president will guide us through the uncertain waters of our new budgetary reality. It will be the president who fights to save a program or makes the recommendation to cut it. As elected officials, board members have to play to public opinion; they have a constituency to serve. Although the president advises the board, that role also represents the strongest advocate for both educators and students. It should be someone who serves the college and supports the best opportunities for education.

The Oak Leaf respects the hiring of the next president rests with the Board of Trustees. But we hope that the board considers issues raised during the forums and in the following discussions among faculty, staff and students as it ponders a decision that will set the course of this institution for years to come. Students and faculty need to get involved, express their concerns and make their opinions known, or the board will do as it pleases, not as we want.