October 11, 2007

Commentary: Town Hall notes

Below is a summary of the Town Hall meeting that took place yesterday. The summary comes via the college's electronic mail server, Infolist.

Man, I should have been at this meeting. Note: my sarcastic comments are in red.

Terry Calaway held his third town hall meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, in Craig Community Auditorium. These were the topics covered:

Dr. Calaway reviewed some of the actions taken in response to questions from the September Town Hall meeting:
  • Regarding the lack of enforcement of the smoking policies, if you see someone smoking in an area not designated for it, please contact Dennis Day or Gus Ramirez. I'm glad those individuals responsible for enforcing the policy are only here during the day because everyone knows smokers don't attend evening or weekend classes.
  • Meetings about the proposed reorganization continue with Instructional deans, the vice president and the executive vice president. Meetings with assistant deans and deans are still to come, as are meetings with faculty and administrative support staff in the Instructional areas. Plans are progressing, Dr. Calaway said, but we still need more input. He anticipates an update on the next steps in mid-November.
  • Facilities is also looking into concerns about the elevators in the Regnier Center and the procedures to follow to help disabled people out of the building if the elevators ever go down. Maybe someone should ask disabled students which elevators routinely break down. I know in years past the elevator in the Commons building that leads to the Student Senate office has been a problem. The advertising manager of The Campus Ledger was trapped in it several times.
Dr. Calaway thanked faculty and staff for their feedback regarding the draft of the AQIP systems portfolio. He encouraged people to get involved in AQIP, especially in the yearly progress update on the college’s action plans and to speak up if they see something they disagree with. Speak up if we don't agree with something? Yes, that worked so well for Teresa Lee, Andrea Evans and Sonia Hall -- all alleged victims of sexual harassment and who were terminated or resigned their positions at the college. Look, just because we have a new president doesn't mean we still don't have all those jerks the old president hired.

Dr. Calaway then asked for new questions.

Q: Where are we in dealing with underprepared students and helping them succeed in class?
Following a discussion on how JCCC currently assesses students’ abilities and the current attrition rate for both students overall and first-term students, Dr. Calaway asked what would be the long-term solution for students. If learning comes first, then we need to do what it takes to truly make learning come first, which would mean more emphasis on reading and basic skills. He feels we could be doing a disservice to students if we’re not testing all students, enforcing prerequisites, and requiring certain skill levels to enroll in a class. One fear is that if we were to do this, enrollment would decline. But if that happens, he says, we would live with it, and in the long run we would have better prepared students. Learn to live with a decline in enrollment? OK, I'll give that one to you, Mr. President. That takes some stones even though JCCC's enrollment has declined steadily for the past three semesters.

Some of the strategic plan initiatives involve working with underprepared students, and the Underprepared Student Committee will propose to the Strategic Planning Council an advocacy center for students who run into difficulties, which would be a joint project with Student Services and Instruction. And, it was noted, Student Services would need more staff. Are they really working WITH underprepared students or just on their behalf? There is a difference.

Q: Will diversity training be mandatory?
The diversity committee is discussing plans for a multicultural resource center for students, faculty and community; the job description for the new diversity officer that will be hired; and training activities. The new diversity officer will work with Human Resources and Staff and Organizational Development on developing training. We need to establish baseline training needs for everyone on campus. But first we have to identify what we want to do and how. That means 'yes.'

Q: The new vice president and dean positions that have been announced seem more “topical” than “area-based”, as they have been in the past. What’s the faculty relationship in such an environment?
Take away the silos, Dr. Calaway said. In a quality organization, any individual in the organization should be able to give input to any other part, and the silos start to disappear. We also have to get out of the dynamic of hierarchy and into one of shared vision.
Silos? Does he mean since both silos and hierarchies are vertical, they're bad things? I grew up as a migrant farm worker and I know that silos store foodstuffs like grain and feed. As a community, we'd want to 'store' our 'grain' so when an area needs help (like our poorly funded arts programs), we can dip into our reserve to sustain it until 'spring' arrives. I guess the analogy doesn't really matter because it didn't answer the question.

Q: You’ve described your role as someone who brings energy to a project. Can you elaborate? What happens if someone doesn’t assume the energy level you’re projecting?
It’s important for people to see energy in the president. It helps them get motivated. But you can’t see it as an affront if some aren’t as motivated as you are. Everyone has energy about something here. You have to find out what it is and keep it going. It’s okay that not everybody is motivated about the same thing. You just need to be motivated about something. Conversely, we cannot punish individuals who's passion/motivation/energy is to challenge the system. Creating cadre of Head Nodders and Yes Men (and Women) is what ultimately brought the college to its knees last year. BTW, energy is neither good nor bad. Our reaction to energy dictates a positive or negative outcome. Those critical of the college provide an essential service as do those who cheer from the sidelines.

Q: Why is the “flash cube” (RC 270) in the Regnier Center locked up? It was intended to be for student collaboration and impromptu meetings.
It was noted from the audience that the room is being converted to a high-end conference room, which prompted another question about why that was done without consultation. Dr. Calaway said he would look into that. This brought up a larger issue of the lack of student space. Bill Osborn noted that the new library project could help resolve that lack of student space and asked for input. What the heck is a Flash Cube? Whatever it is, it's been taken away from us -- just like every other student space on campus. In the search for space the college always sacrifices students areas. A new or remodeled library will offer lots of uncomfortable chairs and probably a nice vending machine -- in five years. But until then, students should commandeer the Regnier Center with its cushy leather chairs and WiFi. We should hold club meetings in its giant foyer and spread out on the pristine floors to assemble class projects. I'll be napping on the afore mentioned leather chairs.

Q: Is there a way to increase student involvement in the Town Hall meetings?
Dr. Calaway said he has a meeting with student government this week, and this subject will be on the agenda. He’s had conversations with the Student Senate president about more student involvement. If there is any organization on campus that's more out of touch with students than the Student Senate it's probably the bookstore. Here's how to get students at town hall meetings :
  • hold a student only town hall meeting -- meaning no administrators or faculty
  • provide food
  • hold the meeting in the library or the food court or in the courtyard -- anywhere but a classroom
  • let students skip class or get extra credit for attending
  • provide food
  • hold it at a time when they're not all in class
  • provide food
Q: At your previous college you had a Grade Check Day in the middle of the term. Can you talk about that?
At Central Arizona, Grade Check Day was Oct. 1. Faculty built it into their syllabus as a time to interact with students at risk to see how they were progressing in class. I think we had that in middle school -- but hey, it worked. Good luck on getting every instructor to do it.

Q: What is the timeline for hiring the person to fill the new diversity position?
He hopes to have the position filled by spring, Dr. Calaway said. The job description should be completed in the next 10 days or so and then we’ll post the job (there is no position title yet). The new position will need to be approved by the board of trustees, and he has started discussions with them. The position will be funded out of the president’s contingency budget this year and be part of the general fund budget in 08-09. I'm totally excited about this and the multicultural center. I don't have anything bad to say about either but I'm sure I can come up with something if pressed.

Q: Will the new diversity position be involved with the diversity curriculum requirements?
The faculty is responsible for curriculum. This position would be a resource for faculty. Staff and faculty. It's not all about the faculty, you know. Other people work here, too.

Q: In the past we had a group on campus to look at our salaries. Will we be doing that again in the future?
Most organizations do a salary study every three years. We haven’t done one in 9-10 years. There are gaps between where we are and where we should be. An RFP for a salary study is almost ready to go. It needs to be reviewed by a few more people to make sure we’ve covered everything and then we’ll release it – probably in about 10 days. Can we examine benefits along with salary?

Q: What is the time frame for hiring a new person to fill the position of director of Staff and Organizational Development?
We hope to have the job posted by next week. They do good work. Although there should be more of a push to let student employees know they can take advantage of their services.

Q: What plans might be in place for part-time faculty to become full-time faculty?
Dr. Calaway deferred to Marilyn Rhinehart. Dr. Rhinehart said that no formal initiative is in place along those lines. However, the college often hires adjunct faculty to fill full-time positions; that data could be made available. Dr. Calaway asked for suggestions for a better way. Part-time to full-time? That's not the way most colleges and universities are heading. JCCC prides itself on not leading the way into what other colleges aren't doing.

Final discussion concerned the time of the Town Hall meetings, which have shifted around to try to accommodate various schedules. Mid-afternoon is probably the best time for faculty. The town hall meetings attract administrators, faculty, and other employees who have the luxury of leaving their desks to attend. However, custodians, maintenance workers, food service workers and other the hourly employees -- people who make sure the college runs on a daily basis -- can't attend. If they left their posts to attend a meeting the college would grind to a halt. Some don't even work during the day when all the meetings take place. What's up with that? Can we truly have a town hall meeting when certain 'citizens' of our 'town' cannot attend?

Dr. Calaway thanked the audience for coming. And I thank you for reading.