• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


A Correction

Yesterday a reader commented that "[y]our blog paints such a sad portrait of a cc."

I didn't think that was true, but if it is, then I need to issue a correction.

November 17, 2009

Yesterday a reader commented that "[y]our blog paints such a sad portrait of a cc."

I didn't think that was true, but if it is, then I need to issue a correction.

I'm glad, and proud, to work where I do. The college has its quirks, as all colleges do. It has the full range of personalities, some structural issues I may have mentioned once or twice, and some very real financial challenges. I tend to write about those, since writing (and getting helpful feedback!) is how I process my struggles. I don't write as often about the victories, since I don't struggle as much with those. But they're many and legion, and if it didn't fatally compromise pseudonymity, I'd happily portray them in loving detail.

Instead, I'll just do a few glances of what a victory looks like in my world.

When a department comes up with an innovative idea that I never would have, and presents it in a way that I could help make happen, that's a victory. (That was earlier this week.) Or when two departments with a history of tense conflict come together to create a joint program that resolves the conflict in a way that puts students first, that's a victory. (That was yesterday morning.) Or when a conversation that everybody thought would be fraught with anxiety instead goes well because everybody involved acts as their best selves, that's a victory. (Yesterday afternoon.)

When a single Mom who thought she'd be trapped in an hourly job she hated for the rest of her life transfers successfully into a ridiculously prestigious college, that's a victory. (Last Spring.) Or when a management-labor conflict gets defused in the early stages with good-faith gestures of mutual respect, that's a victory. (Two weeks ago.) When we get a higher percentage of low-income students than we've ever had and our attrition numbers don't budge, that's a victory. (This semester.) When we're able to find enough economies in the budget to prevent layoffs despite what seem like the state's best efforts, that's a victory. (Last Spring.)

Community colleges get less funding per student than any other sector of higher ed, and the difference is far more than research lab facilities. CC's take all comers, even when their preparation levels suggest real challenges. That can be read as misguided or quixotic, but I read it as noble and democratic. On paper, that single Mom I mentioned didn't look like much before she got here. Here, she got to prove herself. Second chances are worth something.

That's not even counting the little victories, like seeing successful alums return to show off and share what they've done, or overhearing an intensely focused conversation in the hallway between two students trying to understand a chemical reaction.

Yes, I sometimes get frustrated at irrationalities large and small. But if the frustration is the only thing that I've conveyed, then I've painted a misleading portrait. This is a good place, doing good work, and doing it well. The frustration is borne of a desire for it to be even better.


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