Yosemite Community College District survey
Leslie answers Nan Austin's questions for all prospective trustees
1. What do you see as the top issue of this race?
I think most of the current board have lost sight of their duty to conduct oversight, and instead have become cheerleaders for the top executives. A community college encompasses students, staff, faculty, and the larger community: Trustees should listen to all those constituency groups firsthand, rather than allow these voices to be filtered through the chancellor or other executives. It's too easy for top administrators to control and shape the flow of information to the board, resulting in a clear disconnect between the board and other stakeholders. While lip service is given to “participatory governance," there is often a sense that decisions are made before the board meetings open, and also that board members have been pre-conditioned to discount certain speakers or groups before they even present their views.
2. What qualities do you feel you would bring to the board?
I will work to bring transparency to the decision-making process, and to create an institutional culture which genuinely values the free and open exchange of ideas for everyone: students, employees, and our community. If I am elected I will hold frequent "office hours," open to anyone, to hear firsthand the views of those affected by board decisions. I will insist that critics be treated with respect, not retaliated against, whether I personally agree or disagree with their views. I'll research issues carefully, provide even-handed analysis, and do my best to be fair and thorough. I am passionate about creating a college environment in which faculty and staff feel appreciated and respected, and where student achievement is our foremost goal. I will provide an independent voice on the board -- a voice for transparent, ethical stewardship.
3. If you work for the YCCD, what moved you to run and what is your occupational plan if elected?
There are several reasons I was motivated to run, but I suppose the primary mover was my dismay when I opened Facebook one day and saw a viral video of an MJC student being prevented from passing out Constitutions on Constitution Day. The rationale for this restriction was that the student had not properly petitioned in advance to use a tiny designated "free speech" area. I opposed that affront to the First Amendment, wrote a column in the Bee against it, and continued to play a role in the effort that ultimately got the policy overturned. However, the micromanaging mindset which clung to the original policy as long as possible is clearly still operative here.
As for my occupational plan if elected, I will continue my private piano studio, and hopefully get back to some of my favorite hobbies: gardening, dance, and writing.
4. The district has invested in Student Success initiatives. What is your view of these efforts and are there any changes you would like to see explored?
I am not teaching this semester, so although I attended a few meetings early in the roll-out of the success initiative, I would have to study the documents much more thoroughly than I have time for now in order to make a judgement. In general, however, initiatives from the state usually come with lots of money, so they tend to garner great enthusiasm. What's not clear is if they work -- and considering all the initiatives that have come before this one, the odds are not good. The percentage of students who enter our college and place into below-college-level math and English classes is huge -- and the percentage of students in those remedial classes who go on to transfer to a four-year college is terribly small.
If a student arrives here after twelve years of education reading at, say, a fourth-grade level, we should question if we are choosing the best possible life path for that student by encouraging him or her to aim for a four-year degree. For too many, it is an endless treadmill to a nowhere destination. We needlessly demoralize some of our students who take courses over and over again but still have trouble completing the core requirements. Our goal should be to help each student reach his or her own highest potential, whatever that may be, and develop the skills needed for transfer or meaningful employment. If this particular initiative works, however, and increases student success in vocational and/or academic programs -- without grade inflation -- I'm all for it.
5. What needs in your geographic district will you advocate for if elected?
Because unemployment is high in our area, I would advocate for forging partnerships with local businesses who are having trouble finding qualified employees, developing programs that meet their needs. Internships in those businesses would also give our students valuable real-world experience in the fields they are interested in, not to mention deepen their ties to our own community.
I think the students from my area might also benefit if we worked more closely with high school teachers in the core areas of math and English to better prepare students to be successful at college, while they're still in high school. As university costs rise and graduates leave with an ever-larger debt burden, we need to make the case for our colleges as a terrific way to get an excellent, yet affordable, education.