A community member who attended our March Board meeting recently greeted me with, “You’re rock stars!” That might have been a slight exaggeration, but I appreciated the recognition of everything this Board is doing during an unusually challenging time to serve our students.
Unusual times produce unusual agendas, and that was reflected in our March meeting. We took the unprecedented step of supporting a call for the resignation of a member of another local government board who called Muslims “subhuman.” You can read my letter on behalf of the board here. Every government official and employee in California takes an oath to uphold the Constitution, which provides equal protection for all regardless of religious affiliation. Our Board’s action shows we take that oath seriously and will stand together with our students and community members of all faiths and backgrounds.
Trustee Nora Vargas brought forward a request to sign an amicus brief in cases brought by San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties challenging a vague executive order by federal administration threatening undefined “sanctuary” jurisdictions. Southwestern College is not a declared “sanctuary campus” for a number of reasons. We have chosen to say we will protect our students by upholding the law, which among other things generally forbids warrantless searches and gives local agencies like ourselves options as to how we work with federal officials. The administrative order under question is vague and appears to allow bureaucrats to punish local agencies that choose to protect their residents and students in ways that are lawful but that bureaucrats may not like. We stand together in support of equal protection of the law, due process, and students of diverse backgrounds.
We also extended our Community Benefits Agreement (more commonly known as PLA) with the San Diego Building Trades Unions, covering construction projects over $ 1 million, with provisions intended to maximize opportunities for local workers to get good middle class jobs on local work. We stand together with our community in support of economic opportunity.
Of course, even in unusual times, we continue doing the routine work of a community college governing board – approving community partnership agreements, approving hires and contracts, reviewing the progress of bond construction under Proposition R, adopting policies on subjects ranging from hiring to weapons. You can read the meeting minutes here.
Fortunately, the challenges of wayward federal bureaucracy or bigoted statements by a government official are not the only thing unusual at this time. Our employees are working hard to affirmatively advance the quality of our programs and services for our students.
We are fortunate to have our new Superintendent/President, Dr. Kindred Murillo, hard at work assessing how we can do better and how we can better support efforts already underway to create better opportunities for our students. One recent success is the “Pathways” grant.” Southwestern College is one of 20 colleges in the state chosen for this program that will re-strategize requirements for degrees and workforce certificates. Under the pathways project, the college will create clearer paths to students’ goals, including an outlined order of coursework for academic majors, certificates and transferring to a four-year university. Faculty and advisors will be critical in creating these progress maps to help students stay on track to their goals. This program will provide us with the ability to improve how we support our students in setting and achieving their goals.
Another exciting effort is SWC Cares. At a recent Board workshop with Dr. Luke Wood of the Community College Equity Assessment Lab, we learned more about the extent of student poverty and its impact on student success. We are determined to make a difference, and the employees who are implementing SWC Cares–to help put needed resources in students’ hands–are taking a huge step forward for Southwestern. To learn more about SWC Cares and how you can support it, click here. Our Board will be continuing this year to explore how we can do more to assure that lack of food, housing, child care or transportation don’t prevent students from getting the best education we can offer, and the opportunities that come with it.
Our April workshop was devoted to the budget. While the picture has improved since the recession, it is far from ideal and the budget future is uncertain. Many of the increases we have received from the State are for restricted uses or on a one-time basis. For example, thanks to Proposition 39, we can see a budget of $690,000, an increase from $563,000, for energy projects. These projects are important for both the environment and our finances, but these funds are not available for general use. The statewide allocation for scheduled maintenance and instructional materials is significantly decreasing, giving Southwestern College a total of $567,000, down from $2.4 million in 2016-17. Southwestern College will remain cautious in drafting its 2017-18 budget. Our goal is to develop a transparent and balanced budget with no use of reserves for operational costs.
I want to close by acknowledging and thanking each employee of our college who works every day to give our students greater opportunity. And I want to thank each of my Board colleagues for the countless hours they put in to move our college forward. I want to take a moment to thank Student Trustee Freda Hernandez, who will have her last meeting with us in that position in May. Freda has been an exceptional advocate for student interests, and became the first student to sit as a voting member of the Board Policy Committee. She is graduating next month and continuing her studies in Southwestern’s joint program with Point Loma Nazarene College in organizational management. We wish her the best in her future career. Elections are under way for new student officers, including the Student Trustee, and I look forward to working closely with whoever our students elect, and with all our Board members and employees, to make Southwestern the most excellent college it can be.