As promised, I said I would share my reflections, observations, proposed and pending actions, I believe we need to move forward as the Southwestern College (SWC) community. Every day, when I walk on campus, I feel joy and happiness at the work we do, although I know that not everyone feels that way.
So, in my usual spirit, I like to end with the good things, so I will start with observations and concerns; and actions to improve.
Areas for Improvement
The first and probably most important of my observations is that we are stuck in a cycle of trying to address underlying issues. Some of these matters are not unique to us. Our national problems have magnified and heightened our challenges. In listening to many of you, reviewing historical documents, and reading investigations, I observe that we cyclically try to deal with underlying issues. We identify an issue, we struggle to resolve it, and then something happens to make it blow up. We run for shelter, sweep the issue under the rug, people go to their respective corners, and the issue festers until we must deal with it again; we then start the cycle all over. You need to know this is not unusual for educational institutions, although unacceptable, if we are going to serve our students well. This cycle keeps us from reaching our full institutional potential and becoming an incredible college. This trend saddens me, and it is why I am committed to resolving these matters.
Many on the campus believe we have racial tensions that we need to deal with—others raise issues with sexual harassment and assault–others believe there is a lack of respect and trust. Others have noted we have allowed employees who don’t follow college policies to get away with inappropriate behaviors, and we do not have systematic processes to address these issues. I would submit to you the issues go beyond accusations of sexual harassment and assault, lack of respect, and not following college policies; they go to bias and prejudice endemic in our society and higher education institutions, not just Southwestern College. No matter how we categorize the problems, respect, and trust, and upholding accountability for actions underlie the problems we continue to experience.
Actions to improve…
So, what are we going to do about this? We must put the majority of our energy on fixing the big problems that will have the most impact and move on to working on other issues, ones that might be important to you. So, as many of you are aware I have already made some changes to some of the college’s processes. While I promised the college when I got hired, I would listen, leave the things that are working well, and deal with what needs to be fixed; there are some areas that must be improved.
To ensure that everyone receives respect and hopefully begin to increase trust, we have revamped the investigations process and will continue to work on improving our processes, as well as measures of accountability.
Ø We hired a former human resources administrator to oversee all investigations and ensure they are done in a timely manner. I have instructed human resources to route every investigation to an investigator within 48 hours of receipt and to ensure anyone who files a complaint receives acknowledgment that the complaint was filed. We are operating under the principle that both the person who complains and the accused deserve respect to get the investigation completed quickly and brought to resolution. We are also operating under the principle that once we are aware of a situation, we are compelled to act.
Ø We hired an outside firm who has no stake in SWC to conduct the investigations. People are innocent until proven otherwise, and this seems to be getting lost in the media and comments I hear. If someone violates Board policy, we are taking appropriate action. We are advising employees that some of the things that may have been tolerated before are unacceptable. The excuse “we have always done it that way” does not excuse illegal or inappropriate behavior on anyone’s part. We are asking our employees to have ethics and integrity, and our managers to help employees learn what is appropriate. As college employees, we are adults and therefore responsible for ensuring Board policies and procedures, as well as state and federal statutes, are upheld. Additionally, we have bargaining agreements that provide guidance on employees’ rights and obligations.
We are forming an Advisory Council to the President on Inclusivity, Respect, and Race Relations (name keeps changing and will probably evolve over time). This Council will meet with me and advise on how we focus on having the “race conversation” at SWC, to build respect and inclusion. I chose the word “inclusivity” for the council because it focuses on intentional action. We need to be purposeful and have intent about creating an environment that provides respect for everyone. Pursuant to new proposed District Policy 3410 Nondiscrimination approved by the SCC and to be considered for the Board’s Second Read:
“….No District funds shall ever be used for membership, or for any participation involving financial payment or contribution on behalf of the District or any individual employed by or associated with it, to any private organization whose membership practices are discriminatory on the basis of national origin, religion, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, race or ethnicity, color, medical condition, genetic information, ancestry, sexual orientation, marital status, physical or mental disability, pregnancy, or military and veteran status, or because he/she is perceived to have one or more of the foregoing characteristics, or based on association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics….”
We are ensuring our colleges processes are transparent and shared openly. We are moving agendas to Boarddocs to make sure our meetings and committee structures are visible.
We are beginning to work with departments and areas to ensure there are systematic processes that are effective and support employees trying to do their jobs. We are going to continue to focus on the accreditation recommendations regarding lack of systematic employee evaluations. We are a public institution, paid for by public tax dollars, and we have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure we are all doing the jobs we are paid to do. If someone does not want to do the job they were hired to do, they may want to consider other opportunities.
We must make SWC a great place to work, one where everyone comes to work knowing they make a difference in the lives of students. Most of you love this college, work hard, and believe in what we do. We need to take 90% of our energy and put it on all our faculty, staff, managers, and Board who want to serve students and do a good job. We do a lot of great things for students. Can you imagine what we could do if we take all the time we spend dealing with negative issues and put it towards serving our students and communities?
Now, I will address SWC Strengths
We do so many good things for our students, from supporting 70% of our students with financial aid, to focused and supportive counseling, to exceptional tutoring, to supportive classes for learning. We are standing up and moving forward with a College Promise Program focused at our individual student base, the JagKitchen, and SWC CARES.
Our faculty are taking the lead on innovative and thoughtful curriculum and scheduling and are leading the way on the California Guided Pathways Project. Classified employees all over the campus are supporting our students through beautiful grounds, clean rooms, great services, and instructional support. The learning communities on our campus are incredible, what an inspiration.
We have a beautiful Chula Vista campus, and comprehensive centers that focus on access for our students. Understanding that the issues of childcare, economic insecurity, and transportation hinders access for underserved students in our communities, SWC was thoughtful about ensuring that access through our community-based centers.
We know how to celebrate and recognize student achievement through grand celebrations and events for students. We care, and care deeply, about our students, and recognize the economic insecurity they must endure to secure their future.
There are departments and areas of excellence all around SWC. Passion abounds at Southwestern College for students and our community. Many in our community see our college as a gateway to a brighter future, the place where they can go to school to achieve a dream. Our community believes in SWC, as evidenced by the support of Measure Z. I sincerely hope you realize the trust that this community bestows in this college.
I am sorry for the length of this email, but Southwestern College is so important to our community and students that I believe we are compelled to act. It also bothers me that so much of this note is focused on issues that I believe we must fix. My hope is that in the future I can report to you that we are resolving issues that keep us from being our best selves, and are moving this college into the future.
We are serving a very vulnerable student population right now, our Dreamers and DACA students, and we need to have strength of conviction and purpose to ensure all our students experience equitable treatment, achievement, and success. I know we can do this, we as faculty, staff, Board Members, and administrators can come together on behalf of our college to ensure we serve our students in the way they deserve.
A lesson from history can remind us of the powerful consequences of indifference and inaction. I remember my former community college professor reminding my class that there is nothing worse than indifference and inaction.
The Holocaust illustrates the consequences of prejudice, racism and stereotyping on a society. It forces us to examine the responsibilities of citizenship and confront the powerful ramifications of indifference and inaction. Tim Holden
I invite you to stand with me for Southwestern College students … the reason we exist. Find solutions to the problems, find ways to serve students, and check your own bias and assumptions at the door. Through the work ahead, I hope that we recommit ourselves to these core values because we deserve colleagues who are all pulling in the same direction. This is hard work, but I am committed. Are you?
Attached for your information are definitions for you to consider.
Thank you for all that you do every day for the betterment of all our students and community. I see you, I am here, and appreciate you.