Saturday, August 18 , 2018, 2:14 pm | Fair 77º


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Three Candidates for SBCC President Take Stage at Public Forums

Large crowd but few students hear the hopefuls outline their top priorities if selected to lead the college

Three candidates for Santa Barbara City College’s president/superintendent position made their cases before the public Thursday, answering questions and outlining the priorities they would pursue if selected.

Willard Lewallen of West Hills College in Coalinga, Lori Gaskin of West Valley College in Saratoga and David Viar of American River College took the stage at the newly opened Garvin Theater, with each offering a completely different approach.

A fourth candidate, Eloy Oakley, who is superintendent/president of Long Beach City College, spoke to a packed board room at SBCC last week

Oakley’s speech is now on YouTube, with the three others expected to be posted on Friday.

About 250 people were in the audience Thursday, but the forums fell during prime class time, and few students were there. A handful trickled in midmorning during Gaskin’s talk.

Lewallen was the first of the day to speak, and talked about his experience working in the underserved and economically depressed Central Valley.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished under challenging circumstances,” he said.

Lewallen said his college has embraced furlough days and reduced class sections by 30 percent, but that his staff has become incredibly efficient. 

“That’s kind of the silver lining of what we’re facing,” he said.

Lewallen, like the other two candidates, touched on Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiatives that will go before voters in the fall, saying he feels it is best not to plan on those measures passing.

The candidates were asked to identify the top three issues facing SBCC.

Lewallen’s top issue was the English preparedness of students entering the college. He said he would like to work with the K-12 school system to help better prepare students for success at higher levels of education. He said closing that achievement gap is key.

Accreditation was also a top issue, as with the two other candidates. Lewallen said he feels one of his strengths is in accreditation, and encouraged the college to view recent scrutiny of its accreditation as an opportunity.

“It’s not the sky is falling,” he said. “Let’s go about the business of addressing them and responding to them. ... Let’s roll up our sleeves and go to work.”

When asked about the legacy he will leave, Lewallen said he has built strong partnerships between the community and his college.

“I made the college a choice of students, not an institution of last resort,” he said. “No one is more fiercely loyal to the college and its students.”

Gaskin was the next to speak, and spoke about her time at her college, nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley.

“I had no intention of necessarily applying or leaving,” she said. “But then Santa Barbara happened.”

Gaskin said she started her presidency at the beginning of the recession, and she and her staff quickly realized that workload reductions would be necessary. She said she worked to diffused the responsibility about those cuts to various oversight bodies.

“We were very strategic and deliberate,” Gaskin said. “In the end it creates a more sustainable institution.”

While Gaskin researched SBCC in more formal ways, she said she also took another step to find out about student life: She applied as a student to the college. She applied, and took the online and distance learning orientation to find out how the college was interfacing with students.

“A new student interacts with about seven to 12 different departments before they enter the classroom,” she said.

Gaskin said she considered the top issues facing SBCC to be the fiscal constraints and accreditation.

“I know very clearly the seriousness of this,” she said, adding that the school will come out a more refined institution. “It allows us the opportunity to engage in introspection.”

All three candidates were asked about the college’s Continuing Education department. Gaskin complimented the program, saying it was a model for other colleges.

“At the same time, reality has struck, and we’ve got to seize our own destiny,” she said.

Gaskin said she sees a vibrant future for Continuing Ed, but that credit courses are crucial to the community college mission.

“I feel a real compelling need to meet the educational need of those high-schoolers that are being closed out of institutions,” she said, as well as returning veterans, those financial unable to attend a four year school and others that find community college crucial. “That pays forward in dividend into future generations.”

Viar was the last to speak Thursday. He has served for the past seven years as the president of American River College in Sacramento.

“We are all facing difficult times,” he said, adding that his college established a workload committee that focused on what to cut.

Viar also said that the biggest issue facing SBCC is the fiscal crisis.

“We can’t ignore that,” he said, even if the governor’s proposals do pass. “It does create an uncertainty. … We have to work to communicate. We need to stay optimistic.”

Viar also said that maintaining community support and increasing external funds would be crucial, both of which would require the president to very visible. He said he has two decades of experience with accreditation, as well as expertise on crafting code-of-ethics documents, which the Board of Trustees will be required to do.

Viar was also pressed about his stance on adult education. He, too, commended the program, but added that pressure from the Legislature requires the college to focus on fee-based courses.

There’s clearly support in the community for the adult ed program, he said, so an effort to establish an endowment to help pay for costs without raising fees could be considered. Though they haven’t had to discontinue programs at his college, Viar said they have had to reduce course offerings by 11 percent, and “it has been a very faculty driven process.”

Only one student asked a question during the entire three hours, asking Viar how he would determine what programs to discontinue if budget cuts call for it.

“We need to engage the whole of the campus,” he said. “Students must be involved in that process.”

The trustees are expected to make a decision on the position by the end of the month.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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