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Friday, February 22 , 2019, 2:42 am | Fair 42º


New President Lori Gaskin Takes the Helm at Santa Barbara City College

She sits down with Noozhawk to discuss where the college has been and where it's going, and what her priorities will be heading into the job

With boxes still waiting to be unpacked and lining her new office, Lori Gaskin was busily taking on her new position as president of Santa Barbara City College on Tuesday morning, just one day after her official start to the new job.

When addressed as President Gaskin, she smiled and took on the warmth that’s becoming her trademark in the office — even just a few days in.

“Call me Lori,” she said.

Gaskin’s hire could signal a fresh infusion of leadership for the college, which has been beleaguered with controversy since the Board of Trustees voted to put its former president on leave. That happened last summer, and the college has been without a permanent president since then.

After a dynamic presentation at the Garvin Theater in April in which Gaskin was sandwiched between two other presenters, she was hired by trustees in June, and comes to SBCC from West Valley College in Saratoga.

She moved less than a week ago into a “quintessential Santa Barbara cottage” and just a few minutes from the college’s campus.

Seated at the conference table in her bright office, Gaskin sat down with Noozhawk to chat about some of her thoughts going into the new job.

NOOZHAWK: You said in your April speech that you weren’t necessarily looking to leave West Valley College. What drew you to SBCC?

Lori Gaskin: SBCC has always been in the forefront of a real pervasive sense of responsibility to innovate, to experiment, to push the envelope and to ensure that what is provided is of the highest quality. ... I knew of that being in the [California Community College] system for so long. It was about being part of that campus community that is willing to not be accepting of the status quo but to really break out and see what can be done to advance our efforts with students. ... That’s what has drawn me here; nothing pushed me away from West Valley.”

NOOZHAWK: You’ve been a part of the California Community College system for 32 years, as an administrator as well as a faculty member. What has changed for students since you started?

LG: When I first began, there was no enrollment fee. In California, we had a model higher education structure. It was the envy of the nation and the world. It allowed every citizen in this state the opportunity to access higher ed. I always saw that as a gateway to the middle class. ... But we’re finding the state is choosing to disinvest in higher ed and not honor that elegant plan that we were so famous for. I really worry about students, particularly that are first generation, who don’t necessarily know how to navigate the complexities of going to college. ... It’s difficult to transfer, and that’s the hallmark of what we do.

We have programs that target our at-risk populations and transfer bound students, and provide seamless transitions with four-year universities like CSUCI. But we could and need to do a lot more.

NOOZHAWK: The Board of Trustees has approved a budget for the next year, but that could all change with November’s statewide election. How are you approaching those potential cuts?

LG: For two years we’ve had this oddity called trigger cuts, which have impacted our life as an institution midyear. ... That is an incredible challenge. That’s not a way to treat education. I have optimism that the citizens of this state are going to speak their mind. Education is what will get us out of this economic morass, and education is the future of our state. In that situation, I like to take a moderate approach to budgeting, rather than a best case or a worst case.

NOOZHAWK: The college’s trustees were put on warning this year by the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges and given one year to fix governance issues. Where is the college in that process?

LG: Before I moved, I met with the ACCJC president in Novato to hear about the commission’s logic. As a consequence of that, I have a proposal that I’ll be working through our shared governance process to address the deficiencies noted. ... I put together a very structured process for us to address those starting next week.

The warning focused on leadership and governance, so what I am proposing is a targeted self-evaluation. It will allow us to reflect on what is our leadership and governance structure? Is it effective? I believe leadership emanates from every sector of the institution, and this gives me an opportunity to see how we do function. ... I look at it as my priority as well as my opportunity.

NOOZHAWK: The trustees just recently voted to gradually convert adult education classes to fee-based. Do you stand by that decision?

LG: I remain supportive of the board’s action at the last meeting to moderate the rate of conversion. I’m one for careful, thoughtful and strategic planning where everyone knows in advance what the process is. It seemed to me that this more moderate approach provides that opportunity. We’re moderating the transition to a different model so we can engage our stakeholders. Not everyone will be pleased with everything this institution feels it needs to do to craft a future that’s sustainable over the long haul. There’s no ill intent or hidden agenda; it’s really just trying to do the right thing under circumstances that are very challenging.

NOOZHAWK: What else do you want people to know about you?

LG: It’s not about me. It’s about city college, and what I want people to know about me is that I want them to remember what an absolute treasure we have here. We just had a student vet be named veteran of the year, when we have hundreds of students graduating every spring and transferring on. ... That is such cause in this community for celebration. It’s about city college and all that we contribute to the lives of people.

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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