Kenneth Lawson and Utpal Goswami SBCC candidates
Kenneth Lawson and Utpal Goswami, candidates for the Santa Barbara City College superintendent/president position, speak during a community forum Thursday.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photos)

While the Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees will ultimately choose the new superintendent/president, students and other members of the community questioned the two finalists Thursday. 

SBCC’s president/superintendent screening committee narrowed the field of applicants to two final candidates, who the public heard from and questioned at the Garvin Theatre events: Utpal Goswami, president of Metropolitan Community College-Maple Woods in Kansas City, Missouri, and Kenneth Lawson, vice president of instruction at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, Washington.

More than 150 people attended the events, which was hosted by the college, and the forums can be viewed online here.

The candidates were asked about their plans for SBCC’s $3.2 million deficit amid declining enrollment, fundraising efforts, environmental sustainability practices, and more.

“This college exists for students,” Goswami said in response to a question about dealing with hateful speech. “We can not become an instrument of whatever else is happening in society and not work for our students. 

“We have to determine what our values are and act on those values,” he continued. “Our values are basically geared toward our students and our employees, but we also have the obligation to society, so we have to work with societal forces.” 

A student working at SBCC’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services asked Lawson how he would support students and respond to situations that made some people feel unwelcome or marginalized on campus.

SBCC superintendent candidate event

More than 150 people attend Thursday’s events to question SBCC superintendent candidates.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photos)

“This college should not tolerate racism,” Lawson said. He is committed to promoting diversity among the staff and faculty to be representative of the student population, he said, and would push for a curriculum that reflects the “diversity of our students.”

Lawson’s remarks received applause from an audience that included SBCC students, faculty, staff and locals.

SBCC began its search for a new superintendent/president last year after Anthony Beebe announced he would retire due to ongoing health issues. 

The seven-member Board of Trustees will hold final interviews with Goswami and Lawson on Friday in closed session, and the person chosen for the position is expected to start work in January. 

Helen Benjamin, former chancellor of the Contra Costa Community College District, has been interim superintendent/president since March. 

Utpal Goswami

Utpal Goswami

SBCC superintendent/president candidate Utpal Goswami speaks during an event Thursday.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photos)

SBCC said Goswami has more than 30 years of experience at colleges and universities, including institutions in California, Arizona, Missouri and Texas.

“I feel right at home here,” Goswami told the crowd. “I view my leadership to be able to create an environment so people can be a success and to set the stage for others to perform.”

Goswami said he has been an admirer of SBCC since 2010, when he was serving at College of the Redwoods in Eureka and administrators there used some of SBCC’s practices and guidelines.

He said a particular line of SBCC’s mission statement — “dedicated to the success of each student” — stands out to him.

“When you look from the perspective of each student, you are forced to look at students not as abstract or a number, but you are looking at the students as individuals,” Goswami said. 

Kenneth Lawson

Kenneth Lawson

SBCC superintendent/president candidate Kenneth Lawson speaks during an event Thursday.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photos)

Lawson has 20 years of experience working in community colleges. He worked as a political science professor and dean at Shoreline Community College, then dean of humanities and social sciences at Seattle Central College before going to Skagit Valley College, all in Washington.

Lawson said his core values include support and “honest communication, to act with integrity, act collaboratively and have compassion” for each other.

“Those are things we would all have to work out together as a community,” he continued. “They help center the work and create a trusting environment where we can all do the work in supporting our students, and ensuring our students have equitable access and equitable success in terms of their learning.”

He also spoke of “holistic education” that’s designed to look at a student as a whole, and teaching models that are engaging for students.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.