Perhaps as a result of their selection, trustees often reward the campus president for acting as a CEO. In this role, the president focuses on size and scale, organization and delegation, money, and labor issues. Faculty members are viewed as employees. In my view, a better model is the president as CMO (chief mission officer), focused on mission, purpose, and student success, including graduation. In this model, faculty members are viewed, as they were historically, as partners in shared governance.
Robert A. Scott, Ph.D.
President Emeritus, Adelphi University
President Emeritus, Ramapo College of New Jersey
New York, N.Y.
I would like to provide one answer to Question 14: “If the state’s community colleges could be folded into our system, would you want them? Why or why not?”
Before I answer, I would like to praise the senator’s approach of beginning with a set of questions. It’s a rare politician who leads with questions instead of pushing ahead with answers. The questions are all vital and important; many of them are at the center of important reform work going on within higher education in our country.
First off, I’d like to share a bit of context. There are approximately 1,100 community and technical colleges in our country. These colleges play a vital and underappreciated role in our national story. In many ways, the comprehensive community college is a uniquely American idea. Rooted in junior colleges that were founded in the early 20th century, the idea for the modern community college really took hold in American policy with the 1947 Truman Commission report. Many of our institutions were founded later in the 1960s during the civil-rights era. At the present moment, roughly 40 percent of America’s college students attend a community college.
Two aspects of Senator Sasse’s Question 14 require some friendly prodding. First, the idea of folding community colleges into “our system” is problematic, as many states already have the two- and four-year colleges in a unified higher-education structure. Further, the notion that the university is “our” system seems to imply that the community colleges are somehow “their” or “other,” which is decidedly not the case. In fact, many of the tricky questions on Senator Sasse’s list are more easily answered by community colleges, which have affordable tuition, relevant programs with clear labor-market outcomes, and close ties to employers and community groups. Second, the follow-up question, “Would you want them? Why or why not?,” perpetuates a stigma against community colleges that many of us are trying very hard to change. America’s community colleges boast many of the attributes associated with small liberal-arts colleges: small class sizes, highly qualified faculty, and a focus on classroom learning as opposed to research and grant-writing.