Monday, April 24, 2017

AACC Day Three

Pathways are great, but sometimes you have to explore.  Monday was about going off the beaten path a bit.

The New Century Scholar program recognizes the top community college in each state.  Brookdale’s own Kelsey Giggenbach won a New Century Scholar award as the top community college student in New Jersey, marking back-to-back wins for Brookdale.  I attended the awards breakfast, which started much too early but was entirely worth it.  Hearing the biographies of the students tends to make a fair-minded person feel like a slacker; this was an impressive group.  

As impressive as they were, though, I saw a star born.  The winner from Washington state, Mo Abdullahi, gave the single best speech I have ever seen a student give, and I used to teach debate classes.  He was born in a refugee camp in Somalia, and noted that it’s a good thing he came to America when he did, because he couldn’t get in now.  His speech was challenging, honest, thoughtful, and elegant.  Remember his name.  As the breakfast broke up, I walked over to congratulate him on an extraordinary speech, and told him that I expect to vote for him someday.  He responded, calmly, “watch out for me.”  

The Force is strong in this one.

The editors from a few higher ed publications did a panel, including IHE’s own Scott Jaschik.  The gist of it was “how to get us to cover the story you want covered.”  

I like panels like those, because they give the other side of a process that’s usually only visible from one side.  Among other tips: open with a “pitch,” rather than an entire piece.  In the pitch, very briefly state the topic, why it’s important, and who to call for more information.  Don’t send press releases about new buildings, or chapters of dissertations.  And don’t try to convince them that whatever new initiative happened on your campus was practically perfect in every way; conflict drives story.

Scott mentioned that Breitbart monitors IHE daily, looking for ammunition for political purposes.  That level of pressure and scrutiny could be intimidating, but as he put it, at this point it’s a cost of doing business.  

I had to smile when he mentioned that from the AACC program, you almost wouldn’t know about free community college.  Many years ago, when I used to attend the American Political Science Association conference (APSA), you could have said something similar about that.  Both conferences require submitting very carefully prepared pieces months in advance.  That makes sense from a logistical standpoint, and it probably prevents some real train wrecks, but it comes at the cost of a lost responsiveness.  A strong micro-focus can lead to missing some pretty major macro ones.  In the case of APSA, cumulative frustration at learned irrelevance eventually led to a splinter movement (named “perestroika,” naturally) that led to a new either stalemate or pluralism, depending on your taste.  In the case of AACC, it still mostly leads to missed opportunities.

My Brookdale colleagues and I did a panel on Early College High School and College Readiness programs that we’re running.  Dan Lopez, from the Math department, and Raj Wesley, from Psychology, really stole the show; my president and I were very much the supporting cast.

Finally, I attended the annual panel on Generation X presidents.  It was standing-room-only, which suggests that much of the “talent shortage” of which we hear is false.  There’s plenty of talent; the issue is both recognizing it and giving it a chance.  The recognition piece comes from applying previous eras’ definitions of the job to folks who came up more recently, and finding them wanting.  As Jo Blondin, from Clark State CC in Ohio, pointed out, the relevant skill now is not adding square footage or doing golf outings with muckety-mucks; it’s improving student success.  If you look for the old skills in the younger group, you may decide the younger group is lacking.  But it isn’t; it’s just answering different, and more urgent, questions.  

Put differently, if you don’t see the talent there, try different lenses.  To paraphrase Mo Abdullahi, watch out for us.