Published in the May 25 – June 7, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life
The person that Gavilan Community College’s board of trustees soon chooses to step into the leadership role of president/superintendent and replace the retiring Steve Kinsella will face some difficult challenges in turning the campus’s public image around. The college over the recent years has faced declining morale among faculty, a reduction of engagement among its students and a disconnect from the communities it serves.
No doubt Kinsella has been brilliant with the financial and daily administrative aspects of running a community college. But the next person to head Gavilan will need to rebuild bridges and the college’s brand as an institution of higher education for the South Valley region with relevance in a Silicon Valley world.
The process of finding a leader has narrowed the search to three candidates. Dr. James M. Limbaugh now serves as the interim president of Oxnard College, part of the Ventura County Community College District. Dr. Wei Zhou now serves as vice president of instruction of Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego. And Dr. Kathleen Rose, with previous experience at Hartnell Community College in Salinas, has been serving for the past seven years as Gavilan’s executive vice president and chief instruction officer.
Although all three educators have excellent qualifications and skills as community college administrators, we believe the board should choose Dr. Rose because of her in-house credentials. During her career, she has proven her commitment to the community college system at Hartnell and especially at Gavilan. She is a forward-looking leader with a tremendous sense of humor who understands the administration’s need to earn back the trust of the faculty and student body. She also understands the need to engage the greater Gavilan community, bringing into the campus culture local businesses not just in Hollister, Gilroy, San Martin and Morgan Hill but greater Silicon Valley as well.
“Maybe we need to take the local Chambers of Commerce and bring them in as partners in our off-campus sites,” Rose told faculty and students at a public forum on the Gilroy campus May 16. “We need to be ready as a college to really welcome our demographics in the community in a new and different way — and that will take going out into our community and listening in a new way.”
One of the issues the new Gavilan president will need to address is the unfavorable view Morgan Hill Unified School District students have of the campus. “Anywhere but Gav,” is a common saying among many high school seniors in the district when they’re considering where to go after graduation.
Kinsella believes building the new Coyote Valley campus site will turn this poor perception around. Brand new buildings north of Morgan Hill and in San Benito County are fine, but it’s what happens inside them — the choices of innovative and exciting college courses — that will attract local students seeking higher education. Rose understands this simple fact.
“We have two giant opportunities in Hollister and Morgan Hill,” she said at the forum. “We’ve made some promises. We’ve made those promises in Morgan Hill, obviously. We’ve got bulldozers up there moving massive amounts of dirt. We’ve got infrastructure happening. Now we have a promise to fill — what are we going to offer.”
Adult education and career training education are other topics that Gavilan has only started to have a conversation with the community about. These can provide huge opportunities for the community college system in competing with the university system. Now that the state of California has determined there is money to go into adult education, Gavilan needs to pay attention to it institutionally. And Gavilan’s various training courses, such as its excellent aviation maintenance technology program accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration, show a potential for the college to grow even more career-based courses for building lucrative job skills.
At the public forum, Rose brought up the issue of Gavilan’s image among many as a “sleepy campus.” This is a false perception, she said, bringing up examples of student and faculty activities and theater performances such as the recent showing of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” She acknowledged that the new president is going to have to ask why Gavilan has its “sleepy” reputation and what can be done to change it.
“I think the community really gets short-changed in not knowing who and what Gavilan College is, and that it really needs to change now that we have the opportunity to build our culture under a new administrative structure here,” she said. “That is a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.”
As an institution of higher education and community building, Gavilan is now at an important transformational juncture. This is an opportunity to build its college culture and raise the level of pride the community has in its local college. We believe Dr. Rose is the right person to fill this role.
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