The role of a trustee, institutional goals, the LGBT community and transportation were among the topics discussed at a trustee candidate community forum today at Grand Rapids Community College.
The five candidates – Kenyatta Brame, Kathleen Bruinsma, C.J. Shroll, David Koetje and Keith Wakefield – answered three prepared questions from college administration and six from the audience during open forum.
Leo Tokarski, vice president of Standout – GRCC’s LGBT+ student organization – asked the candidates what they thought about the transgender community, relating his question to the comments made by Trustee Stewart in Sept.
“We need to learn from that,” Shroll said. “(And) listen more than talk.”
Bruinsma agreed, adding that “everyone on a campus deserves to feel safe and respected.”
When asked about the three main focuses of the college – transfer pathways, student success, and workforce pathways – Shroll said they are more similar than different.
“If we talk to the people that are transferring, later on, they’re still going to go to work,” Shroll said. “There are certain parts of everybody’s role in getting (students) ready to work that we need to focus on.”
Wakefield said the most important of the three is student success.
“That’s something Grand Rapids Community College is doing a very good job at,” he said.
Bruinsma and Brame both agreed that student success is the most important. Koetje added that these are not three separate goals, but they overlap.
“These are the heartbeat of who we are,” Koetje said.
On the role of a trustee, Wakefield said the board should focus more on strategy and not interfere too much.
“The board should allow the people that are hired to run this college, to continue to run the college,” Wakefield said.
Shroll added that the board needs to be knowledgeable on what the college is doing, but also on the community needs.
“We are a communicator in both directions,” Shroll said.
Koetje agreed that the board should be working alongside the community.
During open discussion, two GRCC professors brought up the concern of transportation.
Adjunct Professor Amy Patullo asked the candidates what they thought about the proposed bus subsidy by the Faculty Association earlier this year.
Bruinsma related the issue to a similar one she encountered working at a law firm in the Chicago area.
“You want your employees to be able to get to work, but then you also want your students to be able to get to classes,” Bruinsma said. “It would be something, I think, the board should take a close look at.”
Brame added that childcare and transportation are often barriers for students, and the college’s role is to help “break down barriers to education.”
Spanish Professor Bernie Manker asked the board when considering the transportation topic, what has more weight – the college or the community?
Shroll was the first to answer.
“I’m not sure they’re of opposition,” he said.
Koetje agreed, saying that “we really are all part of the community.”
Following the meeting, Faculty Association President Frank Conner said the faculty and staff of the college are looking for trustees with the best interest of the college and the community in mind.
“They’re not coming in with a specific, narrow agenda,” Conner continued. “And they understand the role of the board in relation to policy governance, that the board creates the ends or the outcomes for the institution, and then it’s up to the faculty and staff to be creative in meeting those ends.”
Conner said the forum went very well.
“I think we’re going to be safe,” Conner said. “I think we have five good candidates.”