By Lisa Stapel
Grand Rapids Community College hosted a forum Tuesday to introduce the candidates vying for two open seats on GRCC’s Board of Trustees in the Nov. 6 general election.
In attendance were candidates Carlos Sanchez, 52, Kathy Crosby, 70, and Sheryl Siegel, 67. The fourth candidate, Troy Williams, 38, was unable to attend the community forum due to a scheduling conflict.
The debate was moderated by Nick Antonakis, GRCC Visual Arts Department Head and chair of the Academic Governing Council. Each candidate was given five minutes to provide an overview of their experience, philosophy on education and perspective on GRCC’s mission. Following the introductions, the candidates were each asked the same three questions, with two minutes per question to respond.
Antonakis began the forum by sharing the values of GRCC: excellence, diversity, responsiveness, innovation, accountability, sustainability, respect and integrity. He asked the candidates if they felt the values were sufficient to provide guidance for the college’s work and if they reflected the will of the community. Sanchez, who has served on the board since June 2017 when he was selected to fill the unexpired term of Bert Bleke, said he has seen the values at work every day.
“They transcend every racial or gender group that attends our college,” he said. “I see these values not just as static… Our students can attach themselves to some of these values, and they can take… these values as guiding principles on their own to succeed to and to lead their own lives.”
Crosby responded that she believed the values were very much in line with the not only the community of Grand Rapids, but all of Kent County.
“GRCC is really a portal to success for people in this community,” Crosby said. “It’s an entrance point and it’s where the community and business and our students come together, and they come together around these values. It’s there that we find the alignment that allows us to work together.”
Siegel also said she believes that the values were sufficient, and could even be expanded upon.
“I would add to this list ‘well-rounded,’” Siegel said. “Low-cost community college provides students the opportunity to take a variety of classes to find their passion and to expand their intellectual universe.”
To conclude with the preset questions, Antonakis asked the candidates to explain their understanding of policy governance and the role of the Board of Trustees. Sanchez focused on the future of GRCC.
“The board is the body that takes the flame of the organization and sees five, 10, 15 years ahead and… works with the president in that vision,” he said.
Crosby also emphasized the future and noted that her years of serving on local, state and national boards have given her a good perspective on government.
“Definitely the role of a good governance board is being strategic, looking forward and understanding what tomorrow requires of us,” she said. “Our job is to be fiscally responsible, to envision and strategize on the best direction to go… It has to be a relationship that is good for the future.”
Siegel cited her experience serving on governance boards and discussed the role of a trustee in relationship to the community.
“Governing boards of course have a fiduciary responsibility to the community,” Siegel said. “Tax dollars are entrusted to us to effectively and efficiently educate adults to fill in-demand jobs and to be informed and contributing citizens.”
Antonakis opened up the panel to questions from the audience. GRCC Music Director Kevin Dobreff stood and addressed the candidates as a whole. He touched on their previous mentions of a “well-rounded” education and noted that federal financial aid often limits students from taking classes such as those in the music or the arts if they are not required for their specific academic program. In response, Sanchez suggested that more work was to be done from a governmental standpoint to avoid an “either/or” approach.
“We need to work with our friends in legislature in state and federal to try to develop new models of education… to set up different models where we can educate more well-rounded students,” he said. “It’s not just the liberal arts or just technical (programs). It’s both/and.”
Crosby stressed the significance of the arts and suggested that action could be taken locally.
“I can’t think of anything more important to a person’s development than the arts and somehow we have failed to convince some of those funding sources how important they are,” Crosby said. “It goes back to our responsibility at the highest level to look forward and find strategies that give all students access and to support the organization’s efforts to to make that possible.”
Siegel responded that it was “tragic” that although GRCC operates at a fraction of the cost of larger state schools some students still can’t afford to take the arts and suggested that the arts community as a whole could get involved to give the students those experiences.
“The arts in our community can step up,” she said. “I think the arts, the ballet and the opera and our symphony… could collaborate in ways not thought of that can enhance the arts totally in our community and not be relegated just to ArtPrize for a few weeks.”
The Trustees serve without compensation for terms of six years. For the full recording of the forum, click here.