Students, faculty, and alumni gathered for the public session of the equity-focused Brian Knetl, the third candidate of four applying for the position of Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs at Grand Rapids Community College Wednesday afternoon at the Applied Technology Center auditorium.
Knetl currently serves as the interim Provost at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. Prior to this role, he served as Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, Dean of Liberal Arts, and Founding Associate Dean of the Center for Adjunct Faculty Engagement at Harper.
Knetl was tasked with answering the following prompt: “Describe your views on multicultural education, and empowering school culture and a social structure that enables students from diverse racial, ethnic, and gender groups to experience a high-quality education.”
Knetl started off by explaining why he believes he is the best candidate to be the new provost at GRCCt. He said he believes his leadership style suits him well for the position and noted that he has a style that is “collaborative and empowers other people” on his team.
“I really talk a lot about what I think is the most underestimated characteristic of an administrator, and that’s humility,” Knetl said. “To really bring a level of humility to your leadership style, meaning ‘I know what I know, and I feel confident about what I know and I have my strong opinions, but I’m also hoping I’m not always the smartest one in the room, that I’m not always the one with the best ideas in the room, and that other people can contribute and make my ideas better.’”
The main topic of Knetl’s presentation was “Equity on Campus.” He first touched on the difference between equity and equality.
“Our impulse sometimes is to say that we should treat all of our students equally,” said Knetl. “And I think that’s a good impulse, I think that’s the right impulse. But we know in higher ed, equality doesn’t work…it doesn’t always work because (students) are not starting from the same place. So we need to broaden our understanding of what equity is, but we also need to have a shared understanding of what equity is.”
He said he also believes that while employees play a role in creating a safe, welcoming and inclusive campus environment, in order for that to happen, they themselves need to feel safe, empowered, and secure.
“A campus culture and structure starts from the top,” Knetl said. “We need to have a high-level administrative priority and attention being paid to making this a priority on campus.
As Knetl moved through his presentation, Knetl told a few stories about some difficult situations he has been in regarding equity. He emphasized making sure that faculty are prepared for the changing population of students.
The last point he made was that equity on campus must be an ongoing priority.
“It’s not a problem to be solved,” Knetl said. “It needs to be an ongoing priority because we need to continue to look at it, assess it, and see what more we can do.”
After taking a few questions from the audience, The Collegiate had the opportunity to catch up with Knetl who said he wants students to know that with whatever decisions that he makes, and whatever directions he goes, he will always have students in mind.
“Ultimately, if there is some disagreement, some lack of consensus, I would always say ‘what’s going to be best for students?’” Knetl said.
Much like Jacqueline El-Sayed before him, Knetl said he thought that the number one issue facing college students today is affordability.
“I don’t care where you’re going, I don’t care where you’re coming from, I don’t care how much money you or your parents have, college is getting very expensive and more and more students are having a challenge paying for it,” Knetl said.
Knetl wasn’t quite sure how he would solve the issue.
“I would need to kind of get a better sense of what Grand Rapids is doing before I have some idea of how to tackle that challenge,” he said.
Knetl believes that in order to keep students safe on campus, you need to educate the college community on how to respond to something like a mass shooting.
“You need to have a plan in place,” he said. “…We also want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to prevent it. These types of things are so devastating because they come out of nowhere most of the time. So we want to assure the campus that we’re prepared for these things and how do we provide more support for our students who might be prone to thinking about something like that and show them that there are other ways that they can handle some of these situations.”
Knetl also served as Assistant Dean and Director of Academic Arts at Moraine Valley Community College in Illinois. Before making the jump to administration, Knetl served as a full-time faculty member for seven years in the Theater Arts department at St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, where he directed university productions and taught courses in text analysis, dramatic theory, theater history, and directing. For two years, Knetl served as Chair of the Theater Arts department. He has a B.A. is theater from St. Mary’s University, an M.A. is theater from Texas State University, and an E.D.D. is curriculum and instruction from Loyola University-Chicago.
The fourth and final session, which will feature current GRCC Dean of Arts and Sciences Michael Vargo, the only internal candidate being considered for the position, will take place on Monday, July 22 at 2:15 p.m. at the Applied Technology Center in the auditorium, room 168.