Michael Vargo, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, made his pitch Monday as the fourth and final provost candidate to present at Grand Rapids Community College.
The only internal candidate, Vargo has the most familiarity with GRCC where he has been employed since 2004.
“You don’t have another candidate who loves this place like I do…” Vargo said. “You don’t have anyone that has the passion for the job like I have, and it would be a great honor to be the next provost here.”
Vargo started at GRCC as a full-time faculty member in the psychology department, then worked his way up to department head and eventually became dean.
Before joining the faculty at GRCC, he spent time in the psychology department at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. He has multiple degrees including a bachelor’s in psychology from Grand Valley State University and a master’s plus a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He is a clinical psychologist and has worked in a multitude of different locations across different countries like the U.S. and Canada.
Vargo referenced Donald Trump’s comments about the four congresswoman at the start of the presentation and noted, “65 percent of America found the message racist and unacceptable, especially coming from the leader of the free world, but of course that leaves us with 35 percent who didn’t. These are exceptionally challenging times to be an educator and this climate makes our job more challenging. It makes our job much more relevant, timely, and essential, for the future isn’t going to fix itself. We need to create a culture, we need to educate a generation of people who understand the values of equality and equity and inclusion and how to create a world where these values are preeminent. We need to start with ourselves and each other. We need to create a culture here at GRCC that is steeped in these values.”
Vargo took off from there into the main points of his presentation which was equity and sustainability. He shared that he was a first generation college student who related to the challenges of many other first generation students.
Vargo talked about the programs and initiatives he has led during his time at GRCC and noted how proud he is to work at GRCC. He referenced the OpenStax program, which provides free textbooks, and how it reportedly helped GRCC students save more than $3 million dollars. That statistic placed GRCC fifth in the entire nation, Vargo said.
Vargo fielded some tough questions during his presentation.
One of those questions was, “What is your philosophy in customizing curriculum that more aligns with student’s interests and strengths rather than a structured core curriculum.”
Vargo replied, “I think our work with the workforce areas is a nice example of how we can be pretty flexible on what counts as curriculum. We have outcomes that need to be met to count courses as particular courses for folks to get credit for having taking courses on the credit side. I do think there’s a lot of value in helping students identify what aspect of a particular course motivates them and you can work with them individually then to customize the work that they do to get them to those ends. They have to get to the end for them to get college credit for a course, but there are a lot of ways to get to those ends.”
After his presentation, Vargo answered a few questions from The Collegiate.
What does Vargo want students to know about him?
“I am a teacher first and a teacher at heart and how much I value and love the mission of the community college and how proud I am to be part of the work that we do at this institution,” he said.
When asked what he thinks is the biggest problem facing college students today, he answered, “Affordability of higher education. And that’s one of the reasons I love community college because we work really hard to promote what we call access, which is the ability for anybody in the community, regardless of their financial standing, to come and get high quality higher education.”
Vargo also talked about the role of media and the impact it has on us as a society.
“I think (the impact) is huge,” he said. “I think that the media keeps this cycle in front of you over and over again. It’s kind of an echo chamber, so you hear the same thing over and over again and the media also creates the opportunity to only listen to messages that resonates with your values and beliefs. I can only click on NPR articles and only get the perspective of NPR, or I can only click on Fox News articles and only get the perspective of Fox News and that way I segregate myself from the life of the mind, the cross pollination of other ideas that might change the perspective that I had.”
He continued. “When I said, ‘I want to hear from you if your perspective is different from mine,’ I sincerely mean it. Otherwise, I only listen to the things that I already know and already comfortable with. If you feel differently about something, it’s an opportunity for me to take another’s perspective on it and hear another perspective on how I might view it differently in the future.”
The last question The Collegiate asked was what the college can do better to protect students and improve safety overall with the rise in mass shootings and violence and shootings specifically in Grand Rapids.
“It’s terrible,” Vargo said. “There is a culture of violence that we created and the media has helped perpetuate… One of the things that we need to do is establish our parameters on what’s effective on our campus and that might mean rules on what you can have on campus. What I like people to know is that we have a police force here and we practice readiness drills for campus disasters and, in the unlikely event that something happened here, we’d be ready to respond.”
The provost candidate screening committee will be accepting the candidate surveys that were handed to those who attended the presentations until noon on Friday, July 26.You can find the coverage of the other provost candidates Laurie Fathe, Jacqueline El-Sayed and Brian Knetl by clicking on their names.