Editors’ Note: This interview is the first in a five-part series Chaparral will publish this year in which all five members of the Board of Trustees will be interviewed by Peter Stathis and Mark Maier.
I have to confess to you, dear reader, at the outset, that I am neither a skilled interviewer nor an accomplished writer and therefore the ‘interview” that took place with myself as interviewer and Board of Trustee member Ann Ransford as interviewee on March 27th was more of a conversation than a formal interview. Even though I did manage to ask some prepared questions that came from the Chaparral editorial staff coupled with discussions between myself and Mark Maier, the other conscripted Trustee interviewer, a lot of the conversation came in the form of tangential remarks that were not directly related to any specific question. Consequently, I think it may be more interesting to you and more considerate of your valuable reading time, to give you more of a profile of the Trustee and what was discussed, the substance and the subtext if you will, and use the direct question/response format only when most helpful. This will also allow for me to alert you when as to how a response of one of the three interviewees I am reporting on (Trustee Tartaglia and Trustee Peroomian will be profiled in the next edition of the Chaparral) coincides with the other two.
So to begin with a little background, Ann Ransford and her mother were both born in Mt. Zion hospital in San Francisco. After doing a little calculus together we determined that that made Ann a second generation Californian. She has two sons who are, she is happy to say, doing well in their lives, and four grandchildren. She has a long history at GCC dating back to the BPT (Before Proposition 13) era when she was involved with Retirement Seminars through her time as Director of the GCC Foundation from 1986 through 2006. She came back to GCC when she was elected as Board member in 2009 and is just beginning her second 4 year term.
The first question I asked her, whether there were any decisions or actions that the Board took that she wished had been done differently, led to a very frank exchange about the four most recent GCC Superintendent-Presidents. I was a little surprised to discover that for the most part we held the same opinions about each of the four. Two of those opinions, by the way, are high. What eventually emerged as Ann’s answer was that she felt it would have been better when we last selected an interim President after Dr. Levy departed, that the same restriction as has been put on Dr. Riggs, that he agrees not to be a candidate for the permanent position, had been a pre-condition for that job.
The next question was: What qualities are most important in the next GCC President? Ann felt strongly that what is needed is intellectual ability. She gave the example of how Dr. Davitt was so adept in handling any subject that came up when she was with him out in the community. “That’s what a college president should be, someone everyone looks up to.” It was clear that Ann has a real respect for those with academic training and for critical thinkers. “We are supposed to be thinking about ideas.” Ann joked that in her family nearly everyone had a Ph. D. and she was the black sheep because she wanted to be a cheerleader. (Maybe she is now coming into her own.)
When I asked the next question about whether there were things the faculty could do and whether there were things the Board members could do to improve relations between the faculty and the Board, Ann immediately asked me if we were starting with the assumption that relations were bad. I had to backpedal a bit and say, well they could always be improved. Also, I pointed out, that perhaps there were still some resentments left over from things that happened in the past on both sides. Ann agreed that may be true, but believes that what helps is for faculty and Board members to find more opportunity to interact outside of Board meetings. She feels she has made room for that to some extent and would welcome more. (Incidentally, the other two Board members I spoke with concurred, so invite your favorite Board member to lunch sometime.) As a cautionary note, she mentioned she may have to stop getting together with an old faculty friend, if he doesn’t stop bashing the Board the whole time they meet.
Our discussion segued into the mandates that may be handed down to us from the Student Success Task Force. Ann feels we need to be proactive in considering how we are going to work with these legislative fiats. Although I feigned cognizance of these issues, I have to admit that I had not thought two minutes about SSTF since we had that panel presentation a while back. Are any of you, dear readers, happily in the dark on this as well? Ann is plugged into these issues, because she is an elected member of the California Community College Trustees, a Board of the Community College League of California. (She credits Dr. Lindsay for pushing her to run. It is a “great growth experience.”) Ann is trying to give a caveat emptor: We need to be aware and to prepare!
The next question had to do with how much hands on management (micro management?) the Board should have. I should probably mention here that throughout the conversation, Ann emphasized that she was speaking as an individual on the Board, not speaking for the Board. Accordingly, she felt the role of the Board was clear: to develop policy, not to implement policy. And, hands off the instruction program. “If you attend any State meetings they reinforce that to us,” she noted. And later, “I think the Board very clearly understands that piece,” but added “We also have the fiduciary responsibility for the college so it does relate to the instruction program – not in what is being taught, but in how many classes we can offer.” That led me to ask if she thought we would ever get the Winter session back. Although she elaborated as to why, Ann said no. One support for her view was that our local feeder schools were moving up their academic calendars. Losing the Winter session helps us align with them. (Both my other interviewees concurred.)
On the question of what change does GCC urgently needs to make, Ann felt that perhaps urgent was too strong a word, but that we needed to scale back our “Cadillac” health care plan. (The other interviewees said as much and may even have used the same word.) Just as an aside to you, dear readers, I had the distinct impression that at least the three Board members I talked to had the perception that we have some sort of grand health benefits. I didn’t have the temerity to ask if the lifetime health benefits for vested Board members needs to be scaled back as well.
Lastly, we discussed in considerable detail Dr. Riggs initiative to tackle the structural deficit in which the college operates. Without going into specifics about what programs should be downsized or re-thought, Ann seemed to display a lot of confidence in the outline that Jim had put forth. She is concerned about the same issues that were targeted in his analysis some of which she thought had come to light in the Marsden report, ‘Why are we so special?” She also agreed that the mission of the Garfield campus should include credit classes, which she thought was always part the plan; an educational master plan for Garfield is needed.
Before we stopped, not in response to any question, Ann wanted to make a point. “Today we are looking at education from the perspective of job training… The importance of the broadening of yourself is what a college education was designed for, so that your life is fuller… It is sad to see us moving so that people think the only reason you go to college is to get a better job and to make more money. It is to have a better life and a better balanced life.” A nice sentiment, no?