The broad shoulders of the new Western campus president

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Dr. Ron Liss comes from Sante Fe Community College in New Mexico and will replace Dr. Patricia Rowell as Tri-C Western Campus president.
Dr. Ron Liss comes from Sante Fe Community College in New Mexico and will replace Dr. Patricia Rowell as Tri-C Western Campus president.

By Jeremy Hopkins
Western Campus Reporter

Early in May, in the Western Campus Health and Technologies Center atrium, two forums were held introducing the two finalists for the campus president at the Western Campus. While both men spoke eloquently and were excited to be here, only one would be selected to replace retiring President Patricia Rowell. The forums were a chance to hear the finalists’ positions and answer some questions from the audience of mostly faculty and administration.

Ron Liss and Kojo Quartey were the finalists, and are about as opposite as possible in their administrative philosophies. In the end, Liss was selected to become the Western Campus’s next president.

Liss, who is leaving Santa Fe Community College to move to Cleveland, answered questions across a broad spectrum of categories including technology, diversity, communication, and what brought him to Tri-C. His experience as the vice president of academic affairs at SFCC will be useful running the Western campus. There will be some transition shock particularly since Santa Fe is one of only a few institutions of education in the community, while there are several here.

This artificial isolation enabled Liss to broaden his views and philosophy. He said it is important to him to welcome the adjunct staff as part of a family, which led him to use approaches like paid retreat days where the adjunct faculty would get training and workshop support to help them get their message across. At SFCC, adjunct teachers do not have many choices of employers, so developing a program to keep them on staff was critical.

His previous post also brought diversity to the forefront, as over 170 countries are represented in the student body. When asked how he handles diversity, he responded that it is important to “know how to listen to people, (to) get them to tell their story in their way.”

He does this through his stance on communication, which he argues you “cannot over-communicate.” His meetings all start and end with something he terms “rumor control,” which is his way of answering concerns and questions, and setting the record straight. As Liss puts it, “conversation needs the message to go both ways.” In order for him to do this, he wants to look in your eyes first.

Liss’s roots are in industrial arts and developing training. Both embrace technology, but he feels that it is essential but to use it in its most effective form, not to just embrace technology because it is there. One way is to work with the high schools in the community to make sure that students have mastered the education necessary for the college level.

Any student can use a search engine to pull papers, but mastery is more than good grades. Liss is fighting the need to have grade point averages for program admittance, and is attempting to change the screening process to a more proactive stance from after the fact: redirecting into under-served fields, entrance interviews over grades and prerequisites, and career services to diagnose abilities and strengths. Selective admissions do exist, and although he does not fully believe in it, he admits it might be needed.

The way that Tri-C already handles much of these issues is one of the things that drew him here. Liss had heard of Tri-C, because its reputation is well-known throughout the community college circuit. He had visited previously, using Tri-C as a model to build a technology center in Santa Fe. He said it was the strength of the institution and the mix of courses that interested him. More proof of Liss’s philosophy that you never act on one side of the story: he brought his family in to the consideration of becoming the campus president. He shared that before he picked Tri-C, his wife looked at the community, the neighborhoods, the price ranges of properties, and said “this is a place I could live,” before he took a look at the school, doing the research about the culture, the diversity, and the programs, and responding “this is a place I could work.”

Quartey was no less impressed with Tri-C, using the college as a model in his work at Davenport University, based out of Michigan. Having a business focus, Quartey answered many of the questions from a business standpoint: frequent meetings, embracing technology to spread via blogs, postings, and traditional announcements, and offering incentives to faculty to volunteer their time in something that interested them about campus. Quartey was a very enthusiastic speaker, with many people agreeing to his comments. His approach is best described as a management style that respects individuals to empower them to be recognized.

Liss mentioned that he would rather be remembered for playing a part in other people’s accomplishments like being an advocate of facilitation instead of recognition. Sir Isaac Newton once said, “if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Standing on giants’ shoulders is what Liss strives to do as the next Western Campus president.

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