Cuyahoga Community College Selects Three Finalists for President
The three finalists for president of Cuyahoga Community College (Tri C) – Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, Dr. Michael Baston, and Dr. Annette Parker – were interviewed during a town hall by faculty, staff, and students on April 7, 11, and 13, 2022. During each town hall, the candidates answered questions, shared their experiences, and gave reasons why they should be selected as the next president of Tri C and continue the progress made by Dr. Alex Johnson who will retire on June 30, 2022.
Under Dr. Johnson’s leadership, Tri-C’s renewed its commitment to providing educational access throughout Northeast Ohio and oversaw an era of increasing graduation rates and numbers at the College which resulted in new investments in workforce training, capital improvements, and programs serving those in low-income and distressed areas.
The first town hall was with Dr. Burnette who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated from John F. Kennedy High School before earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from The Ohio State University. She currently serves as president and CEO of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, TX which is the city’s oldest institution of higher learning and the only Historical Black College and University (HBCU). Dr. Burnette is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and a staunch believer that “education is the great equalizer and not an option.”
During her town hall, Dr. Burnette was asked about the importance of athletics at the community college level in building a school’s environment and atmosphere. “We must remember, they are student-athletes,” Dr. Burnette said. She then described her involvement in bringing football back to Central State University during her tenure. “We created a theme named first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, and fourth quarter with no time outs and few water breaks,” Dr. Burnette said. “The theme was used as a retention tool to give students discipline and structure needed to stay focused on graduation and winning the game.”
Dr. Burnette was also asked about how she has previously dealt with diversity, equity, and inclusion. She responded by describing her involvement in implementing a plan to hire more Black males “so students could be exposed to people from all walks of life,” Dr. Burnette said.
The second town hall was with Dr. Baston who currently serves as president of Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY. He is the chairman of the Black Male CEO Educators network and is on the Board of Directors of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the primary advocacy organization for the nation’s community colleges, where he also serves as Chair of their Commission on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Dr. Baston began his career as a public interest lawyer representing various educational institutions and social justice organizations. His work with academic clients led him to pursue a second career in academia as both a professor of legal studies and business and as a student affairs administrator.
During his town hall, Dr. Baston was asked what he would do to bring back students lost on campus due to the pandemic, joining the workforce, and other reasons. Dr. Baston talked about the first step to understanding how people evaluate the opportunity to go to college. “We then need to make a value proposition for higher education which shows them how they can participate in the gig economy with an entrepreneur mindset by enrolling in programs at the college,” Dr. Baston said. “We must get people to try, then show them examples of students who have triumphed.”
When asked why Tri C and Cleveland, Dr. Baston shared he and his wife’s experience visiting the city as “secret shoppers.” “We went to all four campuses posing as a couple looking to enroll our daughter,” Baston said. “We asked questions of faculty, students, and people in restaurants so that we could get real answers. We also looked at the neighborhoods where each of the campuses are located to understand the community we would be moving to.”
The third town hall was with Dr. Parker who currently serves as the president of Lansing Community College (LCC) in Lansing, MI. Dr. Parker worked at GM until a decline in the auto industry led her to enroll in the two-year drafting program at LCC. She went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degrees before becoming a full-time instructor and then administrator. As an administrator, she supported a capital campaign that secured over $50 million of financing for a new campus. Dr. Parker is driven by serving as an inspiration for minority and non-traditional students.
In her opening remarks, Dr. Parker expressed gratitude for being nominated and considered for an interview. “You are respected around the country and as a leader in our industry, so who would not want to serve as your next president,” Dr. Parker remarked. When asked about her thoughts on continued remote work from home options, Dr. Parker gave examples of how she has been a supporter of this issue. “We will look at jobs and see if there are opportunities for people to work from home. We will also provide these opportunities when management, administration, and employees agree based on language in state negotiated contracts.” Dr. Parker noted, “we have to show people we value them.”
When asked, how, as a leader, she will balance the significance of a strong liberal arts program with other new programs such as STEM, Dr. Parker explained how the global economy must be taken into consideration. “We have students who may be working with someone in another county and need to understand time zones, cultures, religions, and beliefs,” said Parker. “Formal education is a way students can learn this.”
Each of the town halls was recorded and can be reviewed at www.tri-c.edu. The next president of Tri C is expected to be announced in early May.