An interview fit for a president

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By Stephanie Holland / Editor in Chief

By Stephanie Holland / Editor in Chief

Riverside City College President Jan Muto sat down for an interview to discuss the difficulties of the fall semester and how they will impact the spring.

How will the UC fee increase affect RCC students?

I do believe it will have an effect and I’m hoping that it’s not a deleterious one.

One of my greatest concerns is how a restriction of attendance at UC and CSU impacts RCC, by students who would have gone to UC or CSU now choosing RCC and that displacing students for whom RCC is their first choice. So we’re going to be working very hard at not having that happen.

We have qualified for a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant through the National League of Cities to plan for a proposal for $3 million over three years to assist students between the ages of 16 and 26 who are from under represented, low income at risk students that would help balance some of that access issue. I’m hoping it won’t prevent access to those folks, but we have a plan just in case.

Can you tell us about the plan?

Sure, we’ve got a group of people under the leadership of Dr. Shelagh Camak, whose the vice president of Workforce Development, working with the mayor’s office and Economic Development Association, employers and social service agencies in the area to come up with a method of assisting students in assessing their goals and needs…infrastructure for students who never thought college was an option, who may also only need one or two courses to get into the career field that they want to or who just need some skill gap closing, particularly math or writing, but who also don’t know the range of career opportunities open to them.

They don’t necessarily believe that those career opportunities are open to them. It’s also working with employers locally to help identify employment opportunities.

Can we expect the same kind of madness with class cuts and not getting into classes like the fall semester, and if so what was learned from then that could make this time easier?

There was a terrible convergence of events, between student fees going up in the summer, to the state legislature’s delay in approving the budget, also the ultimate delay impact of that budget and what that meant for our institution, which was about $6.5 million for us.

Our schedules had already been in print, students had already begun registering.

So here’s what was learned, make the cuts. Under Chancellor Gray we will be making those decisions well in advance. We have made provisions for the spring semester prior to the schedule going into print.

We are hopeful and Dr. Gray is hopeful that we won’t have to cut additional sections next fall. That’s our goal. But it’s really about making sure that we communicate with students early, often and in a variety of ways and really for us to operate at greater efficiency.

At our institution, RCC cut 220 sections for the fall semester, which was about 12 percent of our offerings, our enrollment went up and our courses were loading at about 95 and 100 percent.

It tells you that we weren’t as efficient, but it also tells you that we were putting our resources in some areas that would have been better served in other areas in terms of course offerings.

The big news is that we’re looking ahead this time.

Was canceling the winter semester ever an option for saving money? Is cutting summer an option?

Cutting winter was part of the discussion early on, but we realized that the decision would have been made too late, that it would affect students who were planning on using winter session as part of their matriculation to graduate and transfer.

We are curtailing the number of offerings, but we’re not cutting it out.

There are also programs for which cutting winter all together would be very problematic, for example nursing and some of other technical areas that require that time for students to meet the competency levels that they’re required to meet.

And we are curtailing summer in advance. We’re not cutting it, but we are curtailing it.

How will the lack of parking be handled?

 As you know, we’re landlocked on this campus, we don’t have a lot of space around us that we can move into because of residences and businesses, but we have secured a parking lot downtown that’s on the bus line, and we’re also looking at the possibility of running a shuttle back and forth and the possibility of offering a discounted parking fee for that area that has an additional 300 spaces, which should get us right to what we need.

Sticking with transportation, the RTA Go Pass program has been really successful, but it’s slated to come to an end. Is there any way that it is going to continue to help out students?

I really hope it is, and I know that the chancellor and his staff are looking at how we might be able to promote that, because it is a very beneficial program for students in particular.

As you know, legislation was just passed last year, thanks to the students at RCC, that allowed for a nominal fee to be charged to support that program, so I think that that may be the way that it’s supported.

This recession has been hard on college students because so many colleges are cutting back on their services and courses, that can lower morale and make people give up on getting an education, what would you tell them to assuage their fears and keep them involved in getting an education?

You’re absolutely right. Now is the time for us to hang together, particularly the community college role in helping people move from where they are to where they want to be in life.

I’m confident that President Obama is routing more funds to community colleges and that those are going to be routed and managed in very significant ways to help people who are some of the hardest hit in these economic times, so I’m confident that we will actually move forward.

California’s a little behind in terms of the economic slump because it hit us later than it hit some others. So we can’t feel a false sense of security, but we do need to make sure that we’re marshalling all our resources and that, importantly, we aren’t wasting resources.

But I’m very heartened by the attitude of pretty much everyone I encounter either in the community or associated with this college who are still willing to help or keep them hopeful.

When the fee increases at the UC campuses were announced, students immediately mobilized. They were protesting and making their voices heard.

Do you recommend that they continue to get their voices out there so that those making the decisions will know how their decisions are affecting them?

Absolutely, the students this fall hosted a rally downtown, which I was very proud of our students for having such a large role in that and connecting with UC students on that as well.
I think it’s imperative that students of all ages or anyone associated with education let their legislators know, this is the impact it has.

I think it’s better to do that up front before they start making the decisions about the budget,
rather than waiting until after the cuts have happened or waiting until after the fees have had to be increased.

So I would argue that now is the time that students and people who care about education make sure that their legislators understand this is how I feel.

I voted you in office and this is what I think should happen. It’s the American way.

Nearing the end of your first year, are there any moments that stand out or any funny stories that come to mind?

Some of the most heart-warming stories have to do with a parent and a child when I see them together on campus and find out the lengths to which they’re going to come to school.

I ride around in my golf cart and I usually pick people up who need a ride and I picked up this older lady and gentleman and I said where are you heading. They said to the bookstore, and I said hop on I’ll give you a ride.

So as we’re talking, she said ,”I’m 74, I’m one of your oldest students and I’m taking an online class…she said I take one almost every semester.”

I thought there’s a lesson…she’s reinforcing to all of us the importance of staying fresh, staying new and being around other people who appreciate learning.

Yours is obviously a stressful job. What do you do to keep from going crazy?

I love my job; it’s really not all that stressful. I have chocolate in my office that we eat on a regular basis, I have a fountain on my patio that we listen to. Mostly I play computer games when I’m home…and I bake, which is one of the best stress relievers I have.

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