Burke doesn’t shy from the tough topics at chancellor forum

Josa Lamont | News editor
June 10, 2014

Michael Burke used evidence from his 25 years of educational experience in Texas, Idaho and California to show his understanding of the needs of the Riverside Community College District in their ongoing search for a chancellor.

Burke presented his qualifications for the position and answered questions in a forum in the Digital Library Auditorium on May 30.

“Maybe I could give you a little infomercial to where I am now, and I think it has some relevance maybe to some of the questions you’re going to be asking me,” Burke said.

Burke is working as president of the Milwaukee Area Technical College which is ninth poorest city in the nation.

“I spend a good deal of my time talking about the challenges that we face,” Burke said. “We lead the nation in the incarceration of Black men. We have a 54 percent unemployment rate for African American men, if you can even imagine that.  It’s hard to even talk about this. And I take great pride in having those kind of courageous conversations in my community.”

With a PhD in educational administration, Burke has been able to invest himself in his work on equality in Milwaukee.

“It is a community that is struggling and I take a lot of pride in my college’s work to stem the tide.” Burke said. “Much of my work, and I think a consistent theme through  my entire career, has been working around the issues of diversity, equity,  inclusion and social justice and I talk about it a lot.”

Burke showed a deep understanding of the sentiment of the district and the diction choice of the representation from the school.

“I hope you understand the abundance that you have here of the kind of programs that you have described around international education,” Burke said. “Your commitment to athletics. I’m fundamentally supportive of athletics, I believe it changes people’s lives … It may seem normal to you, but it’s not normal. You have an abundance of riches here that is extraordinarily attractive to me.”

He showed that he talked to many alumni and did research to deeply grasp the environment he might be stepping into.

As an art major, Burke appreciates the cultural richness at the performing and visual arts.

“In San Jose, because we had completely abandoned the performing arts,I  worked with the faculty senate to create performing arts on our campus,” Burke said. “We had the facilities, we did not have the faculty. And that’s not going to work so we invested in faculty for a full time performing arts program. “

Former president of San Jose City College, Burke is drawn to the structural shared governance style California has to offer.

“In my time I spent in San José I became very enamored with the infrastructure that you have here in California around shared governance,” Burke said. “It is something that I have not enjoyed anywhere else outside of California.

Some of the faculty addressed concerns about Burke’s loyalty to the district because if he were awarded the open chancellor position he would be leaving his current home state.

“Some of the issues that we had with our previous chancellor was that he was never committed to the Californian state.” Haghighat said. “Every chance he got he was what, applying to the position elsewhere.”

Burke directly answered questions in a forthcoming manner throughout the forum.

“I have a passion for this work. If I retire I will probably do this work in my retirement,” Burke responded to Haghighat’s concerns. “But I suspect if I were fortunate enough to be hired this would be my last stop. I think it takes time to build what needs to be built here. I think there is a lot of heavy lifting that needs to go on here. You have a lot of challenges I think with your new model and how you budget for it and how you build leadership around it.”

This represented the third and final forum to fill the chancellor position.

Like Katherine Jeffery, Burke tailored his answers to the audience, providing specific examples to answer questions. Tod Burnett was more composed in his speaking style.

The decision to fill the position will be made in the next Board of Trustees meeting June 17 at 6 pm. in Student Academic Services, General Assembly Room 121 at Moreno Valley College.