Josa Lamont | Interim News Editor
August 25, 2014
Milwaukee Area Technical College President Michael Burke was named the Riverside Community College District Chancellor at the Board of Trustees meeting held at Moreno Valley College on June 17.
“I’m thrilled,” Burke said. “They had me at hello.”
In the limited days since Burke took on the position, he has not had the opportunity to get much done. Burke attests that he does not intend to make plans or implement changes until he better knows and understands the district and his team.
Despite viewing him with reserve, Riverside City College president divulges an optimism toward working with him.
“One must be cautious on how to extrapolate from first impressions,” said Wolde-Ab Isaac, interim president of RCC. “I have only known him since he has first arrived.”
The college presidents have had an opportunity to meet with Burke on three occasions since he was hired, but Isaac cannot conceal hope in the new chancellor.
“He has a very clear vision,” Isaac said, “and to me I think a very strong commitment to want to strengthen the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of what we do here.”
Burke shrugs off any premature allusion to his clear vision, and maintains that he hasn’t yet built any solid plans.
“I grew up in the south, and to me it seems rude to come in to be a guest in someone’s house and on the first day start moving the furniture around,” Burke said. “In my experience you’re kind of inflicting leadership on people, and I’ve had leadership inflicted on me. And I didn’t like it and I think people would feel the same way here.”
The chancellor is committed to first hearing from the district what their vision for the future is before implementing any solid action plans.
“He’s a very experienced and refined person,” Isaac said. “I think that he will move in steps and in stages. He will take time to study the college and the culture and institution before he makes major changes.”
Burke intends to consolidate the strategic plan for the district as soon as possible, and has asked his entire team to collaborate on drawing him a road map that he can use to understand and to streamline the District’s vision.
“I want to create a more integrated strategic plan and that doesn’t sound very sexy,” Burke said. “My vision of strategic planning is: as a chancellor, as a board we would sit down and say, ‘these are the ultimate outcomes that we value.’ For example better quality of life, better workforce, better environment for business…Ultimately I’m in this line of work because I want to improve the quality of life in this community for a whole lot of people.”
Reducing the strategic plan from a weighty document to a clear set of values and goals should help the district in synchronizing their future plans to driving budget, which should ultimately unify the Board of Trustee’s visions with the college’s values, and benefit the community long term.
“It is to his credit that he wants the agenda very streamlined and focused on real issues,” Isaac said.
There are a few things that Burke considers unobjectionable that can be done right away.
“We just ran the table on accreditation so we have a number of recommendations that we need to respond to,” Burke said. “We represent three of the seven schools in California that re-accredited without any probation or anything like that. But they do make recommendations and we’ve got a few of those quality improvement kind of recommendations, and I’d like to get those in our rear view mirror as quickly as possible. I want to get that off of everybody’s minds.”
In addition to what the accreditation review dictates, he makes his own demands. Though in general, the avid sports player is a collaborative and team oriented leader, he considers some things to be nonnegotiable.
“There’s certain things I may not collaborate with,” Burke said politely, but with decisiveness. “About safety, I really don’t negotiate with that. This place is going to be safe and we’re going to do it my way. We’re going to comply to the American’s with Disabilities act, and we’re going to have financial transparency.”
In Milwaukee, the Tech college president sold a building to be demolished because it could not be brought up to ADA standards, which had rendered the second story useless.
Some of the first steps Burke is taking as a group leader are in building the presidents to empower them to help their colleges. The immediate actions he is taking in that area are to bring the three presidents to Sacramento for a conference to build their fundraising skills and bring in revenue for the schools independently of the district.
“He believes that if we’re really going to take the district and the college to the next level, that state funding alone is not going to be sufficient,” Isaac said. “So he already has a very clear vision of bringing in additional resources to build us to the
The education sector occupant has also proven perceptive in finding potential for financial benefits.
“A real obvious opportunity here to me is that when I came here it’s your hundred year anniversary and its’ your 25 year anniversary for acquiring the two colleges.” Building on his history in education finance, Burke plans to build revenue and market to the community with the upcoming anniversaries.
A personable choice:
While shuffling his papers and binders around on his desk to maintain order, Burke admits and attests to being a neat freak.
“He’s a very approachable, a very simple person,” Isaac said. “He’s very clear.”
The Texas born southerner presents confidence, though he is inviting and open while being direct and concise.
“I’m good at bringing order to chaos if you will, and taking kind of a loosely coupled system and coupling all the parts together,” he said.
Burke is anecdotal, charming, laid back and polite. Despite people’s maintained reservations, he seems to present a competence that people are wooed by.
“I don’t have all the answers, I know how to get people
together to make high quality decisions,” Burke said.