A New Year: Spring 2021 General Assembly President’s Address

Robinson remarks at 2021 General Assembly.
What follows is a slightly modified transcript of my oral remarks at the Winter 2021 General Assembly. For the purpose of consistency, I began with a YouTube transcript and only made minor modifications to present my address in written format. I put a great deal of thought into these remarks, and I want to make sure each member of our campus community receives the same message.

A New Year

Happy new year everyone.

It is wonderful to be with you, and I’m delighted to be the first of many people to welcome you to spring 2021 semester. I hope you had a healthy and regenerative holiday break. I want to say thank you also to our LCC colleagues who worked over the break because a number of us were here doing things in certain departments specifically facilities and public safety.  Mentioning public safety, before I enter into my remarks, I do want to take some time to provide some special recognition for our LCC Public Safety department. As you know, this is a difficult time in our country as we struggle with racial injustice and social unrest. It’s also a difficult time for law enforcement and our LCC Public Safety department. We’re engaging in a vital and necessary conversation about equity and injustice in policing, and I recognize that our own department has been the topic of conversation and have been under the microscope. I want them to know that I’m really proud of our Public Safety department and the men and women who keep our campus community safe. If we were all gathered here together, I would ask us to provide a big round of applause for our LCC first responders, so let’s do that. Thank you so much.

I love the theme this morning of “Reflection and Moving Forward,” and I’m excited to share some of my reflections on the prior year and my thoughts and vision for the future. I also plan to provide you with the gift of time this morning: my remarks will not take the entire 20 minutes, so we’ll get to the break earlier than is in the schedule before we have the opportunity to hear from Dr. Samuel. I’m sure you’ve noticed that our online meetings tend to blend right one into one another; you hang up on one and start another without the customary travel time or passing time between them. That can be exhausting, and I noticed that the CTE team intentionally built in some breaks. That “bio time” is important. We built that into the schedule, so thanks to the CTE folks for thinking of that ahead of time.

We are all anxious to put 2020 in the rear view mirror, and it’s important to recognize that this past year was difficult. It was filled with stress and difficult decisions. Right at the end of last semester, for example, we made the difficult decision to cancel indoor sports for the semester. This is hard on our student athletes, on their families, and on our coaching staff. We had to do a lot of difficult work last semester, and I am so proud of our faculty staff and students for all they accomplished under these extraordinary circumstances. But before we close the book on 2020, we really should take some time to celebrate what we accomplished. We continued to fulfill our mission as a community a comprehensive community college during a global pandemic. We moved our instruction online. We completed our students in applied learning. And most importantly, we kept our faculty students and staff safe from COVID-19 using a people-first approach. We also developed our Equity Action Plan, presenting it to the Board this this past December, and there will be more information about the work ahead in the presentation from Dr. Bailey. We also kicked off our strategic planning refresh process, and you’ll hear more about that from Dr. Samuel. We revised the college budget, reinstating salary increases in negotiations with our great union partners. And we reinstated funding for programs like Foundations for Success and non-credit ESOL. We did a lot last semester. We also onboarded a new president during a time when we can’t gather together: a new president with a different approach a different learning style, and that kind of change is never easy.

So if you’re like me, you spent a lot of time reflecting on last semester over the break. Fall 2020 was my 29th launch of an academic year as a community college professional. For the first 15 of those years, I was a full-time faculty member, and these past 14 I have been a proud staff member and administrator. Now, despite all the difficulties of last semester, Fall 2020 was one of the most engaging of my career, and that is thanks to the warm welcome provided by all of you. I’m so grateful everyone who invited me to team meetings and department meetings, and I especially enjoyed the opportunities I had to interact with our students. So as you move forward into this semester, please reach out to me if there are meetings or virtual events you’d like me to attend. It’s been an interesting and rewarding challenge to connect on a new campus during COVID. I’d like to thank Media Services. Layne Ingram, and all of you for creating digital spaces where I could interact through technology and video like we’re doing today. I want to thank you for reading my many emails and blog entries. And I want to thank Jim Luke and the CTE Open Learn Lab for creating a new blogging platform for me. I’ll be moving my President’s Blog to that platform this semester. I would also like to remind our campus community about two podcasts that I’ve launched to engage and promote our campus community and alumni. The first is called Teachable Moment; it’s a podcast where LCC faculty and staff teach me cool ideas from their areas of expertise. It’s a lot of fun. The second is called LCC Alumni Stories; it’s a podcast that highlights our amazing alumni. We were able to produce several episodes of these podcasts last semester. They’re all up on the President’s page on our website, along with a form you can fill out if you’d like to be a guest on the show or if you have alumni you’d like to suggest or be a guest on the podcast. I especially want to thank Layne Ingram and Pam Blundy in my office for amazing production on these podcasts as well as expert audio engineering from Brock Elsessor. Brock and I have an interesting workflow on the audio aspects of these podcast projects. I do the field recording, we trade the files online, and he turns them in into amazing audio. So finally, I would like to invite you to follow me on social media, where I’m always out promoting LCC and community colleges. Along with our amazing social media and communications professionals, I’m constantly talking up all things LCC and Lansing on Twitter, and if you’re interested in seeing a more personal look about my day-to-day, including photos of my pets and food and visually entering interesting stuff I encounter, follow me on Instagram. My handle on both of those platforms is @LCCPresident.

2021 is filled with opportunity for LCC, and I’m really optimistic about our future. But we need to recognize that the factors that made 2020 so difficult are very much still with us. The promise of vaccines and economic recovery are real, and I’m excited about that.  The challenges that we faced last year are far from over. We need to continue to follow safety protocols to mitigate the virus and keep it off of our campuses. Some of the effects of the pandemic on mental health and well-being are cumulative: just the fact that we had a break will not magically make them go away. The fatigue and the burnout are real, and we need to recognize that. So I would refer all of our faculty and staff back to my December 2020 communications about mental health, work-life balance, and our Employee Assistance Program. We need to emerge from this challenge as a healthy and resilient college, because our community needs.

Our shared vision for the future of LCC is still the same. More than ever, our work is vital for the success of the region we serve. High quality and affordable pathways to university transfer will be more important than ever, and meaningful credentials that lead to family-sustaining wages will be key to recovery in our region. Through our participation in Achieving the Dream, we’ll need to align and intensify our great efforts to improve student achievement and address equity gaps and outcomes. And like nearly every community college, our enrollment has declined due to this pandemic. This means that we’ve lost some of our most vulnerable students. In my view, one of our greatest challenges will be to reconnect with the students we’ve lost to help them get back on path and to do everything we can to ensure the success of the students we serve.

So in closing, I am really proud of all that our faculty and staff continue to accomplish. It’s an honor to be your colleague, and I look forward to other meaningful and impactful work that we’ll do this year. I want to leave you with the words of one of our students. For the past two semesters,  Professor Nienkark’s students have written me letters. I love receiving these letters. They’ve been wonderful to read, and I want to leave you with some remarkable feedback that was contained in one of those letters from last semester. This is from a student named Tazeana. Professor Nienkark tells me that she asked to be referred to as Taz. I am going to read directly from Taz’s letter, and I think you are going to really like the feedback that she provides:

I did an interview with a fellow student, and they said the education they were getting here was challenging their mind in the best way possible. They decided to go to LCC because it was affordable, the environment showed that the school wants them to succeed, and the education they would receive there would get them ready for a four-year university. They appreciate the response LCC has had with the current pandemic, COVID. They feel as if the school is concerned about their well-being, and the steps that they took to make sure everyone was safe is something that some colleges have yet to do. I agree with them. My first semester has started in the middle of a pandemic, and I feel like the school is doing their best at trying to help the students. The professors respond to you as quickly as possible, and they help you if you’re having a hard time keeping up. This semester has been hard, but I am happy with my choice of going to LCC.

I just loved reading that. Taz and I have that in common: my time here at LCC also started in the middle of a pandemic, and I’m very happy and grateful to be here.  I know that every member of our campus community should be proud of this kind of student feedback. This is why we’re here. You know it, I know it, and you have been able to continue doing this for our students under extraordinary circumstances. So I just want to say thank you. I encourage you to enjoy and engage in this year’s professional activity days. I look forward to seeing you this semester even, if it will continue to be through our webcams and screens. I would ask that you have a wonderful day. Thank you.