College seeks new V.P. as Backes retires
SCC will begin its 2012-13 year with a brand new vice president in charge of both academic and student affairs. Yes, that's basically everything.
After decades at the college, serving on the faculty and more recently in administration, current Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs (VPASA) John Backes will be retiring at the end of this quarter. Although Backes had been V.P. of Academic Affairs since 2005, it was only after budget cuts last year that his position got lumped together with the old V.P. of Student Success position.
"(The new position) covers about 85 percent of the college," Dean of Student Success Tony Drake said. Drake, who had been V.P. of Student Success until it was eliminated, was kept on as a dean, and did not apply for the new opening.
The college has narrowed down the applicant list to four potentials: Dr. Keith Smith, Vice-Provost at Kaplan University; Dr. Craig Lewis, Dean of Communications/Social Sciences at Everett C.C.; Dr. Virginia Tomlinson, Dean of Instruction, Arts and Sciences at Spokane C.C.; and Dr. James Jansen, Dean of Academic Affairs at Corning Community College in Corning, N.Y.
An open forum was held for each candidate, and the selection will be made soon, with the anticipated start date on July 1.
One of the biggest challenges the new V.P. will face, Backes said, is the same challenge that any president or vice president of a community college faces – doing more for students with less support from the state. "We're being moved into a different way of funding college. The state is walking away from higher education and shifting the cost to students."
Exacerbating the problem is a system of rules and regulations that are "really 20th century – almost mid-20th century," and make things like managing the budget for technology really difficult, he said.
Backes said there are a few things he would look for if it were up to him to choose his replacement:
"A good V.P. is a bridge between the president, instruction and student services," he said.
"It's important to be a team player – supportive of each other's work." He added that "emotional intelligence" is important, and that the position requires someone "with a spine" because, he said, "You're going to have to say 'no' – more than once."
Above all, he said, "You absolutely, absolutely must have a deep love and abiding respect for students and their learning. That's what gets you up in the morning."
It's a love that gets tested often, too. Since the college "added a lot more capacity" – as he describes the combining of the two V.P. positions – he has an even wider array of concerns brought to him by students who are not always in the best mood. "By the time they get to me they're pretty hot under the collar," he said. Students work their way "up the food chain" of administrators involved with student success, and if they haven't been satisfied by anyone below him, it's pretty serious.
"It can be exhausting. It can be demanding. At the end of the day you come home and say, 'where's the couch?'"
There are plenty of things that keep the job satisfying, though, Backes said, and there are plenty of successes that he's proud of.
"We quadrupled the number of students getting GEDs," he said. "We have an honors program. We instituted a service learning on this campus. Our veterans have a place.
"The technology that I've brought to the college. I've thrown out so much junk – I can't even tell you. We've replaced much of our classroom technology and infrastructure." He's also proud to have helped SCC regain a good reputation that he said had been injured. "It was in some peril, but it's now fully restored at the state and system level."
Another thing that Backes said makes him enthusiastic about his work is hearing students' stories – particularly those who he knows have overcome obstacles, like Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (IBEST) program students.
"When they start to tell their stories … I feel like a sloth. The challenges they been up against, and their courage – that's how I get my batteries charged. I have to work harder, I have to do more."
Backes pointed to Athletics as an example of another important part of his position – dealing with various student clubs and programs – and as something SCC does right. "The way we view students now is the way it should be – as scholars. We hope to win – that's important –but it's less important than a student's performance as a learner."
Athletics and other student clubs and organizations around campus help students "Grow as human being," Backes said, "and exposes them to experiences they would never get in a classroom."
The connections students are able to make with each other through these extracurricular activities are important, too, bringing together like minds with similar interests. "You wouldn't just meet walking around campus, they don't have badges on."
Ultimately, his job is about helping students grow. "What we do here is life changing," Backes said. Ideally, he wants SCC students to walk away with not just an education, and not just with the ability to keep learning, but to enjoy it, as well. "If our students gain the confidence to learn – yay. If they gain an enjoyment of learning, that's an 'A.' Once you start to enjoy it – that's the best thing that can happen."