Dear Dr. Melinda Nish, we have big plans and high hopes for you

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[media-credit name=”Rashid Hasirbaf/Staff” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Dear Dr. Melinda Nish,

Welcome y bienvenidos a Southwestern College, California’s most inspiring and most shell-shocked community college. Our beautiful campus in the far left-hand corner of America is barely five miles from the Pacific Rim and five miles from the world’s busiest international board. We have students who wake up every morning in two countries and a trans-racial student body that speaks 60 languages, comes from every inhabitable continent and represent every major religion and culture. They all agree that Southwestern College is a place that can improve their lives and serve as a stepladder to their dreams in the sky.
For nearly a decade Southwestern College has been the eye of a storm in a community that has been rocked by the real estate implosion, upheaval in Mexico, unemployment, political squabbling, small business failures and a meltdown in its high school district. Instead of helping the community during its time of need, Southwestern College only threw gasoline on the flames until they burned like the wildfires that consumed the eastern edge of our city in 2007. Ten years of failed leadership at the board level created havoc in the superintendent’s office and thus on the campus. SWC’s scandals and controversies have been well-chronicled in this publication as well as print and broadcast media nationwide. We all know what has gone on here and we are trying to move on.
That’s where you come in, Dr. Nish. We look to you for your community college experience. We are counting on your sound judgment based on evidence. We expect reasoned decision making driven by student and community interests. We want to be inspired by your vision and foresight.
Most of all, we are relying on your sense of service and altruism to do the right things for our communities of Chula Vista, National City, Bonita, San Ysidro, Coronado, Imperial Beach, South San Diego, Otay Mesa, Sunnyside and Nestor. We are hoping against hope for a superintendent/president that loves people and has the heart of a service leader. We are praying for a woman who will not enslave faculty, but empower them. We are hoping for a woman who will elevate students, not eliminate them. We are wishing for a woman who realizes she is running the region’s hub of higher education and its economic engine.
It is a huge responsibility, but fear not, you will have abundant help if you seek it. What this campus did last spring to shed probation and regain its accreditation was most inspiring. Administrators, classified employees, faculty, students and members of the community pulled together to transform the way this college operates. Like a Phoenix rising from its own ashes, SWC is stretching its wings and ready once again to take flight. Rely on the good people who populate this campus for advice, institutional memory and hard work. This is a Teddy Roosevelt crowd which can get going when it gets tough.
Winston Churchill wrote, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” SWC employees have shown time and again they will take responsibility for the campus they love. In 2003 SWC employees voluntarily took a pay cut to prevent layoffs and class cuts. For 10 years many professors have run award-winning programs with ever-diminishing budgets. And this year, when an accreditation meltdown and Show Cause hung over the campus like the Sword of Damocles, our faculty and employees staved off the execution. Southwestern College employees are largely citizens of this district and members of this community. No need to worry about creating buy in, it is already here in abundance.
You will have some big shoes to fill, Dr. Nish. Denise Whittaker has performed brilliantly during her 10 months at the helm and, more than anyone else, deserves credit for marshalling forces and leading the college back into the good standing of WASC and into the light of day. Mrs. Whittaker restored shared governance in both the letter and spirit of the law, and in doing so has empowered employees of the college to take ownership and responsibility for its operation and its health. She got a good head start on the clean up, but left you a few more closets to clean out and a few more skeletons to bury. Denise Whittaker deserves our respect, affection and gratitude for her exemplary service, and we will remember her fondly.
But now the helm is yours, Dr. Nish, and we wish you all Godspeed. Southwestern College is ambling into its second half century, trying to regain its footing after being knocked down and absorbing a savage beating. Mrs. Whittaker said in August that when she took over SWC seemed like an abused child. It is a good analogy. We do feel abused and we are dealing with the fear, rage, denial and cynicism that follow abuse. Some days we feel great, but at other times we remember that it was less than one year ago that misanthropic leadership was strangling us and we feel the urge to run for cover.
Give us your hand and lead us with integrity, optimism and hopefulness. Southwestern College is like Athol Fugard’s metaphorical apartheid aloe vera plants. South African aloes can be ignored, desiccated, tread upon and burned, but as long as the roots are secure, they can spring back to life with a little water.
Southwestern College still has strong roots. They are the people who work and study here. Water us gently and we will bloom again.

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