Chancellor's Update-March 16

An update from Chancellor Stuart Van Horn

The following message is being sent on behalf of Dr. Stuart Van Horn, Chancellor of the West Hills Community College District:

For me, Easter is a time of hope, of rebirth and renewal, and a belief in a better day to come.  Although our celebrations were different this year, our unwavering hope remains the same of a promise of educational equity and attainment for our students and our communities.  Now we have a disease that has pathologized closeness.  The Coronavirus has separated us from our workplaces and our friends.  It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed.  This pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.

Higher education, in its traditional form, promises many things – vocational preparation, rites of passage, a broadening of the mind – but at its heart, what it promises is closeness: closeness between students and their teachers, closeness among students in classrooms and residence halls, closeness on sports teams, and in organizations, lifelong closeness among graduates.  Whether it is our small liberal arts college in Coalinga promoting a low student-to-faculty ratio, our physical facility modernization for increasing access to higher education attainment in Firebaugh, or our innovative college in Lemoore, the narrative that draws students to our sites is one of community.  And we are struggling with that.

But we have seen amazing efforts by faculty, staff, and administration over the past 30 days.  Our classified employees are doing an incredible job in a very difficult environment.  You are exhibiting true champion qualities as individuals.  During our daily executive cabinet briefing, the Presidents and Deputy and Vice Chancellors share how faculty and staff are responding during this crisis.  What you do and have done has shaped our appreciation for us.  And remember, don't let perfection get in the way of doing good things for our students.

We remain focused on our students.  This week we hosted students via Zoom to gather their input regarding commencement ceremonies in later May.  Many of the students have been actively engaged with campus commencement committees, which continue to provide leadership in planning what is arguably the most important day in each student’s journey.  As you may know, I’ve become a bit of a CEO outlier in the region; one of a few that have not yet postponed or cancelled commencement ceremonies.  I’ve delayed this purposefully, but a decision is coming next week.  Given the state’s shelter-in-place order and prohibiting assembly of 10 or more people, it is likely we will provide an alternative commencement ceremony.  I will brief our governing board next Tuesday and circulate an update next Wednesday regarding this topic.

As it relates to finals in May, College Presidents were asked to work with staff and faculty to determine processes and practices related to administering final exams.  If you have any questions, please direct them to your supervisor or academic manager.  As it relates to fall 2020 instruction, we remain committed to working with executive cabinet members and labor group leaders.  It is unlikely we will release an update on this topic for several weeks.  We are exploring a regionalized approach with our top transfer universities and neighboring community college districts.

To help address challenges faced by colleges and students, there are a number of coordinated efforts.  The Foundation, in response to a district student survey, has created the West Hills Student Support Fund and is raising funds to help West Hills students in need right now by working with local grocery stores and produce companies to get food and supplies to students.  If you know someone who would like to donate to help students, please direct them to the Foundation.  As a result of COVID-19, one-time federal funding is being provided through the federal CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act).  Of the amount allocated, at least fifty percent must be reserved to provide students with emergency financial aid grants to help cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations.  We expect the student aid allocation to arrive next week.  Distribution will be coordinated by each college’s financial aid office.  An effort to assist students without technology has also been authorized.

As I’ve often indicated, please remember the situation is extremely fluid and can change with very short notice.  The best way to communicate your views is by completing and submitting this form.  Thanks for your continuing flexibility, stamina, and perseverance as we navigate forward.  Thank you.  Talk to you next week!