Editorial: Where do we go from here?
Input gathered from a series of recent focus group meetings confirm what most of us already knew: Colorado Northwestern Community College — though still seen as a valuable asset to the community — has significant perception problems in Moffat County.
The study was commissioned by the Moffat County Affiliated Junior College District Board of Control after voters soundly rejected a 2017 mill levy proposal that would have built on-campus housing at CNCC. It drew input from nine facilitated focus groups and involved more than 100 county residents. The goal, according to the final report from Business Adviser Wesley Gipe, was to gather and compile “candid, open-ended feedback on the community’s perception of the Craig Campus.”
The results were sobering.
According to the report, while “it is clear the community loves the college and wants it to be successful,” Moffat County residents feel there are significant problems that need to be addressed.
The report organized its findings into four “very consistent themes,” which included the following.
• The school appears to lack a clear vision and value proposition.
• Communication is at best vague and inconsistent.
• The staff and faculty are strongly supported, however,
• The community does not view CNCC President Ron Granger in the same favorable light.
It supported each of these themes with a series of direct quotes taken from the focus group meetings. These comments, which Gipe cautioned would “likely be hard to receive,” paint a stark picture how the community views its local campus.
• “We don’t know for sure who is in charge.”
• “My image of the college is permanently tarnished — I’m still paying back student loans because I had to go and retake courses in the real world to be able to progress in my degree.
• “We want to help, and we’re not even sure how.”
• “There isn’t a whole lot we can say — we have no idea what’s going on over there. The only time we hear from them is when they want their tax money.”
• “(Granger) recently made the comment that he didn’t understand why the community was upset with him. If he’d show his face once in a while, maybe he’d find out.”
And these are but a small sampling.
There are a couple of ways CNCC leadership might respond to such raw, biting criticism — denial and defense or acceptance and action; we’re sincerely hoping for the latter.
If CNCC is to survive and thrive, it must have the community’s trust and confidence, so we strongly urge the college’s leadership to take this report seriously and act upon it. The path forward will be primarily up to the board of control and college administrators, but we have a couple of suggestions, based upon the perceived weaknesses.
• Lack of communication: Understandably, this seems to be one of the community’s biggest points of contention, and reversing this perception will require leadership to rethink its definition of what effective communication actually entails. It is far more than putting out news releases and talking to a reporter every now and then; it’s a two-way street that involves entering the community, establishing a presence there and listening, as well as speaking. We would encourage CNCC leadership to begin re-establishing that all-important presence in Craig — get to know the people here, be visible, listen, hold town hall-type meetings and, above all, when you make promises, follow through on them. This, in our view, is the best way to re-establish trust with the community.
• Lack of clear vision: This, again, returns to communication. Perhaps the college does have a clear vision for the Craig Campus, but what is clear to us is that leadership has not effectively communicated this vision to community members. It is incumbent upon college administration to let the community know where it plans to go and how it plans to get there. The will require enumerating clear goals and realistic timelines that can be counted on. For example, the agricultural studies program was scheduled to come to the Craig campus in spring 2018. It’s spring 2018, so where’s the agricultural studies program. Where are we on the drone program, the equine studies program, the medical assistant program? These have all been discussed and promised by administration, but when are they coming? We don’t know.
• Absentee leadership: Regardless of his own perceptions, the community clearly feels that Granger devotes most of his time and energy to the Rangely campus and has little time for Craig. This perception has become so prevalent that Granger was recently held up to a vote of no-confidence within the board of control, a motion that failed by a single vote. This, alone, should send a clear message that Granger would do well to heed. If he doesn’t have adequate time to be a hands-on leader in Craig, we would suggest he delegate more of his day-to-day management duties in Craig to CNCC Vice President Janell Oberlander, who is extremely engaged in the community. We would hope Granger is able to recognize that delegating authority to others does not diminish one’s own authority; on the contrary, it enhances that authority by making wise use of available resources. Granger may be viewed favorably within the Rangely community, and perhaps that favorable view is warranted there. However, that is not the perception here, and Granger would be wise to do all in his power to reverse that perception.
Also, the board of control, as a taxing district, should remind the state office that it pays some $1.2 million per year to the system, and those $1.2 million come from Moffat County taxpayers. Consequently, whenever the board meets with System President Nancy McCallum, it has a right and a duty to demand the system office listen, heed this report and take the appropriate actions.
At the end of the day, CNCC has a responsibility to the community it serves and, more importantly, to the Craig students who are paying lots of money for a quality education.
Perhaps Gipe stated it best in his report’s closing remarks.
“Generally, input such as this is either taken as a gift or an insult,” he wrote. “The community was very grateful for this opportunity to provide feedback. That stated, on several occasions, a concern was voiced that this information would be used in a retaliatory manner — particularly with staff. It would be recommended that all on the administrative staff, as well as the board, thoughtfully consider their actions and responses in the coming months to avoid any perception of such. Further, community members are keenly interested in how the board will act upon their feedback. I would urge you to consider this the beginning of an ongoing dialogue, as opposed to a one-time event.”
This, we feel, is sound advice.
We hope CNCC leadership will take it to heart.
Editor’s note: Editorial Board members Brian MacKenzie and Sasha Nelson recused themselves from this editorial due to their close involvement with CNCC.
In today’s digital age, it isn’t comforting to know Craig hasn’t yet fully joined the rest of the industrialized world’s instant interconnectedness brought about by fast and reliable internet.