January 28, 2009 > A visit with Ohlone College President Dr. Gari Browning
A visit with Ohlone College President Dr. Gari Browning
Ohlone College has had its share of accomplishments and controversy since opening its Fremont campus in 1967. With the opening last year of a new Platinum LEED* certified campus in Newark, many issues including funding, curriculum, certification, infrastructure, campus relations and course offerings have become more complex. In the midst of a myriad of challenges facing the college and many other educational institutions, Dr. Gari Browning assumed the post of President/Superintendent in July, 2008. Tri-City Voice visited Dr. Browning Wednesday, January 14, 2009 to discuss her initial impressions of the college.
TCV: What is your general impression of Ohlone College after your first six months as President?
Dr. Browning: My general impression was that the college was academically oriented and those working here were supportive and enjoyed working here. It is a bit surprising that that impression has held since often when entering a new situation your first impressions are a bit optimistic. Ohlone has a very supportive and positive atmosphere. This is very good since, as we move into this difficult budget situation, we will need to work with each other. It will be a challenge.
TCV: What are the challenges of guiding two Ohlone campuses?
Dr. Browning: They are complimentary. I have been surprised by the number of opportunities to promote the college because of the LEED certification; it has brought a lot of recognition. We would like to do something similar on the Fremont campus - probably not to that level but continue the sustainability theme.
TCV: What is the status of proposed development of the Fremont campus frontage property?
Dr. Browning: We are currently responding to accreditation recommendations to integrate planning for the frontage property instead of seeing it as a separate asset management issue. It is best to know its potential and avoid unrealistic expectations. A significant amount of research and planning is required in order to make sure we do the right thing with that land.
TCV: Without sale of the frontage property, how is the college dealing with infrastructure needs?
Dr. Browning: We have one project, water abatement, going forward with state support.
The money has been promised, but the timing is still uncertain. Some remaining bond funds may be used to upgrade our science labs; another bond may be in our future. In the last round of bond votes in November, all community college bonds in California were successful. I think there is recognition by voters that community colleges are great resources that we want to preserve. This campus needs that type of help.
TCV: How is the economic climate affecting Ohlone?
Dr. Browning: Enrollment pressure on Ohlone is increasing for retraining due to loss of employment and enrollment limitations of other schools such as CSUEB. Three percent growth for community colleges is included in the governor's budget proposal, a nod to continuing our service to our population. If [the increase] is not realized, students with the least skills may not be served. We have a large need for basic skills courses which cannot be met now. As we have to diversify into more vocational, career and technical training, others are forced to suffer the consequences.
We might have to reduce some areas of less demand and determine how to use our staff more efficiently. Essentially, a hiring freeze has been in place since January. Staff reorganization will probably be considered to make sure we are using personnel in the most efficient way including use of more part-time adjunct faculty. We want to avoid layoffs and cuts to student services and programs but the future is uncertain.
TCV: If reduction of services is unavoidable, will cutbacks be across the board?
Dr. Browning: California community colleges have three basic populations that we serve: transfer from high schools, basic skills and career/technical education. That is our core mission. We also do many other things for the community such as high school outreach on our campus and some offerings on high school campuses. Some of our programs are considered "enrichment" classes although these are often hard to define. What will be studied is courses considered essential to our core mission - receiving a degree, certificate and transfer preparation - and making sure these are preserved.
TCV: Is there any thought to restricting enrollment?
Dr. Browning: Any California student is our population. We have a service area but the college is open to anyone at least 18 years old or has a high school diploma. Out-of-state students pay a non-resident tuition which precludes state apportionment funding. The growing international student population brings revenue to the college because they pay their own way. We do not want to curtail that enrollment unless it negatively affects our core population.
TCV: Has the innovative postgraduate education program continued at Ohlone?
Dr. Browning: Most of those students were faculty members pursuing advanced degrees. Students remaining in that program are now writing their thesis and a new cohort of students has not been sponsored. We might continue to do this if there was interest and money available.
TCV: Has Ohlone continued its interest in international exchange?
Dr. Browning: This is a big growth area for us. International students have grown from 50 students to about 250 students in the past three years. We do some recruitment in China and also India. This is not only a source of revenue but enrichment for local students. We are hoping to sustain this effort.
TCV: Is student housing a problem?
Dr. Browning: I have heard of some arrangements with DeVry in the past. Cal State University East Bay has also offered limited housing but many students find their own through family connections or group rentals. For us to enter this area is quite a complex endeavor and may be expensive so it is probably not the right time to do this.
TCV: How do the Fremont and Newark campuses coordinate course offerings?
Dr. Browning: Our enrollment is very good at Newark. We have expanded the offerings on that campus to include more general education courses. The online offerings are growing as well. I have not seen video conferencing between campuses although we use this technology for meetings. The Newark campus is used for many community events and the One Stop Center - helping people find and apply for jobs - is thriving.
We do not want to create a second complete campus. Our desire is to retain the Health Science and Technology focus in Newark. However, as we develop the Fremont campus, the picture of what goes where will become clearer. There is significant interest in new science labs on the Fremont campus when we have the resources.
TCV: There was talk of a minor league baseball team sharing a ballpark at the Newark campus. Is that still a viable option?
Dr. Browning: It was an interesting idea but the college never received a proposal. I was told that this idea is"off the table."
TCV: Are there plans for LEED certification of the Fremont campus?
Dr. Browning: Part of the original proposal for the Student Services building was for LEED certification at the silver level. Right now we are looking at the possibility of achieving gold status. We want to upgrade this campus with an underlying theme of sustainability. Research that shows this effort improves the learning environment and is consistent with our mission.
TCV: What do you see as near future changes at Ohlone?
Dr. Browning: We are currently engaged in revising and renewing our strategic plan. The first step in this process is to determine where we are. Over the course of the spring, we will be reaching out, not only to the campus community, but to the community at large to help us with that assessment.
We have also done a very comprehensive statistical analysis of our population, job growth areas, housing and students who will transfer from our local schools. This information can be found on our website (www.ohlone.edu). We are using this as a foundation to determine who our community is and if we are doing the right thing as a college to meet their needs.
Historically, we have focused on transfer students; we may determine that we need to do a lot more preparing people for 'green,' technology or other jobs. Once we move beyond the current budget problem, we will be looking at where we can enhance existing programs and offer new services. We will probably continue with our outreach to high schools and expand efforts to the Hispanic/Latino community to encourage a larger representation of this population on our campus. The extensive diversity of students on the Ohlone campus fosters understanding of a variety of cultures and perspectives.
TCV: How can the community connect with Ohlone College?
Dr. Browning: We are planning a series of outreach meetings open to the public. A survey is planned - both on paper and online - to solicit comments and suggestions; the more ideas in that area, the better. A Facilities Master Plan for the Fremont campus should be completed by the end of spring. This will be brought to the community for suggestions. The World Forum series will be continued; another is scheduled for spring.
For those who would like to help Ohlone, we have a capital campaign and the Ohlone Foundation sponsors many events to raise funds for the college and fund scholarships. An alumni association is being discussed to reach all who have attended Ohlone, even for one class. Up to this point we have not done a lot with volunteers but that would probably be a good thing to do. The college sponsors a Citizen of the Year event which will be held in the spring in combination with a celebration of the Newark campus LEED certification.
One of my personal goals is to bring people to the campus, especially the underrepresented populations, so people will feel this is their campus and their space. I am a firm believer that the best way to do this is to host events on campus that encourage participation by the community.
*In the United States and in a number of other countries around the world, LEED certification is the recognized standard for measuring building sustainability. Achieving LEED certification is the best way for you to demonstrate that your building project is truly "green."
The LEED green building rating system -- developed and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington D.C.-based, nonprofit coalition of building industry leaders -- is designed to promote design and construction practices that increase profitability while reducing the negative environmental impacts of buildings and improving occupant health and well-being.
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