For nearly three decades, I have had the privilege of serving community college students. Regardless of my roles over the years, I can attest that true leadership is embedded in advocating, advancing and holding sacred the philosophy and mission of our community colleges through a personal commitment to serve our students and our communities.
An effective community college leader is committed to its philosophy and mission and holds these sacred, like an unwavering “oath of office.” The commitment to serve our students and communities is a responsibility, placing it above self-interest or competing demands that might compromise these most basic tenets. Together, community college leaders have continued to hold on to this profound and effective community college tradition.
On March 31, 2021, I retired as superintendent/president of College of the Desert (COD) in California. It was a pleasure to serve for the past nine
years at COD as well as be an advocate of the community college mission for more than 30 years. I am filled with immense gratitude and appreciation about how higher education can positively change the lives of our students and their families as they achieve their educational goals and aspirations. It has, indeed, been a privilege and honor to have a career that provides opportunities to grow and develop personally, professionally and spiritually. Thirty years ago, I would not have been able to envision that this journey would have been so inspirational and rewarding, transforming me in unimaginable ways, teaching and allowing me to be “comfortable in my own skin,” and opening my eyes to view our multifaceted world in ways that otherwise would have remained in the darkness.
As I reflect upon my career, I am most proud of the many barriers that I have helped dismantle for my fellow administrators, faculty, staff and, most importantly, our students. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I know how traditions of yesteryear often block the success of those who do not fit a specific mold. Being a leader requires setting the bar high and shedding light on the darkness of social and environmental injustice as well as discrimination in every form. Change is never easy, and such battles are not for the faint of heart. However, what fills my soul and what I will remember most will not be the amount of time served nor money earned but the environment we are all challenged to orchestrate that reinforces equality and offers an equitable chance for everyone to have a happy and fulfilling life.
So, I offer this thought to everyone who has been called to serve community college students and community stakeholders: Developing leadership within the fabric of our colleges calls upon all of us to reinforce the historical basis of our existence and the philosophies leading to innovative educational opportunities in an open-access environment that is committed to fostering excellence for everyone.
It was refreshing to be affiliated with an organization such as College of the Desert in which the Board of Trustees embraced the importance of leadership development by providing 50% of the tuition to college employees to pursue their doctorate degrees through Kansas State University’s John E. Roueche Center for Community College Leadership.
With cohorts across the country, this program is based on the principles of access, success, equity, inclusion, learning and completion. With approximately 35 COD employees presently enrolled in the program, I retired with confidence that the culture created at COD will live on in perpetuity.
Over the years I have been fortunate to work with colleagues and leaders who understood the importance of bold initiatives that were often not accepted nor supported by the “mainstream.” These individuals were sometimes faced with political pushback from individual college trustees, elected officials, or others having differing views and persuasions. Even at the risk of our jobs it is paramount that true leaders protect the sanctity of our college mission, similar to how we hold sacred the protection of academic freedom for our faculty.
I ask my colleagues to garner the strength and courage to boldly tackle the myriad of societal and economic issues we are facing. We have one of the most important roles, with a responsibility to foster a leadership legacy that can address learning, social justice, equity and the myriad of societal issues facing students and our communities. Building this leadership legacy through leadership development will provide current and future leaders with a sense of accomplishment and pride when nearing retirement and reflecting on professional contributions made during your career.
Dr. Joel L. Kinnamon worked in community colleges for 30 years, joining College of the Desert (COD) in 2012 as superintendent/president and retiring in 2021. During his tenure as COD president, the institution was nationally recognized for programs that address some of the biggest issues facing community colleges — improving college readiness, increasing completion rates, closing the equity gap for a diverse student population and partnering with local business and industry to guarantee that graduates succeed in the workplace.
The Roueche Center Forum is co-edited by Drs. John E. Roueche and Margaretta B. Mathis of the John E. Roueche Center for Community College Leadership, Department of Educational Leadership, College of Education, Kansas State University.
This article originally appeared in the June 24, 2021 edition of Diverse. Read it here.