New president cutting to core

Keith Kaczmarek, Reporter
March 28, 2012
Filed under News

According to Bakersfield College’s interim president Robert Jensen, “everything is on the table, obviously” when it comes to the budget cuts BC needs to make in the next few semesters.

He can confirm that there will be no lay-offs this year, summer session, or in the fall, but he said “after that, who knows?” He added, “The basic change is going to happen in the spring.”

Already, the school district has made the easy cuts it can make, such as slashing the tiny travel budgets of some administrators and other minor cost-cutting measures. Now they are looking to make more substantive cuts like closing sections of classes that have low enrollment.

“We are going to have summer school, but we are looking at classes and class sizes,” he said, later adding that classes with an enrollment of only 15 might be combined with another section of the same class and of the same size in order to make one section with 30 students.

“We are not rebuilding the summer schedule, but are going to be making it much more diligently than before.”

According to Jensen, the Kern County Board of Trustees is also considering cutting entire programs from BC as a way to refocus on the community college’s core mission.

“There are certain timelines you have to follow to cut a program,” he said, affirming that underperforming programs that don’t graduate students or send transfers to four-year schools might be cut.

“The buffet offering will be gone,” he said about our current class choices. Classes that don’t directly lead to transfer, like ballet, will be the first to be on the chopping block. “We are going to narrow our offering.”

“What the chancellor has asked us to do is look at our core mission,” he said. “We’re looking at the breadth.”

Jensen noted that they are not just looking at the core classes that people need to transfer, but trying to see what they can do to reduce waitlists for required classes.

“If we drop programs that aren’t graduating or transferring, then why are we offering those classes as majors?” he said.

“We can no longer be all things to all people,” Jensen later added.

The easy cuts have already been made, in his opinion. “We’ve already cut all the low-lying fruit,” he said.

Many other schools in California are in a worse position financially with many having to make mid-year cuts.

“Most schools would love to be in our position,” he said.

That being said, he’s not entirely comfortable with a situation where students can’t take classes that sound interesting, and in that process, discover what truly interests them.

“This is the antithesis of everything I was schooled in,” said Jensen, noting that he was used to a system where coming to college would “expose [students] to everything.”

Still, Jensen thinks the process of pruning classes and programs is necessary considering the alternative is to keep cutting good programs instead.

“If you come in and make cuts every year for five years, none of [the programs] are worth it,” he said.

It would be a “death by a thousand cuts,” in his opinion.

Jensen also spoke about how even cutting administrative costs and everything not related to classes wouldn’t cover the budget shortfall.

“If you don’t touch the classes, even if you get rid of everything, it still won’t do it.”

Jensen also noted that BC spends too much time serving students who take up slots in classes and then eventually drop the classes.

“A lot of students aren’t ready and shouldn’t be students,” he said. “Do you reward them or do you reward students who did what they needed to do?”

“We need to do better with those students,” he said regarding unprepared students.

Jensen spoke of adding requirements to some classes in order to make sure that students are prepared enough to complete the courses.

“We haven’t raised the bar and that’s an issue.”

Jensen sees education of these students not only as a local issue but a national issue about the future of American education.

“How can the US compete in the global market with an unskilled workforce? It’s a knowledge-based economy.”

Despite the hard choices being made, Jensen remains confident.

“People have been great. It’s a great college.

“Students, staff and facility are very supportive. There is a lot of pride in this college. Their children and grandchildren have gone to BC.”

Jensen had this to say to students: “Speak up and tell us what the priorities are. This is critical. Students are going to be impacted.

“You are the end-user. It’s your college. I hope students are thoughtful and assertive.

“If we are going to make cuts, what should they be?” he said.

He also commented on student government.

“I would really encourage student government to get involved. There is a time and a place to stand up, and this is it.”

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