President Coon on the state of the campus

By Kyle Dang

President Coon is optimistic about College of Marin’s future.

President Coon is optimistic about College of Marin’s future.

The College of Marin Spring 2013 semester is fast coming to an end, and the campus is still buzzing with activity.  Buildings all over the Kentfield campus are taped up, locked, and vacant. Teachers and staff are being moved from building to building, making it hard for them to settle down and focus on instructing students.  The College of Marin Foundation, an independent organization tied to COM dedicated to distributing scholarships and grants, recently had its board resign in its entirety. Their resignation was in protest of an audit that would eventually prove their mismanagement of over $400,000. And all of these troubles are exacerbated by the college’s redline budget, which has forced cuts to both credit course offerings and faculty.

However, these are hardly the end days for the College of Marin. COM’s financial troubles are minor compared to some community colleges in California, such as CCSF. The COM administration made accreditation their top priority when the issue first arose, and now the college is fortunate enough to have been removed from the California Community College Accreditation’s watch-list. Without the threat of disaccreditation, the administration has been able to focus on other pressing issues, like our budget. The college has instituted a four-year budget plan meant to stabilize and pay off our deficit, and so far it seems to be doing its job.

The chaos of campus construction is merely the start of a newer and more modern college, and many students are looking forward to the new buildings. It might be a little cramped for a few semesters, but as the faculty settle in to their new lodgings things should return to the status quo. Several of the new faculty are already student favorites. Those incentivized to retire were among our oldest faculty-members, and many were already thinking of retirement.

It seems that for every problem, the COM administration has managed to find an agreeable solution. Through the trials of this past year, College President David Wain Coon has been the man in charge. At this critical time of change, his decisions affect COM in ways we may not realize for years. Luckily, Coon’s been around the collegiate block. Coon has 22 years of experience in the field of higher education, two of those as COM president. Coon agreed to sit down with the Echo Times, answer questions about the current state of affairs, and discuss his vision of the college’s upcoming years.

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

A: My name is David Coon and I am the superintendent president of the College of Marin. I’ve been here now over two years, I started December 1, 2010.  Prior to being here I was the president of the Evergreen Valley College in east San Jose.  I was there for over 5 years and prior to that I was in Washington, Seattle for about 15 years.  So I’m finishing about my 22nd year in higher education.

Q: How have you found the semester so far? Have you achieved any of the goals you set prior to the semester?

A: I can’t believe we are in April looking at the beginning of May. I always say that with May comes May madness, which is just nonstop end of the years activities and before we know it the end of the year is here. We begin the end of the semester with the [85th annual COM] commencement, which is exciting and of course at the commencement we have [Lieutenant Governor] Gavin Newsom to be our feature speaker. I am very excited about that. I think that what I like most about May is that it’s just all about the accomplishments of the students, and transfer celebrations and scholarships and the commencement, so it’s an exciting time. I think we’ve had a productive semester. We had a tough year relative to our budget challenge, and yet we’ve been able to meet the goals we’ve set for ourselves and at the same time move the college forward in a positive way.

Q: Some numbers came out earlier this year that said enrollment rates dropped at COM have taken the largest dive since 2003.  We are curious what the administrations plans are to boost enrollment for this upcoming semester.

A: Well let me just tell you first of all that it was not a surprise to any of us that enrollment fell, and that is because we were offering fewer courses. And that was directly related to the need to reduce the budget, so that was not a surprise to anybody. So you take the converging factors of the fee increases which were huge, again 130% over a 5 year period of time, offering fewer courses, new financial aide rules going in to effect that basically limits the number of times a student can repeat a course, you take all that together and it was no surprise we were down by 9 percent.

As we look forward to fall remember we started this year off with a $2.9m structural deficit in our budget. We created a 4-year budget plan to mitigate the deficit, to close the gap. It would have been devastating if we had tried to make 2.9m in cuts all in one year.  Part of what we did this year is institute about $500,000 worth of reductions to course offerings and some other areas.  As we look towards next year, year two of our budget plan, we have another 1.5m reduction to take.

Next year we are limiting that reduction to about only 17% direct student instruction so that’s about $250,000, and about 28 less sections of courses that will be spread over the next year. We’ll continue to recruit [new faculty], but until we’re able to offer back more courses, there are only so many seats to offer. Longer term we are going to try and rebound from these challenges as our financial situation gets better.

Q: Despite the cuts to classes, are there any new courses that will be available next semester?

A: You know, I can’t think of any brand new ones off the top of my head.  The faculty are always creating and updating their curriculum, though I don’t know of any examples off the top of my head. We are always going through the program review process trying to strengthen the programs we have, which means sometimes eliminating courses or sometimes adding courses. That’s a continual evolutionary process within the curriculum.

Q: It seems like half the campus is boarded up. Which five buildings are being replaced?

A: Right now, Olney Hall has been completely emptied. In fact, it’s basically been gutted. Business Center, same thing. Harlan Center is now empty, and the gutting process will begin there soon. Then the last academic building that will be vacated is the Administrative Center, which also houses the child development center on the lower level. The new child development center is done, but because we’re right at the end of the semester, the plan is to finish out the academic year and move the new child development center up the road, in to the new facility and then go in and do the work in the old Administrative Center. The fifth building is the one on the corner, the Taqueria that closed earlier this spring.

Q: Is the construction on schedule?

A: Today the bids came in for the demolition crews, which is the first step in the process. The tree-removal was to take place over spring break, and that was successful and happened in just a couple of days. The next phase is the demolition, which happens over the summer, and then the site work begins. The project itself is currently being reviewed by the state architect’s office, which looks at the plans to approve them.

Q: Will this be the last construction paid for by the Measure C Bond?

A: Well there’s some residual work happening in other areas. One of the categories of funding set aside was for ADA work, which is the American with Disabilities Act. For instance there are some buildings without a functional, [disabled] accessible bathroom. In Fusselman Hall, which is one of the oldest buildings on campus, there’s going to be some work done, but there are no plans to demolish it. Right now the plan the board of trustees approved for the Austin science center is to keep the building. There is some question, however, as to the amount of work that would be required to make the science building safe and functional. So that’s an evaluation process we are currently engaging in. The bottom line is, I’m in this building [Austin Science Center], and I need to be for the next two years, and there’s a bunch of other services in this building.  It’s needed for swing space.  So we need Austin until the end of the bond measure and perhaps beyond that.

Q: Do we have more or less classes this summer compared to what we had last summer?

A: We have about half of last summer, and that was half of the summer before. There have been gradual cuts.  I’ll be honest. At one point in time, I thought we shouldn’t have a summer session this year.  And that was because I knew we had to bring down 5 buildings and I know there’s going to be no easy way to deal with that. Then the faculty came back to me and said, “you know what? Let us hit your reduction target”, and they felt very strongly that certain programs in the summer session were essential. They convinced me that having a limited summer session was the right thing to do, because some students need that extra time during summer to keep on transfer schedules.  So to reiterate, the previous summer it was half what it had been initially, so it’s about half that again. I don’t know the numbers off the top of my head, but it’s a fairly small offering.

Q: When you eventually leave COM, what would you like your legacy to be?

A: You know I said when I interviewed here that I’d like this to be my last stop. I think the 100th year anniversary of COM is within my professional lifetime, and I wouldn’t mind being here at that 100-year mark, celebrating 100 great years and looking forward to 100 more.

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