Just when the issue of armed campus officers had died out from lack of attention, a contested race for a seat on the board of trustees has infused it with new life, calling us back to face a choice that some wish would just go away.Whatever your position on the issue, there are real benefits to having this discussion out in the open, rather than leaving it for the board to quietly decide or ignore.

Public discussion gives us a chance to hear arguments from both sides on how their decision may affect us. Furthermore, the candidates’ differing approaches reveal more about them than you’d ever find in their campaign literature. And whichever candidate wins, the board will know the public’s concerns when it finally decides. I’ve heard they call this whole process democracy.
If it seems to you that the gun issue has been discussed to death, ask yourself whether even now you have any idea how the trustee in your own district thinks. Don’t you think a genuine discussion would have told you by now?

Big changes are ahead as PCC adapts to new technologies and growing needs in the surrounding community. Over time, we will all learn how the board decides to meet these challenges, but we’ll learn little about their reasoning or the alternatives they reject or ignore.

PCC needs to do anything it can to involve the full community in discussions about our future. If it takes a contested election to start these discussions, then let’s arrange to have more of them.

Theoretically, just about half the seven-member board of trustees could turn over each time in elections staggered every two years. Yet even one contested seat is rare. This year, both returning incumbents are unopposed.

One of them, Dr. Jeanette Mann, explained: “People are reluctant to run against incumbents. Trustee elections are very different from city council elections. Turnout is even lower, less than 10 percent. One way to interpret it is that people are very satisfied.”
She may well be right. PCC’s reputation is excellent. Students endure freeway traffic and cross district lines to come here. Nearly two-thirds of PCC’s current enrollment is from outside the district.

President Paulette Perfumo is fond of noting how the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office refers to PCC as “the crown jewel of the community college system.” Voters clearly trust PCC with both their children and their taxes, having rewarded the Measure P bond issue with an astonishing 70 percent level of support.

Yet reputations are built on past behavior, and what we choose today will determine the reputation of PCC a decade hence. Any institution charged with preparing its clients for the future bears a special responsibility to listen sensitively for the earliest signs of change. Shouldn’t we actively be seeking the best ideas out there?

Nothing is more easily lost than a good reputation, through complacency born of insularity and past success. Every year we hear stories of successful institutions and people who stayed the course even when circumstances changed and previous strategies lost their effectiveness.
Success over the long run demands that we cultivate the broadest possible diversity of competing viewpoints, even those that make us uncomfortable. If we listen only to ourselves, how will we know what voices we’re missing?

It is all too easy to blame the voters for their apathy. If they don’t care, why should we? Yet if we wait until the public is angry enough to overcome its inertia, we will have already squandered both time and public goodwill, each far too precious to waste.

PCC’s past success may have disarmed the electorate, but it is our responsibility to reach out for public feedback in every corner of this community, and to let them know that PCC stands ready to listen. Otherwise we may someday answer to the charge that we had the resources to help but did nothing.

The public is slow to anger, but its will is final. After a failure there is always plenty of time to point fingers and ask, “Why didn’t anyone speak up?” Isn’t it so much better to shine a light ahead and try to see what’s coming? Our future is already out there. We just need to hear it calling.

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