ACC Chancellor Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart held his first virtual Employee Town Hall meeting on Friday, October 20, to connect with faculty and staff throughout the district on specific issues. The Zoom meeting hit the 300-participant capacity, and the college is exploring new platforms to expand capacity for future virtual Town Hall Meetings.
Topics on the agenda for the Town Hall included: Dr. Lowery-Hart’s observations following the first four Campus Conversations at Eastview, Elgin, Hays, and Round Rock campuses; child care support for students; and addressing rumors.
CAMPUS CONVERSATION OBSERVATIONS
Observations from Campus Conversations that Russell shared, along with an excerpt from the discussions, were:
- We are one of the largest colleges in the country but want to function as a small one – “Instead of having to fill out a form or follow a process, we want to pick up the phone and call someone. I want us to spend time thinking about how we build and maintain relationships while creating and norming systems that are responsive. We have the systems, the technology, but I don’t think we trust it. So, we try to find ways to work around it.”
- We don’t have real role clarity – “We’re going to figure out a way to start clarifying our work. Some of these things will take care of themselves naturally when identifying our collegewide goal and culture of change to achieve that goal.”
- There are issues of equity between our campuses and confusion about the purposes of our campuses – “We have to have the same intentionality with our older campuses as we have with our newer ones. We need a clear plan and clear purpose for each campus and each region. Establishing one is going to be really difficult, and I worry that it’s going to pit us against each other. If we do that, it will be to all of our peril. I promise that we will work through it together and be transparent.”
- Our students and their needs are changing – “I have a deeper understanding of the 69 percent of students who are living in some kind of financial stress or poverty. We need to build scaled systems and policies to ensure our students have access to resources across the district. Also, connecting our students to community resources. We are going to have to map how students are receiving us and connecting with us.”
CHILD CARE FOR STUDENTS
Child care is a topic that ACC’s Board of Trustees has asked the college to look at. Dr. Lowery-Hart shared some data points around the topic.
“25% of existing students need child care services in some format, but we don’t know how many students we’re missing because they don’t have access to child care to start school,” says Dr. Lowery-Hart. “Students who receive support have a 20-30% increase in retention — the impact on their success, and therefore our success, is huge.”
Dr. Lowery-Hart informed faculty and staff that this is simply the start of the conversation on child care. The next three Board meetings will now include work sessions on this exact topic. The work sessions will begin at 3 p.m. followed by the regular board meeting which will now begin at 4:30 p.m.
To help address rumors, Dr. Lowery-Hart asked participants to share their questions in the last few minutes of the town hall.
“I want us to spend some time rumor-busting. So, my senses and my own lived experience as an employee and then as a leader of a college is that in the absence of information, rumors become a really important way of spreading information, of helping people stay plugged in, but often it’s plugged in with erroneous information or half information or speculation and I just want us to have time — and we’ll do this at every town hall — for you to tell me what you’re hearing that worries you and I’ll tell you the truth. Our cabinet colleagues are in the chat, and if they have answers to the information, they’ll help answer.”
Dr. Lowery-Hart started with a rumor that he heard, which was that librarians were upset because they weren’t included in some of the bond project planning and would rightfully make the assumption that these plans were happening and they were excluded on them.
“I came in and looked at the incredible amount of bond projects we have on the slate and I started seeing that we have real fissures in campus equity and campus purpose. I asked we pause our bond projects so that we could get a handle on what and where we needed our resources — not to change the bond projects but maybe how we execute them and the timelines in which we execute them. And, that we have the appropriate voices in the planning.”
Other issues that were shared include questions about the following:
- Noting systems | Listen at the 27:42 mark on the recording link below
- Restructuring divisions | Listen at the 28:32 mark on the recording link below
- The college’s complaint process | Listen at the 30:14 mark on the recording link below
- Moving IT staff to contractors | Listen at the 30:25 mark on the recording link below
FEEDBACK FROM THE CROWD
The chat also was filled with general comments about the process and the opportunity to share in the discussion. The majority sentiment was favorable and appreciative.
“ACC is full of incredibly resourceful and intelligent people. If we work together, we can find the solutions to these points,” commented Renee Lyon. “Thank you! I believe we can work out our problems TOGETHER.”
“The main thing that I am hearing out there is that employees are very glad you are here and that your focus is on student success,” added Wade Bradfute. “You care about what we all care about. So I think you have all of our support — let’s go!!!”
Watch the full 30-minute Town Hall at austincc.edu/townhall.
The next Town Hall will be Friday, November 3, from 9 -10 a.m. The Town Hall website will be updated with a link once it is available.