The Alamo Colleges trustees' debate was an evening of contrasts. Last Wednesday brought together all but one of the candidates running for two positions on the Board of Trustees. The usual suspects were representedâ??a former city councilman, a professor, a lawyerâ??but an uninformed onlooker might have been surprised to see two faces amongst them almost untouched by age. David Alan Rodriquez and Tyler Ingraham are students running for ACCD's Board of Trustees, a novelty in San Antonio.
An audience member summed up the disconnect when she asked Tyler Ingraham what assets or liabilities his age brought to his candidacy. “Well, it's a liability for myself,” he joked. “I almost killed myself shaving this morning.”
When I asked him a similar question, he responded like this: “`If I were elected`, I'd be the only person who'd been to a community college in the last 25 yearsâ?¦ There's plenty of other perspectives already represented on the board. There's people who are professors, who are administrators, local business owners, secondary school teachers.” But no students. Unlike some college systems, ACCD has never had a student on the board (the University of Texas system, for example, reserves a spot for a student on its equivalent Board of Regents, as does the Texas A&M system).
Tyler hopes to change that. Tyler Ingraham is 22, a political science major at St. Mary's University and a transfer student from San Antonio College. His mother is a high school teacher, and he cites her upbringing as a strong influence on his decision to run. But the real catalyst came when his friend and campaign manager Rob Pohl wrote an article on the district for the Current (an article that can be found here).
“So he did all this research,” Ingraham explained, “and we talked about it, and he kept sending me stuff, and it just became apparent that there were severe issues here.” Issues like the vote of no confidence in Dr. Leslie, current Chancellor of the Board who courted controversy last year when he attempted to move the board to a single accreditation scheme. There's also the little issue of money: The state recently cut the community college budget by 5%.
Ingraham isn't alone in his concern for the school's future. He is one of four candidates running for the District 1 seat, and his competition is steep. Joe Alderete, former city councilman and seasoned politician, is the most well-known face in the election. He's joined by Thomas Hoy, a former SAC administrator, and Rowland Martin, an adjunct professor at SAC. The combined experience of Ingraham's opposition is likely greater than Ingraham's age, but he's not concerned by that. “A senator, or a representative, is not considered successful â??cause they're a poly math and a genius and they've got it all figured out. They're considered successful because they listen well.”
On the other end of the stage sat David Rodriquez, a man of passion, his responses in the debate characterized by speed and energy. He's somewhat unconventional; at one point in the debate he flustered the timekeeper by going back and elaborating on a previous answer. Rodriquez is 31, also a political science major, currently studying at SAC. His decision to run was, in a large part, due to a certain frustration he felt at current board policies. “I actually went to the current board and spoke. I just felt there was `sic` too many questions but not enough answers. And when you go to people, either people don't know or that's just how it is and they try to shut you up with that. So I felt, do what everybody says, get out there and make a difference.”
Rodriquez places a large emphasis on interpersonal interaction, both in his vision for the boardâ??“I think they could be more communicative and more aggressive as to hearing what the comments, concerns and questions are”â??and in his campaign strategy. Working with a very low budget, David has reached out to the community for support. “It's not just asking for your voteâ?¦ I want to give my voters a chance to know me. I even put my personal phone number `on youtube`, so they can call me with their comments, questions, and concerns. So you know when you go to that poll, you want to vote for David Rodriquezâ??that's absolutely your head choice.”
Although currently working as a DJ to pay his way through school (call him DJ Caliente on weekends), he has 12 years of experience in retail, an experience that shapes the way he conceptualizes his potential role as a trustee. “When you're a manager,” he said, “you're the middleman. You're taking a lot from all angles. You've got to get in there and get results.” Being a trustee, he explained to me, is similar; you have to balance needs of students, faculty, and staff with the desires of the community-at-large and the demands of the state. Create effective means of communication between these different interests, he says, and you're one step closer to creating an effective institution. “And I think that's when you'll start to see those low numbers turn into positive high ones. And we can show Texas that we need those five million dollars back, and even more.”
The District 7 position is currently held by Blakely Latham Fernandez, a lawyer who's running for reelection as an incumbent. Fernandez herself has only held the job for six months, taking over after her predecessor Charles Connor retired. David may have his work cut out for him. After meeting with Fernandez, Richard Knight, treasurer for Tyler's campaign, dropped out of the District 7 race and gave her his endorsement. When asked about Fernandez, Rodriquez focused on his identity as a normal citizen and a student. “Nothing against my opponent, I think she's awesome, but I think she's corporate. And a school system isn't corporate. It isn't a luxury business. It's an institution of higher learning.”
The third candidate in the District 7 race is David A. Whitley, who missed the debate, he told me, due to an unfortunate bout of the flu. Whitley is also a student, going to SAC for a general liberal arts degree, but his perspective is slightly different than the other two student voices in this election. 38 years old, Whitley is the manager of San Antonio Air Conditioning, a job he's done for 13 years. “I think the combination of my business skillsâ??budgeting skills, things that go into the boardâ??and my love for education and being `sic` presently apart of the system is a good fit,” he said, explaining why he chose to run.
“I mean, it's basically a business,” Whitley said about the community college system, a theme he would hit on more than once during the interview. “We have to take in revenue. We have to make more than we spend. And the larger surplus we have the better job we can do.” In keeping with his status as a nontraditional student, he emphasized their centrality to the future of ACCD: “I think that it's important to embrace the fact that there are a lot of students past that normal age. They have children, they have full time jobs. Working on accommodating those people, and marketing to those peopleâ?¦ I think that's the backbone of raising our revenue and giving us more money in the budget to do things we want to do”
Whitley is unique among the three student candidates as the only one who supports single accreditation. “If we could eliminate some of the administrative costs by bringing it together as one unit, centralizing that administrative cost, perhaps we could then, if not lower tuition, at least keep it where it is,” he said.
Like Rodriquez, Whitley counted his status as a student as the greatest advantage he has over Fernandez. There's a tendency to lose perspective the higher up in the ladder you go, he pointed out. “I would imagine, the higher up you get in the education system, the more removed you are from the interpersonal actions between students and teachers, and you lose sight of it.”
No one can deny that ACCD is facing a myriad of challengesâ??a declining number of full-time professors, a low graduation rate, and an ever-tightening budget that has led to consistent tuition increases. Being a student is challenging and finding time amongst classes and studying to be involved is even harder, but all three student candidates seek to find a balance between their dual roles as student and citizen. “No one's going to fix our problems for us,” Ingraham said in our interview. “And so, the earlier all of us pull our heads out of our asses the better. We need to be engaged, we need to be out there, we need to be taking part in political life.”
The elections for Districts 1 and 7 will be held on May 8th. For more information on Ingraham, Rodriquez, and Whitley, visit www.runtylerrun.com , www.youtube.com/trustd7 , and tinyurl.com/248tnff , respectively. See http://www.bexar.org/elections/20100508EVMap.pdf for voting locations.