A Test of Leadership

Article By: 

 Celia Esposito-Noy

Celia Esposito-Noy currently serves as the Vice President of Student Services at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento and is the current 4C2SA Association president. She has been the Vice President at the college for four years and has worked for the Los Rios District for nine years. She recently served as Interim President while the presidental search at Consumnes was being conducted. She has worked in higher education for nearly 20 years.


In this message from the CSSO Association Board President, she outlines the challenges for community college leaders in addressing the significant cuts resulting from the state allocation reductions and offers some hope. She also outlines the efforts of the CSSO Association to address these dynamic changes.


What a tumultuous start to an academic year!  I know that all of us have been impacted by the current crisis and nearly every community college is struggling financially and emotionally.  It is times like these that we are called upon to provide leadership and hope because during difficult times, our ability to provide leadership and cultivate hope is more critical than ever.  Our ability to reframe problems, to provide possibilities where others see none, and to enlist others in transformative educational activities is imperative.  Without the ability to do so, colleges will not see a way out and it will take that much longer to recover and prepare for the next crisis. 

Student Services professionals throughout this state are struggling with difficult decisions- how can I keep programs and services operating, how can I keep faculty and staff employed, and how can I serve more students with less.  CSSOs have an inherent responsibility to provide direction, generate ideas, and protect the well-being of students and the programs and services that serve them.  And, while our world seems to be falling in on us, we must maintain our wits and keep others afloat. 
So, what are our colleagues doing in addition to keeping programs afloat? Some are using this time to evaluate programs and services, how they are delivered, what is expected of students who use the services and making necessary changes.  Many are considering program priorities and where to make cuts without decimating programs and staffing.  Others are collaborating with instructional programs in ways that were previously considered novel.  If there was ever a time for creativity, dialogue, and collaboration across the campus, this is it! 
Some, however, are wondering, what should we be doing?  During times of difficulty and change, I always resort to Price Pritchett’s The Unfolding: A Handbook for Living Strong, Being Effective, and Knowing Happiness During Uncertain Times (Pritchett, LP, 2006).  While this handbook is not your traditional leadership text, it is by far one of the most practical.  Pritchett reminds us that, “You can use this vague, ambiguous time for your own discovery and growth…for uncommon accomplishments.  The key is to manage yourself instead of trying to manage the uncertainty”.   Managing ourselves and helping our colleagues understand the importance of doing the same seems to be one of the most pressing tasks at hand. 
The CSSO Executive Board has been working closely with the Chancellor’s Office staff and the statewide categorical program constituency groups for the past several months in an effort to minimize the impact of this budget crisis on both categorical programs and colleges, in general.  We’ve reviewed language in the Ed Code, Title 5, and state guidelines to see where programs and services might find some relief.  We heard concerns and interests from the constituency groups that informed our position and future direction.  We’ve been a strong voice at Consultation Council and recently spoke at the Board of Governor’s meeting on behalf of the small yet important change proposed for the 50% Law (this item will be on the January Board of Governors’ agenda).  We’ve supported relevant legislation and have continued our efforts to provide meaningful input where warranted.  The CSSO organization is responding to the current crisis and considering long-term changes that may help us in future crisis (yes, I think we should expect that this will not be the last crisis many of us face).  Our ongoing tasks include providing relevant communication to the field, soliciting CSSO interests and improving statewide participation, and providing professional development opportunities for new CSSOs and future CSSOs. 
Our commitment to leadership succession and cultivating dynamic leaders from within is more important than ever.  Let’s continue to connect with colleagues and reassure each other that this too will pass and we’ll be better prepared the next time.