The beginning of the future for the Maricopa Community College District can be seen in the changing social calendar of its new chancellor.
Meeting with people has become a priority for Rufus Glasper, 51, who was named top administrator last week during a crucial time in the colleges’ history.
Glasper said he needs to get the word out that he’s in charge, and he’s here to stay.
"The announcement of me as chancellor goes a long way to reflect stability in the district," he said. "The buck stops here."
With some exceptions, outside observers and district employees agree that Glasper is qualified to take the district to the next level.
"He’s a very solid leader," said Arizona State University President Michael Crow. "He gets it. He knows what to do."
The 10-campus district, one of the nation’s largest, is a bedrock Valley institution that claims to have educated more than 40 percent of county residents. It is poised to enter a new era of improvement and expansion, bolstered by bold ideas and nearly $1 billion in potential loans that would aid even more residents and the region as a whole.
Future plans include:
• A November 2004 bond election that would give the district about $950 million in loans. Officials estimate they need to raise about $1 million to help promote the bond campaign.
• Expanding the ACE (Achieving a College Education) Plus program through a $30 million fund-raising drive. The program, already working at Glendale Community College, helps at-risk children graduate high school and enter college.
• Expanding Alliances, a collaboration between Arizona State University and the community colleges that could result in students receiving a joint four-year degree from both institutions.
• A Mesa Community College satellite campus in downtown Mesa.
• A satellite campus in Carefree that would help serve north Scottsdale.
Yet the controversy over former chancellor Fred Gaskin, who was fired in July, eroded public confidence in the district and threatened — at least temporarily — those ideas, observers said.
Gaskin, hired in 2000, took an indefinite leave in May after a bad performance evaluation from the district’s fivemember governing board. Board members accused him of being arrogant and staring inappropriately at women, among other things. Gaskin is demanding the district buy out his remaining contract to the tune of about $750,000, an issue yet to be settled.
Officials worried continuing public scrutiny of the controversy would have a negative impact on the planned bond election campaign.
"People are only willing to put their own money on the line to support an organization or education institution if they feel good about the institution and they feel good about the leadership," said Virginia Korte, president and CEO of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce. "You’ve got to have someone at the helm that people look up to, respect and have confidence in."
Glasper, the district’s former vice chancellor of human resources and administration, was seen by the governing board as a potential successor to Gaskin. Glasper is a certified public accountant who handled a $1.5 billion budget for the Chicago Public Schools before joining the MCCD 17 years ago. He also is an adjunct professor of graduate-level finance courses at ASU.
With the bond campaign looming, the board chose to end uncertainty over a new chancellor by searching only internally for candidates. Glasper, the only applicant, was hired. The decision to forgo a broader search angered some members of Hispanic groups, who said they felt cut out of the process and also vowed to oppose the bond election.
However, Korte said the board’s decision was a positive step for the community colleges, which she called a "primary source of education for the workforce."
Roc Arnett, president and CEO of the East Valley Partnership, a group composed of local business leaders, said that Glasper’s leadership would help the East Valley in general.
By announcing the planned partnerships between ASU and cities such as Mesa, Glasper will be in better shape to sell the bond package to voters, Arnett said. And Glasper has the fiscal experience to use his resources wisely, in a way the public will appreciate, he said. Arnett predicted a collaboration in which the Tempe -based university would use community college facilities built with the bond money, at least until ASU constructed more buildings of its own.
The two institutions may advance the Expanding Alliances program in the meantime, which would help students get a four-year degree.
Glasper said specifics of that program are still being discussed. Another possible joint effort would have the YMCA putting a building on land the district owns near Carefree and Scottsdale roads, a step that could later result in a Carefree campus, he said.
"We can demonstrate that we can make these partnerships work," Glasper said. "We will look at what is legal and ethical and see if we can move beyond some of the bureaucracy."
Besides connecting with the district employees and members of the greater community, Glasper said he is conducting a review of planning processes that Gaskin had been in charge of. Enrollment growth and the need to continue streamlining the colleges in the face of dwindling state aid will be among his biggest challenges, he said.
About 13 percent of the district’s roughly $356 million operating budget this year came from state appropriations. Much of the rest came from property taxes and tuition.
Glasper knows that the colleges must change along with the evolving population and demographics of the East Valley, said Larry Christiansen, president of Mesa Community College. Projects such as the Mesa downtown campus and the ability to offer more online classes will result in a higher quality education that is available to greater numbers of people, he said.
Such lofty plans will require bringing many diverse people and opinions together, and Glasper should be good at that, Christiansen said. Glasper’s leadership style more resembles that of Paul Elsner, the chancellor who served for 22 years prior to Gaskin’s arrival, he said.
Gaskin would "charge up the hill and say ‘Follow me,’ " Christiansen said. "Rufus is more of a consensus builder."
Maricopa Community College District
Operating Budget Fiscal Year 1993-94: $186 million
Fiscal year 2002-03: $356 million
Number of students enrolled in MCCD classes Fiscal year 1993-94: 155,682
Fiscal year 2002-03: 233,337