BY DR. VAHE PEROOMIAN
My nearly 15 years of service on the Glendale Community College Board of Trustees came to an end on March 31, as I chose to bring a long and eventful chapter of my life to a close. It’s been quite a journey… When I was appointed to the Board in June 2005 to fill the vacancy created by Ara Najarian’s election to the Glendale City Council, I had had only the incidental contact with the College, but hoped to bring my experience in higher education to steer the college forward in the first decade of the 21st Century. A lot has happened since 2005, but allow me to reminisce on some of the highlights of what we’ve accomplished as a Board during that time, and reflect on the future of an institution that has occupied a significant portion of my thoughts and efforts in our community.
As I began my service on the Board, the College still had plenty of unspent funds from the Measure G bond passed by the citizens of Glendale in 2002. It became apparent in September 2005, at the most contentious meeting the Board has had during my tenure, that spending these funds was the continuation of a turf battle that would shape the future of the College. Should we allocate the remaining funds to a behemoth of a building designed to bring all vital college services under one roof, or should we expand our offerings at Garfield Campus, then but an oft-neglected stepchild of the College, by adding a new building there? In the end, Victor King, Dr. Armine Hacopian, and myself voted for Garfield. Then, as now, a significant fraction of students at our Garfield Campus were Armenian and over 30 years of age, taking English as a second language and computer training courses to enter the workforce. Fifteen years on, Garfield Campus is a shining example of our commitment to educating everyone in our community.
A little over a decade ago, the College found itself in turmoil due to the departure of its longtime Superintendent/President, Dr. John Davitt, and the hiring of a replacement that turned out to be much better on paper than in practice. The only silver lining in this experience turned out to be a push towards diversity in the ranks of the college faculty and administration, an initiative that continues to this day, led by Dr. David Viar, whose hiring is still one of the best decisions the Board has made in the last fifteen years.
Just in the last year, sparked by a suggestion from Dr. Armine Hacopian, my colleague on the Board, and due to the tireless legislative efforts of State Senator Anthony Portantino, the College has received permission to close its doors on April 24 each year in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. Without legislative action, the cost of doing so would be prohibitive. No longer do our students have to contend with exams or assignments scheduled on that day. The campus will be closed, and the campus community will commemorate Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
Far from being singularly aimed at benefiting Armenian students, faculty, and staff at the College, many of my contributions during the last decade and a half have been toward making the College more accessible to every aspiring student and more directed toward student success. Several years ago, the Board learned that it was nearly impossible for a student to complete all of the necessary classes for transferring to four-year universities in two years. In fact, the average time spent at GCC for transfer-minded students was more than four years. Now, with emphasis on career pathways and extensive retooling of the course schedule, students routinely transfer within two years of enrolling at the college, my own daughter, Tara, an example of this. This endeavor has earned GCC the #1 rank in transfers to four-year universities among colleges in the Los Angeles Area. In fact, our College is among the top three in nearly every category of student success measured by the State Chancellor’s office.
Another initiative, and one that is ongoing, is to address the declining enrollment at the College, a continuous concern during the last decade. Students from Burbank, Glendale, and La Crescenta routinely bypass GCC and to other nearby colleges, mainly because of the reputation GCC has earned for being a “tough” school. Too many students think that courses at GCC are more difficult than those at Pasadena or LA Valley College, and too many high school seniors are infected with this notion before even taking a course at GCC. Too many of our instructors have an undeserved reputation of being unreasonably tough. This is one challenge that I will leave for my colleagues who remain on the Board and the new members that join them. The challenge GCC faces in the next decade is really one of reputation. We will succeed in this endeavor if and when our students tell stories not of failure, but of the incredible knowledge they gained from our world-class instructors and the incredible experience they had at GCC. This is our 21st Century challenge, one that requires everyone not only at GCC, but the Glendale community at large, to step up to.
I thank my colleagues on the Board, past and present, and the Superintendent/Presidents of the College that I had the honor of serving with and learning from. I sincerely thank the Glendale community for reelecting me to the Board on three occasions. Perhaps more importantly, I thank my wife, Carolyn, for the incredible support I’ve received through the years, and my children, Tara, Tadeh, and Sienna, for their understanding and support. In the last 15 years, the College has become one of the crown jewels of our Jewel City, has been voted the #2 most beautiful college campus in the U.S., made significant improvements to infrastructure and facilities, and has improved student access and success by leaps and bounds. Having done my duty, I proudly pass the torch of office to my colleagues and assure you that GCC will continue to be in my thoughts even as my tenure on the Board comes to an end.