Flint Water — A Scarce and Scary Resource

Just two days ago, I was privileged to have been invited by our own State Rep. Bill LaVoy to join him for Governor Snyder’s State of the State Address. The main topic of the speech was Flint Water.  The water in Flint, Michigan is lead contaminated and creating some major health concerns, never mind the national headlines. While the governor was speaking we could hear protesters chanting outside. I understand there were over 1000 of them, but I did not see them. The governor apologized to the people of Flint but did not accept full responsibility for the disaster. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was there and called this issue a ‘disaster’, not an ‘emergency’

As I listened to the speech, the thought that kept reoccurring in my mind was: “this sounds like something that would happen in a ‘Third World’ or developing country, is this happening in America, the greatest country in the world?” Needless to say, I was incredulous!

I have lived in three developing countries during my lifetime and just returned from one less than two weeks ago. While I have heard of contaminated water in villages, I have not heard of contaminated water being supplied to an entire city. Yes, developing countries have numerous utilities challenges such as constant blackouts and water shutoffs, but contaminated city water? I need to get a better understanding of how this happened in the greatest country in the world.

In case you are unfamiliar with this situation, here is a synopsis.

  • March 2013, the Flint City Council voted 7-1 (one person knew something was not right) to switch from the Detroit Water and Sewage Dept. to the Flint River as a cost cutting measure
  • April 2013 – Flint decides to use the Flint River as a water source
  • June 2013 – Flint begins using the Flint River as an interim water source
  • July 2014 – Flint begins first six-month monitoring for lead and copper
  • January 1, 2015 – Flint conducts second six month monitoring for lead and copper
  • March 2015 – reports show lead in water
  • September 2015 – communication that corrosiveness of Flint River water is causing lead leaks into the water through pipes, reports disputed by DEQ
  • October 2015 — DHHS confirms lead problem and residents urged not to drink the water
  • October 2015 – Flint reconnects with Detroit Water and Sewage (they still have the same corroded pipes as a result of Flint River water)
  • December 2015 – Flint Declares emergency
  • January 2016 – President approves emergency and request for federal aid but denies declaration of major disaster.

As an economist, I have always argued that most, if not all, of life’s problems are the result of economics – the struggle for scarce resources. Good water is a scarce resource, hence it is not freely available. If it were, we would not have this problem in Flint. Let’s see how this issue develops, knowing that it is always the most vulnerable of our population (children) who suffer the most when things go wrong. Water in Flint now is not only scarce, it is indeed scary.

Terrorism, Islam, and Democracy

I am proud to say that I am a Christian and I will not and cannot apologize for that! For several years after 9/11, I was “randomly” pulled aside at airports in the United States whenever I was travelling internationally – embarking and disembarking. I was searched and frisked, even my wallet and all documents on me were thoroughly examined; they even counted my money. I would like to state unequivocally and very categorically that I am not a terrorist nor do I ever want to be one! This “profiling” went on for years, until I finally wrote a complaint letter to the Department of Homeland Security asking for an explanation. They responded, indicating that they could not tell me why I was being “randomized” (my word, not theirs).

I suspect that they were “profiling” me because I have an unusual name and I was doing a lot of international traveling with more than a fist full of dollars (under $10,000). How did they know this? Folks, they know everything! Well, almost. Who is to say that the time they spent watching me could not have been spent apprehending and stopping some real criminals/terrorists.

Now, to the topic at hand. With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, and San Bernardino, there are some who are calling for the restriction or banning of Muslim immigrants from entering the United States. How fair is that? I spent 18 months of my life in a predominantly Muslim Country (Senegal), I have family in Ghana, where Christians and Muslims live peacefully side by side. When I visit Ghana, it always amazes me when I hear gospel music and preaching being blasted from church loud speakers one minute and the Muslim clerics call to prayer the next. It is indeed a unique phenomenon which one has to experience to understand. I mean it when I say that some of my best friends are Muslims, and they are good people.

Next week, on December 14, 2015, MCCC will host a panel discussion on Terrorism and Democracy as part of our Current Affairs and Diversity Series. I encourage all of you to attend this event in our cafeteria from noon to 1:00 p.m. Needless to say, there will be some strong opinions about the relationship between Islam and terrorism. I encourage you to come, pose questions, and express your opinions. Meanwhile, please ponder the following:

  • Dearborn Michigan (less than 35 miles from Monroe) has the largest number of Muslims in the United States; how many terrorist activities have occurred there?
  • How many Muslims do you know? Do you have any Muslim friends?
  • Do you understand the tenets of Islam?
  • Do you believe Islam is synonymous with terrorism?
  • Do you believe Muslims serve the same God as Christians?
  • Is a Muslim more likely than a Christian or another religion, to be a terrorist?
  • Should a Muslim be allowed to become President of the United States?

These are some of my thoughts, shaped by my background, my personal experiences and what I glean from the media. Just ponder all of that for a minute or two….



Enrollment Management is Financial Management

A focus on enrollment, i.e. recruitment and retention amounts to a focus on the finances of any institution that is partially (like MCCC) or fully (like private colleges) dependent on tuition revenue. While I do have degrees in accounting and economics, those are not necessary for this simple analysis.

My basic premise is that recruitment and finances are inextricably linked and have a direct correlation. MCCC has three sources of revenue: property taxes, state appropriations, and tuition. Barring a successful millage, we cannot affect either of the first two, but we can impact the last – tuition. How do we increase tuition revenue? My answer is, recruit and retain more students. Simply put, increasing enrollment (recruiting and retaining more students), will increase our tuition revenue. That is the why I say the president is the chief recruiter for MCCC – to increase tuition revenue. That is why we have developed an Enrollment Management Plan (EMP) – to increase tuition revenue. That is why the president travels all over the region to attract more students to MCCC – to increase tuition revenue. That is why we are developing an adult recruitment strategy – to increase tuition revenue. That is why the president spends so much time engaging students on campus to impact retention – to increase tuition revenue. That is why the president continues to engage our community to keep MCCC in a positive light – to increase tuition revenue.

Certainly, there are other reasons why the president does all the above, but our financial situation is top of mind.

Bottom line: if we recruit and retain more students, we will increase tuition revenue.  In short, the more students we have, the more revenue we have. So we could not possibly be neglecting our finances by focusing on recruitment and retention.  The enrollment declines have hurt MCCC financially; reversing that is priority one – that is how we can increase tuition revenue – the only revenue stream over which we have any control.  That is finance/economics/accounting 101.  We are trying to change the financial situation on the revenue side the only way it can be changed – by focusing on enrollment. We must all be committed to the Enrollment Management Plan – that is our financial (revenue) improvement plan. Please join me as we begin to implement the EMP.


English Language Musings

I have heard that the English language is much more difficult to learn than many other languages.  What I do know is English has continued to evolve over the years, and there are different versions of it as one travels around the world, and even around our own country.   I also know it is becoming increasingly adulterated. English is one of four languages I speak, yet my grammar, diction, punctuation, spelling, etc. are all highly suspect. My father, who only had a 9th grade formal education, spoke the “Queen’s English,” and was a “master of the English Language.” I, unfortunately, cannot make those claims.

In spite of my challenges with the language, I have some pet peeves when it comes to English.  Here are a few with which you may or may not be familiar: alumni, criteria, data, and associate degree.

  • Alumni – the word alumni is the plural of alumnus, which is the masculine or general form of alumna. So, one should not say “I am an alumni of ….” One can be an alumnus or alumna (female) of … Saying one is an alumni of is using poor grammar.  Just saying ….
  • Criteria – criteria is the plural of criterion. Therefore it is one criterion, but many criteria. Again, just saying.
  • Data – this is one that has truly been adulterated and gained popular acceptance. Data used to be, (underscore used to be) plural, the singular form of which was datum. Now data is accepted as singular or plural.
  • Associate degree – now here is one that I struggled with until recently. So I checked with “Grammar Girl” on the internet. You know if it is on the internet, it must be true J However, for those of you interested in more academic sites, you can go to https://www.rit.edu/upub/academic-terminology or https://wmich.edu/writing/rules/degrees.

According to Grammar Girl, the correct way to state this degree is “associate degree,” never “associate’s degree.” However, it is correct to say “bachelor’s degree” and “master’s degree,” not “bachelor degree” or “master degree.” It is correct to say “I have a bachelor of science degree in….” But it is not correct to say, “I have a bachelor’s of science degree in….” Therefore, I have concluded that the first college degree one can receive, as well as the final degree one can receive, are treated very similarly.  Simply put, I have never heard anyone say, “I have a doctorate’s degree in….” It is always, “I have a doctorate degree in….” The same way one should not say, “I have an associate’s degree in…” One should say, “I have an associate degree in….”

Having said all that, from my readings of various catalogs and college websites, it appears that the “associate degree” is going the way of the word “data,” where alternative forms are acceptable, or the wrong form becomes the norm.

Just my musings on a Friday….

I look forward to receiving comments from those of you who are linguistically gifted, or those who just speak English in general. By the way, an English professor (Dr. Carrie Nartker) checked this before I posted.


Safety — Priority One

Last night I went to bed watching and listening to the news on the terrorist attacks in Paris yesterday. This morning I woke up listening to the news on the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. To say these attacks were horrific would be a huge understatement. There are over 120 people dead and the death toll continues to mount.

As I listened to the devastating reports, I could not help but ponder how we would react to such an attack if it happened in our own back yard. Would I know what to do if I were at one of those venues where these incidents occurred? Would you? Sometimes there is simply no time to react. But if there is time to react, what would you do? Would you run, fight, or hide? Well, it really depends on the circumstances. I recall many years ago as a freshman in Baltimore when on my first day on the job as a security guard, a young man pointed a gun at me. I ran (I was pretty fast in those days). What would you do?

This world is a much different world than what it used to be. Terrorists and other perpetrators of violence continue to plan and implement heinous acts against innocent victims? How do we respond?  While some of these acts are directed at “soft targets”, others, as we all know, occur on college campuses such as ours. We must act to ensure the safety of our students and employees – for me as president, that is Priority one – safety first. Students who do not feel safe cannot learn, and employees who feel unsafe cannot be productive.

In a perhaps unrelated event, the president of the University of Missouri was forced to resign because of inaction. A Monroe News article reports that prior to resigning, he said (not a direct quote), “the university is working to draw up a plan by April to promote diversity and tolerance”. Really?? “Drawing up a plan in the midst of a crisis? Really!! Leadership is about implementation, not planning. Anyone can plan, but it takes leaders to implement. Why was he not having conversations with students who felt endangered while his team was planning? Why was he not focusing on some interim solutions?

Since the Umpqua Community College attack, and even before that, we at MCCC have sent out and re-posted information on our campus Emergency Safety Plan. That, in my opinion, is not enough. As we continue to plan a more comprehensive approach, we will implement additional safety measures and will leave no stone unturned to protect our students and employees.  This is a crisis and we must respond to it as such! Please join us during Campus Safety week as we discuss and provide information on additional safety measures for all of our protection.

X-Tech and College Night — A Good Day for Education in Monroe County

Yesterday was a good day at Monroe County Community College. We had well over 1000 individuals on campus yesterday for the X-Tech and College Night events.

The X-Tech event was a whole day event that allowed potential students, parents, and the community to come on our campus, view our Career Technology Center (CTC), sample our programs and interact with our faculty. I observed busload after busload of students alighting at our CTC and touring the facility. These potential students came mostly from our local high schools. I assure you that this event would not be the same without our new state-of the-art CTC – a boon to this county and its residents.  Before the CTC was built, I am sure there were high school facilities better than what we had.  X-Tech is essentially a Technology Open House that provides individuals with the opportunity to see what their local community college has to offer in terms of programs, facilities, and faculty.  Kudos to Peter Coomar and the ASET faculty (full and part time), and our community partners, for a job well done. I saw faculty and staff demonstrating equipment, teaching, and doing what they do best. I personally participated in robotics demonstrations – robots built by elementary and high school students who are mentored by our students and faculty. It was a good day!

In the evening, beginning at 6:00 p.m., was the College Night event. Another great service that MCCC provides to this community. Kudos to Dr. Joyce Haver and the admissions team for arranging this. Dr. Haver tells me that this is her 38th year doing this. There were over 60 colleges on our campus – this allows for all high school students to consider numerous options in terms of higher education, and for our own students to consider a variety of transfer options.

MCCC is a gem in Monroe County and we continue to provide services that no one else can provide as we attempt to take the county to a different level. If not us, then who? Indeed, yesterday was a good day not only at MCCC, but in Monroe County.

Musings about Opinions

As a college president and as a human being, I interact with a large number of people. As a result, I also have conversations with many individuals from all walks of life. In my interactions, conversations, readings, listening, and TV viewing, I have discovered that one thing that most people have is an opinion. I listen to people rant and rave about education, leadership, politics, conspiracy theories, decorum, race relations; you name it, I hear it. As I listen (I do more of that than talking), I always respond with caution, if I respond at all. Heeding my own advice that “sometimes the best response is silence”.

I have come to a very simple conclusion about opinions. There are simply certain areas or professions that everyone seems to have expertise in. First politics. While I do have political opinions, I am NOT a politician and do not pretend to know more than they do, so I do not engage in much political discourse because almost everybody seems to think they know more or better than the politicians.

Second is economics. I know quite a bit about economics, having earned a doctorate in the field.  I taught economics for many years, presented and published and became a full professor of economics 20 years ago, in spite of that, I do not pretend to know it all. It is interesting that in my discourses with many who despite not knowing the difference between monetary and fiscal policy, claim to have all the answers to our economic problems.

Third is coaching. Everyone’s a coach, regardless of whether they know the game or even understand the rules. I coached youth, high school, and college soccer for many years. My teams won championships, but the parents who did not even understand the game were my worst critics. In all fairness to the parents, the vast majority were extremely supportive.

Last is education (did you see that coming?). Yes, we all have our opinions, but there is a reason why some of us are educators and some are not.  Almost everyone out there seems to be an expert on the solutions to our education woes. If they walked one day in an educator’s shoes they would perhaps realize that it is not so easy. By the way, that goes for politicians, economists, coaches, and many other professions. This is all hard work and the individuals who work in these areas need our encouragement and support.