College of the Redwoods


Cal Poly Humboldt

College Matters | CR stronger because of challenges faced together

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, June 27, 2024 - 12:30pm

I have a confession: I am a long-time Star Trek fan and have watched every episode and movie in the Star Trek Universe. In the closing minutes of the “Star Trek: Discovery” series finale, Capt. Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green, reflected on her crew’s various, ostensibly impossible missions and said something along the lines of: “We are stronger because of the challenges we face together.”  This is precisely how I feel as the president of College of the Redwoods.

In past articles, I have shared some of the challenges the CR community has faced — some external and some of our own making — some that tested our resolve and some that even threatened to undermine our faith in each other. Throughout our long history, we have overcome debilitating budget problems, crises in organizational leadership, and accreditation sanctions. Like the crew of Discovery, together, we made CR stronger in the midst of challenges. The progress we made overcoming past obstacles transformed us into an institution ready to face the future.

This resilience is especially important now as there are several new challenges on the horizon. An ambiguous fiscal future, the lack of public confidence in higher education, the assault on free speech, and the uncertainty about how artificial intelligence will affect the way we teach are just a few of the issues facing California higher education institutions.

Due to state deficits, we expect to receive less state revenue over the next few years to operate the college and serve students. We will have to make hard choices to strategically reduce expenditures at a time when we are still recovering from enrollment losses from the pandemic. Furthermore, we will have to balance the need to ensure the college’s long-term fiscal stability with our desire to help our employees take care of their families as they face rising costs of living. These opposing demands make our path forward particularly complex, yet crucial for our future.

Although College of the Redwoods has a lot of community support, the public’s confidence in the value of higher education in general is waning. During my tenure in higher education, I have seen widespread cynicism towards its effectiveness. Given the number of legislative bills coming out of Sacramento related to higher education, it is clear that lawmakers believe we must do better in preparing students for transfer and living-wage jobs. I expect more legislative pressure to come, so, we must restore public confidence in higher education and remind ourselves that post-secondary education is still invaluable in providing opportunities for upward mobility, fostering critical thinking, and driving innovation that benefits society.

The November 2024 election will test our commitment to free speech, freedom of inquiry, and civil dialogue. Additionally, given some of the presidential campaign rhetoric, the election could affect our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and may elevate culture conflicts reflected on our campuses.

CR has been talking about artificial intelligence (AI) since ChatGPT was released in late 2023. Like most institutions, our immediate response to AI was skepticism. We had concerns about academic integrity, quality of learning, and data privacy. Faculty worried that AI tools could lead to cheating and plagiarism and intensify existing inequalities. However, I think we have mostly moved away from viewing AI as a plague on higher education to preparing for an AI upheaval that will transform the way we educate our students and prepare students for the workforce. I remain extremely optimistic that the rise of AI in higher education could lead to better research, intelligent tutoring systems, better data and allocation of funding, and other benefits to students.

While these are all significant challenges that will influence CR, I see wonderful opportunities for us to continue to adapt and transform. Gone are the days when we looked for a way around or put off facing an issue due to its seeming enormity. To thrive into the future, the most important thing we can do is face what is in front of us. I believe that how we address those challenges will define our character.

Star Trek can teach us a lot about the value of collaboration in the face of challenges! We are a much stronger institution because of our courage and commitment to work together to overcome our obstacles. As Mr. Spock’s iconic line from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982), delivered while he is dying from radiation exposure, reminds us, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” This timeless wisdom highlights the importance of unity and collective effort as we move into the future and uncertain times.

Dr. Keith Flamer is the president of the College of the Redwoods.