Re-visioning Mendocino College

By Albert Krauss

Why should we be attempting to cast a "re-visioning" statement? Because now, after some twenty-five years of our local institution's history, and with the major founding achievement well behind us, we are able to look further into the future.

We can understand, approaching the year two thousand, that the college must have a broader function/role/mission than that of a service provider to the job market, the economy, or the leisure-hobby time slot.

To be sure, Mendocino College is one among many two year colleges which have performed their initial baseline task of providing platforms to extend secondary school or to prepare for transfer to four year programs, and to provide re-entry and lifelong learning opportunities for adults. But unless the vision, the perspective, of this uniquely American phenomenon of two year institutions is put into a larger context, the communities they serve will have been short changed as they attempt to prepare for the next generational surge.

The Forgotten Larger Context

The historic role of the European University from mediaeval times was to take over from the monasteries custodianship of an almost lost classical knowledge, and to accommodate the burgeoning interest in rediscovered and newly expanding knowledge.

During the nineteenth century, concurrent with sponsorship shifting from Jesuitical and other church and guild based societies to national governments, the role of the university was expanded to that of mentor and credentialling agent not only for the First Estate student, but for the ambitious bourgeois student in her/mostly his enculturation and training as establishment leader, whether in scholarship, the arts and sciences, or the civil service.

The twentieth century has seen the Western University (and its sisters throughout the world's cultural centers) become a spawning ground for important political movements, avant garde literature, art and music, and cutting edge science and technology, while still carrying on the former functions of custodianship and enculturation

At the same time, and mostly in the United States, it seemed that a realization of the Horatio Alger myth for all Americans was imminent. The funding of public colleges/universities by public bond issues and the creation of tax sheltered private endowment funds apparently promised a cornucopia of opportunity for the "huddled masses".

The American Junior College, Johnny-come-lately and uncertain hybrid institution, has yet to feel its firm connection with the world of Universities despite the ongoing reality of transfer students moving both in an out, interconnected libraries, overlapping curricula, and an increasingly sophisticated citizenry.

In many (but not all) two year colleges, administrative and political leadership lags in recognizing how the older traditions might be quickened through new relevancies already perceived " the field" by some among the most directly involved constituencies (faculty and students).

This is not surprising, since the ancient "genetic" core, if you will, is the teaching/learning nexus. The entire administrative superstructure and its intramural political life are a relatively recent historical phenomenon, in which the notion of "funding", with its subdisciplines of budgetary accountability and grant writing, arises out of the corporate domain.

Therefore, it is time to give voice to the ways in which Mendocino College can seize its moment at this symbolic juncture with the millennium, and ride the wave with other visionary two-year institutions.

The nation is now rediscovering its own earlier commitment to the education of its people. Everywhere, there is excitement about developing the education centered community, where a sense of vibrant connection to the distinguished past and a liberated future are beginning to rattle the cages of business as usual.

The Re-visioning of Mendocino College

The College embodies the consciousness of its true community, which extends beyond the local demographic, environmental, economic and political reality. The community consciousness carries the entire archetype of human culture in the metaphor of an artesian spring, deeply antecedent yet effervescent, newly evolving, continually slaking the thirst for knowledge, continually facilitating the ways in which individuals can realize their potential through larger contexts and wider meanings.

As such, the College serves as connecting link between the remembered and the envisioned, between ancient wisdom and the creatively unfolding, and between the local manifestation and its global context.

Curriculum rigorously entrains and refines those core abilities which have defined humanity as a unique species, with its powers of conscious observation and communication, its gifts of expressive and meaningful utterance through the arts, its ability to develop a multitude of logics via abstract symbols. And, most importantly, the attendant academic discipline gives form and validation to the creative impulse and its intuitive source.

For the individual at various stages of life, curriculum addresses a multitude of dimensions of interest and aptitude, providing resources, vocational expertise, and a choice of learning styles and contexts for the learning experience.

An educational continuum

The College never forgets that it is part of an educational continuum, in which it shares the responsibility for helping to develop and perfect an educational/learning paradigm. The College must be responsive to newly emerging forms of interest and concern, even as it carries its charge to fulfill a conservative function, that of remembering and honoring.

Doctrinaire assumptions and iconoclastic challenge will find their crucible in the form of mediated and balanced dialogue. In the attendant dialectic of exploratory learning, the process itself will be seen as an ultimate value. Concurrently, in the professional mentoring, thinking and evaluative abilities will be honed.

The College as Role Model

Meanwhile, the College itself will develop as an experimental role model for the perfection of emerging egalitarian standards in which non-hierarchical values, the free play of collaborative decision making, and accountability within a cooperative framework are the basis for an open society of human peers committed to the educational enterprise.

In such a context, there will be a permeable membrane between the College and its local resource base on the one side, and between the College and the world beyond on the other.

For example, the geophysical region for which the college serves as educational hub already hosts pioneering endeavors in sustainable agriculture, renewable energy and cooperative living. This very same region is troubled by chronic social problems associated with long term rural poverty, whose effects are being accentuated by attrition of government programs and the recent exacerbation of speculative excess in the international economy (see The Capitalist Threat by George Soros, The Atlantic Monthly, February 1997)

It might follow that the College, from within its own unique resource base, could become an important nodal point for the development of alternative social models and environmental practices as it completes its connection to the rapidly expanding connectivity web. Complementarily, resources could flow into the local campus from many interested parties, whether academic or socio-economic, to reinforce local programs.

In this vision, then, the college will be a dynamic local source of inspiration and hope for the future, as it facilitates exploration (by students, faculty, and any interested others) of the many models of human community, past, present and future; of our own ethical underpinnings, our own sources of spiritual and artistic inspiration, and of the various economic and scientific theories and technologies which impact us, all of which, together, energize and give value to our long range participation in the perfection of human civilization.

Internally, the college will be concerned primarily with aligning its own processes with the ethical implications of a higher interpersonal accountability. This is not necessarily to impugn everything in the older model, but does suggest that " as usual", as it is found equally in many private enterprises, both profit and non-profit, governmental agencies, and educational institutions, is not always "user friendly" or respectful of the ultimate client.

Evolving a new model

The evolving new model for the college's pioneering work will emphasize the nurturing and compassionate view that we are serving an ideal future (in the non-pejorative Platonic sense) which encompasses fair play and social justice, concern for the underdog and devotion to all the implications of the concept of an "open society".

The effect of the commitment to compassion, cooperation, rigor and excellence will be, among others, to minimize opportunities, as well as motivation, for the entrepreneurial spirit to move along self-aggrandizing paths, while enlarging opportunities for individuals to flourish through the kinds of personal and institutional transformations suggested above.

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The above is a synthesis of the ideas of several persons working with a group calling itself Community of Concern for Mendocino College (CCMC), which currently is challenging the College's administrative practices and suggesting ways to modify the institutional culture there.

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