President's Remarks - Spring 2021 Convocation

January 21st, 2021 - 6:00pm
The following is a transcript of Superintendent/President David Wain Coon's Spring 2021 Convocation remarks.

Welcome and Introductions

Good morning and welcome to the Spring 2021 Convocation. It’s great to be with you all this morning. I invited Gaga, JLo, and Garth to be with us this morning, but clearly they got a better offer yesterday. All kidding aside, I’m challenging our commencement planning committee to secure Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman as a future commencement speaker. Wow, wow, wow! I was moved beyond tears when she spoke. Jon Horinek and Keith Rosenthal, I’m willing to pull out the big check book for this one! But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s take the opportunity to make our customary introductions.

At this time of the year it’s customary that I would wish you all a heartfelt “Happy New Year” as I welcomed you to our Spring Convocation. Perhaps being overly optimistic and hopeful, I had in my mind that once we cleared 2020 things would somehow magically be better, especially given the many challenges we faced in 2020 – the dumpster fire image always seems to be most fitting! While I’m still very hopeful 2021 will be far better than 2020, the new year certainly got off to a very rocky start. I could have never imagined the insurrection of January 6th as our democracy and the Nation’s capital came under siege by rioters and insurgents. This coming on top of everything else we experienced in 2020.

Let’s face it, we encountered and endured a lot in 2020.

  • A global pandemic taking the lives of over 2.1 million individuals worldwide
  • Economic chaos and uncertainty resulting from record unemployment rates and the closure of businesses
  • Extreme political divisiveness
  • Long overdue and painful reckoning of the racial injustice and white supremacy that has plagued our systems and institutions for over 400 years.

This period will most certainly be reflected in textbooks or however we chronicle our history in the future for being one of the most challenging periods of our time.

Because there is so much uncertainty about when and how we will get beyond these challenges, I’ve decided that for purposes of our engagement today, that it’s best we focus on what we know so that we can garner an understanding of our individual and collective roles as we leverage our resources on behalf of our students and community. And as we begin a new semester.

Status of our Nation and our Democracy

As we look at the status of our nation and our beloved democracy, here’s what I believe we know today. Yesterday we inaugurated a new president and vice president and witnessed the first of inauguration of it’s in kind in over 152 years. While there was a transition of power, the customary signs of a peaceful transition were absent. Putting that aside, we must acknowledge the hope of new beginnings and celebrate a history making moment with the election of the first woman Vice President as well as the first Black and South Asian Vice President. What I really want to know today is how many of you are wearing your Chucks and pearls today in honor of Vice President Harris?!

The tumultuous election of November 2020 brought out a record number of voters. President Biden prevailed with 306 electoral votes and 81.3 million popular votes and former President Trump received 232 electoral votes and 74.2 million popular votes. How ever you cut it, these are very impressive numbers for both candidates. While not quite an equal split of votes - 51.3% and 46.8% - there were clearly many people - who at least when they initially voted - wanted this all to go in a different direction than where we ended up. To me, this supports the premise that we are indeed a divided nation. And I believe we are divided on some very important issues. One of the new administration’s greatest challenges will be in uniting our divided country.

Despite the fact we live in the Bay Area known for its liberal and progressive politics, we have all witnessed firsthand here in Marin County that those views are not shared by all. In fact, the extreme factions and views of some of some are alive here in the county as well as here at the College. I call this out as a reminder that here at home we aren’t always necessarily on the same page. Nonetheless, we need to find ways in which to disagree respectively and work toward positive approaches to problem solving.

The insurrection we witnessed on January 6, disturbed many of us to our cores. For some, it was a painful reminder of the many incidents we witnessed and experienced throughout 2020. For many it was a painful reminder of the reality they experience each day as a person of color or as a person who has historically been on the margin of society.

COM has six College-Wide SLOs, which also serve the General Education SLOs for the college. These learning outcomes reflect the core competencies required of students who complete the GE program. One of the learning outcomes focuses on–

Cultural Awareness and Community Engagement:
Become ethically responsible, equity minded participants in society, informed and involved in civic affairs and environmental stewardship locally, nationally, and globally. Demonstrate understanding and appreciation of the diversity of cultural works, practices, and beliefs.

There’s a lot packed in there, but in essence it calls us to action as educators. I don’t believe we have faced a more important mandate in recent history.

So...given what we know, what is my call to action for you?! First and foremost, despite the very different picture of the Capital that we witnessed yesterday resplendent with patriotism, hope and positivity, we can’t simply push aside or block out what transpired on January 6th. Respectful dialogue and engagement have never been more important. For those who have the privilege and responsibility of working directly with our students, I implore you to create spaces to discuss what they witnessed and experienced, and how they are feeling. Seize the opportunity to identify readings, assignments, and projects which relate. This is a time to pull out all of your magic and to share ideas and resources with your colleagues. Perhaps a good topic for department meetings this week.

And for those of us who don’t work directly with students, I believe we need to engage with each other, to be open with our feelings and to listen with an open heart and with the intent of fully hearing the responses we receive. All of this has to be done with a mindful eye mental health. I bring up mental health, because let’s face it folks, there were many people who were struggling prior to January 6th. Support services are available for both students and employees.

I noted some really great sessions in this week’s FLEX schedule that I hope many of you took advantage of.

COVID-19 Pandemic

I’m having a hard time wrapping around that fact that it was one year ago yesterday—on January 20, 2020, when the first case of Corona Virus was reported in the United States. That first reported case was a 35-year old man who had returned home to Snohomish County, Washington from Wuhan, China after a 3-month family visit. Shortly after that, there was the first outbreak in a long-term care facility, and so on...

Within a couple of short months, the virus had spread into every county across our great country infecting 1 in 14 people. And I don’t need to remind you that by March 23, we went remote with instruction, student services, and operations of the College. I don’t think any of us could have imagined that we would still be in this situation today. I would be remiss in not taking moment to sing your praises once again. I have such respect for how you pivoted in the beginning and have sustained all of these months later.

As of today, nationwide we have lost over 401,553 lives to the virus with over 23 million reported cases. As the virus continues to spread nationwide despite the limited availability of vaccines, here in California 34,264 individuals have died with over 3 million reported cases. Closer to home in the Bay Area the death toll has reached 3,434 with over 341,810 reported cases.

In Marin County we remain in the purple tier and under a stay at home order. It doesn’t appear the order will be lifted any time soon. The deciding factor of when the order will be lifted relates to the number of available ICU beds. The established benchmark is the availability of a minimum 15% of ICU beds. In the Bay Area the rate of available ICU beds is 7% - which clearly means we have a ways to go.

Fortunately, we now have access to vaccines for the virus, but most states and local jurisdictions have been challenged with getting it out in a timely manner. Just this morning CNN reported that of the 16.5 million does of the vaccine currently available in the U.S., only 46% has gotten distributed or made it into arms!

I heard in an earlier news report this week that less than 50% of the vaccines available here in California have been distributed. Under the heading of what I know to be true, I’m very pleased to report that College of Marin is in the queue for vaccinations. Let me take a moment to break it down further.

I know that many of us read the IJ with great interest over the weekend about the vaccines that were recently administered to some of the local K-12 teachers. In fact, 1,248 Marin County teachers and others working directly with students were vaccinated. To put this in context however, that’s 1,248 out of the approximately 10,000 K-12 employees countywide. I’ve confirmed with County Superintendent Mary Jane Burke that they have a long way to go.

I am pleased to report beginning last week our 9 Nursing faculty and 86 Nursing students began to receive the vaccine. Our next wave of eligible employees will be in Phase 1B-Tier 1. On January 14, I was informed by Marin County Health officials that and I quote – “We will notify you of instructions when we open Phase 1B.” While not confirmed, we understand that Phase 1B could begin as early as late January or early February. We continue to monitor this situation daily and will let you know just as soon as we learn more.

More along the lines of what I know to be true—we will be remote through Spring semester. Vice President Eldridge will talk more about that in his report here shortly.


College of Marin has been awarded the Department of Education Open Textbooks Pilot Program.

Grant to create new Open Educational Materials in disciplines where little exists. The 2-million-dollar grant was awarded to a consortium made up of COM, College of the Canyons, West Hills Lemore and Alan Hancock. COM will receive approximately $430,000 to do equity work surrounding textbook justice.

The work COM will undertake will involve an additional aspect surrounding the requirements for the new content creation. All new materials must include a predetermined minimum curricular focus on addressing structural racism inherent in higher education in individual disciplines. We will be awarding 7 faculty/student pairs to work together on this project in identified high need areas. The project to create an open educational primer on structural racism across disciplines is currently underway and all at COM are invited to participate. Please reach out to Dr. Susan Rahman, professor of Sociology and Psychology if you would like to get involved.

Umoja Equity Institute

This week we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Despite yesterday’s historic inauguration which focused on hope and healing, the insurrection of January 6th hasn’t been far from our minds just as the reckoning of racial injustice hasn’t been far from our minds.

Last year we turned our focus to dismantling white supremacy and racial injustice through a variety of initiatives. Last summer, our Umoja program faculty and staff presented me a proposal to develop an Umoja Equity Institute. I know that many of you had the opportunity to hear about the proposal throughout fall semester.

Today I am pleased to announce the launch of the Umoja Equity Institute. Reading from the proposal:

The Umoja Equity Institute (UEI) will establish COM as a research and training hub for the development of innovative anti-racist programs and services. The UEI seeks to compliment the mission, strategic plan, and equity plan of COM, the President’s 9-point plan and the Chancellor’s Office Call to Action to Community Colleges.

Today’s panel presentation is the first of many UEI programs to come. I’d like to take a moment to thank all of the faculty, staff and administrators who are involved in the UEI.