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WNMU College of Education Dean candidate Roberto Torres speaks in open forum

On Tuesday afternoon, the third and final candidate for the position of dean of the Western New Mexico University College of Business was in town speaking at a public forum.

Roberto Torres, associate professor in teacher and bilingual education at Texas A&M-Kingsville, Texas, was in town.

Before he began his presentation, Torres asked for a show of hands of faculty members, students and staff. Faculty members made up most of the audience, with two students in attendance, and some staff and guests.

He showed a chart showing how he envisions the dean's office. Radiating out from the central circle, which said dean, are shared governance, open door policy, advocacy, and personal and shared accountability.

"I would lead with shared governance," Torres said. "I want to get the faculty and students involved. I would have an open door, unless I'm not there or am talking to someone personally."

He said he had an interesting conversation with the Faculty Senate. "I went through the handbook this morning. I learned the faculty members need some guidelines on tenure and promotion. It seems to me the guidelines are not too clear, with some areas being vague."

"For instance," Torres said, "personal relations. What are the standards? It calls for a council overseen by the provost or president. I think it would be a good idea and would safeguard the college."

He said he thinks it is fair for the faculty members to know exactly what they need to do, with the dean giving feedback.

"You need uniformity across campus to avoid potential conflict," Torres said. "I would advocate for the deans and the faculty."

He opened the session to questions.

A faculty member said: "I would appreciate that in the College of Education, as well as across campus."

Torres concurred that he thought it was a problem across the campus.

"On the other side of the argument, say someone is in Expressive Arts," an audience member said. "They may do something different from in another department.

"I understand," Torres said, "but I think each department could develop its own to preserve equity across campus.

"I should have mentioned this yesterday, but I see you're building a new residential structure," Torres said. "I think it's advantageous, because it can promote retention and graduation. I would try to tie classes to be in the residence halls."

With his experience being a residence hall director, as well as director for married student housing, he said he would like to see faculty take a risk and do activities in the residence halls.

A faculty member asked if Texas A&M-Kingsville is National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education accredited.

"We are not NCATE accredited," Torres said. "We started the process, but because of administration changes, we did not pursue it. We had several issues. A dean came in from out-of-state, but did not create buy-ins at the beginning. It was done ex post facto, which was too late."

He said the university is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. "A lot of areas are common to both SACS and NCATE."

An audience member asked Torres why he wanted to be at WNMU.

"I still have it in me to pursue opportunities," Torres replied. "My mobility within A&M is limited, so I'm looking for other venues, and this is one."

A questioner asked how Torres would help people be accountable.

"Team members need to be responsible," Torres said. "I would talk to that person, and I would have to be flexible."

Another audience member asked if he had secondary or elementary school experience.

"I have no elementary experience," Torres said. "My experience is mostly higher education, mostly at the graduate level, but in the past I was in a community college. Most of my experience is with teachers, many of whom were in elementary education, in the U.S. and abroad. It's team work."

Another graphic he presented showed stakeholders in the center, with students, faculty and staff, the state and the administration radiating out from the middle.

A questioner asked about Torres' experience with Common Core, which has been approved in New Mexico.

"We don't have Common Core in Texas," Torres said, "so I would have to catch up. I would rely on people who know more about it than I do."

He went on to say about the chart: "It is absolutely necessary for faculty and staff to have ongoing professional development by going to conferences, workshops or by consulting. Staff also needs professional development. Do you have workshops for staff? I encourage, quite a bit, staff to take advantage of such opportunities."

"Without students, we wouldn't be here," Torres continued. "If word gets out that the university has good faculty and is student-centered, it will retain students. A&M-Kingsville has a reputation as being student-centered."

A faculty member said he assumed Torres is bilingual. "How large a department have you chaired? And based on your observations here, what types of quality can you bring?"

Torres said, when he was chairman of bilingual education, it was merged with curriculum development. "When I was chair, I staffed the department, and developed a Doctorate of Education in Bilingual Education, which was the first of its kind in the nation. Then I began to be the principal of a grant. We had a diverse faculty."

He said he had shared, with the provost and two vice-presidents, some of his management skills. "We took a 20 percent budget cut, but I was successful in reaching my goals without going into the red, and had a little left over."

Torres said his open door policy also refers to emails and phone calls, as well as appointments.

"Where would you put local teachers into your program?" a questioner asked.

"They are another stakeholder," Torres said. "I would offer them professional development and conferences. In Texas, every five years, teachers have to renew their licenses, so they have to show professional development. A conference would generate money to promote faculty development."

A faculty member pointed out that the university has a Native American population on campus, as well as in Gallup, plus the Hispanic culture at the campuses. "We don't have enough Spanish majors or bilingual majors."

Torres said Spanish would fall under the language department, but the College of Education could work with it. "Third and fourth generation Hispanics are mostly likely not Spanish-speaking. You have to make sure people realize the importance of being bilingual. Educating the students, faculty and administration will take time. The strongest way to promote bilingual education is dual-language programs, where the language is separate from the content. Selling the advantages of bilingual education is not easy here, in Texas or California. There is some resistance."

He was asked what grassroots efforts and strategies he would use to recruit students.

"I'm not a shirt-and-tie person," Torres said. "I am a person who can identify personally with the people. I can use my cultural and linguistic capacity. Parent involvement is critical. Get into the homes. Infuse education into the homes by way of the parents. Then the children are easy."

A student asked how to best market WNMU. Torres said word-of-mouth is the best. The student said he was a product of Cochise College in Arizona, which is only three hours away. "I'm from Safford," he said. "And they don't send anyone here, because no one asks for them."

Torres pointed out that the university could today reach the world, through Facebook, Twitter and podcasts. "Each department should have a Facebook page, but word of mouth is the best way."

Another audience member asked about the Quality Matters program and teaching online.

"Quality Matters is a national organization to peer review courses online," Torres said. "I completed my Quality Matters training. If they call me to review a course, it would be for English as a Second Language. If you become a peer reviewer, you get $500 per course. If you develop a Quality Matters course, and it is certified by being peer reviewed, it is a cut above.

"I still prefer face-to-face, but with online support," Torres said. "As for programs online, you have to do that. Students shop around and take courses wherever. They develop a hybrid course plan and take it to a university that will accept it. That university then has a graduate, but I'm not sure it's the way to go. Online courses, yes, but preferably hybrid with face-to-face."

He said it is up to the faculty to make the decision on how to deliver courses, and students will choose.

A faculty member said advising is a major part of faculty responsibility, and a lot is done by phone and email. "Do you have any idea how to make it easier when we are not here in the summers? For those with a nine-month contract, no one gets paid in the summer, so how is a student supposed to get advised?"

Torres said he would have to think about that one. It would not be fair for faculty members to volunteer and be penalized with no pay, but Torres pointed out that he serves on dissertation committees and receives no pay. He said it goes into the service component of his job.

He asked how many students it takes to make a course, and was told 10 for an undergraduate course and five for a graduate-level course.  He said that was about the same as other universities.

The faculty member said advisement is expected, but not paid for, and there is a disparity of how many students are advised by any one faculty member.

Torres, in reply to a question about early childhood education, said he had no experience as an early childhood teacher.

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