Thursday, April 2, 2009

Martha, My Dear!

Martha Kanter's Facebook Face

My friend Martha will probably be going to Washington soon, as the Obama administration's new Undersecretary of Education.

Martha Kanter is currently the Chancellor of the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District, in which I have been employed as head of (and, for a while, the only member of) DeAnza College's astronomy department for the past 20 years. I first met her in 1993, when she came to DeAnza from just down the 280 freeway. Previously VP of Instruction at San Jose City College, she had just been tapped to be only the second President of DeAnza College, succeeding the locally-legendary A. Robert DeHart.

We all looked at her like she had come from some Mel Brooks version of Mars. DeHart had been dignified and almost aloof; Martha is gregarious and joyful. DeHart was very tall and almost forbidding; Martha is about five-foot-nothing and as welcoming as your favorite auntie. DeHart had established a clear chain of command; Martha takes everyone's opinions very seriously, even students', for God's sake. DeHart accomplished magnificent things for DeAnza College. Martha Kanter did not shy from that legacy. Her ten-year term as DeAnza President terminated only by promotion: six years ago, she was designated Chancellor of our District (which we share with the older and smaller Foothill College.)

It took her about five minutes, it seemed, to win us over in '93, and it seemed like she did it one person at a time. When she arrived, I was beginning my stint as an officer in the Faculty Senate. By the time she had really hit her stride as President in '95, I had entered my term as Senate President. As a result of our positions, we served and worked together a great deal, and I had a chance to see first-hand her remarkable skills in working with smart, contentious people with high opinions of themselves (faculty, in this case, but it would later become evident with other groups, too, like CEOs of Silicon Valley principalities.)

She's a superb politician, in other words, in the best sense.

But she's also a person of great dedication to her cause: making sure that society doesn't waste its ability to benefit from any person's potential because that person couldn't go to college. She has dedicated her working life to the cause of making higher education available to as many people as possible who might otherwise have been denied access, and she has achieved astonishing things in that effort throughout her career. As Chancellor of our District, for example, she has energized the Silicon Valley high-tech community to support public education in substantial and unprecedented ways, has orchestrated a partnership with NASA and UC to transform part of the former Moffett NAS into an innovative shared technology education campus -- and has convinced the voters of our District to overwhelmingly approve more than half a billion dollars in capital expenditures for our two Colleges (including my beloved new Planetarium renovations), a record by any measure for a Community College district.

Martha is not only a believer in what community colleges can do for society, she has become a prime mover in allowing that potential to be realized in California.

And now she will be able to bring that joyful energy and vision to a national stage. Yesterday, the Obama administration announced that Martha Kanter is their choice to be the new Undersecretary of Education, a position that has public higher education as a major focus. While her nomination is subject to Senate ratification, I can't imagine that she would be rejected. I'm pretty sure she's paid her taxes.

I'm biased, I'm prejudiced, sure. But I really, honestly think that there couldn't possibly be a better person alive for that job.

God bless, and God speed, Martha.

Chancellor Martha Kanter (left) with her two Presidents: Brian Murphy of DeAnza and Judy Miner of Foothill.


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