Feature Interview with Dr. Rufus Glasper, Chancellor of the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) in Arizona

Elizabeth Larson-Keagy, PhD, Executive Editor
The Journal for Civic Commitment

Questions & Responses:

  1. Dr. Glasper, service learning and civic engagement have been very well supported at the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD). How do you see your role as the new Chancellor in enhancing and expanding service learning and civic engagement in the District?
    I will continue to champion service learning on the Maricopa College campuses. Since I’ve arrived at Maricopa in 1986, we have added new dimensions to the curriculum and new students. I believe in the term ‘ownership of our future.’ As an educator, you may see a student, and if you get caught up in just course material, it’s easy to forget that there’s a world out there that our students need to know about. How do you teach students to also be contributors to our communities? To do public service and to really understand what that means? Over the years, there has become less and less commitment to public service. We had more community service when we lived in smaller communities. In a sense, we’ve given up our birthright. How do we regain that past? We need to provide our students with instruction in how we live and function as a society. Service learning at Maricopa is well-supported. When service learning was first established at Maricopa, some people thought it was nouveaux. The traditionalists didn’t think it would work, and they didn’t accept it as a core part of the curriculum. They thought of it as something out there on the fringe. I am extremely pleased with how well service learning is working in Maricopa. Take Chandler-Gilbert Community College, for example. What they do has been embraced by other colleges. Service learning gives students a different perspective on how they can be productive members of our society. I love watching that transition. The mission of the Community College National Center for Community Engagement (CCNCCE) is great. Just knowing that people are that interested in service learning and civic engagement, and getting involved is gratifying.
  2. Dr Glasper, service learning and civic engagement are endorsed in the mission statement of MCCCD. In your role as a national leader in higher education, what ideas and recommendations would you give to other Chancellors and Presidents of Colleges and Universities for incorporating service learning and civic engagement into their mission statements?
    Service learning and civic engagement definitely need to be a part of the mission statement. The concepts need to be better-defined, and better-funded. When we are asking ourselves about the value of service learning and civic engagement, we should put it through a litmus test. We should ask if what we are doing is mission-centric. We should define it by two main criteria: 1) is it what we expect, and, 2) is it what our Board sees as our mission and believes is something for which we should provide resources? We recognize that the well-rounded student should receive a good academic education, and also must become a contributor to society.Maricopa County and the world need participatory citizens. As a national leader, my role is to be a champion of activities that promote our mission. I need to share best practices in service learning and civic engagement, and also to learn from others’ best practices.When we define public service, we want to be able to think about its possibilities. Traditional programs may lend support to K-12 schools, or an organization like Habitat for Humanity, which are great programs. But, we can also encourage our students to engage in other types of civic engagement and service. What about speaking engagements at clubs or organizations where students can share some of their knowledge from the work they’re doing in their courses? We can encourage our students to do individual research and share that knowledge with others where it is relevant. And I think it’s important to incorporate the opinion of non-traditional and international students into what we understand as service learning and civic engagement. I’ll bet that there are a lot of notions about service and what it means to be a citizen that we haven’t thought of.We should think about our changing demographics. How can our community colleges better embrace and design curriculum to better serve other students? Take, for example, the Latino population, or international students. When they take a service learning course we provide them with one perspective on service learning and civic engagement, yet, we seldom ask if we have ever asked those same students how they envision service learning and civic engagement, and what they could provide from their cultural perspective. We might be surprised at how they could inform our perspective. We do not all share the same mental model of service learning and civic engagement. We need to listen carefully, and we need to build new models. We tend to build service learning models for people and organizations with established needs. I would proffer that we need to look at other models that take us beyond current needs. Our thinking should be about how we can serve the needs that will surface three years from now, or five years from now. Can we develop a model for serving the public needs in the years to come that we can see today based on trend analysis? It has to be a part of our thinking process. That is what I would offer to other community college presidents and chancellors. Think beyond today. What is at the core of a school’s mission statement? As we grow and modify our mission statements, we should look at that core, and we need to reaffirm that both now and in the future it is still something that we value as an educational institution and a part of the community.
  3. Dr. Glasper, how do you think service learning and civic engagement enhance the overall educational experience of students?
    Regardless of curriculum, you can have service learning that will compliment your academic studies. Most of the service learning assignments will be something different from their class work. The beauty of service learning and civic engagement is that your mind can wander and not be myopic. Students will learn to think in ways that aren’t narrow, or linear. Civic engagement enhances the overall educational experience for students.I’ll tell you a story. I lived in Mesa for six years, and it was great. One day we had a burglary in our neighborhood. Some of the neighbors established a block watch. I didn’t know what I could do at first. And then we talked about how many things a person can do to contribute to a block watch or community participation. I was interested in working with the city jail system. My dad was a police officer for years, and my interest grew out of that. The best thing about the volunteer work I did was open my eyes wide to a city I thought I knew. For instance, I learned about law enforcement, and domestic violence, funding for the police, and how their work is impacted by growth in the Valley and in the community. I gained a new perspective on law. I saw problems that I could not have seen if I hadn’t been volunteering. I had been insulated. It shows you really can’t judge a book by its cover. You have to read more to understand the issues. And you have to become a part of the solution. I volunteered for six years and stopped due to liability concerns. I worked with an officer transporting and booking prisoners. You really see the impact of the whole experience on everyone involved, and you see some pretty tragic things too. We are broadened by having our perspective expanded. We can walk away with a sense of accomplishment, of having contributed, and of having become more informed. Knowledge is an excellent thing to possess. Knowledge is power. What you do with it is up to you.
  4. Dr.Glasper, what are some of the most important aspects that you see in building relationships with community members? (Perhaps also as it concerns ‘community partners,’ who are vital to service learning initiatives?)
    I see it as inclusiveness, as reaching out, both internally and externally. We should make the community a part of our process, our curriculum, and our ideas. And we should ask to become a part of theirs. We should provide services that they want, and we should be flexible. Our challenge is to develop curriculum and opportunities that promote flexibility. In terms of service learning and civic engagement, we want to be in a position to have our colleges take on that role.The tone for service learning and civic engagement has to be established from the top. I believe that current initiatives with our service learning students will multiply. Community members and community partners will see the benefits. The concept of service learning and civic engagement should be expanded to employees of organizations, institutions, and businesses. Then they also will gain a better appreciation of its value. Community members and the community colleges will become more reciprocal in their relationship as they serve the needs of our residents.
  5. Dr. Glasper, how do you think that service learning and civic engagement enhances teaching, learning, and community building for faculty?
    While reading the inaugural issue of the Journal for Civic Commitment, and thinking about service learning and civic engagement, I began to think about the ethics embedded in our role as an educational institution. I think of the ethics of education when I see faculty get excited about sharing their knowledge and their research with students. When we teach traditional history, we learn about what happened in the past, and we also learn about how limited we have been in the past as we worked through our problems. Service learning and civic engagement allow faculty to step out of the classroom. They are more able to infuse diversity and infuse civic participation into the curriculum. They need to sit with the students and see their schedules and assist them in finding a place to provide service. Faculty will come to appreciate and demonstrate how the theory of service learning and civic participation work. Offering courses with service learning and civic engagement components brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for faculty.For the rest of their lives, students will carry with them the experiences provided by faculty through service learning. Not to be melodramatic, but students and employees can go out over the course of their lives and impact the community exponentially through civic involvement. Coming back to the notion of educational ethics, I have seen faculty embrace and develop curricula out of real life situations. These curricula provide a compliment to their studies. As they go through life, students will encounter the challenge of making choices. When they are grounded in an understanding of service to the community, they will be able to ask themselves, ‘How will I perpetuate an issue, or how will I resolve it? I gravitated to the article [in the inaugural issue of the Journal for Civic Commitment] about ethics and service learning and how they work together. If our ultimate goal is participation, and a better engaged citizenry, then you’d like to know that our service learning students will make wise, informed choices in their daily lives.
  6. Dr. Glasper, what inspired you to be so involved in various efforts in the community?
    I saw the need, and I had a passion for trying to be one of the people who could contribute to society. I was privileged to get an education and a job where being involved in the community is supported. When you are serving the community, other people embrace you. They want to know that there are others who are doing things to contribute. It’s not an issue of being fearful of involvement, but embracing it.I have two daughters, twenty-three and twenty-six years old. When they see their parents or their siblings participating, it builds a legacy. My dad and mom were involved in community affairs. My dad was a precinct captain, and they sat at the polls during elections. They were in their block clubs. They knew their neighbors. Today, we have a garage door mentality – using the remote to enter the garage, shutting the door behind us, and entering our houses through the side door, never seeing our neighbors. That’s not what I grew up with. I am inspired by my parents and others in the community I grew up in. They left me a legacy. I want to leave a legacy of service to the community to my daughters too.You can find time to become civically engaged. You have to prioritize your time. In the past I served on the Board of the County Hospital, and I currently serve on the Arizona Health Facility Authority, and the Teen Choice Leadership Academy Charter School Board. I volunteer for the Black Family and Children’s Services, and the Enterprise Academy Charter School Board. People count on your commitment to give back. We advocate that service learning and civic participation is a civic responsibility. It’s tough, though. Participation is a personal commitment. If an individual wants to participate, he or she will get more out of it. It’s different if someone ‘has’ to do something. What is in it for you is that you are able to give service at the highest level of passion. People I’ve talked to about service learning come back with more questions, and they’re more enthusiastic. Service learning and civic involvement open up a whole new world of learning for them, and for educating others as well. Some may say, ‘I never knew that someone would listen to my opinion.’I get inspired by watching people’s successes, by getting involved, and seeing the community grow, and by smiles. The other day I spoke to employees at Leadership Breakfast at Maricopa. I said that we should celebrate what is right with Maricopa. Service learning is one of those things. We need to build our curriculum so that it is consistent with our mission. We want our students to become more informed and knowledgeable, and appreciate what is going on around them.
  7. Dr. Glasper, is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you would like to comment on?
    Do we offer service learning and civic engagement courses or training for the corporate world? It’s a good structure and we can build a program for the corporate world. There are a number of people who are ascending to leadership roles, and see a void that needs to be filled. We need to think about that for our District employees. If we allow employees to get involved in their communities and to take some time during their workweek to become involved in the community, we would likely see more productivity at work, and more joy and personal connection to the community.


Chancellor Maricopa County Community College District, Arizona

Rufus Glasper, Ph.D., certified public accountant and certified government financial manager, has been at the helm of one of the nation’s largest multi-community college system’s well-targeted strategies and business plans for the past eight years. Dr. Glasper was appointed as Chancellor in September 2003. Prior to being named Chancellor, Dr. Glasper served as Acting Chancellor from May to September 2003. Dr. Glasper also served as the Executive Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Administration. He came to the Maricopa County Community Colleges District in 1986 as Director of Finance, and in all, has held executive level leadership roles there for the past 17 years.Dr. Glasper’s success at the Maricopa Community Colleges has been built on his personal code of ethics, a strong sense of leadership and service, and accomplished technical competence. His expertise as a Registered School Business Administrator and Department Director of Financial Planning and Budgeting for the Chicago Public Schools, as well as earlier positions in business and finance, have proven invaluable in building a financially strong institution. He provides leadership to system wide strategic planning, bringing all ten colleges and multiple learning centers into alignment with common goals and methodologies.Dr. Glasper’s evolving career in education finance has been impressive. Before embarking on his distinguished leadership at Maricopa Colleges, he has served in posts ranging from school business manager and Government Finance Officers Association accounting and finance trainer to Director for Financial Planning and Budget for the Chicago Public Schools. Over the years, he has convinced organizations to re-examine financial models, leadership styles, and ethical standards, and has promoted personal and professional accountability and organizational development wherever he has served. His influence over future education leaders continues; he is an adjunct professor at Arizona State University where he teaches Higher Education Finance and Budget in the graduate college, and served as a mentor for the National Institute for Leadership Development and the Maricopa Colleges Women’s Mentor Program.

Dr. Glasper is an active community member, currently serving by appointment of the Governor as a board member for the Arizona Health Facilities Authority. He has previously served as the finance consultant for the Maricopa County Hospital Health Systems Board. Dr. Glasper is a long-standing member of the Phoenix Urban League, and the Chairman of the Board for Black Family Child Services that supports the highly successful Teen Choice Academy charter school. In addition, he is a past President of the Arizona Society of Certified Public Accountants Board of Directors, a member of council for the American Institute for Certified Public Accountants, has served on the Board of the National Association of Colleges and University Business Officers, and was the chairperson of the Special Review Executive Committee on College and University Reporting for the Government Finance Officers Association. He continues to serve as a member of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board’s College and University Task Force.

Several awards and achievements have marked Dr. Glasper’s career; notable among them was the Kellogg Foundation Fellowship in Community College Leadership in 1989-1990. In 1997, the Maricopa County Chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) honored him with the Roy Wilkins Award for leadership, hard work, and dedication to the ideals of the NAACP.

Rufus Glasper earned a Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Luther College (Decorah, Iowa), and a Master’s and advanced degrees in school business administration from Northern Illinois University. He received his Doctorate of Philosophy degree in higher education finance from the University of Arizona.

Debra Glasper, his wife, serves as counseling faculty at Scottsdale College and performs with an African drum-and-dance ensemble that has researched the art forms in Senegal, West Africa. They have two daughters; Dannan, a graduate of ASU West with a Bachelors Degree in Tourism and Recreation Management, and Ryanne a graduate of Long Island University with a Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts.

Community College National Center for Community Engagement (CCNCCE) sunsetted October 1, 2015. Mesa Community College hosts content from The Journal for Civic Commitment, published by the CCNCCE, to ensure it remains publicly available.

The important work of the CCNCCE was made possible through the financial support from many civic-minded foundations and organizations, including the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Learn and Serve America-Higher Education program, the Kettering Foundation, Campus Compact (through funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), Arizona Community Foundation, Arizona Foundation for Women, Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Foundation, and The Teagle Foundation.