Inclusivity, Especially in Divisive Times

Hear from Cary Israel, J.D., District President Emeritus, Collin College

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The Courage to Unite

By Cary Israel, J.D.
District President Emeritus
Collin College

In the span of my 25-year tenure as a college president, I’ve weathered storms that tested the bounds of my courage and resolve. From dealing with an Ebola alert and a shooting on campus to confronting hate, bigotry, antisemitism, and prejudice, the challenges were formidable. These crises were compounded by public disagreements with board members, community leaders, faculty, and staff over our policies and actions. Each confrontation was a trial by fire, a test of leadership under intense pressure.

The journey of courageous leadership is not about avoiding the storm but rather about learning to steer through it, guided by a moral compass that points towards unity, understanding, and resilience.

Cary Israel, J.D.

Dr. Cary Israel is the district president emeritus of Collin College, TX, a multi-campus operation serving more than 52,000 students annually. Cary served as president of Collin College from 1999 through 2015. He previously served as president of Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey, president of the Illinois Community College System, and president of Front Range Community College in Colorado. Cary earned a BA with highest honors from Michigan State University and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Detroit Mercy Law School.

These experiences, however daunting, taught me invaluable lessons about the essence of leadership in times of crisis. True leadership requires a blend of courage, tenacity, and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to bring people together. In an era marked by division, the path forward is often shrouded in uncertainty. Yet, I firmly believe that the solution lies in our collective needs, in forging a “fusion” of diverse perspectives into a cohesive whole that reinforces our democratic ideals and the strategic vision of our institutions. 

In practical terms, this fusion manifests as a commitment to inclusivity and open communication. During my presidency, I initiated several platforms to foster dialogue and collaboration across all levels of our college community. We held town hall meetings that included faculty, staff, students, local businesses, and community members to develop and refine our core values and strategic plans. These core values—passion for learning, service, creativity, academic excellence, dignity, respect, and integrity—became the pillars upon which we built a more engaged and responsive educational environment. 

Communication was key. We maintained constant dialogue through monthly newsletters, summaries of board meetings, and updates on college outcomes and community initiatives. Recognizing the rapid pace of change, we established a Rapid Response Team to address urgent issues swiftly and effectively. 

Moreover, inclusivity in decision-making was a cornerstone of my approach. Regular meetings with the Faculty Senate and inclusion of faculty in the President’s Leadership Team were standard practice. I also made it a point to connect with students and staff through informal gatherings like “Pizza with the President” and engaged with the wider community through educational summits and active participation in local and national organizations. 

Our actions, both as individuals and as leaders, send ripples through our communities. They can either sow division or foster unity and growth. I always strived to ensure that our conduct at the College set a positive example, one that could inspire and facilitate responsive change. It is my belief that good leadership, like light, grows stronger when it emerges from the shadows, illuminating paths not just for ourselves but for those who follow. 

The journey of courageous leadership is not about avoiding the storm but rather about learning to steer through it, guided by a moral compass that points towards unity, understanding, and resilience. This journey has shown me that through collaboration, commitment, and an unwavering adherence to our core values, we can transform challenges into opportunities for growth and renewal. As leaders, we must own our conduct, understanding that our actions have the power to shape futures. In this way, we not only navigate our own storms but also light the way for others. 

Learn more about Cary and CampusWorksExecutive Advisory Board »