For Alvin

Sometime towards the end of Alvin Bisarya’s remarks to the Board of Trustees in September, his voice cracked and his eyes welled up. He had presented on Reinvention progress. His closing remarks were a summation of the progress over the past two years and a hopeful projection of what great things we would do in the future. Alvin was briefly overcome with emotion, and then the moment passed.

What Alvin knew that most did not was that he had decided to leave City Colleges. Today was his last day with us.

I began working with Alvin as we built the Case for Change and then as he started to build the Reinvention teams. We attempted to get together for breakfast every other Friday in the Fall of 2010, but after two meetings, Alvin told us that he was too overwhelmed with work and couldn’t commit to the meetings.

Alvin is one of the hardest working people at City Colleges. He threw his heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into the Reinvention effort.

Alvin brought considerable strengths to the effort. He possesses a towering intelligence. He has a remarkable ability to summon obscure facts at just the right moment. His training as a medical doctor may have helped him develop this skill. He also has an uncanny ability to visualize a system or a solution, and then translate it into a 45-page PowerPoint document. The McKinsey background probably helps with that skill.

Alvin cared. He cared about his teams, he cared about the Chancellor, and most of all, he cared about our students. Alvin brought an urgency to our efforts because he wanted every student to have every advantage available as they navigated City Colleges.

Alvin cared about faculty and what faculty thought. His experience as a high school science teacher gave him empathy with faculty. Alvin knew first-hand the joys and challenges of teaching students. This brought a sharper edge to his engagement with faculty. He engaged every professor and every attack with a dogged reliance on the data and empirical evidence. I saw him systematically respond with a cool professionalism as he brought the facts to the argument that supported his assertions. In response to well-reasoned arguments, Alvin was open to changing course. Alvin had no incoming bias or agenda other than to find what would help our students.

My only regret with his departure is that we didn’t get to spend more time together. No one had enough time with Alvin. I enjoyed our discussions so much. There is no greater joy than telling a story and hearing Alvin’s piercing laugh, knowing that you have contributed something to the exchange that amused and delighted him. Alvin is a joyful person, and I took so much joy from his companionship.

I have met few people like Alvin. I call them comets. They enter orbit, blazing brightly, full of energy, throwing off streams of beauty. They then leave, headed off to who-knows-where, leaving great memories and hopes of their return.

Tonight, I will raise my glass to Alvin. I am better for having known him. City Colleges is better because of him.

Alvin, you made a difference. You will be missed.

Published by Don Laackman

Leader with higher education, non-profit and private-sector consulting experience.

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