Jim Vogt, a former NWC board member, and Martin Garhart are running for Powell’s open seat on the board; incumbent board member Mark Westerhold and Bob Newsome are up for two open seats in the Cody district, as is Paul Fees — who was out of town and unable to attend the forum. Nada Larsen and Winfred “W.C.” Orrell, meanwhile, are vying for the seat from Meeteetse.
Among other topics, the candidates discussed potential budget cuts, the college’s strengths, the qualities they’d look for in a future college president and their ties to Northwest College during the hour-and-a-half-long forum.
Preparing for budget cuts
Candidates were asked where cuts should be made in NWC’s budget next year if state funding is cut by 8 percent as Gov. Matt Mead has called for.
Larsen said the last place cuts should be made is “where it directly impacts the student.”
“If push comes to shove,” she said some equipment purchases might have to be delayed or canceled, or some activities pulled back.
Vogt noted state support to Northwest has increased in recent years. He said that’s generally good news, but also means deeper cuts when state funds decline.
“To do an 8 percent cut, you are going to have to get into the employee side of it,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s any easy way to take 8 percent out of any budget.”
Orrell said college leaders should ask staff members and department heads for their input. “Tell them, ‘You’re going to have 92 percent of what you did have. What do you want that 92 percent to be spent on?’” he said.
“I don’t want to see any activities cut, period,” he added.
Westerhold said the college has had to go through this process before, though on a smaller scale. He said staff, faculty and administration will really decide what can be given up.
“I wouldn’t pinpoint one particular thing; folks on campus know better what they need ... They’re the experts; we take their advice seriously,” he said. “We ask the right questions, and occasionally, we have to make the hard decisions.”
Garhart said, “Anytime you have something like that, the first thing you have to say is, ‘What are the priorities?’
“I’d like to say that our institution has one priority, and that’s learning. ... I would agree that this is something that needs to be done with the integrity of the people that are in those positions in order to know what needs to be cut. But the priority should be there: How does that affect that student in the classroom?”
He said maybe the college needs to think differently and focus on programs that bring more students in so that cuts become unnecessary.
Newsome said he has had to face similar problems in businesses he owned during tough financial times.
“It forced me to look around and go, ‘Well, I do have to do more with less,’ which seems to be kind of a mantra these days,” he said. “And the other thing is to look around and go, ‘OK, what other funding sources are available to us that we have not tapped?’”
He added, “Trying to make cuts, it’s one of those that if the load is spread out a little evenly, perhaps it’s a little easier to bear rather than chopping one program or one facility or one academic position.”
Whatever cuts are necessary, they likely will be temporary, Newsome said.
“Wyoming is an energy state, and revenues will come back — we hope,” he said.
Northwest College’s strengths
The quality of faculty, the academic environment and career-oriented training all were cited by candidates as some of Northwest College’s greatest strengths.
Garhart said he was surprised by the quality of the college when he served a residency here in the 1980s.
He said the average percentage of faculty members who have terminal degrees — the highest degrees that can be earned in their fields of study — at community colleges is 11 percent. At universities, it is 38 percent. But at Northwest College, 39 percent of faculty members have terminal degrees, Garhart said.
“We have an excellent faculty and a quality education,” he said. “That is our strength.”
Newsome said he also found the faculty to be outstanding, and added that getting an education at NWC “is an extremely good value.”
Newsome stressed the importance of a balance between academic degrees and career-oriented education, and said NWC does both well.
Larsen said Northwest has an outstanding reputation for its academic environment as well as its workforce development and certificate programs.
“Lots of kids don’t have the drive to do a four-year program, but they know they need something beyond secondary education, so this gives them a balance,” she said.
Vogt said Northwest’s strengths go beyond academics.
“We have a very good activity program,” he said, including activities such as athletics, journalism and debate.
Orrell cited the number and variety of educational programs available at NWC.
“If you’ve got this many programs available, then obviously, you are trying to do your best to reach out to the community,” he said.
Westerhold said he would put the faculty and staff at the college “up against anybody.”
He said employees at every level of the college care about students.
A main task facing new and returning board members will be hiring a new college president to replace Paul Prestwich.
Orrell said the next NWC president should be trustworthy, have a proven track record and good recommendations.
“Then at that point, trust your gut,” he said. “When they walk across this campus, do they feel like they belong here?”
Orrell said the board should get input from everyone on campus about a presidential candidate finalist before making a decision about that candidate.
“If they can inspire your faculty and inspire your student population, then your college is going to grow ... because people are going to want to come here.”
Westerhold said the next NWC president needs to be able to motivate and communicate and to build teamwork.
“Then we can get out of the way and let the creativity flow,” he said. “We need to have someone who can create that atmosphere of open, honest communication and just has those leadership skills to be able to move that forward and let people do what they do best.”
Garhart said the next president and those around him, should ask, with every question: “How does this facilitate learning? How does this affect the classroom?”
Garhart said the president also should have follow-through and must know how to generate money.
Newsome said it is important to make sure the new president is comfortable with this environment.
“There are lots of people who come to this area and really like it, move and then all of the sudden find out that the realities are a little different than the fantasies,” he said.
The president also should have a rapport with Cheyenne and continually seek other sources of funding, Newsome added.
Larsen agreed that the next NWC president should be a good leader who is objective and has good communication skills. He or she should be a mediator and bring people together with a common vision.
Larsen said she’s learned from previous searches for school superintendents that things on paper can look good, “then when you start to interview those people, maybe it’s not quite what it seemed.”
She said three or four good candidates need to be interviewed in person at NWC.
Vogt said he believes the college is looking for someone who “should be able to walk on water.”
“I can almost guarantee, as sure as I’m sitting here, they will find the best candidate. But I also can assure you that, within two or three years ... after the honeymoon is over, they will have problems. ... They will have to hunker down.”
Ties to the college
Most of the candidates either are NWC alumni or have family members who attended the college, or both.
The exceptions are Orrell and Garhart, both of whom moved to Park County after retiring after 30-year teaching careers. Garhart did spend a year of residency at Northwest College in the 1980s.
Garhart taught for 31 years at a small college in Ohio — classroom experience he cited as important for someone on the board to possess.
Orrell moved to Meeteetse after retiring from a 30-year career teaching high school history and social studies in the Atlanta area.
Vogt worked as student center director at Northwest College for 30 years, followed by eight years of service on the NWC board after he retired. His four children all attended Northwest, and two of his grandchildren currently are students at the college.
Westerhold, the only incumbent running, has served on the board for eight years. He attended Northwest, and some of his children have attended as well.
Larsen and her husband attended Northwest College in the 1960s, and one of their three daughters earned her nursing degree at the college.
Newsome and his son both are NWC graduates, and Newsome said he continues to take classes at the college.
Some of the candidates also have spouses who currently work at Northwest College. Candidates were asked how they would balance personal connections with employees while representing everyone. They generally agreed that a board member could balance those relationships, but should recuse themselves on certain issues.
Garhart said his wife manages the NWC Student Success Center and “we both share an absolute passion for students.”
“So, as a board member, yes, I would be very proud that we both believe so strongly in this institution,” Garhart said.
Vogt said he did not think a board member with a spouse employed at NWC should be able to vote on any policy or budget that would involve his/her spouse.
“Within that budget as a whole, if there’s any kind of salary increase, then I think that person who has a spouse on the faculty or staff would have to recuse themselves on that,” Vogt said.
Orrell said his wife teaches at the NWC Cody Center. As a board member, Orrell said he would not vote on anything that could affect his wife’s salary in “any way, shape or form.”
“I would recuse myself from that and it would be the end of it. Period,” he said.
The forum, held at Northwest College, was co-sponsored by NWC’s radio and television stations and the Powell Tribune.