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May 29, 2012 8:06 am

NWC board begins planning for president search

Written by Ilene Olson

Before recruiting for the next Northwest College president, the NWC Board of Trustees began earlier this month to consider how it should conduct that search.

 

 

NWC President Paul Prestwich submitted his resignation in March, effective June 2013. He took up the post in June 2008.

During discussion at the board’s May 14 meeting, one of the biggest issues to come up was how the board could balance its desire for a substantial say in the selection and interview process with the need to make that process as open for the campus community as possible.

Those concerns were raised first during a special board meeting May 9 that provided a forum for members of the college community to communicate with the board.

Dennis Brophy, NWC professor of psychology, said he believes the college has been on decline over the past four years.

“I dearly hope you will be looking for someone who will have as a priority restoring what makes this institution unique,” he said.

Brophy said he hoped the process would be more open this time around than it was when Prestwich was chosen.

Trustee Marty Coe questioned his assertion that the last search was not open.

“That last selection committee included every single department ... 22 people,” she said. “We had final approval, but we totally listened to that committee.”

Brophy repeated his concern, adding, “Perceptions become their own reality.”

Trustee John Housel countered: “From the very beginning, that 22-member committee was involved. Word went out to have all groups on campus to select their candidate, and they did.

“If there were any complaints I had, it was that the board had too little authority and relinquished too much authority. We didn’t even get to choose the questions that were asked. It was balanced entirely among those 22 members.

“I may have had a different opinion about who the three finalists should be, but ... it was that committee that came up with those three candidates.”

Trustees noted that three board members served on the selection committee, but the board as a whole had very little to do with the process.

During the May 14 meeting, Trustee Rick LaPlante, in his second year on the board, questioned an open process in which college employees essentially pick their own boss.

“There is all sorts of research about having inefficiencies of picking your own boss,” he said. “Even subconsciously, they pick persons who, at some level, resonate with them.”

Bob Becker, president of the NWC Faculty Organization, said the academic world is different from the corporate world, “and I don’t want to lose sight of that.

“I know it is technically picking our own boss, but we do that now” by voting on division chairs, he said.

Becker asked the board to make sure the selection process for choosing a new president is transparent. 

“If you’re going to deviate from faculty and staff involvement, you’d better have a really good reason,” he said. “I would advocate having that from the start ... You have the final say, but in shared governance, we have a say.”

LaPlante said that, under a scenario like the last search, the faculty has more say than the board.

“The board is not choosing the candidate. The board is choosing from the last three candidates. There were 61 other candidates that were chopped off before that.”

Housel advocated for keeping the process open.

“I think it’s absolutely important to have the entire campus involved from the beginning,” he said.

Board President Mark Westerhold said the first step likely should be reviewing the president’s job description.

LaPlante, a former executive with Microsoft, disagreed.

“I have probably interviewed 1,000 candidates for positions,” he said. “My sense is that the job description is the least important thing that we can do. It’s a catch-all.”

The most important thing, he said, is identifying two specific strengths the next president should possess so he or she can address specific problems at the college.

“Then it becomes relatively easy,” he said. “You’re interviewing for one or two things ... If it turns out that they’re great at something else, but not at that, you’ll have to pass. It takes an enormous amount of discipline. They have to be a rock star at this one or two things.”

When asked for her opinion, Jill Anderson, NWC human resources director, said those two things could be experience in organizational dynamics and shared governance.

“They have to show they’ve done it and can do it well,” she said.

Coe suggested using recruiters from the American Association of Community College Trustees to winnow the selection of candidates, then getting a selection committee involved after that.

“Recruiters make sense in a way,” she said.

Kim Mills, vice president for administration services, added, “They are professionals and they have time to do more screening.”

The board will continue the discussion at its June 11 meeting. Westerhold asked Anderson to provide a copy of the president’s job description, as well as the questions asked during interviews four years ago.

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