WHAT WE THINK: One of the two finalists to become Bergen Community College’s new president lost her last job after questioning low graduation rates, while the other has moved from position to position. She’s a principled academic; he has widespread experience with the highly-regarded State University of New York.
This coming week, trustees at New Jersey’s largest community college are expected to announce which of the two will be the school’s new president. Or maybe not.
Either way, time flies.
Just last month, CLIFFVIEW PILOT reported exclusively that the trustees changed the criteria for hiring a new president so that a terminal degree was no longer “required” but “preferred” (SEE: BCC trustees lower standards for choosing new president).
In the end, they got two extremely qualified candidates, both with higher degrees.
BCC’s trustees interviewed Ronald Heacock and Kaye Walter behind closed doors this past week.
Heacock comes from a system in New York that oversees universities, colleges and community colleges, as well as the city colleges. He’s worked in several of those institutions, from small rural schools to larger, more complex colleges. According to his resume, he’s also lobbied local, state and federal education officials.
Walter, the former chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College in central Indiana, escapes a system rife with politics and cronyism that she refused to ignore, those with knowledge of the situation there say.
Whoever’s chosen to head BCC will have plenty to deal with going into the fall semester.
The decision comes at a critical time for the $120-million-dollar-a-year institution, which has seen its reputation, battered in recent years at the very same time that a flailing economy has pushed enrollment past 17,000.
The trail begins with the calamitous tenure of previous president G. Jeremiah Ryan, which ended a year ago this month amid mounting troubles that included a low graduation rate and an uacceptably high number of dropouts.
Then came reports that Ryan was running up huge bar tabs while entertaining trustees and others connected with BCC.
Trustees privately said that they grudgingly brooked a graduation rate of 12.6% and a dropout rate three times that amount. They withstood an uproar after cuts in students’ work hours were made – at a time when Ryan was hiring administrators without following college guidelines.
As a result, County Executive Kathleen Donovan pushed for greater oversight of the school to avoid taxpayer dollars being wasted.
CLIFFVIEW PILOT was the first to report the board’s intentions to fire Ryan after he rejected an offer to resign with a year’s severance. This left the board “no choice” but to schedule a vote, a source close to the decision told the website.
Including Ryan’s payout, the school currently is funding at least 10 separate settlements (plus fees to its attorneys) to former or current employees.
At the same time, it’s dealing with a warning from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education that BCC’s accreditation may be in jeopardy for failing to prove that it strengthened teaching, resource allocation and other programs through student assessments. The school must submit a monitoring report in September.
Earlier this year, a faculty union president who teaches math at BCC was suspended without pay after an investigation found that he got his granddaughter’s grades changed.
But there’s more.
The school has had several costly Internet Technology issues. There’s also bad blood between the trustees and the faculty.
That doesn’t even take into account education and graduation rates – you know: the things that really matter here.
Presidential positions in academia ordinarily are settled by late May, with contracts beginning on July 1 For one thing, the new appointee needs to find a home. It also allows faculty, students and staff to meet the candidates – a process the BCC trustees rushed through this summer.
It’s crunch time now.
If it turns out the trustees don’t choose either candidate, it would not only be a tacit admission that they wasted $100,000 paid to a search firm to find Heacock, Walter and the other candidates.
As summer turns toward August, it would also be a loud and clear signal that BCC is still in serious trouble.
Hiring either candidate, however, would be a huge first step toward returning the state’s largest community college to respectability.
We all await word.