Merced College presidential finalists attend forum

abutt@mercedsunstar.comJune 5, 2012 

Between 100 and 200 Merced College personnel, community members and school officials showed up over the course of two days to ask questions of the four finalists for the president position.

Last year, Ben Duran announced that he would retire as Merced College president. In December, the college board of trustees voted to approve a proposal to bring Duran back as interim president through October to save money while searching for a replacement.

Duran agreed to be the full-time interim president from Jan. 1 to July 1. After that, he'll serve as an on-call consultant to the new president through October.

Will Resendes, who attended an open forum Monday morning, said he wants a president who will bring new ideas and perspectives to the college.

Resendes, who works in the school's Information Technology Services Department, also said he's looking for a president who can help with the Merced College's accreditation challenges.

That was one of the more pressing issues raised with the finalists during four separate forums held Monday and Tuesday. The college is waiting for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges to make its decision on its status this summer.

It was placed on "warning status" last summer by the commission. A warning is issued when an institution doesn't meet one or more of the commission's four standards. Merced College came up short in three of them.

The college submitted a follow-up report in March detailing how it had addressed the commission's concerns and recommendations.

What the finalists said

One finalist, Jim Riggs, who had served as president of Columbia College in Sonora, said he had experience in both teaching and administration.

"I'm a community college person," he said.

In an era of cutbacks for community colleges, Riggs said, administrators would have to look at not only the costs but also how they were engaging students.

"We have to be realistic and look at what's there, how much has to be cut and look at the priorities," he said.

Finalist Angela Fairchilds, president of Woodland Community College, has been involved in higher education for more than 30 years.

She said she was considering Merced because she was looking for a place her qualifications could be put to good use. She said she wanted to build "something good" together.

Fairchilds said she had some experience in the accreditation process. She said at her college, officials immersed themselves in the eligibility requirements.

Finalist Steve Maradian, who was interim president at Lake Tahoe College, said he would look at the assessment of course work with faculty and staff to understand the process.

Maradian stressed there needed to be respect, trust and integrity among administrators, faculty and college community members, which takes time to establish.

Another finalist, Ron Taylor, who is president of Feather River College in Quincy, said he's been through fiscal and accreditation challenges like Merced College is facing.

Taylor said he had been involved in both sides of the process: as an evaluator and being evaluated.

"Getting to know the institution through individuals is important. We were put on warning about four years ago because certain recommendations hadn't been fully addressed," he said.

Taylor said the college then went into an "aggressive planning process" and laid out detailed steps for addressing the recommendations.

Susan Walsh, who sat on the search committee for the president candidates, said the Merced College job was an attractive one.

"I'm really impressed on the caliber of all of them, having listened to all four," she said. "... there were some who were worried Merced wouldn't attract top site candidates, but it did."

The Board of Trustees will interview the four finalists, then make a selection.

Officials say they hope the new president will be on board by July 1.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsunstar.com.

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