Candidates for Merced College’s top position acknowledged the last few years have been rocky in terms of the school’s leadership and accreditation, and they used public forums this week to discuss potential paths forward.
The college is working to find its next permanent successor for Ron Taylor, who was placed on paid leave in January. College leaders have given no public explanation for the move. Susan Walsh, the Learning Resource Center director, is filling the role temporarily.
The college held public forums Tuesday and Wednesday with the five finalists for the position.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Matt Wetstein, vice president of instruction and planning at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, described his leadership qualities as listening, empathizing, having analytical skills and making decisions. “There has to be a shared vision for the college,” he said. “I want to hear what the vision is collectively within the organization.”
When it comes to labor groups, Wetstein said, he recognizes there will be tensions at times. But despite those tensions, faculty and classified staff end up working with administrators in other areas with one end goal – student success.
Wetstein also discussed how he’d like to increase enrollment at the college through dual-enrollment programs targeting local high schools.
He also shared the importance community college played in his family’s economic status, enabling his mother to pursue nursing after having children.
Chris Vitelli, the college’s current vice president of student services, was straightforward when answering a question Wednesday about how to involve different parts of the school in decision-making.
“We need to restore the sense of shared governance at this college,” he said to a standing-room-only crowd in the board chambers. “Any decision, big or small, we should have faculty at the table.”
Vitelli focused on his love for Merced and the family feel of working at Merced College. After working a stint at Merced College, Vitelli went elsewhere but always planned to return. “I care about this family,” he said.
When dealing with labor issues, Vitelli said it’s important not to let issues fester or be afraid of naming the problem.
“As a president, I would never negotiate in public or surprise the union,” he said. He emphasized the importance of bargaining behind closed doors to build respect, trust and transparency while negotiating agreements.
Patrick Mitchell, president of the Merced College Faculty Association, asked Vitelli if he agreed with a comment made by another candidate, Brian Ellison, who also is an administrator at Merced College. Ellison said during his Tuesday forum that Merced College is Merced’s “best-kept secret.”
Though Vitelli wasn’t aware of the comment, he disagreed with it. “I don’t think we are the best-kept secret,” he said. “I think we’ve been a pillar of the community for a long time.”
Another standing-room-only crowd was present to hear Orinthia Montague, vice president of student affairs at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minn., later in the afternoon. Montague said she was interested in the Merced College position because she saw growth potential and believes her leadership skills would benefit the college.
“Merced is poised,” she said. “It’s in a good place. The population is growing in the Central Valley. It’s an opportunity to lead an institution that I don’t see as broken, but (needs) continuous quality improvement.”
Montague spoke about her experience winning grant money, working with labor negotiations and her background before becoming a college administrator, which includes being a high school social worker and working in the juvenile justice system.
Montague was asked about the president’s relationship with the board, a question no other candidate was asked. She sees the role of the president as a conduit for faculty and staff, and she said the president has a responsibility to keep the board informed on college matters.
When speaking on shared governance, she said she believes input is necessary but it can’t hold up a process when there’s a deadline.
Two other candidates, Sean Hancock and Brian Ellison, were questioned by faculty and staff on Tuesday. Hancock, a Valley native, is vice president of instruction and student services at Palo Verde College in Blythe; Ellison is Merced College’s vice president of instruction.
Video of the forums was expected to be posted on the Merced College website Thursday.
Finalists will tour Merced College’s campuses in Merced and Los Banos next week. College officials expect to name a new president in December.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477