After a couple of meetings that drew no area residents, the forums used to gather public input on the next Merced College president have begun to draw opinions.
Meetings this week, like the one Tuesday in Atwater, drew comments on the next president’s skill set, experience and areas of focus.
A willingness of the prospective candidates to be part of the community is important, according to Wayne Wallace of Atwater. “She needs to have a face that the public recognizes when you see it on the street,” the 79-year-old said.
He said he graduated from Merced College and had three children pass through the halls there.
Fewer than 10 people not associated with the college took part in the forum at Peggy Heller Elementary in Atwater. College staffers said they expect to begin interviewing applicants in October, and the new president could start as early as January.
David Abbott, who teaches business courses at the college, also wants a president willing to mingle with regular people, he said. It’s easy for a president to interact only with others in the same social bracket and not be approachable, he said.
She needs to have a face that the public recognizes when you see it on the street.
Wayne Wallace, 79, of Atwater
Abbott, a 28-year-old from Winton, said the interactions would lead to a better understanding of community needs. “You realize the skills the community has and what they’re facing,” he said.
The public forum, one of seven scheduled through the end of July, was organized to gather public input into what the college should look for as it searches for a permanent president.
The college, which enrolled nearly 4,200 full-time students as of last fall, has been without a permanent leader since Ron Taylor was placed on paid leave in January. College leaders gave no explanation for the move. The board named Susan Walsh, the Learning Resource Center director, as the temporary replacement.
Patty Kishi of Winton said the president should be a good communicator focused on informing the community about transfer rates and other educational measures.
Beyond that, she said, the college needs to work with schools to make sure students are prepared for college and need fewer remedial classes.
The college is also taking input online. The firstname.lastname@example.org email address to collect input has garnered eight messages so far, according to college spokesman Robin Shepard.
Merced College staffers said they expect to begin interviewing applicants in October and the new president could start as early as January.
Air Force veteran Chuck Fennessy, 86, said he wants a president interested in helping veterans. The McSwain resident said, for example, scholarships for veterans go unclaimed every year.
He said the president would do well to have experience in veteran relations. “That’s where I think we’re losing the battle,” he said.
Walsh’s six months as acting president have been bumpy as the college has butted heads with the Merced County Sheriff’s Office, which oversaw campus police for 16 years.
Sheriff Vern Warnke accused Walsh of using the police as a “strong arm” for “political” purposes. Walsh has declined several requests from the Merced Sun-Star to discuss the allegations, which the college has denied through a spokesman.
Since ending its contract with the sheriff’s office at the end of June, the college has been working with the Merced Police Department to oversee the campus officers.
The remaining forums are from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.:
July 26, Merced College Los Banos Campus, 22240 Highway 152, Los Banos
July 28, Chowchilla High School, 805 Humboldt Ave., Chowchilla