The three finalists for the presidency at Modesto Junior College talked accreditation, budget cuts and construction projects as they pitched their philosophies and experience in public forums this week.
They were trying to make a good impression on employees who are looking for a steady leader as the college tries to sustain its course offerings despite the recession and maintain its academic accreditation two years after it lapsed into a yearlong probation.
Twenty to 45 people attended each forum — one on the east and west campuses for each candidate. Mostly MJC employees, they filled out comment forms about the candidates.
The Yosemite Community College District board of trustees will interview the three finalists March 17 and 19, then make a decision soon afterward. A new president would start by July 1.
Here are some of the topics the candidates addressed at each forum:
During his visit Monday, Loewenstein was riding high on news that his college in Norco had been awarded accreditation and had become the 112th California community college.
He serves as Norco College's vice president of educational services, and has worked on accreditation at other community colleges. Loewenstein said that experience would be beneficial for MJC.
"Accreditation is a process that never really ends," he said. "You guys got off of probation faster than I've ever seen."
Though he's worked recently at Southern California colleges, Loewenstein, 53, also spent time in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. His bachelor's degree is from University of the Pacific in Stockton and he was a planner and planning director for the cities of Stockton and Escalon.
When asked why he applied for the MJC post, Loewenstein said, "I consider myself a valley guy. I've spent 10 of my 53 years in the valley. My grandparents are from Stockton. ... I've applied for other presidencies, but this is the one I want most."
A first-generation college student and one who worked full-time while attending school, Zacovic said he's a good fit because his experience is similar to most MJC students.
To improve accessibility for first-generation college students, Zacovic said he'd increase partnerships with local school districts. He said MJC's strategic plan should match those of the district and local kindergarten through 12th-grade school districts.
Zacovic, 55, also stressed the importance of MJC's accreditation at his Tuesday forum.
"The president should be an accreditation expert. (Accreditation) can't just be something you do every six years. It's regulations and standards need to be woven into the college's fabric," he said.
This is Zacovic's second visit to MJC — in 2006 he was a finalist for the YCCD chancellor position. At the time, his board of education at the Mt. San Jacinto Community College District voted to terminate his contract over objections from faculty, according to Zacovic and media reports.
Since then, he's held two temporary posts, each for one academic year — interim vice president of administrative services at the Pasadena Area Community College District and interim vice chancellor of administrative services at the Contra Costa Community College District.
Much of Perry's education and career have involved agriculture, so the Sanger resident was excited to apply for MJC's presidential vacancy.
Currently vice president of academic affairs at Los Angeles City College, Perry said she believes in the community college mission — offering education to anyone who wants it.
"We all want people to be better than they thought they could be," said Perry, 52, at her Wednesday forum.
When asked about how she works with employee unions, Perry said she tries to have casual conversations with her college's six unions before an issue boils over into formal action.
Her second day on the job in LA, the college's accreditation was placed on probation, so Perry said she's familiar with MJC's academic woes. She stressed the importance of planning, reviewing programs and measuring student learning.
"It was a positive experience. We came together and were very collegial," she said. "We learned to do things more effectively, one of which was downsizing the number of committees we have."