Loewenstein the choice to lead Modesto JC

Modesto Junior College on Friday named its next president -- Gaither Loewenstein, a vice president at a community college in Riverside County.

Loewenstein, 53, takes office July 1. Interim President Ken White is to return to his post as MJC's dean of business, behavioral and social sciences. White took the helm in December after then-President Richard Rose was bought out of his contract.

At recent public forums for the three presidential finalists, Loewenstein highlighted his experience with accreditation and employee relations. He is the vice president of educational services at the 11,000-student Norco College.

He has 16 years of experience as a community college administrator, and previously worked in a mix of academic and planning positions in California, Ohio and Texas.

At MJC, Loewenstein will be in charge of making sure the school maintains its academic accreditation, which has been reinstated after falling into probation in 2008; continuing construction projects; and keeping MJC financially solvent without decimating classes and student programs. MJC enrolls about 20,000 students. He will earn $175,350 a year over a three-year contract.

In addition to watching MJC's finances, Loewenstein will monitor student enrollment to make sure the college meets the needs of the community and area employers.

"Community colleges are a cyclical business. Right now community colleges are in a down cycle," he said Friday.

"Community colleges can't make the mistake of cutting back on students because community colleges will be looking to grow their enrollment again eventually. We need to maintain a broad base of courses and offerings."

Sports, arts called gateways

That philosophy is one reason Loewenstein stood out to Pat Dean, chair of the Yo- semite Community College District Board of Trustees.

"He was big on music and sees arts as very important. And he looks at sports and arts as gateways for students -- they may come here for sports, but they find something that interests them and keeps them here. He's very big on student success and that impressed me," she said.

MJC Academic Senate President and math instructor Mike Adams sat on the hiring committee and said Loewenstein's responses to hypothetical scenarios showed he was "very quick to understand the complexity of issues."

"He's a quick thinker with an ability to understand all sides of an issue very quickly," Adams said.

Visibility needed

Adams said he hopes Loew- enstein can get out into the community so people have a face for MJC. He said that's important after the college's recent inconsistency of leadership.

Trustee Mike Riley said he wanted a leader with Loewenstein's strengths -- student enrollment management, accreditation and finances. MJC is looking at slashing $7 million in spending from its $53 million budget next school year.

"And I like his personal quality, that he has a passion for community colleges, and especially embraces the concept of a comprehensive community college," Riley said.

Loewenstein and his wife, Hope, will be in Modesto this weekend house-hunting. Though he'll finish out the school year at Norco College, Loewenstein said he plans to moved to the area by mid-June.

Dean also liked Loewenstein's sense of humor and personality. During his public forum, Loewenstein thanked the crowd for attending. "I'm happy to be asked back for a second date," he said to a chuckle from the audience.

When asked about his unique first name -- which is Scottish for "lion stone" -- Loewenstein relayed the story behind it.

"I'm named after my uncle Gaither. He was the only one (of my mother's brothers) who visited her in the hospital," he said.

"Part of me always wishes my uncles Bob or Doug had visited her."

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at or 578-2339.

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