Elongated process of search for the new president

Graphic by Seth Walker

The search for a new president  for Bellevue College has been an ongoing process since Jean Floten moved to Western Governor’s University last year. The search was supposed to end this February, but an announcement from the Board of Trustees has declared the search to continue at least into the next year.

An open forum was held on Wednesday, May 2 that offered employees a chance to discuss the search with BC officials. The information session updated employees and faculty on the process of finding a president so far, what needs to be addressed right now, and the process of moving forward.

Many questions from the faculty revolved around why the presidential search is taking so long – so long, in fact, that a candidate named Cheryl Roberts dropped out. The two spokespeople, Vicki Orrico, Chairperson of the Bellevue College Board of Trustees and Paul Chiles, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, explained that the position is simply too big for a single president to handle.

“We have really grown since the last time we hired a president, and the job is just too big for one person,” said Oricco. “We’re looking at Executive Vice President and Provost models.” These models are very similar and assign the role of academic supervision to someone serving under the president.

The trustees had previously created a Presidential Search Advisory Committee. In the beginning, the Board hoped to find a new president by February. On Jan. 12, the Advisory Committee announced to its colleagues that it had “completed a thorough review of all applications and met on Jan. 9 to narrow the candidate pool.” The committee was preparing to interview the candidates.

Three candidates were eventually chosen by the Committee and forwarded to the Board of Trustees – none of these candidates were brought to campus due to the Board not coalescing around them.

In a recent letter to the Board of Trustees on April 23 from Orrico, it was announced, “We agreed beforehand that a candidate would need broad support from the board to be chosen.  Unfortunately, while several candidates had strong support, no one candidate could garner broad enough support from the board…a subcommittee of the board, consisting of Paul Chiles and me [Vicki Orrico], the outgoing and incoming chairs, will be meeting over the course of the next several weeks to discuss the process for continuing.”

It was also in this letter that the Board declared it would extend interim President Laura Saunders’ term of office to June 30.

Several teachers also brought up the fact that the Board had mentioned rewriting the president’s job description, but Oricco contradicted the idea, saying that the Board was looking at “redefining the job parameters of the president.”

Eva Norling, professor of World Languages expressed her opinion about the process and her doubts about the Board. “My confidence in the Board has been extremely shaken.” She said that everybody (speaking of the faculty) was confused on why the Board hasn’t come farther since the fall, and why the Search Committee was dissolved in January after forwarding three candidates. “It’s not good enough for me,” she said. At this point everyone in the room started clapping.

One man responded to the trustees’ call for advice by saying, “If the job description is going to be the same then it’ll still be too big next year and the year after. We need a person with the communications skills to put together a leadership team.”

Laura Nudelman, who teaches group communications, then stood up. “Hearing this story, my impression is that this is a dysfunctional group. The Board of Trustees is a dysfunctional group…I don’t think the Board understands what this lack of a decision has done to the college.”

She asked if the Advisory Committee ever had a direct meeting with the Board of Trustees, and found out that they never had. She said, “Wow. That is problematic!” to a huge round of applause.

Another teacher, Dale Hoffman from the Math Department, said, “You’ve burned through 50 candidates who are not likely to reapply – so where is this super-person going to come from? Where are you going to find them?”

“We’re going back to the drawing board on all of this,” said Orrico.

Added Chiles, “We don’t want to leave any stone unturned when it comes to finding the right fit for our college.”

Faculty asked how much longer this was going to take – Chiles answered, “We’re moving with all deliberate speed.” When that answer did not satistfy the faculty, Orrico elaborated, “I hope to have a working plan submitted by the time we break for summer.” She later clarified that this plan would contain steps to move forward, not actually a new president.

The Board plans to extend Laura Saunders’ term of office to tide them over during the continuous search. “We have been extremely blessed to have Laura,” Chiles said. “We hope to continue to be blessed.”

The forum ended with Orrico and Chiles acknowledging that there might potentially be another year without a president. “We take this very, very seriously,” said Orrico.

For more information about the search process, e-mail presidentialsearch@bellevuecollege.edu.