10/13/06 — Trustees begin presidential search

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Trustees begin presidential search

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 13, 2006 1:53 PM

Wayne Community College's Board of Trustees took a step forward in its search for a replacement for retiring college president Dr. Ed Wilson Thursday, reviewing the search process with the state leader who will assist with the decision.

Finding a replacement for Wilson will be a tough job, said Martin Lancaster, N.C. Community College System president.

He advised the trustees to start their search by deciding where they want to go.

"I recommend to any board before they seriously begin the search, to spend at least one meeting looking at the future of the college," he said. "Determine where you want this college to be 10 years from now and then search for the person that will get you there."

At its Thursday meeting, the board approved a search liaison and members for a search advisory committee.

Wilson announced his retirement at the Sept. 26 board of trustees meeting. He gave nine months' notice, which is expected to cover the amount of time it could take to acquire new leadership.

Lancaster said this is the 52nd presidential search he has been affiliated with since becoming system president.

"It really is with mixed feelings that I'm here for this purpose," he said. He said that while he was happy for Wilson, it also meant a loss for the college and community.

"You're going to have a really tough job replacing Ed with a person of equal ability and effectiveness. ... This is the most important thing that any trustee will ever do."

Lancaster explained the process for securing a replacement to lead the college. He said his role was limited to speaking at the outset and then meeting with them again once the finalists are named.

He suggested the search be open, honest and thorough. While there might be local candidates who will apply, he said it is never a good idea to give the impression that the outcome is a "done deal."

"I would encourage you to make this a fully honest, fully open search and open to all candidates," he said -- male and female, in and out of the state. "Diversity is an important element."

Lancaster said in his opinion, this will be one of the most popular searches for a community college president since Wilson has enjoyed such a tremendous reputation in the state and across the country.

"You will have 60-plus candidates," he predicted. "Half will be from out of state. There is a tremendous interest in coming to North Carolina. My guess is that 25 percent or more of your applicants will be sitting presidents."

Lancaster said the first order of business will be to develop a job description, which will be the basis of an advertisement for the position. Once applications start coming in, it will be the search committee's job to narrow down the list to a manageable number, he added.

Ultimately, the number will be pared down to three. At that point, a complete background check is done on each and in turn, Lancaster will continue the process by doing his own investigation. He said that speaking with people in the communities where the candidates previously worked has proven effective and been beneficial when the time comes to present the finalists to the state board.

The search committee does not make the final decision, Lancaster said. The board of trustees does that, he said, and it is then subject to final approval by the state board. Once the choices are presented, though, it is important that the local board reach consensus, he said.

"A candidate who is chosen on a sharply divided vote -- that is in itself a recipe for disaster," he said. "You're better off choosing everybody's second choice than a candidate of a sharply divided vote."

Trustees weighed in with their questions and concerns about securing a new president.

Board member Tommy Jarrett said, "I view this as a well-run college. It ain't broke and therefore, I don't want to fix it. I want somebody who will build on what Ed has done, keep it up."

Board member Tim Haithcock raised the question of funding and whether that will be an issue down the road.

"Is it important to look at the issue of how we raise money in the future and whether or not this person may not be a change agent as such, but should we place some emphasis on the importance of funding? he asked.

"I don't think there's any question that external funding will be important. Colleges that want to go to the next level will find that they have to do some fundraising," Lancaster replied.

Board member Keith Stewart spoke about problems other colleges have experienced replacing a popular leader in a quick changeover.

"Following somebody very successful is trouble," he said. "How do we avoid that? I worry about that situation."

Lancaster said that was why he told the board at the outset that they had a really tough job ahead of them.

"We have to find somebody who's up to that challenge," said Dr. Michael Gooden, another trustee.

Trustee Gwyn Wilson said she believed having an advisory committee would be helpful.

"Ed has set a high standard that the community expects," she said, noting that his role as a community leader would be an important component to seek.

"He's got some big shoes to fill and people are going to expect that from their community college president," said trustee and Goldsboro Mayor Al King.

Joy Ginn, personnel coordinator and assistant to Wilson, was appointed search liaison between the committee and Dr. J. Parker Chesson Jr. of Gold Hill Associates, the executive search firm hired by the board at its September meeting.

Stewart will chair the presidential search advisory committee, with trustees Tommy Cox, Jarrett, Haithcock and Ms. Wilson as members. Also appointed to the committee were representatives from other areas, including, Foundation of Wayne Community College representatives Jimmie Edmundson of Branch Banking and Trust Company, Bill Paugh, president of Wayne Memorial Hospital, and Sam Hunter of T.A. Loving Co.; college faculty members Tracey Ivey and Ray Burrell; college staff Yvonne Goodman, Susan Sasser and Lynn Rabhan; and Natasha Wiley, current Student Government Association president.

Committee meeting dates will be determined later. There will also be a community focus group meeting that will be open to the public.