Board of Directors prepares to chose next leader of COCC

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All Three

The Board of Directors is weeks away from choosing the future college president.

Friday Jan. 31, the Central Oregon Community College Board of Directors met to reveal their three presidential finalist picks: Dr. Patrick Lanning, Dr. Sheila Ortego and Dana Young.

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The faculty on the task force had mixed feelings about the stage, stated Bruce Abernethy, the chair for the Board of Directors.

“I’m excited and kind of relieved,” Abernethy said. “It has been a long process, an incredible amount of work went into it, and I think everyone that was on the search committee took it really seriously.”

The college received 35 formal applications during the process. After several meetings and deliberations, eight applicants were selected as candidate semifinalists. By the time they came to the determining process, COCC faculty and students were not the only ones interested in hearing the result, said Laura Craska-Cooper, the vice chair for the board.

“I had a number of people in the community who knew I’m on the board of the search committee, and they’d say, ‘Well, what can you tell us?'” Cooper said. “I’d have to say, ‘I can’t tell you anything until we have a meeting.’ They’re terrific candidates, and I think that everyone will be pleased.”

Narrowing it down

Many questions went into the determining process. The board was interested in differentiating qualifications, and through the interview process, several main points came up, Abernethy stated.

“Do we think this person is a good fit?” Abernethy said. “Do they have sufficient background and experience, or a student-centric mentality, and will they make sure the students are successful?”

Other concerns also included each finalist’s ability to maintain oversight for COCC’s satellite campuses and prompt campus growth.

The presidential task force had a head-start in narrowing down their search pool, and finding qualified individuals. Due to Dr. Middleton’s early announcement of retirement, the college was able to send out notifications before the normal time, Abernethy said. The Associate Community College Trustees disclosed that COCC was looking at more qualified individuals than the norm, according to Abernethy.

“It was a slightly stronger candidate pool than they might have expected,” Abernethy said.

Previous experience was an important factor. All three finalists – Lanning, Ortego and Young – have served in administrative positions at community colleges across the northwest. Dr. Patrick Lanning was an associate vice president for instruction at Lane Community College, Dr. Sheila Ortego held several leadership positions at Santa Fe Community College and Dana Young also served as president at a branch campus, Treasure Valley. The candidates share another common trait: years of higher ed. Lanning, Ortega and Young have both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and as of next year, when Dana Young will complete her latest degree, all three will have doctorates.

Because of the prior experience, each candidate should have potential to step in as president at COCC, Cooper said.

“[The experience] is really nice, because it means that you’ve got somebody who already knows the system,” Cooper said. “In theory, when they come they’ll all be a little bit more comfortable. They’ll still have to learn the community, but that’s probably more that they already know.”

The board’s decision to approve Lanning, Ortego and Young as presidential candidates was unanimous. For Cooper, this was not a surprise.

“I’m thrilled with them,” Cooper said. “They pretty clearly rose to the top. I think that it was virtually unanimous that these were all top-notch candidates, and I think we’d be happy with any of them.”

The next steps

Community and staff response is now a priority. The board will be meeting the candidates and introducing them to both Central Oregon and all of COCC during the last two weeks of February, and Cooper believes Central Oregonians and students will provide the most important feedback.

“I think part of the reason for their visit is for us to get to know them, and see how they engage with the various constituent groups here in Central Oregon,” Cooper said. “I also want to hear what students think. We had two students on our committee, and in a couple cases they saw things we didn’t see during the interview process.”

Cooper cited community support as a main reason why people would want to attend COCC’s upcoming presidential finalist forums.

“I think that COCC is a unique community college because our community – even if they have virtually nothing to do with COCC on a day-to-day basis – feels like it’s a community asset,” Cooper said. “So to me, the forums are important to gauge how faculty, staff, students and the broader community feel about each of these candidates.”

In the future, a melting pot of ideas should help finalize the board’s decision, according to Abernethy.

“Faculty is interested in exactly to what extent this person is able to move forward in academics,” Abernethy said. “We’ve got a couple students that have student concerns, we have representatives from some of the outlying communities interested in economic development and employment background. I think the more they look into these three candidates, the more they see that they really can not only bring new experience, but also provide leadership.”
The COCC board of directors will name their chosen finalist for the presidency at the March 12 board meeting.

Junnelle Hogen
The Broadside
jhogen@cocc.edu

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