After a year worth of interviews, special committees and applications, the Central Oregon Community College Board of Directors has turned down all of the final candidates for presidency. The decision follows a recent discovery that Dr. Patrick Lanning, the announced “top candidate,” is on administrative leave from Chemeketa Community College. Following that finding, the Board of Directors has decided not to move to either of the other two presidential finalists – Dana Young and Dr. Sheila Ortego – and to instead find new applicants.
“[The board] has decided not to hire a new president at this time,” Ron Paradis, the director of College Relations, said following an April 9 executive session.
Since last fall, COCC has been gathering feedback from students, talking to administration, gathering poll response, narrowing down choices several times and hosting final meetings. Seventeen members of the Search Advisory Committee looked over applications, and narrowed down the results to three candidates.
All three of those finalists for presidency — Lanning, Young and Ortego — visited the COCC Bend campus, and the branch campuses in February and March. But although Lanning was announced as the leading candidate following the interviews, outside findings caused the COCC Board of Directors to rethink the decision.
“I think it’s a case where the board just wasn’t able to get to the comfort level that we wanted,” COCC Board Chair Bruce Abernethy said.
In an announcement on April 8 from Ron Paradis, the director of College Relations at COCC, he said that Lanning had been put on administrative leave.
What allegations prompted the leave have yet to be publicly released, but the issue did surface during the finalizing process, according to Paradis.
“As we have reported, the COCC Board has been conducting background checks prior to formalizing its decision,” Paradis said. “Information about the leave come up as a part of the board’s due diligence.”
While Chemeketa Community College is dealing with Lanning’s leave – and following up with allegations – the spokesperson for Chemeketa who has been instrumental in the process, Dean Greg Harris, refused to comment.
Executive session results
Following the findings, the COCC Board of Directors met in executive session April 9 and decided to continue the presidential search, according to Paradis.
“The board has determined there are unanswered questions that provide concern and that the college needs to move forward,” Paradis said.
For Abernethy, the decision was difficult.
“It’s incredibly disappointing with all the many hours, countless hours, which people have put in,” Abernethy said. “But ultimately, the board felt it was important to be able to move on.”
As COCC plans to start a new search, staff should be repeating this year’s process in the 2014-2015 school year. While the board “passed a resolution to ‘not hire’ any of the candidates, and to ‘extend the search,’” according to Paradis, some decisions are not finalized. The board did indicate that for fall 2014, when the new process will be started, an interim president will take retiring president Dr. Jim Middleton’s place.
Meetings in the next few weeks will address filling that part-time vacancy.
“It’s physically and emotionally exhausting,” Abernethy said.
The COCC Board of Directors expects to complete the same process with a search committee starting fall 2014.
Junnelle Hogen | The Broadside