Staff reminisce on Middleton’s decade of leadership
Ron Paradis will never forget the time the president of the college stepped out of a staff retreat to dance in a staff flash mob. It’s memories like this that Paradis will always remember of Dr. Jim Middleton.
Middleton announced his retirement from president of COCC in June 2013 and will be officially leaving the college September 2014.
“I feel really blessed and lucky to have been able to be a part of the institution and hopefully make some contributions that have made it better … and more secure for the future,” Middleton said.
The past 10 years have brought significant growth as well as challenges to the college. One of the reasons the college “survived” during this time was due to “solid management,” according to Paradis, director of College Relations at COCC.
“It all goes back to solid leadership and Middleton was certainly a large part of that,” Paradis said.
“A man more than his agenda”
Terry Krueger, COCC writing professor, has been at COCC for over 25 years and during that time has worked with two COCC presidents. Krueger was president-elect of the COCC Faculty Forum on the search committee that hired Middleton in 2004.
From the time Terry Krueger shook hands with Middleton ten years ago he knew he was the one to lead COCC.
“I liked Jim from the minute I met him,” Krueger said. “His strength is his decency.”
During the search committee’s process, Krueger talked with individuals who had previously worked with Middleton. The stories he heard again and again were those of personal sacrifice and commitment to his staff.
One of the people Krueger talked to “owed her life to Middleton” after he intervened to keep her on her insurance plan to cover cancer treatments.
“He is first and foremost a good man,” Krueger said. “His ‘enemies’ questioned his optimism but they didn’t ever question his decency or his morality.”
Over the past decade, there have been times when the funding formula for COCC was “really ugly,” Krueger said.
When the economy went “on the skids” in 2008, COCC transitioned to a tuition-driven school where they became less reliant on the whims of state funding, according to Krueger.
With the economy growing more stable, enrollment at the college is projected to dip over the next few years. This could lead to difficult decisions regarding faculty, according to Krueger.
“Regardless of what the president’s agenda is, they are harnessed to a very volatile economy,” Krueger said.
Krueger believes even today Middleton is “extraordinarily optimistic.”
“I’ve not agreed with everything he’s done; bless him for it,” Krueger said. “He is a good-hearted, warm, caring man who has always had this school’s best interest at heart.”
Middleton came to COCC a year after leaving his previous job as president of in California.
Middleton was forced to leave that job after a vote of no confidence due to the California economy dipping.
When Krueger first shook hands with Middleton he saw what he called a “certain vulnerability.”
“He came here possibly a little wounded and vulnerable from his previous experience … that vulnerability is a good thing to have,” Krueger said.
Krueger’s favorite memories of the president are times spent talking about their shared interest of fencing and Krueger trying to persuade to teach him how to fly fish.
“Someday, he may take me up on it,” Krueger said. “Somehow an epee and a fly rod seem to go hand in hand.”
“It’s a family here”
It’s the team at COCC that Middleton will miss the most.
“It sounds trite, but it is a family here,” Middleton said. “There are administrators I’ve worked closely with, board members who’ve been great, personal and professional supporters, as well as great custodial and grounds people and our public safety department.”
Middleton credits these groups as “students’ first contact” when coming to the college.
“Seeing how warm and friendly those individuals are is really positive,” Middleton said. “We also have a great group of faculty who are dedicated to their job, so ultimately the students benefit from it.”
Growth and Development
In the last decade, COCC has had the most concentrated facility development period in the college’s history.
In the past 10 years, under Middleton’s leadership, the college has re-opened the branch campuses in Madras and Prineville and built more on the Redmond campus. In addition, the Campus Center, Science Building, Health Careers Center and the upcoming residence hall were all built on under Middleton’s governance.
Middleton is honored to be in a leadership role at a time when “really wonderful things” happened.
“A major piece of it is the voters voting for a $42 million bond to make it happen,” Middleton said.
The reopening of the branch campuses supported Middleton’s desire to reaffirm COCC as Central Oregon’s community college, not just Bend’s community college.
“Re-instituting Madras and Prineville fulfilled our responsibility,” Middleton said.
When Middleton took the reins, the local economy was stable and COCC was functioning well as a small-sized community college. But Middleton had a bigger vision.
“What Jim brought and was excellent at was communicating his vision to the community and at higher levels,” Paradis said. “He stepped into a good situation but made it better.”
Weathering the recession
Another “big win” for the college under Middleton’s leadership was weathering one of the steepest economic recessions since the Great Depression.
“None of us would’ve predicted the downturn to be as steep and impactful as it was on student lives,” Middleton said.
At that time there were two forces moving in opposite directions, according to Middleton. Due to rising unemployment, there was a steep increase in demand for expanded learning opportunities. This was the time that the state could not maintain funding, leaving the college to manage greater demand with less resources. At this time, other colleges in the region were forced to lay off staff and cut crucial student success initiatives and programs.
However, at COCC, this challenge turned into one of the “proudest moments” for the college, according to Middleton.
“I’m really pleased that we’ve gone through a tough financial decade and not laid off any staff,” Middleton said.
Staying in the education scene
Middleton will not be stepping entirely off the education sphere, and plans to continue in his role sitting on the Oregon State Board for Higher Education, which governs universities. He also has plans to do some work on assisting college boards with recruitment of presidents.
Middleton plans to keep involved but is not looking for a “major commitment” that would reduce time spent with his family.
Middleton is also not looking to leave the region after retirement.
“There are thousands of people who fight for the opportunity to come here,” Middleton said. “We’re not intending to leave Bend but will likely do a fair amount of traveling.”
Molly Svendsen | The Broadside