State Center appoints former leader Bill Stewart as deputy chancellor

The Fresno BeeMarch 18, 2014 

State Center Community College District's longtime leader Bill Stewart will become a top administrator once more, following his appointment to the new position of deputy chancellor.

The board that oversees the district voted 6-1, with Trustee Eric Payne casting the lone "no" vote, during a special meeting Monday night to appoint Stewart, who served as chancellor from 1985 until 1999. Payne said Tuesday that "the process was a problem" but declined to elaborate on his vote.

Stewart, 79, will become interim chancellor when current Chancellor Deborah Blue retires in June. His salary was not set; Stewart said Tuesday his contract is still being negotiated.

The veteran administrator, who said his new role includes taking over all major administrative duties, was already set up with an office and email account when he showed up for work Tuesday.

He's already planning a two-day retreat with his staff and said that over the next few months he'll focus on getting ready for summer school.

"I think I have a unique perspective," he said. "I'm kind of able to hit the ground running and can hopefully take the district forward."

Since retiring in the late 1990s, Stewart has worked in consulting and in the president's office at California State University, Fresno. He was just winding down into full retirement, he said, when he got the call about coming back to State Center.

Stewart's appointment comes weeks after Blue announced her own retirement. Her decision came on the same day the district's seven-member board voted to shorten her contract, which was previously extended to 2017.

More than 100 people showed up to support her when the trustees met in early March for more than two hours to discuss her fate. Blue had been under review during closed-door meetings since January, although no members of the board have acknowledged the topic of those talks.

The board's decision came amid criticism and bewilderment from education, city and community group leaders who said Blue's ouster was confusing -- mostly because the board never explained the motivation to remove her. Blue's amended contract says she will serve as chancellor until June 30. She'll work in a more limited role as chancellor emeritus until summer 2015. Blue will continue to collect her $225,000 annual salary plus benefits, unless she takes a higher-paying job in the meantime.

Stewart will officially take over Blue's duties this summer as the board conducts a national search for her replacement.

He has more than 40 years of experience under his belt. During his tenure at State Center, enrollment grew from 13,000 to more than 20,000, and he helped get Fresno City College nationally ranked in number of degrees conferred. After he retired, the district created a Dr. Bill F. Stewart Achievement of Excellence Award in his honor, which is given to an outstanding employee each year. Before taking the top job at State Center, he was president of Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Board President Patrick Patterson and Blue did not return messages from The Bee.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hfurfaro@fresnobee.com or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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