Fresno City College interim President Azari leaving for Oxnard

Cynthia Azari, interim president at Fresno City College since May, is leaving to become president of Oxnard College.
Cynthia Azari, interim president at Fresno City College since May, is leaving to become president of Oxnard College. State Center Community College District

Cynthia Azari, interim president at Fresno City College since May, is leaving to become president of Oxnard College.

Azari announced the move in an email sent Wednesday afternoon to the Fresno City College community, saying she needed to be closer to family. She has a daughter and two young granddaughters in Southern California.

Azari, 64, said she will continue as Fresno City’s leader through the end of the spring semester.

She will take the helm at Oxnard College, which has about 9,300 students, a much smaller campus than Fresno City College with enrollment of 23,000.

When she was tapped to lead Fresno City College, the campus was in mourning over the untimely death of President Tony Cantú, who died suddenly in April 2015. The State Center Community College District has been looking for a permanent Fresno City president since. In an interview Thursday, Azari said her immediate goal when she came to the Fresno campus was to help the college through a healing process.

“Fresno City College is a premier institution, which is steeped in history,” she said. “It’s just a great institution.”

She said she also worked to improve retention and morale and communication on campus. The college will face reaccreditation in April 2018, and Azari said: “I don’t see any major problems. I think this is an opportunity for the college to look at itself.”

Clovis college president retiring

The search is also on for Clovis Community College’s next president; Deborah Ikeda is retiring at the end of the spring semester. Applicants had until 5 p.m. Thursday to put their name into consideration for that job, and State Center says it expects to have a new president in place around July 1.

Ikeda, who has been with State Center for 35 of her 40 years working in higher education, said one of her major goals in Clovis was achieved last year when the school became accredited.

Her last goal is for voters to pass a $485 million bond measure in June that would allow Clovis Community College to build a vocational education training facility. Clovis students currently drive to Fresno City College, where vocational training programs are already impacted, she said. Many end up on waitlists.

Ikeda’s last day of work is July 14. Her retirement plans include remodeling her house – “But first things first,” she said. “I’m going to continue working on this bond through the June election.”

The transition at the top extends to the State Center office, where new Chancellor Dale Paul Parnell Jr. started work Friday. Parnell, formerly president of Norco College in Riverside County, was picked by trustees in January to lead the district. Bill Stewart had been the district’s interim chancellor since March 2014, when trustees voted to end former Chancellor Deborah Blue’s contract.

Parnell said State Center has candidates lined up for Ikeda’s replacement in Clovis and hopes to have a finalist named within the next month. He said Azari was in the running for the Oxnard position around the same time she was one of three finalists in Fresno.

“She’s got family and grandkids there, and it’s hard to fight that,” he said. “So we will extend that search.”

Parnell said he hopes to have a new president on the Fresno campus by fall.

“It leaves us without leadership for the summer, but we’ll look for an interim until we complete the search,” he said.

Azari was Stewart’s pick for the temporary post at Fresno City, where she served as president from 2009 until 2011 before leaving to become president at Riverside City College. She then served as interim chancellor at Riverside Community College District for a year before retiring in April 2014.

The State Center district has colleges in Fresno, Clovis and Reedley and centers in Madera and Oakhurst.

Sandra Caldwell has been president of Reedley College since July 2013.