The three finalists for Fresno City College’s long-vacant presidency made their pitches Wednesday on why they should lead one of the largest community colleges in California while on a makeshift stage in the Old Administration Building.
Two men and one woman – all carrying résumés heavy with decades in academia – answered questions prepared by an executive search firm in front of a crowd of around 50 people, including their prospective boss, State Center Community College District Chancellor Paul Parnell. They are vying for the opening created by the untimely death of President Tony Cantú in April 2015.
Each candidate was asked the same question for the most part, and some themes – communication with faculty and students at all times, for example – were common throughout all three Q&A sessions. However, the forum was spiced up by varied approaches from three diverse educators.
First up was James Limbaugh, interim president of Oxnard College. He recently lost his bid to become the permanent president at Oxnard to Cynthia Azari, who served as Fresno City’s president before Cantú and on an interim basis following his death. Limbaugh is also the former chancellor of Montana State University-Northern.
35,000The approximate number of students at Fresno City College
Limbaugh built his pitch largely around his experience, using specific examples and data from his previous four years heading colleges to answer most questions. He also stressed the importance of communication as the leader of a college.
“The best presidents are the ones that listen and shut up,” he said.
Limbaugh noted that professional development – essentially training the college’s faculty in new technologies and practices – could be needed at Fresno City, where more than half of the professors are over 50. This has been a major criticism of the college – especially in its vocational courses.
Next was West Hills College Coalinga President Carole Goldsmith. She immediately made it clear that she was the only Fresno resident in the bunch, having lived a few blocks from Fresno City for 30 years while working at West Hills and Fresno Unified School District.
Goldsmith relied heavily on local ties, dropping the names of everyone from Mayor Ashley Swearengin to Sheriff Margaret Mims, Fresno State President Joseph Castro and Cantú. She is a Fresno State graduate and won the university’s annual Top Dog alumni award in 2013.
Goldsmith said that Fresno City had “always been a bastion of safety and free speech and a champion of diversity,” but she believes more could be done to improve the outcomes for impoverished students and those who take online courses, where she said scores lag behind traditional course averages.
She drew several laughs as she kept her Q&A time much lighter than the other two candidates.
Fresno City College was established as California’s first community college in 1910.
Goldsmith noted that around $200 million of a recent $485 million community college bond passed this month is slated to go toward Fresno City College upgrades. She said that the Old Administration Building she was standing in – which has stood for a century – looks great after renovations, but other buildings on the campus are in desperate need of upgrades.
The final candidate was Peter Maphumulo, vice president for instruction and student services at Victor Valley College in the Mojave Desert town of Victorville. He is former interim president at Victor Valley. During that tenure, the college was placed on probation by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges for failing to reach minimum student learning and campus financial practice standards.
Maphumulo was unsuccessful in his bid for the Fullerton College presidency earlier this year.
His presentation centered largely on his success as a policymaker. Each of his answers centered on an instance in which he created a program or committee that made measured progress to combat various problems, such as sagging grades or faculty morale issues.
Maphumulo, who immigrated to the U.S. from South Africa, offered a lot of perspective on ways to recruit a more diverse faculty. He said that at his previous colleges, he created partnership programs with graduate schools in which the department heads from his college met with the deans of the graduate programs to identify upcoming candidates who could fill teaching vacancies. He also recommended poaching high school teachers, many of whom now have master’s degrees.
He ended his time with a strong closing statement: “The American community college system is the Ellis Island for immigrants in the 21st century. It is the only on-ramp to middle-class American life.”
Parnell, the State Center chancellor, praised each of the candidates after the forum concluded. He plans to interview each, deliberate with his staff and select a candidate for confirmation by the State Center Board of Trustees soon.