The common concern emerged from last week’s “listening meeting” to select a new president for Western Nevada College is that the person must understand the role rural Nevada plays in education.
Most people who attended the two-hour meeting at the Churchill County Commission chambers want someone who champions rural education and is not afraid of innovation and change.
Regent Ron Knecht, who represents most of WNC’s service area, and Chancellor Dan Klaich of the Nevada System of Higher Education, solicited input from former WNC staff and community members about issues facing the Fallon campus and what qualities they want in a new president. A search committee will eventually select WNC’s new president to replace Dr. Carol Lucey, who retired in October after 14 years on the job.
Knecht said he and Klaich attended the meeting in Fallon to get a better pulse on the direction the Board of Regents should take. Knecht acknowledged members of the Restore our College Campus Committee, a grassroots group that began in February 2012 to find out why many of Fallon’s classes and instructors were either eliminated or relocated to Carson City in a centralization move to keep in line with the college’s budget.
The Restore our College Campus Committee, according to Knecht kept the spirit alive with their positive outlook and also to rejuvenate and support the Fallon campus.
Before Knecht and Klaich entertained questions, they gave an update on the search process.
Klaich said Chet Burton, a retired Navy officer who formerly lived in Fallon, is the acting officer in charge of WNC, and according to Klaich, is doing a “heck of a job” in moving WNC along. Klaich said part of his job may be making a recommendation to the regents for an acting president while the process searches for a new president. He said the regents could appoint an interim president who would stay one from one to three years but could be a candidate.
With six regents on the search community, along with community representation and staff input, Knecht said the committee wants to do what is in the best interest of the communities served by WNC.
Bus Scharmann, dean of the Fallon campus before he retired in 2011, offered a comprehensive list on what the committee should expect from the next college president. He prefaced his list by saying these were his suggestions and not those of the county commission or school district, where he was interim superintendent in 2012-2013.
The next president must be creative and look for new solutions for existing problems but not be hesitant in looking back.
WNC should re-examine the Jack David model, named after the first WNC president. Scharmann said the model provided for a small number of faculty in academic and vocational offerings and then expanded the course offering with part-time faculty.
Use technology but not have the college become addicted to online education.
“The institution loses its community connection,” Scharmann added.
The new president should multi-task administrations and find people he or she trusts and can rely on.
The new president must be a good decision-maker and tough on budgets and management.
Scharmann said the new president should ask this rhetorical question: “Is this decision in the best interest of the entire student body?”
WNC could add full-time faculty, and Scharmann said it should be a requirement for faculty to live in the area.
Advance high school/early entry programs. Scharmann said the college has given “lip service” to its early entry program, and he said it’s important for courses to be taught within the high school schedule.
Communicate with the rural areas and develop professional and genuine relationships with elected officials, the business community and resident.
Re-establish community partnerships and revitalize the occupational education and training. Scharmann cited the rural nursing program (1993-2011) that had been moved out of Fallon to Carson City.
He said the partnership could be revitalized for nursing, and the new WNC president should talk to the area hospitals to restore the program. As a result, Scharmann said the increased enrollment would increase the number of sciences and English classes and other prerequisites.
A new president needs to listen to all constituents and work with Rural Center Operations. Scharmann said Davis worked with local K-12 superintendents and was able to obtain classrooms free of charge for WNC instruction. Scharmann said there would be no cost for facilities, and part-time faculty would not drain the budget like full-time staff.
Later at the meeting, Banner Churchill Community Hospital CEO John D’Angelo said hospitals will need to add trained staff as older nurses begin to retire.
“We need a community college in Fallon to help us,” he said.
Michelle Dondero, who also served as dean of the Fallon campus before Scharmann, asked Knecht what he envisions for the local college.
Knecht said he would like to restore and rejuvenate the campus and increase the full time enrollment count. He also said he favored a mix of in-person and online or e-learning offerings.
“WNC in Fallon remains an integral, important part of the community and becomes a part of the community,” he said. “Our students have an opportunity to start here … and go anywhere.”
Klaich, though, said future decisions depend on the budget. Within the next several months, Klaich said he and the regents will have a better idea, but he doesn’t see previous levels of funding returning from what they were six or seven years ago.
On the other hand, Klaich stressed that he doesn’t see higher education turning its back on education in rural Nevada.
“What we have does not work,” Klaich said, adding that NSHE must find a model that works.
Knecht said he also sees shared services between the WNC and Truckee Meadows Community College such as one human resources department.
Retired English professor Michon Mackedon said the new president must be someone who is a real fighter and can go to the regents and make a case.
“Students in rural Nevada deserve the same (attention) as ones living in urban areas,” she said.
Several WNC Fallon students spoke and said it’s important for a campus to offer important courses. They also said Lucey rarely traveled to the Fallon campus.
“The only time I met Dr. Lucey was at the Carson City campus,” said another student.
ROCCC Chairman Bob Clifford said a new president must deliver higher education to the rural areas. He said the legislative committee reviewing Nevada Senate Bill 391 will meet in January to develop funding for all the universities and colleges.
“We need to keep Southern Nevada regents and lawmakers informed of the needs of the community colleges,” Knecht added.
Retired high school counselor Nancy Stewart said she has seen WNC Fallon go from a vibrant campus to what it is today.
“Very sad,” she said. “The next person has to have energy and be innovative.”
Mayor Ken Tedford Jr. said the next president must have a passion for the rurals.
“We’re different, were not a metro area. We’re different than Reno, Carson, Vegas and Gardnerville,” he said.
“He or she has to know the community and the surrounding communities we (WNC Fallon) serves. If they have any background of rurals in their resume, I would look at them.”
Tedford said vocation programs are necessary, and people moving to the Lahontan Valley always ask about government, medical and education.
“I don’t know what to tell these people about higher education,” Tedford said.
Commissioner Pete Olsen then chimed in once Tedford finished his remarks:
“Can we find somebody who has lived with this enormous problems (dwindling budgets, staff, classes) we have had but has had success with it?”