The mist cleared, the curtains drew and the final four college presidential candidates were unveiled to the campus community, which one of them will permanently lead beginning July 1.
Finalists to replace McKinley Williams, who retired in December 2011 after five years as Contra Costa College president, shared for one hour — and one hour only — their personalities and leadership approaches at an open forum in the Fireside Room on Thursday from 12:30 to 5:15 p.m.
Brian Ellison, Christopher Villa, Deborah Budd and Denise Noldon, college and district administrators from outside of the Contra Costa Community College District, answered questions selected and read by a moderator. Afterward, Williams led each candidate on a tour of the college service area.
Community College Search Services search consultant Kevin Ramirez said no one from within the district applied for the job.
The four candidates, whose names were revealed March 12 and who were selected from a pool of more than 30 applicants, answered written questions submitted by the audience of more than 40 concerned and curious students, faculty, staff and managers regarding in which direction the candidates would steer the college during economic crisis and leadership transition.
“It’s important to come in and learn about who is running as the presidential candidates,” ASU Rep. Mariah Fowler said.
“Schools everywhere are being cut,” the social sciences major said. “Students should be aware of what’s going on for the school to evolve and move on because it desperately needs to.”
Questions and responses addressed state funding augmentations, spending decisions and boosting morale in this era of budget cuts.
But no question asked directly how the candidates would deal with the 60 course sections that will be reduced next semester, the $1 to $1.5 million that will be cut from the college’s $25 million operational budget or the $10 per unit increase to student fees starting during the 2012 summer session.
District Chancellor Helen Benjamin, CCC president from 1999-2005, and the college Screening Committee, a shared governance committee including each constituency group on campus, met Monday to discuss the forum.
Dr. Benjamin’s final selection will be made by April 11 and presented to the district Governing Board for approval May 23. The new president’s term would begin July 1 with the start of 2012-13 academic year.
The search for the college’s 13th president started in September 2011 and cost $17,500, Community College Search Services Senior Partner Al Fernandez said.
The last president from outside of the district was Dr. Doreen “Candy” Rose, who came from Mission College in the West Valley-Mission College District in Santa Clara, in 1984.
Dr. Rose was president until Benjamin replaced her as interim president in December 1997. Benjamin was the district’s first African-American college president and was later unanimously selected by the Governing Board to become chancellor in 2005.
“All four (candidates) left great impressions. The chancellor has her hands full,” said Governing Board Trustee John Marquez, who represents CCC’s service area in the district. “(The candidates) all brought different perspectives.”
Dr. Ellison, the first to speak Thursday afternoon, is the vice president of instruction and student services at San Diego Continuing Education, a mostly noncredit institution, and began his career at Merced College as a psychology and sociology professor.
Ellison was stiff and the only speaker not to take the microphone from the stand anytime during his hour. He stood with his feet together and his palms flat on the lectern.
He said the CCC mission statement, which emphasizes Career Technical Education (CTE), academic skills and transfer — and strategic plan are comparable to his tasks at SDCE in the San Diego Community College District.
“Those are two fantastic documents,” said Ellison, a graduate from San Diego Mesa College. “They’re easy to embrace and support.”
Immediately comfortable in front of the audience and camera taping the forum, Dr. Villa made his audience laugh within a minute or two, which was the first time during the forum.
The data-driven Fresno City College vice president of student services spoke second, is from Los Angeles and has worked at higher education institutions for more than 30 years.
“There is tremendous diversity here,” Villa said. “I thrive on that. I like it.”
He said he and his wife went for a drive around San Pablo and West County before the forum and saw the different regions of the service area.
“From that experience, I’m very excited about applying here,” he said.
After Villa’s hour, Dr. Budd, Peralta Community College District vice chancellor of educational services, took the floor.
Budd has been in administration since starting her career as an athletic director and physical education teacher in the Alameda Unified School District in 1989.
Budd said despite the deteriorating higher education budget in the state, it is a time for imaginative solutions to help student services.
“Sometimes crisis creates innovation,” she said after the forum, walking across the Amphitheatre from the Fireside Room to the Student Life Center. She then introduced herself to the ASU Board and took Williams’ tour.
Dr. Noldon, the vice president of student development and enrollment management at Folsom Lake College, about 28 miles east of Sacramento, closed the forum.
At the end of her hour in the spotlight, the Berkeley High School graduate said, “I hope you get a person to take you to the next level. If that person is not me, I’ll be watching from afar to see how well you do.”
After she spoke, she walked across Padilla Plaza and waited for Williams, whose mustache has grown into a beard with patches of grey and white since retiring.
Williams became president in 2006 after serving a year as interim president and coined the phrase, “Contra Costa College, a premier community college right in your own backyard.”
Noldon said she shared a vision for CCC with Williams, dropping the familiar line, “premier community college.”
Questions at the forum were submitted to Business Services Manager Mariles Magalong, head of the Screening Committee, before they were selected and read to the candidates by Ramirez, the moderator.
He said more than 40 questions were submitted and he tried to group them by themes.
Ramirez asked questions to reveal the candidates’ dealings with budget issues, leadership styles and embracing a diverse campus, but did not ask about how or which cuts they would make.