Candidates address transparency, tenure and faculty involvement in open forums.
By Zachary-Taylor Wright
Three finalists for Northeast Lakeview College president answered questions at open forums Nov. 29 through Dec. 2 at NLC.
Thomas Cleary, vice chancellor of planning, performance and information systems, has served as interim president since November 2015, following Dr. Craig Follins’ removal for “a pattern of unacceptable behavior,” as described in a termination memo by Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie.
Dr. Lydia Tena, Northwest Campus dean at El Paso Community College, said at her open forum Nov. 29 she is dedicated to being accessible and communicating with the college community through formal and informal meetings.
“I always have an open-door policy,” Tena said. “I have always told anybody that works with me whenever they want to see me: ‘If they want to pop in, hopefully I will be there.’”
Dianna Torres Lee, NLC Faculty Senate president, asked candidates what open communication would look like under their presidency and to describe a time they could not be transparent.
Tena said she values transparency and being as open as possible with faculty, staff and students.
“I know I value the opportunity to work with individuals I can trust, and that I know I have the good of the whole as motivating, not any particular personal interest or anything like that,” Tena said. “That’s who I am and what I am.”
Susan Cotellesse, NLC Adjunct Council president, asked Tena how she would ensure esprit de corps among adjunct faculty, who often feel disenfranchised.
Tena said she would give merit and support to their ideas.
“Well, we definitely survive in most cases because of our adjunct faculty,” Tena said. “Having the opportunity as a president to support that and to let them know, if nothing else, how much they are valued.”
Cotellesse asked Tena about her thoughts on reissuing the tenure process at NLC.
Tena said the process in El Paso lasts five years with faculty producing a portfolio at the three-year mark, which is reviewed by a peer committee and brought to administrators and the vice president of instruction. In the fifth year, tenure applicants add to the third-year portfolio, follow the same procedure as the third year, and are reviewed by the district tenure committee.
Tena said she is willing to hear faculty complaints and opinions about tenure to present a case to Leslie, while working within district constraints.
Dr. Veronica Garcia, vice president of student affairs at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, answered questions at her open forum Dec. 1.
Garcia said she believes in being open and transparent.
She said she would stay in tune with constituents by considering the perspective of students, faculty, student affairs and administrative assistants.
Garcia said it is important to get student feedback on programs geared toward students.
Garcia recommended an event where adjunct faculty can interact with full-time faculty and learn about the best teaching strategies and practices.
“It’s really about how you’re engaging your adjunct faculty,” Garcia said. “And as president, I think it’s important that I’m available to have some kind of event. I always say, ‘We have the event on a Tuesday in the morning when everybody’s here,’ but that’s not true, we have classes even on the weekend. Why aren’t we having it on a Saturday or in the evening?”
Cotellesse asked Garcia how she would handle the hiring of faculty as enrollment grows, and Garcia said strategic enrollment is critical to student success.
Garcia said she would leave hiring to faculty chairs and divisions, while asking questions regarding their passion for teaching, behavioral type and if their vision is aligned with the president and the college.
Garcia said she has learned from past experience when it is best to share information with the public.
Garcia said a college president needs to be prepared before sharing information with the college community and prepared to answer tough questions.
If suggestions that have not been worked through are made public, the college community will become stressed and worried about policy or information, Garcia said.
Garcia said there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between advisers and faculty. If advisers don’t know about academic programs, it’s hard to guide students on what classes to take.
Hollie Cardenas, NLC Staff Council president, asked Garcia to identify the key components to building a sense of campus community.
Garcia said she would promote transparency and conversation among faculty, staff and students by hosting events where everyone can exchange ideas and experiences.
“A sense of community is when you talk and you see and you meet, so having different events that brings staff and faculty together,” Garcia said. “I think sometimes we have some of these anecdotes of what students are doing, some of the life experiences that are affecting students, but when you bring the students up front and you hear the stories from them, it’s much more impactful.”
Dr. Lily Tercero, former president of Texas Southmost College, answered questions at her open forum Dec. 2.
Tercero said she wants to establish an open-door policy, where faculty and students feel comfortable speaking to her personally; however, Tercero said she would prefer faculty members speak to their supervisors first.
“They should never feel uncomfortable coming to see me,” Tercero said. “Or just come to visit and say, ‘Hi. How are you doing? Let me share something with you. We’ve got this activity coming up. Can you attend? Will you join us?’ That to me is open access.”
Tercero said she may not be allowed to be fully transparent when addressing personnel information, as it may be illegal for her to disclose certain details.
She said administration often has to be careful when managing personnel information, because they don’t want to hurt individuals by establishing unfounded rumors.
Michael McGruder, president of NLC’s civic leadership club, asked Tercero how she would address subordination to the board of trustees and the chancellor, having been dismissed from her previous position by Texas Southmost College’s board.
The Valley Morning Star reported Tercero’s dismissal was the result of an internal investigation that involved a windstorm insurance policy, according to The Ranger. The Star reported that Tercero had renewed the policy without board approval.
Tercero said she has learned to accept the board’s decisions if they vote as a majority, and she would refrain from speaking publicly about disagreements with the board’s decisions.
Tercero said renewing the insurance policy was in the best interest of the college and the students.
Tercero said her dismissal stemmed from a personality conflict with a trustee member and the election of several new board members.
Cotellesse asked Tercero how she would address and resolve the disenfranchisement of adjunct faculty at NLC.
Tercero said she would find places outside of the classroom for adjunct faculty to meet with full-time faculty to discuss teaching techniques.
Tercero said she would survey adjuncts to determine the best times to host events, ensuring adjuncts can attend to establish a sense of community among all faculty.
Brittany A. Chozinksi, secretary of NLC’s Faculty Senate, asked Tercero how she would develop a positive rapport with the board of trustees.
Tercero said she understands the community college hierarchy, and she will continue to maintain professionalism and passion.
“I tell people it’s OK to lead with your heart,” Tercero said. “You can still accomplish things in a good way when you’re leading with your heart. It’s not something people like to talk about, because it may be viewed as a little too relaxing or it’s not going to get you anywhere. But I can tell you the work I did with the UT system explains that very well.”