On Monday, the Otero Junior College Presidential Search Committee held a public forum on campus, seeking input about what kind of candidate would be ideal to lead the school.

On Monday, the Otero Junior College Presidential Search Committee held a public forum on campus, seeking input about what kind of candidate would be ideal to lead the school.

Christina Cecil, Associate Vice President of Human Resources, introduced Dr. Narcisa Polonio of Research, Education & Board Services (the consultant company assisting OJC). Dr. Polonio led the discussion off by asking “What do you want this community to look like five years from now, ten years from now?”

Over forty individuals were in attendance, including faculty, administrators, and alumni.

The first speaker noted: “Mr. Rizzuto has been a really good leader for our institution financially… I want to make sure we have money five years from now, ten years from now.” (Jim Rizzuto has served as OJC President for seventeen years and will retire on July 31.) Dr. Polonio noted “resource management” as a key desired strength.

Another speaker said that the new leader must have a “grasp on the challenges… of rural vs urban areas.” “We need to go outside this area to get more students” said another, and “someone that understands the two-year college environment” added a third.

There was some discussion on the relative merits of innovation or approachability among candidates. One audience member said “we need it,” regarding the former; others spoke of establishing a “strong workforce training image” going forward. The feasibility of apprenticeship programs or other new industrial partnerships was talked about.

Another, however, referenced a 2007 graduate “who says he still talks to Jim Rizzuto” as an example of the importance of personal connections; it was those and “not a program, not innovation” that have often attracted athletes and other students. However, it was also pointed out that the athletic programs themselves were once innovative additions to the college.

OJC serves a wide area, covering at least three counties and eight public school districts, and community involvement is “part of the foundation” for the college. “We use their facilities; they use our facilities.” One speaker noted that many locals know the buildings and layout well, since “they regularly come to our campus for a variety of things.” “You’re a cultural center,” responded Dr. Polonio.

Asked about areas of concern for OJC, faculty “attracting and retention” was a leading topic. “Certain degree areas” are the hardest, mentioned one speaker; another hoped that the college would be “not secondary to Pueblo or any of the schools in Denver” for hiring. However, several spoke to local challenges facing this goal, such as housing availability.

The consultant warned the audience of a relevant statistic: among “schools that have had a college president for 10 years or more, the next president typically lasts for 18 months.” “That can’t happen,” someone responded. For a college to have had the long-tenured leadership that OJC has enjoyed, however, is unusual; “in higher education, that’s like getting hit by lightning,” Dr. Polonio said. “What are the chances that in today’s world, you’re going to find someone who wants to make a commitment for 10 years?”

As the best way to address this concern, the consultant recommended openness to candidates without over-reliance on specific a priori requirements, such as the exact degrees or years of experience involved. While qualifications are necessary, “you’re not looking for a scholar” compared to someone who will attend community events, etc.

According to Dr. Polonio, today’s academic industry typically and unfortunately “searches… in a very superficial way” for college presidential material. “I’ve had candidates who were eliminated because they wore the wrong colored shirt,” she said. The best applicable solution is to have a deep understanding of what kind of strengths the college values most for a new leader.

This latter task is the job of the Search Committee; their role is “to debate and argue with each other and ask difficult questions.” They will also serve to interpret public commentary and consider suggestions, and the OJC website is expected to have a link from its home page “within a few days” that will allow community members to provide such input.