VSC board meets on new chancellor
By Josh O’Gorman
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | July 09,2014
MONTPELIER — Interim or permanent?
That was the question mulled over Tuesday by the Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees as it looks at replacing Chancellor Tim Donovan, who is stepping down at the end of the year.
“We don’t have anyone in the wings,” said board chairwoman Martha O’Connor, who acknowledged she has heard from prospective candidates who are interested in the job. “This is an open process that we need to go through. We want to hear what the presidents have to say and what the trustees have to say.”
In June, the presidents of the five state colleges met during a retreat and drafted a list of attributes they wanted in a chancellor, which include the ability to manage a $200 million budget; be an effective communicator with students, staff and the public at large; and someone who will doggedly champion the state college system.
“We’d like to see someone who will be a tough advocate with the governor and the legislators, someone who will have our collective back,” said David Wolk, president of Castleton State College.
Notably absent from that list is an extensive background in the field of education in general, or with the VSC system specifically. Donovan has spent nearly 40 years in the VSC system, including a tenure as president of Community College of Vermont. His predecessor, Robert G. Clarke, was president of Vermont Technical College for 15 years.
Trustee Lynn Dickinson suggested looking to the private sector for a chancellor to head the VSC system.
“They might have the experience of managing a $200 million budget without the experience in education, but might be more flexible and more willing to innovate,” Dickinson said.
The bigger question for the trustees was whether the next appointment should take the form of an interim or a permanent chancellor, which led the trustees to weigh the pros and cons of each option.
An interim chancellor would give the board some breathing room to search for a permanent candidate. The conventional wisdom around the conference table Tuesday held that any candidate who meets the requirements for the job will likely already be employed and might not be ready to switch jobs.
Conventional wisdom also held that six months isn’t enough time to perform a search for a permanent chancellor, a notion challenged by VTC Interim President Dan Smith, who suggested the trustees reach out to recruiting firms and get a professional opinion as to whether there is enough time or not.
Other college presidents questioned whether having an interim chancellor is a good idea.
“It can postpone or defer loyalty if you don’t know how long a person will be here,” said Barbara Murphy, president of Johnson State College.
Joe Bertolino, president of Lyndon State College, noted that with recent turnovers of college presidents and some schools facing budget shortfalls and declining enrollment, the VSC system is facing instability.
“I wonder if an interim appointment would add to the instability,” Bertolino said.
The board’s Executive Committee is expected to iron out a plan during its next meeting July 17, and return to the full board with a proposal July 31.