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Query puts spotlight on Owens Community College presidential candidate's commitment


Jim Richardson answers questions during a public forum Monday at Owens. Mr. Richardson said that he does indeed wish to move to the Toledo area, after he was quoted in his hometown newspaper as saying he wants to remain at his present job in Washington.

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Jim Richardson, a West Coast community college president, has a range of educational work experience as instructor, administrator, and leader of small and large institutions.

He's negotiated with unions, built educational partnerships with high schools, and created mentoring programs for Hispanic and native American students.

As a finalist for the Owens Community College president's job, he answered a slew of questions yesterday put to him at a public forum of about 150 faculty, students, and the general public.

As he stood, microphone in hand, questioners elicited responses about his management style, work experiences, and educational philosophies.

But one question had little to do with his resume and more to do with his heart.

Does he actually want to come the Toledo area?

A member of the Owens staff read aloud from a printout from Mr. Richardson's local newspaper in Wenatchee, Wash., where he's currently president of Wenatchee Valley College. In the article, he's quoted as saying he and his wife want to stay in Wenatchee.

"Why are you here, when, apparently, you want to be there?" the questioner asked after reading from the printout.

Mr. Richardson said that he "was not very good with the press" in that instance and that his true feelings were not accurately reflected by the newspaper article.

"I don't have another job," he said. "If I'm not chosen for this job, I still go back to a great job."

Mr. Richardson said he's at the end of a five-year contract and that he's been offered a good extension by the board, whose members are aware that he's a finalist for the Owens job, he said.

"It would be a big decision to move," he said. "[But] it's something I want to take on … This is a next step for me. … No matter what my hometown paper says, I do want to be here."

At the forum, he stressed the economic challenges ahead for Owens and community colleges in general, often charged with re-training the recently unemployed, with offering hope in dismal economies and in the face of shrinking state education budgets.

The public questioning lasted about an hour. He was scheduled to have a meeting later in the day with union members and then members of the Owens board of trustees.

His competition, so far, is Para Jones, president of Spartanburg Community College in Spartanburg, S.C. She'll go through the same public forum questioning process tomorrow and also have private meetings.

A third finalist withdrew from the process after accepting a president's post at another school. As a result, John Moore, chairman of the Owens search committee, said the committee might bring in more candidates, based on the new resumes that continue to come in even after the deadline, he said.

As demand for community college education continues to increase, the new president faces the task of repairing the school's image after its registered nursing program lost a key accreditation.

It still operates, but without the status.

Owens - which has been led by an interim president since Jan. 1 - hopes to regain the accreditation through the recent creation of a stand-alone nursing program, a change from running the program out of its school of health sciences.

Owens is facing lawsuits filed by nursing students over the loss of the accreditation.

After the forum, Mr. Richardson told The Blade that if he were chosen president, he'd hope to resolve the legal issues with the nursing students, adding that accreditations would not be lost under his watch.

"We would have to talk to the students, probably through lawyers," he said. "But I would hope not."

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:

or 419-724-6134.

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