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Published: Friday, 4/30/2010

Ex-Michigan official seeking job as Owens president

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Watkins Watkins
AL GOLDIS / ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

Tom Watkins, Michigan's former state superintendent of public instruction and a longtime higher education official, wants to be president of Owens Community College.

Mr. Watkins said he was contacted last week by the headhunter in charge of finding potential candidates for the vacant post. He was told the process was reopened because only two finalists remained and the board of trustees wanted to add more, he said.

Contacted by The Blade yesterday, Mr. Watkins confirmed he applied and said his "eclectic career" would probably make him a "nontraditional" candidate.

He said winning the post would be the "culmination of a lifetime of experiences."

Mr. Watkins said he drove down, unofficially, to look around the campus on his own Sunday. He said he has not been contacted about his application.

Owens plans to bring in more candidates to interview for the open president's job, said John Moore, chairman of the search committee. The committee plans to wait until early June to meet and discuss potential new candidates and schedule interviews, he said.

The committee chose three finalists for the job out of a pool of 34 applicants. But one withdrew after accepting another job, leaving only two.

This week the two were questioned by staff and the general public in town hall-style public forums.

"Although we have two excellent candidates, we will continue that process," Mr. Moore said yesterday.

The finalists, thus far, have been leaders of smaller community colleges. They identified Owens as a larger institution and a step up, career-wise. Owens has more than 20,000 students.

Mr. Watkins, 56, said he lives in Northville, Mich., about 60 miles north of Toledo, and runs an education consulting firm that does business in China.

From 2001-05, he served as Michigan's superintendent of public education, which meant he also chaired the state board of education.

Mr. Watkins got his start in government working in the Gov. James Blanchard administration, under which he became director of the Michigan Department of Mental Health in 1987. When Mr. Blanchard, a Democrat, lost re-election in 1990, Mr. Watkins became special assistant to the president of Wayne State University.

The next Owens leader will have the opportunity to be a reformer and fix an image problem Owens created since losing a key national accreditation in the summer for its associate's degree nursing program. The school is facing a slew of lawsuits from nursing students. The school still has its state accreditation and operates the program.

Owens was told in July the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission denied the program accreditation. The school was warned in 2007 that it could lose the status because its nursing school staff of instructors didn't include enough master's degree holders. The school didn't make necessary changes and lost the status. Nursing students have sued, and the cases are still in the court system.

The remaining finalists for president are Para Jones, president of Spartanburg, S.C., Community College, and Jim Richardson, president of Wenatchee Valley College in Wenatchee, Wash.

Mr. Richardson visited the campus Monday, and Ms. Jones Wednesday.

A third finalist, Danette Toone, withdrew her candidacy after accepting the president's job at Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kan.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:

ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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