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Published: Wednesday, 6/9/2010

Owens president sheds 'interim' title

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Owens Community College Board of Trustees unexpectedly voted yesterday to remove "interim" from President Larry McDougle's title, further stabilizing an institution that seemed adrift last year after losing a key academic accreditation and the core of its leadership to retirement.

The vote ends, for now, a nationwide search for a new president, which yielded a handful of finalists - all but one of whom withdrew to take other offers.

The school's ad hoc search committee decided to reopen the process, but the board instead decided to hire Mr. McDougle in an executive session yesterday.

But Mr. McDougle, 69, who previously was president of Northwest State Community College near Archbold, would accept only a one-year contract. "After six or eight months from now, if we're still excited about being partners and working together, then that can be extended," he said. "I'm not going to wait until the end of the year. I would not leave them hanging like that."

His pay is $240,000 a year, plus a $2,800 monthly housing allowance and use of a used Jeep Grand Cherokee owned by the school.

Owens is working to reinvigorate its image after losing its accreditation from the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. That development spawned a still-pending lawsuit from more than 100 nursing students.

After losing the accreditation, President Christa Adams and Provost Paul Unger chose to retire, effective Jan. 1 this year.

John Moore, chairman of the search committee, said board members realized that Mr. McDougle has the experience needed to guide the school through the process of winning back its nursing program accreditation and cited his leadership since becoming interim chief in January.

At its regular meeting yesterday, the board also signed off on the May 20 firing of Cynthia Hall, the school's chairman of nursing, due to alleged poor performance.

She was placed on administrative leave in October after Owens lost the accreditation. She was recommended to the board in December to be fired but the board tabled the motion, allowing her to return to work in December, according to Renay Scott, the school's interim provost.

As part of the reform process, the nursing program was removed from the school of health sciences and placed into its own school with a new dean.

Working for the new dean, Ms. Hall was under investigation for several months and then placed on administrative leave May 7. She was fired about two weeks later.

The school released written details of the investigation into her performance, assigning her at least some of the blame for the nursing program's loss of accreditation.

The accrediting organization warned the school in 2007 that its associate degree nursing program did not have enough faculty members with a master's degree, among other issues.

The school did not fix the problem and eventually lost the important status.

In the investigation documents, Cynthia Eschenburg, Owens' vice president of human resources, cites a progress report prepared by Ms. Hall about the accreditation process.

The investigation documents said "the report was poorly written (multiple syntactical and grammatical errors; redundancy), and did not address the NLNAC's primary concern with showing progress or a plan toward meeting the standards. Instead, the chair [Ms. Hall] asserted that the college would not meet the standard in the next two years and made excuses as to the reasons why."

The investigation documents continued, "Beginning March, 2007, there is little evidence that shows the required leadership necessary to motivate and facilitate faculty involvement in the accreditation process."

Reached at her Port Clinton home yesterday, Ms. Hall said she was made the scapegoat for persistent budget problems at the school.

She said that the school was cited several times in the past for not having enough clinical instructors with master's degrees. She said she warned the leadership about staffing issues but was told there was no money in the budget to fix that problem, and others.

"I'm just being used by them as a scapegoat," she said. "I told them that we needed more faculty and we weren't provided with the resources."

The school now plans to hire six more nursing instructors for the program as part of its push to win back its accreditation. That cost is about $300,000 a year, give or take, depending on salary negotiations.

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at:

ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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