Owens Community College's failure to attract a more-talented pool of finalists for its open presidency, as well as its unexpected executive-session decision to remove the "interim" from the current president's title, say a great deal - little of it good- about the two-year college.
Of the three finalists invited to take part in community forums at the end of April, one - Danette Toone - didn't participate because she already had accepted the presidency of a smaller community college in Kansas for much less money - $118,000 a year - than Owens was likely to offer.
A second, Jim Richardson, appears to have used Owens as leverage to push his current employer to offer him a five-year extension to remain as president of Wenatchee Valley College in Washington state. He also took less money, $177,500, than likely would have been on the table here.
That left only Para Jones. She had been president of Spartanburg Community College in South Carolina for just a year, which led to questions about institutional loyalty and how long she might stay at Owens.
Instead of reopening the search, the Owens board of trustees voted to hire interim President Larry McDougle, who hadn't been a candidate for the permanent job. The former president of Northwest State Community College near Archbold has been praised for his leadership as Owens works to restore its reputation, which was tarnished when the college nursing program was stripped of national accreditation and the college's president and provost abruptly retired. Mr. McDougle will be paid $240,000.
Mr. McDougle is a fine administrator. But the way he was hired raised a few eyebrows.
Of more concern is the failed search. Especially in this economy, why weren't scores of talented administrators beating down Owens' doors? The Perrysburg college has been growing rapidly in recent years, adding students and programs. Its difficulties, while real, aren't fatal and are being addressed. Mr. McDougle's compensation suggests salary can't have been the reason, either.
Perhaps the Association of Community College Trustees, which was paid $50,000 to conduct the national search, didn't do a good enough job of marketing the college. Did Owens suffer from the same narrow vision as Toledo Public Schools and not consider nontraditional candidates? Or is there a hidden, systemic problem that discouraged the brightest, most up-and-coming administrators from applying? It's difficult to say.
What is obvious, however, is that Mr. McDougle, at 69 years old and under a one-year contract, is not a long-term solution. Before too long, Owens' trustees again will be shopping for a president. They will need to do a better job of marketing the school, identifying the strongest candidates, and then hiring a leader who will continue Owens' development as a regional leader among community colleges.