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Community questions candidates

Four prospective college presidents make their pitch

John Boyd Interim provost at the Grand Strand Campus at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Boyd said he would like to work in a community that fulfills two of his passions: hunting and fishing. Beyond that, he wants the challenge of working at a college still recovering from budget cuts. "If I didn't think I could come out here and make a difference, I wouldn't be here," he said. "I'm very successful where I'm at. Very successful. I would be taking a risk coming here." After retiring early from the Army, in which he served as an infantry officer, Boyd taught at a South Carolina technical college and created a four-year criminal justice program. He said he would work to stabilize enrollment at the Rangely campus and increase enrollment in Craig. "Frankly, morale here is terrible," he said. "If someone doesn't step in, you're going to lose the people that make this a great college." Boyd said raising money would be the president's primary function. He, too, envisions Craig having its own full campus. C.J. Law Dean of instructional services at Dawson Community College in Glendive, Mont. Law said college officials have made decisions for financial instead of academic reasons, which in the long run would cost the college money. Cutting programs means decreased enrollment, he said. "You just shot yourself in the foot again, but this time with a big gun," he said. He said a president is needed who understands the workings of a community college and who represents Northwest Colorado, not just the Rangely campus. Law said the college has a lot of potential and that he would like to explore offering a two-year agricultural program, as well as more programs related to the energy-industry. Law said his experience makes him a good fit for the position and the community and that he can relate to and understand the rural lifestyle. Robert Behunin Associate executive director of Utah State University-Uintah Basin Behunin said he is a hands-on leader and a people person. "People are the lifeblood of the institution," he said. Behunin said he would hold focus groups to see how the college could better recruit students and staff members. His focus would be on providing things studies show students want -- financial assistance, recreation and entertainment and strong academics, he said. "Are we buying students? Yeah. Does buying students work? Yeah," he said. He would work toward the goal of building housing for Craig students. Behunin has been a professional registered lobbyist for nearly four years and said he was comfortable working with elected officials on behalf of higher education. He said he saw himself as guiding and propelling the college but said growth depended on the community taking ownership of the college. Behunin is married and has four children, ages 10 to 17. Weldon Sleight Associate vice president for University Extension and associate dean for continuing education at Utah State University in Logan Sleight is passionate about higher education. "Rural America is in trouble," he said. "I've seen the positive economic impact higher education can have on a rural community." Although he's long left the classroom, Sleight still speaks to students about the importance of higher education. He said the future of Colorado Northwestern Community College depends on imparting that value to the area's teens. But, those who miss the opportunity deserve a second chance, best given by community colleges, he said. Sleight knows about the pressures single parents face. He spent several years as a single father of three children younger than 5. He said he thought community colleges should be an avenue of relief, a promise of a higher-paying job, not a pipedream. Sleight said that if he's selected, he'll spend time in the community, "building partnerships to build colleges."

Craig residents asked Colorado Northwestern Community College presidential candidates what they would do about declining enrollment and diminishing morale, but foremost among questions was: “Where will you live?”

It was a question none of the candidates was ready to answer; all said they needed more time to explore their options.

The four finalists for the community college’s top spot were in Craig on Tuesday to meet residents and tour the campus.



They were in Rangely on Monday doing the same thing.

For the first time, the college’s president will have the choice of living in Craig or Rangely.



A search committee narrowed a pool of 15 applicants to four: Robert Behunin, associate executive director of Utah State University-Uintah Basin in Vernal; John Boyd, interim provost at the Grand Strand Campus at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Weldon Sleight, associate vice president for University Extension and associate dean for continuing education at Utah State University in Logan, Utah; and C.J. Law, dean of instructional services at Dawson Community College in Glendive, Mont.

More than 30 residents, college students and staff members attended Tuesday’s four-hour forum. They filled out questionnaires with their opinions of each candidate, which will be used by the search committee when it again narrows the selection.

“I’m looking for someone to support Craig,” said Jacque Forquer, a Colorado Northwestern Community Col–lege cosmetology school instructor.

Each of the candidates has experience living in rural communities and working with community colleges.

That will make the choice difficult, Forquer said.

After spending an hour with each of the candidates, she left with no clear favorite.

“I’m very impressed with all the candidates,” she said.

Forquer said she was looking for a person who will help grow the Craig campus, instead of focusing all his attention on the Rangely campus.

“We have to have this college,” she said.

She thought each of the four candidates could fit the bill.

“There are lots of unique opportunities here,” Law said. “This college has a lot going for it.”

The college has been without a president for nearly two years. The state community college system, of which Colorado Northwestern is a member, appointed Bob Rizzuto in the interim to tighten the school’s budget in response to cuts in state funding.

That he’s done. At the Craig campus those cuts meant the loss of 75 percent of the college’s adjunct staff, elimination of some programs and classes and consolidations in full-time staff positions.

“We’re bleeding profusely here,” one audience member said. “Until we can get to the point where we can grow, how can you fix us?”

Law said he would be an advocate and cheerleader for the Craig campus.

“You can’t come back from where this college is overnight,” he said. “You need some optimistic leaders.”

Behunin said it’s critical that the college’s president lobby for the college at the state level to get funding to enlarge Craig’s campus. Boyd said he thought the changes would come when the college’s financial picture improved. He said he’d spend at least half his time working to get funding from individuals, corporations and grants.

“You’ve got to bring people in, and if you bring people in, you’ve got to house them,” he said.


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