'Call Me Phil'

I’m Phil Dolly, Ed. D.

Recently resigned, or deposed, community college president.

Yesterday I was the CEO at North East Central Community College here in Folsom County, West Dakota. Today, I’m contemplating my own crisis in leadership. Following a faculty vote of no confidence, and caving in to growing board pressure, I packed it in this morning. No one was surprised, really, including me. But more about that later.

September 12, 2008

I’m Phil Dolly, Ed. D.

Recently resigned, or deposed, community college president.

Yesterday I was the CEO at North East Central Community College here in Folsom County, West Dakota. Today, I’m contemplating my own crisis in leadership. Following a faculty vote of no confidence, and caving in to growing board pressure, I packed it in this morning. No one was surprised, really, including me. But more about that later.

This evening I am sitting here at the bar nursing a weak gin and tonic, assessing the landscape of my shattered career. This place is nothing fancy, that’s for sure. I don’t know when it saw fresh air last. Located in Payson, West Dakota, this bar and grill has been owned by the same guy, I.M. Contento, for nearly a decade. I’m a little bit out of my element -- but I’m comforted by the visual relics of my own blue collar past -- seed company calendars, jars of pickled pigs feet, softball trophies, and the effervescent aroma of bacon, beer, and cheese. Many of the locals know me and enjoy seeing me stop in for an occasional drink. I probably get in here once a month. Maybe more.

I’m not sure what happened. Enrollments didn’t increase, but they didn’t decline much, either. We opened up more centers. I had bandwidth upgraded. I was in Rotary. I brought in some of my former graduate school colleagues from University of T-cough- at cough-in to help invigorate the executive staff and to help bring this district into the 21st century in terms of management. I wanted diversity on the management team. I made all of the directors deans and all of the deans became associate VPs. Only one of the new VP’s had emotional problems, but no damage was done. He checked into rehab. Our quality initiatives must have moved the college forward. We redid offices, put in new floors and windows, and really spruced the place up, too. We won several national awards.

I remember there was some grousing when I had the president’s salary increased to 185K, but the board agreed we needed to be competitive in future presidential searches.

I guess the future arrived more quickly than I anticipated.

The hazy blue smoke in this bar settles at about stool seat level. I wish I.M. Contento would do something about that. Why doesn’t he install some fans or air purifiers or something? I should say something before I have another asthma attack. The country music just drones on and on. All those sad songs about lying, drinking, and needing to be somewhere else. How do these people stand it?

The lights around the mirrors seem so harsh. I barely recognize my own face in the mirror -- the burdens of ileadership, I guess. All those retreats, keynote speeches, conferences, dinners, trips to Europe -- just so much , so much over the years.

The governing board said I spent too much time out of state. They said I belonged to too many national organizations and attended too many conferences. They just don’t understand the difficult and complicated nature of being a community college president. Networking means survival and prosperity for the institution and for me. They don’t understand that the community is much bigger now. We can serve China! GI’s! Nebraska! Technology has empowered us to do so much more than teach welding, massage therapy, and fertilizer applications. We ought to do more than just serve the needs of our county taxpayers! We can have the reputation of being a global higher education leader! Oh, I guess it’s no longer we.

I remember hearing that Contento worked at a community college out west somewhere before he moved here and bought this place. I heard he was a dean or a director or something. Somebody said he has a doctorate. I did hear him, once, muttering something about the “illusion” community colleges project. Who knows what that is supposed to mean?

He must be out of touch with community colleges. Maybe he was a custodian or a purchasing agent or an athletic director.

I wonder if anybody ever talked to him about teaching for us as an adjunct.

I guess it’s not us anymore.

Well, the faculty senate sent me a letter asking why my own kids didn’t attend our college. I tried to explain, directly and honestly, that my wife and I had always dreamed of sending them to Nebraska State. We wanted them to have a university experience, you know, nothing wrong with that. Our kids really didn’t need the community college, you know.

I wonder how many of the patrons here at the “Noseguard Pub” take classes at NECCC? This second drink is really watered down. I wonder if we -- oops -- they -- should work up a transfer curriculum in Bartending? Could we articulate that with NEWDU? Is that part of the guaranteed transfer curriculum? Would bartending fit into the MYJAK or the LOWJAK pathway? Or should it be in an AAS program? I know some of the NECCCT (er, that’s NECCC now) faculty thinks we should focus on AAS degrees. Hah. What do they know? We’re higher education leaders. We ought to be offering BA degrees. We? I mean they, of course. I’m done. But my future is wide open.

There must be a hundred openings nation wide for community college presidents right now. How can that be? We have millions of professionals trained in leadership skills. Maybe this county is just too rough cut to understand what I was trying to do here.

Based on what I learned at several conferences, I recommended we take “Technical” out of our name and emphasize transfer education. I remember several of the local machine shops, meat cutters, massage therapists, hospitals, carpenters, clinics, and local businesses questioned that move -- both the name change and the focus shift. But I was convinced we could become higher education leaders. Just convinced. Six out our 53 full time faculty have doctorates. One even has a Ph.D. They are all actively involved in committee work and have been through total quality training. Heck, I sent 22 of them to NISOD last year. That is Excellence! The nearest university, North Eastern West Dakota University, is over 50 miles away. They are snooty and elitist. We are the only postsecondary -- I mean higher education -- institution serving the county. And we serve the entire county pretty darn well when the ITV system is working!

I must have been mumbling out loud. Contento wandered over and jumped in. “That’s the problem, Dr Dolly" -- “Call me Phil,” I interjected – “OK, uh, Phil, you have tried to make a postsecondary institution into a higher education institution. The town wants jobs, not philosophy. They send their kids off to NEWDU for that. And another thing -- why do you recruit athletes from Uganda to run track? You’ve got South Korean tennis players! Why are the football players from Texas? Why is the woman’s basketball team from Window Rock Arizona? This is Western Dakota, for God’s sake. Let these kids who grew up here, whose folks live here, let these kids play."

He really is out of touch. Some of those NECCC athletes just competed in the Olympics for their own nations! And one of ‘em medaled!

“You know, Dr. Phil (nomenclature he seemed comfortable with), I think many of the faculty at Payson High right here in town have better teaching credentials than your full time faculty. Stop all those leadership speeches! Who is it you think you are leading? Everybody at your college is a leader! Doesn’t anybody work? Have you ever asked yourself what the town thinks of NECCCT? Oops. I mean NECCC. Really asked?”

“And whenever I dial a phone number at NECCCT (oops, I mean NECCC), I get an answering machine. No one ever returns my calls. What kind of customer service is that? Are your people in meetings all day?”

Thank goodness, he’s wandered off to flirt with that curvy redhead at the end of the bar.

He evidently hadn’t heard I resigned -- he still seems to think I’m the president. No matter. Contento is obviously out of touch with best practices of community college management, too.

Oh. The accreditation people were concerned 50 percent of our total enrollment comes from dual enrollment with high school kids (and the classes are taught at the high schools by high school teachers). How can that be considered double dipping? I am very comfortable with those partnerships. I told the board and the faculty such outreach was important to stakeholder satisfaction.

Uh oh. He is coming back. No -- he sat down with a bottle of Scoresby’s. Good. Looks like he’s eating one of those bar pizzas -- the kind that is always half burnt.

I understand Southern Canada Community College and Arctic Region Community College may soon have openings for CEO’s, but it is so tiresome dealing with those consulting firms…

The smoke in here is really getting bad. This third drink seems to be stronger, anyway. Now I’m eating some two day old popcorn. Is there anybody in here who isn’t smoking or wearing a tattoo? All those piercings! Please!!! And that music!

It’s a darn good thing I negotiated the parachute package back in '06 when they gave me a five year contract. But I’m not sure how Molly and I will live on 100 grand this next year.

I guess I’ll email those head hunters at findaprez.com tomorrow. Maybe I’ll try www.ccpresidentsrus.com. There must be a community college out there needing my leadership skills, my knowledge of management styles, my commitment to the learning college philosophy, my zest for policy governance, and my networking abilities. I really can bring a unique skills set to an institution.

I just hope they don’t ask me if I have any publications.

Ahh, one more drink won’t hurt.


Jeffrey Ross teaches at Central Arizona College.


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