Candidates discuss visions and hiring of new NWC president

Posted 10/29/20

The Northwest College Politics Club, the Student Senate and Faculty Senate held a forum Monday for candidates for the three seats on the board of trustees.

The meeting was held via Zoom, and over …

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Candidates discuss visions and hiring of new NWC president


The Northwest College Politics Club, the Student Senate and Faculty Senate held a forum Monday for candidates for the three seats on the board of trustees.

The meeting was held via Zoom, and over 50 people listened in. Five of the seven candidates running for the board participated, with  NWC associate professor of English Rachel Hanan moderating the forum.

Powell subdistrict candidate Bill Johnson and incumbent Mark Wurzel had prior commitments, but Karen Elton, who is also running for that seat, did participate. All three candidates for the Cody subdistrict — incumbent Bob Newsome and challengers Tara Kuipers and Richard Jones — took part in the 90 minute discussion, as did the candidate for the Meeteetse subdistrict, Larry Todd, who is running unopposed.


Opening statements

Elton cited her experience as a CPA as a key qualification that, she said, would bring financial responsibility to the board. She said that knowledge will help the board make “rational decisions that best suits the longevity of Northwest College, its employees, its students, and its community.”

Besides experience serving on the board, Newsome said he’d bring to the table years of experience running businesses in Montana and Wyoming. He noted that the transfer school model that served the college well for so long may not be right for today’s students, and he’d help in the transformations NWC will need to undertake in the coming years.

Kuipers said her experience in academia, as well as her passion for education — she has two master’s degrees — would be an asset to the board if she were elected. She’s served on many community and nonprofit boards, and she runs her own consulting business.

“I think I’ll be well equipped to bring that to the table and be a very strong contributor to the leadership of the college,” Kuipers said.

Jones cited his 25 years of experience in the National Park Service, where he said he dealt with large budgets, as an asset he’d bring to the table. He has two associate’s degrees from community colleges, and has served on a number of boards, including the Cody and Park County Planning and Zoning Boards.

Todd cited his many years of experience in academia as a qualification. He pointed to all the challenges the college faces, including a $3 million budget shortfall as state support dries up.

“What I bring to the table is what I’ve learned is the most effective, adaptive management tool — the confidence to say ‘I don’t know. Let’s think about that and work together to solve it,’” Todd said.


Funding shortfall

The candidates were asked about the strategies they’d take to address this looming shortfall and lay out a future path for the college.

Elton said she’d look at lease agreements to see how the college could save money by using lower cost options. Should the college need to cut positions, Elton said she’d see that employees who are laid off have help finding other positions. She also said the college needs to get its enrollment up.

Newsome said the board needed to face reality that the state’s financial condition wouldn’t see any reversal for some time. That means things will have to change, and programs will need to be cut.

Kuipers warned that in times of financial difficulty, strategic visioning can fall by the wayside when it should be kept at the forefront.

“As we look at budget cuts, we need to be future focused,” she said.

Kuipers also pointed out that times of change can be a catalyst for creativity from faculty, staff and students, who will need to be looked to for ideas.

Jones avoided making any specific statements about how he’d approach the problem as a trustee, but he agreed that people do get shortsighted. He called for a “strategy of sustainability,” which would mean becoming less dependent on unreliable tax revenue sources. This would include increasing enrollment.

“I’m a big picture thinker,” Jones said.


Choosing a new president

The discussion then turned to the candidates’ thoughts on the relationship of the board to the college employees and students. This also raised the question of how the candidates would approach finding a replacement for NWC President Stefani Hicswa, who announced this month she accepted a chancellor position with Montana State University-Billings. The president is the only position at NWC the board of trustees directly employs.

Kuipers noted the significance of selecting a new leader and the impact it would have on the future of NWC. She explained that in soliciting input from students, faculty and the community, a “healthy engagement” needed more parameters and transparency that includes constraints and realities. This would help the board make more informed decisions, Kuipers said.

“Just giving people a blank survey to say, ‘Tell us all the things you want to see at Northwest College’ is probably not very realistic,” she said.

Jones also noted the responsibility the board faces with selecting a new president. He said he saw the role of the board as one that is supportive to the president, whose job is to actually run the institution.

“The president has to be on board with the vision of the trustees, and I hope the trustees have a fairly cohesive vision of where they see the vision of the future of the institution,” based on community engagement, Jones said.

Newsome said the selection of a new president is an unenvious and arduous task, but also an opportunity for the board to further the goal of institutional transformation. This will mean programmatic changes that provide education with a more direct application to jobs.

Elton said the board is in a unique position to take community input and analyze it. She said there were people with a history in the community, and the board could draw upon their insight.

Todd agreed the board needed to “suck up as much information as possible,” and then work with the president to come up with creative solutions. He said the board could improve the search for a new president by tailoring the job description to the type of leadership that would mesh well with the board’s vision.

In their concluding statements, the candidates highlighted their qualifications.

Kuipers said running her own business gives her a lot of flexibility to serve on the board. Jones pointed to an extensive resume of community service. Elton also cited her experience running her own business, and Newsome said he has experience serving on the board and would like to continue.

The election is Tuesday, and voters will select the candidate for the subdistrict in which they live.