Some CMC finalists are no stranger to controversy

by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Baggage from presidential terms at other schools

Two finalists in the running for president of Colorado Mountain College have backgrounds that include controversy while serving as heads of other educational institutions.

Dr. Jill Boyle, currently the senior vice president at CMC, agreed in September 2009 to step down with six months remaining on her contract at Florida Keys Community College (FKCC) in Key West, Fla. She took the paid leave after months of vocal criticism — much of it anonymous, some of it in well-attended college board of trustees meetings — about her leadership style. Boyle also had strong support in the Keys, and saw enrollment spike during her tenure.

Dr. Hank Dunn is the current president of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (AB Tech) in North Carolina, where among his first actions was to campaign for a sales tax increase to fund a $129 million long-term campus building program. The proposal barely passed in November 2011, and earned the new president political adversaries, one of whom Dunn kept off the college’s board this past spring with a maneuver he later had to apologize for.

There are five finalists for the CMC job, which is open after previous president Stan Jensen stepped down last December with a $500,000 severance package. The other finalists are Dr. Carrie Hauser, a former executive with Metropolitan State College of Denver who is currently with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City; Dr. Leah Bornstein, current president of Coconino Community College in Flagstaff, Ariz., who headed CMC’s Breckenridge and Dillon campuses; and Dr. Alan Walker, the former president of Upper Iowa University who went on sabbatical last fall after nearly nine years on the job.

CMC is a community college with 11 locations in nine counties, including sites in Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Rifle, Edwards, Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs. About 22,500 total students were enrolled in the college last school year, according to budget estimates, but most take a part-time course load. The “full time equivalent” number of students — an FTE is equal to one person taking 30 semester hours a year — was estimated at 4,458 last year.

CMC has a projected $60 million budget for fiscal year 2013-14. When the recession hit in 2009, but property valuations were still high, CMC was one of the few special taxing districts in the region to not lower its mill levy and provide taxpayer relief, citing the need to invest in capital projects. 

Both Dunn and Boyle started their tenures at AB Tech and FKCC with staff shakeups, and both tie criticisms back to disgruntled former employees with an ax to grind.

Boyle said that at FKCC, where she started in 2007, she was brought in to turn around a sinking ship, which had seen declining enrollment numbers, financial trouble and accreditation issues dating back 10 years. She pointed to record-setting private grants secured and enrollment that shot up during her leadership term as evidence of her success there.

“It very much was a matter of needing a strong change agent,” she said. “As you know, change agents are often faced with strong obstacles in their way.”

Allegations of a hostile work environment plagued Boyle, however, and even landed her a listing on the website dedicated to shaming difficult bosses.

Lydia Estenoz, who worked in the college administration under Boyle, said she sounded the alarm bell at a board meeting concerning discontent among the staff about the president, and how it was harming the workplace environment. There was a breakdown in communication and trust between Boyle and some staff members that had poisoned the well, she said, and in the end, Boyle felt so undermined and attacked that she decided it was best to move on, according to Estenoz.

While acknowledging that she had her criticisms at the time, Estenoz now looks back positively on Boyle’s term.

“I think she worked very hard and it was a shame that it ended that way,” Estenoz said.

Boyle has been at CMC since 2010.

In Asheville, Dunn helped secure the narrow approval of a sales tax increase to fund a campus building program.

“That issue has some lingering effects,” Dunn said. “Some folks couldn’t get over the fact that we passed it.”

One of those opponents was Mike Fryar, a Buncombe County commissioner, who was set to be appointed to the AB Tech board of trustees. But Dunn didn’t want Fryar on the board, saying that it would be better to have someone who was more supportive of the college’s direction. He then rushed the appointment of a commissioner from a neighboring county, including a swearing-in ceremony that took place in Dunn’s office, which prevented Fryar from being seated.

“In re-examining this decision, I realize in retrospect that I made a mistake,” according to a statement Dunn issued in March, following the incident. “Although I was concerned with the best interest of the college from a philosophical standpoint, I truly regret my mistake.”

Buncombe County, where the college is located, and Dunn also clashed over plans for the first of AB Tech’s sales-tax funded projects. Some thought that initial plans for the building, which included an auditorium, clashed with the intent of the public financing. This led to an effort in the state legislature to put oversight of the new building in the county’s hands, instead of the college trustees, and resulted in significant design changes to which the college eventually agreed.

Dunn described his leadership style as “engaged,” and said that any high-level job comes with politics.

The five finalists for CMC’s ninth president were culled from about 60 initial applications. The Association of Community College Trustees is helping run the search, and CMC trustees will make the hiring decision, perhaps as soon as Monday (see related story, page 4).

Glenn Davis, chair of the CMC board of trustees, said the board is aware of the issues in the finalists’ pasts.

“Anyone who ultimately ascends to a leadership position probably has done so by virtue of making decisions that don’t make 100 percent of people happy 100 percent of the time,” Davis said. “Sometimes the best people get caught up in unfortunate circumstances.”

Any controversy in a candidate’s background would “certainly be a factor,” Davis said, but he added that the existence of controversy is not a disqualifier in the board’s eyes. 

“It is the board’s position that there are at least two sides to every story,” he said.


Candidates interviewed today

All five finalists for Colorado Mountain College president will be vetted in three separate forums today.

The college’s board of trustees will be in session from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, spending an hour and 15 minutes with each candidate. The interviews will take place at the college’s central services offices in Glenwood Springs, with Dr. Jill Boyle going first at 8 a.m. followed by Dr. Carrie Hauser at 9:30 a.m., Dr. Hank Dunn at 11 a.m., Dr. Alan Walker at 1:15 p.m. and Dr. Leah Bornstein at 2:45 p.m. The board is scheduled to meet in executive session for an hour at the end of the day.

While the board meetings won’t include time for public comment, the candidates will submit to an “open forum” when they will give a brief presentation and then answer questions from anyone who cares to attend.  

The open forums, each to run an hour and a half, will be based at the Edwards campus, but the public can participate via video conferencing at CMC locations in Aspen, central services offices, Spring Valley, Rifle, Leadville, Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs.

Walker will begin the open forums at 8:30 a.m., followed by Bornstein at 10 a.m., Hauser at 11:45 a.m., Boyle at 2:45 p.m. and Dunn at 4:15 p.m.

The “College Council” — a committee made up of faculty, staff, students and community representatives — also will get a crack at the candidates. The council will meet at the Garfield County Library in Glenwood and first interview Hauser at 8 a.m., Dunn at 9:30 a.m., Boyle at 11:30 a.m., Bornstein at 1:30 p.m. and Walker at 2:45 p.m.

Interim CMC President Charles Dassance has been working to facilitate the meetings, and said the board of trustees and the college council are finalizing their own list of questions they will ask each candidate. 

On top of the interviews, the candidates will meet with college human resources staff and tour the Edwards and Spring Valley campuses on Wednesday.

“It’s a fairly complicated process to try and do this in one day,” Dassance said.

The board of trustees is expected to meet in executive session Monday, when members could decide to hire someone or extend the search further.