It could be more than a year before a new president is in place at Monroe Community College, and the search for Anne Kress' successor may put the already tense relationship between faculty and college leadership to the test.
After a decade leading MCC, Kress is leaving to become president of Northern Virginia Community College.
The college's Board of Trustees hopes to appoint an interim president by February and form a search committee in the spring of 2020. "Part of the way I'm feeling is hopeful, but also, we still have some concerns that need to be addressed," MCC Faculty President Bethany Gizzi said of the coming change in leadership. A year ago, Kress was the subject of a vote of no confidence by the union. It was based on numerous grievances, which Kress denied, including lack of shared governance, the violation of union contracts, and an atmosphere of intimidation. In May of this year, the Board of Trustees received a faculty no confidence vote of its own. Faculty leaders accused the board of failing to listen to their concerns.
"There are still some people on the board who I think are resistant to working with the faculty because they made it clear that they didn't agree with the things that we said," Gizzi explained.
But she sees an opportunity to ease those tensions.
"From the union perspective," said Gizzi, "we are absolutely hoping to get on better footing with the Board of Trustees in terms of establishing that we have and we expect a cooperative labor-management relationship and that the next president will work with the union instead of against the union to support our mutual interests."
Board chair Barbara Lovenheim said in a statement to WXXI that MCC faculty, staff, and students will be included in the selection of both an interim college president and a permanent leader.
Lovenheim said she will co-chair the search committee with trustee Allen Williams and that committee members will be selected by next spring.
Faculty Senate President Nayda Pares-Kane said she has faith that the search will be both transparent and inclusive.
"We recognize our role," she said. "We're a recommending body to the Board of Trustees, but we are a voice that needs to be heard, and so we expect that the Board of Trustees will do what they have done in the past, which is to engage faculty."
One of the challenges the new president will face right away is declining enrollment. There are 35% fewer students at MCC today compared to 2010.
The college points to several reasons: low unemployment, fewer local high school graduates, and changing demographics.
MCC is not alone. Enrollment is down at community colleges across the country. Still, Gizzi said she thinks the administration is at least partly to blame.
"We're declining at a faster rate," she said, "so there's something that has been happening here that is different. I would say that what is different is that we're not listening to the people who work here and the things that we know are effective and that work for our students and that help them and support them to stay engaged and stay in school."
Both Gizzi and Pares-Kane said MCC faculty are underused experts in their fields who have often been overlooked in favor of outside consultants when it comes to decision-making.
"Morale is not good," Pares-Kane said. "I think all of those factors kind of coalesce and give employees a sense of uncertainty."
Kress will be wrapping up her duties in the next month. She is using vacation time starting Dec. 17 and begins her new position in early 2020.
In the e-newsletter the MCC Daily Tribune, Lovenheim said Wednesday that Provost and Vice President Andrea Wade and Hezekiah Simmons, vice president of administrative services, will take turns as officers-in-charge until an interim president is named early next year.
The board hopes to appoint a permanent president by early 2021 after three candidates are chosen from among the applicants. Lovenheim's letter said the plan is to have the candidates visit MCC for two days in December 2020 for interviews and group discussions with faculty, staff, and students.
Faculty leaders haven't given up hope that it could signal a new era.
"We've got a saying at MCC right now, which is, 'We want to inspire,' " Pares-Kane said. "Well, we're looking for the next leader to be that kind of person; a very inspiring leader that can bring everybody together."