Tri-C President-elect Makes First Public Appearance in Cleveland

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Tri-C President-elect Dr. Alex Johnson met with Voice News reporter Bronson Peshlakai at a meet and greet in his honor May 17 at the Institutional Advancement building in Cleveland.  (Photo by Jack Hagan)
Tri-C President-elect Dr. Alex Johnson met with Voice News reporter Bronson Peshlakai at a meet and greet in his honor May 17 at the Institutional Advancement building in Cleveland.
(Photo by Jack Hagan)

New Prez Shares Strategy To Lead a Transparent Administration

By Bronson Peshlakai
Metro Campus editor-in-chief

Leaders at Cuyahoga Community College chose to bring back a familiar face to take over the reins of the college after long-time president Jerry Sue Thornton retires June 30.

Alex Johnson, 62, former Metro Campus provost/campus president will become the college’s fourth president in its 50-year celebration.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to serve as president of Cuyahoga Community College,” Johnson said at a meet and greet event May 17. “I look forward to becoming more acquainted with everyone here, particularly our students, to get some understanding of what their needs are and how we might address them.”

Johnson said he’s excited to reacquaint himself with his friends and former colleagues since being the Metro Campus president from 1993 to 2004. Thornton hired Johnson after being college president for one year, and said he brought a sense of pride to the Metro Campus, and that he now brings an intimate knowledge of Tri-C.

“One of the many projects he did there was to get the faculty, staff and students engaged in planting flowers in the spring,” Thornton said. “It was that kind of enthusiasm and collaboration of bringing people together around a project that you could see infiltrated his leadership.”

Watching very closely on who becomes Tri-C’s next leader was Ray Jaskulski, president of the American Association of University Professors, Tri-C Chapter #117, who was one of the members of the selection committee – a committee of Tri-C board members, faculty, students and community members who narrowed the pool of applicants down.

Jaskulski said he was very impressed with Johnson’s presentation, his experience and sincerity, plus the fact that his previous experience at Tri-C would be helpful in making him become an effective leader quickly.

“I’m looking forward to working with Dr. Johnson, and I think that the fact that Dr. Thornton was kind enough to encourage the union and the administration to reach an agreement in last fall, prior to the normal negotiation time, which would have been this summer, is a gift to Dr. Johnson in as much as both he and the union can rely on a road map that can guide us for the next three years,” Jaskulski said.

Upon Johnson’s arrival to Tri-C as president, he must deal with several monumental issues at the college that has the media and community abuzz. Recently the nursing program received notification from the accreditation board that places its seal of approval on Tri-C’s program that several deficiencies exist in the criteria Tri-C must meet. This places the program in jeopardy of losing accreditation.

“We are working very, very diligently to take care of some of the challenges and issues that we have in the nursing program,” Johnson said in an interview with The Voice. “We are making an effort to overcome some of those challenges that we know exist in the program, and that’s a really good thing.”

He pointed out that Tri-C has a stellar nursing program that is still accredited and that students and the community shouldn’t worry because Tri-C is ranked number 3 out of 1,200 community colleges in terms of producing nursing graduates.

“That’s a lofty position to have,” he said.

Another issue Johnson faces, is the shroud of secrecy that often leaves decisions and issues the administration has made in a level of shadows difficult to bring to light, even though Ohio’s Sunshine Laws stipulate many of those decisions be made public. Cleveland’s daily newspaper The Plain Dealer wrote an editorial accusing Tri-C being lax in transparency.

When The Voice newspaper brought the new hiring policy of mandating student workers to submit to a background check, it took the newspaper’s staff several Public Open Records requests to retrieve documents used to determine a student’s hiring eligibility.

Also, Tri-C officials seemed to be hiding the fact that the nursing program was under scrutiny by the accreditation board, and made no effort to alert the community via the media, something that was required to be reported, according to National League of Nursing guidelines.

At a candidates forum between the two presidential finalists, Johnson, and Lars Hafner, formerly from State College of Florida-Manatee, Johnson spoke of transparency in his administration as being a key goal. Also, in two interviews with The Voice, and at a meet and greet with students, faculty and staff, he also mentioned transparency being key.

“This is very important; I believe in transparency 100 percent,” Johnson said in an interview. “For me it’s about being proactive to ensure that individuals know what’s going on at the institution at all times, whether or not the news is good or bad I believe in that strategy.

There are times when we have to be discreet in terms of how we handle particular affairs like personnel but on those occasions, where it’s permitted, I can assure you that we will be transparent,” he said.

As for Tri-C’s retiring president, Thornton said it’s the dawn of a new era and she is ready to step down into a volunteer role at Tri-C, as she will remain on the board of the Tri-C Foundation.

“So, it’s good bye to that office, it’s good bye to the presidency, but not to the people of the college, and he will become my president at that point,” Thornton said of Johnson. “From my perspective, the new leader is inheriting an outstanding institution with students who are coming here for the right reasons, wanting to get an education for themselves, enrich their families, the staff, administration, faculty, who are just top quality; so, while we are getting a new leader, he’s also getting a great college.”

Next on the agenda is for the board of trustees to negotiate a salary package with Johnson. As the exiting president of Community College of Allegheny County, situated in and around the Pittsburgh area, Johnson leaves a salary of $250,454. Board Trustee Jerry Kelsheimer said the college is currently doing a market study, and will take Hafner’s and Thornton’s salary into consideration for determining Johnson’s pay. According to Thornton’s last contract, she made $261,590 a year.

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