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GCC names Yves Salomon-Fernandez as its next president

  • The Greenfield Community College’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted to recommend Yves Salomon-Fernandez to the Board of Higher Education as the college’s new president, replacing Bob Pura when he retires. RECORDER STAFF/JOSHUA SOLOMON

  • SALOMON-FERNANDEZ



For the Gazette
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

GREENFIELD — Signaling a desire to build on what Robert L. Pura has created at Greenfield Community College over the last 18 years, the board of trustees unanimously voted to appoint Yves Salomon-Fernandez as the college’s next president.

Salomon-Fernandez will be the first woman of color to lead the college and will be the first female president since Katherine Sloan in the 1990s.

One of five finalists, Salomon-Fernandez has experience as a college president and boasts deep knowledge in Massachusetts, both with the community college system and with the Legislature.

The decision came down to Salomon-Fernandez, the current president of Cumberland County College in Vineland, New Jersey, and Julie White, senior vice president of student engagement and learning support at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York.

The board can now offer the position and begin negotiating a contract.

“Julie White is a safe choice,” said Clare Higgins, a GCC trustee and the executive director of Community Action Pioneer Valley, about the candidate that some trustees said was their favorite walking into decision day on Tuesday, including the head of the search committee, Amy Moscaritolo.

“We have such a good foundation that I think we can take the choice that doesn’t feel quite as safe, but could take us the next step,” Higgins said about Salomon-Fernandez.

All but two of the 11 trustees had said at the start of the meeting that Salomon-Fernandez and White were their top two finalists.

Last August, Pura announced he was going to step down as president, saying in a speech to faculty: “It is now time for me to move on — I think I am ready to graduate.”

Extensive search

Since then, five finalists were brought to the campus where each had a day at the school. They each met with the college community stakeholders, including in a public session. In addition to Salomon-Fernandez and White, the other finalists included Christopher Gilmer, Arlene Rodriguez and Carla Oleska.

Gilmer withdrew his bid on Monday after accepting a job elsewhere, the trustees announced at Tuesday’s meeting.

Higgins called both finalists impressive in her opening remarks. As the board members went around the table, hearing each other’s lead choices, she said, “We’re down to discerning more subtle differences,” between White and Salomon-Fernandez.

Momentum for White slowly shifted toward Salomon-Fernandez, as the trustees fleshed out their reasons. It was also said that from the public input, the leading candidate was Salomon-Fernandez.

Trustee Elizabeth Sillin, a Springfield attorney and longtime advocate of the college and its foundation, explained it this way: White is an excellent candidate to improve the college looking inward, while Salomon-Fernandez will be looking outward.

“It’s a little bit of yin-yang for these guys for me,” Sillin said.

Christopher Donelan, college trustee and Franklin County sheriff, described Salomon-Fernandez’s experience with grant writing and politicking with eastern Massachusetts officials as an immediate positive.

“Greenfield Community College is strong in a lot of ways, and we don’t want to slide backwards,” he said.

Trustee Isaac Mass, an attorney and city councilor, said the departure of longtime legislative stewards for western Massachusetts — with the resignation of state Sen. Stan Rosenberg, the pending retirement of state Rep. Stephen Kulik and the unexpected death of state Rep. Peter Kocot — it is wise for the college to select someone with pre-existing ties to those in the eastern part of the state.

Ultimately, it came down to Salomon-Fernandez having experience as a president and working in Massachusetts that swung a unanimous vote for her.

Salomon-Fernandezbackground

Before becoming president at Cumberland County College, Salomon-Fernandez served as interim president of Massachusetts Bay Community College. While there, she also spent a decade as an adjunct professor, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses.

The experience at Massachusetts Bay in Wellesley Hills was what the trustees noted when speaking about her experience with the Legislature.

Trustees described her as a “ball of energy,” a “firebrand” and, as Trustee President Robert Cohn put it, someone who “really seemed to jump out that they really wanted the job.”

Trustees also valued her training in science and math, with a focus on using data to help make more informed decisions.

She served as co-chair of the Governor’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Council’s College & Career Readiness Committee. She now serves on the New Jersey Business and Industry Association’s Post-Secondary Education Task Force.

A recommendation will now be forwarded to the state Board of Higher Education, which is the body that make the final decision. The state’s approval is expected, unless an issue with the candidate selected or the process is questioned. An official ratification should come no later than the end of June.

Cohn assured his board members and the faculty in attendance at the meeting Tuesday that the college will be in good hands following this decision.

“We’re all in this together and no one person is bigger than the organization,” Cohn said. “The college is being left in a good position,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “as long as the rest of you don’t leave.”

Pura’s last day at GCC will be July 1. The college hopes, by then, the state’s process to approve the trustees’ recommendation will be complete, so they can move forward on what many have said will be a position with tough shoes to fill.

“The reason these people want to come here is because all of you,” Cohn said about the candidates. “They did their homework. They know how great this place is. They know how everyone here is on the same page. Everyone is concerned with student success. That’s the name of the game.”