Editorial: GCC makes successful transition

  • Yves Salomon-Fernandez is the new president of Greenfield Community College. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Published: 5/23/2018 8:08:53 PM

In the selection of its next president, Greenfield Community College has once again shown itself to be the community’s educator.

Almost nine months ago, President Robert L. Pura announced his retirement, initiating the search for a new president. Pura said he would remain at arm’s length from the process as the college’s board and a committee decided on its future leader. Not that anyone would have objected to his input. But Pura was establishing precedent and providing an example in typical Aristotelian fashion.

From the beginning, the board of trustees and the college’s presidential search committee embraced a transparent process. Out of 11 semifinalists presented by a search firm from a nationwide field, five candidates were selected and the process was opened to the public. From April 23 to May 2, each candidate spent a day on campus, meeting and talking with students, faculty, staff and the general public. At the end of each visit, an open forum allowed members of the public to provide written comments about the candidate to the board of trustees.

The final public step in the selection of the next president was an open meeting of the trustees. The vote was preceded by deliberation of the board, which held its meeting at the larger Stinchfield Lecture Hall, so that more of the public could sit in on the decision. An open roll call recorded the vote of each trustee.

The unanimous selection of Yves Salomon-Fernandez signaled a desire to build on what Pura has created at GCC over the last 18 years, a legacy that includes working toward a sustainable future, working with the Opioid Task Force and with the courts and jails, completing building renovations and $14 million raised by the GCC Foundation in his time at the college.

Salomon-Fernandez will be the first woman of color to lead the college and the first female president since Katherine Sloan in the 1990s. Salomon-Fernandez has experience as a college president and boasts deep knowledge in Massachusetts, both with the community college system and with the Legislature.

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

Trustee Isaac Mass, an attorney and Greenfield city councilor, drew attention to a timely point: with the departure of longtime legislative stewards for western Massachusetts — the resignation of state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, of Amherst, the pending retirement of state Rep. Stephen Kulik, of Worthington, and the death of state Rep. Peter Kocot, of Northampton — it is wise for the college to select someone with pre-existing ties to those in the eastern part of the state.

But there was more than practicality involved in her selection. Trustees described Salomon-Fernandez as a “ball of energy” and a “firebrand.”

Their recommendation now lies with the state Board of Higher Education, which is the body that makes the final decision. The state’s approval and official ratification is expected no later than the end of June, less than one year since Pura told his faculty and staff, “I think I am ready to graduate.”

As the transition drew to a close, Robert Cohn, president of the trustees, said, “We’re all in this together and no one person is bigger than the organization.”

This is how it’s done.

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