Three finalists to interview for post of Santa Fe College provost

Published: Monday, January 10, 2011 at 6:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 10, 2011 at 6:13 p.m.

The next provost of Santa Fe College will face a declining budget, increasing academic expectations and students not adequately prepared for higher education.

Three candidates make their case on how they would address those issues and more during public interviews over the next week.

Mary Bendickson, dean of associate of arts at Hillsborough Community College, interviews today while SFC’s interim provost and vice president Ed Bonahue will meet with faculty and students on Wednesday. Lisa Armour, dean of mathematics at Valencia Community College’s west campus, is the final candidate with an interview on Jan. 18. Each interview will take place at 2:30 p.m. in Building S, Rooms 29 and 30 on the northwest campus.

The position has been vacant since May 2009 when former Provost Anne Kress left to become president of Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y.

SFC President Jackson Sasser said he expects the next provost to have a litany of qualities.

“A college prospers when the leader of the academic function has a love of learning, an appreciation and respect for faculty and celebrates differences,” he said. “That’s what a college is. It’s always in search of the next great idea.”

The steering committee will meet and make a recommendation, while Sasser will make the final decision, unless the committee determines only one candidate meets the college’s needs.

“It’s not easy to come into an institution as strong as Santa Fe and get through a screening committee,” Sasser said.

Bendickson said she’s followed SFC’s progress since she began working in the Florida community college system 12 years ago.

She said her experience with the quality enhancement plan (QEP) portion of reaccreditation for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will help SFC as it prepares for it in 2012.

“I was very involved in our QEP process from the very beginning, all the way to writing the report,” she said. “I’ve also gone on several SACS accrediting visits to other schools, so that’s been enormously helpful in understanding the accrediting process.”

Bendickson said she would work with local high schools to ensure students are college ready, while dealing with impending budget cuts.

“The first thing is to do everything we can to protect the classroom from the cuts because that’s what we’re all about,” she said. “The problem with that is that all of our community colleges have faced cuts in the past and it becomes increasingly more difficult every time we’re told to cut.”

Bonahue, who has worked at SFC for the past 15 years, said the past 18 months as interim provost has helped him get ready for the next step.

“I think the biggest challenge is learning how to hold the complete scope of the institution in my head,” he said.

That includes all of the college’s programs, from baccalaureate to college preparatory courses. More students are coming to college without the necessary basics, Bonahue said.

With an anticipated 10 percent cut to state funding and a loss of $2.8 million in stimulus money, Bonahue said that job will get tougher.

“I think all of the Florida colleges are going to continue to be challenged by the economic environment,” he said. “As we continue to raise the cost of tuition to make ends meet, that makes it harder for students to come to school and succeed in school because they have to work.”

Armour said the job posting itself attracted her to the provost position as well as the polling for ideas for the quality enhancement plan.

“That’s something that really excited me about the way Santa Fe is conducting business for students,” she said. “Santa Fe has an excellent reputation for innovation and excellence of academic programs and also for workforce development.”

Armour said she understands the expertise available nationally to help improve the academic experience at SFC.

“I am interested in partnerships to improve learning — between academic divisions and student affairs, across multiple physical and virtual educational centers and within the community,” she wrote in her letter of intent, adding that “strong relationships between the college, area high schools, universities and employers expand possibilities for individuals and for the community.”

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