Mesalands meets presidential hopeful

Russell Anglin

About 21 community members came to a public forum meeting at Mesalands Community College Monday to meet the first of four candidates who have applied to replace Phillip O. Barry as president of the college.

Larry Edwards fielded questions from Mesalands Board of Trustees Secretary Jim Streetman and from forum attendees. Those who attended the forum were asked to fill out a forum comment form, rating Edwards’ responses to questions on a scale of one to five.

Edwards currently serves as interim president of Oklahoma State University’s Oklahoma City campus. According to the OSU website, he has been the Oklahoma City campus’ vice president of academic affairs since 2002. He has a doctorate degree in political science from Oklahoma University and is a longtime Oklahoma City resident. He has worked in higher education for nearly 40 years and also served in the United States Army.

Tom Anderson, who introduced himself as a retired United States Department of Agriculture employee, welcomed Edwards to Tucumcari and congratulated him on becoming a finalist for the position.

“We’re very proud of this community college. And to prove that, We have never defeated a bond issue or a gross receipts tax in this county for the school. We’ve got some tough times ahead. Our state is in financial difficulty,” Anderson said. “You’ve got some tough row to hoe and you need to get in with the state legislature and see that they vote in our favor.”

“I think you’re right and you should be proud of your college. My boss, my former boss who passed away, was all about relationships, interpersonal relationships,” Edwards said. “I’ve tried to learn something from that. You never burn a bridge when it comes to an interpersonal relationship, and I think whether it’s working with the legislature, working with students, working with people on campus, you try to build those interpersonal relationships … the other thing is, especially now, you show value for what you do. You know it used to be in the olden days they’d say to a college, ‘Well how do we know you’re doing a good job?’ and they’d say, ‘Look at the grades,’ or ‘look how it’s doing from a business standpoint.’ As my dad said, that dog won’t hunt anymore. You’ve got to show that you’re producing graduates that have the skills that people want when they hire somebody. You’ve got to show that you’re careful with their money. You’ve got to show there’s no waste, fraud or corruption, whatever. You have to show value for what you’re given.”

Mike Latham, retired high school teacher, was the next person to address Edwards.

“Two quick things. Mesalands in the past has been very successful in niche areas in education. I’d like to secure your opinions on development and expansion of departments and degrees and the second thing is your ideas on student housing,” Latham said.

“You’re always looking for the right mix of programs. You’re always looking for programs that are needed that students want and employers want and there’s real interest in and fits your mission. You don’t want to go way outside of your mission and do something totally off the wall. Often those expansions are related to something you’re already doing. We’ve had several programs start at our school because of casual conversations between the president and somebody in business and industry. ‘Hey, did you know there’s a need for this kind of program?’ ‘Hey, would you think about setting up a power transmission program?’ So you have to find what the community needs, what the students want to take and be ready to deploy that if it fits your mission. You’ve got to look at the money. Where’s the money going to come from? The other thing is you’ve got to be able to make those decisions to phase out those programs that aren’t working.

“It can be important to a school like Mesalands,” Edwards said of housing. “It would cost a lot, it would bring a lot of problems in its train, but it could be effective and could put certain programs or areas on the map. When you find that unique program that might allow people to come in from outside the community, student housing could be a big draw. It’s a possibility, but it’s expensive, it’s long-term and it brings a lot of issues in its train. There are a lot of issues when you bring kids on campus and you’re responsible for them 24 hours a day, but it could help grow the campus.”

The other candidates for the job are Jimmy Cargill from Glendive, Mont., Veldon Law from Las Vegas, Nev. and Mildred Lovato from Albuquerque.

Cargill will take questions on March 9, Law on March 10 and Lovato on March 11. The public forum interviews will be from 3:30 until 4:30 p.m on these days.

“I’m looking at everything and I’m looking for the best candidate. I can’t narrow it to one or two (qualities) because you’ve got to look at everything,” Streetman said. “We’re not trying to duplicate Dr. Barry. That’s not the thing, but we’ve got to have somebody that has got a lot of his credentials and with the expertise that’s going to take the college to the next level.”