Orange Coast College faces another time of transition with a new leadership change on the horizon after President Dennis Harkins announced his retirement Sept. 12.

The Coast Report Editorial Board believes the transition in leadership should be treated with extreme caution and a strategic plan should be executed with full transparency to the college and its students. We believe it is of utmost importance to dive into a plan as quickly as possible, but to devise it carefully and with honest intentions.

We, as members of the Orange Coast student body, are calling for a fair and transparent search for our college’s next president, and we are asking our peers to stand with us in demanding a better future for our school.

When Golden West College President Tim McGrath was selected for his seat in June, administrators from GWC and the Coast Community College District reportedly signed non-disclosure agreements, and the search was done confidentially. The Coast Report Editorial Board asks that the college and district conduct OCC’s hiring search with transparency.

The role of OCC’s president is to lead and advance a public college — to manage a student population of over 20,000. It’s almost like being the mayor of a small city, Harkins said in a Sept. 12 interview with the Coast Report.

The title comes with a great responsibility, but as students, it’s up to us to hold our administration accountable and ask they include us in on the search for our next leader.

Coast Report staff writers have reached out to OCC administrators and asked why our president is retiring in the middle of a school year, and why the search for the permanent and interim president will be separate.

We were met with unspecified, generic answers, and were told an official leaving in the middle of the year isn’t out of the ordinary. We were told the logistical of the process has not been finalized, but we hope honesty and transparency is a focal point for the school’s administration during the application process.

District Director of Public Affairs, Marketing and Government Relations Letitia Clark said the district has begun forming a search committee to find new candidates across the nation, but she said they have not yet decided if the process will include public input or if it will be conducted internally.

Coast Community District Chancellor John Weispfenning said in an email he hopes the search committee will begin its work by early October and that the permanent president will begin in July 2019.

The interim president will not have a chance at being considered as the permanent president, but the rule for this specific search may not apply in future presidential hiring searches, according to Clark.

Clark said while she didn’t have a definitive answer for why the interim president will not have a shot at a long-term seat, she said she believes the rule is meant to give the candidates for the permanent position an equal playing field.

If the interim president were to apply for the permanent position, he or she would automatically have an edge on other competitors because of their experience, Clark said.

While this makes sense, we believe the focus should be on what is best for the college and its students, rather than the competing candidates for the permanent job. If the interim president has more experience by already understanding the position for one semester, he or she should at least have a chance at consideration in the process.

Whether one views OCC as just a place to finish general education courses or a vibrant community bursting with resources, the Coast Report asks that students make time to care about the future of our school.

Whether it’s someone’s first semester at OCC or their last, every student needs to keep in mind the policies that will affect students for years to come and how the college’s president plays a role in these decisions. The Coast Report asks that students make the time to care about the future of our school.

Stand with us in asking for an open, transparent search process that regularly updates its students and leaves room for feedback.

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