Jimmy Baker, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System (ACCS), spoke to staff and administrators at the Bay Minette campus of Coastal Alabama Community College (CACC) this afternoon to announce the system’s search for a new permanent president.
Baker said Patty Hughston, who has served as interim president since November, has been reassigned to lead “a major project” at his office in Montgomery.
While he would not elaborate, Baker alluded to rumors that one or more of the school’s 16 campuses were closing. In January 2017, Coastal Alabama Community College was formed as a result of a merger between Faulkner State Community College, Alabama Southern Community College and Jefferson Davis Community College. In Baldwin County, it offers education or workforce training programs in Bay Minette, Fairhope, Gulf Shores and at the Fairhope airport. It also has campuses in Atmore, Brewton, Gilbertown, Jackson, Monroeville and Thomasville.
“The consolidation you can second guess one way or another, but I’m here to tell you today, there is no discussion about closing any facility or location,” Baker told the audience. “And if it’s is being discussed, it’s not between myself or the Board of Trustees … it’s people who love to spread stories. And I can’t function if I try to operate on the stories of fear. And you can’t do your job unless you know it’s secure.”
Baker also suggested the school was not performing at a level he found satisfactory, although he said it’s his job to be dissatisfied and continually strive for higher benchmarks.
“I’ve watched [the ACCS] through the good and bad days,” he said. “I’ve watched schools that have consistently done good jobs through that period of time. And I would like to think a majority of them have. And I’m not suggesting this school hasn’t. But I will tell you, in my honest opinion, this school needs to be a flagship school for the [ACCS] and you have every element that should and can make that possible.”
Baker alluded to an inauspicious atmosphere at CACC and elsewhere in the system which he said he has been targeting for change. He said in the central office, finance and IT systems were “embarrassingly bad” before changes were implemented, and his goal is to implement the same changes throughout the entire system over the next 18 months so “we will all be one the same platform and have a common way of operating.”
“The day when you can run a school as you choose to run a school without following rules and regulations is gone, and that’s tough for some folks to accept,” he said. “But there are rules and regulations we all have to live by and it’s my job to implement the board policy and work with the trustees to make sure our community college system is doing everything we can possibly do with the resources available to provide the kinds of education programs whether it be academic, workforce training or whatever it may be for the communities we serve. And I’ll tell you we fall short of that today across the state.”
Baker said there has been “very little focus” on workforce training at CACC in the past and “that hasn’t changed. The only way we make this school the kind of school it needs to be, can be and must be … we’ won’t get better unless we play together as a team. I don’t like to tolerate anything other than that.
“There is always going to be someone in charge and as long as I have anything to do with it, we’re going to play by the rules. That’s it. That’s not a threat that’s just a statement of where I am.”
Baker introduced Dr. Kemba Chambers, who will serve as interim president and will not seek the permanent presidency. In her own brief comments, Chambers reinforced that point and said her primary role would be to carry out the day-to-day operations of CACC and serve as a liaison between staff and the chancellor’s office until a permanent president was tapped.
After his address to the staff, Baker told Lagniappe “there are a lot of good things happening here and have been happening, but not nearly the kinds of things that could be happening.”
“This is a great location and a great community and very little has been done in the way of skills training or workforce training. We must step step up and develop that kind of training and developing a closer working relationship with K-12 – we’re doing dual enrollment all over the state but not as much here — and I just want to put in a president who will be as energetic, who is more knowledgeable about what is going on in the world and in the country, and there is no reason this school cannot be one of the best in the country.”
“It’s not my job to get out and talk about the ugly things, but there were pretty lax standards for performance and human resources … things that a good managed system should have. It’s kind of hard to run a smooth operation when people choose when they want to work and when they don’t want to work … those kinds of things.”
On Friday, Al Thompson, a Baldwin County resident and chairman of the ACCS Board of Trustees, said the administrative change was recommended by the chancellor. He agreed there has not been any discussion about closing any facilities or locations, but speaking as a product of the private sector and proponent of efficiencies, he said all programs should always be under review for their viability.
“I intend to ensure each program is serving a purpose and a goal and if it has no enrollment or not enough, it needs to be up for elimination. But I’m not aware of anything right now that’s ready to be discontinued or on the table to be discontinued.”
Thompson said the board has had discussions with legislators about increasing workforce training at CACC including the possibility of constructing an advanced manufacturing training facility, but funding for it wasn’t provided in the state’s recently passed 2019-2020 budget. Meanwhile, Thompson noted, Bishop State Community College in downtown Mobile is leveraging a portion of a recent $20 million bond issue to build a manufacturing training facility of its own.
“From what I know right now, every site from Thomasville to Gulf Shores is important to us and they are all good, viable sites,” he said. “I know there is a lot of strong workforce training going on in Thomasville, Monroeville, Atmore and Brewton … but I’m hopeful we will land some significant industries at the [South Alabama Mega Site in Bay Minette] and when that happens, it will be a real catalyst for us to ramp up.”
Thompson emphasized that after the consolidation, CACC was evaluated by both the Alabama Commission on Higher Education and the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and both were complimentary of the results. Formerly the District 1 representative on the state school board, Thompson accepted Gov. Kay Ivey’s appointment to the ACCS Board of Trustees after its creation in 2015.
“We’ve been the new governance for a good four years now and we’re doing our best to implement efficiencies … but you’ve got this system that’s existed for 50 years and sometimes it’s hard to change.”
The application for president, which appeared this morning on the ACCS website, notes the application period will be open for a period of 30 days. Baker said it’s the board’s intention to name a permanent president “sometime in the fall.”
This article was updated on June 21 to include comments from ACCS Board Chairman Al Thompson.
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