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The Riehl World- Palomar College President:  Not Ready For Prime Time?

By Richard Riehl

The average tenure of a community college president is 3 ½ years, according to Wheelhouse: the Center for Community College Leadership and Research at the UC Davis School of Education.

It looks like Palomar College’s President, Dr. Joi Lynn Blake, who took the position in July 2016, is right on track.

Many years ago, when I was director of admissions at Indiana State University, I attended a graduate class in leadership taught by Dr. John Moore, in his first year as ISU’s president. Unlike his long serving predecessor, he was unusually popular with faculty, staff and students.

During his first two months Dr. Moore fired two vice presidents, after asking for feedback on their leadership effectiveness from those who worked with them. He told us he had to do that right off because leaders enjoy their greatest support on their first day in office. From there it’s a steady slide downhill. Tough decisions become increasingly more difficult, if not impossible.

I found that to be true for the presidents of the three universities where I worked during my combined 30 years of middle management in higher education.

It looks like Dr. Blake’s tenure at Palomar is following the same path. Here’s the San Diego Union Tribune’s July 8, 2016 headline, announcing Blake’s appointment.

“Woman of La Mancha takes helm at Palomar,” quoting her claim for the title, as she told reporter Gary Warth, “I’ve had a lot of windmills I’ve had to slay.”

As a former English teacher, I wondered if she really meant to say that. “Tilting at windmills” derives from Cervantes’ Don Quixote and has come to mean “attacking imaginary enemies.”

Three years and four months later, on November 11, 2019 the SDUT headline reads: “Palomar College faculty to present no-confidence vote on college president.”

English Professor Rocco Versaci told reporter, Deborah Sullivan Brennan, “The vote is not binding, but it’s highly unusual, with only the second one taken since 1946, the year the college was founded.”

Is this just another windmill for Palomar’s Woman of La Mancha to slay?

A review of Dr. Blake’s previous employment calls into question the judgment of Palomar College’s Board of Governors in appointing her.

Before coming to Palomar, with its enrollment of nearly 26,000 students, Dr. Blake had only 1 ½ years of experience as president of the College of Alameda, with its enrollment of 13,500, and only another two years as Vice President of Student Services at Skyline College with its enrollment of under 9,000.

Is it any wonder Palomar College’s inexperienced new president is facing difficulties, after fewer than four years of senior level administrative experience at colleges less than half the size of Palomar’s?

The Governing Board should be embarrassed, if not ashamed.

The Riehl World