For Paul Speer, the choice was obvious. Speer is a member of the five-person board of trustees appointed by the governor to oversee Clark College and its constituents. “This is not a role for a brand new, never before president,” he said about hiring a new interim president.
The board faced this choice after former President Bob Knight announced his retirement in January, creating a transition that no one expected. “When President Knight said [he] wanted to be retired by August, you can see the timeline doesn’t allow you to get a permanent president,” Speer said.
Along with the shortened timeline, the board wanted their future leader to be more than a placeholder and to actually work to get things done so when the permanent president came in, things would be ready for them. “This is somebody who is the president. There is interim in front of it, but all the same expectations we would have for a permanent president are there as well,” Speer said.
The board opted to get an interim president since the president’s chair couldn’t be empty for a whole academic year. “The president’s job, which isn’t visible to a lot of people, is a real job,” Speer said. “There is a lot of work that goes on internally and externally.”
Speer also explained that while searching for the interim president, they went out and talked to many people on campus, including the executive cabinet, Clark employees as well as people out in the community. Once they had a good idea of what they wanted in a president, they gave their criteria to Gold Hill Associates, a community college executive search firm.
Out of about eight candidates, they found their special one. “There was one candidate that, by far, met all the criteria and that was Dr. Sandra Fowler-Hill,” Speer said. Fowler-Hill started in July and has been doing great work ever since, according to Speer.
Fowler-Hill, who comes from Portland Community College in Rock Creek, explained that her time at there differed vastly from her current tenure here at Clark because of the state differences. Also the board at PCC is appointed rather than elected by the governor.
At the start of the search, the Board of Trustees appointed 10 priorities that they wanted the candidate to work on during their time at Clark. One of those priorities was to improve workplace morale.
“There is a strong sense of pride about working here and many have graduated from here,” Fowler-Hill said. “I’m really seeing the potential that we can be a positive place for students to experience.”
One of the goals, she says, is to make the college a safer place for people of color and a supportive place for both students and employees.
Fowler-Hill also commented on the ongoing fight from college instructors to have equal pay, the same as K-12 teachers. Last spring, there were many rallies and almost every board meeting was packed with teachers ready to make their voices heard by the board.
“I am hopeful that we are going to reach a solution and it’s my commitment that we are able to reach a resolution that goes over multi-years so faculty feels valued,” she said.
Her own pay caught attention when the Columbian reported in July that she is making more than her predecessor. Fowler-Hill is being paid $1,000 more than Knight’s former monthly salary which amounts to $12,000 more annually, totalling $19,000 a month. Speer told the Columbian that this was due to the fact that the college is not paying for her health insurance.
Fowler-Hill recognized that there is a lot of pain and hurt that she hopes they can work through as well. “We’re all here to serve the students and we’re all here to see that [you] succeed and when we can’t focus on that together then we really aren’t doing our job,” she said.
ASCC President, Evans Kamme, said that he was excited to meet Fowler-Hill at the Opening Day ceremony on Sept. 16. Kamme has high hopes for the work Fowler-Hill will be doing for students when it comes to her 10 long-term goals, here at Clark. “I would like to see that those goals are achieved and the success is being seen as an impact on the students,” he said.
When her year is over, Fowler-Hill plans on going home to her husband of 40 years in Hillsboro. When she got the job, Fowler-Hill moved to Vancouver to cut her potential commute down.
Previous to accepting the interim president job, she consulted for an association for community college trustees, supporting and mentoring future leaders. “I want to go back to doing that part-time and giving back to a field that has been my career for 35 years,” Fowler-Hill said.
“This college is very fortunate to have her with us,” Speer said, “She’s a great individual who knows the college from her previous experience. We could not speak more highly of her.”