Chancellor candidates meet community

PUHI — The two finalists for the Kaua‘i Community College chancellorship met with faculty and community members recently in separate hour-long forums, inching the island’s only higher education institution a little closer to a replacement.

Helen Cox, associate vice president of instruction at Salt Lake Community College, and John Madden, dean of instruction at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., are both vying to succeed current Chancellor Peggy Cha.

Cha will retire in the fall after a decade at KCC and more than 30 years in the University of Hawai‘i system.

Both candidates hold bachelor’s, master’s and doctorates — Madden with an emphasis on education and educational philosophy and Cox with a concentration in English-American studies and literature.

They each worked their way up the ladder, starting as high school teachers before transitioning to community college faculty and finally to administrative positions.

Cox has 25 years serving in higher education, Madden has 20.

Madden has close personal ties to the community college system, where he spent two years before transferring to Western Michigan University to obtain a bachelor’s in history and sociology.

“Community college literally plucked me off of a factory floor,” Madden said, noting that he was the first in his family to finish high school as well as attend college.

Professionally, Madden said he’s more fulfilled working at community colleges over four-year universities because the emphasis is on the student over the discipline.

In contrast to Madden’s path, Cox took the ivy league route, obtaining a bachelor’s from Harvard University.

Another difference between the two is Cox’s ties to Hawai‘i. She was born and raised on O‘ahu, and two generations of her family lived on Kaua‘i in ‘Ele‘ele.

Cox devoted her dissertation to Hawai‘i and Pacific cultures and studied at the East-West Center in Honolulu.

She cited her connection to Hawai‘i and understanding of its mixed cultures as a strength for the position, especially given the economic and educational challenges of recent years.

“It’s clear that Kaua‘i is in a very difficult moment in its history,” she said.

On the issue of recruiting more Kaua‘i high school seniors, Cox said the community college message should be stressed as early as elementary school.

Madden, who advocates early recruiting as well, said there are also things that can be done late in a student’s high school career. He referenced a successful program implemented in his Arizona school district that offers community college-level classes within feeder high schools, as opposed to off-site on a college campus.

“Some kids don’t think they can do college, but they already did,” he said of students who complete such classes for college credit.

Both agreed that flexible hours are needed to recruit adults and that getting students in the door is only half the battle, as support services are required to help them follow through to graduation.

For her part, Cha said it’s important that her successor understands and is willing to be a part of the community.

“Community is in our name for a reason,” Cha said.

In addition, the college needs an educator, “someone with a passion for student success,” she said.

Both candidates fielded questions Friday, most from faculty, after participating in a second round of interviews.

Those in attendance were given comment cards on which to note their impressions of each person’s strengths and weaknesses. The feedback will be given to the KCC Campus Screening Committee, which is aiming to make a recommendation to the UH Board of Regents by its next meeting May 29 and 30 on O‘ahu.

The final decision will be left to the body of 15 regents, according to Cha.

• Blake Jones, business writer/assistant editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com

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