COA presidential hopeful Pagan: He would be visible leader
By Chris Day and Miles Layton
Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Richard Pagan says if he’s named new president of College of The Albemarle he will lead from the front lines.
“I’m not a person who is going to sit in my office eight hours a day and come in at 8 o’clock in the morning, sit down at my desk, sign papers and go home at 4,” said Pagan, who spent Wednesday speaking at presidential search forums held at COA’s campuses in Elizabeth City, Manteo, Barco and Edenton.
Pagan (pronounced Puh-gone) is vice president for academic and student affairs at New River Community and Technical College in Beaver, West Virginia. He was the second of three finalists to be introduced this week. On Tuesday, COA hosted Jeff Jochems, who is the president and vice chancellor at the Richwood Valley Campus of the Ozarks Technical Community College in Nixa, Missouri.
The third finalist, Jack Bagwell, vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer at Piedmont Technical College in Greenwood, South Carolina, will attend similar forums today.
Pagan is a retired U.S. Air Force veteran and served for a spell at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, and is familiar with northeastern North Carolina. Between his military career and his time as a college administrator, he said he has a considerable deal of experience managing people and handling budgets. He said he values a team-first approach to leadership.
Pagan said he believes it’s important to support the people who for him by providing them the materials to do their jobs. In doing so, it’s important that he maintains relationships with students, faculty and campus staff by meeting with them, he said.
While speaking at both the Barco and Edenton campuses, Pagan often left the comfort zone of the front of the room and walked among the audience.
“You see what I’m doing right now?” he asked the audience attending the forum at COA’s Aviation Regional Technical Training Center. “I’m a walk-around leader.”
He could show up unannounced at any campus, Pagan said.
“My office is my briefcase,” he said. “I’m very much a visible leader, very hands on, action oriented. So, I think that’s a good fit for the college.”
One issue Pagan said he would consider would be to create a weekend college program.
Speaking at the Elizabeth City campus forum, Pagan said such a program would be another way COA could serve the community. The program would extend learning opportunities to people who otherwise can’t attend classes during the week because of work obligations.
Pagan discussed a weekend program after a COA employee expressed his concern over the college’s current practice of closing its campuses every Friday during the summer. The idea for the closings is to save money on utility costs.
“We need to recruit students and we’ve got a day a week we’re not here for students,” he told Pagan.
“Are those sorts of things something you’re willing to look at?” the employee next asked Pagan.
“Yes, I’m willing to have weekend college,” Pagan responded. “There is a generation of people who right now cannot attend school.”
Workforce demands and the goals of students have changed the college environment, Pagan explained.
The needs of students have changed and colleges must adjust accordingly to those needs, he said. Today, college officials should not be asking, Are students ready for college? Instead, they should be asking, Are colleges ready for the students?
During a question-and-answer session at COA’s Edenton campus, Pagan said he has “heart and passion” for a community college’s twin missions of education and workforce development.
“I’m really about helping to lift people up,” he said. “The community college has a different mission than a four-year university in terms of what we do. We’re about getting people back to work. We’re about giving that hand to help somebody up to get them to a better place for themselves and for their families.”
Pagan said he favors a student-centered approach.
“What we can do to help that one person is going to help the community, is going to help families and is going to help us,” he said. “It’s about making sure that our college serves that one student — make the best experience for that one student then you multiply that by the number of students you have who attend school.
“We can’t look at (students as a) bunch of folks who come here for training,” he continued. “We have to make it more personal, make it more hands-on, engage students early on. I always tell students — this is your school. Take ownership of it. You’re here for a certain period of time. Take advantage of all the opportunities, resources we have — this is your school while you’re here.”
Pagan also talked about keeping the lines of communication open between different campus constituencies.
“Transparent communication — let’s not hide things from people. Let’s be open and honest,” he said. “I don’t have to get into the details of anything, but I can let you know if the college is doing something, it is for a certain purpose and for a reason. I think that if you share that with people, they may not always agree with you, but I think people will come on board to support that because sometimes we do things that we have to do.”
Longtime Edenton resident Virginia Wood told Pagan that in the past, the COA Board of Trustees has considered the Edenton-Chowan Campus a “red headed step child” when making funding decisions.
“I just want you to know that we really want this school to stay here,” she said. “At one time, they really tried to wipe this campus off the face of the earth.”
Pagan responded that decisions are budget-driven and that as a college president, he’s going to push the one-college concept while recognizing that each campus has its own different culture.
“I’m going to come to this campus, spend time down here and see for myself ... what’s going on,” he said. “I want to see for myself. I want to talk to you. ... I want to talk to the students, OK, to make sure this is what we want to continue to do here (and figure out) how can I bring in the funds to support this. Then I’d have to work on that as president to see how we can bring in dollars to support that.”