Candidates selected – Dr. Carmelita Thomas

Dr. Carmelita Thomas, candidate for the presidency of the Riverside Campus spoke highly of California at the presidential forum on May 16. “It’s not for nothing that all the good ideas come out of California,” Thomas said, “California is still new and the box can be reshaped if you don’t like it.

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By Vanessa Overbeck

By Vanessa Overbeck

Dr. Carmelita Thomas, candidate for the presidency of the Riverside Campus spoke highly of California at the presidential forum on May 16.

“It’s not for nothing that all the good ideas come out of California,” Thomas said, “California is still new and the box can be reshaped if you don’t like it.”

Thomas has been the president for the Western Campus of Cuyahoga Community College in Parma, Ohio for four years. She re-located to Ohio in order to care for her aging parents, but she is ready to return to the West Coast after her four-year stint in the Midwest.

“My identity is still with California,” Thomas said. “I belong here. It is a different environment and a different culture.”

Associate Professor Issolda Levinea of Cuyahoga Community College noted Thomas’ fondness for the Sunshine state and said she knows Thomas found the environment in Ohio to be very different from California. Levinea’s colleague Faculty Senate President Debra Motley also said Thomas missed the way things are done in California.

“Dr. Thomas came into Cuyahoga Community College with a lot of great ideas, but she didn’t know how to get it done,” Motley said. “Ohio was a different arena for her. She wasn’t used to the way things are done here at a three-campus college. She didn’t have as much power as she thought she would.”

Mark Rodriguez, student life and athletics director at the Western Campus, said this initial challenge may have been due mostly to the nature of their three campus one college system.

“It’s a bureaucracy in a multi-campus system,” Rodriguez said. “It takes some time to figure out what you can and can’t do. But that’s normal and true of anyone.”

Mary Hartman, the president’s administrative assistant has worked with the college’s past three presidents over the last 21 years. She said Thomas began her career at the college in the wake of much-loved President Dennis Smith’s 14-year term.

“She was brand new to the district and you have to get to know the people and the organization,” Hartman said. “Her strong desire to get to know the faculty initiated small group interactions and she met with all 160 full-time faculty members.”

Motley said Thomas’ small meetings with the faculty continued throughout her four years at Cuyahoga College. Thomas held community group meetings monthly, as well as meetings with faculty leadership, such as the Faculty Union and the Faculty Senate.

But Motley said Thomas’ “micro-management” style earned her the nickname of “Little Mussolini.”

“Dr. Thomas has to know everything that’s going on in every department to the nth degree,” Motley said. “We’re not used to that kind of administration here.”

Rodriguez described Thomas’ management style in another way. He said she is “really approachable, easy to talk to and down to earth.” And Hartman said that Thomas’ “open door policy” has exceeded what other presidents of the college have done in the past.

Motley did emphasize that Thomas worked hard to make sure the college is in good standing with the community.

“Dr. Thomas was very big on bringing our new technology centers into fruition and in including the community,” Motley said. Hartman said that community outreach is one of Thomas’ strengths. During her administration at the college she has encouraged administrators to join local chambers and she serves on many community boards herself.”The college relies on property taxes that must be passed into law by community voters,” Hartman said. “Dr. Thomas works hard to make sure that the community knows what’s here for them.”

Although Motley praised Thomas’ communication and community relation skills, she said that her priorities were not always in line with those of the faculty of the college. Motley voiced displeasure with Thomas’ lack of support for the refurnishing of the college’s 40-year-old offices and for the Memorial Walk for deceased faculty. Motley described Thomas’ lack of support as a “morale buster” and said that the newer campuses have already replaced their old furnishings.

“In one aspect it’s good that she has her finger on the pulse of the college, but she sometimes loses sight of the big picture,” Motley said.

The Memorial Walk has been an ongoing project for the past 14 years, and according to Motley it finally has the funding and the facilities necessary to enter the final phases of development.

“We’ve been trying to do this for 14 years and we just need her to go to the Board of Trustees and say that she supports it in order for the project to move forward,” Motley said. “But she won’t do it.”

But Levinea described Thomas as being highly involved in the Memorial Walk project and said that she wishes to include the entire college in the project, even the classified staff. And Hartman said, “she’s been supportive as much as she can be.”

Both Levinea and Rodriguez said they would miss Thomas’ leadership should she assume the presidency at the Riverside Campus.

“Dr. Thomas’ mission has always been to do the best for the campus,” Levinea said. “I will miss her. She brought a second wind and a breath of fresh air to our institution.”

Hartman said she would be both personally and professionally sad to see Dr. Thomas leave the college.

“I would say anyone who works with Dr. Thomas should be open and honest as they will receive the same from her,” Hartman said. “She as a lot of integrity and anyone who works with her will see that.”

Motley said of Thomas that “her heart is in the right spot” and that she’s a bright woman with great ideas, though she personally would welcome a change in leadership at the Western Campus.

“I would advise students, faculty and administrators of your college to give her a chance if she becomes your president,” Motley said. “She has some good ideas and you should support her as much as you can. With the right support she could get a lot done.” for the Memorial Walk for deceaed faculty. Motley described Thomas’ lack of support as a “morale buster” and said that the newer campuses have already replaced their old furnishings.

“In one aspect it’s good that she has her finger on the pulse of the college, but she sometimes loses sight of the big picture,” Motley said.

According to Motley, the Memorial Walk project finally has the funding and the facilities necessary to move forward.

“We’ve been trying to do this for 14 years and we just need her to go to the Board of Trustees and say that she supports it for the project to move forward,” Motley said. “But she won’t do it.”

But Hartman said, “she’s been supportive as much as she can be.”

Both Levinea and Rodriguez said they would miss Thomas’ leadership should she assume the presidency at RCC.

“Dr. Thomas’ mission has always been to do the best for the campus,” Levinea said. “I will miss her. She brought a second wind and a breath of fresh air to our institution.”

Hartman said she would be both personally and professionally sad to see Dr. Thomas leave the college.”I would say anyone who works with Dr. Thomas should be open and honest as they will receive the same from her,” Hartman said. “She as a lot of integrity and anyone who works with her will see that.”

Motley said of Thomas that “her heart is in the right spot” and that she’s a bright woman with great ideas, though she personally would welcome a change in leadership at the Western Campus.

“I would advise students, faculty and administrators of your college to give her a chance if she becomes your president,” Motley said. “She has some good ideas and you should support her as much as you can. With the right support she could get a lot done.”