College stakeholders confirm leadership concerns

Published 11:49 am Wednesday, April 1, 2015

For five years, almost every picture to come out of Paul D. Camp Community College featured Dr. Paul Wm. Conco. Some in the system have said that’s because he made it all about himself.

Conco has been serving as the president of the college, and back in October he announced that he would retire effective this June. Instead he will be replaced by interim president Dr. William C. Aiken, and Conco will serve out the remainder of his contract elsewhere.

After Tuesday’s announcement, many on campus can’t distance themselves from Conco fast enough. The official word from the college is, “Dr. Conco was president for five years. I respect the office of the president, it is an important one. He served his time, and we are moving forward,” said Vice President of Institutional Advancement Felicia Blow.

“Paul D. Camp Community College is a jewel in the community, and it will continue to be a jewel,” she said. “People are enthusiastic, positive, focused and ready to change.”

When this reporter entered the college, people were enthusiastic, and part of that was about moving forward. There was another component that was relieved that Conco would not be returning to the building except to pick up his things.

Despite the relief, most of them were still afraid to talk about him. One person said that he might still have connections to get her fired if she talked on the record.

“You can see how he was from how people are acting,” said David Felton, who is the webmaster and involved with computer services. “It seemed like he tried to micromanage the place too much.”

Felton also said that Conco forced a lot of good people out, and PDCCC Foundation President Herb DeGroft backed up that statement.

“He probably lost a dozen to a dozen and a half people from his management style,” DeGroft said. “I’m told it was different.”

It all comes back to communication, Felton said. When dialog happened, it did not go both ways.

“He made decisions without input from the professionals that work here,” he said. “If he got it, he didn’t listen to it.”

One area many agreed where communication lacked was shared services. Blow did not deny this played a part in Conco’s early departure.

“Shared services is not only a Paul D. Camp Community College issue. It’s just the nature of the beast. We won’t have 23 payroll offices in the state,” Blow said, referring to the number of community college systems in the state. “It’s a back room issue that doesn’t directly affect students. It is nothing punitive to Paul D. Camp.”

DeGroft said shared services should have happened years ago to save money, so it’s not a course that he wanted to see change.

“Why should you not share services if there are some efficiencies to be gained by having common services?” he asked. “I’m sure that there are some kinks to work out in shared services. That’s the responsibility of the powers that be to make sure it runs smoothly.”

On Tuesday at about 9:30 a.m., Jackie Howell, who has been with the college since 1985, was one of the few people to step up and speak to Chancellor Glenn DuBois when he was in Franklin. She talked about the problems in shared services.

Before the college started the process, faculty and staff had been gathered for a meeting.

“We were told that everything was fine — it’s wonderful, it’s good,” Howell said. “Then a month later the business office was moved to Thomas Nelson Community College.

“We did not know. We found out when they walked in the doors.”

The problem was not so much the changes, but the way shared services were implemented and communicated. Because of a lack of anything on the process, people were worried that the next group to walk through the door might be their replacement. That’s not good for morale, Howell said.

More than that, Thomas Nelson wasn’t quite ready to start. Currently, the college is working with a paper carrier twice a week instead of an integrated computer system.

“We moved backward instead of forward,” Howell said.

She does have hope though, as the Virginia Community College System has taken notice. With a new interim president on board, Howell believes the next step will be forward momentum.

“I’ve been here a long time, and I care deeply about the college,” she said. “What is going on, I see it as a positive change. It is one that is needed.”

The total services already shared, or to be shared, are the business office, information technology, payroll, human resources and field facilities. The college for some time has received financial aid support from Tidewater Community College and distance learning help from Northern Virginia Community College.

The other portion highlighted was finance. DuBois said in a press release, “The college is facing a number of serious challenges. Were this college a private enterprise, its financial sustainability would be questionable.”

Blow said that statement related to a drop in student numbers. Over the last three and a half years, the college has seen a 25 percent decrease in enrollment.

Audits have also not been as clean as the college is used to, and she related that to the turnover DeGroft mentioned, as well as transitions in shared services. Going forward, that will be solved.

Conco himself said early Tuesday morning that he hadn’t heard about the release from the chancellor. He said he would look into it and respond later. Attempts to reach Conco since then have not been successful.

At the end of the day, however, it’s all about serving the students. The college has had numerous success stories over the past several years despite any leadership concerns, and DeGroft said his biggest worry moving forward is more on funding from the state.

“A new broom usually sweeps clean,” he said about putting it all back together. “If the interim president sets things correctly, and we select the right person to replace Conco permanently, then that will make a big difference for sure.”

Howell met Aiken, and she said the chancellor is addressing the problems.

“We have to get back to where we need to be before we bring in a new president,” she said. “I think the chancellor picked a good person to move the college forward.”

“Many are pleased to hear that he has been in two other systems with similar circumstances and turned them around,” Blow added about Aiken. “People are excited about what is to come.”