MODESTO -- A skeptical campus greeted Jill Stearns as she settled into the Modesto Junior College president's office July 1.
Accreditation status: iffy. Budget: strained. Morale: weakened. In short, a moment ripe with opportunity, and Stearns planned to seize the day.
"I think community colleges are really at a pivotal place right now. We have the goals of completion and open access, against the crunching by the budget," Stearns said.
Nearly four months later, the Modesto Junior College president is making her mark.
Changes start with her office, where an imposing conference desk was swapped for an approachable U-shaped computer work station and a deep blue wall that mellows the work-a-day white interior.
A bright outlook
Beyond the walls, Stearns brought fresh eyes and a willingness to listen, said Yosemite Faculty Association President Jillian Daly.
"So far, from what I've seen, things are a thousand times better. She's very bright. She's bringing a lot of dialogue to the district," Daly said Wed- nesday.
Stearns' first task was to take recommendations from a dissatisfied accreditation team and help the college get off probationary status. Her first report, submitted to meet the Monday deadline, showcased progress made in linking class objectives to student outcomes.
Though follow-up is likely, Stearns said she expects accreditation officials to be pleased with MJC's response.
Her other major task was to reshape a shared governance process that had become discordant and distrustful. Stearns is, after all, MJC's fifth leader in three years.
Trust has been slow to rebuild, she said. "It's just going to take time. There've been so many leaders the expectation is, whatever happens will be short-lived," Stearns said.
Daly said there is a split among faculty, as well, with the faculty Senate and the College Council sometimes at odds as money gets tighter.
"The interests of the union is often counter to the Senate side of ourselves," Daly said.
The Yosemite Community College District is in negotiations with its faculty, seeking salary cuts before the November election, Daly said and YCCD Chancellor Joan Smith confirmed.
The district stands to lose $5 million or 1,011 full-time student spots if Proposition 30 fails next month, with little time to regroup midyear.
Stearns said the council, which includes faculty, students, managers and support staff, is working on laying out criteria for making cuts. MJC's last budget cuts were decided with little input by former President Gaither Loewenstein, who cut whole departments and majors from the roster.
No layoffs of permanent faculty are on the table this year; only part-time work and extra classes professors often take, Stearns said. Sections of some spring classes will not open until after the election, so if Proposition 30 fails, no students will have to scramble for other arrangements, she said.
Whatever the future holds, Stearns said, "The goal is finding any efficiency we can."
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339.
WHAT: The Yosemite Community College District chancellor and trustees hold a reception for Jill Stearns
WHEN: 5-7 p.m. today
WHERE: The Student Services building, MJC East Campus, corner of College and Coldwell avenues