Priscilla Bell will be the first woman to lead North Idaho College and its eighth president, the college’s board announced Monday.
Bell, 57, joined NIC as its interim president in late February after Michael Burke left for San Jose City College. She started at community colleges in student services, working at Tacoma Community College from 1978 to 1995 before becoming president of Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, N.Y. She worked at the college until becoming president of Highline Community College in the Seattle area in 2000.
Monday’s announcement ends a five-month search that began with a 22-member search committee and 34 applicants. The committee submitted a list of six semifinalists to the NIC board, and the board selected two for campus visits and interviews.
Bell wasn’t one of the two but was named a finalist after one dropped out of consideration. The other took another job.
“No other candidate had the background and experience that Dr. Bell had,” said Rolly Williams, chair of the board. He said even if the two others had remained in consideration, the board would have picked Bell. The two first selected for interviews weren’t the only two possibilities, he said.
“We just went down the list,” Williams said.
Board member Ron Vieselmeyer urged the community to get behind Bell.
“I know there’s people in the community who aren’t totally in agreement with the decision that’s been made, however, we have a new president,” he said.
He emphasized the importance of continuing to mend relations with the community, particular the business community.
Board members said Bell’s work since becoming interim president proved she was the right fit.
“What a luxury to have the opportunity to test-drive a candidate,” board member Judy Meyer said.
Bell assumed leadership of the college a few months after members of the business community lashed out at the college in the form of a no-confidence letter in Burke, citing long-standing problems with what they said was the lack of professional technical programs that match employment needs. One of Bell’s first major moves in the community was to start new group of business and NIC representatives that will meet at least monthly to discuss employment needs and college program development.
“We had bridges to build,” board member Christie Wood said. “She’s done a great job.”
Bell’s contract hasn’t been set. Her salary as interim president was equivalent to Burke’s, about $135,600 a year.
She shares a background with Burke – they have known each other since the early 1980s and earned doctorates from the University of Texas in Austin about the same time.
Bell joined NIC a few months after her contract was terminated by the Highline Community College board. She and Highline have characterized the departure as being about “philosophical differences,” and Bell has declined to offer details.
A national organization that assists in presidential searches, the Association of Community Colleges Trustees, assisted with the searches for interim and permanent president.
Bell’s job description won’t change much. But the security will allow her to become more involved in organizations and “be a real member of the northern Idaho community,” she said.
About 75 faculty, staff and other community members attending Monday’s board meeting applauded the choice.
“I look forward to good things,” said English instructor Bob Bennett, chairman of the faculty assembly.