Editorial: Cuesta College president was right to resign

While it may seem premature, the resignation of Cuesta College President David Pelham is best for all concerned — the students, the staff, the community and Pelham himself.

We commend him for recognizing that he was not a good fit for the position and moving on, rather than waiting until the situation deteriorated further.

Pelham would likely have been a fine choice in ordinary times, but this is an extraordinarily challenging period.

To be clear, we aren’t blaming Pelham or the administration for having to make hard budget decisions — every single government agency is facing that same painful necessity.

Yet at Cuesta, many of these reductions were carried out so clumsily that it caused more disruption and resentment than necessary.

For example, 138 classes were cancelled at the start of the term — including many classes that were already full. With a little foresight, Cuesta could have made many of these cuts before the term got under way, saving students and instructors a lot of grief.

Then there was the fiasco over the proposal — since rejected — to eliminate June Stephens’ position as executive director of the Cuesta Foundation, which is the college’s fundraising arm.

We believe it was unwise to seek to eliminate the position in the first place. But to make matters worse, the proposal was made without adequately consulting with the Foundation’s board. Pelham later apologized for the oversight, but with better communications, that never would have been necessary.

Pelham shouldn’t have to shoulder all the responsibility for these missteps, however. The board of trustees must be held accountable as well.

We believe Pelham is right on target with the advice offered in his resignation letter.

Among other suggestions, he urges Cuesta leadership to “Develop a collective understanding that how things have been done in the past may not fit our present circumstances.”

He also notes the need to “Make decisions in a manner that is inclusive but faster.”

Looking forward, we urge the college’s board of trustees to learn from this experience, re-examine the criteria for a new president and work closely with faculty, staff, student and community leaders in making a selection.

We don’t necessarily need a president who can get a bond measure passed, or execute an ambitious capital improvement plan. That’s just not going to happen in this economy.

Instead, we need a president with the skills, experience, leadership and compassion to see Cuesta through this economic crisis; to rebuild damaged morale; and to recognize and respect the critical role that the community college plays in so many lives by emphasizing the importance of serving students.

Cuesta College trustees have another chance to get it right by choosing a president who will be the right fit for our community. We urge them to make the most of that opportunity.

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