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Who’s next? Dr. David Edwards leaves, paving the way for 5th Mercer VP in five years

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Mercer’s Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. David Edwards, will be leaving his position to assume the same role at Camden County College at the end of this month.

Dr. Edwards is Mercer’s fourth Vice President in five years. The others include Dr. Guy Generals, who is now the president of Philadelphia Community College; Dr. Eun-Woo Chang who is now provost at Ashland University; and interim Vice President Dr. Richard Fulton now serving at the Windward Community College from Hawaii.

In 2015, a series of rapid changes in Mercer’s upper administration took place starting with a new President, Dr. Jianping Wang, and a new Vice President, Dr. Chang. There were also new employees in two of the three dean positions. Since then the college has also seen the Director of Human Resources, the Chief Business and Financial Officer and the Registrar all either retire or move on to other jobs.

Mercer’s Director of Communication, Jim Gardner, told The VOICE, “With any community college, especially with administration, individuals who are ambitious and who are looking to make a difference are always looking for the next challenge, and this is very much the case with Dr. Edwards who has served the college well in his tenure here.”

In an interview with The VOICE Dr. Edwards stated that part of what led to his decision to take the position at Camden is that they have more campuses and a larger student body. Camden has three campuses, one urban campus in the heart of the city, and two suburban campuses located in Cherry Hill and Blackwood.

Prior to his tenure at Mercer, Edwards served as Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Middlesex County Community College, and before that at Hudson County Community College. He says the move to Camden will give him the opportunity to work with students from suburban environments like Mercer and Middlesex county, as well as students from an urban setting more like his experience at Hudson County.

Dr. Edwards said, “The urban population is different…Students there live in a different setting. It brings different people to the front door looking for degree programs…For example, they may be more likely to be a first generation college student.”

Dr. Edwards went on to describe what drives him saying: “In my first day of service at community college it became clear to me that there’s that thing out there called social justice [and that means] that everyone has a right to [college education], whether they came from a middle class background, like I did, or whether they are that student I just described who no one in their family has gone to college.”

In the community college environment Dr. Edwards has advocated for what is called “Guided Pathways to Success,” or GPS, to help increase student graduation rates. This strategy focuses on close advisement with students to ensure they are taking the right courses that count toward their major at a pace that suits their personal life and other obligations. The GPS plan is one he has also worked to bring to Mercer.

“It’s not enough just to meet [students] at the door and say ‘good luck, now off with you and we’ll see you at graduation in two years’ because it doesn’t work that way in community colleges.” Dr. Edwards said.

Two other initiatives that Dr. Edwards supported while at Mercer were the creation of a Writing Center that offers students free tutoring for composition courses, and overseeing the transition of the Honors program back to Mercer’s control. The change in the Honors program will mean students will not have to pay the higher tuition rates the American Honors program charged, so lower income students will have a better chance of participating.

In interviewing numerous students at Mercer The VOICE found few had any idea of the changes in administration or what Dr. Edwards had accomplished during his time at the college. However, after The VOICE gave them a brief update on Dr. Edwards’s work while here, they did have a response.

Wesley White, a Television Production major, said, “Considering what [Dr. Edwards] accomplished,  I’m gonna miss him, because he’s actually accomplished relevant things and I hope whoever replaces him follows suit.”

Another student, Emmanuel Gandulla, Visual Arts major, said, “I’m just surprised at the trend [of VPs leaving]. Like what is wrong with the higher ups? I hope whoever follows continues what [Dr. Edwards] did.  But I’m mostly pessimistic no matter who comes because of the past trends.”

A nationwide search is now under way to find Dr. Edwards’s replacement. Jim Gardner believes the position will attract a significant level of interest from candidates across the country.

Gardner says, “It’s a process that has been undertaken many times in a number of capacities. Anything from a divisional dean, and just a couple years ago President Donohue retired, and it’s a matter of appointing a search committee and finding the right person for the job.”

A faculty member who spoke on the condition of anonymity told The VOICE, “The president makes it difficult for the VPs to do their job, therefore VPs with high professional standards will not stay at the college.”

On Sept. 27, a week before the college announced Dr. Edward’s departure, his position was posted on Mercer’s Human Resources page. The VOICE interviewed the President, Dr. Wang, on Sept. 29, and she said that Dr. Edwards was offered a job at another school and he accepted but that he had not been approved officially by the Board of Trustees of that institution.

Dr. Wang wrote a college Broadcast email on Oct. 4 saying, “Responding to an exciting service opportunity, Dr. David Edwards will assume the position of Vice President for Academic Affairs at Camden County College, effective on November 1, 2017. Dr. Edwards’s last day at Mercer will be October 31st.  Please join me in thanking Dr. Edwards for his contributions to MCCC and wishing him all the best as he takes this important next step in his career.”

Another faculty member who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity told The VOICE: “We like to have an idea of what is going on. I don’t like to be in the dark about what is going on in administration. They send emails, but it’s not clear, and I think it’s very unusual for someone to leave a position like that without a replacement.”

The job posting for Mercer’s new Vice President says that review of applications begins on Oct. 16 (our day of publication) and the new candidate will start Jan. 2.

The VOICE reached out to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the body that accredits the college, to learn more about trends in upper administration changes at the college level.

Richard J. Pokrass, Director of Communications and Public Relations at Middle States said, “At some schools it is quite common for a new president to come in and make widespread changes in his or her leadership team. Sometimes these changes are due to a restructuring of administrative duties. Other times the president simply wants his or her own team, not carry-overs from a previous administration.”

Asked if the timeline for finding the replacement was typical, Pokrass  said, “If the position search follows a typical process, several steps will be involved…The length of time for all of these steps can vary from institution to institution, but they will typically take a minimum of several months.”

Julie Yankanich Director of Communications at Camden County College told The VOICE, that the VP job was posted on May 10, 2017 and Dr. Edwards was approved by The Board of Trustees on October 3rd of this year. From start to finish the process took five months.

After Dr. Edwards’s confirmation, Don Borden, the president of Camden County College sent a statement to his college’s community saying, “Dr. Edwards was forwarded as a finalist from a selection committee representing a large segment of the College, was interviewed by the executive staff, and met with the College Community at a public forum.  We are extremely pleased that Dr. Edwards will be with us when we are visited by the Chair of our Middle States team, Dr. Anne Kress, this November.”

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