Cumberland Times-News

Education

November 18, 2010

Candidate for ACM president Stewart discusses methods

— CUMBERLAND — Brad Stewart describes himself as an “extreme extrovert” and an ace fundraiser who takes a student-centered approach to leading a community college.

“I have a take-off-your-coat, roll-up-your-sleeves, ‘Aw-shucks’ kind of style, and that doesn’t work everywhere,” said Stewart, who took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves not long after he was introduced Monday as one of two finalists for the president’s job at Allegany College of Maryland.

Stewart, vice president and provost of the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus of Montgomery College, fielded questions for more than an hour Monday morning at a public forum that attracted an audience of about 130 — mostly faculty, students and staff. He appeared at a second forum Monday afternoon.

“If need be, and somebody needs a speech from me, and you give me enough time, I can produce one, and rehearse it, and be pretty good,” said Stewart, who was answering a question about how criticism has helped him grow as a leader.

“But I prefer to operate on the fly. People have told me, ‘you might have wanted to practice more for this kind of thing’...Their perception of what a president should be is more formal than I am. I’ve decided to own that. If informality is not a match for ACM, then I’m not your guy ... I’ve got to be authentic. I’ve got to be me.”

The ACM Board of Trustees started looking for a new president last summer, when Bruce Exstrom unexpectedly resigned after serving as president for two years. In September, Exstrom took a job as chief academic officer at Coastal Bend College in Texas.

The second finalist for the ACM presidency, Cynthia Bambara, interim president at Central Virginia College in Lynchburg, is scheduled to appear at public forums today. The Board of Trustees  is expected to choose a new president before the end of the year.

Stewart, who has had his job at TP/SS since 2005, answered a wide range of questions, giving the ACM community a sense of his management style and fundraising experience, as well as his thoughts about everything from distance learning to continuing education, growing programs at ACM’s multiple campuses to providing scholarships for students.

“Fundraising priority No. 1 at a community college is student scholarships, then program development,” said Stewart, adding that when he first started his job at Montgomery College about 6,000 of 26,000 students applied for some kind of financial aid. This year, 19,000 students applied, he said.

“Affordability is the key point of access.”

One anonymous questioner asked Stewart to explain why TP/SS shut down its athletic program recently, and whether he believes athletics are an important part of the community college experience. Stewart said he had discovered numerous problems with the program, including a high percentage of basketball players who were academically ineligible.

“It is a cruel joke to bring people to your campus to play sports who have no chance of being successful academically,” Stewart said, adding that a reorganized athletic program is expected to start next year.

“That’s just wrong. I’ll take all the heat that anybody from TP/SS wants to give me for standing on what I believe to be an ethical principle. We needed to stop until we got things figured out.”

Stewart said he supports continuing education programs — “my philosophy is a student is a student is a student” — and he spends several nights a week at public functions, representing Montgomery College and seeking donors. He would do the same in Allegany County, he said.

“The president is the storyteller-in-chief,” said Stewart, who has asked students to present an annual report at an upcoming meeting before the Montgomery College Board of Trustees. “One of the things I’ve learned over the last few years is how compelling student stories can be. ... Fundraising is an interesting exercise. It is an alignment issue. You have to find people with money who like your story and you have to align their interests with what you’re doing at the college and hope magic happens.”

Stewart, who was raised in a small town in Iowa, has a doctorate in sociology and spent his early career as a faculty member at a number of universities, including the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, the University of North Dakota and Miami University in Middletown, Ohio. At Montgomery College, he is in charge of the TP/SS branch, which is an urban campus with about 7,000 students. ACM is a rural campus with about 4,000 students.

The mission of both schools is the same, Stewart said — to provide a “pathway to the American dream for thousands of students.” As president, he would work closely with faculty and students to facilitate the teaching and learning process. And he would do much of it face-to-face.

“I can’t sit behind my desk for long periods of time,” he said. “It bugs me. So I’ll be up walking around. ... I can always find somebody to talk to about something that’s on my to-do list. Now, getting in the car and driving to Somerset and Bedford, that’s going to take a little more planning. I don’t know how other administrators have handled that in the past. Is there office space for the president at those two campuses? Is there any place to hang out?”

“Yes,” someone in the audience said.

“OK, so there will be Bedford and Somerset days in my schedule if I’m the guy,” Stewart said.

Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at kbarkley@times-news.com.

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