The fact that state Senate President Don Williams is on the short list for the presidency of Quinebaug Vally Community College (QVCC) should be heartening for students there present and future. Despite excessive criticism that bordered on personal attacks, the school would benefit greatly with Williams at the helm.
When word spread that Williams, who is retiring from the Senate, was seeking the position, it elicited criticism from columnists and academic eggheads who are concerned with the possibility Williams would get the position because of his political connections instead of his genuine qualifications. The latter are the types that can tell you the density of a phone but not how to make a call. They usually don’t have the juice or gravitas to be a good college president. Williams does.
The Shad pointed out at the time that Williams’ connections are exactly what the school needs for funding, recognition, growth and general good operation. It’s Williams who can make phone call and put the wheels in motion for the good of Quinebaug.
One needs to look no further than Massachusetts and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell for evidence than a well-known, former elected official can successfully lead a college. Martin Meehan is a former well-known congressman who left office and became the president of UMass-Lowell. Meehan was recently named President of the Year by the Association of College Unions International.
Meehan has been great for the school. Enrollment has increased 47 percent since Meehan took over in 2007 and eight new buildings have opened. (A sharp, political observer and reader of The Shad points out that in the just-concluded legislative session, state Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey push a bill that would have prospectively subjected to the state property tax any new land or buildings purchased by most colleges and universities. Williams is seeking the presidency of a college and Sharkey was trying to the tax them.)
Of course, the Williams-Meehan comparison has its limits. Meehan was a congressman who took over a branch of the Bay State’s flagship university. Williams was state Senate president and is aiming to take over a community college. Meehan has a degree in education and political science and a law degree. He also holds a master’s degree in public administration. Williams holds a journalism degree and a law degree. He was also the chairman of the legislature’s Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee, served on the board of the New England Board of Higher Education and as the executive director of Connecticut College’s satellite campus.
What seems to get lost in these types of debates (as it often does on school reform) is what is best for the students. Williams would be better for Quinebaug Valley and better for the students that go there.