transitions in leadership positions due to employment changes, retirements, deaths and
terminations—reported 111 community college
CEO transitions in the 2017-18 academic year.
Aftermath from the recession and the baby
boomer generation retiring are among the reasons
for the administrative upheaval, notes Pulliams, a
former president of Portland Community College.
A sector in flux, combined with an increased
focus on the cost of higher education, has found
more presidents stumping before state officials
for education dollars, resulting in a difficult,
ever-evolving position that should be compensated
accordingly, Pulliams says.
“The job has changed over the years, so that
means a different kind of contract,” he says.
“Colleges are strapped financially and must bring
in someone who can manage the budget. Plus
there’s a responsibility to find non-mainstream
funding for faculty chairs, construction or support
of student completion.”
A successful negotiation requires understanding
the complex parameters of the modern presiden-
tial contract, notes Pulliams, who will present on
this topic at the upcoming AACC Future Presidents
Institute. As the job changes, so do benefits attached
to employment, from housing allowances to sab-
baticals to onboarding plans designed to ease the
new administrator’s learning curve.
Smart candidates come to the table knowing the
departing president’s contract as well as salaries
of presidents from similarly sized colleges. Fully
defining non-salary considerations—evaluation
schedules, cause for termination, performance
incentives and more—is key when tailoring each
of those conditions for a fair and efficient outcome.
“When colleges get down to finalists, these are
usually the competitive people who have done
their homework,” Pulliams says.
Presidents are wise to pursue professional guidance on nuanced contractual matters rather than
taking a do-it-yourself approach, experts believe.
Hiring legal representation results in a smoother
back-and-forth on contract talks that shouldn’t take
any longer than a week or two to complete. Though
it might be tempting for presidents to serve as their
own legal advisor, most admins are not going to
know—citing just one example—the subtle differences
between arbitration and litigation in the dispute
resolution clause of their contract.
Tim Cook, president of Clackamas Community
College in Oregon City, Oregon, went into his talks
last spring minus an attorney, believing it would
be enough to discuss employment details with past
presidents and study contract parameters online.
Cook then got what he calls “really good advice” from
a colleague who emphasized how that first contract
is the foundation for all future negotiations.
“I came in wanting to make a good impression
with the board, so I thought doing it informally
would be best,” Cook says. “But you only get one shot
at this. You should be protected and you’re going to
need a professional to weigh that. Some presidents
think they’re not in the position to ask questions.”
Clackamas used a previous presidential con-
tract as a starting point, a decade-old document
Tim Cook became
College in 2018.