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Guilford College Board of Trustees to Choose the First Female President in Its History and the Community Responds

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It has been a long time since all factions at Guilford College have been humming the same tune.

Guilford College is about to make a big decision: selecting who will lead the Liberal Arts College that was once a part of the underground railroad and has strong Quaker ties.

For over ten years now, the College has been led by Kent Chabotar, who is also a professor of political science.

Kent is a compassionate man who engages with students and turned the college around when it was headed for certain financial ruin. He has also taught other college presidents at Harvard, where he spends part of his summers.

Now looking forward, the board of trustees decided that, for the first time in the College's century-old history, there will be a woman at the helm of Guilford College.

Community members have had the chance to hear from two of the presidential candidates, one inspired and one horrified. We will hear from the third later today. However, one has seemed to rest in the hearts of many at the College, which was no small accomplishment.

Jane Fernandes, Ph.D., swept the community off its feet. The deaf educator was eloquent, direct and captivated her audience. Though some years back she was the subject of a Gallaudet University protest, the fault may not have been hers. It seems that, for some, Fernandes was not "deaf enough." Further, she served at the pleasure of the president of that university.

Some privately wonder how effective having a deaf leader will be for the college. However, I think that comes from a place of some fearing the unknown.

Over numerous conversations, many across campus have pegged Fernandes as best for representing Guilford in the years to come. What impressed me most about Fernandes is her ability to say, "I don't know," and quickly follow up with, "I'll find out." She is the kind of leader that oozes Guilford's ethos as a way of life. She will breathe life into this institution in a way that is necessary.

The second candidate was shockingly disappointing. Michele Perkins, Ed.D., is president of New England College. She spoke little of what she would do for Guilford College and instead appeared most comfortable talking about the accomplishments she made in her current leadership role. Her college is much smaller than ours, and her achievements pale in comparison to what we need in a leader. We need someone who can give Guilford a national presence, a leader who can find ethical sources of donations and also unite faculty, staff and students. Right now, although we are on the same team as a community, it's hard to tell from the climate going on inside of the College.

Bottom line, the straw poll is in. It would be tragic for the Trustees to choose Perkins and that is putting it lightly. Many faculty, students and staff say that privately, if not publically. Perkins has also been named as one of 19 nominees for the presidency for The University of Akron, in Ohio. Clearly she is on the market wanting to make a lateral transfer, no matter where she lands.

Guilford College, which is over a century old, has low morale as it stands. Having faculty being the lowest paid in the region has been compared to exploiting hard working people. Putting Perkins in the drivers seat would sink the ship altogether.

Guilford was well served by Chabotar, an industry leader as far as finances go. Colleges all over the Nation are reporting program cuts. It is a depressing time for Higher Education all over the place. Luckily, we had a financially prudent President at the helm for the past few years. He was also privately a compassionate man. Stories of helping students most at need for grants and scholarships, was not uncommon, to anyone who dared asking him for help.

Now, we have to take a chance with a visionary leader, one who will listen and make ethical choices as we charge forward. My guess is that Fernandes will steer this institution right. That is the popular opinion of most at the college. Getting the kind of overall reception that Fernandes has garnered is nothing short of a miracle. You have a better chance herding cats than you do watching the various groups of Guilford unite in one overwhelming opinion.

There is a difference between being a perfect fit and being qualified. You can't have one without the other.

And, although I'm not an expert, there are many on our campus that feel much the same. We anxiously await the visit from candidate three, Carolyn J. Stefanco. Looking to her CV alone, it seems that she moves swiftly through administrative positions. She is also shopping for a presidency, which isn't at all wrong. However, I do not think it would be a fit for the community as a whole. At this point she would have to do a roundhouse kick, in order to sway the thoughts of a community who have already heard two candidates speak.

Unless she walks on water, she will have a long road to walk to replace the feeling that most have for Fernandes, who also has a proven record of fundraising and connecting with those on the ground. Like an old glove, she fits.

Much like those at the Vatican that go into the conclave. We students will wait for the white smoke to billow announcing they've come to a decision, as Guilford College's BOT meets to make their decision later today.