Spevak: Challenges, joys await Merced College's leader

By John SpevakAugust 16, 2012 

This week the Los Banos Campus of Merced College begins a new academic year with a new president. The school is also marking its golden anniversary.

I've known Dr. Ron Taylor for more than a decade, going back to when he and I were fellow chief instructional officers, Ron at Reedley College and me at Merced College.

I've followed his career from Reedley to vice president of instruction at Chabot College and then president of Feather River College.

Ron values the importance of community colleges in California, which in the spirit of the American dream give every person the opportunity to succeed.

He has worked within large districts like Chabot-Los Positas and small districts like Feather River. He understands the workings of a large campus like Merced and a smaller one like Los Banos.

Having worked at Reedley College, Ron knows the Central Valley well. He recognizes the importance of agriculture to the Valley's economy and understands the concerns of its residents.

Dr. Taylor listens carefully, communicates clearly and works well with faculty, staff, students and the community. I believe he is an excellent fit for Merced College and a worthy successor to Dr. Ben Duran, who retired this summer after 13 years as the college's president.

Ahead of Ron will be good times and challenges. Some of the good times will come this fall as Merced College celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Banners on both campuses already prominently display "50," and pins with "50" are being worn by many people in the college community.

Next month, to celebrate the golden anniversary, the Merced College Foundation will sponsor a rock and blues concert in the Merced Theater on Sep. 21 and a homecoming football game and barbecue on Sep. 22. The foundation has encouraged all alumni and friends of the college to join in the celebration.

In October, beginning with a public reception on Oct. 11, the college and the Merced County Historical society will sponsor a three-month exhibit of college memorabilia in the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

Along with the lively celebration this fall will come much somber reflection at Merced College, not only on education but on economics. Like all community colleges in California, Merced College is getting less and less revenue from the state in the last few years and has kept cutting back its programs and services accordingly.

This means many in our area who seek a college education are not getting the courses they need. This week, in both Merced and Los Banos, hundreds of students trying to enroll in classes were turned away because of the limited class schedule.

One positive point is that Merced College, thanks to the leadership of Ben Duran and its board of trustees, is in a stronger fiscal position than many other community colleges in California, some of which are on the verge of bankruptcy.

Merced College will have to continue to be vigilant, and Dr. Taylor understands this well. Its future funding is uncertain. Much will depend on the statewide education bond in November.

If the bond passes, the college can continue to operate with its current tight budget. If it fails, the college will experience a large cut in revenue, forcing more cuts in classes and services in spring 2012 and future semesters.

To survive such uncertain times, a community college needs its best minds working in collaboration with the president and the board -- the brain power of faculty, classified staff, managers, students and community members.

Our local college is fortunate to have superb talent, in both Merced and Los Banos. Brenda Latham, dean of the Los Banos Campus, is an excellent example; she is an accomplished leader who utilizes the skills of a strong and unified LBC team.

Dr. Ron Taylor has the ability and leadership to bring people together in pursuit of common goals. I believe he'll utilize the talent he has and lead Merced College effectively during the years ahead -- in good times and bad -- continuing its tradition as a strong college successfully serving its students, staff and community.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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