New Mexico Junior College Board of Trustees named former president Steve McCleery as interim president of the college during its regular meeting Thursday.
Before president of the board, Pat Chappelle, made the announcement, board member Guy Kesner praised the persons who were interviewed for the job. Kesner told the News-Sun on Friday he was very pleased with MCleery’s selection as interim president.
“I think the expertise McCleery brings and his association with ACCT (Association of Community College Trustees) will be great for the college while we search for a new president,” Kesner said.
Board member Evelyn Rising said she agreed with Kesner’s remarks at the meeting. Friday afternoon she told the News-Sun she believes the college vice presidents who interviewed for the interim president’s job are outstanding.
“We certainly didn’t want to disrupt what’s working and we want to build on our strengths. We have an excellent team. All of our applicants were very strong,” Rising said.
Board member Hector Baeza, who was attending the board meeting by way of ZOOM, said he and the board did not want to appoint someone who would come in and try to make a lot of changes.
“Continuity with current staff is very important,” Baeza said.
“I think it’s a good thing to be have Dr. McCleery here while we look for a president. He is already familiar with the campus and the staff and he knows people in the ACCT, so he will be able to help us find the next president. We have a great team and we want to have a smooth transition,” said Travis Glenn, the board member who made the motion to appoint McCleery.
Friday morning, Chappelle told the News-Sun the special meeting held earlier in Sept. for the purpose of interviewing candidates for the interim position was educational for the board.
“I don’t think any of us regrets the five hours we spent interviewing the vice presidents,” she said. “We are so impressed with the depth of experience and talent each one of these people have. Each one of them is vital to the way the college operates and any one of them would have been a good choice for interim. We interviewed all six of them and then we interviewed Dr. McCleery last.”
As the board began to consider possibilities before the interview meeting, they didn’t think McCleery would be interested in the job, said Chappelle.
“But a former board member contacted him and when we learned he was interested, we interviewed him,” she added.
McCleery told the News-Sun Friday afternoon that several people called him about applying for the job before the former board member called.
“Of course, I was interested. I spent 32 years at the college. I’ve done pretty much every job there is on the campus,” McCleery said. “And while I’ve stayed out of Dr. Sharp’s way these last six years, I’ve kept up with things and I’m current on all issues related to community colleges because of my activities with ACCT. I know most of the people in Santa Fe and ACCT. So I said, ‘Well, if they’re interested in another old person, I’d like to interview.’”
McCleery said he went into the interview “to make his best case. I thought the interview was invigorating.”
McCleery and his wife Linda moved to Lubbock after his retirement from the college six years ago.
“Moving to Lubbock was a great choice for me. I love the people there. They’ve been helpful to us, but we love the people in Lea County and we are so excited to be coming back,” said McCleery. “The truth is, they hired me based on Linda. She’s a Hobbs Eagle and a Lovington Wildcat. She is so excited.”
McCleery said he is not interested in returning to college administration long term.
“It’s turning into a young man’s game. I’m sure that as we begin a search for a new president we’ll have close to 70 applicants who would love to come to New Mexico Junior College.”
Chappelle said the board does not yet have a contract to offer McCleery, but one will be negotiated with her and Glenn representing the board and with McCleery representing himself.
“In all the years with the college, I’ve never had an attorney or an agent,” McCleery said. “There’s no reason to have one now.”
McCleery expects to be on the job Oct. 1.
“I’m going to walk around the campus and see the things that are new, meet the people I don’t know, get reacquainted with the people I do know. There’s always some worry when someone new comes in and they need to be reassured that everything will be all right.”