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WCCC's hiring debate: Transparency, please

| Friday, April 25, 2008

Allegiance to an embattled community college president over a flap about who does the school's hiring doesn't trump the obligation of college trustees to the public.

And if in this unfolding controversy the concepts of transparency and checks and balances in hiring at a publicly funded institution are somehow revolutionary -- as some college officials suggest -- then let the revolution begin.

Westmoreland County commissioners fired the first shot with a proposal this month to give Westmoreland County Community College's trustees final say in hiring, thereby stripping the responsibility from college President Steven Ender. It's estimated Mr. Ender has filled about 600 jobs over the last three years.

The commissioners' plan, however, prompted concerns over the potential for political funny business, as the college's 15 trustees are appointed by the county's leaders. And that thorny issue has become the pin to the grenade that's held by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. College officials say the commission can pull WCCC's accreditation if any future hiring policy is construed as political.

Rather than explore a compromise, board of trustees chairwoman Gail Malloy on Wednesday proposed turning over all hiring responsibility to Ender. (Trustees currently ratify the hiring of salaried workers.)

There remains one nettlesome problem: WCCC is a public-funded $31.6 million operation that employees 800 people and receives $4 million from Westmoreland County. That earns the public, at the minimum, a vantage point into the college's hiring. And that's not an infringement on this or any other community college president.

It is the public's right.

A substantiative discussion of the hiring policy is warranted. We suggest the trustees begin one with the Middle States Commission in the interest of both the college and the pubic that helps foot the bill.

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