Trustees need to choose wisely

Published 8:56 am Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An extremely significant decision awaits the Roanoke-Chowan Community College Board of Trustees.

As we all should hopefully know by now, the RCCC Trustees, at a special called meeting on Tuesday of last week, sent the college’s president, Dr. Ralph Soney, out the door. Soney did contribute to that decision by his bosses as he submitted a letter of resignation a few weeks ago. However, he did ask to remain onboard until Dec. 31, the reason for which, in his words, was to “allow the faculty, the staff and the board some time to work on the transition of leadership. My willingness to stay was simply transitional. It’s typical for an administrator to have 30-60 days to slowly back out of the way.”

Based on last week’s 9-2 vote to end Soney’s seven-year stay at RCCC, the Trustees apparently didn’t see the need for a “transitional” period. And, when asked by this reporter, the board chair, Wendy Ruffin Barnes, would not discuss what led to the decision to give Soney his immediate “walking papers.”

On the other side of the coin, I had to know why Soney opted to resign, especially on the heels of RCCC’s recent string of good news, to include reaccreditation earlier this year by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (required to keep the college’s doors open) and the announcement last week that the school was one of six statewide to receive a share ($250,000) of a $1.8 million grant that will aid in the implementation of the NC Back-to-Work program. That program prepares long-term unemployed North Carolinians for new careers. In RCCC’s case, the grant will assist up to 300 citizens from Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties for tuition and supplies.

While he was pleased with the progress at RCCC under his leadership, Soney claimed his efforts were derailed by the politics of Hertford County, saying, “Many of the leadership issues within Hertford County were starting to manifest themselves on our board and on our campus; the politics – the cronyism, the favoritism – undermines even the best of efforts. For me it was a moral and ethical choice to offer my resignation.”

Now that’s a mouthful, which begs to ask the question – what is the intent of the 12 appointees to the RCCC Trustees….to represent the best interest of the students or bend to special interest? Personally I want to believe it’s the former rather than the latter.

We all need to carefully watch what direction the RCCC Trustees take in selecting Soney’s replacement. They did get off on the right foot by naming former RCCC President Dr. Harold Mitchell to fill Soney’s seat in the interim while they search for a new leader. He is well respected among his educational peers and an outstanding member of the local community.

Perhaps it’s a Mitchell clone that is needed to become the next leader at RCCC. After seven years of watching Soney “drive” his salary to Pitt County (where the Trustees opted to allow him to reside instead of living here locally), I, for one, would love to see the board either tap into the local pool of educational administration talent or demand that an outsider chosen for the president’s position live here, raise their family here and spend their money here.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I want to see RCCC thrive. It offers our local citizens a chance to take a big step forward in life through higher education. For some, they can use those skills to immediately enter the workplace or advance in their current job. For others, RCCC serves as a launching pad for those wanting to enroll in four-year colleges.

The college’s next leader is charged with keeping those dreams alive. I implore the Trustees to choose wisely…none of us want to wake up in a nightmare somewhere down the road.


Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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