2012 Top Stories: #4: RCCC President sent packing

Published 10:30 am Thursday, January 3, 2013

AHOSKIE — Stunned silence.

That was the mood cast over a group of Roanoke-Chowan Community College faculty/staff employees after learning a decision made by school’s Board of Trustees on Sept. 11 to end the employment of RCCC President Dr. Ralph Soney earlier than expected.

It was that same group of Soney supporters who were seen helping their former president clean out his office just moments after the Trustees reached their decision at shortly past 9 p.m.

“What were they thinking,” said one RCCC staffer as they wheeled a cart into Soney’s office to assist in the hasty departure of the President.

“Apparently not with their brains,” answered another RCCC employee, more than likely referencing the decision reached by the board.

As reported in the News-Herald’s Sept. 13 edition, the Trustees reconvened in open session, following a two-hour and two-minute closed session, where Chairwoman Wendy Ruffin Barnes asked for a motion concerning the matter of Soney’s letter of resignation. He had submitted that letter to the Trustees in which he asked to remain onboard until Dec. 31 of this year.

“I move that we respectfully accept Dr. Soney’s letter of resignation effective Sept. 11, 2012,” said Trustee, the Rev. David Stackhouse.

Trustee Andre Lassiter offered a second and the motion passed by a 9-2 vote. Joining Stackhouse and Lassiter in the majority vote were Barnes, Vice Chairman Ronald Gatling, Brenda Greene, Jeri Pierce, Albert Vann, Carl White and Mary Harrell Sessoms. Trustees Virginia Spruill and Lillie Owens White opposed the motion. Trustee James Eure was absent from the meeting.

After the vote, Barnes read a statement from the board.

“Dr. Soney, it’s with regrets that we accept your resignation. You’ve been a good leader of the college during your time here. We appreciate your service to the college and wish you good luck,” Barnes said.

“I’ve enjoyed serving, it’s been a wonderful experience,” Soney stated as he addressed the trustees following the vote. “To the staff, it’s been a great journey. You’ve done a lot to move us forward. If I can be of any assistance to you, you know how to get in touch with me. I wish you all the best.”

RCCC’s faculty and staff were apparently supportive of Soney. During the two-hour wait while the Trustees were in closed session, a school staffer handed the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald a copy of a letter, signed by 57 RCCC employees, addressed to the Board of Trustees. It read as follows:

“We, the undersigned faculty and staff, support the role of our President, Dr. R. Soney, in moving Roanoke-Chowan Community College forward in the education of our students. Throughout his tenure he has improved campus operations and expanded programs in order to serve the community. These activities also contributed to the SACS reaccreditation initiative of the college that was finalized this year. Along with his leadership, the campus continues to provide a positive learning environment as well as an open and welcoming atmosphere for all visitors, guests, students and staff. All of this facilitates the goal in promoting every student’s personal educational goals in serving the community’s needs.”

Two days later, in the News-Herald’s Sept. 15 edition, it was reported that Monique Mitchell was named as Acting President and Dr. Harold E. Mitchell as Interim President. That action came after an emergency meeting of the Trustees held Sept. 13. Mrs. Mitchell serves RCCC as its Dean of the Learning Resources Center/Information Systems and Assistant Dean of Curriculum Programs. Dr. Mitchell served as RCCC President from 1987-2000.

“An interim can serve until such time that we have completed our formal search and have a new president in place,” Barnes said.

She said that search will initially involve contacting the state system office for a listing of possible candidates.

“We will hire an outside firm to assist us in narrowing the list down to a final five or six candidates,” Barnes said. “They’ll help weed out the ones that do not have the qualities that we want.”

In the end, Barnes said the RCCC Trustees will narrow the list to three candidates and submit those names to the state system.

“We let them know which one is our favorite, but they choose and recommend to us which candidate we should hire; we still have to vote, but typically you follow the state’s recommendation,” Barnes concluded.

Soney was hired Nov. 1, 2005 as RCCC’s sixth president since its founding. The veteran educator, with over 30 years of experience, came to RCCC from Pitt Community College where he served as Vice President for Academics. He also served at Wayne Community College as Division head of Social Services, Human Services, Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“There are many things that I’m proud of during my time spent at the college,” Soney said during an interview for a story that appeared in the News-Herald’s Sept. 15 edition. “I felt that we had turned the corner; we were back in the good graces of the community there and we were growing,” he continued. “We worked very hard in getting the community, the local businesses, to respect what we were doing to train their future employees and to respect our students, our graduates.

“We also worked hard during my time there to improve the diversity of our students and to treat our students with dignity and respect each and every day,” Soney added. “Another thing I’m proud of was the way the college was serving the business community. We worked with the likes of Nucor, Berry-Kerr and Perdue, just to name a few, to help them help themselves. I can only hope that my successor there will build on that.”

However, despite those successes, Soney said politics was slowly eroding the core of a new foundation he was attempting to build at the school. Hence, he submitted a letter of resignation a few weeks ago to the RCCC Board of Trustees.

“Many of the leadership issues within Hertford County were starting to manifest themselves on our board and on our campus,” Soney noted. “It was becoming harder to maintain our mission and objectives at the school. I didn’t outline those specifically in my letter of resignation, but I feel certain those in the know in Hertford County are aware of those issues. There are a lot of good things going on there, but 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.”


Soney said he had requested a resignation effective date of Dec. 31 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.”


As he emerged from behind closed doors Tuesday night after being informed of the board’s intent to approve his immediate resignation, Soney was met by a host of supporters – faculty and staff. They were stunned to hear the news of his sudden departure and offered words of comfort to their ousted leader; also assisting him with a quick task of packing up the personal items in his office.


“That was pretty emotional,” he said, pausing to collect himself in an effort to fight back the tears. “They showed up on their own accord Tuesday night. It was nothing that I asked for, nor did I facilitate that turnout on my behalf. I’m grateful to all of them, and to others not there, for their overwhelming support.”


Soney credited the school’s staff for RCCC’s success.


“They stepped to the plate and made what it is. They brought it back to where it was years ago,” Soney noted. “People were beginning to put their trust in the college again and it’s to their credit that was happening. I wasn’t there to win a popularity contest and, ultimately, the blame fell on my shoulders. I was there to lead that staff, those students, because the school was important to the community and it was important to me.”


As to what the future holds for Soney, he said only time will tell.


“I feel some doors will open for me; I’m only 54 years old and I’m still interested in the field of education. I really don’t know where I’m heading right now. I’m going to take a couple of weeks off and think about it,” Soney concluded.


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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