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New temporary leader for Southwestern Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Jan 22 2011 12:00 PM

The Southwestern College governing board hired an interim president Wednesday night at a governing board meeting.

Denise Whittaker will be in charge of getting the school's accreditation back on track, a monumental task left unfinished by its last president, Raj K. Chopra.

Board president Tim Nader said the number one priority of the college is to get the school off probation.

"The idea for the interim is to focus on getting the school through the next couple of months," he said.

Southwestern College was put on probation in August 2009 when an inspection team from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges found it did not meet certification standards.

The team pointed to problems with a self-study report provided by the college and gave them until March to correct 10 deficiencies, five of which were corrected in October. If the issues are not resolved the United States Department of Education will terminate the college's accreditation, devaluing thousands of student credits.

Currently the accreditation is at the same stage as it was in October, board vice-president Norma Hernandez said. "We're still waiting for the commission to respond to the report we gave them," she said.

Nader said he expects to have someone who can lead the college through the accreditation process no matter what stage it's at.

Nader and Hernandez were sworn into office at a Dec. 8 governing board meeting. Board trustees decided on criteria for the interim president Dec. 14 and closed the application process Jan. 5.

Hernandez said her expectations for the interim president include solid background and experience as an educational leader in the California college community, collaborative and inclusive decision making ability and a willingness to work in an effective manner with the campus community, the community at large and the board.

"I'm looking for someone who has a collaborative leadership style and is committed to the educational mission of the college," Nader said. He said this person would get along and be productive with a variety of people, including have respect for others and an enthusiasm for higher education.

Former President Raj K. Chopra resigned Nov. 30 after two board candidates who supported him were replaced by Hernandez and Nader.

Faculty members said Chopra's resignation was not a surprise. It was only a matter of time, once Hernandez and Nader won the seats, that Chopra would leave, said Southwestern College journalism professor and newspaper advisor Max Branscomb.

Chopra left the college with six months severance pay equaling $102,000.

During his tenure he was paid more than $200,000, including a $25,000 housing allowance.


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