After one year without a permanent president, Compton College will have a new leader July 1 who says his top priority is to examine the quality of academic programs on a campus that has been beset by financial problems and falling enrollment.
Edison O. Jackson, executive vice president of 10,000-student Essex County College in Newark, N.J., was selected by the Compton College Board of Trustees, which had considered more than 150 applicants for the job.
Jean S. Larson, acting president of Compton College since last July, said Jackson "seems to have the traits of leadership that we feel will be most important to the college."
Larson, a veteran financial officer, said she will leave the campus in mid-July to become chief business officer at Glendale Community College.
Challenged by 'Diversity'
Jackson, 42, fills the vacancy left by Abel B. Sykes, who resigned after 15 years as president to head Kings River Community College in Reedley, Calif.
"I'm impressed with the diversity of the student body and recognize that that diversity presents some challenges," Jackson said in a telephone interview from his home in West Orange, N.J. "The community has a lot of strengths that can help make the college one of the outstanding community colleges in the state of California."
Before joining the staff at Essex County College in 1969 as dean of student affairs, Jackson--who holds a master's degree from Howard University and a doctorate in education from Rutgers--was a senior counselor at Federal City College in Washington, D.C.
In coming to Compton College, he is assuming leadership of a troubled campus. During the past three years, the college--a center for community activities--has experienced a drop in enrollment of 6,500 to 3,800, suffered a three-week teachers' strike and borrowed about $1 million from the state to balance its budget.
"I look upon these problems as opportunities," Jackson said. "I come from a college that has had to face these kinds of problems and issues and I have substantial experience in dealing with them."
One of his first priorities, he said, will be to "examine the quality of academic offerings" at the college to see whether they are "in concert with the needs of the community." If found wanting, he said, he would consider a "reordering of priorities" to make the college more relevant to the people it serves.
Other than that, he said, he is coming to Compton with "an open mind."
"I'm excited and looking forward to it," Jackson said. "I'm very pleased to have been selected."
One Opposing Vote
At least one person was less pleased. Carl Robinson, president of the college board of trustees who cast the sole vote opposing Jackson's appointment, said he would have preferred the selection of one of several candidates already working within the California community college system.
"They could have virtually come in and taken over running the college without having to learn what the California system is all about," Robinson said later.
In addition to being familiar with California codes and customs, he said, a local candidate could have cost the college less than the $65,000 a year he said the board had verbally agreed to pay Jackson. A formal contract has not yet been signed.
But Robinson said he had accepted the board's decision. "I'm a team player," he said. "I will support the president in making Compton College one of the best colleges around."
Meanwhile, Larson, who did not seek the presidency, announced her return to what she described as her first "calling" by becoming chief business officer at Glendale Community College.
Prefers Financial Position
"I really feel more comfortable on the financial side," said Larson, who served as Compton College's vice president for business affairs before becoming acting president. She praised the choice of Jackson as president. "This will provide us with some stability and continuity of leadership," she said. "I think the board made an excellent choice."
Charles Cropsey, Compton College director of public information and a participant in the selection process, said he was impressed with Jackson's grasp of the issues in Compton.
"We're an urban community college serving a largely minority clientele," Cropsey said, "and Jackson seems conversant with the economic and social problems likely to be found in such a situation."