New Yorker May Be Key to Pierce's Turnaround

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For years, New York City Technical College had a pretty embarrassing problem on its hands: A large satellite dish had been donated, but no one could seem to get it up and running on the roof of a campus building.

Then came Bing Inocencio. As associate vice provost at the Brooklyn college, colleagues said, he quickly determined that the old dish had grown obsolete, helped corral the funds to buy three new, smaller ones, and had them installed several months ago for students to use.

On Thursday, in the wake of his appointment as the new president of troubled Pierce College in Woodland Hills, officials both here and in New York said the episode illustrates why Inocencio should be able to restore stability to a foundering campus that was once the flagship of the Los Angeles Community College District.

His two-year tenure in Brooklyn was also marked by expanding computer resources for students, finagling sophisticated software packages for the blue-collar school at little cost and working effectively with business and community groups.

Although his specialty became using computer technology to enhance classroom learning--something many say is sorely missing at Pierce--the 60-year-old administrator was also widely described as an innovative and affable leader known for turning his goals into reality.

"He's an intellectual who's not afraid to get his hands dirty," said Los Angeles District Trustee Gloria Romero, who this week visited the New York campus. She praised Inocencio as "an intellectual who can also practice what he imagines."

"He's very calm and gets things done in a very nonthreatening way," added Emilie Cozzi, provost at the New York college and Inocencio's direct supervisor. "He aims for consensus. He's quite polished. I think he'll make a difference in a very short time." On Wednesday night, trustees of the Los Angeles Community College District concluded a nationwide search by naming the Philippine-born educator--whose formal name is E. Bing Inocencio--to the $93,353-a-year Pierce post. In accepting the job, Inocencio takes on a three-year commitment to solve a series of major problems plaguing the once-proud campus.

"People have told me Pierce is the jewel of the L.A. community-college system. It may have--and I emphasize may have--lost a bit of its luster. So I will need everyone's help in the effort to deal with that," Inocencio said with characteristic diplomacy Thursday from his Brooklyn office.

The veteran educator--who also has been a faculty member, business executive and government administrator during a 30-year career--is due to start at Pierce within several months.

Thursday, for the first time in a long time, many employees at the Woodland Hills campus seemed eager to receive their new boss, an outsider who made a good impression during a January interview visit. Some faculty members angrily believe Pierce became a dumping ground in recent years for a series of lackluster administrators from throughout the district who became campus presidents.

"We're looking forward to working with a fresh person from outside the district who has fresh ideas," said Pierce faculty leader Richard Follett, who served on the selection committee that recommended Inocencio as one of three finalists. "He doesn't have any baggage," Follett added.

What Inocencio does have, however, is a plateful of major problems awaiting his arrival: a campus that has seen its enrollment decline nearly 25%, to 14,500, since 1990; a looming $1.4-million budget shortfall this year; aging facilities, and the delayed renewal of its accreditation last year.

In some ways, the two campuses bear little resemblance. Pierce has the largest campus, the greatest number of white students and the most suburban setting in the Los Angeles district. Brooklyn's technical college has one of the smallest urban sites and most heavily minority populations in the New York City university system.

But Los Angeles district officials said they believe Inocencio has important qualities to succeed, including an appreciation for Los Angeles' increasing ethnic diversity.

They credited Mary Lee, Pierce's acting president for the past two years, with starting to turn around a campus that had largely stagnated in past years. But the hard-charging Lee also alienated many staff members and students, officials said, noting that she was not among the finalists for the job.

Inocencio, they said, holds the promise of enlisting campus and community involvement in improving the college.

"The days of autocratic presidents are gone," said District Trustee Lindsay Conner. "But the days of leadership are here as much as they have ever been."

Times special correspondent Frank Manning contributed to this story.

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