Clark College has its next president: Karin Edwards, currently president at Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus.
The college’s board of trustees voted unanimously Friday to offer the position to Edwards, who brings 36 years of community college experience. The announcement ends nearly a yearlong search process following the retirement of Bob Knight. Interim President Sandra Fowler-Hill is expected to end her term sometime over the summer.
“Edwards is an incredible leader,” said trustee Paul Speer. “When you look at her track record, what you find is an individual who is incredibly aligned with the values of Clark College.”
The college must still negotiate its contract, including salary, with Edwards. Knight’s salary was about $220,000 a year upon his retirement.
Edwards has been the president at the Cascade Campus since 2014. She oversees advanced manufacturing programs at the Swan Island Trades Center and the college’s Maritime Welding Training Center. The welding center works with shipbuilding company Vigor Industrial, which last year purchased the former Christensen shipyard in the Columbia Business Center to convert it into a manufacturing center for U.S. Army landing craft.
“I have a full heart today,” Edwards said in a Clark College news release. “I’m excited to begin a new chapter as president of Clark College and grateful to everyone at Portland Community College who has walked with me these past six years. We have a great deal to be proud of, developing programs and support services that help our students succeed.”
Speer also noted Edwards’ commitment to equity for underrepresented students. She serves on the advisory board of the Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs, and is a member of the Portland-based Partners in Diversity Leadership Council. She also will be the first woman of color to lead Clark College in its 87-year history.
“She leads with a vision,” he said. “She’s persistent. She’s had success in closing achievement gaps.”
It’s a notable step forward for Clark College, which has come under fire in recent months after an investigatory report concluded that Knight had engaged in inappropriate, discriminatory behavior against women and women of color during his tenure at the Vancouver community college. The report also said that Knight made offensive comments, and interfered in hiring a permanent vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Oregon Public Broadcasting first reported the outstanding equity issues at the college in 2018.
Speer acknowledged the controversy, saying “it’s been a very difficult year” for Clark College. But, he noted that all staff need to come to work with the goal of serving students.
“Each and every employee at Clark College needs to come to work every day saying, ‘What do I need to do to uplift the culture, uplift the sense of commitments to students, and to help this college move forward in its healing?’ ” Speer said.
In response to the investigation into Knight, Fowler-Hill is slated next month to release a report reviewing practices for complaints against the president, as well as updating the performance evaluation process for the college’s leaders. Clark is also expected to announce its new director of compliance sometime this spring, a new human resources position to oversee the college’s compliance with ethics and anti-discrimination laws.
Speer said Edwards’ experience equips her to handle what will come next for the college.
“This is part of a continuum,” Speer said. “We believe we are on a good path.”