A former Collier campus president is one of five finalists for the top post at Edison State College, but some question whether his history at the college should be seen as an advantage.
Jeffery Allbritten, who left his job at Edison less than a year ago to lead his own institution, was among the most popular of the candidates a search committee chose for interviews with the board of trustees. Committee members selected the five finalists at the conclusion of two days of interviews with nine presidential hopefuls.
Allbritten, now president of Macon State College, led Edison's Collier campus for eight years and is familiar with many at the school. That was touted as a positive by some, including trustees chairwoman Ann Berlam, who also chaired the search committee. The two faculty members in the group, however, weren't completely convinced.
"To me, that's a double-edged sword," said Don Ransford, who was careful to say that he does not know Allbritten personally and listened objectively during his interview.
Ransford said an external candidate might look better because of Edison's recent controversies — some of which overlapped with Allbritten's time at Edison. Allbritten was not connected to those issues and another committee member, Allen Weiss, cautioned against guilt by association.
Reached after Tuesday's selection, Allbritten said his time at shouldn't be a concern, noting that a report done by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools stated the Collier campus was well-run.
"I thought that was a good comment on our leadership over the years that I was there," Allbritten said.
He said his familiarity with Edison is indeed an advantage — a major one.
"I think knowing the institution as well as I do and knowing the communities and economic development, it gives me such a head start on coming in and addressing the issues that need to be addressed," Allbritten said.
His experience fundraising and looking ahead were other factors that caught the committee's attention.
The former Collier president received the second most support from committee members, who were asked to vote by show of hands for which candidates to invite back to campus.
Leading the pack was Eric McKeithan, who became president of a struggling college and turned it into a success. McKeithan also is steeped in experience with SACS — he lists the president of the organization's committee on colleges as a reference. He has extensively researched Edison's accreditation process — something that impressed committee members.
During his interview Tuesday, McKeithan said he would ensure accreditation standards become part of the fabric of Edison.
"Then, when the visiting committee comes around, you don't get 14 recommendations," he said. "You get zero recommendations."
The other finalists — Peggy Kennedy, Gene Giovannini and Joseph Sarnovsky — impressed committee members with their experience in multi-campus systems, well-roundedness and integrity, respectively. Each of the five will visit campus before interviewing with the board, which still has to set a salary for the position.
Berlam said the candidate's experiences and skills mean the board of trustees has a difficult choice ahead of it. The board is expected to meet June 1 to interview the candidates, and will most likely choose Edison's next president later that day.
"I sincerely believe the next president of Edison is in that mix," Berlam said.