Green River College announces four finalists in presidential search

The four finalists in the search for Green River’s next president are, clockwise from top left: Utpal K. Goswami, Suzanne M. Johnson, Kenneth G. Lawson and Elliot Stern. COURTESY PHOTOS

Green River College has named four finalists in the search for its next president.

The Presidential Search Advisory Committee recently interviewed eight semifinalists and has recommended the four finalists to the Board of Trustees, which will hire one of the candidates. The board expects to announce the new president at a special meeting at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, April 25 to replace Interim President Scott Morgan.

The new president will begin his or her duties this summer and be paid $240,000 a year. The college began the search for its next leader after Eileen Ely resigned last June after months of unrest on campus.

Utpal K. Goswami, Suzanne M. Johnson, Kenneth G. Lawson and Elliot Stern will each visit Green River’s campus for a day during the week of April 10 to meet with various constituent groups, tour the campus and interview with the Board of Trustees.


Goswami is president of Metropolitan Community College–Maple Woods campus, in Kansas City, Mo. He has more than 33 years of higher education experience, divided between classroom and administration at colleges and universities in Arizona, California, Missouri and Texas. He is an experienced advocate for community college funding, fostering shared governance, enhancing student success, programming for workforce development, launching and completing capital projects and revamping and integrating technology platforms. Goswami is active in statewide and local community organizations related to education, community service and economic development.


Johnson is the vice president of academic affairs at Suffolk County Community College in Long Island, NY. Beginning her career in higher education in 1988 as a psychology instructor at Dowling College in Oakdale, NY, she moved through the ranks to become the college dean in 2012. Johnson was also the interim campus president of the Sylvania Campus of Portland Community College in Portland, Ore. Johnson has been instrumental in accreditation reviews, providing leadership over both instruction and student affairs, and has a deep commitment to the community college mission.


Lawson is the vice president for instruction at Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon. He has a doctorate in political science from the University of Washington. Lawson was dean of humanities and social sciences at Seattle Central College and dean of equity and social justice/social sciences at Shoreline Community College. He started teaching international studies and political science at Shoreline in 2001. Passionate about teaching and learning, he is committed to ensuring underserved students have an equitable opportunity to succeed.


Stern is the vice president of instruction at Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland. Prior to his career in higher education, Stern earned a Juris Doctor and a doctorate of osteopathic medicine, and enjoyed a successful career as a physician-attorney and medical malpractice litigator. Stern changed career paths in 2003 and joined the ranks of biology faculty at Everett Community College, where he later became dean of Allied Health. Stern also served as the dean of S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math) at Edmonds Community College.

Faculty want to be involved in last steps of process

The 12-member Presidential Search Advisory Committee – composed of students, faculty, staff and community representatives – received applications from 36 candidates following a nationwide search. Of those applicants, 28 met the minimum requirements, Morgan said.

“The committee worked awfully hard on your behalf,” Morgan told the board at its meeting on Thursday. “They did a lot of reading. They did a lot of question asking and listening.

“You will find we presented you a real diverse group (of candidates). There is a lot of choice here.”

Following the board interviews with the finalists, board Chair Claudia Kauffman and Vice-Chair Tim Clark will travel to the candidates’ current institutions for verification visits. The three other board members will serve as alternates for travel if needed. Morgan told the board he has started background and reference checks for the four finalists.

Members of Green River’s faculty have implored the board to include them in the final steps of the presidential search.

“Those best positioned to help us check our perceptions of the candidates may be those whose input must be sought out, who will speak more openly to someone they perceive is a peer, or whose speech may be subtly coded in ways that a counterpart would best understand,” said Jaeney Hoene, president of United Faculty – the college’s faculty union, and a member of the search committee. “I speak for the faculty when we say that we desperately hope you will accept the offer of the committee to participate in gathering perspectives and information about the final four candidates to be shared with you and for you to consider as you see fit. Nobody challenges that the responsibility of the decision is yours.”

Choosing a new president, Hoene said, is critical.

“My hope for all of us is that we move forward to an era of trust, but trust must be built on something,” she said. “We are all now in a position of having to put a great deal of trust in you to make a decision that will represent us, safeguard the college and represent the future.”

Mark Thomason, who has taught history at the college for 13 years, suggested the board have faculty members participate in the site visits, or at the least, have instructors help with reference checks of the finalists.

“These steps were not taken when President Ely was hired, and obviously the results of that were disastrous,” he said. “I am not suggesting that by doing this it will prevent that in the future, but obviously no one wants a repeat of the Ely era. So why don’t we take as many measures as we can to try to prevent that — from making that same mistake twice?”

Leslie Kessler, president of the Instructional Council, said she and her colleagues are very invested in choosing the next president and want to be included in the process.

“This is our leader,” she told the board. “This is the person we see on a daily basis, hopefully. We have a different relationship with that person, so it is very important to us.”

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