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Editorial: Ridgewater College begins leadership transition

Ridgewater College's leadership is transitioning to a new chapter as Doug Allen nears the end of his college presidency and Joseph Opatz prepares to take over as interim president for the upcoming school year.

This is an opportunity for all at Ridgewater to move forward for the betterment of the college and the community.

During Allen's 14-year tenure, Ridgewater has had significant successes accomplished during tough economic times.

Allen noted Ridgewater's recognition as one of the top colleges in Minnesota for student completion rates, customized training revenues and the return on investment of its foundation.

As Minnesota State Chancellor Steven Rosenstone noted. Ridgewater also received national recognition for excellence under Allen's leadership.

During his tenure, the college completed an $18 million multi-year renovation; science labs were built in Hutchinson and renovated in Willmar; the college was designated as a center of excellence in agriculture and health care; and the college created a four-year bachelor's degree in nursing in collaboration with Metropolitan State University.

Another Allen strength has been his significant involvement in Willmar and Hutchinson. Many community leaders value his leadership and participation in various efforts within the two communities. We hope he will continue his involvement.

Allen has had a rocky relationship with one of the college unions - the Minnesota State College Faculty union at both campuses in Willmar and Hutchinson. The faculty took a vote of no confidence in Allen in February 2015. Union members have been critical of Allen's leadership style and decision-making process.

Since Minnesota State declined to renew his contract earlier this month, Allen has taken the high road, calling it "an honor and a privilege to work" at Ridgewater. He has also pledged to work for a smooth transition to the interim president.

All of the "accomplishments (at Ridgewater) are the result of the dedication, quality, and commitment of the faculty, staff and administration of Ridgewater College," Allen said.

Thank you to Allen for his professional response and putting the future of Ridgewater at the forefront of this leadership transition.

With this leadership transition, it is time for all - the faculty, staff and administration - to work together to forge a new relationship toward a new chapter at the college.

New interim president Opatz brings a wealth of experience to the table, including as president of Normandale Community College, an associate vice president of academic affairs at St. Cloud State University, executive dean at Anoka-Ramsey Community College; and as interim president of Central Lakes College in Brainerd.

Opatz brings a reputation of someone who puts the interests of the students and the community first.

"His skills and experience will be a tremendous asset at Ridgewater while the search for a permanent leader is conducted," said Rosenstone.

We welcome Opatz to Ridgewater College and the communities of Willmar and Hutchinson. Hopefully, he will help the college through the coming academic year continue its successes and begin the next chapter.

Minnesota State will initiate a search in the fall for a permanent president with a goal to have the leader in place for the start of the 2018-19 academic year.

This editorial is the opinion of the West Central Tribune's Editorial Board consisting of publisher Steve Ammermann and editor Kelly Boldan.

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