SMC trustees give president positive first performance review

Published 10:40 am Monday, January 18, 2021

DOWAGIAC — At its first regular 2021 meeting Wednesday morning in room 2109 of the David C. Briegel Building on the Dowagiac campus, the Southwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees provided President Dr. Joe Odenwald with a positive first-year performance review.

Each trustee anonymously and individually completed a questionnaire with multiple quantitative measures in six different categories including operations, leadership skills, communications, board relations, internal relations, and external relations. Responses were tabulated, combined and shared in closed session with Odenwald, who assumed his role as SMC’s eighth president at the beginning of 2020.

“If this was an academic grade, it would be an A-plus,” said Chairman Thomas F. Jerdon. “During this unprecedented time in the college’s history, Dr. Joe has managed the institution with tremendous financial responsibility, stewarding the taxpayers’ resources with utmost care. He has committed to communicating transparently with the board, faculty, staff and community stakeholders, and he is creating new ways to grow the college in the future. He is certainly an entrepreneurial leader and one that will be transformative for the institution.”

During the public input portion of the agenda, Professor Dr. Jeffrey Dennis affirmed his appreciation for Odenwald’s approach.

“This past year has been so challenging for the whole college. I don’t know how anyone could have managed the situation more effectively or appropriately than did Dr. Odenwald,” Dennis said. “He showed himself throughout this year to be a person of genuine integrity and transparency, a person who really works hard and does his research. He’s incredibly capable and, very important to a lot of us, a person who’s marked by compassion and kindness. I thank the board with all my heart for his appointment and I hope he will remain with us for many years to come.”

In his president’s report, Odenwald summarized steps taken by his administration to guide SMC through pandemic financial challenges while avoiding employee furloughs or layoffs, such as not filling more than a dozen open faculty and staff positions due to retirements or other attrition, implementing travel restrictions and general belt-tightening throughout the organization.

At the same time, SMC invested in more faculty training to deliver online classes and new technology systems to make the college better able to serve students both in-person and remotely in the future, he said.

“I think we made the right call to put more online,” Odenwald said. “We’re going to have 68 classes fully online and about that many hybrids. Preliminary reports Tuesday were that online versus traditional student success rates are within a point or two, which is encouraging.”

In other business, the board re-elected Chairman Thomas F. Jerdon, Vice Chairman Keith H. McKenzie and Treasurer Becky Moore. William M. White stepped down as Secretary and will be succeeded in that office by Trustee Beth J. Cripe. The board also includes Trustees Dr. Elaine Foster and Tracy D. Hertsel.

Trustees accepted six gifts to the college totaling $2,935 and acknowledged 18 foundation donations for $13,175.