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Georgia Perimeter’s New Leader A Surprising Choice For Diverse System, Critics Say

There is a new chief in charge at Georgia Perimeter College, the five-campus, 50,000-student Atlanta-area community college district. Dr. Anthony S. Tricoli, the former president of West Hills College Coalinga, will take over at GPC on Oct. 1, replacing longtime president Jacqueline Belcher, who retired last year. Heavily involved in the American Association of Community Colleges, Belcher retired as one of the most visible Black community college presidents in the nation.

The appointment of Tricoli to lead GPC has raised eyebrows, especially because he’s coming from a rural California school, part of a two-campus district that only serves about 5,000 students. Although he’s coming from a Hispanic-Serving Institution, some have questioned whether Tricoli has the experience and ability to lead one of America’s largest and most diverse urban community college districts.

“How could you replace someone with Jacqueline’s background with an Anthony Tricoli? What’s going on?” asks Dr. Christine J. McPhail, director of Morgan State University’s Community College Leadership Doctoral Program and formerly president of California’s Cypress College.

“You just think about the complexity of the institution where he’s going now, in terms of the diversity, in terms of just the inner city dynamics that he’s going to be responsible for, and where he came from,” she says. “Dr. Tricoli could be an outstanding administrator, but then you put that person in that kind of situation … it doesn’t make sense.”

University System of Georgia Chief of Staff Rob Watts, however, says Tricoli’s blend of talents make him the right man for GPC. “Dr. Tricoli’s experience, leadership skills and track record in getting results make him a perfect match for Georgia Perimeter College. He is very attuned to diversity, developing partnerships and connecting with the community,” Watts says.

Nonetheless, Tricoli’s appointment is more significant than meets the eye, especially with fewer minorities claiming community college leadership posts, says Gretchen M. Bell, dean of the Learning Resources Center at Piedmont Community College. She notes that a minority president can encourage diversity and leadership aspirations by example and not just by policy.

According to Frances Squire, marketing director for the West Hills Community College District, Tricoli helped bring several accolades to the district during his tenure. In 2002, WHCC was named the most outstanding small community college in the nation at serving under-represented students by the MetLife Foundation. Squire says Tricoli excels at building community partnerships.

“The one thing that he was the very best at, he came up with the ‘Voices, Vision, Values’ series of meetings in the community to allow the community members to come in and talk about their wants and needs,” Squire says. Tricoli took a group of his faculty, staff and administrators out to small rural communities to meet with community members, and he implemented their ideas into the college’s strategic plan.

Despite the endorsement from Tricoli’s former colleague, McPhail suspects his appointment will be met with some opposition from the Atlanta community. She says he was chosen for this high-profile presidency over other vastly more qualified candidates, many of whom were minorities. One of them, her husband and former Community College of Baltimore County Chancellor Irving P. McPhail, didn’t make it to the second round of the presidential search process.

Meanwhile, there are many qualified minorities who just aren’t getting a shot, says Bell, who also serves as vice president of membership for the Southern Region of the National Council of Black American Affairs, an arm of the American Association of Community Colleges.

“You’ve got all of the leadership programs, they already participate in those, but they are just not getting the opportunity,” she says. “That’s happened in North Carolina. In fact, we had a colleague who went through the leadership program here in the state, got his doctorate here in the state and still was not able to get a position.”

But she says minority leaders often refuse to attend the roundtable discussions the NCBAA hosts in the region. Their absence means they don’t have the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with other up-and-coming college leaders.

“I don’t know what the fear is. I know I’ve tried to get a couple of people to go to the [NCBAA] meetings when we have them here in North Carolina,” she says. “They say, ‘Oh no, my VP won’t allow me to go to that type of meeting … because it says Black American Affairs.’ This is sanctioned by the AACC. Why be afraid?”

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