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2015 May 13 - 02:44 pm

Rebuilding NISOD

Group Sees Revival Under Leach’s Leadership

Three years ago the whispers about the future of NISOD — the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development — took on the air of a death watch.

Surely this would be the last time, the thinking then went, that NISOD would hold its annual International Conference on Teaching and Leadership Excellence, which for three decades had celebrated community college teaching with a gathering in Austin, Texas. Surely NISOD would be disbanded and lose its place as a respected community college association.

There was ample reason for concern.

Since its inception in 1978, NISOD was an arm of the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin. The two were inextricably linked.

So when the legendary John E. Roueche announced in 2012 that he was retiring after heading CCLP for 41 years, the resulting seismic shock waves seemed sure to topple NISOD. Not only was Roueche stepping away, but the renowned doctoral program he built was being scrapped, absorbed into a newly-created Higher Education Leadership Program.

The CCLP would no longer exist.

NISOD seemed sure to follow the same path to oblivion. Some of its key leaders departed, following Roueche out the door and across town after he founded the Roueche Graduate Center at National American University. Untethered from the CCLP, NISOD seemed doomed.

But today, NISOD not only has survived, but appears to be on a growth track. It is preparing to welcome more than 1,300 attendees to Austin for its annual convention over the Memorial Day weekend. In the aftermath of Roueche’s decision, NISOD member colleges plunged from more than 700 to fewer than 300.

The number of exhibitors who paid for spots in NISOD’s exhibition hall also declined significantly and has yet to fully recover. In NISOD’s heydey, nearly 100 exhibitors filled the hall. According to NISOD’s website, about 40 exhibitors have signed up this year.

Membership now includes 320 colleges and is climbing, said Edward J. Leach, who was named director of NISOD in 2014.

“We feel we are doing something right, since the number of members is increasing, our call for presentations for this 2015 conference increased over last year,” he said. “Our registrations are ahead of where they were last year. We are trending in the right direction.”

NISOD’s unlikely rise from the ruins of the CCLP has been shepherded by Leach, 58, himself a graduate of Roueche’s program. This year, Leach has been traveling the country, attending national, state and local higher education conferences repeating a singular message: NISOD has survived.

“We had to get the word out to the field that NISOD was still there, that it wasn’t going anywhere, that we hadn’t changed our focus,” he said. “That was one of my top priorities. The other priority was to make sure the programs and the resources that we had in place were the best that they could be. Previously, NISOD had a large alumni gathering. I don’t have that same alumni base.

So it was clear to me that colleges were going to become members of NISOD because they saw the value in the resources we had available. If they didn’t see the value in those resources, they wouldn’t sign up or continue to be a part of NISOD.”

“John’s network was a major piece of NISOD. That was not something that I had available. I did not have people who studied under me and became community college presidents. I didn’t have that available to me, so I had to take a different approach. I wanted to make sure that we had things in place that would make community and technical colleges want to join and remain a member of NISOD.”

Evelyn Waiwaiole, a former director of NISOD and current director of the Community College Center for Student Engagement, credits Leach for keeping NISOD afloat when it seemed he was climbing aboard a sinking ship.

“NISOD was the service arm of the CCLP,” she said. “That was its mission. When that CCLP pillar was taken away, people really wondered what would happen to NISOD. But Ed has really stabilized the situation. He has brought a real focus on NISOD’s original mission — helping and recognizing community college faculty.”

It has not been all smooth sailing. NISOD’s longtime relationship with the League for Innovation in the Community College has been strained. Not long after Roueche’s retirement announcement, the League stepped into the void created by the uncertainty surrounding NISOD.

The League announced that it would expand its portfolio of activities to include two signature NISOD initiatives. The League would establish annual awards recognizing community college faculty and staff and create an annual award honoring outstanding community college leaders. As they had in NISOD’s heyday, the League’s faculty awards would bear the name of John Roueche and his wife Sueanne. The leadership awards would be named for Roueche and Terry O’Banion, the League’s president emeritus.

Tensions between the two groups have been eased by the fact that Leach formerly worked for the League and studied under Roueche. He sees Roueche on a regular basis. Leach described the relationship between the two groups as “cordial.” NISOD has continued to hand out its own awards, absent the Roueche imprimatur.

When asked about relations between the League and NISOD, League President Gerardo de los Santos declined comment. He said he knows little about NISOD’s current operations.

Before he applied for the NISOD job, Leach sought out the counsel of Roueche and de los Santos, among others.

“Before taking the job I talked to John, I talked to Terry, I talked to Gerardo,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I knew all the facts before I jumped in with both feet. I felt comfortable before applying, and I was encouraged to do so. Everyone I talked to, in addition to informing me about the circumstances, encouraged me to apply.”

But before he took the job, Leach took a close look at NISOD’s financial statements. It was a critical issue. Rouche’s departure from the University of Texas was propelled by a bitter struggle over NISOD’s financial resources and who had access to them.

From its inception, NISOD and the CCCSE, another CCLP progeny, had been sustained by external grants and membership subscriptions. They operated independently and controlled their own money. In 2010, School of Education Dean Manuel J. Justiz hatched a plan to divert about $2 million from NISOD’s budget and use the cash for general purposes within the College of Education.

While Roueche strenuously objected to the diversion plan — it prodded him toward retirement — Leach has a different view. He has no objection to paying the university for use of its resources and presence on the UT campus.

“The college of education expects not only NISOD and CCCSE but other centers to pay for some of the services that the university provides,” Leach said “And we do.”

But he still wanted a close look at the financial data, and he liked what he saw.

“After looking at the financials, there were two things that were clear to me,” he said. “One, that this organization had such a great reputation that it was going to work in its favor, and two, the financials were such that this was very doable. I said this is a very viable organization financially as well.”

Leach’s climb to the top of NISOD has been an unlikely one and embodies the promise of community colleges. A native of Pavilion, N.Y., a tiny farming hamlet between Buffalo and Rochester, Leach was hardly a distinguished student. In a high school class of 75 students, Leach ranked 74th.

“I almost didn’t graduate from high school,” he said. “It just didn’t interest me. It was boring. I was doing other stuff.”

But graduate he did, and on that day, when classmates were celebrating their accomplishment and primping for parties, Leach was headed to bed. He had to work the midnight shift at the Bird’s Eye plant in Avon, N.Y., making vats of Cool Whip. He eventually was laid off from that job and from a couple of others, including one company that manufactured forklifts but one day pulled up stakes and moved to Canada.

Being a displaced worker set Leach on a new path. It entitled him to a retraining grant, and, at age 26, he enrolled in Genesee Community College with the intent of learning just enough so be could open his own business, a martial arts gym. But his interest grew. He decided he wanted to become an athletic trainer and studied sports medicine. After graduating, he transferred to Eastern Kentucky University and earned a degree in secondary education with a minor in athletic training. He later earned a master’s in health education at Miami University of Ohio.

Leach eventually landed back at Genesee Community College as the school’s head athletic trainer. It was there that Don Green, vice president of academic affairs, and Associate Dean Phil Vendetti recognized his potential. They both were CCLP graduates and encouraged Leach to apply there.

Leach has no plans to remake NISOD.

He will build on what Roueche left behind. Much of the conference will be familiar to those who have experienced past conferences.

“There were a lot of things already in place that we retained,” Leach said.

So while Roueche is no longer part of NISOD, his imprint remains, both in the conference he created and in its current leader, the CCLP graduate devoted to its longtime mission and philosophy.

For coverage of John Roueche’s retirement, See Community College Week, May 28, 2012 issue, ccweek#2012/05/28/

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