Posted on: February 5, 2023 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Moraine president Sylvia Jenkins meets with colleagues Wally Fronczek and Glenn Marin. Jenkins is retiring from the college at the end of June.

By Nick Stulga, Editor-in-Chief

The search for the college’s next president begins this week as consultant Angela Provart, president of the Pauly Group, meets with faculty and staff on Wednesday to get their input.

President Sylvia Jenkins announced in December her plans to retire on June 30 at the end of her 11th fiscal year at the college. Her reasons for the big move include a max on her retirement money, the college needing some new blood for upcoming big decisions, and wanting to spend more time with her children.

“I think it’s fair that another president needs to make those big decisions,” Jenkins said. “It’s time for some major staffing decisions and I could do those things, but at the same time I know I won’t be there another five years. And then my children, who’ve been saying, ‘Mom, we’re going to retire before you.'” 

Photo by MVCC Facebook
Sylvia Jenkins poses for a photo just days before she assumed the Presidential post at Moraine.

Jenkins started at the college as a part-time librarian in 1986 after seeing a job listing in a local paper and thinking it would be perfect to share time between the school and her children. Little did she know that she would work her way up through the ranks of the college into one of its most prestigious positions. 

But Margaret Lehner, who was dean of liberal arts at the time and became a close friend to Jenkins, had a suspicion.

“I knew early on she was going to be president of Moraine Valley,” said Lehner, who is now vice president of institutional advancement. “For some reason, I just knew it. Sometimes I have a sixth sense. My grandmother did, too.”

She pushed Jenkins to go further in her career and pursue a doctorate “so that she could move up in the organization.” 

And she did. On July 1, 2012, Jenkins was made president.

“I was excited,” Jenkins said. “I was anxious to a degree, but at the same time I resolved myself. I had a good job and my intention was to stay at Moraine Valley, regardless of if the next president would have me.”

Over the next decade, Jenkins would face challenges, most notably in 2017 and 2018 when Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner cut stopgap funding for higher education, meaning schools had to rely completely on tuition and external sources of revenue outside of state funding. Then, in 2020, with the COVID pandemic hitting, Jenkins again showed her resilience.

“We did not lay off anyone, we did not furlough anyone,” Lehner said. “Everyone kept their jobs and we maintained our financial stability. That is no easy job.

“Across this country, people were losing their jobs. They were cutting tenured faculty, putting people on furlough, closing colleges. But we stuck with the course and got through. And she [Jenkins] was the leader of that.”

When Jenkins returned to campus following the initial COVID wave, it wasn’t a pleasant sight for her.

“When I came to campus and there were no students there, that’s when the sadness kicked in, being there in a ghost town,” Jenkins said. However, she said, “You can’t dwell in the sadness. You have to think about the possibilities.”

It’s like leaving home. I’ve worked at Moraine longer than I had been living at home as a child.”

MV President Sylvia Jenkins

Another challenge with COVID has been student enrollment. In December 2021, Moraine had 2,400 fewer students than the previous year. Last February, the college also raised tuition for in-district students by $3, out-of-district by $8, and out-of-state by $9 per credit hour to cope. But the school has seemingly made a rebound for this semester, with enrollment up 7.3 percent, according to Lehner. 

Despite the challenges of the past, things move forward, including the search for Jenkins’ successor. 

The search will start with the consultant creating an executive search profile that will give candidates an idea of what qualities the college is looking for in the next president. The meetings with Provart will include people from all across campus, from administration to campus police, according to Lehner. 

After the preliminary rounds, the profile will be published nationally and Moraine will start receiving applications for the spot. Typically, each applicant is tasked with writing a five- to six-page letter including their qualifications and experience that make them worthy of the position.

Then, a committee of people from all over the college will read the resumes and toss those not qualified. The semi-finalists will have WebEx interviews, and the finalists will come in person for a final interview. The Board of Trustees, the governing body that is also responsible for the college’s budget, gets the final vote.

Photo by MV YouTube
A young Sylvia Jenkins instructs the public on how to use “dumb terminals” in her first job at the college as librarian.

“It’s going to be interesting,” said Lehner, who has been with Moraine Valley for more than 50 years. “I’ve been through it before. I’ve been through every transition the college has ever had. Change is challenging.

“The new president, depending upon who that new person is, will have to learn the job of president here at MV, get to know their community, get to know our student body, and get their sea legs, so to speak.”

Jenkins is a bit reluctant to leave and will miss the camaraderie she shares with her colleagues, but she knows it’s for the best. She is hoping to still spend time working with the Moraine Valley Foundation to raise money for student scholarships after she retires.

“It’s like leaving home,” Jenkins said. “I’ve worked at Moraine longer than I had been living at home as a child. I’ve been at Moraine longer than any other place.

“It’s hard because the people I work with are not only coworkers, but friends. The good part is that I’m grateful that even with the challenges we’ve had I’m leaving at a time where I feel comfortable leaving. There’s always more to do, but I can’t do it all.”

Jenkins’ presence at Moraine will be missed by many, like her administrative assistant Rick Caldwell.

“I’m just very happy for her,” Caldwell said. “She’s worked very hard. I hope we find someone very similar to her. It’s a bittersweet thing, you know; you are excited for her but don’t want to see her go.”