Expert leader ready to rule college
CHAMPAIGN– Eric McKeithan sells himself as a veteran college administrator "at the height of my game" and ready to take over running Parkland College.
McKeithan, 59, has been president of Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, N.C., for the last dozen years. He says that's long enough, and he's ready for another challenge.
Five candidates are seeking to succeed Zelema Harris as Parkland's president. Harris is retiring later this year.
Unlike the first two candidates to speak to Parkland educators, McKeithan is not a product of the community college system. Also, unlike Betty Young and Robert Exley, he did not talk about his coming of age, which took place on a tobacco farm.
McKeithan graduated from North Carolina State University with a degree in civil engineering. He decided with his wife, a teacher, that he'd be happier in education, and took a job as head of a drafting technology program at John Tyler Community College in Chester, Va.
Almost immediately, he was given a harsh baptism in administration.
Shortly after he was named the college's Industrial Relations officer, the college had to deal with a 30 percent drop in technical training and an 11 percent drop in overall enrollment.
To attract more students, and more money that had already been spent, he found a cache of unwanted pink paper in a warehouse, fixed a duplicating machine and printed 120,000 leaflets offering enrollment information and a schedule of the classes.
Then he and his wife, with the first of their five children in the back seat, drove around town and stuffed the leaflets into mailboxes.
A postmaster who received a leaflet complained to his boss, who explained to the aspiring administrator that he had probably committed a felony. After that, the college sprang for a bulk mail permit.
Felony or no, the effort was successful, and McKeithan received a 15 percent raise.
He went on to a master's degree program at Virginia State University in Petersburg in 1975; then, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, he earned a doctorate in community college administration in 1977.
At Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Lenoir, N.C., he as served as president; at Coastal Carolina Community College, Jacksonville, N.C., he was vice president of Instruction; and at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Ga. he was director of Continuing Education.
The two remaining candidates, Gordon Burns, president of Wilkes Community College, North Carolina; and Kathryn Jeffery, chief executive for the Community College of Southern Nevada's Charleston campus, visit Parkland Monday and Tuesday at 2 p.m.