Parkland's Exley not coming back after medical leave

Parkland's Exley not coming back after medical leave

CHAMPAIGN – Parkland College board members are expected to announce Tuesday that Parkland's fourth president, Robert Exley, will not return after his medical leave expires May 21.

Exley also will not attend Parkland's graduation tonight at Krannert Center.

The board has scheduled its regular business meeting for 7 p.m Tuesday at the college's Tony Noel Center, and the agenda includes an executive session for the purpose of discussing "appointment, employment, compensation, resignation or performance of specific employees."

Exley became president July 1, 2006, after Zelema Harris, president of the college for 16 years, retired.

Board Chairman Lin Warfel of rural Tolono said Thursday that unforeseen circumstances made Exley's job difficult during his short tenure. He suffered a heart attack in November, and his father died in February.

"There's no question that he worked very hard when he was healthy," Warfel said. "The combination of a heart attack, surgery and the loss of his father took away from his ability to perform up to his expectations. He's not satisfied with his performance."

"I have high regard for him," Warfel said. "We expect to stay in contact, to be friends for years."

Board member Jim Ayers, a Monticello attorney, said he couldn't discuss any details of the issue.

"I think we all feel sorry for his situation," Ayers said. "Following Zelema Harris wasn't easy, and then to have all these other issues, it's almost insurmountable."

In a telephone interview Thursday night, Exley said he's not in a position to confirm or deny his status. But he confirmed his faith in Parkland's mission.

"I clearly think Parkland is an outstanding institution and am proud to be its president," Exley said. "I'm determined to make sure the college carries on."

He said of all the challenges, the loss of his father on Feb. 8 was the most challenging.

"It was harder than I thought it would be," Exley said.

Exley was 51 when he was hired March 27, 2006, after a nationwide search and on-campus interviews of five finalists. He started as president July 1, 2006, at a salary of $170,000 plus benefits and other personal allowances.

On Nov. 8, while he was playing in a fundraising basketball game, Exley had a heart attack and was taken to Carle Foundation Hospital, where he had angioplasty and stent procedures.

Exley was discharged Nov. 11, but scheduled bypass surgery was moved up to Nov. 17 when he continued to have trouble.

By Dec. 21, Exley was back in his seat at a board meeting.

Warfel announced on April 23 that Exley was going on medical leave beginning immediately for a month.

Before he was hired by Parkland, Exley was vice president of academic affairs at Iowa Western Community College at Council Bluffs.

He was the only search finalist who was not already a chief executive at a community college.

Ayers said Exley will be honored nationally later this month at a meeting of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development leadership program as a distinguished graduate of the University of Texas' Community College Leadership Program.

Warfel said although Exley's health was a limitation, he accomplished a lot.

"He spent a lot of energy looking at the physical plant, reviewing its structure and necessary updates, which is part of our plan for the future," Warfel said.

"He worked hard to honor the technical as well the academic side of Parkland's program," Warfel said.

"And he continued Zelema Harris' relationship with the University of Illinois and has had regular meetings with the chancellor."

Under Exley's watch, the UI included Parkland as a partner in its new Global Campus initiative.

The college also announced plans to expand its health care programs with the purchase of the rest of the former K's Merchandise building on North Mattis Avenue. And Parkland built and recently dedicated a new greenhouse at the Tony Noel Center.

Parkland vice presidents Tom Ramage, Jon Surma in administrative services and Linda Moore in student services have been in charge of the college in Exley's absence with Ramage as head of the group.

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