- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. (AP) - The woman who was in line to be executive director of Mississippi’s community colleges will instead take the reins of a community college in Arkansas.

The Arkansas State University System announced Friday that Debra West will become chancellor of its West Memphis campus on Aug. 1. Formerly Mid-South Community College, the 1,800-student institution will become Arkansas State University Mid-South on July 1 pending approval by the Arkansas Higher Learning Commission later this month.

West is deputy director of programs and accountability for the Mississippi Community College Board. In Arkansas, she will succeed Glen Fenter, who’s retiring July 1 to lead the new Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce.

“It is never easy to hire a replacement for someone like Glen Fenter, but I am confident that Dr. West will continue to move this institution forward and continue its legacy as a workforce development and education leader in Arkansas,” Arkansas State University System President Charles Welch said in a statement. “I truly believe we have hit a home run with this hire.”

A native of Forrest City, Arkansas, West previously worked at Mid-South from 1997-2000 and 2002-2004. She also worked at East Arkansas Community College and University of Memphis before beginning work at Mississippi board in 2009. The Mississippi Community College Board coordinates the activities of the state’s 15 separately governed community colleges.

Welch said West will make $180,000 a year.

“I am extremely honored to be named the first chancellor of Arkansas State University Mid-South,” West said in a statement. “As an East Arkansas native and former employee of Mid-South Community College, I am well-acquainted with the institution’s reputation as a leader in learner-center education and workforce development.”

West withdrew in April from a tumultuous search for a new executive director the Mississippi board, leading it to be restarted. The 10-member board had been split 5-5 since December. Half the board wanted to hire her, while the other half, at Gov. Phil Bryant’s request, wanted to seek new candidates.

Bryant was accused of improperly influencing the search, urging the board in a November letter to drop requirements for an academic doctorate or experience in educational administration and emphasize job training.

Board Chairman Bruce Martin said Bryant had asked the board consider Tray Hairston, a lawyer and Bryant policy adviser from 2012 to 2013, among candidates it considered. Bryant has denied improper involvement and is no longer seeking different job qualifications.

Mississippi’s retiring executive director, Eric Clark, wrote in an email Friday that West is “an extremely smart, capable and hard-working person, who has contributed greatly to the success of our state’s community colleges. Mississippi’s loss is Arkansas’ gain.”

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