Provost Thomas named interim OCCC president

OCCC faculty and staff who predicted that Provost Jeremy Thomas would serve as college president after the retirement of outgoing President Jerry Steward had their beliefs validated Dec. 14.

In a special meeting of the OCCC Board of Regents, Thomas was appointed to OCCC interim-president starting Jan. 2, 2021 and running through Jan. 1, 2022.

Steward will step down from his presidency Jan. 1, 2021. He was slated to retire in July 2021.

Emails asking Steward why he was leaving the college earlier than planned went unanswered at press time.

Thomas has served in several roles since being hired by Steward in July 2018. He was hired as Vice President of Student Affairs and then appointed to provost by Steward July 2020. He has held both titles since then.

In a statement sent to the Pioneer, Thomas said he felt ready to lead the college.

 “I’m humbled and honored to have the confidence and support of the OCCC Board of Regents and Trustees, and I’m ready to serve our students, faculty and staff as Interim President,” he said.

“We’re entering a new era at OCCC and departing a really hard year. As we take stock of things, I’m encouraged by the positive and substantial changes Danita Rose, our cabinet and all of us have made together, especially in the last few months, and I’m excited to see what we achieve together over the next year.

“Thanks to all of you for giving me a chance, for being open and honest with me – even when it’s not easy or comfortable – and for joining me for this journey. We’re just getting started,” Thomas said.

Regents Chairman Devery Youngblood did not say much about Thomas being tasked with taking the reigns of top college leadership. During the meeting he said only that he had heard Thomas, as well as Chief of Staff Danita Rose, were doing well in transforming OCCC’s culture away from one which saw the lowest employee morale in at least two decades.

Later, in a written statement released to the community, Youngblood noted the Regents were in full support of Thomas and still had plans to undertake a national search for a new college president.

“We have full confidence in Dr. Thomas, Ms. Rose and their cabinet, which gives us the luxury to be very deliberate and inclusive in our transition to a new administration. We owe it to our faculty and staff, and of course to our students, to get this right,” Youngblood said.

Employees said appointing Thomas made sense since the Regents likely believed the college needs a president — especially when the college is under an accreditation review in 2021.

 They said Thomas has a better collective working knowledge of the college’s day-to-day operations than most on campus, even if he’s only been at OCCC for just a few years.

 “The real test will be whether a serious search happens next year. Hopefully Dr. Thomas will use his year to make more changes,” a faculty member said.

The Regents made no mention of who would serve as vice president for Student Affairs and Provost throughout the next year or of Thomas would continue in those roles.