“Once a Penguin, always a Penguin.” The five members of the Clark College Board of Trustees made sure to remind Clark College President Robert K. Knight of that as they took turns during their Jan. 24 meeting offering their comments on Knight’s announcement that he will retire at the end of the contract year on Aug. 31.
Knight publicly announced his retirement on Jan. 18, the day after delivering his annual State of the College Address, in which he shared the news of the college’s recent successful accreditation process. Knight has been with the college for 15 years, spending the last 13 as its president.
“I did not know in advance about his retirement plans, so I was as surprised as everyone else was,” said Board Chair Royce Pollard. “Bob Knight has been here for 15 years, 13 years as president of this college. The average life expectance (of the job) of a college president is probably three to five years, about the same as it is for city managers in cities. I think we are losing probably the best community college president in the state of Washington. I will say we are losing probably the best president this college has ever had.”
Paul Speer, the newest member of the Board of Trustees appointed in 2018, talked about the state of distress that Clark College was in 15 years ago when Knight began working at the college.
“I’ve learned over the years that the right person shows up for the right season, and I think you were and are the right person for the season that we’ve been in for the last 10, 12, 15 years,” Speer said.
Rekah Strong, who was appointed to the board in 2012, said she remembers coming on as a new trustee and having no idea what she was getting herself into, and she greatly appreciated Knight’s partnership and mentorship during that process.
“Because of Bob’s leadership the college has had great success,” Strong said. “This is going to be really hard for us as a community to find someone who is embedded and committed and respected in this community. Clark College is by far a stronger, better institution and component in this community directly because of your (Bob’s) leadership.”
“You’re not an educator, but you’re a leader of education,” Board Member Jada Rupley told Knight during the Jan. 24 meeting. “I think that’s one of the most important things because often times people say you have to be an educator, but you are really, really smart and you got the job done that we needed done.”
Jane Jacobson, vice chair on the Board of Trustees, said that Knight not only did an excellent job of leading the college, but also did a great job hiring the right people.
“You are an outstanding leader, and you are working, we’ll be checking and you need to be in your office on Aug. 31, and you will be our leader until then and we will look forward to that,” Jacobson said to Knight.
Knight thanked all of the board members for their comments and said his decision to retire wasn’t a rash one, it was a decision that had been in the works for a few years, although he hadn’t know when he was going to announce it.
“I’m committed until the end, I’ll be here,” Knight said. “I want my legacy to be that the next president succeeds. I want to help the president. I’ll keep an arms-length distance, I’ll be in this community, I’m committed to this college, so I’m not going anywhere, but I will give respect to the new president, let them do their job and support the executive cabinet that’s in place.”
Knight joined Clark in 2004 as Vice President of Administrative Services. In 2006, he was named acting president, and a year later was named president. During his tenure, he has overseen many changes at the college, including the opening of its Columbia Tech Center location in 2009, a new STEM Building in 2016, and the development of the college’s first three Bachelor of Applied Science degree programs.
Pollard said that the Board of Trustees will begin the work of selecting a replacement for Knight at a special board meeting to be announced soon. He said the whole process of hiring a new president will be very transparent and public.
Knight will continue to serve as president until his retirement date at the end of the 2018-2019 contract year on Aug. 31.