New COM boss Nichols tells Trishna Buch his plan to make the college great again – with a little help from voters
WITHIN moments of sitting down with new College Of The Mainland president Warren Nichols, it was obvious he already cares deeply about the institution’s students and staff and the surrounding community, leading him to strong opinion about two particularly divisive topics.
Referring to one, he told me he, left, considers students to be the college’s biggest strength while its biggest weakness is its dilapidated structures, which he sees as a reason to support the college’s need for a voter-approved multi-million-dollar reconstruction bond.
He said he has yet to calculate the bond’s value but insisted: “Without an infusion of new funding, we cannot truly maximize our abilities to serve the community.
“College Of The Mainland is the community’s college and I don’t think we can stress that enough. We want to be involved in the community, we want to make sure the community feels like we are worthy of their investment and our focus is to make sure we are serving their needs.”
COM’s bond issue has been a topic of discussion for several years as the college seeks to rebuild parts of its 50-year-old campus. Aware that a bond has already been rejected in two referendums, Nichols said he believes it is a matter of significant importance.
He said: “I have no timetable for moving forward with a bond but I know that we need to desperately improve our campus facilities. We need to be expanding our programs for our students so that they can get well-paid and high-paying jobs in businesses and industries.”
But he believes that successfully asking the public to vote for a bond will stem from showing the community that the money will go towards a good cause.
He said: “We need to get a stronger message out to the community we serve, about all the good things COM is doing, not only for our students but for our community. We need to be able to prove to the voters that their investment, by passing the bond, would be an investment to improve the quality of the entire area.”
The other major topic on which Nichols was keen to air his views was Texas’ new campus-carry law, which has allowed licensed individuals aged at least 21 to carry a concealed handgun on university campuses since August last year and will be extended to community colleges in August this year.
He made it plain that it is one thing he is definitely not happy about, saying: “As a former police officer, I really do not welcome open carry. I am not opposing it and we will do what the state expects but, in my previous law-enforcement capacity, I only wanted police officers to be carrying guns in public.”
Speaking about the college’s commissioned law-enforcement officers, he said: “I much prefer to place my trust in the use of deadly force with my police officers than I do with someone who has just gone through 40 hours of training”
Path to the presidency
MARRIED with two sons and three grandchildren, Warren Nichols considers himself an outdoorsman and enjoys reading science-fiction novels and watching the comedy TV series The Big Bang Theory in his free time.
He has arrived at COM after a professional career that did not begin in the educational field. First, he earned a two-year degree in law enforcement from Tarrant County College in Fort Worth. He then worked for the Arlington police department and simultaneously attended University Of Texas at Arlington, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice.
While at Arlington PD, he began a natural transition into the education field when he was asked to train new officers.
He then moved to Victoria College to create a police academy and a two-year degree program in law enforcement before becoming a founding dean of Lone Star College’s Montgomery campus in Conroe.
Along the way, he earned his doctorate in higher education administration from University Of Houston and soon found himself appointed vice president at Darton State College in Albany, Georgia, and then president at Volunteer State community college in Gallatin, Tennessee.
That led him to the vice chancellorship of community colleges for Tennessee’s public education system, a job in which he was responsible for overseeing the transition of 13 independent institutions into a statewide community-college organization.
After 13 years in that role, the presidency at COM called out to him because it allowed him to come back home – he is a Texas native, having been born in Fort Worth – and work on a college campus.
He said: “I had been away longer than I had anticipated and I missed working directly with students, faculty and staff. I missed developing partnerships with businesses and industries to grow the workforce and I wanted to recapture that.”
After a lengthy search process, College Of The Mainland finally appointed Nichols its new president in January and he took up his position on February 13.
He took over from interim president Rodney Albright, who came out of retirement to take over leadership of the college from former president Beth Lewis in June last year.
Lewis, who had presided over the college since 2013, is now the dean at Del Mar college in Corpus Christi.