MONTGOMERY -- The search for a president for Southern Union State Community College ended Wednesday after Todd Shackett, a leading official with Baxter International in Opelika, received unanimous approval to fill the position during the Alabama Community College System board of trustees meeting.
The new president will begin his role in early August. After thanking Chancellor Jimmy Baker and board members, Shackett remarked how he was “very honored” by the appointment.
“Since I’ve been here in Alabama, almost nine years, I’ve been affiliated somewhat with the campus in Opelika for Southern Union,” Shackett said after receiving approval by the board. “And over that time, I’ve seen a huge potential that the school has. We’ve been very successful bringing students through our programs, and as you know, there’s a growing need for the types of students that come out of Southern Union.”
Having more than 30 years of management and leadership experience, Shackett serves as the director of Operational Excellence at Baxter International, where he has worked for the last eight years, according to a press release from the Alabama Community College System. Before then, he worked at Becton Dickinson and Company, a manufacturer of medical technology based in Durham, N.C.
Shackett holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Kettering University, as well as master's of science degree in mechanical engineering and operations management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He likewise holds a certificate in executive management from Stanford University.
In addition to his role as an industrial advisory board member at Southern Union, Shackett represents the Opelika Chamber of Commerce as an executive board member, and he serves as chair of the Auburn University Graduate School Advisory Board.
Just before Shackett’s appointment, Chancellor Baker noted how it’s been more than 10 years since Southern Union has had an official president. He then highlighted his excitement for “where we’re headed.”
“I’m excited about the opportunities to make Southern Union Community College and all of its locations to be as great as they can be,” Baker said.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Southern Union faculty and staff welcomed their new president.
“We consider his appointment as a timely opportunity to move Southern Union forward while continuing to provide our students the exceptional educational experience that they have come to expect during our college's 96-year history,” the statement read.
‘Exciting for me’
Accompanied by his wife, Tracy, and 15-year-old son, Grayson, at the board meeting, Shackett told the Opelika-Auburn News he’s looking forward to his future with Southern Union.
“I’ve worked somewhat with them the past eight years, but now I’ve given a more direct role to serve them and take advantage of the great potential they have there to create more careers for students while providing a pipeline of talent for industries,” he said. “It’s going to be very exciting for me.”
Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller, who attended the board meeting along with representatives from local industries, said he and surrounding communities look forward to working with Shackett.
“I think Todd Shackett will do an outstanding job as president of Southern Union State Community College,” Fuller said. “Todd’s knowledge, his experience, his management and leadership skills will certainly be an opportunity with Southern Union to lead that great institution, not only in Opelika but Whatley and Valley. So we’ve been without a president for far too long. The chancellor has been very good to work with me and Mayor Ham, and those of us in our communities who recognize the need to get a permanent president.
“So it took a while, but this is well worth the wait to get a person the caliber of Todd Shackett.”
A new era
Wednesday's announcement closed the door on an era of interim presidents for Southern Union, which has campuses in Wadley, Opelika and Valley.
The last person to bear the title of president at Southern Union without an "interim" tag was Susan Salatto, who was placed on paid leave, and then fired, in Jan. 2008, after an investigation of the school found 20 policy violations under her watch.
Bradley Byrne, who was chancellor of the Alabama Community College System at the time, said the report showed potential violations of bid laws and nepotism, as well as misuse of scholarships and discriminatory practices.
In July 2016, a proposed merger between Southern Union, Chattahoochee Valley Community College and Central Alabama Community College was halted, after an uproar from citizens expressing concerns. The merger would have eliminated two presidents, with CACC head Susan Burrow tapped to be president of the consolidated school.
Southern Union has seen a revolving door of interim presidents over the past decade, including three last year. Late last fall, Glenda Colagross left the interim president's office she held since 2013 to work at Northwest Shoals Community College, and Bill Blow stepped into the position on Nov. 1.
Blow's term ended on Feb. 28 of this year due to the state's restrictions on employment for people who have already retired. Mark Ellard replaced Blow as Southern Union's interim president on March 1. Ellard was interim president of CVCC at the time the 2016 merger was halted.
The ACCS advertised the Southern Union permanent president job in July 2017. Last fall, the search was put on hold as Chancellor Jimmy Baker instead announced a series of community town halls and the forming of a committee to craft a strategic plan for the school.
The plan was designed to address "critical issues facing the college and will culminate with the selection of a permanent president," according to a press release Southern Union issued last summer. The president's position was advertised again in February, with the deadline to apply extended through March.
"I'm looking for someone to provide leadership, to grow the school, but at the same time, to improve the quality of what's happening at the school," Baker told the Opelika-Auburn News following the Feb. 14 ACCS board of trustees meeting. "I'm not saying it's bad now, but my goal's always to get better. I'm interested in someone who can handle both academics and the workforce training programs, and expand both."