Dr. Jill Stearns will be the newly appointed president of Cuesta College.
Photo courtesy of Cuesta College
By Austin Brumblay
Managing Editor of Content
Newly appointed Cuesta president, Jill Stearns, is set to soon take over the institution after beating out finalists with what some faculty say had more impressive credentials.
However, they also noted that Modesto Junior College had its accreditation reinstated under Stearn’s leadership in 2014.
Stearns comes to Cuesta after working as president at Modesto Community College since 2012, following serving as chief instructional officer at West Hills College in Coalinga.
“When I arrive at Cuesta, I want to know everyone,” Stearns said. “Coming in as someone new provides a reset and shared vision for the college moving forward. I am hopeful that this sense of a fresh start is going to be a real positive for the campus.”
In early March, Stearns was selected by the board of trustees over applicants who some thought appeared to be more academically qualified.
Stearns’ alma mater, Walden University, where she earned her Ph.D. in education, is an online college where admission requirements are not enforced.
However, Stearns’ defended her decision to earn a degree from Walden, citing numerous reasons for choosing an online college.
“The program allowed me to work toward my degree while living and working in a small, rural community,” Stearns said. “The closest Ph.D. program in education was located at UC Irvine, more than 200 miles away, and focused on educational research rather than leadership.”
While, Walden University is an accredited institution by the Higher Learning Commission, some programs lack accreditation such as the psychology department degrees.
In contrast, the candidates she was competing against had earned Ph.D.’s from San Diego State and USC and one a master’s from Stanford.
Prior to applying to Cuesta for its top position, Stearns put a bid in for the once vacant presidential position at Santa Barbara City College. In 2016, the SBCC Board of Trustees interviewed Jill Stearns for the position, but she was not selected for the position, according to a press release from the college.
That is the same year she and her husband, Keith Stearns, bought a house in San Luis Obispo. He was hired in 2015 to work as executive director of information systems and technology at Cuesta.
“We’ll have to address how that looks in the short run and long run,” Jill Stearns said. “My husband does not have contact with the president.”
Jill Stearns replaces Gilbert Stork, who served as Cuesta’s president from 2010 to June 30, 2018. This appointment comes at a time when Cuesta faces numerous issues, including low enrollment, class cancellations, faculty wage disputes, low morale, and budget concerns.
In light of the recent salary dispute between faculty and administrators at Cuesta, The Cuestonian checked salary schedules at Modesto Junior College and found the wages to be higher there.
When asked about the disparity, Jill Stearns responded: “Salary is negotiated between the exclusive agent of the faculty and the district as part of the total compensation package and varies from district to district. I look forward to working with the faculty at Cuesta College to address concerns in all areas, including salary.”