Three weeks into his presidency of Prince George's Community College, Ronald A. Williams made it clear that he intends to do a lot of public relations work on behalf of the 40-year-old school.
"I've got competent people who can run the institution," Williams, 48, said last week. "My job is to position the college firmly in the community to make sure people have a picture of the college as efficient, effective, competent and available."
Williams told a group of reporters gathered for what was billed as a "conversational breakfast" that he expects his presidency to be "external. . . . Most of my work will be outside because there's a lot of friendship-building to be done."
The new president said he intends to make the institution a "national leader" within five years, by redefining the school's political and business relationships, by upgrading its relevance to the high-tech industry and by making the school more accessible to far-flung parts of the county.
Williams, a native of Barbados and onetime Olympic sprinter, was most recently president of the Community College of Philadelphia, which has 40,000 students, compared with Prince George's 35,000. Before that, he ran Minnesota's 21 community colleges.
In his new post, Williams said he plans to be aggressive in dealing with "problematic issues" in the coming months.
Among them: recruiting more full-time and minority instructors, reaching out to the Latino community, repairing the school's running track, securing computers and software for students, forming tighter alliances with four-year colleges, overhauling the tuition structure and boosting the school's retention rate.
It's a full plate, Williams acknowledged, but "the whole infrastructure of the institution needs to be redefined," he said.
And the moment, he feels, is now. "Prince George's County is something unique in American history--it is the first time race and wealth have come together," Williams said. "What is so important in this county is learning how to take that wealth and turn it into national influence."
To that end, Williams said the college needs to "clarify and define" its part in the county's economic master plan. The college should be identified as the "lead agency to aid in the development of an adequate work force," he said.
Williams also said he believes there is not enough access to the college in the northern and southern parts of the county. For now, he proposes the creation of a northern "access point," a physical presence of some kind, to help keep students from leaving the area to attend community colleges in surrounding counties.
"We're losing students," Williams said. "To put that in dollar terms . . . we're losing $3.6 million a year [in tuition and state funds] to surrounding counties because students aren't staying for possible education here."
And the students who do stay and happen also to be middle class are "getting the squeeze" financially, he said, because the very poor get aid and the rich have other options. "One of the things I want to do over the next few years is to find a way to reduce that burden. It's a major issue to me."
Members of the president's "Cabinet" also were at the breakfast. Alonia Sharps, assistant to the president for minority affairs and affirmative action programs, said that Williams and the other administrators serving directly under him are "all in sync."
Williams said he plans to meet with political and educational leaders, then with members of the business community. He said he plans to devote October to getting to know community groups.
Williams has already met with County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) and Norman L. Carter, president of the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce. One meeting he believes is particularly important is an upcoming session with Iris T. Metts, the new school superintendent.
"What I'm going to be saying is, 'Look, the college is also here to serve. Let us know how we can help you,' " Williams said. "We'd like to make ourselves a pipeline for potential teachers. We'll be redefining our own institution to fit her needs, if that's the case."
Williams also is interested in fixing what he called the "relative disconnect" between elementary and high school teaching and higher education. To that end, there should be more clarity in the admissions standards, he said.
"I see us as a bridge between K-through-12 and four-year colleges," Williams said. "We don't have the same prestige as four-year colleges. The more we can link ourselves with those institutions, the more easily we'll be able to recruit students and keep them here."
Although Williams is concerned about diversity on campus, he managed to overlook one historic event in the school's history. When a reporter asked, "Are you the first minority president?" Williams responded, "I have no idea, am I?" Members of the Cabinet responded, "Yes, you are."
"I have to believe that's significant," Williams said, laughing a bit and seemingly struck by the discovery. "It's just not the way I construct my life or my thinking."
CAPTION: Ronald A. Williams talked to reporters about plans for Prince George's Community College.