Fort Lewis College hired its first woman president Friday, selecting Dene Kay Thomas, president of Lewis-Clark State
College in Lewiston, Idaho.
Thomas will become Fort Lewis' eighth president, succeeding Brad Bartel on July 1.
In unanimously selecting Thomas, the college's trustees chose the only finalist with presidential experience and one
who had drawn raves from FLC faculty and staff who met her.
I believe she will help lead our faculty and staff in new and helpful ways," said Brian Bissell, a member of the Board
Thomas immediately accepted the job.
We're going to do great things together," she said in a telephone conference call shortly after the trustees' vote.
Thomas quickly ended the call, saying, I have work to do."
Trustees repeatedly said they wanted a president who could raise money from donors and fight for funding in the
She knows that she will be an external president," said Richard Ballantine, board chairman and publisher of The
Durango Herald. That is what we want here."
In a later news conference via telephone, Thomas said she would tackle FLC's budget cuts.
We need to go further on the budget side because we'll have a challenge for next year, too," she said.
A budget proposal calls for Fort Lewis to cut $1.6 million by July 1 this year, and an additional $2.9 million by July
Thomas faces another tough task in reversing an enrollment slide that has reduced FLC to 3,685 students, the lowest
level in a decade.
Education is alive at Fort Lewis College, and we need to make sure we get that story out," she said.
Thomas was chosen from among 110 candidates. The other finalists were Elizabeth Grobsmith, provost and vice president
for academic affairs at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff; and Kent Tingey, vice president for advancement at
Idaho State University in Pocatello.
Thomas pledged to work closely with FLC's Native American students and the tribes they represent. FLC enrolls students
from 122 tribes, making up 20 percent of the student population.
I intend to visit with the tribes and see how we're doing in educating the Native American students," Thomas said.
This is a very important part of the Fort Lewis mission."
Thomas has earned praise for her relations with the Nez Perce and Coeur d'Alene tribes in Idaho.
She also won friends in visits to FLC's campus. Michelle Kenney, president of the Associated Students of FLC, described
Thomas as very personable" and consistent in her remarks to different college groups.
Charles Riggs, an anthropology professor who serves as faculty representative to the trustees, said Thomas met all the
criteria of FLC faculty.
There was an honesty there that I really appreciated," Riggs said.
Bartel, FLC's president since 2004, leaves behind a mixed legacy. He presided over the construction of numerous
projects, including Berndt Hall's new biology wing and College Union Building additions, and added several degree
But enrollment dropped during his tenure, and little progress was made in satisfying faculty demands for higher
Bartel has been named a finalist for several positions in recent years but has remained at FLC. Most recently, he was a
finalist in February for the presidency of Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, but he said he withdrew his
Bartel did not return a message Friday seeking comment about his plans.
Thomas, who holds a doctorate in English, has served as president of Lewis-Clark since 2001. She successfully reversed
declining enrollment there.
She returned to college at age 30 as a single mother, pursuing a bachelor's degree in English from Southwest Minnesota
State University in Marshall, Minn. She then earned her doctorate at the University of Minnesota.
Thomas taught writing at the University of Idaho, where she was an associate professor before undertaking several
administrative positions on campus, including vice provost of academic affairs.
College officials would not release details on Thomas' contract and salary Friday, saying the contract was not yet
fully executed. Thomas said she planned to live in the SkyRidge house provided by the FLC Foundation, as Bartel
Bartel is earning $234,000 this year.
Thomas said she looked forward to skiing at Chapman Hill and Durango Mountain Resort, although she admitted she is a
FLC's incoming president trades the rolling hills of the Palouse region for what she called the rugged, snowcapped"
San Juan Mountains.
Thomas said she is ready for new challenges.
Higher education is so very important," Thomas said. It changes people's lives, and whether doing it in Idaho or
doing it in Colorado, I'll have one of the best jobs in the world."