When Dr. Becky Paneitz steps away from the helm at NorthWest Arkansas Community College in June 2013, she will continue to her lifelong mission of making a difference in the lives of others. And she plans to stay in this immediate area, being drawn to both children and women’s issues.
Paneitz announced her pending retirement Monday evening at the institution’s board meeting and she addressed the media at a reception in her honor on Tuesday morning (April 10) at the school’s home campus in Bentonville.
“It’s a bittersweet day for me,” Paneitz said. “I have spent some time in prayer and deep thought before reaching the decision to retire. When I interviewed for this position in 2003, I was asked by Howard Slinkard, board chairman at the time, how long I thought I would be here. I answered, '10 years.'”
The average tenure across the nation for college presidents range from seven to 10 years, according to Paneitz.
“Ten years is a good benchmark,” she added.
Alex Vazquez, board chairman said, a nationwide search for a replacement will begin soon after the board has had time to select a consultant firm and nail down criteria for who will be the third president of the institution.
Paneitz said she was hired to grow the institution, at the time when it was known as the “college without walls.”
Today there are walls all around with several more on the drawing board as the school’s enrollment has grown from 4,915 students in 2003 to 8,528 this semester, under the leadership of Paneitz.
Under her direction, NWACC has grown from 181,000 square feet in Burns Hall to 461,500 square feet of added space at the home campus. But she has also helped the college expand beyond Bentonville, leasing another 60,324 square feet of space across the region from Bella Vista to Farmington.
Although fundraising was not something Paneitz had experience with when she took the job, she is credited with helping to raise more than $69 million in private and federal grant donations.
“I actually enjoy fundraising because it allows to me share so many stories about the lives that have been changed because of this institution. When you boil it down to what we do best, it’s serving our students,” she said.
The hardest sale she credits to the late Jack Shewmaker, who gave $2 million toward the building of the Shewmaker Center for Global Business Development.
When asked about alleged hiring improprieties at the school in recent years, Vasquez said firmly, “the institution is in good standing with the EEOC and ultimately it’s the board’s responsibility to continue assembling a top management team because there are many more great things ahead.”
Paneitz told the crowd the one thing she most values in her body of work are her ethics.
“I have never done anything to jeopardize my integrity,” Paneitz said boldly.
Monday night the board renewed Paneitz’s contract through the spring semester of 2013 with a salary of $176,826.
Vasquez assured those attending the reception Paneitz’s decision to retire was totally her own.
In the next 15 months, Paneitz said there is a lot of work to be done, among which will be the completion of the Child Protection Training Center and the health sciences building. But she also feels strongly about funding inequities at the state level with respect to NWACC.
“I would love to be in Little Rock in 2013 pleading our case,” she said.
Aside from community service, Paneitz says she also wants to write a book when she’s completed her tenure.
“I have so many wonderful stories to share,” she said.