LOWELL — The Middlesex Community College board of trustees voted in a special meeting Tuesday morning to appoint longtime Provost and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Phil Sisson as the college’s next president.
Sisson will succeed President James Mabry, who will retire July 1.
“I am deeply honored and also very humbled to be selected by the Middlesex Community College board of trustees to become the college’s fifth president. I want to thank them for their support and for their trust in me to lead our college forward,” Sisson said in a statement following the vote. “I am also extremely thankful for the support of the college community throughout this process and over the past 11 years I served as provost.”
The board initially voted 7-3 in favor of Sisson, but then decided to take a second vote to make their selection of Sisson unanimous at the request of Trustee Annie O’Connor.
O’Connor, along with Trustees James Campanini and Cheryl Howard, had initially voted for Northern Virginia Community College Loudoun Campus Provost Julie Leidig, one of two remaining external candidates for the job. Santa Fe College Vice President for Assessment, Research and Technology Lisa Armour did not receive any votes. Two other finalists previously withdrew.
Trustees noted the challenge of deciding between such extraordinarily qualified candidates as Sisson and Leidig, but ultimately Sisson’s dedication and passion for MCC, paired with his years of experience and expertise, won out.
“He doesn’t want to be any college president, Provost Sisson wants to be MCC’s president, and views himself as a servant leader,” Trustee Linda Banks-Santilli said. “He describes himself as coming from a low-income, first-generation background. He’s a known and trusted member of the community, with the knowledge, experience and ability to lead MCC into the future.”
Trustee Bopha Malone said she’s seen how Sisson works with students and other people in the community, and he already has the trust of much of the faculty and staff. Student Trustee Daniella Dankwa said he also has the trust of the students, many of whom support him because he’s proved serving students is his first priority.
As an alum of MCC, Trustee Steven Iem said he believes the next president needs to ensure the college “not only survives but thrives” moving forward, and has the creativity and ability to leverage new, incoming federal resources to the best advantage of MCC and its students.
“We need the next president to be able to hit the ground running, and who understands the players on the local, state and federal levels,” Iem said. “Time is of the essence. We need someone who is an effective communicator and collaborator, and who will work relentlessly for the college and with the college, someone who will not be afraid of making those tough decisions.”
He said reading through the feedback from the school community only solidified his choice of Sisson to take on that challenge.
Trustee Kathleen Plath also pointed to the community surveys, which called Sisson inspiring, encouraging, a visionary and true leader whose “commitment to inclusion and diversity is second to none,” among other glowing tributes.
She said Sisson meets all of the qualities referenced by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges in regard to successful presidential leadership amid a pandemic, including a realistic view of the college’s position and challenges, a practical and compelling vision for the future, the emotional intelligence to deal with the diverse needs of stakeholders and build high-functioning teams, integrity, energy, resiliency and a positive demeanor. Plath said he also has an intense passion for MCC that he inspires in others.
“When he’s out in the community, at the state level, with the students, with the faculty, his passion is infectious,” she said.
In his statement, Sisson said he first came to MCC because he “wanted to be part of this storied institution with its history of excellence and visionary leadership.” He said it he intends to uphold and further build upon its reputation in the coming years.
Sisson said he looks forward to continuing to work closely with MCC’s “extraordinarily dedicated, talented and innovative faculty, staff and administration” and “to provide the highest quality education and support services that we can possibly offer to our amazing students who deserve nothing less and who inspire us every day.”
Sisson has over 30 years of experience within community colleges around New England, and MCC has been his home for more than a third of that time.
“I fully comprehend the critical role the college plays in the communities we serve, especially in our host communities of Bedford and Lowell,” Sisson said in his statement. “I look forward to creating a renewed level of engagement with our communities focusing on equity, access, opportunity, support and success for all of the students we serve.
“I look forward to leading a team that will affirm Middlesex Community College as a national leader in community college education for our next half century and I am confident our greatest days are yet to come,” he said.
The board also voted unanimously to authorize Chairman James Campbell to negotiate with state Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago and the state Board of Higher Education for Sisson’s contract.