Alex Johnson reviews his career and reminisces as his retirement approaches in June

By MAKAELA BOGARDY

PART TWO OF A TWO-PART FEATURE

CLEVELAND — Dr. Alex Johnson has served at Cuyahoga Community College for almost 20 years. He became the president of Tri-C’s Metropolitan campus from 1993 to 2003. Dr. Johnson returned in 2013 as President of the college, and announced in October that he is retiring effective June 30, 2022. 

Community College to even greater success as both a learning institution and a catalyst for growth in Northeast Ohio. 

A few of Dr. Johnson’s many accomplishments include:

  • Dramatically increasing the college’s graduation rate
  • Gaining public support for a $227 million capital bond issue in 2017, spurring the biggest reconstruction in the college’s history.
  • Creating career path and educational opportunities through the development of Access Centers
  • Navigating the college through the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, and
  • Helping Tri-C’s Nursing, Creative Arts, Public Safety, Hospitality Management, Information Technology and Manufacturing programs becoming recognized as Centers of Excellence

This profile examines Dr. Johnson the person, his accomplishments, and what faculty and administrators think of his tenure as president. It concludes with some advice he is offering to students, staff, and his successor.

MJS 2010 student Makaela Bogardy, left, with Dr. Alex Johnson, November 2021

FACULTY AND ADMINISTRATORS’ PERCEPTION OF DR. JOHNSON

Tri-C administrators and faculty describe Dr. Johnson as a mission-driven individual, family oriented man, and a personable leader.

Dr. Lindsay English serves as the Assistant Provost/Vice President of Learning & Engagement. She first came to know Dr. Johnson when he served as the Metropolitan Campus President. English was the District Director for Faculty Development at the time.

“(What) I remember most (is) his commitment to students and faculty,” said English. “We would often speak about how to recognize and leverage faculty strengths throughout the institution.”

English said since his return to the college as Tri-C President, she has grown under his leadership. When asked about Dr. Johnson’s character, English said he prioritizes his family and is a great leader.

“He has successfully led institutions through major crises,” she said. “He does not hide from challenges and has the courage to work with others to resolve problems.”

Dr. Johnson has dedicated his career to bettering the mission of community colleges and he positively impacts everyone he meets, said English.

Dr. Lisa Williams is the president of Tri-C’s Western Campus. She has filled many positions at the college including assistant dean of Health Careers and Science Services, vice president of Learning and Engagement, and the president of the Eastern campus.

Dr. Williams has worked with Dr. Johnson for seven years since she returned to the college in 2014.

“He brought me back as the Vice President of academic affairs, I remember him fondly from when I worked with him at Metro,” she said. 

“When I was vice president of Academic Affairs, Tri-C was one of 30 colleges that entered into the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)’s pathway program. Throughout the two and half years we had to attend multiple conferences with the president (Dr. Johnson) to discuss where the college is going with academics and pathways.”

Jose Feliciano Sr., honorary degree recipient from Cuyahoga Community College, with Dr. Alex Johnson, on December 16, 2021

Dr. Williams said after the conferences he would take everyone out to dinner. 

“It was nice to get to know him socially and laugh,” she said.

When asked about Dr. Johnson’s character, Dr. Williams said he is a family-oriented man.

“He is somebody that cares about people, he has a good sense of humor, and good communication style,” she said. “He is a part of the culture of Tri-C that makes you feel like we are all family.”

Dr. Robert Johnson serves as a counselor and professor at the Western campus. He also is the chair of the Joint Faculty Senate Council. He praises Dr. Alex Johnson for his openness and his respect of the faculty.

“Dr. Johnson helped create an atmosphere of open communication and dialogue,” he said. “…conversations can be difficult when faculty feels strongly about a situation. He offered the ability to say how you feel and express what would make it better.”

Dr. Johnson also created collaborative environments through the establishment of the Tri-C President’s Council. The President’s Council consists of faculty and staff members who meet regularly to discuss and build consensus on actions, goals and objectives around student achievement.

“He takes time to see things, not from a leadership perspective but from a faculty perspective, student perspective, and administrative perspective,” said Dr. Robert Johnson. “He wanted to know what was the true experience.”

When asked about Dr. Johnson’s leadership style, Dr. Robert Johnson said, “He is what we call an unusual leader.”

“He doesn’t really fit into the cookie cutter shape of other leaders,” he said “One thing that stands apart is not (just) his ability to lead but to listen, an attentive ear.”

Dr. Robert Johnson added that the Tri-C president has focused on the development of food pantries based on what he has heard from students. He also kept his eye on tuition and graduation rates.

“He increased the graduation rate tremendously, more than ever in Tri-C college history, better than any other president we have ever had,” he said. “He made the ability, no matter where you come from or status in life, you can get a quality education.

“Tuition stayed lowest in Ohio, I think that’s a big deal,” he added. “The difference is the amount of money per credit hour.”

The Western campus professor also highlighted the president’s encouragement of student pride through the creation of student mascot “Stomp.”

“He helped us navigate us through the pandemic, many institutions weren’t able to survive because of the impact of Covid-19,” said Dr. Robert Johnson. “ He made sure we had safety first and that guided every action.

“He is an outstanding dynamic, caring person which makes an outstanding leader, I will miss him greatly,” he concluded. “I’ve seen him the most happy when he is surrounded with students and he sees they have the support they need to be successful.”

DR. ALEX JOHNSON’S PARTING ADVICE

Dr. Johnson encourages faculty to “keep up the good work.”

“They (faculty) have been a pleasure to work with,” said Dr. Johnson. “They will continue to serve the college well as I retire.”

Addressing students, the Tri-C president says he understands they are juggling a lot of responsibilities.

“If they commit time and effort to getting an education now. It will be worthwhile and a significant way to transform your lives,” he said. “Despite the odds, always look at these opportunities that can accrue from an education and take advantage of it.”

When asked what advice he might give to his successor, Dr. Johnson said he hopes the individual will continue to collaborate with colleagues. 

“There’s nothing virtuous about what I do,” he added. “Any recognition that I have received that reflects the work that we… accomplish here at the institution is because of the great individuals that we have at this institution.”

Dr. Johnson continues, “For my successor, my hope is that that individual will continue to work in a spirit of collaboration and build upon the rich foundation that they have developed.”

DR. ALEX JOHNSON’S CREDENTIALS

  • President, Cuyahoga Community College – 2013-2022 
  • President, Community College of Allegheny County – 2008-2013 
  • Chancellor, Delgado Community College, New Orleans – 2003-2008
  • Metro Campus President, Cuyahoga Community College – 1993-2003 

Local Board Service

· United Way of Greater Cleveland

· Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

· Playhouse Square

· Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET)

· Team Northeast Ohio

· Greater Cleveland Partnership

· Downtown Cleveland Alliance

· Job Ohio’s Cleveland Area Business Retention and Expansion Council.

National Service

· Current Chair of the Board for Achieving the Dream (ATD)

· Past Board Chair of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

· Founding member, AACC’s Voluntary Framework on Accountability Steering Committee

Board member

· Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)

· The League for Innovation in the Community College

· President’s Advisory Committee of Phi Theta Kappa

Awards

  • Malden Mills Citizen’s Award
  • The Frank G. Jackson Visionary Award
  • Pittsburgh Business Times CEO of the Year
  • Simon Green Atkins Distinguished Alumnus Award from Winston-Salem State University
  • Black Professional of the Year
  • The Association of Community College Trustees 2018 Central Region CEO of the Year.

Education

  • Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University
  • M.A. from Lehman College
  • B.A. from Winston-Salem State University. 
  • Recipient of two honorary degrees

Makaela Bogardy is an MJS 2010 News Writing student. She can be reached at s01169350@acad.tri-c.edu

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