Linda Thor, a decades-long Ahwatukee resident, is looking to a positive future for the Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board after becoming its newly-elected president.
Her election followed her predecessor Laurin Hendrix’s decision to step down only one year into the two-year role as president.
The following week, as her first act at their regular board session, Thor introduced a resolution, co-authored with board member Dana Saar, that, among other significant intents, restored shared governance with employees of the 10-college Maricopa Community College District.
Thor moved from greater Los Angeles to Ahwatukee with her husband, two young children and extended family in 1990, and has worked in community colleges for 41 years – 29 as a chief executive officer.
Beginning in 1990, she served as president of Rio Salado for nearly 20 years before being named chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District in California’s Silicon Valley from 2010 to 2015.
Rio Salado is one of the nation’s largest online public community colleges, serving nearly 53,000 students annually with 28,000 online in 50 states and internationally.
While president at Rio Salado, the school began its dual enrollment program after a query from a Mountain Pointe High School math teacher. The program was inaugurated at MPHS.
“Rio Salado had the first online learning program in Arizona, and now has the largest enrollment of students online of any community college in the country,” she said, adding that enrollment during her tenure increased by 252 percent.
Prior to her appointment as Rio Salado’s president in 1990, Thor was president of West Los Angeles College. She had served as senior director of occupational and technical education for the Los Angeles Community College District after her tenure as director of high technology centers and services.
She was also director of communication services for the LACC District.
“I’ve spent my entire life devoted to community colleges; even my doctoral degree was in community college leadership,” she said.
Thor’s career trajectory actually began in high school in Monterey Park, California, and she yet credits her English teacher for launching her on her career path.
“My English teacher was exceptional, and I took every class of hers I could, even journalism, in order to stay in her classes. She urged me to run for editor of the student newspaper.”
Because of that stint as editor, Pepperdine University offered her “a significant scholarship” to study journalism and work on student publications. She became an editor of Pepperdine’s student newspaper, the quarterly magazine and yearbook.
“As a result of that experience, Pepperdine offered me a job as director of public information for the School of Continuing Education right out of school,” she said. “That is why I advise young people to take seriously that first job out of school because it can affect your career path.”
She said journalism taught her a great deal that has served her well in education and educational leadership.
“Journalism taught me to look at both sides of an issue, and that’s extremely valuable in leadership, as is the ability to observe any issue from the sidelines,” said Thor, adding:
“And many people in leadership are frightened of the media, and I’m not because of my experience. I believe in establishing candid, honest relationships with reporters, and in turn, I believe you will be treated fairly.”
Besides her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Pepperdine University, she earned a master of public administration degree from California State University–Los Angeles, and a doctor of education degree in community college administration from Pepperdine.
She’s received many awards and accolades including the Arizona Women in Higher Education Woman of the Year award in 2017, awarded one year after being elected to the Maricopa Community College District Governing Board.
In addition, she has received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Palo Alto University, and an honorary Associate of Arts degree from Foothill-De Anza Community College.
Thor served as adjunct faculty for the UCLA School of Education, Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology, Rio Salado College and Northern Arizona University.
Those experiences as an adjunct faculty member may have offered insight into the controversy that roiled during 2018 as the then governing board ended a faculty bargaining system known as meet and confer.
“Many felt the board members were at war with the faculty, and that motivated them to be very active in the last election,” said Thor of the November election that saw three new board members elected.
As her first official act as new president, Thor presented a paper she titled “Commitments and Directions for the MCCCD Governing Board 2019.”
She quickly addressed the resolution’s intent in her opening remarks to the packed meeting room.
"We have a number of significant challenges that we must address quickly and effectively at the same time we stay focused on student success and responsible governance oversight,” she told her colleagues.
“I commit to leading this board in a manner that respects the history and culture of the Maricopa Colleges, that respects and values our employees and ensures that they have voice and representation, and that ensures that we operate in a transparent collaborative fashion."
Among the items in the resolution – which passed 5-1 – was the establishment of a new process for developing agreements with faculty that for the first time includes part-time teachers.
“It is intended to be expedient, collaborative and representative,” said Thor of the resolution co-authored with Dana Saar, a board member since 2011 and president in 2014.
One of the first changes Thor instituted was to the name of the process formerly known as Meet and Confer.
“The name was changed to FACT – Faculty Administration Collaboration Team – which is more reflective of the work that is actually being done,” she said.
Thor, who has been married to Robert Huntsinger for 44 years, said her family has been in Ahwatukee since moving here from Southern California in 1990.
When she accepted the position at as president of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, they kept their Ahwatukee home as they knew they would return.
Her children Erik and Marie are both Mountain Pointe grads and both hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Arizona State University.
“One of our big motivations to move out of Southern California was the fact we had children,” she said. “We wanted a healthier environment for them. They both were involved in the Kyrene Schools and the Tempe Union High School District. We’re very imbedded in the community.”
Looking forward in her new role as MCCCD Governing Board president, Thor said she hopes to see students and the community become more involved in decision-making.
A goal stated at her first board meeting is to assemble collaborative teams of student and community representatives, and use “a town hall format” to present concerns and opinions to the board.
“I am really committed to transparency; to be open, inclusive, transparent in what we do,” said Thor.