Austen Thibault, The Union Democrat

The Yosemite Community College District Board of Trustees could select Columbia College's new president and will address free speech policy concerns at its Wednesday board meeting in Modesto.

A hiring decision could be made for Columbia College's president during closed session of the meeting at the board's Modesto office. The board oversees Columbia and Modesto Junior colleges.

The district is also set to change wording on its free speech policy, loosening administrative restrictions on when and where students can practice free speech.

This issue stems from a case in which a student, Robert Van Tuinen, was prohibited from handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day, Sept. 17, at Modesto Junior College. A lawsuit filed on behalf of Tuinen against the district also will be discussed in closed session.

The district began the hiring process for a new Columbia College president in November, which included a public forum last week for the three remaining candidates.

The forum was followed the next day by board interviews of the candidates, including viewing comments from the forum's audience.

The college has had an interim president, Leslie Buckalew, since former president Dennis Gervin was placed on leave in February, and later dismissed.

Buckalew is one of the candidates for president, along with two others from other colleges.

District spokesman Nick Stavrianoudakis said the time space at the meeting for the decision on a president was made preemptively, and the board may not actually be ready to make that decision on Wednesday.

During the closed session, the board will also make many personnel decisions, including election of a new chairperson and vice-chairperson.

Joan Smith, district chancellor and former Columbia College president, will be appointed as board secretary, which is what the district chancellor serves as on the board, according to Stavrianoudakis.

The board will also vote on proposed curriculum changes at Columbia College.

These include discontinuing one fire technology degree and three computer science degrees, and discontinuing one photography, one advanced first aid and one career tools class and two welding classes. Numerous modifications are being made to existing classes in many fields, particularly art.

Also to be voted on is the time and place of regular meetings next year.

The meeting will open briefly from 3:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. to announce the reorganization of the board at the Chancellor's Office, 2201 Blue Gum Ave. Open session will resume again about 5:30 p.m.