Lucille Stoddard, the acting president of Utah Valley Community College, says she is puzzled at not being one of five finalists for the college presidency.

"I was puzzled and a little bewildered," she said. "I think I was president at a very difficult time. But there were no resignations while I was president, and community involvement was high."Search committee members denied reports that Stoddard was not named because she is a woman.

Though disappointed, Stoddard called charges of sexual bias speculative. She said she remains committed to UVCC and plans to stay on as academic vice president.

"I can simply say that it would be very speculative to say there was gender bias," Stoddard said. "But I have no knowledge of what went on in the committee. I love being vice president (of academic affairs), but I'd love to be president."

Stoddard was named acting president last fall after the resignation of then-President J. Marvin Higbee. Higbee

resigned in October following an auditor's report that he had misspent more than $10,000 of taxpayers' money during his tenure.

Search committee members said the six-woman, 13-man committee carefully studied qualifications, not sex of applicants, in selecting finalists from 14 semifinalists. The semifinalists were chosen from a field of 84 applicants, of which Stoddard was the only woman. Five finalists, including one who subsequently dropped out, were recommended earlier this month to the state Board of Regents.

Kerry D. Romesburg was named UVCC president on Wednesday. (See story on B1.)

"The selection (of the finalists) had absolutely nothing to do with gender bias," said A. Dean Jeffs, search committee chairman. Jeffs said he was offended by the wording of one news story alleging bias.

Jeffs said Stoddard was an excellent candidate but the finalists were more qualified. Finalists included three past or current college presidents and a member of the state Board of Regents.

"I think we were really very conscientious of making a good match between what the institution needs and what the candidates offer," said Faculty Senate President Barbra Hoge, a member of the search committee. "I think we did our job with great integrity."

Hoge said sex had nothing to do with Stoddard's elimination. "I think the committee was above that kind of thing."

UVCC drafting department Chairman Doug Jorgensen, another committee member, said he saw no bias of any kind during the committee's selection process.

"I have the highest regard for the committee," he said. "I think we selected the best candidates. Some people are just blowing things out of proportion."

Committee member Ben Gould, former UVCC student body president, also denied sex was an issue.

"To make a blanket statement like that is not fair," he said. "There were 19 people, and each had a subjective view. Gender never entered into the conversation once. Our decision was based entirely on how we felt about the qualifications of the candidates."

The Governor's Commission on the Status of Women, however, registered its dismay Tuesday night.

In a letter addressed to Regents Chairman W. Eugene Hansen, the panel said that Stoddard is qualified to "fill the ranks of upper management."

"That Utah continues to lag behind in this recognition can only impede the state's progress. Many of us do not want to see that happen," the letter said.