Presidential hiring procedures under fire

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By Vanessa Overbeck

By Vanessa Overbeck

The hiring of a new president for the Riverside Campus of Riverside Community College is causing quite a stir among students, faculty, staff, administrators and the community.

At the presidential hiring forum on May 16, Mike Gasca, the newly elected student vice president of the Riverside Campus, said that the search committee lacked student representation.

Virginia McKee-Leone, president of the Academic Senate, responded publicly that it was decided that due to the limited schedules of busy students and the long-term time commitment involved in the hiring process, that students not be included.

“We knew we would have an open forum where students’ voices would be heard,” McKee-Leone said. But Gasca said the student government did not receive an invitation to the forums. Virginia McKee-Leone wrote the oversight off to a “drop in communication.” Viewpoints did not receive an invitation to attend, either.

The legality of the hiring process itself has also been questioned. Trustee Grace Slocum refused to meet with candidates on May 16 and 19 after conferring with her attorney on the matter. Her attorney advised her that these “serial” meetings between the presidential candidates and one or two of the Board members at a time may be a violation of the Brown Act.

The Brown Act is a state law that regulates the openness of meetings and communication among legislative bodies. It requires that the decision-making process of elected officials be public.

The community met the presidential candidates at public forums and according to the college’s attorney, Bradley Neufeld, the Board members simply had informal conversations with them at separate gatherings.

At the Board of Trustees meeting on May 17, Slocum asked the Board why it chose not to discuss the candidates at an open meeting. The Board did not address the reasons behind their choices, but trustees Mark Takano and Jose Medina did defend their decision.

In any case, Aan Tan, associate vice chancellor of Facilities and Planning, congratulated the 23-member search committee for its selection of such fine candidates.

“The search committee did a good job selecting candidates that are strong in different aspects,” Tan said. “The question becomes, will they match with us?” But Tan voiced no support for any one candidate.

“Facilities is a side show and will follow what academia wants,” Tan said.

And what does academia want? Kathy Brooks, associate professor of life sciences was impressed by Dr. Karen Pettit’s “zero tolerance” policy for discrimination, harassment and retaliation. But she said she would like to see Dr. Daniel Castro join the RCC community.

Gary Jimenez, a counselor at the Riverside Campus, spoke highly of Castro. He praised his “in the trenches” attitude and approved of his focus on lifelong learning.

“Dr. Castro seemed to me to be more of an administrator, whereas Dr. Thomas seemed like a better fit for academic affairs or dean of instruction,” Jimenez said. “And it seemed that Dr. Pettit seemed a better fit at the college she’s at with her focus on workforce development and technology.”

Associate Professor of Sociology Jan Schall said she was also most impressed with Castro and would like to see him become the president of the Riverside Campus.

Gasca and the Student Senate plans to encourage students to support Pettit for the presidency of the campus.

The Student Senate discussed the three qualities they would like to see in the new president and decided that Pettit best fit the bill. The Senate would like the colleg to hire a president who has a good relationship with the student government, has experience with transitioning from a multi-campus to a multi-college system and experience with vocational programs and technology.

Michelle Davila, president of the Classified Union, refused to comment on her personal choice for the presidency at the Riverside Campus, but she did say that the search committee’s selection of completely opposing candidates is “very exciting, but kind of scary for the college.”

The final decision on who will assume the position of president of the Riverside Campus will fall to the Board of Trustees at their next meeting on June 21.

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