Riverside Community College District fires Norco College president

by Erik Galicia

The Riverside Community College District Board of Trustees voted 4-0 to terminate Norco College president Bryan Reece’s contract June 12.

The district had put Reece on administrative leave earlier in the week. The word spread and over 100 students, faculty and community members showed up to the June 11 board meeting with signs that read “iStand with Reece” and “Decolonize Norco College.”

Dozens voiced their support for Reece and urged the board to retain him, while a few faculty members voiced their support for the district’s processes and urged the board to uphold them.

“It feels like a stealth attack on our president and it bothers me very much,” said Ann Llafond, a recent graduate of Norco College. “I am here in support of my president. I can’t believe they’re doing this.”

Reece supporters asked for the reasons why the board had put Reece on administrative leave.

“This is almost like destroying people’s lives without justification,” said Norco College instructor Barbara Moore. “I don’t think we are out of line asking for justification. ”

The district is bound by law to withhold any reasons for termination from the public as it could affect future employment opportunities for the person being terminated.

“We’re speculating that the $24 million has something to do with the decision,” Norco College student Jose Marquez said, referring to last month’s handling of an opportunity for Norco College to apply for state funding for on-campus housing for homeless veterans and foster youth.

Board member Bill Hedrick was not in attendance and several speakers at the meeting asked the board to postpone its decision to a future date so that the entire board could weigh in.

Speakers shared examples of Reece’s leadership and the positive impact he has had on students at Norco College.

“During my term, I’ve sat with Dr. Reece multiple times,” said Autumn Uriostegui, Associated Students of Norco College president. “Dr. Reece has become a mentor to me. He tells me issues that are happening on campus and how I can make an impact.”

Uriostegui spoke about Reece’s support for dreamers, and how he sent out an email immediately after President Donald Trump ended DACA to reassure students of their safety and that Norco College was their home.

Norco College instructor Sigrid Williams spoke about Reece encouraging open dialogue at Norco College.

“Dr. Reece encourages students to seek involvement in governance and welcomes their opinions,” Williams said.

According to Williams, Norco College’s enrollment and graduation rates increased under Reece’s leadership but the district’s support “has not met the needs of Norco’s demands.”

District Academic Senate President Peggy Campo has been very vocal in recent weeks about her support for Reece and her frustrations over the district’s actions in the past and present. At the meeting, she voiced her concern over the type of future she feels the district is headed toward.

“I am fearful for tomorrow,” Campo said. “I am fearful for my students, for my college, for the future of this district. I was told not to bring my concerns to open meetings again and to follow proper processes. I met with the chancellor before this meeting but I did not feel heard.”

Campo also expressed her opinion that the board was firing Reece for “rightfully fulfilling” his position as president.

Some members of the community were more aggressive in their statements and criticisms of the board.

Norco College instructor Alexis Gray compared the state of the district to an imperialist system, with Riverside City College being the monarchy and Moreno Valley and Norco Colleges being its colonies.

“This is … taxation without representation,” Gray said. “Don’t think that decapitating us will stop us. You don’t have a problem with (Reece), you have a problem with this community.”

Corona City Council member Yolanda Carrillo spoke on the successes of Reece’s presidency, including the improvements made to the prison education system. She added that “still the chancellor and trustees are not impressed with (Reece).”

“I am embarrassed with this board and its inept processes,” Carrillo told the board. “You should be rewarding this leader, not dismissing this leader. You should be trying to build a lasting legacy at Norco College, not trying at every turn to break it down.”

Carrillo warned the board that its record of decisions is angering voters and could cause the district to suffer losses on the upcoming bond measure.

Fabian Biancardi, MVC Faculty Association Vice President, was among the few that spoke in support of the district’s processes and against the blame being placed on Chancellor Wolde-Ab Isaac. He and RCC instructor Shari Yates said they “are not embarrassed” by the chancellor and the board, perhaps in response to Carrillo’s comments.

“We have never had a champion like Dr. Isaac in this district,” Biancardi said. “We have never had a chancellor that is this much of an activist. It’s a real shame to hoist (Isaac) as the cause of Norco’s problems.”

Biancardi said that Isaac has been especially supportive of disadvantaged students throughout the district and has worked harder to bring equity to this district than any chancellor before him.

While Biancardi expressed his sympathy toward the sentiments of Norco College, he urged that the district not compromise the integrity of its processes due to emotional “tactics.”

“You know what to do,” Biancardi told the board. “Please do it.”

The district has announced that Norco College Vice President of Academic Affairs Samuel Lee will serve as acting president until an interim president is appointed.

More information will follow.