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Ethnic Tensions in Dallas

May 4, 2006

Jesus (Jess) Carreon has had a highly successful career leading community colleges in California and Oregon, but something went wrong in Dallas.

Carreon resigned as chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District Tuesday night, after reaching a settlement with the board, only three years after taking the position and becoming the first Latino (and first minority educator) to lead the system, in which enrollments are going up and becoming increasingly diverse.

The official announcement said very little except that Carreon was leaving his position immediately, and offering predictable statements of praise. A spokeswoman said that he was not commenting on his departure except to say that he was proud of what he had accomplished. Carreon led a successful campaign for a $450 million bond issue that officials said was key for facilities in the district, which serves about 63,000 students in credit programs. He also opened five new campus centers to try to increase access to courses.

But in recent months, Carreon has appeared to be in something of a power struggle over the district in which many Latino leaders saw him as a welcome change, many faculty members had the opposite view, and his board was divided. Tensions have been evident and awkward for all involved. A report in The Dallas Morning News on last month's board meeting described a "surreal atmosphere" in which Carreon's supporters from the local community urged trustees to back him and the trustees declined to do so and instead asked Carreon if he had invited his defenders (he said he hadn't).

Throughout his tenure, faculty members have grumbled about Carreon's leadership, with many saying that he did not sufficiently consult them and that he tended to question the way things have historically been done. Faculty leaders have denied that their reactions to Carreon were motivated by his ethnicity. On Wednesday, they were not talking. Fred Newbury, president of the Faculty Association, said via e-mail that based on legal advice, he could say only that he supported the "mutual agreement" between Carreon and the board.

The Dallas board consists of seven trustees: four white, one black, and two Latino. While the board's leaders have denied that any disagreements with the chancellor were influenced by his ethnicity, the Latino trustees have been strong supporters and have suggested otherwise.

Minutes to the board's January board meeting, which are not public on the district's Web site, but which officials faxed for review, include a lengthy discussion by one of the Latino trustees about the way Carreon was being treated by faculty members. The trustee, Diana Flores, questioned why the Faculty Association was planning to conduct a detailed survey of employees about Carreon's leadership. The survey, Flores said, was full of references to "fairness" and "organizational outcomes" and various issues that were vague, but that would allow naysayers to attack the chancellor. Moreover, she said that the level of scrutiny the chancellor was receiving was unprecedented in the history of the district.

She said that a "small segment" of the district's employees was making it difficult for the chancellor to lead. "It is racist, racist, racist, racist at its core," she said. She went on to describe a vice president who had left the district and told her that he had been told by a faculty member that "we don't take orders from Mexicans."

 

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