2 Community College Presidents Ousted, Despite Campus Support

Norco College president fired shortly after Contra Costa leader placed on leave.

June 13, 2019
 
Bryan Reece

Two community college presidents in California have been either placed on leave or terminated in the last two weeks without reason given by the governing boards. In both instances, the presidents were highly popular, leaving students and faculty members confused or angry. In both cases, the presidents were removed by boards that oversee multiple campuses in a system.

With more questions than answers, Katrina VanderWoude, Contra Costa College president, was placed on investigative leave on May 31. Norco College president Bryan Reece was placed on leave and then terminated in a late-night meeting of the Riverside Community College District board on June 12. No reason has been given by the governing boards in either instance.

Often when college presidents are removed, it’s preceded by tension with the stakeholders at the college. In both the cases of VanderWoude and Reece, campus leaders condemned the leaders’ removal.

At the meeting where the Riverside Community College District board voted to remove Reece, several students and faculty from Norco College arrived to speak on Reece’s behalf and implore the board not to have him removed, yet the board of trustees voted 4 to 0 to remove him anyway.

“The Board of Trustees and district leadership are committed to ensuring that the faculty, staff, students and managers are fully supported,” Riverside Community College District chancellor Wolde-Ab Isaac said in an emailed statement. “We hope we can count on your understanding and patience during this challenging period.”

One student protesting at Tuesday night’s meeting was Autumn Uriostegui, student body president at Norco. She said the board’s decision to terminate Reece despite the protest was upsetting.

“It’s so frustrating,” Uriostegui said. “I reached out to over 100 community members last night to either come speak at the meeting or send letters, and everyone who spoke from our community was in support of Dr. Reece. They think he’s done a great job for our community and done such an amazing job as president helping inclusivity, which not many presidents have done in the past.”

Uriostegui said Reece’s tenure was unique in the sense that he reached out to many groups at Norco. Uriostegui also said it's common belief that Reece’s problems with the board were the result of Isaac’s preference for Riverside Community College over the other two colleges in the district, Norco and Moreno Valley.

“It’s clear [Isaac] doesn’t support Norco and Moreno Valley,” Uriostegui said. “So many programs we’ve tried to get are already at Riverside. They’re doing this because they don’t like that Dr. Reece was trying to put Norco on the map.”

Several faculty members also spoke in support of Reece, and a petition for the college to retain him gained 700 signatures before the meeting.

"Without student knowledge, the Board of Trustees made a decision to place our president on immediate administrative leave," the petition read. "[The board meeting] is our opportunity to have our voices heard and matter."

Meanwhile, at Contra Costa, VanderWoude’s fate remains unknown.

Timothy Leong, Contra Costa spokesman, said there are no updates to be given in VanderWoude’s investigation but that more information will become available later in the month. The college and chancellor have declined to offer any more information, saying the issue is a personnel matter.

Rumors have swirled about the reason behind the investigation. According to Fox KTVU in California, the African American Staff Association held a press conference condemning the investigation and called it a “sham.” VanderWoude, who is African American, has been a proponent of diversity efforts during her tenure.

One Contra Costa faculty member, Manu AmPim, told KTVU that there were concerns the investigation was not undertaking a fair process. The NAACP is now investigating the situation.

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