College District in Disarray: Senates Pledge No Confidence Vote on Governing Board Ahead of Chancellor Nomination and Accreditation Review

4CD Governing Board members Rebecca Barrett, Greg Enholm, John Márquez, Vicki Gordon and Andy Li.

4CD Governing Board members Rebecca Barrett, Greg Enholm, John Márquez, Vicki Gordon and Andy Li.

Cheasanee Hetherington, Editor-in-chief

In a surprise turnaround, Dr. Bryan Reece is now the sole candidate for Contra Costa Community College District Chancellor following Raúl Rodríguez’s last minute withdrawal, announced via press release on Sept. 16.

Nominee Reece will speak at 12:30pm on Sept. 17 in a public forum via Zoom, introducing himself to most people in the 4CD community for the first time.

The news of Rodriguez’s withdrawal follows recent controversial decisions made by the 4CD Governing Board to deny contract renewals for two associate vice chancellors and the interim chancellor, Eugene Huff.

In July, the Governing Board rejected contract renewals for Dio Shipp, associate vice chancellor of human resources; Jonah Nicholas, chief financial officer, and Huff.

The votes were 3-2, with Secretary Greg Enholm and board members Vicki Gordon and John Márquez opposing the renewals. The same trustees voted against Interim Chancellor Huff’s contract on Sept. 9.

Two of the board members who voted against the contract renewals, Gordon and Enholm, were subjects of misconduct investigations.

Jeffrey Michels, executive director of 4CD’s teachers union, United Faculty, said the non-renewals could be a form of retaliation for senior management’s involvement in investigations into harassment and violations of the Code of Ethics of the Governing Board targeting Gordon and Enholm, which concluded July 2, 2020.

The Academic and Classified Senates of DVC and United Faculty have committed to voting no confidence in the Governing Board on Sept. 22.

“It is an acknowledgement that we see the dysfunction,” said Academic Senate President John Freytag during an emergency joint meeting this week with the Classified Senate, and “we are not okay with dysfunction.”

“Not only are we concerned for the policy and ethics [that have been] violated, but we are deeply concerned about the decisions being made that are not in the best interest of our college and students,” Freytag said.

Marisa Greenberg, president of the Classified Senate, added that the decision to vote no confidence “is a way to show that we’re not going to tolerate [the Governing Board’s] behavior.”

Michels said he was shocked by the non-renewal vote, considering that Huff, Shipp and Nicholas all had “excellent” reviews.

“Jonah Nicholas had the support of management, faculty and staff. He has a real talent for not only thinking through the complicated budget, but explaining it,” Michels told The Inquirer.

Freytag added, in support of Huff, “Interim Chancellor Huff has done an outstanding job. I feel 100 percent confident he could have continued in that role.”

“There was no need to force a search” for a new chancellor, Freytag said.

Governing Board trustees Gordon and Enholm will be up for reelection this November.

The possibility that 4CD colleges could be sanctioned by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges is another cause for concern among district faculty and employees. Dr. Becky Opsata, dean of Institutional Effectiveness and Accreditation, said in an email that “if there is an issue with the District or the Governing Board, all three of the colleges would receive individual sanctions.”

Opsata added that “even if we do get some sanction in January, your credits will still count … If we do get a sanction, like warning or probation, we will still be accredited at that time.”

If sanctioned, the affected colleges could need to write midterm reports for the ACCJC, which would follow up on accreditation within two years.

According to the Academic and Classified Senates’ Joint Resolution of No Confidence, “Current Governing Board dysfunction jeopardizes both District and College fiscal stability and the accreditation status of each of our Colleges.”

Losing accreditation could have negative consequences for 4CD’s status among other college districts, according to Greenberg.

“The biggest reason accreditation is important is that without it, your degrees don’t mean anything,” she said. “Without accreditation it’s just a piece of paper. It doesn’t carry as much weight as it would from an accredited college.”

4CD colleges are accredited by the ACCJC. The district’s most recent letter of accreditation was received in 2015. The next accreditation visit is scheduled for the first week in October.

Days after the termination of Huff’s contract, the Governing Board announced Dr. Raúl Rodriguez and Dr. Bryan Reece as the finalists for the position of 4CD chancellor.
Rodriguez withdrew suddenly from the process on Sept. 16 after accepting an extended contract as Hartnell College’s interim president.

In assessing the candidates’ qualifications and integrity to serve, United Faculty gave Rodriguez an “F” due to his history of financial mismanagement and lack of transparency. Reece was rated as a “C+” because of his perceived lack of experience for the position.

“We have a genuine crisis in this district, and not only because of the governing board not renewing contracts,” said Michels, speaking prior to Rodriguez’s decision to withdraw his candidacy.

“We [United Faculty] are very worried the chancellor search has already been corrupted.”

A photo of Dr. Bryan Reece, courtesy of:

Bryan Reece, the Governing Board’s remaining nominee, was unanimously elected president of Norco College in Southern California in 2016. In 2019, he was fired by the Riverside Community College District, despite faculty and student requests to keep him.

The precise reasons for his 2019 firing have been difficult to ascertain. However, according to documents published on United Faculty’s website, Reece may be the president in question in a Riverside CCD lawsuit filed in February 2020 that mentions a Norco College president having received a payout of close to a quarter of a million dollars following “egregious misconduct which actually merited termination for cause.”

The Inquirer has received no official confirmation that Reece is the college president mentioned in the lawsuit, and we are continuing to review the professional credentials of the only remaining candidate for the position.

Rodríguez had faced his own share of scrutiny. He served as San Joaquin Delta College’s president for eight years before becoming chancellor of Rancho Santiago Community College District in Orange County in 2010.

Under Rodriguez’s leadership, Rancho Santiago CCD signed a $105 million contract to assist in managing technical schools in Saudi Arabia in 2015. However, the deal excluded women, Jewish and LGBTQ+ faculty from in-person participation.

“This agreement violates the district’s nondiscrimination policy,” Morrie Barembaum, a Santiago Canyon College professor, told The Orange County Register at the time. “This is too important of an issue for us not to continue debating and asking more questions.”

Rodriguez denied that his actions were an endorsement of the Saudi government’s views.

With November elections a little more than six weeks away, district faculty have been newly energized to make their voices heard in the regional races for Governing Board positions.

“We [United Faculty] originally voted to stay neutral in this race. But we think the corruption and dysfunction of the Governing Board has led us to the conclusion that this is the most important Governing Board race in decades,” said UF’s Michels.

Along with United Faculty, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1 and Governing Board trustees Rebecca Barrett and Any Li are publicly supporting Judy Walters in the 4CD Governing Board race against Gordon.

Local 1, United Faculty and Our Revolution Contra Costa have endorsed Fernando Sandoval for the 4CD Governing Board. Sandoval will be running against Enholm.

“DVC is a community college, and it has been there to serve the community and its students” for decades, said Freytag. Now, the college’s “future is being jeopardized by three governing board trustees who are prioritizing their own political positions over our students.”

“Their priorities are clearly not aligned with the mission of DVC,” he said.

Greenberg added that the “investigations have shown that these allegations were sustained against these trustees,” and that “our only recourse as the community is to vote.”

Editor’s Note: On Sept. 17 clarification was added regarding the accreditation status of 4CD colleges. 4CD colleges could be sanctioned by the ACCJC. If sanctioned, the affected colleges could need to write midterm reports and ACCJC would have a follow-up visit after two years.