Chancellor Nominee Seeks to Bring Ambitious Approach to Addressing Equity and Justice in the District

A photo of Dr. Bryan Reece, courtesy of:

Watchara Phomicinda

A photo of Dr. Bryan Reece, courtesy of:

Cheasanee Hetherington, Editor-in-chief

After a three-year stint as president of Norco College in southern California, where he was praised as a “visionary” for pushing for greater social justice and equity for students, chancellor nominee Dr. Bryan Reece is on the verge of being hired to tackle similar challenges in the Contra Costa Community College District.

The 4CD Governing Board that will be deciding on Oct. 14 whether to approve Reece’s contract for chancellor has come under fire for ethics violations in recent months. The board received unanimous, district-wide no-confidence votes in September from the Academic and Classified Senates of Diablo Valley College and Los Medanos College, following the contract non-renewals of three of its district executives. 

The negotiation meeting next Wednesday will be open to the public for observation as the board discusses, and in all likelihood finalizes, Reece’s contract.

According to many people who worked with Reece in the past, his character and ambition to get big things done make him a well-suited choice for the position.

“I really think that [Reece] needs the role of chancellor because his vision pulls people along. He’s not a follower, he’s a leader,” Dr. Lisa Nelson, a professor of English at Norco College who worked closely with Reece, told The Inquirer.

During his tenure at Norco between 2017 and 2019, Reece pursued a variety of ambitious projects, including successfully founding a program to bring higher education to inmates at the California Rehabilitation Center in the city of Norco. He helped create the program in fall 2017 after a study showed that inmate education reduced reincarceration rates by 43%.

Reece worked aggressively to deliver progress at Norco College, “because people wanted to move fast” to address students’ academic and economic needs, he said.

“It’s important that we move with a sense of urgency. We have homeless students who need houses. We have students of color who are not finding academic success. We don’t need to move at a pace that breaks us,” Reece said, “but we need to move as quickly as we can to bring success to students.” 

Reece also tried to tackle the housing crisis among veterans and foster youth at Norco College, where he sought to bring homeless students much-needed aid to improve their physical, mental and educational well-being.

“One of our students who came out of foster care told me how she sleeps in her car, and when it gets cold she’d occasionally sleep in a [warmed] pipe behind campus,” Reece continued. “I would do anything for her, or students like her, to help change that.”

In 2019, Reece collaborated with California Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to create a Norco College veterans and foster youth housing project.

Additionally, Reece founded The National Policy Agenda for Community Colleges, which strives to attract federal support to social justice and equity issues across community colleges nationwide while conducting faculty and student surveys.

If hired, Reece would have an opportunity to bring some of his structural ideas for change to a 4CD community whose students  confront many of the same issues needing to be addressed around inequality.

Acknowledging that Reece’s plans sometimes clashed with the slower moving machinery of the Riverside Community College District, Professor Lisa Nelson added: “He does step on people’s toes, as any visionary would.”

Reece was unanimously elected president of Norco College in 2016. The RCCD Governing Board voted unanimously to terminate Reece’s contract in June 2019 for reasons that were not disclosed.

In an interview with The Inquirer, Dariush Haghighat​, RCCD’s Faculty Association vice president, affirmed that the union had “full confidence in [the] chancellor and board of trustees” regarding the reasons for Reece’s removal. 

More than 100 students, faculty and community members rallied at the Governing Board meeting prior to Reece’s termination, as reported by Riverside City College Viewpoints.

“His only goal was to advance community colleges and students,” said Saeed Ahmad, a law student at University of California, Los Angeles, who studied at Norco College during Reece’s presidency.

The vice president of the Norco College Academic Senate, Dr. Virgil Lee, said Reece had been a steady advocate for the college and didn’t believe his firing “had anything to do with his ability as a leader.”

“He and [Chancellor Wolde-Ab Isaac] have different ways of operating,” and different views about Norco College’s role in the district, Lee told The Inquirer. According to Lee, the chancellor wanted the colleges to be very much under the district’s control.

“Reece was a little too independent,” Lee added.

In an interview this week, Reece defended his actions at Norco, saying he was driven to act with urgency to help students in need.

“I do have big aspirations, and my feeling is when we want to close the equity gap, that is one of the most aspirational things you can say out loud.”