Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

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    Laguerre Out — PCCD Chancellor will leave post March 1

    Dr. Jowel C. Laguerre speaking at a Facebook event for Peralta on Nov. 1, 2018. Photo by Michelle Snider

    by Eva Hannan

    Dr. Jowel C. Laguerre is taking an extended leave of absence from his role as chancellor in the Peralta Community College District. His Feb. 23 announcement letter came the day after a three-hour, closed-door special meeting of the Board of Trustees that produced the unanimous vote to grant the leave of absence.

    “The Governing Board and I determined…that I will take an extended leave from the District starting March 1, 2019,” Laguerre wrote in a district-wide letter. “In order to attend to my health and to hopefully recover, I will disengage from all District activities beginning at that time.”

    His letter makes special mention of each component of the district that he helmed for nearly four years, including students, faculty, staff and administration. It is signed “au revoir.”

    Laguerre originally received a three-year contract with the district in July 2015. At the time he had recently resigned his post as superintendent-president of Solano Community College. This was not long after a grand jury report labelled the wording of a $348 million voter-approved bond measure “misleading.”

    Last year, Laguerre’s contract was renewed through 2020 with a salary of $360,000 annually plus medical benefits. The announcement sent out by the district includes mention of his early retirement, and indicates that the board intends to terminate Laguerre’s contract before its 2020 expiration.

    “According to the agreement, Laguerre will be paid through accrued vacation and sick time through the end of the fiscal year on July 1, and the college district agreed to pay his family’s medical benefits through March 1, 2021,” The East Bay Times reported on Feb. 26.

    The announcement also reportedly includes a clause prohibiting the chancellor from suing the district.

    The new acting chancellor is Dr. Frances L. White, a graduate of Merritt College. She has formerly been an acting president of both College of Alameda and Berkeley City College, as well as an assistant dean of communication at Laney College. She also served various roles at the district and in nearby community colleges over the course of her 32-year career in education.

    White arrives at the position with experience in administration from her time as executive vice-chancellor at City College of San Francisco. She has also done consultant work for the district and was involved in the nomination and hiring of Laguerre in 2015.

    “We very much appreciate the commitment and dedication of the Selection Committee and Dr. Fran White, our Search Consultant from Community College Search Services, in identifying qualified finalists,” said the announcement of Laguerre’s hiring on the PCCD website.

    More recently, White was hired by the district to help craft a five-year fiscal plan to report to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) in the latest effort to keep the school from being sanctioned or losing accreditation.

    The district has been working with Laguerre for several months to prepare for this transition, Board President Julina Bonilla said. Some saw the change as an unfortunate end to a leadership with many notable accomplishments.

    Recently re-elected Board member Linda Handy, who has served under four different chancellors in her 16 years as a board member, said that the chancellor’s exit is a loss to the district.

    “I think that Dr. Laguerre was one of the best chancellors we’ve had,” she said. “He was the first one that had been a chancellor before.”

    Under Laguerre, Handy saw improved involvement with the faculty and the staff, which she said had not been the case previously. She expressed regret that the preceding years had not been perceived more positively.

    “People want to write the narratives that they want,” she said. “The chancellor is ill, and he stayed with us through that whole bond process. We cannot get anything positive printed in any of the newspapers, and they make no mention of the just-under-a-billion dollars that he has brought to this district. This has been going on for some time and I’ll call it as I see it. It’s racist, and I’m sick of it. It is a disservice to the community and the students.”

    Some thought that concerns over the chancellor should not be put ahead of the tasks at hand.

    “We have to maintain our focus on student success and on righting the ship of Peralta,” said Siri Brown, vice-chancellor of academic affairs. “When you’re faced with many challenges, it forces important conversations and a close look at what’s working and what’s not. That can lead to major improvements.”

    Staying on a positive course is also the focus of Vice-Chancellor of Facilities Sadiq Ikharo.

    “The outgoing chancellor has been working towards what would be in the best interest of students,” he said. “This [new] chancellor needs to come with a focus on student success. Hopefully there will be cordiality, cooperation and coordination so that we can go to work as a coherent unit.”

    Like the district, the Peralta campus administrators are mostly working to address the request to complete reports for the ACCJC.

    “Any time that you have a leadership transition it’s going to make an impact, and this is the direct employee to the board,” said Laney President Tammeil Gilkerson. “Part of my goal is to keep Laney moving forward and concentrate on things that we know are good practice that we already know we need to do like working on our own accreditation. We’re going to start our own institutional self-study here very soon.”

    Some members of the faculty senate viewed the changing of the guard as a positive step for the district.

    “What took so long?” said Machine Technology Department Chair Louis Quindlen. “It’s about time. We have an opportunity to change the way we do things at the district, but unless we actually move toward a model of shared governance, then we [the faculty senates] will withdraw ourselves from the failed shared governance process.”

    Bureaucracy moves slowly, but some faculty see these developments as being a long time coming.

    “The failure is really at the district,” Quindlen said. “Somehow, there’s never enough time to do the right thing, but if it’s not a priority you’re never gonna get there.”

    On Feb. 12, the Laney Faculty Senate passed a vote of no confidence on Laguerre, and the Berkeley College Faculty Senate followed soon after. The DAS, comprised of the president, vice president and a delegate from each campus’s faculty-elected senate, was expected to vote on a similar resolution.

    The groups want to act in a way that more closely resembles the model of their adopted “10 + 1” shared governance model.

    “We are looking forward to Peralta without the current chancellor,” said Donald Moore, president of the District Academic Senate (DAS).

    “The language of the relationship that the district has with the faculty senate is that of ‘relied upon,’ which means that the board and the chancellor need to take faculty-recommended actions,” he explained. “It’s a collective voice, and it’s supposed to have an amount of gravitas.”

    The “White Paper for the Purposes of a Discussion of a Possible No Confidence Vote” released by the DAS in Oct. of 2018 gave members the option to initiate a vote of no confidence or a vote to censure, as well as the option to initiate no action against the chancellor and/or the board. Moore sees the lack of faculty consultation concerning the interim appointment to be troubling.

    “With a long-term interim of a year plus, particularly in this crucial time period that we’re in,” he said, “there should have been some sort of consultation with faculty, administration and the classified senate about what traits are important. We fault them for not having an input process, but hope they select whoever is better suited to help us in the next 16–18 months.”

    At the district level, Adil Ahmed, who has been the budget director of finance and administration for almost a year now, noticed a marked difference between the operations at Peralta in comparison to his experience in other colleges go about their hiring process and shared governance.

    “In the other colleges that I came from, I didn’t have any contract,” he said. “When you’re a director and you have a contract you say, ‘Am I gonna stay here after three years?’ You’re scared to say things because they may not renew your contract. I think that’s why we’re losing a lot of people — the turnover is huge.”

    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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