The last candidate in the running to replace Pasadena City College Superintendent-President Rajen Vurdien withdrew his name from the search last week.
Vurdien was scheduled to leave the college at the end of June, but late last week worked out a deal with the PCC Board of Trustees that will keep him at the college until the search for his replacement is completed, but no later than the end of June 2019.
The details of that contract have not been made available. The Pasadena Weekly has filed a state Public Records Act request for a copy of the document. Vurdien’s last contract guaranteed him $293,000 a year in salary.
But Vurdien’s rehiring hasn’t changed the minds of members of the Academic Senate. They apparently have no problem with Vurdien staying on another year. But when the time comes to select a replacement, they want at least three finalists, a revamped screening process and diversity consideration involved in the search, Academic Senate member Melissa Michelson told the Pasadena Weekly.
Last week, before Vurdien signed a new contract, the Academic Senate issued its concerns about the election process, threatening a walkout if things did not improve.
“We are concerned about the process that led to only one candidate being put forth without real campus input,” that letter states. “If the board chooses not to listen to these requests, the faculty will be forced to take action based on recommendations of the Academic Senate Board, including a vote of no confidence and a potential walk out. We sincerely hope that we will not be forced to take these steps.”
The other finalist, Byron Breland, pulled out of the race on April 25 after taking a job as interim chancellor of the San Jose Evergreen Community College District.
Cliff Davis, president of the Table Rock Campus at the Ozarks Technical Community College System (OTC) in Springfield, Missouri, withdrew from the running on May 2.
After Breland backed out, students and faculty began claiming that it was not fair that only one candidate was being put forth as a finalist and began questioning Davis’ qualifications.
PCC faculty members outnumber the student population at Table Rock where Davis currently serves. In addition, Davis currently oversees only one dean compared to the five deans the president oversees at PCC.
The Academic Senate also took issue with the diversity at the Table Rock campus. Roughly 84 percent of the student population there is white, 5 percent is Hispanic, 3 percent is African American, and Asian Americans make up just 1 percent of the school’s student population.
At Pasadena City College, more than half the students are Hispanic, 23 percent are Asian, just 7 percent of the PCC student population is white, and 4 percent are African American.
“While Dr. Davis may be serving his current district and student population admirably, the differences between OTC Table Rock and the Pasadena Area Community College District are striking. We are not confident that Dr. Davis is adequately prepared, either in terms of education or leadership experience to spearhead efforts to continue to improve student success or to serve as an effective CEO to an institution as large and complex as PCC,” the letter states.
After Davis backed out of the running, PCC Board President Dr. Anthony Fellow canceled Monday’s community forum where the candidate was to meet members of the campus community. Fellow did not mention the demands spelled out in the letter from the Academic Senate.
“This was very unfortunate, but it shows the quality of the finalists selected by the Board of Trustees. Each had exceptional records as professors, administrators, and evidence of scholarship with published research. In addition, they were very devoted to student success and were popular and innovative leaders on their current campuses,” Fellow said.
In 2017, PCC was named in the Top 10 by the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit aimed at gathering diverse groups to address some of the world’s most complex problems.
Two years ago, the same group ranked Pasadena City College 600 amidst infighting by staff and the administration in the wake of then-President Mark Rocha’s departure in January 2015.
Under Rocha, the college faced heavy criticism for a number of incidents which led to a no-confidence vote against him by the Faculty Senate and the Associated Student Body (ASB).
During Rocha’s reign, the college faced heavy criticism for a number of incidents. One was the decision to allow a professor to teach a class on Internet pornography and bring porn stars on campus to speak to students. The professor later admitted to having sex on campus with one of his students.
In another incident, the administration suspended a journalism professor who was advising college newspaper reporters, who were writing stories critical of Rocha and the cancellation of the school’s winter intersession classes.
The suspension, Rocha said, was brought on by a claim of sexual harassment filed by a male journalism student who was following widespread protests against the decision to cut the winter classes. The trustees denied the student’s claims, and Rocha denied that the decision to put the teacher on leave was retaliatory. The teacher has been reinstated to the college, but not to the journalism program.
Rocha and the board rankled students even more by eliminating the winter intersession classes without going through the shared governance process.
A judge later ruled that the college must reinstate winter intersession and pay back wages to teachers who would have taught those classes. Last month, the Board of Trustees once again voted against the winter intersession.
The internal crisis between PCC faculty and the administration eventually threatened the school’s accreditation. The school was ultimately removed from accreditation probation in 2017.
When Rocha left PCC, he received $403,826 in salary, unused vacation time and up to $16,000 for legal fees. His predecessor, Paulette Perfumo, received a $300,000 payout and kept a luxury Cadillac SUV that she bought with her car allowance.
Hours after Davis withdrew his name from consideration. Fellow called the results of the process “unfortunate” and announced the special meeting where the board negotiated with Vurdien in closed session.
“Each [finalist] had exceptional records as professors, administrators, and evidence of scholarship with published research,” Fellow said in a prepared statement. “In addition, they were very devoted to student success and were popular and innovative leaders on their current campuses.”