Clark College Faculty: ‘No Confidence’ in First Black Leader - Higher Education
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Clark College Faculty: ‘No Confidence’ in First Black Leader

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by David Pluviose


Clark College Faculty: ‘No Confidence’ in First Black Leader
President of faculty union concerned about the
role race may have played in vote.
By David Pluviose

By an overwhelming margin, the Clark College faculty union has passed a no-confidence measure against the two-year school’s president, Dr. R. Wayne Branch. Of the 239 full- and part-time faculty votes, 229 went against Branch, citing his autocratic leadership style and the high turnover in key positions since his arrival in 2003. Branch
is the first Black president of the predominately White Vancouver, Wash., college, and his push for a more diverse, younger faculty has riled many old-guard professors.

“Was this just an issue of the White majority, who are feeling usurped by a minority leader that the college has never really dealt with before? This really made me question and debate whether or not we should go public with this,” says Miles V. Jackson, president of Clark’s faculty union.

Jackson says that immediately before the no-confidence vote, he asked faculty union members to make their decision based solely on their opinions of Branch’s leadership and governance issues, and not on his race. However, Jackson says he isn’t convinced his advice was widely accepted.

“We’ve got hundreds of faculty here at Clark. I cannot say for sure that everybody made a vote solely based upon the issues that we brought forward. … I have to say, there is a long-term history of institutional racism, and I really can’t say what effect race had on this decision,” Jackson says.

Barbara Kerr, Clark’s director of communications and marketing, says turnover problems have been exaggerated by some older faculty members, many of whom started working for the 12,500-student college in an era when working at one school until retirement was the norm.

Branch agrees, saying turnover is the natural result of a leadership change. A bruising conflict with faculty prompted the exit of Branch’s predecessor, Dr. Tana Hasart and Jackson says some current faculty hostilities are a holdover from that era.

Prior to Branch’s arrival, Clark had four presidents in seven years — including interims — three vice presidents of instruction and 11 deans, Branch says. The board of trustees gave Clark a mandate to strengthen ties between the college and the community, increase diversity and sooth faculty-administration relations. Branch says he has met every challenge.

“Change is tough for a lot of people. I get that,” he says. “The board wanted this institution on a path different than what it was on, and people have made decisions about how they want to live their lives. There is little connection, from my frame of reference, between people exiting the institution and anything I’ve done deliberately to cause people to leave the institution.”

Branch’s critics have accused him of abandoning the practice of shared governance. In response, he says he has received a satisfactory progress report from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, an accrediting body. The report, he says, notes the progress he has made towards strengthening shared governance on the campus. As an example of his progress, Branch points to his decision to remove himself as head of Clark’s college council, a policy-making body comprised of students, faculty and key administrators. But Jackson says Branch has an authoritarian leadership style that is demoralizing Clark’s faculty.

According to Branch, one of the problems is that some faculty members don’t have an understanding of the difference between shared governance and shared decision-making. Shared governance, he says, pertains to setting college policy collaboratively, while making executive decisions is the president’s responsibility.

“What classroom gets technological support sometimes depends upon how thick the walls are around the classrooms. It’s got nothing to do with policy, and that decision-making then gets informed not just by their point of view, but it gets informed by resources available, as well as some other constructs that influence that decision. And sometimes, we can’t educate everybody on all of the issues,” Branch says. “I’m absolutely a fan of shared policy governance; it’s different than shared decision-making and we have to do a better job helping people to understand the difference between the two.”

Jamie P. Merisotis, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, says recent governance-related battles are indicative of a broader power struggle.

“An increasing percentage of faculty are feeling disempowered because of the rise in part-time and adjunct faculty, which make the full-time faculty or people who are tenured increasingly concerned about their role in that process,” Merisotis says.

Reader comments on this story:

There are currently 11 reader comments on this story:

“nothing to do with race”
The truth is, this President’s difficulty with faculty has nothing to do with race at all. It is very clear that your reporting is biased because the two sources you quote extensively are Wayne and Barbara. It is their job to defend Wayne’s position particularly since the local press is researching facts and not being led around by the nose.

     I am a person of color and I am appalled that your paper would allow itself to be used as a marketing tool for a president who clearly cares nothing about our community.

     If you examine the facts you will uncolver that many of the front line staff and mostly administrators who left or resigned under pressure were people of color. This cat has whites and non whites rethinking about staying with the institution. Also replacing “other” ethic groups with solely African-American hires does not in the least bit help erradicate institutional racism nor historical injustice. Wayne is playing the race card because it is an effective hand to play especially when your behind is under examamination. It makes white folks very nervous but it is unfair to those of us who made significant strides on behalf of those who have been marginalized the good old fashioned way–solid work, developing relationship and exemplifying who we are as a people through our work and integrity. The President has a very effective communications team and your article is but one example of how “the real dirt” –the truth gets swept under the rug. You don;t live in our community so you don’t have to worry about how one man’s quest to “establish himself” through intimidation and self-promotion will affect an institution and perhaps damage it to the point of no return.
-Educator for Truth

“Pay-for-silence agreements”
The below article in the local newspaper describes the leaving of 6 employees. The agreements include “nondisparagement” clauses and a requirement that the employee not file suit or charges against the college related to his or her employment there. The deals total $134,853 in com-pensation, plus several thousand more in payments to retirement accounts, medical insurance and for unused sick and vacation leave. By comparison, Joe Johnson, who was president of Clark for 15 years and is now at Clackamas Community College, said he never did a single pay-for-silence agreement at Clark. One person was not one of the ‘old guard’ whites, but a recently hired hispanic who  “absolutely” had expected to stay longer at Clark. See the details:

http://www.columbian.com/opinion/news/06232006news38116.cfm

-Educator who doesn’t want to be forced out

“This is ridiculous”
When 229 of 239 people vote for an obvious no-confidence candidate such as Dr. Branch, how is race a deciding factor? This article erodes the credibility of real and true discrimination cases.
-Not holding any race cards

“Racism is color blind”
Playing the race card is pretty effective these days especially at Clark.  Unfortunately, when the raciest is a black man and in particular a black president of a college,  little can be done by the white majority that isn’t instantly discredited as a group of whites being raciest.  The truth is Branch uses his position to intimidate people to his will and he uses his race to silence criticism.  The issues facing Clark College aren’t rooted in racial discrimination, they are substancial problems faced by most growing communities.  They include such mundane things as class size, curriculum development, working conditions, space, parking, etc.  President Branch is using Clark as a vehicle to further his ambitions and build  his resume.  He cares little about the predominately white campus community.  The longer Clark suffers under his leadership, the further the college will go into debt and continue to lose great people of all colors.

-Clark Admin Employee

“Our sad story, version 6.0”

If I were a “Diversity Candidate,” I would be appalled at the picture painted of me and my kind by Dr. Branch’s Diversity Hiring Consultants. Did you know that in order to hire a Diversity Candidate to teach at this community college, the search committees must overlook little things like typos, grammatical errors, and a total lack of experience teaching in the field? Truly! Dr. Branch told an audience at a faculty forum that in prospective hires, he was looking for the lonely ones, “the ones at home right now, watching TV and thinking ‘Oh, I could never be hired because I lack experience and I’ll never have a chance.'” My advice to Young Diversity Candidates is to beg this man not to do you any more favors. The sad fact is that Clark College is suffering because we need new, up-to-date classrooms; we need teachers who can reach a student body with a median age of 34 and the reading/writing skills of seventh graders; we need programs and money for adult students juggling the demands of minimum wage work and family life. Oh, yeah, and this time next fall we will be visited by representatives of the Board of Accreditation to see how far we have come with our plans for Outcomes and Assessments. None of Dr. Branch’s initiatives in the first three years of his tenure here as president have affected our clear and present needs. For this I blame the Clark College Board of Trustees, who have no appreciation for the college, its mission, its needs, its requirements and little understanding of the demands of an open-admissions community college in Southwest Washington. Just so you know, I have no confidence in the Board of Trustees, either, and they are all White.
-over the Hill but not under it

“not a race issue”
The one good thing Dr. Branch has done for this campus is push for diversity. Our college should be a leader in this area for our county. But some of these same people he brought to campus were ousted or left because of his leadership. There is more than just diversity at stake here. Our students deserve a school that is working towards their goals, not lip service to “Student Centeredness” so that one’s own resume can get fatter. If you want to interview more than just two people and really see what is going on here, then come on over or ask to see the various “campus climate” polls that were done recently. Please don’t negate all the hard work of the other people of color here on campus by calling it a “race” issue. It is not.

-anonymous

“seeing the connection”
Just because Dr. Branch doesn’t see any connection between his behavior and dozens of staff/administrators/ faculty “retiring” early or taking payoffs to leave without squawking… doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, and isn’t also significantly hurting Clark College, by their leaving. Note to Dr. Branch: these people aren’t leaving because they WANTED TO!  They are leaving because YOUR behavior became intolerable to them!!!!  Get it????  (I don’t hold out any hope that he’ll ever GET IT… he’s clearly a narcissistic personality who cannot allow himself to accept responsibility for any “bad” behavior.. not going to happen).

     Clark College will be ever so much better WHEN he leaves.  We will all be able to heave a huge sigh of relief when his autocratic, bullying and negativistic presence no longer weighs us all down.

    I for one cannot wait for us to usher in some new REAL leadership in the president’s position.  Keeping my fingers crossed that our Board of Trustees sees the light, and not thru the clouded glasses that he provides them.  Wake up!
-A tenured faculty member who is fed up

“Wayne is not a champion of diversity”
Branch is not championing diversity he is hiring mostly African-American and “other” candidates he can emotionally and politically control. He would be hard pressed to ever hire a black man or woman for that matter who would seriously challenge his ethics and tactics. The real issue is not race. This is all a decoy. People need to wake up and examine how this clever and very powerful man manipulates policy and engineers program implementation without oversight. Aside from a superficial audit has anyone ever completed an in-depth examination of the President’s office budget? I suggest you talk to front line workers in financial administration and ask them how many times they were told to push things through just because the President said so.

Wayne Branch can choose to be racially selective if he wants to, this has happened historically in collegiate institutions for centuries. He is just exercising what the system educated him to do. I think is it amazing how he handles public funds without any serious scrutiny from the board or the taxpayers. There is a huge fire burning and y’all are looking at a few sparks clear out in left field.

-JH

“humiliated to teach at Clark”
It is clear that Clark College needed to change. It was clear before Dr. Branch’s arrival.

     Clark was becoming irrelevant to the community. Faculty taught classes when they wanted, not when students wanted to take them. Distance learning was limited to a few telecourses. Classes in the evening taught by tenured faculty were rare. Classes on the weekend were almost non-existent. The faculty had avoided any organized requirements for assessment that didn’t involve hefty stipends. There was no program review. The college offered programs because there was faculty to teach them rather than what the students wanted. It was a great place to work, but not such a great place to be a student. Under the leadership of Dr. Branch I believe that this is a better place for students. There is still a lot of work to be done, but at least the college has begun focus student and community needs.

     Previously there had been a lack of strong leadership and faculty took advantage. I have struggled working with fellow faculty on this campus. I have witnessed a faculty member tell a groundskeeper that isn’t it nice that he works in a place that someone like a groundskeeper can have lunch with a person like himself. I was humiliated not for the groundskeeper, but for the faculty member. I have witnessed classified staff being verbally abused by faculty. It is common knowledge that faculty have discussed their grievances with Dr. Branch in their classes. Students have told me that their instructor had complained that Dr. Branch was behind the new parking meters and damn him. (This actually came from a recommendation from a campus wide committee that included faculty.) This has saddened me. Hostile and inappropriate behavior has been perpetrated and tolerated under the guise of academic freedom. As a dissenter among the ranks of faculty I have fought for students but kept silent for fear of retaliation from other faculty. Tenure has been used to shield faculty from any consequences of billigerent and destructive behavior.

     I am humiliated by the action of the faculty of this institution. Not that there was conflict, but how the conflict was aired in a public manner that was damaging to the institution and consequentially to the students.

     I believe that any President that had a strong vision for the institution – a vision to make the college more relevant to the community – would have suffered the same fate. I don’t believe the issue is about race, though I have been shocked by the amount of racism that is prevalent on campus. When staff report being called to their face by a faculty member, ”one of all of those black people that the President is hiring,” it is clear that hostility exists.

     I am hoping that whatever happens that the college will continue to look outside of itself and reach into community to better serve students. Anyone can and probably will vilify my opinion and belittle me professionally. It is what can be expected from my colleagues.
-anonymous

“Branch out for a better future”
I find it interesting that the only voices defending Dr. Branch seem to be those, like this publication, that have never actually had to work with him.

     I have had the misfortune of working under Dr. Branch. I also worked with his two predecessors. Unlike the two previous presidents of Clark, Dr. Branch never even once acknowledged my existence when we would pass in the hall.  From all that I have seen this is typical of his management style. He has added layers of unqualified management between himself and staff and refused to let any concerns filter up.

     His refusal to participate in Labor Management Communication Committee meetings further speaks to this point. His refusal comes despite, as the union puts it, having “…actively implored him on several occasions to attend.”

     While he has been spending Clark’s limited advertising funds promoting himself in the executive life style magazine Washington CEO and flying to the east coast every other week, the college’s enrollment has dropped.

     When questioned he responds with “I’d explain it to you, but you’re not smart enough to understand”.

    Barbara Kerr can spin this issue all she wants in publications like yours, but what she is asking strains credulity. That is: that you are to believe that there are only eight non-racists among Clark College’s faculty.  That’s right, only eight people voted in favor of Dr. Branch, and I for one suspect that they accidentally marked the wrong box.
-worked under him

“a dynamic and visionary leader”
I for one will regret losing a dynamic and visionary leader. When Dr. Branch first came to interview for the presidency of Clark College I was dazzled by his vision for the institution. Regrettably I have lost faith in not the vision but his ability to implement it. To coin a statement made by a college “What seem to be happening is the development of two Clark College, the one gets stuff done and the other griped by internal turmoil. I sorely whant to see the two halfs come together for the community and the students. 

     I tonally reject the racial implication suggested by some, that’s pain faults.

     I also do not hold Dr. Branch to blame, I think that some of the blame should be bore by all, including those of us to fearful to stand-up to the fallout of the implementation affect of the next-step doctrine.

     I for one, I can no longer sit by on the sidelines and find fault with what is clearly also my responsibility. I too am responsible, as a resident of this community I should have taken Dr. Branch aside and had a frank and honest dialog with him, likewise his friends and supporters should have, when the signs were clearly there that something was amiss. The Board of trustees also needs to step up and own their part in this; they set the train in motion and set the schedule, allowing the scheduled stops to be by-passed in achieving the schedule.

     As a result of how I view this scenario I have asked the Governor of Washington Christine Gregoire to appoint me to the Board of Trustees upon the next avalaible vacancy.  Responses can be sent to gene5504@aol.com
-Eugene Carroll

  Is a New Civil Rights Movement Emerging?



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