Clark College is a valuable community resource that provides a variety of education opportunities. As a 24-year faculty member, I care deeply about its mission and students.
Two highly publicized events recently occurred at the college. First, the trustees concluded that the former president committed actions that were sexually and racially discriminatory. Second, the faculty went on strike after 15 months of failed contract negotiations. However, community members may not know about other important issues such as the results of the delayed campus climate survey, long-standing disagreements about institutional priorities and resource allocations, an increasing number of administrators, and unresolved differences regarding a stated policy of shared governance.
In my opinion, past and current trustees are largely responsible for the existence of these issues and for not successfully resolving them in a timely, collaborative, and productive manner.
Currently, the trustees at all 30 of the state community and technical colleges are appointed by the governor. The college presidents (the trustees’ appointees) and his/her administrative hires are responsible for implementing and administering the trustees’ policies. However, the board is still ultimately responsible for actions taken in its name.
A 2019 article “Colleges and Universities: Do You Have a Governance Crisis” states that “Higher ed finds itself at a crossroads when it comes to many things, but especially board governance.” The author states that many boards are “overwhelmingly comprised of political appointees and lack members with high education experience or any experience other than making donations to political campaigns.” I spoke informally with a local legislator who confirmed that political party affiliation is an important factor for appointments made in Washington State.
Considering the immense authority and complex responsibilities of the Clark College trustees, and the large college budget ($123.4 million in 2019-2020), I believe that community members should have a direct voice in selecting trustees via elections. This process is currently used to select members of local school boards and at least 11 states currently use this method for selecting college trustees.
Candidates would have to publicly explain and defend their qualifications, positions on issues, and vision for the college which doesn’t happen in the current selection process. Improved communication with constituents would also be necessary during a term of service, especially if a trustee sought reelection. I suspect that local reporters and community members would appreciate a more direct way to obtain information and answers to questions, instead of relying on public record requests.
I have no doubts that the current and former Clark College Trustees are educated, professionally experienced, and committed to the community. However, I believe the more pertinent question is “Are they the most qualified and suitable individuals to guide the college and oversee its operations?” I believe that electing trustees will result in more effective leadership, greater accountability to the community, and a better future for the college’s students and employees. If you agree, I encourage you to contact your state legislative representatives and voice your support for such a proposal.