On Tuesday, October 22nd, the Palomar College Faculty Senate Elections Committee—under the observation of a neutral third party—counted the ballots in the Vote of Confidence/No Confidence in the leadership of college Superintendent/President Joi Blake. The results were decisive. With 75% turnout, the result was 92% “NO CONFIDENCE.”
The Faculty Senate will now discuss and craft a resolution regarding these results at its 10/28 and 11/4 meetings. Ideally, this yet-to-be-determined resolution will be presented to the Governing Board at their meeting on Tuesday, 11/12.
A narrative has been circulating that the “chatter” about President Blake’s failed leadership has been the product and feelings of a vocal minority, and the voting results should dispel that claim. Given the turnout and outcome, anyone who continues to be persuaded by the “small group of malcontents” argument clearly wants to be persuaded by it—and, by extension, does not want to do anything about it (even if it is their responsibility to do so).
Here, I’m speaking mainly about the (in)action of the three remaining Governing Board members who hired Dr. Blake—Mark Evilsizer, John Halcon, and Nancy Ann Hensch (these last two, not incidentally, are up for reelection next November). Both during and outside of Governing Board meetings, many, many faculty and staff have reached out to these three with their concerns only to be rebuffed or, more commonly, completely ignored. Evilsizer, Halcon, and Hensch have metaphorically wedged their heads firmly in the sand, demonstrating zero interest in hearing from anyone but Dr. Blake about the state of the college. Will the vote results move them from their seemingly intractable position? We shall see.
Another false narrative that has been circulated has to do with the idea of “change.” Former Governing Board member Paul McNamara once proudly declared in an open meeting that they hired Dr. Blake because she was a “change agent” and they wanted to “shake things up” at the college (how someone who spent a scant few hours per month on campus can claim to know what the college needs is a question for another day). Dr. Blake has embraced this identity; in fact, she often refers to herself as a “disruptor.” The narrative that has emerged from all this is that the campus community is afraid of change.
This is, of course, a ridiculous notion on its face, and one that has been used repeatedly to deflect any honest assessment of the President’s decision making. In my two-plus decades at Palomar, we have undergone, initiated, and adapted to scores of changes both inside and outside of the classroom, and to claim that members of our campus community fear change is disingenuous. Thinking adults know that “change” is an abstract concept that is neither good nor bad; it is neutral and dependent on context. Palomar faculty, staff, and administrators who are invested in the well-being of our students and the institution welcome positive change that is well-planned, thoroughly discussed, carefully revised, and responsibly implemented. Sadly, this is not the kind of change that Dr. Blake has brought about; she herself was clear about this when she said, at one of the fall plenaries, that we were going to “try everything.”
Unfortunately for Palomar, “trying everything” is not really a plan, and it certainly does not constitute a healthy “vision.” In reality, this mandate is a lack of vision because it announces that critical thinking and careful analysis need not be done because we’re going to try to do it all.
Palomar is now experiencing the deep problems that arise when a college president decides to rush headlong into any and all initiatives in the “try everything” approach and a majority of Governing Board members enable her to do so. These problems—which have been detailed throughout this blog and which formed the basis for the Vote of No Confidence—include the lack of transparency, the erosion of shared governance, the loss of numerous diverse and qualified administrators, the exhaustion of both financial and human resources, reckless spending that has put the college in financial straits, and myriad distractions that prevent us from fully focusing on what brought us here in the first place: to teach and inspire our students.
I was going to end here, but I feel it necessary to point out another group who, like the three aforementioned members of the Governing Board, has largely abdicated their important responsibility of oversight: members of the local press. It is long past time for them to take note of what is going at Palomar College. With the exceptions of Steve Horn (Coast News, Medium), Megan Wood (Voice of San Diego and inewsource), and the student journalists at Palomar's own Telescope, the local media has largely failed to inform its readership—students, parents, voters, taxpayers—about the situation of this important community resource (and recipient of large sums of taxpayer money). Numerous documents supporting allegations of fiscal irresponsibility and questionable leadership have been presented and discussed on this blog, but—again, with few exceptions—they have been ignored.
As bodies charged with the duty to inform citizens of matters important to them and their community, the local press has a responsibility to report on these matters. Hopefully, they will answer this charge.