Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Clark College Faculty: 'No Confidence' in First Black Leader

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Clark College Faculty: 'No Confidence' in First Black Leader

Article excerpt

President of faculty union concerned about the role race may have played in vote.

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 12,500student 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. …

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