At the April 9 Lassen Community College board of trustees meeting, more than 70 locals had to wait outside so the board could hold its closed session of the meeting. The board's decision led to this outflow of attendees. Photo by Jake Hibbitts

College administration changes spark controversy

More than 70 people showed up in force at the Lassen Community College’s Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday, April 9. The en masse display filled the boardroom to capacity, leaving many standing, several with signs of protest, others doing so with their voices.

The decisions by the Lassen Community College Board of Trustees at the March 12 board meeting sparked most of the assemblage. During closed session at that meeting, the board unanimously decided not to renew the contracts of three college administrators — LCC Vice President of Academic Services Dr. Gregory South, Vice President of Academic Services Dave Clausen and Dean of Student Services Patrick Walton — and placed them on administrative leave for the duration of their contracts, ending June 30.

All seven trustees — Sophia Wages, Louis Hamilton, Kim Dieter, Shaun Giese, Thomas Holybee, Buck Parks and Tim Purdy — made the unanimous decisions. The board’s minutes report the action taken on each administrator, but they provide no information as to why the contracts were not renewed.

After the board’s decision, a Facebook page known as Stand Up for LCC appeared. Erin Clausen and Holly Walton, spouses of two of the three administrators whose contracts were not renewed, administer the page and organized and rallied many of the individuals who showed up at the meeting.

Shortly after the board’s March decision, those within the group encouraged members of the community to attend the April board of trustees meeting.

Out of the 70 or more people in attendance, more than 20 took the opportunity to speak during the public comment section of the meeting; some in support of those whose contracts were not renewed, some supporting the college’s leadership and others who spoke on behalf of college employees who were not present representing the greater culture at LCC.

Many family members, friends, some former students and colleagues spoke up for Walton and Clausen, two of the administrators whose contracts were not renewed.

Some specifically called for the reconsideration of the board’s non-renewal decisions, and others, like Shannon Miller and Bill Ellena, demanded to know why the administrators were “let go.”
One of those who spoke was Walton’s mother Cathie Walton.

During her time she alleged that Hall had recommended to the board the non-renewal of the contracts. Various others who took to the podium also shared the allegation made by Walton.

At one point Walton even attempted to distribute her son’s prior positive evaluations to the board members.

Halfway through her distribution, she was made aware that sharing the personnel files was something only her son would be authorized to do. She countered by saying that her son was not allowed to set foot on campus and could not distribute the materials himself.

Rustlings and the audience’s growing voices followed the dispute, and board president Wages brought the meeting back to order.

In addition to those opposed to the board’s decisions, there were discussions by many of the college’s employees surrounding the greater culture within the college.

The entire meeting, while remaining mostly civil, had its share of sharp words exchanged. Even after the meeting’s adjournment, a couple of individuals attempted to continue relaying their opinions to the board as well as to Dr. Marlon Hall, LCC president/ superintendent.

Besides those who spoke out against the board’s decision or in support of Hall, there was also a greater conversation regarding the culture and environment of those who both work and attend LCC.

In an official March 26 letter, emailed to the entire board and drafted by Cheryl Aschenbach, LCC’s academic senate representative, the faculty wrote that they felt it was time to reach out to express their concerns. Aschenbach mentioned the letter during the meeting.

The letter alleges the work environment at the college is both “stressful and hostile.”

Aschenbach told the newspaper the letter was drafted based on the concerns expressed by faculty members at a meeting, and then further shaped through feedback from multiple faculty members, yet admittedly, it wasn’t the entire faculty who provided input.

In the letter the faculty called the action to remove the three administrative employees “unprecedented within the California Community College system.”

The letter alleges the “only communication to us about actions taken and responsibilities being shifted came from the Lassen College Faculty Association leadership at the request of Human Resources,” saying the communication should have come from the president, and that they heard nothing from him until late at night the following Sunday, more than five day later.

The faculty letter also alleges the actions taken provide no clear path forward and are very problematic as well.

Aschenbach noted that she too shared the concerns expressed in the letter and wanted to emphasize the fact that the letter was a collaborative effort among faculty.

The letter was somehow obtained after it was written and distributed and commented upon local social media groups.

Upon those developments, Aschenbach followed up with the newspaper and said she had spoken to multiple faculty members who were concerned about some of the conclusions being made about their letter by the people on social media.

Aschenbach told the newspaper the college was not in danger of closing nor losing its accreditation and that, despite concerns, “the faculty, staff and management of Lassen College have every intention of doing all we can to ensure we remain accredited when we are reviewed next year.”

So despite what has been written on social media, Aschenbach said, “The issues and concerns we expressed are isolated within administrative and employee relations and should not be interpreted as more than that.”

At the April 9 meeting, Aschenbach shared in greater detail the position many in the faculty shared in regard to the administration of the college.

Aschenbach told the trustees, “To have someone stand beside their desk and say, ‘You will agree with what I just did,’ or to stand above them and say ‘I’m not a tyrant.’ How does that feel when you’re the one sitting in a more subordinate position to have them tower over you and demand something of you?

“My faculty had experienced it. They communicated that to me. (They) have fingers in their face when they say something. That’s not right. Not only is that unprofessional, it’s disrespectful and rude.”

Aschenbach also told the trustees she felt the letter from the faculty was discounted by the board.

Other employees of the college took the opportunity to share their experiences and opinions to the board.

Professor Carrie Camacho, shared her concerns with the trustees. “We are finding it more and more difficult to serve our students because there is instability in the office of instruction for the past seven years,” difficulties she said were due to “constant turn-over.”

Tara Bias, an administrative assistant at LCC and close friend of Walton’s, also shared her concerns and opinions, but she also shared that individuals have approached her with their concerns.

Bias most notably shared that when she encouraged those individuals to show up and express their concerns, they refused out of fear of the possible ramifications of retaliation.

Bias told the board, “It was completely out of fear … a fear I didn’t know existed.”

At the April 9 meeting, the board members took the time to respond to all of the public opinions.

Wages relayed her belief with regards to the faculty’s letter and the notion that the letter was discounted.

Wages told the group, “I did not dismiss that at all,” and that when receiving the faculty’s letter, because there was no one’s name signed to it, she hadn’t a clue who contributed to the letter.

Wages also told the group that she found herself saddened to hear that people were fearful to come forward because of the fear of losing their jobs.

“A complaint, to me, I have to be able to identify who that is. I heard about what’s going on, but I did not dismiss it,” said Wages.
Later, near the end of the meeting other board members shared their thanks and commended those, especially the students in the audience, for sharing their opinions.

Hall issued a statement about the state of the college when he arrived and where the college is now, published as a Where I Stand on page 11B in the opinion section of this week’s newspaper.