Colleges’ faculty members concerned about diversity at Los Angeles universities
Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 7/18/2018, 10:22 a.m.
Some faculty members at the community colleges in the Los Angeles are concerned about the lack of Black leaders on the district board and as collegiate presidents, reports InsiderHigherEd.com. The latest appointment of a Latino man over three Black female candidates to the Los Angeles Community College District's Board of Trustees has some faculty members questioning whether Black leaders are being denied top positions in the district. In fact, protesters attended the board's meeting last week to air their concerns over the fact that the governing body has no Black trustees. According to Ashley A. Smith, the protesters also criticized the lack of Black leadership across the district's nine two-year colleges. Sandra Lee, a psychology professor at Los Angeles Southwest College, who also interviewed candidates for the board as part of the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild, said the protesters didn't just decry the failure of the board to support Black representation, but also the selection process that led to a non-Black president being appointed at Southwest College last Wednesday (July 11). “Not only did Southwest not get a Black president, but we have no Black presidents at any of the nine colleges,” she said. “That hurts Black faculty, it hurts the district and I don't think anyone is enhanced by that lack of representation.” The board ultimately chose David Vela, who formerly served on the Montebello Unified School District board in East Los Angeles, to serve as a trustee. The board and Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez also confirmed Seher Awan as president of Southwest College and named Melinda Nish interim deputy chancellor. Neither is African-American. Awan has more than 12 years of community college experience and was most recently the vice president of administrative services at San Diego City College. Nish was most recently the interim associate superintendent and vice president of academic affairs at Allan Hancock College, a two-year institution in northern Santa Barbara County. In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Rodriguez said he was aware of the criticism from some professors about the lack of Black representation on the board and among the nine presidents. “As chancellor, increasing diversity is always on my agenda,” he said. “It is a clear and compelling need. The district has a long history of workforce diversity, but there is always room for improvement." Across the Los Angeles district's nearly 148,000 students, about 10 percent identify as African-American, nearly 59 percent are Hispanic, 14 percent are white and 7.5 percent are Asian, according to state data. Among the district's nearly 1,500 full-time faculty members, about 10 percent are African-American, 18 percent are Hispanic and 40 percent are white. The district has 134 administrators, of which 9 percent are Black, 31 percent are Hispanic and 18 percent are white. Vela, who is also the board's first openly gay trustee, is replacing an African-American woman who was elected to the State Assembly. Now the board has four Latino men, one white woman, one white man and one Asian man. Vela did not respond to requests for comment. “Diversity can mean a lot of things in a lot of different places to a lot of different people, but in Los Angeles, I can tell you when you look at that board and don't see a Black face, that is not diversity,” Lee said. Ayesha Randall, a professor at Los Angeles Trade Technical College and an officer in the district's Black Faculty and Staff Association, said the organization's leaders aren't calling for Vela to step down, but they want clearer policy on diversity and representation on the board and in leadership positions to be outlined. Board members are typically elected. Vela will hold the seat through 2020. Randall noted the low rates of academic success among students of color who attend the colleges and are at risk of failing and dropping out: “For them to not see an administrator that looks like them could affect their morale and attitude, and we feel it's important for them to see folks who look like them.”