Patricia Hsieh

Hartnell College's next president will be Patricia Hsieh, who is is currently serving as the president of San Diego Miramar College.

For a moment, it seemed as if Hartnell College’s Board of Trustees might rescind its selection of Patricia Hsieh as the college’s next president. Board President Aurelio Salazar acknowledged the possibility in a statement he made on July 30.

The board could have earlier finalized her contract, but it “paused after receiving allegations about her suitability for Hartnell,” he said. 

The allegations came from Marie McMahon, head of the Academic Senate at San Diego Miramar College, where Hsieh (pronounced SHEE-ah) has served as president for more than 13 years. McMahon said in a last-minute email sent to Hartnell faculty on July 10 that Hsieh was about to be removed from her job because of her “appalling management” and “shocking lack of integrity.”

Around the same time, members of the Hartnell community and some civic leaders in Salinas began lobbying the Hartnell board to restart the selection process. They objected to the lack of Latino candidates among the finalists for the job and asked that the job requirements be revised to encourage more Latino representation. 

At its July 30 meeting, however, Hartnell’s governing board ultimately voted 6-1 to grant Hsieh a three-year contract. Student Trustee Samantha Saldana also voted to support Hsieh. District 5 Trustee Ray Montemayor cast the opposing vote. 

After announcing the decision, Salazar said “the time has come to set the record straight.” He explained that he wanted to “uphold the integrity of the college” and voice his confidence that Hsieh will make “an outstanding leader.”

Salazar called McMahon’s allegations “unfounded” and “unsubstantiated,” adding that Hsieh was vetted through conversations with students, faculty, staff and administrators at Miramar. Out of a desire to be “extra vigilant,” the board talked to four individuals, including two of McMahon’s predecessors, about the allegations against Hsieh.

Salazar also pushed back against the criticism that the selection process had not produced any Latino finalists. “It is a disservice to me and my fellow Board members—whether of Latino heritage or otherwise—to suggest that we would not actively consider and welcome highly qualified candidates who reflect the Latino majority population among our students and in our district,” he said. 

Then, Salazar implied that what some critics were asking for would be against the law.

“[C]learly it would be illegal—and just plain wrong—to limit our consideration to candidates of any particular race, ethnicity or gender.”

But it’s unclear who, if anyone, had called on the board to accept only Latino candidates. 

The president of the LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) Council 2055 in Salinas, Chris Barrera, says his group objected because the language of the criteria in the job description excluded some otherwise qualified Latino candidates. 

“This wasn't against [Hsieh],” he says. “This was not a race issue. It's about having more of a selection, more of a pool. The criteria narrowed the pool and some great possible candidates were not able to participate.”

Hsieh, an immigrant from Taiwan, will succeed Hartnell’s current president Willard Lewallen, who is set to retire on Sept. 30. She will become the second woman to lead Hartnell in its 100-year history. 

Constance Carroll, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, which includes Miramar College, praised Hsieh in a statement read by Salazar on July 30. 

“At a time when most community colleges in California have experienced decreasing enrollment, Patricia Hsieh has led Miramar College to becoming the fastest-growing community college in the state,” Carroll said. 

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Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers higher education, the military, the environment, public lands and the geographic areas of Seaside, Monterey, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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