Squid Speaks

Game of Thrones…When Squid messes up and eats the wrong crab or shrimp, it’s usually because Squid was so hangry Squid forgot to check the label. Still, the consequence is relatively minor—a bout of indigestion or some other indignity. Squid would have thought that an established organization such as Hartnell College has a better process in place for making big choices—such as picking a new president/superintendent. Isn’t the purpose of appointing an 18-member search committee, hiring a fancy headhunting firm, and holding candidate forums to avoid a stomach ache later on?

Earlier this month, Hartnell announced that it had selected Patricia Hsieh as its next top executive, and it sounded like the school had poached a great administrator from San Diego Miramar College. But that impression did not last for long. 

The alarm bells were first set off by the president of Miramar’s Academic Senate, Marie McMahon. She read the news about Hsieh’s selection and decided to email the faculty leadership at Hartnell. 

“Effectively, Patricia Hsieh is being removed as our college present prior to the start of this Fall 2019 for long-standing serious problems at our college driven directly by her appalling management, dishonesty, retaliation, and for particularly poor relations with the [Academic Senate],” McMahon wrote. “There has been a total depletion of trust between her and most faculty, staff and student leaders at Miramar directly because of her shocking lack of integrity.”

Lisa Storm, Hartnell’s Academic Senate president, says she was “shocked” to learn of Hsieh’s reputation at the institution she has headed for the past 14 years. 

“We don’t want to backslide,” Storm tells Squid’s colleague. “We want a college leadership that understands participatory governance and values a good relationship with faculty.”

Storm thinks it must be pretty extreme for faculty from another campus to come forward with their grievances.

Meanwhile Miramar’s director of communications, Jack Beresford, says things are just fine: “Patricia Hsieh is the esteemed president of Miramar College,” he writes by email. “Her contract is in effect and runs through June 30, 2021.”

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Hartnell officials, meanwhile, told Squid's colleague: "We don't have a comment at this time."

Soon after, however, the president of the Hartnell Community College District Board of Trustees, Aurelio Salazar, did provide a comment and it seemed to suggest that Hsieh's appointment is not a sure deal: "The board is committed to making a sound, informed decision and will consider all public comment as we continue the work of appointing a new superintendent/president for Hartnell College."

Hsieh’s lack of popularity with her Academic Senate is not the candidate’s only challenge as she attempts to ink a deal at Hartnell. The Salinas chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens is also dissatisfied. Hartnell’s student body is nearly 60-percent Latino, LULAC noted in a press release, but Hsieh is not. Nevermind that she’s a woman of color and an immigrant, LULAC wanted Hartnell’s Board of Trustees to put more effort into finding candidates with an ethnic match. (Willard Lewallen, who successfully helmed Hartnell for seven-plus years before announcing his retirement, is also not Latino, but has been a respected leader.)

“The benefits of having a candidate of Latino heritage, and/or ties to our county, also include the fact that young Latino students can have someone to try to emulate; someone that shows them the possibilities available to them, regardless of race or economic background,” the press release said. 

On paper, Hsieh’s credentials look good, but the grievances are numerous and they are vocal. Squid’s not sure whether the search process missed the concerns entirely, or discovered them and ignored them. Either way, Squid expects a board meeting at 5pm tomorrow, July 23, at Steinbeck Hall, will be more than a simple contract-signing ceremonial process, as stakeholders bring their issues to light. The meeting space has already been moved from a smaller room to a bigger one. Squid thinks they’ll need the space.

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(1) comment

Joshua Converse

It's illegal to select (or not select) a candidate on the basis of race. The suggestion that Hartnell should appoint a Superintendent even partially because of racial makeup/ethnicity is contemptible. As for the caveat that a candidate have "ties to the area," I would argue that "ties" are irrelevant to either competence or wisdom. Superintendents aren't hired to be local heroes or role models for all the kids in the district. They are hired to administrate. Professional merit and personal integrity are the only relevant considerations. LULAC should retract their statement and instead say something along the lines of "May the best person for the job get the job, regardless of race, ethnicity, or any other immutable characteristic." That would advance the cause of anti-racism a lot more than their current position.

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