SAN MARCOS — The Palomar College Faculty Senate voted nearly unanimously, with only one member abstaining, for a resolution in support of removing college President Joi Lin Blake at its Nov. 4 meeting.
The resolution voted on at the meeting calls for the Palomar College Governing Board to “thoughtfully but expeditiously remove the Superintendent/President and immediately seek an interim replacement.” The Faculty Senate will next present the resolution to the Governing Board at its Nov. 12 meeting.
The vote came less than two weeks after a poll of Faculty Senate members showed that 91.56% of those 237 members surveyed gave Blake a “vote of no confidence.” The resolution was crafted as a direct response to that survey, according to the Palomar Files Blog, a website maintained by several faculty labor union activist contributors.
At the meeting, Faculty Senate members performed a close read and edit of the resolution’s 31 “Whereas” clauses and its final “Be it resolved” takeaway paragraph. The Faculty Senate eventually struck out some of the clauses and edited others, with each clause serving as an outline of a grievance about Blake held by the Faculty Senate.
In particular, the resolution raises concerns about college budgetary matters, shared governance protocols, faculty hiring methodology and the firing of numerous administrators who had worked alongside Blake.
On fiscal matters, the resolution points to the concurrent opening of Palomar College satellite campuses in both Rancho Bernardo and Escondido, which the Faculty Senate said happened even as enrollment did not rise on the flagship campus. In turn, according to the resolution, this has “damaged the fiscal stability” of a college now facing an $11.7 million deficit and under investigation by the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team California state agency.
“Whereas, the decision of opening the two centers simultaneously — instead of staggering their openings over a number of years (which was originally the plan) to ensure the fiscal stability of one before opening the other — has led to these centers’ operational costs far outstripping the revenue they’re generating,” reads that clause.
On the shared governance issue, the resolution takes Blake to task for what it describes as leaving faculty out of the decision-making process for creating “middle college” partnerships with both the Poway Unified School District and the Escondido Union High School District. Blake has pointed to “middle college,” a program which exists in 50 school districts nationwide, as a potential way to steer disadvantaged youth into higher education and also as a way to bring revenue into the college’s coffers.
The Faculty Senate resolution also states that, when “middle college” first came up for discussion during a February Palomar College Instructional Planning Council meeting, those present had raised concerns “regarding Ed Code, age of students, social aspects, parental involvement,” among other issues.
But the resolution goes on to explain that, after airing those initial concerns, it did not hear about the initiative again until reading an Aug. 21 column published in The San Diego Union-Tribune written by Blake declaring the college’s “intention to open our middle college to students in fall 2020.”
The resolution then slammed the action by Blake as a “rush to implement a significant initiative without the proper vetting and approval through shared governance.”
Palomar College faculty members Barbara Kelber and Jerry “Rafiki” Jenkins — professors of literature and multicultural studies, respectively — helped to draft the initial “vote of no confidence” petition language. They told Palomar College student newspaper The Telescope that they did so with “sadness and anxiety.”
Blake did not respond to a request for comment by press time. But in response to the “vote of no confidence,” she sent out an email to campus faculty on Oct. 25.
“I recognize that we live in a nation where freedom of expression is guaranteed to us through the U.S. Constitution,” wrote Blake. “I believe the recent activities on our campus reflect this fact. I also know that the fiscal health of our College is a primary concern. A concern, that together, as a community we must address.”
Governing Board member Nancy Ann Hensch also had favorable words for Blake in that campus email.
“(T)he changes led by Dr. Blake in the last 3.5 years have been necessary and communicated to all constituencies throughout the required processes,” Hensch wrote in the statement. “We must support our leader and her team to resolve our current concerns and establish priorities that will contribute to the longevity of our College.”
The entire official statement reads as follows:
“I recognize that we live in a nation where freedom of expression is guaranteed to us through the U.S. Constitution. I believe the recent activities on our campus reflect this fact. I also know that the fiscal health of our College is a primary concern.
Upon appointing me to the position of Superintendent/President of the Palomar Community College District in June 2016, the Board of Trustees established explicit goals for me. Specifically, my mandate was to improve the fiscal health of the College, increase enrollment, address diversity among faculty, and work with the Palomar College Foundation to improve fundraising efforts.
To maintain our high level of public trust and promises to the students we serve, our governance structures and financial priorities must evolve. Over the past three-plus years, we have taken a forensic look at long-standing obstacles that have prevented the College from attaining fiscal stability. Doing so has caused anxiety and fear among faculty and staff, which is understandable in the type of situation. We have had to examine the cost associated in providing full health benefits to all employees and their families. We have examined our course scheduling and faculty assignments to be certain that we are efficiently using our human and fiscal resources. These evaluative exercises are not complete, nor have any decisions been made and there is much work left to do in order to improve the fiscal stability of the College. I am committed to generating long-term financial stability for the College. We must do so in order to effectively serve our current and future students within this region.
In discussing the current state of College and the climate we operate within, Governing Board President, Nancy Ann Hensch stated, “the changes led by Dr. Blake in the last 3.5 years have been necessary and communicated to all constituencies throughout the required process. The College and its leadership can no longer remain stagnant in addressing its fiscal health. Otherwise, the College will not be able to perform its mission and its values will be meaningless. Our focus is our students and will always be about our students. We must support our leader and her team to resolve our current concerns and establish priorities that will contribute to the longevity of our College”. ”
Editors Note: This story has been an updated to include comments from President Joi Lin Blake, as well as comments from Governing Board member Nancy Ann Hensch.
Editors Note: This story has been updated to include the entire official statement from Palomar College President Joi Lin Blake.
Steve Horn is a San Diego, CA-based reporter covering Escondido and San Marcos. He works in a full-time capacity for The Real News Network, an online broadcast news outlet, covering climate change. He has worked as a staff investigative reporter for the publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News and as an investigative reporter for the climate news website DeSmog.com. Contact Steve at email@example.com.