Story by Danny Rivera/Viking/News editor/@dannyriveralbcc
Four speakers addressed LBCC’s Board of Trustees Wednesday evening, March 22, over their concerns about presidential candidate Melinda Nish while the two other speakers urged the Board to make the right decision.
The Board moved into a closed session just before 6 p.m. after President Ginny Baxter announced that trustees would not make a decision that night.
Full-time teachers’ union president Janet Hund told the Board, “Our objections are based on publicly available facts. And it’s this easily accessible information and the impact of her past actions that should cause concern for this board.”
Nish could not be reached for comment.
In an interview after the brief meeting, support staff union President Thomas Hamilton said, “The classified employees found Melinda Nish’s (Feb. 27) description of our group as ‘the help’ as degrading to the union that she did not take the time to learn the names of our organizations.”
Tod Burnett, Otto Lee, Marvin Martinez, Nish, Reagan Romali are the five candidates being considered and discussed.
Currently, unions are opposed at the potential hiring of Nish, former president of Southwestern College in Chula Vista, who resigned in June 2016 amid scandals regarding racial tensions, campus police and the college’s possible loss of state accreditation.
Regarding the union’s decision to oppose her potential hiring, Hund said Tuesday, March 21, Nish has “a pretty checkered past. We want to remind the Board they’re entrusted by the public to make a good decision for a leader on this campus.”
Area 2 Trustee Vivian Malauulu agrees with the stance of the union, citing her time as a journalism teacher as reason to express concern about Nish’s candidacy.
Malauulu said, “I cannot ignore the concerns, especially since they are so publicly documented and easily accessible.”
Baxter has received “a lot of emails” from concerned employees and residents, but in her interactions with Nish, she sees “a very intelligent woman who appears to be a nice person.
“The Board will make a conscientious decision after a lot of soul searching,” Baxter said.
Some have lingering questions as to how Nish made it into the final pool of five candidates. Student Trustee Alejandro Lomeli, who served on a 22-person screening committee, said he would have given the selection a second thought had he known about Nish’s past.
Citing “confidentiality reasons” as to why he cannot discuss conversations during the committee meetings, Lomeli said, “The first I heard about those specific things in her past were after the announcement of the finalists.”
When asked about the situation, Area 4 Trustee Douglas Otto confirmed background checks were not conducted until the five finalists had been selected by the hiring committee.
“Conducting background checks on (32) candidates would be too expensive,” Otto said.
Otto also said he believes the fervor against Nish is “clearly an effort by some group” to persuade the Board into disqualifying her from contention, citing that many of the emails he received “had much of the same language.”
With regard to the efforts, Otto paraphrased philosopher Herbert Spencer by saying “contempt without investigation is the height of ignorance.”
While the employees’ unions are adamantly opposed to Nish’s potential hiring, at least one educator believes that the coverage of Nish’s past has been unfair, and not indicative of her character.
Kat Carroll, professor of Communication Studies at Orange Coast College and wife of former LBCC Vice President Richard Carroll, said she believes Nish is a perfect candidate for the president position, having “worked with her in different capacities” during Nish’s tenure as vice president of instruction from 2001 to 2011.
“She really brought the chairs of different boards together,” Carroll said. “We would have 20, 30 of us in a room, all with our own desires and our own wants.
If there was something controversial on the table, a decision a committee had to make, she would let everybody talk, let everybody have a voice, and then she would go in a collaborative mode.”
Carroll believes in Nish’s abilities so much, she has made phone calls to three Trustees to discuss her experiences working with the former VPI.
She said she spoke directly with Trustees Malauulu and Baxter, and left a voicemail with Area 3 Trustee Sunny Zia about the matter. Carroll did not reach out to Trustee Otto and Area 1 Trustee Jeff Kellogg because “I still have a lot of friends and colleagues at (LBCC) and I had heard that two trustees were in opposition to Dr. Nish and out of a courtesy I reached out to Dr. Baxter to let her know I had done that.”
“The people who complained about her are a very vocal minority at Orange Coast College, but a strong majority think very highly of her,” Carroll said.
Without citing specific people at Orange Coast College who expressed support of Nish, Carroll mentioned her reasoning for Nish’s reputation among former teachers.
“She has a very adult style,” Carroll said. “She’s assertive, she’s direct, she’s honest, she’s transparent and some people can’t handle that from a woman.”
While the Board has no official timeframe for the president position to be filled, speculation has been abundant around campus when a decision will be made. Should the trustees choose Nish over the other four candidates, Hund remains optimistic about the union’s efforts to make their voices heard.
“Well, they are elected Board members,” she said.
Trustees Zia and Kellogg did not respond to requests for comment.