Transparency concern tarnishes replacement


Denis Perez / The Advocate

Dean of Students Dennis Franco began his new position on Jan. 18 after then dean of student services Vicki Ferguson accepted a similar position at Laney College.

By Robert Clinton, Opinion Editor

Near the end of the fall 2017 semester, it was announced that Dean of Student Services Vikki Ferguson would be leaving to accept the vacant position of vice president of student services at Laney College.

After working at Contra Costa College for over a decade, Ferguson established herself as a major contributor toward enhancing student services and programs.

Therefore, the person to fill her diminutive, yet significantly-salient shoes, would have to be an exceptional selection.

At the time of her departure, CCC President Mojdeh Mehdizadeh said in the Dec. 18 issue of The Advocate, “The college will post the position soon and we will be recruiting to fill the dean of student services opening. In the meanwhile, the Vice President Ken Sherwood and the dean of enrollment services will take on the responsibilities on a short-term basis.”

Their term was short-lived , as on Jan. 18 it was announced that Dean of Enrollment Services Denis Franco, would assume the newly labeled role of dean of students, formerly dean of student services.

“After dean Ferguson left, the vice president (Sherwood) asked me if I was interested in the position and I said ‘yes,’” Franco said. “Counseling is my home. When people ask me what I do for a living I instinctively say counselor. Student conduct seemed like a good growth opportunity and a chance to broaden my horizons.”

Although the decision to appoint Franco to the position of dean of students had near unanimous support, many in counseling and other departments voiced objections to the lack of transparency during the selection process.

According to Sherwood, late last semester he conducted an informal poll of a few counseling department employees to gauge interest toward Franco becoming dean of students.

“When the position became available, President Mehdizadeh and I planned to do a traditional search to replace Vikki. I was learning the process. It was the first time that I was going to hire a dean at this college and as we were doing that, we were approached by a faculty leader,” Sherwood said.

He said the “faculty leader” came to he and Mehdizadeh relaying a message from the counselors that they think Franco should be their dean because he used to be a counselor and the counseling department chairperson.

“We talked about it and it would certainly be an easier process for us and he was thinking about applying for the job anyway,” he said.

Sherwood did not disclose, for confidentiality reasons, who the “faculty leader” in question was.

Although the decision to select Franco for the position was not in question, the process that facilitated that decision was.

Many in the counseling department who were not part of the informal poll felt their opinions, however valid, were not taken into consideration.

Counseling faculty, including members of Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS), EOPS, general and transfer employees wrote an email to the president and vice president expressing concerns about the process.

In part, the email read, “During the week of Dec. 11, 2017, two counselors were informally ‘pulled aside’ by the VP during end-of-the-year celebrations to chat. However, the entire counseling department never was formally invited to a meeting/discussion about any an upcoming lateral management move.

“Many in the department were not privy to these informal chats and learned about the lateral move either one day before or after the email announcement was made public to the general campus body,” the counseling faculty email read. “We are not questioning the specific individual hire but rather the process, determining the assignment for the dean of students, as it sets a precedent in the wrong direction.”

The consortium knows faculty consultation was not needed for a lateral personnel move, however, after being contacted, the United Faculty also agreed that counseling faculty should have been consulted or provided an opportunity to give feedback or suggestions.

“A commitment to shared governance, equity in hiring practices as it relates to diversifying faculty and management positions at the college and trust in senior management and its communication toward a transparent and inclusive process were all jeopardized by this selection process,” the email read.

Attached to the email was the Contra Costa Community College District Equal Employment Opportunity Plan, 2016-2019. Highlighted were sections 12 (“Recruitment and Hiring Procedures to Ensure Equal Employment Opportunity”) and Section 15 (“Maintaining Institutional Commitment to Diversity”) which the group said speaks directly to their overarching concerns.

Franco and Sherwood both agree the move was made to condense two selection processes down to one.

Franco said if he went through the normal process for applying for the dean of students position, it would take more time to fill and leave him serving in both positions longer, with no help.

This way, the only selection and hiring process will be for the open dean of enrollment position.

“It sucks that it got to a point where there were some toes stepped on. Certainly, I don’t want there to be strife on my account,” Franco said. “I know people say it’s not about me, but it still feels like I’m the cause of something. It’s unfortunate. It’s the part I’m sad about.”

Sherwood said that he and Mehdizadeh have met with the counseling department and with folks from other divisions to apologize after finding out employees wanted a more formal selection process.

“We didn’t investigate far enough. Part of it was because no formal process is required in this situation. This kind of movement happens in colleges all over the state, all of the time,” Sherwood said.

“Because I’m new, I don’t know the internal culture enough to know that it was going to be so important to folks. The conflict is cultural and not moral or legal. They had a set of expectations that I just didn’t know existed.”