Former vice president reassigned to District Office

Transfer prompts search

By Michael Santone, Editor-in-Chief

Following a semester mired in questions of transparency, the importance of shared governance and a flawed leadership model tasked with guiding an ailing campus into the future, Contra Costa College Vice President Ken Sherwood was re-assigned to a position in the Contra Costa Community College District Office in July.
The district has already posted job announcements for the vacated VP position and college officials hope to fill it by the end of the fall semester.
“We’re recruiting for vice president of student services and hope that person can start Dec. 1 or sooner,” CCC President Katrina VanderWoude said. “We’re just trying to bring back some stability to (campus leadership).”
Sherwood, who is now serving as special assistant to district Chancellor Fred Wood, was transferred to the District Office in Martinez in July after a whirlwind semester disrupted the “shared governance” culture that governs the college community.
When asked about his transfer to the District Office last week by The Advocate, Sherwood declined comment.
Dr. Wood said, as would be true in any case, the person, circumstances and performance of a district manager/administrator are all evaluated before a decision like the one to move Sherwood out of his position is made.
“College (administrators) came and talked to me about the (situation) and I agreed that I thought it was in everyone’s best interest for Mr. Sherwood to not remain on campus and come work at the district,” Wood said.
“I think Mr. Sherwood has great skills, as we are seeing now at the district, but the fit just wasn’t happening as well at Contra Costa as everyone had hoped.”
In January, under Sherwood’s leadership, the lateral move of former dean of enrollment services Dennis Franco to dean of student services set off a barrage of administrative transparency issues that called into question tactics used by Sherwood.
After the process that facilitated the decision was completed, in the March 22 issue of The Advocate Sherwood said, “Because I’m new, I don’t know the internal culture (of the college) 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.”
Sherwood, who arrived on campus in July 2017 from Oxnard College in the Ventura Community College District, continued his squabbles with college departments, students, faculty and staff through the spring semester.
Complaints came out of a Jan. 30 African-American Staff Association (AASA) presentation to top college officials including Sherwood and then college president Mojdeh Mehdizadeh, which outlined concerns of African-American staff, professors and students.
And there were conflicts with veterans on campus when Sherwood offered no signs of a resolution during a May 3 meeting regarding problems in the campus Veterans’ Resource Center.
Fast forward to July 30, when a campus email was sent to faculty and staff by former interim president Chui Tsang which read, “I would like to announce that Vice President Ken Sherwood is temporarily assigned to head up a special project at the District Office. I want to assure everyone at the college this change will not affect your ongoing work or the progress you are making at the college.”
Executive Vice Chancellor of Education and Technology Mehdizadeh said in her long career at the district, including the nearly three and a half years she spent as president of Contra Costa College, she’s had the opportunity to work with hundreds of individuals.
“Ken is someone who cares about student success and celebrates student achievement,” Mehdizadeh said.
“He took the time to attend sporting events to cheer on our athletes, attended culinary events to encourage our culinary students, and showed support for drama, art, speech, political science, African- American male leaders and many other student groups.”
Mehdizadeh said the decision being made over the summer had nothing to do with anything other than timing.
“CCC is a wonderful college with its own culture. I believe it is often about a match between the college and an individual’s skills and strengths,”
On Monday Dean of Students Dennis Franco recounted the transfer of Sherwood caught him by surprise when he found out a couple days before the email was sent.
“I feel bad that there was tumult and angst and issues around my particular (job) move because I don’t want the college to be in turmoil over me. That made me feel super uncomfortable and it was a difficult time,” Franco said.
“When that happened, it just made me feel bad, like, ‘Good lord, how am I in the middle of this?’”
Franco said he shared with Sherwood during their initial conversations about the position change in January that he was hesitant about the abrupt administrative move.
“I think (my move to dean of student services) was difficult for the counseling department — it was certainly difficult for me,” he said. “I want the college to be functioning well. I want students to have a good experience and I want our employees to have a good experience.”
Wood said that in mid-July there was a sense of urgency coming from the leadership of the college, particularly through Dr. Tsang and Mehdizadeh, who asked to meet with the chancellor to discuss Sherwood’s future at CCC.
“One of my worries as the conversation occurred was I didn’t want the college to think that the chancellor is taking someone out, ‘What’s going on here?’ It was really the leadership of the college that was saying we have to make a change. This isn’t working as well as we would like. Can you help?” Wood said.
“That was really the hope of the leadership on campus, that (Sherwood’s) transfer would result in an environment that would be better than if he remained in that position.”
Dr. VanderWoude, whose first official day was Aug. 6, had no involvement in any meetings or conversations regarding the transfer of Sherwood.
“I did make sure Dr. VanderWoude was aware of the conversations and what was being discussed. When I made that decision I did let her know,” Wood said.
“We felt that all things considered, it was best for her (VanderWoude) to come into the circumstances as they were, rather than have (Sherwood) on campus. That was the sense of urgency behind making the decision when we did.”
History, anthropology and geography department Chairperson Manu Ampim said it was clear to him that Sherwood was on his way out long before the reassignment and subsequent Tsang email was sent out.
“There were concerns that we had about his decision-making, and for sure his decision- making is clearly a top down decision-making approach. We made it clear that it was not going to work that way,” Ampim, who attended the AASA Jan. 30 meeting, said.
“The environment (at CCC) has been collaborative and it’s going to stay that way.”
Ampim said Sherwood received negative reactions when he began making decisions without consultation with faculty and staff.
“He clearly ran into a situation where his approach and style does not work in this kind of environment, so we knew it was going to be tough for him to continue in that manner,” Ampim said.
“Anybody that wants to go back to the top down model is going to have problems. Either they conform to the (collaborative) environment or they’ll be out like the other ones — and that’s my prediction.”
Since VanderWoude arrived on campus, Ampim said she’s visited his office and has made more of an effort to communicate with faculty than any “upper division administrator” has in years.
“She already seems to be opening up genuine channels of communication to listen, observe and get input and feedback from those of us who have not only been here, but who have important things to say,” Ampim said.
“We need leadership. We absolutely need leadership that will continue in the same direction and be firm.”
With the position of vice president of student services posted Sept. 10, the search is still in its early confidential stages.
The process, which is similar to that of choosing a college president, will involve a variety of hiring committees including a screening comittee and an interviewing committee.
The college community, however, will not be introduced to any hopefuls until the interview committee invites them to CCC for the traditional forum of questions and answers sometime in November.
This gives a chance for the campus community to become familiar with the possible VP hopefuls before one is chosen by President VanderWoude before Dec. 1.