Chancellor’s orchestrated public lynching at Contra Costa College

Dr. Katrina VanderWoude is introduced to the students in the story “Transparency highlights president’s new role” published in The Advocate, the Contra Costa College student newspaper, last August. The writer, Advocate Editor-in-Chief Michael Santone, describes attributes such as her passion for community outreach approvingly. – Photo: Denis Perez

by the African American Staff Association (AASA) of Contra Costa College

San Pablo, Calif. – Contra Costa Community College District Chancellor Fred E. Wood has spearheaded a brazen “racist public lynching” of Dr. Katrina VanderWoude, according to the African American Staff Association of Contra Costa College. On May 28, 2019, Chancellor Wood placed Dr. VanderWoude, president of Contra Costa College (CCC), and two interim vice presidents on administrative leave pending investigations concerning a suspicious complaint.

Chancellor Wood and his Contra Costa Community College District (4CD) office advisors violated district and state policies in pursuit of their campaign to remove the last two Black upper level managers at CCC. The chancellor has sought to make a public example of President VanderWoude for not going along with the continued racial gentrification of the college, which began a new phase in 2017. He assumed that VanderWoude, who is African American, would simply be window dressing to placate the AASA, which had raised concerns about the complete omission of new Black hires, among other issues.

On May 28, 2019, Chancellor Fred Wood put not only Contra Costa College President Dr. Katrina VanderWoude on administrative leave but also vice presidents Susan Kincade and Carsbia Anderson.

Here is a timeline of events:

During the 2017-2018 academic year, the AASA began documenting and reporting on the systematic actions to reduce Black faculty and shrink the class offerings in their departments, particularly the social sciences and ethnic studies departments. AASA also raised issues about the new alarming direction of racial gentrification, with the CCC administration hiring 28 people, none of whom were Black.

On Jan. 30, 2018, the AASA and Black community leaders met with then President Mojdeh Medizadeh to address “Six Areas of Concerns” facing Black people at CCC. Instead of addressing these issues, Chancellor Wood removed Mehdizadeh in the middle of the semester and appointed an interim president. Wood’s reckless decision spun the campus into turmoil, while the nationwide search for a new president was underway.

On April 11, 2018, the AASA presented the six concerns directly to Chancellor Wood and identified managers who openly talked about introducing a “culture change” at CCC and were responsible for new gentrification policies, specifically detrimental to Black employees and students. Wood made promises but did very little to address these concerns.

On May 31, 2018, Chancellor Wood said in a press release that new President “Dr. VanderWoude’s … dedication to diversity, inclusion and equity prepare her very well for this important leadership role.”

In Fall 2018, President VanderWoude began her tenure with bringing back shared governance, instituting a more reasonable student-focused enrollment management plan, addressing the low campus morale issue and promoting racial equity in hiring. CCC was moving in the right direction.

One of the main people responsible for police pepperspraying the faces of peaceful protesters at UC Davis on Nov. 18, 2011, was Chancellor Fred Wood, now of the Contra Costa Community College District. He lamented being blamed worldwide when the video went viral. – Photo: Wayne Tilcock, AP

In October-November 2018, the racist public flogging of Dr. VanderWoude began when it was learned that four of the five finalists for the vice president of student services (VPSS) position were African American. The credibility of two of the candidates was attacked by campus employees who used Google searches to find unvetted internet materials, dating back to 1997, to condemn these Black men without a trial.

These employees criticized VanderWoude for the hiring controversy, although she was barely two months on the job and was following district hiring procedures. Meanwhile, Wood remained silent and never explained that the district Human Resources Department (HR), headed by Diogenes Shipp, approved this entire hiring process. The misplacement of blame gave this small employee group an angle to criticize VanderWoude’s leadership of the college.

In March 2019, a trumped-up employee complaint was filed, charging VanderWoude with reverse racism, age discrimination and retaliation. There was no effort by Wood to address these allegations and resolve the concerns, as required by California Code of Regulations, Title 5.

On May 2, 2019, Chancellor Wood emailed an evaluation survey to various constituency groups as per the Management Manual (Section 6.2), and this two-week survey was to close on May 16th. However, there was a tiny group of VanderWoude’s opponents who complained about not being included in the survey, and therefore Wood obliged them.

On May 14, 2019, Chancellor Wood publicly joined the campaign to attack VanderWoude by emailing a second evaluation survey campus-wide to manufacture the written evidence to justify firing her. This was an open violation of 4CD HR Procedure 2030.13 and was a rogue action to allow the protest group to attack VanderWoude with the final written assault.

Wood’s deviation from the evaluation procedures is inherently biased and unjustified. The two overlapping active surveys is a completely unique process and has not been done for any other 4CD college president.

On May 28, 2019, Chancellor Wood executed the public political lynching of President VanderWoude by putting her and the two interim vice presidents on administrative leave without any prior effort to resolve the alleged issues in the March complaint. The interim vice president for student services removed by Wood is an African American man, and in Wood’s administration “diversity, inclusion and equity” evidently do not include top management positions for African Americans at CCC.

Chancellor Fred Wood

Wood’s goal is to fire VanderWoude, but there is now an unexpected public standoff with her supporters.

On July 17, 2019, amid the racial turmoil at CCC, Chancellor Wood made the sudden announcement that he will retire in March 2020. In reality, Wood is being pushed out because of, as he stated, “my belief that the district is ready for new leadership.”

A failed administrator

It is well documented that Chancellor Fred Wood is a failed administrator, who was a central member of the administrative team responsible for the infamous pepper spraying of students incident at UC Davis on Nov. 18, 2011, when he was the vice chancellor of student affairs. He then wrote an article, “Weary of Blame,” in the college newspaper California Aggie (Nov. 29, 2011) to deflect from his justly earned criticism for the shocking violation of these students. In May 2019, he has again earned well-deserved blame for the reckless removal of CCC administrators, with disastrous affects that are unmatched in the college’s history.

Finally, the public silence of Chancellor Wood in the midst of multiple incidences of racist hate graffiti at our sister campus, Diablo Valley College (DVC), in Spring 2019 gives some insight into how he and his district office cohorts view Black lives.

On March 6, 2019, in the men’s bathroom of the Engineering Technology Building, someone scrawled on the wall a racist threat of a noose with a hanging stick figure, along with the words, “No niggers working in trades.” When AASA President Manu Ampim called on Wood to be consistent and issue a district office statement to show a commitment to support Black students, as was done with other students, his response was simply, “If I say something I get criticized, and if I don’t say anything I get criticized.” This type of weak leadership is unacceptable and demonstrates Wood’s inability to lead a racially diverse college district.

Resolutions presented to the Contra Costa Community College District in July:

1. Reverse the premature administrative leave action on May 28, 2019, which has crippled the college, and restore President VanderWoude and the two interim vice presidents to their positions.

2. Immediately reassign to another campus the senior dean who has been in the center of conflict since she was hired in 2017 and began implementing a toxic “culture change” based on gentrification.

The African American Staff Association (AASA) of Contra Costa College, 2600 Mission Bell Drive, San Pablo, CA 94806, can be reached at AAStaffAssociation@gmail.com or 510-688-8806.