It’s not an uncommon occurrence in Wasco County for elected bodies and their paid administrators to become so cozy that they are willing to brook no criticism.
Reporters who cover public meetings see it in action more often than not: the tendency for boards to value the word of their administrators above that of anyone else.
Administrators work more directly with their boards than anyone else, so they are better known. They often shape the message their boards hear. And when successes are trumpeted, they are credited to the administrators.
So when Columbia Gorge Community College department heads were unanimous in approving a vote of “no confidence” against the college president, Dr. Frank Toda, we wondered if the same thing might be happening.
The Chronicle applauds the efforts of accreditation and the ongoing community partnerships established under Toda. Many are evident in the transformations that have occurred over the past decade under his stewardship — the Fort Dalles Readiness Center-Innovation Center is only the latest.
Inside the many buildings that now make up a true college campus now, rather than a re-purposed tuberculosis hospital, new programs provide training for jobs available in the gorge like renewable energy technicians, nurses and medical transcriptionists, among others.
Providing job training is the main focus of community colleges and it is a roll they play well, with an emphasis on community.
But it doesn’t take anything away from those accomplishments to think that parts of Toda’s leadership might bear a little further examination.
Faculty leaders say their attempts to let Toda and the board know about their concerns were, in their opinion, disregarded, even when half a dozen of them appealed for support during an August meeting. Only after that did the faculty go to the press to publicize their concerns.
Some members of the public may bemoan the state of today’s media, but among its legitimate functions are to shine light on concerns with the potential to adversely effect public services and to give voice to those who have been marginalized within the public process.
In this spirit, The Chronicle published Ben Mitchell’s story about the no-confidence vote. Unsurprisingly, the response fell in line with the closing of ranks that is a common response to anyone who dares buck the established order.
We’ve seen it over and over: People who demand change or espouse an unpopular viewpoint are marginalized, ignored, even demeaned.
But be warned: Boards and their administrators ignore such concerns at peril to themselves and their organizations.
They run the risk of ignoring a simmering problem until it turns into a boiling crisis.
No decision on the public’s behalf should be unassailable. And when an examination yields concerns, those concerns deserve a fair hearing.
This holds true for any organization, but most particularly in a college.
The word “college” comes from the Latin “collegium,” whose meanings include “fraternity” and “collection of scholars,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
The idea is that individuals of learning put their heads together so their collective wisdom can yield results.