Department chairs and other faculty members of Columbia Gorge Community College have given a “no confidence” vote to the college’s president, Dr. Frank Toda, saying faculty is underrepresented and criticizing the hiring process for the administrator who works closest with faculty.
The nine department chairs who make up a majority of the 13-member Instructional Council voted unanimously Aug. 7 to approve the resolution outlining the chairs’ reasons for their lack of confidence in Toda.
During a fall in-service meeting Sept. 21, other faculty members voted on the same resolution, with 40 voting no confidence, eight voting against no confidence, and 24 abstaining. Not every faculty member was present for the vote, but that “most of them” were, said Tim Schell, chair of the Writing, Literature and Foreign Language Department.
Schell said the no confidence vote “sends a strong message that faculty is underrepresented” at CGCC.
A letter was sent to the Hood River News and The Dalles Chronicle anonymously, with the text of the resolution that faculty voted on, declaring that the “Instructional Council of CGCC has no confidence in the ability of Frank Toda to lead CGCC as an independently accredited academic institution of higher learning.”
The document contains language that accuses the 12-year president of “ignoring the cooperative decision-making processes that are the hallmark of collegiality more and more frequently for the past several years, particularly in personnel decisions for middle- and high-level administrative positions in both hiring and firing.”
The document’s legitimacy was confirmed by Schell as well as Science Department Chair Dan Ropek.
The resolution, which was crafted by department chairs, also states that “processes [Toda] has used are far less rigorous than the college’s standard processes for hiring faculty or classified staff, standards which should be the minimum for the hiring of the people that supervise those employees.”
When asked for a statement regarding the no confidence vote, Toda gave a written statement: “It is unfortunate that the faculty feel this way. The board chair will be responding on behalf of the college.”
Board Chair Dave Fenwick, one of six people who serve on the college board, issued the following writtenstatement:
“I’m very pleased that our faculty is so passionate about the organization of the college and the selection of the new manager of their supervisors,” Fenwick wrote. “Of course, the president must consider the success of the college as a whole, and has procedures and policies in place to meet the objectives set by the community representatives on the college board.”
“The president has received advice and recommendations from multiple sources, including the faculty chairs, and made a decision in the best interest of the entire college,” he added.
Schell said that, specifically, many faculty members were irked by a decision Toda made in July to combine the jobs of chief academic officer and chief of student services into one position after the previous CAO left the job. He explained that the CAO essentially functions as the dean of faculty while the CSSO functions as the dean of students and that melding the two jobs into one was “terribly inadvisable because these two positions are in conflict with each other.”
Moreover, Schell said during a July 17 meeting with Toda, faculty requested the president conduct “a national search” for a new CAO and that the candidate be “someone with extensive classroom experience.”
He noted that while Toda “acknowledged our concerns,” he announced on July 31 that he decided to promote the current CSSO, Lori Ufford, and combine the two positions.
Schell clarified that “none of us are at odds with Lori. We all respect her,” but that Toda neglected to do his due diligence during the hiring process and cast a wide net to seek out the best candidate for the job. He added that Toda has also chosen to not take staff recommendations regarding the CAO position in the past and that the no confidence vote “has been years in the making and has nothing to do with (Toda’s) 30-percent raise in June (bringing his salary to $175,000 per year), nor does it have anything to do with his promotion of his friend, (Chief Operating Officer) Robb Van Cleave.”
Six of the nine department chairs attended a college board meeting Aug. 13, a week after the initial no confidence vote, to air their concerns regarding the merger of the CAO and CSSO positions. According to Schell, the board, which he said has the power to remove the president of the institution, listened to the complaints, but took no action. He noted, however, that the chairs didn’t mention the no confidence vote at the time, “because we thought we could keep this from going public. We thought the board would do something, but they didn’t.”
Going public with the information wasn’t easy, Schell said. “Many people were afraid to vote” during the Sept. 21 in-service meeting, which resulted in the high number of abstentions. He explained that faculty members are not tenured at CGCC and their contracts are brought up for renewal every year.
In the world of academia, Ropek said the removal of the president is typically “the implied tradition” behind a no confidence vote, but not all faculty members want the president ousted.
According to Ropek, the vote represents a unified declaration of displeasure from the faculty toward Toda for not implementing a “process to allow (the CAO) to be vetted by the faculty,” as opposed to an appeal for the president’s removal.
Though Ropek said it’s technically “not required” that Toda go through that process, he also said that’s not the point.
“(Toda) may have the power to do it, and he obviously does,” Ropek explained, “but the question is: Is it wise?”