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State of College sees seeds of progress

It’s been a tumultuous year for Clark College, and there were times during Interim President Sandra Fowler-Hill’s State of the College address when she called out the challenges of the past by name.

But in her speech Wednesday, Fowler-Hill also looked toward the future of the Vancouver community college and progress that she said the campus will experience in the coming years.

“This will be my only opportunity to share with you my thoughts about the state and the future of the college,” Fowler-Hill said. “I was hired eight months ago as your interim president to help lead during this year of transformational change. It has been my honor.”

Clark College has faced upheaval in recent months. Its faculty went on strike in January after 15 months of heated bargaining, and an investigator’s report revealed that former President Bob Knight engaged in discriminatory behavior against women of color on campus.

Meanwhile, Clark College embarked on a monthslong search process to select a new college president. The Board of Trustees announced Friday the selection of Karin Edwards, currently president of the Cascade Campus of Portland Community College, for the role. The Board of Trustees has not yet adopted her contract.

“You have a president who will walk with you, listen and provide the leadership and service this college deserves,” Fowler-Hill said of Edwards, adding, “I’m extraordinarily grateful it wasn’t a failed search.”

Strike’s fast resolution

Fowler-Hill addressed the brief faculty strike, which canceled classes for three days at Clark College. It was the first time in the 87-year history of the campus that faculty went on strike, ultimately ending in a contract that will give full-time faculty salary increases of about $10,000. The contract also established a new payment model for part-time faculty linked to that of their full-time peers.

The strike’s short duration ensured that winter quarter will not be extended for students.

“I am grateful to everyone who helped find a resolution to bring our students back to class,” Fowler-Hill said. “I know it was difficult on everyone.”

Fowler-Hill also noted the results of a recent employee-climate survey, a copy of which was provided to The Columbian by the Association for Higher Education. Many faculty in the survey described feeling overwhelmed, isolated and undervalued. In response to the results, Fowler-Hill said the college recently launched a task force to review how people are feeling in their work at Clark College.

“Working under chronic pressures brought on by budget cuts, additional workloads, new initiatives, lack of communications and internal divisions is draining and discouraging,” Fowler-Hill said, also acknowledging the work of Rashida Willard, Clark College’s new vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Willard, who served in the position on an interim basis for 17 months before she was promoted permanently in November, was central to the complaints against former president Knight.

The investigator found that Knight interfered in the hiring of a vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, apparently to stop Willard from being a finalist. Willard, who was not named in the report, wrote that she “consistently faced discrimination, tokenization and bias” serving on the executive cabinet.

Fowler-Hill, who did not address the investigation in her speech, described Willard’s recent hiring as “a positive leap forward for the college.”

“By leading with racial equity, our colleges maximize student potential and transform lives within a culture of belonging that advances, racial, social and economic justice in service to our diverse communities in Clark County,” she said.

Chapter ending

With Edwards stepping into the permanent position this summer, Fowler-Hill’s tenure is expected to end within a few months.

“You are resilient, strong, tender and so passionate about what you do,” Fowler-Hill said. “You are a family. I’m honored to have been a part of your family during this year of change.”


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