Academic Senate votes in new president

Additional reporting: Raymond Garcia


Pierce College faculty senators voted Monday for the succession of the vice president of academic policy to president of the senate, denying the claim of the same position by the vice president of curriculum.

The Pierce College Academic Senate, one of the organizations that make up the school’s shared governance model, voted 15-9, with eight abstains, to instate Vice President of Academic Policy Kathy Oborn into the presidency.

“I respect what the senate decided,” said Vice President of Curriculum Margarita Pillado. “I wanted the sense of the senate regarding this issue.”

The succession of the presidency has been heavily debated by members of the Academic Senate, particularly by its executive committee.

During the first few days of August, former president John Zayac–elected last May for a two-year term–expressed his intention of leaving his post for personal obligations.

Though Zayac didn’t formally inform the other Senate members of his plan to leave until Aug. 17–his resignation was slated for Aug. 23–he began discussing through email his departure from the college with the members of the executive committee more than a week before his announcement, according to multiple accounts from those involved with the situation.

A series of emails were then exchanged, where the executive committee members discussed how to move forward with the situation.

In the event of a vacancy–described as existing when the person holding the position “announces his or her resignation to the Academic Senate”–in the office of the president, the vice president of academic policy is responsible for filling the position, according to the Senate bylaws.

However, Zayac, whose term as the Senate president commenced July 1, felt that his situation has unique circumstances, according to Oborn.

“He said that he felt concerned [that] he hadn’t really served as president,” she said. “He said that the faculty should choose their next leader.”

Additionally, Oborn emailed the members one day after Zayac’s initial email to the executive committee, saying that she was turning down the presidency due to conflicting responsibilities as chair of the professional development committee.

“After some long mental deliberation I will be turning down the senate presidency but will continue to be Chair of chairs. I have dept transition considerations and a brand new prof Dev system to roll out for fall. Whatever the group wants to do in terms of filling the presidency I am there 100% to help. You can count on me,” according to the email sent by Oborn to the executive committee members on Aug. 9.

Following the email, Vice President of Curriculum Margarita Pillado, whom the bylaws state is next in line for the succession of the presidency, emailed back to accept the responsibility of taking over the position. She sent in a written acceptance of duties on Aug. 12, according to a statement to the Roundup.

During a meeting that took place in the afternoon of Aug. 15, Pillado said that the executive committee “communicated to me their decision to disavow the process of succession that took place between Aug. 8 and Aug. 12,” and that “Prof. Oborn further indicated that she had rescinded her previous statement declining the presidency and therefore she was she was the incoming Senate President.”

At that point, Oborn said that she was able to find someone who was willing to take on the responsibilities as the professional development committee chair, should she choose to leave that post to become president.

Pillado, insisting that the decisions made through the exchanged emails over the month of August were as legal and binding as official statements, contested the decision, and filed a grievance on the matter.

After meeting twice after the semester commenced, the executive committee decided to bring the matter in question forward with the other members of the Senate during their regularly-scheduled biweekly meeting on Sept. 9. District Academic Senate President Don Gauthier and Parliamentarian John Freitas sat in to make sure that the meeting was conducted to the standards of the Brown Act and the Robert’s Rules of Order.

Other options were considered, including a co-presidency between Oborn and Pillado and a special election to take place this semester, but both proposals went against the Senate’s bylaws.

After the issue remained unresolved after the nearly two-and-a-half-hour-long Sept. 9 meeting, the Senate convened Sept. 16 in a special meeting that only addressed the issue of the succession of the presidency.

There, Pillado said that for her, it “was not a matter of the presidency,” but an issue of following through with due process.

“When I attend exec meetings, my voice is pretty much moot point,” Pillado said. “I can’t believe those emails [exchanged in August] were not [considered] serious, official.”

Oborn, meanwhile, clarified her decision in declining and then rescinding her original statement.

“There was a sense of urgency, and they wanted to make a decision,” she said.

Oborn also addressed the executive committee’s violation of the Brown Act, which guarantees the public a right to attend and involve themselves in meetings by groups like the Academic Senate.

“If the group violates the Brown Act, [the emails] are invalidated. If the emails don’t exist then there is no issue,” she said.

For now, Pillado stays in her position as vice president of curriculum, while the vice presidency of academic policy post is unoccupied.

Pierce faculty expressed their frustration with how the members of the executive committee handled the situation.

“This is not just what’s happening in this room. It’s the perception on this entire campus,” James McKeever, chair of the philosophy and sociology department, said during the Aug. 16 meeting.

The issue has brought to light inconsistencies with the Senate’s understanding and compliance with the Brown Act and Robert’s Rules of Order, as well as the ambiguity of the group’s official documents.

Director of Cooperative Education Ronald Smetzer, who said that he previously served as secretary of the Academic Senate and vice president for the District Academic Senate, describes the events that took place in August as “shameful.”

“There’s a total lack of understanding of the Robert’s Rules of Order and the constitution. There’s a lot of learning that needs to take place with this body,” Smetzer said. “I know how the parliamentary process is supposed to work and this isn’t it.”