As a professor at Wenatchee Valley College-Omak (WVCO), I sometimes josh that we are the Harvard of Okanogan County. I say this with pride, not facetiousness. Like Harvard, our impact is significant relative to our size. The WVCO service district encompasses an enormous geographic area, from Coulee Dam and Oroville to Pateros and Mazama. Our enrollment in recent years has averaged around 360 students, with about 120 students graduating annually with degrees or certificates. Our graduates pursue careers in health care, industry, accounting, education and government, and start their own small businesses. Our graduates transfer to four-year institutions throughout the state, region, and country (including at least two to Harvard), and when they arrive, they excel. In my 32-year career in higher education, I have taught at three flagship state universities and an elite liberal arts college, and I can say that WVCO students can stand with the best students at these other institutions.
I can also say the same for my faculty colleagues. So, when members of the Association of Higher Education (AHE), our faculty union, voted “no confidence” in WVC President Jim Richardson, it was based on considerable experience, evidence and forethought. When we went to the WVC Board of Trustees to request the president’s dismissal, we did so in the best interest of the college. As AHE President Patrick Tracy has said, “The vote of no confidence was not done due to poor relations between faculty and administration nor was it done in relation to contract negotiations that are occurring right now. We did it because we care about the students, the college and the community.”
President Richardson has done much for the college, yet in recent years he has overseen a severely damaging mismanagement of it. Three years ago when an accounting mishap resulted in a financial crisis for the college, we were told the administration would build up reserves to protect against similar crises in the future. Yet, this past fall the president announced that there was a $1 million hole in the budget (and insufficient reserves). And since then there have been devastating layoffs and cutbacks (especially in student services). The president attributes the deficit to declining enrollments, yet fluctuations in community college enrollments, often mirroring fluctuations in the economy, are routine — and foreseeable. Instead of preparing for these, the president leveraged the college’s credit to go on a building spree and exponentially augmented administrative expenditures and salaries, including his own salary, which at nearly a quarter million dollars is triple that of the highest-paid senior faculty member.
These administrative practices reflect the detrimental corporatization of higher education occurring throughout the country. The WVC Board of Trustees, which has a fiduciary responsibility to the college, has given these practices its blessing. In addition, the trustees have flagrantly dismissed the faculty’s concerns and doubled down on their support of President Richardson, exacerbating the crisis that he has brought on.
Nonetheless, I believe in my college. From my 10 years at WVCO, I have scores of student stories that affirm the vital work the college does. But the one that always stands out for me is of the student — now a leader in public health — who credits her Associate’s and Nursing degrees from WVCO with enabling her to lift herself and her family out of three generations of poverty. Despite current circumstances, and because our work is so important, my faculty colleagues and I remain dedicated to educational excellence — and to doing all we can to ensure our students achieve their goals. Please take my comments into consideration when you evaluate the current state of the college, and please support the faculty in its effort to provide continued excellence at WVCO.
Dr. Peter Donahue, an English professor at WVCO, lives in Winthrop.