The employment contract of Bakersfield College President Sonya Christian remained in limbo Thursday even after supporter after supporter lauded her tenure at a Kern Community College District board meeting.
And the reason her job may be in jeopardy, according to documents obtained by The Californian, is that Christian has bucked district bureaucracy and focused on the success of Bakersfield College to the exclusion of the needs of the district’s two other campuses.
Christian’s supporters flooded Thursday’s day-long college district meeting to call for an immediate contract offer to the woman they say has turned the college around and sparked a passion for excellence.
One, Nan Gomez-Heitzeberg, vice president of academic affairs, said she has been with Bakersfield College for 30 years.
“It’s been in the last 30 months that I’ve been most proud of Bakersfield College,” she said.
But Christian’s supporters didn’t get the satisfaction they were looking for.
Chancellor Sandra Serrano said district trustees, following a marathon closed session meeting, gave her direction to continue contract negotiations with Christian and the presidents of Cerro Coso Community College and Porterville College.
Board President Dennis Beebe said the process could take “several months.” Christian’s contract is set to expire Feb. 3, 2016.
Records obtained by The Californian shed light on the reason Christian’s tenure at the helm of the district’s flagship campus is tenuous.
An unsigned document labeled as a June 15 evaluation of Christian acknowledges her contributions to the college’s recent academic success.
But it is sharply critical of Christian for failing to work within district procedures, reassigning staff without district approval and failing to meet district tentative budget deadlines.
The two-page document repeatedly chastises Christian for failing to understand that “affecting change in a multi-college system requires district wide consultation and district wide commitment to a shared mission and values.”
In closing, the document suggests that “Regardless of Dr. Christian’s talents and accomplishments, her leadership style is not compatible with the procedures and thus operations of a multi-college district. It is recommended that Dr. Christian seek a chief executive office in a single college district where she will have the responsibility and authority she seeks.”
Other documents indicate Serrano delivered Christian the evaluation in late June.
Serrano said Thursday evening she could not confirm or deny the authenticity of the document or comment on it as the issue is a confidential personnel matter. Christian did not return calls seeking comment on the documents.
There was no question Thursday about the support Christian enjoys on and off the Bakersfield College campus.
Before trustees’ morning closed session meeting, staff, faculty and supporters, nearly all dressed head-to-foot in BC red and white, cheered and clapped as speaker after speaker lauded Christian’s leadership.
Vickie Spanos, director of instruction at the Kern High School District, said Christian has helped link BC and KHSD.
“Our two institutions are finally working closely together,” she said. “We are looking at ourselves as one educational community.”
Spanos said it takes leaders with guts to push forward with programs that will help get students into college despite Kern County’s challenging socio-economic realities and poor scholastic performance.
Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez praised Christian for getting professors and counselors out into poor communities across Kern County and promoting programs that help young people acquire the skills they need to get jobs at the Tejon Outlets and in renewable energy sectors.
Christian, Perez said, “has a heart for rural Kern,” and the programs she’s supported “lift all boats in the county.”
“President Christian inspires us to do and feel,” said Bakersfield College Choral Director Jennifer Garrett. “She breathes life into our college.”
Speakers were disappointed that Christian did not get a contract Thursday.
“Starting the school year without assurances that we will be able to finish the year with our current leadership team in place is an unnecessary distraction” as the school year begins, computer science professor Bill Moseley wrote in a statement to the media Thursday afternoon.
Psychology professor Becki Whitson wrote that it is no way to start the new year “especially after Sonya’s amazing and innovative transformation of BC.”
“It’s like a slap in the face for a job well done,“ Whitson wrote.
Board President Beebe thanked speakers for their remarks and said sometimes hard meetings are important for an organization to have.
”We definitely heard the message you had to portray — we are listening,“ he said.
Christian herself said little at Thursday’s meeting.
She reported on BC’s preparations for the new year and thanked the presidents of Cerro Coso and Porterville colleges for collaborating with Bakersfield College.
”It’s a good time to be in the Kern Community College District,“ she told the board. ”It is a good time to be president of Bakersfield College.“