handout photograph of Nick Strobel for column.

In an Sept. 15 open letter, Kern Community College District Chancellor Sandra Serrano urged the KCCD community to set aside the anger and work together to “achieve the goals we all seek and the mission of service to which we are committed.” At the end of last month’s Board of Trustees meeting, Chancellor Serrano said that the district leadership would work with Bakersfield College President Sonya Christian in moving forward.

Serrano said, “So again, let me say, it’s time to move forward.”

We found out at the Nov. 3 KCCD Board of Trustees meeting that counter to those good words, high-level employees at the district office are instead acting in ways that suggest retaliation and a settling of scores. They are acting with or without the direction or knowledge of the Chancellor. Either way, this is not how you go about rebuilding trust within an institution.

On Oct. 1, the district general counsel and vice-chancellor of human resources received a formal complaint from an employee about some activities associated with the recent controversy about President Christian’s newly signed contract. Three persons were named in the complaint:  two faculty members and an administrator. It wasn’t until Oct. 28 that the faculty members were even notified about the complaint.

Article 14.B.2 of the Faculty Contract says that a faculty member is supposed to be notified within 10 working days about the complaint and that he or she is entitled to representation by the bargaining agent. The faculty members were first told about the complaint a full week beyond standard procedure.

The faculty members were called and told to report to the district office’s legal counsel the following day to be questioned by a private investigator hired by KCCD for this inquiry.

They were not told about what nor were they told that they were the subject of the complaint.

One of the faculty members expressly asked during the phone call and later that day in writing if she was the subject of the complaint and got no response. Neither did the district legal counsel advise them of the need for representation. It wasn’t until the union president demanded a copy of the complaint that the faculty members found out the specifics of the complaint. The information about the employee who filed the complaint was redacted (blacked out), another violation of procedure given in the Faculty Contract.

Article 14 Appendix A of the Faculty Contract also makes it very clear which administrators are to be notified if there is a complaint about employee conduct. None of the BC campus administrators for one of the faculty members was notified — this complaint was going to be handled at the highest levels of district administration. District legal counsel even invoked a federal penal code that could result in imprisonment as a scare tactic.

Suspicions that this inquiry was going to be a fishing expedition designed to go after other people involved in the recent controversy about Christian’s contract, including the president herself, were confirmed when the two faculty members went in separately for questioning Nov. 2. Nine questions, prepared by district general counsel, were asked by the private investigator. The first three were about a legitimate advocacy activity not mentioned in the complaint and the last six questions were about possible campus discussions of the president’s contract and her evaluation — questions not even remotely pertaining to the content of the complaint. The last question was even about the Academic Senate president’s involvement in the discussions about Christian’s evaluation.

These numerous violations of established procedures and the questions asked clearly show that the district office was not expecting the Board of Trustees to finally approve Christian’s contract at their Oct. 6 meeting and that they are now leaping at the chance to use a complaint filed much earlier to inflict retaliation on Bakersfield College employees who openly supported Christian.

How can these actions be seen as “moving forward”? Bakersfield trustee Kay Meek asked that the Board have a special closed session to follow up on these revelations. The special Board of Trustees meeting will be held at the end of the month when Chancellor Serrano returns from vacation. I will close with the same last two lines of a recent Community Voices piece: Since trust is the fundamental agreement in the decision-making processes mandated by state law for community colleges, one has to wonder how Chancellor Serrano is going to rebuild the trust that was lost long before Christian became president at Bakersfield College.

Perhaps the trustees are wondering if Serrano is even capable of rebuilding that trust.

Nick Strobel is director of the William M. Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College.