by Murrel Bland
During the past few weeks, several persons have asked me what is going on at Kansas City Kansas Community College. I had known for some time that there had been personnel issues at the school, including those in senior administrative positions.
That all came to a head when the college’s Board of Trustees voted 6-1 on Friday, July 14, to place its president, Doris Givens, on administrative leave with pay. Givens, the first woman and black person to be president at the college, has been at the school for about six years. Her present contract, which calls for her to receive nearly $200,000 a year in salary plus benefits, expires in 2019.
The board, on advice of its lawyer, Greg Goheen, isn’t talking except for Wendell Maddox. Maddox, whose term expires at the end of the year and is not seeking re-election, was critical of J.D. Rios, the president of the board, who initiated an internal investigation. Maddox, according to an article in The Kansas City Star, said Givens didn’t have a chance to tell her side of the story.
In the meantime, the board has hired Jackie Vietti as acting president. In a prepared news release, the board said Vietti was chosen because of her extensive experience, having served as president of Butler County Community College, El Dorado, and as interim president of Emporia State University. Those who follow college administrators report Vietti is very qualified.
Rios has said that Vietti will serve until a permanent successor can be found; he said the board will conduct a national search. Rios is not seeking another term as a trustee; however, he is a candidate for Unified Government Commission.
I have been a close observer of the college for some 45 years. Over the years, I have seen various conflicts and disagreements between college administrators and the
trustees. That was particularly the case in the mid-1970s when Alton Davies (a senior administrator who later became president) and the president, Jack Flint, wrote undated letters of resignation and filed them away; I recall Davies telling me that writing those letters gave him a real sense of relief. The letters were never presented formally to the trustees; however the board was aware they had been written.
At times, conflicts among board members became public during trustee meetings, particularly between Ron Mears and Cliff Nesselrode. In some of these cases, it was the college president who was the “referee.”
Fast-forward to the present. The college has grown during the past several years, playing a very important role in providing a much needed, well-trained workforce. And the college continues to provide a very cost-effective way for traditional students to receive the first two years of a four-year college education.
Thanks to foresight, the college has built a Technical Center in a building that was a former Walmart. A major concern however, is that often students from the Kansas City, Kansas, School District, are not prepared for college-level work and must take remedial classes in such basic subjects as reading and mathematics. That forces the college to pay for training that should have happened in high school or earlier. The college must accept anyone with a high school diploma.
There are plenty of good-paying jobs awaiting those who successfully complete technical training in such career fields as machinist, welder and diesel mechanic. It is not unusual for such jobs to command a starting pay of $40,000 a year. The college has worked closely with the Wyandotte Economic Development Council to determine workforce needs. Despite this effort, there are still critical shortages of qualified workers.
In looking at the public notice published July 27 in The Wyandotte Echo, I find that the trustees approved a budget for the coming year that totals more than $72.2 million. That compares to actual expenditures of about $67.2 million for the current year. About one-fifth of a typical residential tax bill in Wyandotte County goes to the community college.
The trustees should conduct a national search for a new president. Despite its challenges in recent years, it will offer an opportunity for the right person to lead an excellent community institution.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.