Gary Horton | COC Sabotaging Board Threatens SCV Well-Being

Gary Horton

College of the Canyons is one of the prime jewels of the Santa Clarita Valley. Lead by Dianne Van Hook for 36 years, COC today reigns as an esteemed dynamo of accessible public education benefitting wide swaths of our community. From providing super-affordable two-year degrees with over 110 areas of focus, to matriculating students to four-year colleges, to providing targeted job training skills, COC empowers our community with educational and growth opportunities for all. 

Further, the COC University Center provides access to advanced degrees right here in our valley, and the Academy of the Canyons provides advanced, alternative high school education with college credits. There’s not space in this paper to list the features and benefits of this uniquely powerful community college, all directed by COC’s remarkable and highly respected chancellor, Dianne Van Hook. 

Now, oddly, the publicly elected COC board of trustees — Edel Alonso, Joan MacGregor, Jerry Danielsen, and Sebastian Cazares — has created extreme doubts about its intent in continuing Van Hook’s employment despite three years remaining in her contract. Exact motivations are unknown. However, public notices for three closed-door meetings indicate discussions regarding the chancellor’s continued employment. 

These doubt-inducing notices, coupled with the board’s failure to mention positive comments on Van Hook’s 36th anniversary Monday, create substantial doubts about their intentions. With state budgets tightening, the union backing these trustees may well be pressing for a change of leadership to someone more pliant with their demands, as Van Hook is a fierce negotiator and careful guardian of the college’s finances. 

A recent “Campus Culture” survey, which was intended to be an internal document highlighting areas for campus improvement, has instead been thrown into the grinder of apparent ill will toward the esteemed Van Hook. During the immediate two past open sessions, dozens of respected community leaders have spoken on Van Hook’s behalf, urging the trustees to halt this process, but to no avail. There’s one more closed-door meeting scheduled with the chancellor’s situation still on the agenda. It’s not a great leap of logic to conclude that these trustees may be abusing their powers to achieve, one way or another, Van Hook’s departure to achieve hidden agendas that will irrevocably damage our college and our community. What I have personally seen of their conduct is shameful and shadowy. 

The absurdity of this intrigue includes key questions contained in the very lengthy and unscientific survey. As to the most revealing questions, college employees responded: 

• Happy at work? 94% responded, “yes.” 

• Work is satisfying. 97% responded, “yes.” 

• Work is meaningful. 98% responded, “yes.” 

• Good place to work? 82% responded, “yes.” 

• (Are you) seen / heard in department and respected outside department? 80% responded, “yes.” 

Most folks would nearly kill to work in a business or organization with this level of satisfaction. These fabulously high positive ratings by staff will never be achieved by other organizations and businesses. 

Meanwhile, ironically, and myopically for Alonso, MacGregor, Danielsen and Cazares, are staff responses regarding the governing board of trustees, themselves: 

• Board treats others with respect? Only 58% replied, “yes.” 

• Board centers decisions on students? Only 58% replied, “yes.” 

• Board recognizes accomplishments of others? Only 54% replied, “yes.” (Quite telling of their disrespect toward the vast accomplishments of Van Hook.) 

And most importantly: Board well-prepared to lead college into the future?” ONLY 43% OF THE REPSONDENTS REPLIED, “YES.” 

Clearly, College of the Canyons has a board of trustees problem, not a Dianne Van Hook problem. A board with only 43% approval of its ability to guide the college has no business harassing the very person who has built the very fine institution they “represent.” 

I spoke at the latest COC board of trustees meeting this past Monday on the matter: 

“Today, we sit in the remarkable, innovative and beautiful University Center. This center is but a dream for most any other community college, but here we are, in fact, living in that dream. 

“When we look out from these windows, what do we see? We see a modern, gorgeous campus, which is the envy of the community college world. 

“We see some 25,000 students plus, gaining the education and opportunity to build successful, rewarding lives. 

“We see a campus that is uniquely inclusive, welcoming all comers from all backgrounds, regardless of ability to pay. 

“And we see Dr. Dianne Van Hook, who has led all this progress. We see Dr. Dianne Van Hook, who is without a doubt, the most respected, accomplished leader in this city.” 

Our community must be alarmed to any misguided secret actions against Van Hook and the damage her early departure would do to the college, academically, financially and in reputation. This sort of behind-closed-doors machinations against someone so highly respected is mean-spirited and reckless. 

Board members Alonso, MacGregor, Danielsen and Cazares must all be put on notice by SCV citizens to cease whatever dangerous paths they may be plotting behind this series of closed-door meetings relative to Van Hook’s employment. Because of the secret-agent tactics being used, we don’t yet know their final intent. But should Van Hook leave the college prematurely, especially without significant forward planning, the SCV will be the ultimate victims of this intrigue. 

I encourage all readers to contact these board members to voice your disapproval of negative actions toward Van Hook by what can only look like coup-plotters acting against the best interests of the SCV. These trustees were elected to represent the will of the SCV, not to shoehorn their personal vendettas and outside agendas through veiled meetings onto our college and our community. 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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