Van Hook to be placed on administrative leave 

Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook, College of the Canyons Chancellor, speaks during the 2022 College of the Canyons Women's Conference held at the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center on the Valencia campus of College of the Canyons on Saturday, 032622. Dan Watson/The Signal
Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook, College of the Canyons Chancellor, speaks during the 2022 College of the Canyons Women's Conference held at the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center on the Valencia campus of College of the Canyons on Saturday, 032622. Dan Watson/The Signal

College of the Canyons Chancellor Dianne Van Hook will be placed on administrative leave, effective Monday, Santa Clarita Community College District board President Edel Alonso announced Wednesday night after a marathon board meeting behind closed doors. 

While calling the decision a move to place Van Hook on “administrative leave,” Alonso also said a search would be conducted for Van Hook’s permanent replacement — apparently indicating that, whatever term is used, Van Hook is on her way toward being removed permanently from her post at COC. 

The board, which oversees COC, unanimously voted to take that action in closed session on Wednesday. The vote came during Wednesday’s regular board meeting, less than two weeks after the anniversary of Van Hook taking the helm at COC in 1988. Board member Sebastian Cazares was not in attendance on Wednesday. 

Van Hook’s contract, last signed in 2023, is set to expire in June 2027. 

David Andrus, former president of the COC Academic Senate, will take over as interim chancellor of the college on Monday, Alonso said. She added that a search for a permanent chancellor will take place in the future.

A normal search for such a role typically takes nine months to a year, according to board member Joan MacGregor, who added that it will include a national search and an internal search. 

Alonso provided no further comment, while MacGregor and fellow board member Jerry Danielsen did. 

“We, the board of trustees, have taken into consideration all of the facts and opinions of the entire community. We see you and we hear all the varying viewpoints, loud and clear,” Danielsen said. “The laws prevent us from discussing what happens in closed session and personnel matters. We can assure the public that the board is working hard to assure the health and well-being of the entire college with nothing but the best of intentions for the future of the college in mind.” 

MacGregor, who said this was her last meeting after announcing earlier this year she would be resigning effective Aug. 5, said she is leaving after experiencing the same hostile environment that employees raised concerns about in a climate survey that was conducted earlier this year. 

“That is why I’ve met with the chancellor and told her I would be leaving four months ago, long before the survey results came out,” MacGregor said. “I could no longer work in that environment as a trustee.” 

In response to rumors that the unions had been pushing the board to remove Van Hook, MacGregor said none of the unions have ever asked for her a vote. 

“They’re not behind this, if we’re talking about the faculty and the classified representatives,” MacGregor said. “As far as the employees of this college, you heard some of them speak. We’ve seen the results of the climate survey, but that’s not the issue. It is not the unions. It is the employees that I care about. It’s not the brick and mortar that’s important at a college. To me, it’s the faculty member, the teacher in the classroom with the students.” 

Wednesday’s meeting, held in the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center, was the fourth consecutive board meeting to have a closed session regarding the chancellor’s evaluation and the second meeting since the resignation of Chuck Lyon from the board. Two of the previous closed sessions each took roughly three hours, while Wednesday’s session lasted nearly four hours. 

Van Hook was not in attendance on Wednesday, nor was she present at last week’s special meeting. Deputy Chancellor Diane Fiero was in Van Hook’s seat during both meetings.  

Fiero said last week that Van Hook had a pre-planned commitment and could not be at the special meeting. That same commitment kept her from attending Wednesday’s meeting as well, according to John Green, spokesman for the college. 

The board is likely to appoint someone to fill MacGregor’s seat, as her resignation would come well after last month’s deadline to have a special election consolidated with the November general election.   

Lyon did resign before that date and his seat has been approved by the board to be voted upon in the general election. It will cost the college roughly $40,000 to hold that special election on top of the normal costs of an election.  

MacGregor said at a previous meeting that she purposely chose to delay her resignation to allow the board to appoint someone rather than letting the voters decide, saying she has seen a larger number of candidates attempt to be appointed when compared to the number who attempt to win an election.  

She said she is hopeful that a replacement would be in place sometime in September.  

MacGregor was most recently re-elected in 2022 and is in the midst of her 31st year on the board. Lyon, a former COC football coach who led the Cougars to the first national and state titles in program history in 2004, was elected to the board in 2022 after serving as athletic director of the college until 2016.  

Van Hook’s placement on leave, coupled with the resignation of Lyon and the expected resignation of MacGregor, means COC could be set to undergo a slew of changes.   

Van Hook has been with the college since 1988 when she was named the youngest-serving California Community College CEO at 37 years old. 

She has been the longest-serving head of a California community college. 

The board could potentially be shaken up completely, as Alonso, along with Danielsen and Cazares, have their seats up for election in November. 

Andrew Taban, an aide to Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, announced last week his candidacy for Cazares’ seat in Area 3.  

“As a former COC student and a public servant with over 15 years of experience in statewide policy development and working with at-risk youth, I know that together, we can continue to ensure our students, faculty, and staff have the representation and resources they deserve,” reads Taban’s campaign website.  

Change was a theme across the college since the release of the results of the recently conducted campus climate survey in which 81% of employees said they felt welcome at the college and 19% did not. Those who fell in the latter category raised concerns over retaliation for speaking up about problems.  

Eric Harnish, spokesman for the college, said those issues, and others brought up, will be looked at further, and any appropriate changes will be made. A timeline for that process was not provided.  

“I just want to say this has been terrible, terrible times,” MacGregor said. “But there’s nothing shady. There’s nothing that’s been secretive. It’s simply the way a board has to operate (due to state laws and the Brown Act) … So please understand that and please know that every decision that we have brought forth tonight has been unanimous.” 

Faculty speak out 

Expanding on some of the concerns raised in the climate survey, multiple faculty members said the findings from that survey were not surprising. 

Chris Blakey, a philosophy professor at the college since 2000, said these are “not happy or fun times,” but employee input has not been taken seriously, making employees feel undervalued. Recalling when he was on the Distance Education Committee in the early 2000s, he said the findings that committee presented to the college were not taken seriously and the input was not utilized to better the college. 

“I remember thinking, ‘What in the world happened?’ I saw this in numerous instances with other committees and came to the realization that this was the norm at COC,” Blakey said. “I found it quite discouraging in light of the fact that this is an institution of higher learning that is supposed to value broad input and shared knowledge.” 

Nicole Faudree, a faculty member speaking on behalf of COC Faculty Association President Jason Burgdorfer, said the fact that a key finding in the survey was that nearly half of employees have experienced psychological harm while working is “deeply troubling.” 

“This is simply unacceptable,” Faudree said on behalf of Burgdorfer. “So far, the public response from executive leadership is ‘We’ll look into the claims and see what needs to be changed.’ We need action. We need accountability. Now. We need a plan now.” 

The tenure of Van Hook  

When she was first hired in 1988, Van Hook was dealing with an $8 million annual budget. Last month, the board approved a budget of more than $480 million, including nearly $90 million in bond measure funds.  

The college has increased its footprint in a number of areas over the years. Three separate bond measures have provided COC with $470 million, with much of that money used to fund the expansion of the college’s Valencia campus and the construction of its Canyon Country campus.  

Another $44 million was secured to help fund the construction of the University Center.  

The college has also increased its employee total from 60 full-time faculty to more than 220, and its student population total from 4,800 to approximately 30,000. According to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office website, COC had a total of 29,390 students for the spring 2024 semester.  

Multiple people have spoken up in support of Van Hook at board meetings, touting many of those accomplishments. 

Fabian Rivera, a current student at COC, said it is “rare to find someone in this world who’s willing to devote their time to educating the next generation of citizens in our nation.” 

Rivera added: “It’s even rarer to find someone willing to devote their life’s work to developing a community college to ensure that everyone in this valley has the ability to obtain a high-quality higher education.” 

William Harwood, a member of the COC Foundation board of directors, which Van Hook was listed as a member on its website as of Wednesday, said he recognized that the board had a tough decision to make but hoped that a transparent plan would be in place. 

“I really appreciate you guys diving into this very controversial issue, taking the data that is presented to you — often probably out of context — and making the best decisions,” Harwood said. “Everyone in this room believes in what they’re doing to help the students succeed here at College of the Canyons and I know personally from my interaction that you guys do as well.” 

Harwood added that he is “excited to read your transparent plan on how to guide us through this.”  

Previously the dean of the Lake Tahoe Community College District, Van Hook had sought the vice president position at COC in the early 1980s. She previously told The Signal that she had always wanted to come back to COC after applying for that role.  

Van Hook moved to Southern California when she was 10 years old. She said last year she got involved in leadership while a student at California State University, Long Beach, after being introduced to the president of the Associated Women Students at the college.  

“I got involved in student activities, which is not something I ever would have thought that I would want to do, because I was really shy,” Van Hook said at the time. “I just didn’t want to get up in front of people. I wanted to be an elementary school teacher.”  

The first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree, Van Hook has brought that to COC. The college announced last month that it will launch its first bachelor’s degree program in January 2025, a bachelor of applied science in building performance.  

The first of its kind in California, the new degree will provide a cost-effective pathway to careers involved with creating high-performance buildings by preparing students for the state-recognized Certified Energy Analyst exam, and growing employment opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction industry, said a news release from the college.  

“Since its inception, our architecture program has been a statewide leader in preparing graduates for exciting, well-paying careers in the AEC industry and as champions for sustainable building design and construction,” Van Hook said in the release. “This new BASBP program will be pivotal for enhancing COC’s mission of helping students build their future, as well as providing an opportunity for graduates to apply directly for master’s-level architecture programs or pursue professional licensure and industry certifications in California.” 

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