The Abuse of Power: California Community College Boards of Trustees and Hiring and Selection Processes

ASCCC North Representative
ASCCC South Representative
ASCCC Treasurer

California's community colleges provide accessible, affordable, and high-quality education to a diverse student population. According to the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office (CCCCO, n.d.), “over 69 percent of California Community College students are people of diverse ethnic backgrounds.” To maintain appropriately high standards, colleges must have the autonomy to make hiring and selection decisions based on merit, qualifications, and the needs of their communities. Boards of trustees should recognize their roles in furthering a climate of collaboration rather than unilaterally undermining their own policies and practices. Unfortunately, in some cases boards of trustees were accused of not adhering to their own locally established hiring and selection processes, thus eroding the integrity of those processes and of participatory governance at their colleges.

The Role of Community College Boards of Trustees

California's community college boards of trustees are responsible for governing individual community college districts within the system. California Education Code §70902 indicates board duties to include setting policies, overseeing budgets, and ensuring that the colleges fulfill their educational mission. According to the Trustee Handbook of the Community College League of California, “Community college boards ensure the wise and prudent delivery of education, a critical local and state resource, on behalf of the people in their communities,”  and boards of trustees “have the responsibility to be both ethical and legal,” adhering to qualities of “trustworthiness…integrity… and reliability” (Smith, J., 2019). In addition, Education Code §70902 indicates that boards of trustees “Employ and assign all personnel not inconsistent with the minimum standards adopted by the board of governors and establish employment practices, salaries, and benefits for all employees not inconsistent with the laws of this state.”

The primary focus of boards of trustees is oversight, and thus they are not typically involved in the day-to-day operations of their colleges. While Education Code establishes a wide decision-making role for boards of trustees, California Code of Regulations Title 5 typically provides specific and clear delineation that narrows the scope of the board’s role in certain local decision-making processes. One example is the local district or college hiring and selection process. According to Title 5 §53024 (f), “Governing boards or their designees shall have the authority to make all final hiring decisions based upon careful review of the candidate or candidates recommended by a screening committee. The governing board may reject all candidates and order further review by the screening committee, or reopen the position where necessary to further achievement of the objectives of the EEO plan or to ensure equal employment opportunity. However, a consistent pattern of declining to hire qualified candidates from monitored groups against the recommendation of screening committees may give rise to an inference that the selections are not consistent with the objectives of equal employment opportunity that are required by this subchapter” (emphasis added). Therefore, if the governing board suspects that a hiring committee’s recommendations are flawed in some way, the board should reject the search and may direct the hiring and selection committee to resume deliberation. Title 5 does not suggest that the board may select and hire any candidate that was not recommended through the local hiring and selection process.

The Importance of Local Autonomy and Participatory Governance

Local autonomy is a fundamental principle of California's community college system. Individual colleges are better positioned to make decisions about hiring and selection based on their unique needs and circumstances. Local autonomy allows colleges to adapt to the specific requirements of their communities, fostering diversity and innovation within the system.
The Trustee Handbook recognizes that

Shared decision-making promotes trust, cooperation, a team identity, and coordination of efforts…Participation in decision-making reflects a broad-based movement in organizations to involve people at various levels. It reflects a movement from autocratic, hierarchical structures to those in which decisions, responsibility, and accountability are distributed at all levels of the organizations. (Smith, J., 2019)

Likewise, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) Local Senate Handbook (ASCCC, 2020) describes the value of participatory governance as follows:

The basis of the governance system in the California Community Colleges emanates from a fundamental belief in the importance of participatory decision-making. Education Code §70902(b)(7) directs local Boards of Trustees to “Establish procedures that are consistent with minimum standards established by the board of governors to ensure faculty, staff, and students the opportunity to express their opinions at the campus level, to ensure that these opinions are given every reasonable consideration, to ensure the right to participate effectively in district and college governance….” The most critical words in this passage are “participate effectively”: all college constituencies have a right under Education Code to have their voices heard and their positions given fair consideration before a local board acts on an issue.

Thus, the leadership bodies of trustees, administration, and faculty at the state level all emphasize the importance of participatory decision making based on the needs of the local community.

Failures to Respect Local Processes

In recent years, accusations have arisen that some local boards of trustees have failed to properly respect the hiring and selection processes of  their local colleges. These failures to follow established processes can take various forms, including the following:

  • Nepotism: Boards may engage in favoring friends, family members, or political allies in hiring decisions, regardless of the candidate’s qualifications or suitability for the position.
  • Political Interference: Boards may exert political pressure on colleges to hire individuals with specific political affiliations, thereby compromising the merit-based selection process.
  • Personal Agendas: Board members may use their positions to promote their personal agendas, influencing hiring decisions to further their own interests.
  • Violation of Local Autonomy: Boards may overstep their appropriate governance role by making hiring and selection decisions that should be the responsibility of local college administrators and hiring committees.

Transgressions such as these can erode the principles of meritocracy, equity, and local autonomy, thus undermining the credibility and integrity of the community college system.

The Impact on College Hiring

Failures by boards of trustees to respect local processes can have far-reaching consequences for the processes and for the integrity of participatory governance. Some key impacts can include the following:

  • Erosion of Meritocracy: Hiring based on qualifications, experience, and merit is essential for maintaining the quality of education. Decisions based on factors other than merit compromise the ability of colleges to hire the most qualified candidates, which ultimately harms the educational experience of students.
  • Undermining Trust: Trustee transgressions can erode transparency and trust in the hiring process. Students, faculty, and staff serving on selection committees, as well as the broader college community, may lose confidence in the fairness of selection procedures, leading to a sense of disillusionment and apathy. Boards of trustees can thus lose credibility.
  • Weakening Local Autonomy and Participatory Governance: By failing to respect hiring processes, boards of trustees undermine the principle of local autonomy, impeding the ability of colleges to respond effectively to the unique needs of their communities. Such situations can hinder innovation and responsiveness.
  • Reduction in Diversity and Inclusion: When hiring practices are influenced by personal agendas, nepotism, or political interference, decisions can result in a less diverse and inclusive workforce. Such actions undermine the community college system's commitment to serving a broad spectrum of students, especially students of color.
  • Legal and Ethical Implications: Failure to respect hiring processes may potentially lead to lawsuits, investigations, and damage to the reputation of the institution.

Instances of Trustee Transgressions

A few notable examples of transgressions by local boards of trustees regarding hiring and selection processes have occurred in recent years. These examples are offered here not to condemn individual boards but to demonstrate the potential impacts of such actions.

In 2013, City College of San Francisco faced the threat of losing its accreditation due to a variety of issues, including governance and financial mismanagement. The accrediting body's report highlighted concerns about the board of trustees' interference in operational matters, including hiring and personnel decisions. As a result, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors had to intervene and appoint a special trustee to help address the issues (Baron, 2012). While the college was able to retain its accreditation, the episode highlighted the significant impact that the trustees’ misconduct can have on the stability and reputation of a college.

In 2021, the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees was criticized by an Alameda County grand jury for “infighting, unhealthy governance and ineffective leadership,” including “multiple instances between 2018 and 2020 of board members interfering in chancellors’ recommended appointments or hiring of employees to the point that they compromised a ‘fair and independent hiring process’” (Smith, A., 2021).

In 2023, a Los Angeles Southwest College presidential hiring and selection committee, following the codified hiring and selection process for a permanent college president, submitted a list of candidates to the district chancellor for board approval. The board of trustees rejected the candidates recommended by the hiring and selection committee and, rather than reopening the search, appointed the current interim president, who was not one of the candidates recommended by the hiring and selection committee (Bell, 2023). This appointment led to wide-ranging impacts for the college, including undermining trust in and weakening all governance processes as well as preventing the Los Angeles Community College District from addressing a monitored group EEO gap relating to the diversity and equity of its multiple permanent college presidents.

In the Los Angeles Southwest College case, one trustee posited that employees of the college who did not live in the community of the college should not be able to make decisions on what happens in that community (Bell, 2023). However, California Education Code §87428 states, “No community college district may adopt or maintain any rule or regulation which requires a candidate for an academic position to be a resident of the district or to become a resident of the district, or which requires that an employee maintain residency within the district; nor may a district grant any preferential treatment to candidates or employees because they are residents of the district.” The LACCD has no district policy that requires residency, and thus the trustee’s statement is clearly an improper rationale for rejecting the recommendations of the hiring and selection committee, let alone appointing a candidate that was not recommended through the established local process.

Promoting Transparency and Accountability

To address potential failures to respect processes by boards of trustees, districts need to emphasize transparency and accountability in their hiring and selection processes. Some possible steps include the following:

  • Clear Hiring Policies: Establish clear and transparent hiring policies that outline the roles and responsibilities of hiring committees, administrators, and the board of trustees.
  • Involvement of Stakeholders: Engage all relevant stakeholders, such as faculty, staff, and students, in the hiring process to ensure transparency and accountability.
  • Training and Education: Provide training on the importance of merit-based hiring and the legal and ethical considerations involved for board members as well as all campus leadership.
  • Failed Search Transparency: Inform the college community when a search fails, offering an explanation of the reasons for the failure.
  • Protecting Whistleblowers: Establish whistleblower protections to encourage individuals to come forward with information about process irregularities.

In addition, the state, in collaboration with local colleges, may consider establishing oversight mechanisms to review and investigate instances of irregularities in hiring processes.

Moving Forward for Academic Senates

Transgressions by boards of trustees in college hiring and selection processes are a challenge that threatens the principles of local autonomy, transparency, equity, and meritocracy. Some ways that local academic senates can proactively work with governing boards to maintain productive participatory governance and regular communication are as follows:

  • Present regular reports at board meetings, invite board members to visit local academic senate meetings, and present participatory governance goals at board retreats and trainings.
  • Understand the roles, responsibilities, and rights of governing boards and local academic senates. Senates should be familiar with their local board policies, Title 5, and Education Code and educate the entire campus. [1]
  • Partner with the college and district administration and the board of trustees to request a Collegiality in Action training visit from the ASCCC and the Community College League of California.
  • Along with college administration, explore ways to encourage and incentivize local student government and student trustees to attend trainings on participatory governance so that the students stay informed and involved.

Ultimately, the focus must remain on the best interests of  students and the community each college serves. An environment where hiring decisions are based on effective participatory governance, merit, and the unique needs of each institution is crucial to ensuring that California's community colleges continue to provide the quality education that students deserve while developing a workplace that upholds and respects its own policies and procedures.


Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. (2020). Local Senates Handbook.

Baron, K. (2012, Oct.5). San Francisco City College to Get Special Trustee. EdSource.

Bell, G. (2023, Aug.28). Controversy Shrouds Hiring of Dr. Anthony Culpepper as Southwest College President. L. A. Focus on the Word.

California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. (n.d.). Key Facts.

Smith, A. (2021, June 22). Civil grand jury blasts Bay Area community college district board. EdSource.

Smith, J. C. (2019). Trustee Handbook. Community College League of California.

1. Some useful documents for understanding the roles of all college constituencies are “Participating Efrectively in District and College Governance” and “Scenarios to Illustrate Effective Participation in District and College Governance”, both of which are joint publications of the ASCCC and the Community College League of California, and the ASCCC’s “When the Board of Trustees Says “NO!” To Recommendations of the Senate”.