News

Foothill College president ousted mid-year amid conflict with faculty

President Thuy Nguyen placed on paid administrative leave, community college district board votes unanimously not to renew her contract

Foothill College President Thuy Nguyen is being placed on administrative leave effective Nov. 1, 2021. Photo by Sinead Chang.

Foothill College President Thuy Nguyen is out of a job, with the community college district's board of trustees voting unanimously Monday night, Oct. 25, not to renew her contract.

The decision comes amid internal strife at the college; Foothill's academic senate took a vote of no confidence in Nguyen at a meeting earlier on Monday.

Nguyen, who has led Foothill since 2016, will be put on paid administrative leave effective Nov. 1. Her current contract runs through June 2022 and her annual base salary is $262,038.12, district spokesperson Becky Bartindale confirmed.

Former Foothill President Bernadine Chuck Fong will take the helm and serve as acting president starting next week, according to a letter Chancellor Judy Miner sent to staff Monday night. Fong previously served as Foothill's president from 1994 until her retirement in 2006, Bartindale said.

District board President Peter Landsberger said at Monday's meeting that not renewing Nguyen's contract was "needed to allow the college to move beyond the current state of conflict."

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The board's vote came in a closed session Monday evening.

An audio recording of public comments before the board went into closed session included faculty speaking out against Nguyen. Attached to the meeting agenda were 74 pages of written comments weighing in on Nguyen's leadership at Foothill. Some called for her ouster, arguing that she ignores faculty input and lacks leadership skills, while others contended that her removal would be a reflection of institutional bias and a lack of willingness to address inequity at the college.

Sara Cooper, an associate professor of biology, wrote the board that faculty lacks confidence in Nguyen but fears retribution if they speak up, adding that the governance process at Foothill is in "tatters."

"President Nguyen's relationship with faculty is beyond repair," Cooper wrote. "There is no collaborative or collegial consultation about anything."

Others wrote to support Nguyen, including Asian Law Alliance (ALA) Executive Director Richard Konda, who told the board that addressing injustice and systemic racism is necessary, especially at higher education institutions like Foothill.

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"Instead of engaging in the difficult but necessary dialogue, it may seem more convenient or expedient to some to marginalize a leader of color like President Nguyen because she is only one person," Konda wrote. "ALA wants you to know that President Nguyen is not alone, and that she has the support of many and she represents many."

In a public letter after the decision was announced, Nguyen wrote that it has been an "absolute honor" to serve as president and went on to thank the board of trustees, Miner, district faculty and staff, students and the community. Nguyen also outlined achievements the college has made during her tenure, in particular pointing to Foothill's work on racial equity.

"I have put my best efforts into this task, even to the very end, of advancing Foothill College’s commitment to racial equity," Nguyen wrote.

Nguyen is the first Vietnamese American college president in the country, according to her biography on Foothill's website. She and her family fled Vietnam when she was 3 years old and ultimately settled in Oakland.

Landsberger said at Monday's meeting that the board prioritizes equity and student success but believes its decision not to renew Nguyen's contract was necessary to ensure administrators, faculty, staff and students can work collaboratively.

"Nothing in this action should be interpreted as a retreat from Foothill's equity agenda," said Landsberger. "Foothill-De Anza has a long history of advancing equity and inclusion, and this work will continue uninterrupted."

This story has been updated.

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Foothill College president ousted mid-year amid conflict with faculty

President Thuy Nguyen placed on paid administrative leave, community college district board votes unanimously not to renew her contract

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Oct 26, 2021, 2:16 pm
Updated: Thu, Oct 28, 2021, 3:07 pm

Foothill College President Thuy Nguyen is out of a job, with the community college district's board of trustees voting unanimously Monday night, Oct. 25, not to renew her contract.

The decision comes amid internal strife at the college; Foothill's academic senate took a vote of no confidence in Nguyen at a meeting earlier on Monday.

Nguyen, who has led Foothill since 2016, will be put on paid administrative leave effective Nov. 1. Her current contract runs through June 2022 and her annual base salary is $262,038.12, district spokesperson Becky Bartindale confirmed.

Former Foothill President Bernadine Chuck Fong will take the helm and serve as acting president starting next week, according to a letter Chancellor Judy Miner sent to staff Monday night. Fong previously served as Foothill's president from 1994 until her retirement in 2006, Bartindale said.

District board President Peter Landsberger said at Monday's meeting that not renewing Nguyen's contract was "needed to allow the college to move beyond the current state of conflict."

The board's vote came in a closed session Monday evening.

An audio recording of public comments before the board went into closed session included faculty speaking out against Nguyen. Attached to the meeting agenda were 74 pages of written comments weighing in on Nguyen's leadership at Foothill. Some called for her ouster, arguing that she ignores faculty input and lacks leadership skills, while others contended that her removal would be a reflection of institutional bias and a lack of willingness to address inequity at the college.

Sara Cooper, an associate professor of biology, wrote the board that faculty lacks confidence in Nguyen but fears retribution if they speak up, adding that the governance process at Foothill is in "tatters."

"President Nguyen's relationship with faculty is beyond repair," Cooper wrote. "There is no collaborative or collegial consultation about anything."

Others wrote to support Nguyen, including Asian Law Alliance (ALA) Executive Director Richard Konda, who told the board that addressing injustice and systemic racism is necessary, especially at higher education institutions like Foothill.

"Instead of engaging in the difficult but necessary dialogue, it may seem more convenient or expedient to some to marginalize a leader of color like President Nguyen because she is only one person," Konda wrote. "ALA wants you to know that President Nguyen is not alone, and that she has the support of many and she represents many."

In a public letter after the decision was announced, Nguyen wrote that it has been an "absolute honor" to serve as president and went on to thank the board of trustees, Miner, district faculty and staff, students and the community. Nguyen also outlined achievements the college has made during her tenure, in particular pointing to Foothill's work on racial equity.

"I have put my best efforts into this task, even to the very end, of advancing Foothill College’s commitment to racial equity," Nguyen wrote.

Nguyen is the first Vietnamese American college president in the country, according to her biography on Foothill's website. She and her family fled Vietnam when she was 3 years old and ultimately settled in Oakland.

Landsberger said at Monday's meeting that the board prioritizes equity and student success but believes its decision not to renew Nguyen's contract was necessary to ensure administrators, faculty, staff and students can work collaboratively.

"Nothing in this action should be interpreted as a retreat from Foothill's equity agenda," said Landsberger. "Foothill-De Anza has a long history of advancing equity and inclusion, and this work will continue uninterrupted."

This story has been updated.

Comments

Jeremy Erman
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 26, 2021 at 8:08 pm
Jeremy Erman, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 26, 2021 at 8:08 pm

Very interesting. I wonder if this has anything to do with the aggressive cancelling of classes and closing/consolidating of department offices that started well before COVID.

The Academic Senate no-confidence resolution includes the following:

"WHEREAS, in contrast to her job description, President Nguyen has failed to “cultivate increased involvement in shared/participatory governance,” and as a result we have a governance process that renders the voices of faculty to be of no possible consequence or value other than to rubber stamp or validate decisions that have already been made, even in those areas explicitly requiring collegial consultation with faculty called out in Title 5and FHDA Board Policy 2223."


Mark
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2021 at 10:59 am
Mark, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2021 at 10:59 am

So, tenured faculty who feel totally secure in passing no confidence resolutions claim they fear retribution if they speak up about disagreements with Ms Nguyen who apparently has no similar job protections.


William Hitchens
Registered user
Mountain View
on Oct 27, 2021 at 1:07 pm
William Hitchens, Mountain View
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2021 at 1:07 pm

Disclaimer: This is all my Opinion from personal experience with Foothill College until the Covid shutdown. Some people may feel differently.

In response to Jeremy Erman's comment, sometime during the teens, Foothill College savaged both the Fine Arts and the PE Departments, canceled most of their on-campus classes, and combined them into one Department, with brilliant Art History instructor Simon Pennington as Dean. If there ever was a more bizarre combination than PE and Fine Arts, then I'd be hard pressed to think of one. There seemed to be growing concern being expressed by Foothill on-campus faculty, one example being the Faculty Senate, which was concerned about the general direction Foothill was heading.

More generally, Foothill seems (to me) to being relegated to 2nd class status relative to DeAnza College. Most of the 4-year transfer students seem to have been moved to DeAnza, and Foothill with getting relatively more remedial-education classes, along with having many of its other on-campus classes canceled and moved to online only status. This started several years before Covid. I've been wondering for quite some time if the ultimate aim is to turn Foothill into a satellite, mostly online virtual campus for all but the most special, remedial, and basic classes ---- plus their 2-year associate degree classes, most of which require hands-on experience and therefore must which must be on campus. Examples are Dental Hygiene, X-Ray Tech, and Vet Tech programs, all superb. It's really bad they don't have a 2-year pre-nursing AA too.


TerryR
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 27, 2021 at 2:58 pm
TerryR, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2021 at 2:58 pm

I wish this article had gone into some of the substantive issues, rather than just being all about closed sessions, failure to collaborate, equity agenda, and other vagueness. I didn't learn anything from the article about what Nguyen's policies are that rub the faculty the wrong way and what the faculty itself wants. Please address substantive issues in your articles, rather than just reporting on people sniping at each other.


Jeremy Erman
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 27, 2021 at 9:48 pm
Jeremy Erman, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2021 at 9:48 pm

TerryR, the article contains a link to the Academic Senate's "No confidence" resolution, but since the Board then voted in closed session and did not release details of its deliberations, I don't think the Weekly's reporters had access to many more specific details. The faculty's complaints have apparently been ongoing for a long time, but have mostly been kept from view, so it's extraordinary that the Board acted on them like this. I think we'll have to wait and see if more details come out in the coming weeks.


Brian
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Oct 27, 2021 at 10:40 pm
Brian, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2021 at 10:40 pm

Actually the article also included a link to "74 pages of written comments" where you can find quite a lot of details of the disagreements between the faculty (both tenured and non-tenured) and the president.


Jeremy Erman
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 27, 2021 at 11:56 pm
Jeremy Erman, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2021 at 11:56 pm

You're right, Brian; I saw those comments referred to in the Daily Post today, but forgot that Palo Alto Online had also referenced them.

To be clear, these are public comments sent to the Board of Trustees, and include viewpoints on all sides of the issue, but the majority of comments are in strong favor of the "no confidence" vote, and the Board of Trustees obviously agreed with them.


Cat
Registered user
Mountain View
on Oct 28, 2021 at 7:30 pm
Cat, Mountain View
Registered user
on Oct 28, 2021 at 7:30 pm

As a student at Foothill, I'm relieved. The lack of IRL and synchronous class options have been dismal and it really feels like we're the second-rate school. She gutted countless programs and was horrific to many of the faculty. She claimed to be about equity, but it's been anything but equitable so far. As a serious student trying to transfer, I will be switching to De Anza at the winter quarter. It only takes a brief look at the schedules at the different schools to understand why DA is doing so much better.


KEN HOROWITZ
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 29, 2021 at 9:18 am
KEN HOROWITZ, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 29, 2021 at 9:18 am

As a faculty member at Foothill College for over 45 years, there is more to this story than reported. Thuy Nguyen is a great person and a great leader. She was hired to close the achievement gap and was being successful in meeting those goals.
To accomplish those goals, changes needed to happen. Unfortunately, the faculty were not receptive to these changes. The Silicon Valley/San Jose Branch of the NAACP wrote in their letter to the Board of Trustees « This is a challenging process, particularly for people who do not see themselves as needing to change ».Thuy asked the faculty to continue the mediation process to continue to work out their differences, but the Faculty Senate passed a no confidence resolution with no remedy. They wanted the Board to fire President Nguyen. Her well regarded expertise and accomplishments on racially equity is renowned. She will take her talents to a higher level, and make a difference in the lives of our current generation of students. I wish her well!


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