The recent appointment of a new high-level administrator at Triton College has drawn the ire of the college’s faculty union and sparked a debate about the institution’s commitment to diversifying its administrative ranks and tackling chronic issues like low graduation rates among students of color.
During a regular meeting on Jan. 22, the Triton College Board of Trustees appointed Sue Campos vice president of Academic Affairs. Campos, who previously served as dean of Health Careers at the college, will replace Debra Baker, the outgoing Academic Affairs vice president who recently announced her retirement, effective May 31.
The appointment, officials with the Triton College Faculty Association said, marks at least the second time that the board has hired someone to fill the critical position without conducting a search process or posting the position publicly — actions the board president said are within the rights of the college’s president.
In a statement released on Jan. 22 and read during the meeting by Joe Dusek, the Faculty Association president, the union explained that it “takes no issue” with Campos becoming the next Academic Affairs vice president, “finding her eminently qualified and well known to be a fair-minded administrator. Rather, our concern is with the process, or lack of, used to select the next VP of Academic Affairs.”
The union said that, “in accordance with standard practice and general fairness,” the college should fill administrative positions only after a search process happens “in which positions are publicly posted, a search team representing members of the Triton College community assembled, and candidates thoroughly evaluated and vetted.”
The union explained that many challenges Triton is facing fall under the Academic Affairs vice president’s purview, including “declining enrollment, significant achievement gaps for minority students, and new mandates from the state.”
Those problems, they said, is “why it is critical that senior executive-level positions are selected from a diverse candidate pool through a fair and transparent interview process.”
During follow-up interviews, faculty union officials were critical of the lack of diversity among high-level administrators at the college and decried the low graduation rates among African American and Hispanic students.
According to college data, 59 percent of the college’s 11,627 students are minority — 16 percent African-American and 40 percent Hispanic or Latinx. But 70 percent of the college’s 30 top administrators, and 76 percent of the college’s full-time faculty members, are white.
Meanwhile, only 7 percent of full-time, first-time, degree/certificate-seeking African American undergraduates who matriculated in 2014 completed their programs of study within three years, according to Triton data. For Hispanics and whites in that group, the completion rate was 18 percent and 27 percent, respectively.
Union officials said the Campos appointment was indicative of Triton’s lackluster commitment to hiring more minority faculty and administrators, citing the example of Harper College, a community college in Palatine.
All three of the final candidates vying to become the college’s president are African American — despite the fact that 57 percent of Harper College’s student body is white.
In its statement, the union said when hiring, “the college should compare candidates on the basis of merit, qualifications, experience, background, and consideration of the college’s short- and long-term strategic goals; this is not possible without a proper search.”
During the Jan. 22 meeting, however, Triton’s board president, Mark Stephens, explained that Campos came highly recommended by Triton President Mary-Rita Moore.
Stephens said that Moore “was well within her rights under the rules of the school to” recommend hiring Campos and bypassing a search process, adding that, due to the suddenness of Baker’s decision to retire, it was important to get someone in the position swiftly.
Stephens added that the college is “starting to do better” and “starting to close up” the achievement gap. He added that the school is also improving in the area of enrollment and state mandates.
Given the improvements, Stephens said, “How we would help the school by going through a five-month process to replace [Baker] is questionable.”
But union officials explained that a search process would also help the college avoid the appearance of corruption.
“As Triton’s top-tier administrative positions are among the highest paid in the state,” union officials said, “the appointment of inside employees not only obstructs the inclusion of diverse talent, it creates an appearance of cronyism that jeopardizes the college’s reputation.”
When reached for comment on the hiring, President Moore issued a statement, explaining that she is looking forward to Campos serving as the college’s next chief academic officer.
“With 13 years as a full-time Triton College faculty member and 1.5 years as academic dean, her experience makes her uniquely qualified to continue Triton College’s success into the future,” Moore said.