Meet the candidates for Bellevue College President

Following the college’s mural defacement scandal in March,  Dr. Jerry Weber, the former president of the college, left his position. Since then, Dr. Kristen Jones, the Provost for Academic and Student Affairs, has been serving as Acting President, but the search for a more experienced Interim President has been on.

The Board of Trustees for Bellevue College has now narrowed their list of options down to three candidates, each detailed below: Dr. Yoshiko Harden, Gov. Gary Locke, and Dr. Raul Rodriguez.

Dr. Yoshiko Harden

            Dr. Harden currently serves as the Vice President for Student Services at Seattle Central College and is the former Vice President for Diversity of Bellevue College. She also served as the Director of Multicultural services and student development at Highline College and earned her doctorate in higher education policy from Northeastern University.

            We sat down over a video conference with Dr. Harden, where she told us that she has been interested in a presidency for a while now. Still, none of the other opportunities that popped up around Puget Sound were the right fit. When the interim president position became available at Bellevue, however, she said that “looking at the [position] with COVID and everything coming, I thought, this is the time for me to make a change.” That change, she says, is focused on “reengaging folks on campus, reengaging community,” and guiding the college through the potential for tough financial times ahead due to the coronavirus. “I know everyone’s very worried, given the enormity and impacts of COVID-19. I think you have to be tough, and you have to be transparent,” she told us.

When we asked her how she would go about making the tough decisions that may lie ahead, she said that “you need to have diverse, well-managed teams,” and that you “have to communicate early and often.” She had also mentioned earlier that she has been leading a large division at Seattle Central College for years and that “We’ve had kind of budget reductions every year. I’ve had to manage that and still maintain staffing levels through reorganization. Still maintain a high level of service.” She also emphasized her background in equity, diversity and inclusion during the interview, saying that “I bring a lot of breadth and depth of experience in my approach to that.” In her cover letter, she notes that when was the Bellevue College Vice President of Diversity, she led or co-led a number of institutional initiatives to that end. Among them, she worked to make implicit bias training mandatory for all staff serving on hiring committees, convert restrooms to all-gender use and make diversity statements mandatory for full-time hires. Altogether, she describes herself as an “an equity-minded, focused and collaborative leader,” and her greatest strength, she writes, “is my ability to lead and manage change.”

You can read a transcript of our interview with Dr. Harden Here

Gov. Gary Locke

            Gary Locke is a former governor of Washington State, and the first Chinese American to be elected governor in United States history, serving from 1997 to 2005.  He then went on to become the United States Secretary of Commerce under Barack Obama in 2009 and the United States ambassador to China in 2011. His cover letter emphasized his passion for education, discussing his efforts to improve the quality of Washington State’s education system while he served as governor, writing that education “was my top priority as governor, with a focus on raising academic standards, lowering class sizes and increasing teacher’s pay in our K-12 system and on greater and more stable funding and institutional autonomy for our public colleges and universities.” In our correspondence with him over email, he told us that his experience as governor gave him an understanding of the state budget process and that he was committed to using that to advocate for funding for education.

Gov. Locke also wrote that “I am a good listener and believe in reaching out to people for their ideas and suggestions on improving the operations of the organization and, more importantly, the morale of the staff, which is key to the success of any organization.” Similarly, when we asked him how he would go about making tough decisions, he told us that “I have always included others in my decision-making process.I value the diversity of viewpoints and robust discussion.” He further emphasized that equity and inclusion play an important role in his descision-making procees and always asks himself: “Does [this choice] promote civility, mutual respect, unity and equal opportunity?” Or does it “divide, disrespect or diminish our humanity?” when he evaluates programs or policies.

Gov. Locke’s main goals for the college are to “bring healing, stability and calm to the campus,” to “ensure adequate funding from the state,” and to “continue and accelerate the on-campus efforts to increase the graduation and completion rate in all our programs.”

You can read Governor Locke’s full answers HERE.

Dr. Raul Rodriguez

            Dr.  Rodriguez is currently the interim president of another large community college, East Los Angeles, and has previously held positions as president at both Los Medanos College and San Joaquin Delta College in California. He boasts a Ph.D. in Psychology from UC Santa Cruz and an M.A. in School and Applied Psychology from Fairfield University.

            Dr. Raul Rodriguez did not respond to our request for comment, but his cover letter focuses almost exclusively on “the breadth and depth of my experience in community colleges and higher education,” detailing his successes helping the colleges he has worked at to grow and flourish and cites his skills in maintaining financial stability during difficult times. Dr. Rodriguez also focuses on building positive relationships with staff, students, and community groups, and emphasizes that “you can’t fake compassion, stewardship, respect, integrity, service or student-centeredness.” In Dr. Rodriguez’s open interview with the campus last week, he mentioned that he wasn’t ready to make too many policy prescriptions just yet. “I’m a listener,” he said, “that’s what I would have to do first.”

You can access further information about the candidates on the Bellevue College Sharepoint or transcripts of our interviews with them HERE and HERE. The board plans to announce their final decision at their meeting on May 20.