By Gerald Bell
At a tension-filled board meeting of the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) on August 2, numerous speakers took to the podium, both physically and virtually, to voice their thoughts on the controversial decision to appoint Dr. Anthony Culpepper as president of Los Angeles Southwest College (LASC). The announcement of Dr. Culpepper’s appointment, which had been made earlier that day, sparked debate and had become the focal point of an ongoing controversy surrounding the college’s presidential selection process.
The majority of speakers expressed opposition to the decision but stressed that their objections were not targeted at Dr. Culpepper or his qualifications as an administrator, but rather, on the perceived flaws in the selection process. Among them was Blanca Barajas, CalWorks Director at Southwest College, and a former college alumnus, who criticized the board for its apparent disregard of the selection committee’s input.
“As one of 11 LASC colleagues serving on the recent presidential search and interview committee, I was dismayed to learn that a board that promotes and proclaims diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility has brazenly disregarded the unified voice of a selection committee.”
Echoing this sentiment, Angela Echeverri, president of the LACCD Academic Senate, questioned the board’s authority to handpick a candidate, bypassing the search committee’s role and engaging in what she perceived as unfair hiring practices.
“The board should not send a message that the work of a search committee is meaningless and that the hiring process outcome is determined from the onset and that this whole process is a sham.”
Other speakers, including an SEIU Local 99 representative urged the Board to start the process over, adding that he didn’t understand “the point of having an interview process if at the end, the Chancellor gets to pick who he wants to pick.”
Despite the widespread criticism, some advocated for Dr. Culpepper, including Dallas Fowler, a member of the L.A. Southwest College Foundation Board of Directors, who praised the progress made under his leadership.
“It has been a joy to get his reports and see the work and progress on our campus. Unfortunately, a lot of the work that has been done by Dr. Culpepper was unfortunately overshadowed by this process. I know there’s a lot of folks in this room there’s a lot of emotions, but if you are not living south of Manchester, please consider the people who really live here.”
Several board members, including Andra Hoffman, joined the critics, expressing concern over the future implications of the recent events.
“This is a very dark day in the district,” Hoffman said. “I literally had hundreds of emails flooding my inbox, not only concerned about what happened with this particular process, but what will happen moving forward when we have to take a vote like this in public, as this doesn’t bode well for anybody.”
However, LACCD Board Vice-President Nichelle Henderson defended the decision, crediting Dr. Culpepper for increased student enrollment and community involvement and supporting his permanency in the role.
“I truly respect your decisions”, Henderson said, “but I am a member of this community that LA Southwest College is in and as a member of that community, I’ve watched this college change over the years and not for the good — the continual decline in enrollment, constant turnover of presidents. Over the past year, there has been a distinct increase in student enrollment and community involvement.
“I am voting in favor of having Dr. Culpepper continue as the permanent president of this college because he is a reflection of my interests and the interests of those people in the community who are supporting him. And in my view, if you don’t live in that community—faculty member or not—you have no right to dictate what happens to folks in a community based on the sheer reason that this particular college was created. It wasn’t created because folks cared about process. The process excluded them.”
A 6-2 vote cemented the decision for Culpepper who has served in the Interim President role since July 2022.
In the end, a 6-2 vote finalized Dr. Culpepper’s appointment, who had been serving as Interim President since July 2022. Chancellor Francisco C. Rodriguez praised Dr. Culpepper’s passion and leadership, expressing confidence in his ability to take Southwest College to new heights.
“Dr. Culpepper has proven that he has the passion, ingenuity and drive to lead Southwest College,” said Chancellor Francisco C. Rodriguez. “During his tenure as Interim President, he connected with diverse populations that have promoted access to educational opportunities for students and the college. He has navigated LASC through several key milestones and I know that he has what it takes to lead Southwest to the next level.”
Expressing gratitude for the appointment, Dr. Culpepper reaffirmed his commitment to supporting his colleagues’ dedication to student success.
“I believe that LASC is a doorway to social and economic mobility and that everyone should have access. As President I will continue my connection to the staff, faculty, students, and the community,” Culpepper continued. “I look forward to supporting my campus colleague’s passion for student success and continue to be awed by their tireless work. My job will continue to lift and highlight the special jewel that is LASC, and our willingness to change the social and economic mobility of all who engage with it.”