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Foothill-De Anza board declines to reinstate Thuy Nguyen as president

Some community members had pushed for Nguyen's reinstatement. She was placed on administrative leave last fall following a dispute with faculty.

Attendees listen during the Foothill-De Anza Community College District board meeting in Los Altos Hills on April 4, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The Foothill-De Anza Community College District board of trustees declined to reinstate Thuy Nguyen as Foothill College's president at a Monday, April 4, meeting, despite a recent campaign to keep her on the job.

Thuy Nguyen is seeking to be reinstated to her position as president of Foothill College. File photo by Sinead Chang.

The board stuck by its unanimous vote in October 2021 to not renew Nguyen's contract, which expires at the end of June. The move came after the college's Academic Senate passed a vote of no confidence in Nguyen's leadership last fall, which stated that she had ignored faculty voices as president.

Following the board's October decision, Nguyen was placed on administrative leave. Bernadine Chuck Fong, who led Foothill from 1994 until her retirement in 2006, has come back to serve as interim president this school year.

In recent weeks, there has been a push by some in the community to get the board to reinstate Nguyen, with supporters arguing that faculty members were resistant to Nguyen's leadership as a Vietnamese American woman and specifically to her efforts to address racial inequities at the college. When Nguyen took the helm at Foothill in 2016, she was the first Vietnamese American college president in the country, according to her biography on Foothill's website.

The district's board took up consideration of whether to reinstate Nguyen and renew her contract this week at the request of Nguyen's supporters. Board policy allows members of the public to place items on board meeting agendas.

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Dozens of people turned out to the meeting, filling most of the seats in the boardroom, and more than 20 speakers addressed the board, with roughly half in favor of Nguyen's leadership and the other half opposed.

Foothill-De Anza Community College District board President Patrick Ahrens. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Immediately after the speakers finished, the board went into closed session to deliberate. Board President Patrick Ahrens told the audience that the district's legal counsel had advised the board that the topic of Nguyen's employment status wasn't appropriate for public discussion.

After roughly 15 minutes, the board members returned and Ahrens announced that they took no action in closed session. That means Nguyen is still on administrative leave with her contract set to expire this summer.

After the meeting, Ahrens wouldn't comment on why the board didn't decide to take action on Nguyen's contract, beyond saying that the board appreciated the input of those who spoke on the issue. Nguyen was in the audience during Monday's meeting, but didn't address the board herself and declined to comment after the meeting.

Contrasting versions of Nguyen's leadership

Foothill College staff members speak out against President Thuy Nguyen at a Foothill-De Anza Community College District board meeting in Los Altos Hills on April 4, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Faculty members and other staff who spoke at Monday's board meeting largely opposed reinstating Nguyen as Foothill's president. They described their concerns as unrelated to Nguyen's work to address racial inequities, but rather based on her job performance. Faculty said she made unilateral decisions and created a hostile environment that led employee morale to suffer.

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Foothill College counselor Leticia Serna told the board that Nguyen's dismissal was warranted and that the college is still trying to heal and move forward.

"Her request for reinstatement adds salt to our wounds. Thuy has a tendency of using race and gender to characterize how she believes our district is treating her. However, the issues we have consistently raised have nothing to do with her race and gender. This isn't an equity issue," Serna said. "The board of trustees' decision to let Thuy Nguyen go was based on her blanket lack of fair and effective leadership, and the hostile, retaliatory management environment that many of her employees endured under her tenure."

In contrast, those who supported Nguyen characterized the faculty members' opposition as the result of a reticence to truly address and confront issues of racism at the community college.

Paul Fong, a former Foothill-De Anza trustee, spoke in favor of Nguyen and pointed to the board's own goals stating that the district wants to address systemic inequities and institutional racism. Rather than support Nguyen in her work to address these issues, Fong said that the board and Chancellor Judy Miner couldn't take the pressures of mediation with the faculty and decided to terminate Nguyen.

"Are you serious about addressing these concerns of racial inequities or not?" Fong asked the board. "The board of trustees and chancellor should reinstate the president and have the Academic Senate and president resume their attempts at mediation."

Members of the president's cabinet wrote a letter to the board opposing what they characterized as a push by outside groups for Nguyen's reinstatement. Interim Vice President for Instruction and Institutional Research Kurt Hueg told the board that the letter from the cabinet was unprecedented in his 26 years as an administrator.

"We did it not lightly, but with the full support of our members because of how critical this situation is," Hueg said. "We put our full support in the Academic Senate and we put our full support in you to do the right thing for our students and for our college moving forward."

Some of those who supported Nguyen pushed back on the characterization that those who want her reinstatement come from outside the college. Groups like the Asian Law Alliance, local NAACP chapter and Vietnamese American Professional Women Association of Silicon Valley are among those who urged the board to extend Nguyen's contract. However, current and former students, as well as a faculty member, also spoke in her defense on Monday.

Foothill student Sara Song told the board that Nguyen worked with Asian students to hear and address their concerns in the wake of a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes over the past several years. Nguyen was approachable, supportive and willing to advocate for students' needs, Song said.

"Her devotion (to) racial equity really encouraged us to take the initiative to speak up for our own rights," Song said.

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Foothill-De Anza board declines to reinstate Thuy Nguyen as president

Some community members had pushed for Nguyen's reinstatement. She was placed on administrative leave last fall following a dispute with faculty.

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Apr 5, 2022, 10:31 am

The Foothill-De Anza Community College District board of trustees declined to reinstate Thuy Nguyen as Foothill College's president at a Monday, April 4, meeting, despite a recent campaign to keep her on the job.

The board stuck by its unanimous vote in October 2021 to not renew Nguyen's contract, which expires at the end of June. The move came after the college's Academic Senate passed a vote of no confidence in Nguyen's leadership last fall, which stated that she had ignored faculty voices as president.

Following the board's October decision, Nguyen was placed on administrative leave. Bernadine Chuck Fong, who led Foothill from 1994 until her retirement in 2006, has come back to serve as interim president this school year.

In recent weeks, there has been a push by some in the community to get the board to reinstate Nguyen, with supporters arguing that faculty members were resistant to Nguyen's leadership as a Vietnamese American woman and specifically to her efforts to address racial inequities at the college. When Nguyen took the helm at Foothill in 2016, she was the first Vietnamese American college president in the country, according to her biography on Foothill's website.

The district's board took up consideration of whether to reinstate Nguyen and renew her contract this week at the request of Nguyen's supporters. Board policy allows members of the public to place items on board meeting agendas.

Dozens of people turned out to the meeting, filling most of the seats in the boardroom, and more than 20 speakers addressed the board, with roughly half in favor of Nguyen's leadership and the other half opposed.

Immediately after the speakers finished, the board went into closed session to deliberate. Board President Patrick Ahrens told the audience that the district's legal counsel had advised the board that the topic of Nguyen's employment status wasn't appropriate for public discussion.

After roughly 15 minutes, the board members returned and Ahrens announced that they took no action in closed session. That means Nguyen is still on administrative leave with her contract set to expire this summer.

After the meeting, Ahrens wouldn't comment on why the board didn't decide to take action on Nguyen's contract, beyond saying that the board appreciated the input of those who spoke on the issue. Nguyen was in the audience during Monday's meeting, but didn't address the board herself and declined to comment after the meeting.

Contrasting versions of Nguyen's leadership

Faculty members and other staff who spoke at Monday's board meeting largely opposed reinstating Nguyen as Foothill's president. They described their concerns as unrelated to Nguyen's work to address racial inequities, but rather based on her job performance. Faculty said she made unilateral decisions and created a hostile environment that led employee morale to suffer.

Foothill College counselor Leticia Serna told the board that Nguyen's dismissal was warranted and that the college is still trying to heal and move forward.

"Her request for reinstatement adds salt to our wounds. Thuy has a tendency of using race and gender to characterize how she believes our district is treating her. However, the issues we have consistently raised have nothing to do with her race and gender. This isn't an equity issue," Serna said. "The board of trustees' decision to let Thuy Nguyen go was based on her blanket lack of fair and effective leadership, and the hostile, retaliatory management environment that many of her employees endured under her tenure."

In contrast, those who supported Nguyen characterized the faculty members' opposition as the result of a reticence to truly address and confront issues of racism at the community college.

Paul Fong, a former Foothill-De Anza trustee, spoke in favor of Nguyen and pointed to the board's own goals stating that the district wants to address systemic inequities and institutional racism. Rather than support Nguyen in her work to address these issues, Fong said that the board and Chancellor Judy Miner couldn't take the pressures of mediation with the faculty and decided to terminate Nguyen.

"Are you serious about addressing these concerns of racial inequities or not?" Fong asked the board. "The board of trustees and chancellor should reinstate the president and have the Academic Senate and president resume their attempts at mediation."

Members of the president's cabinet wrote a letter to the board opposing what they characterized as a push by outside groups for Nguyen's reinstatement. Interim Vice President for Instruction and Institutional Research Kurt Hueg told the board that the letter from the cabinet was unprecedented in his 26 years as an administrator.

"We did it not lightly, but with the full support of our members because of how critical this situation is," Hueg said. "We put our full support in the Academic Senate and we put our full support in you to do the right thing for our students and for our college moving forward."

Some of those who supported Nguyen pushed back on the characterization that those who want her reinstatement come from outside the college. Groups like the Asian Law Alliance, local NAACP chapter and Vietnamese American Professional Women Association of Silicon Valley are among those who urged the board to extend Nguyen's contract. However, current and former students, as well as a faculty member, also spoke in her defense on Monday.

Foothill student Sara Song told the board that Nguyen worked with Asian students to hear and address their concerns in the wake of a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes over the past several years. Nguyen was approachable, supportive and willing to advocate for students' needs, Song said.

"Her devotion (to) racial equity really encouraged us to take the initiative to speak up for our own rights," Song said.

Comments

Ken Horowitz
Registered user
another community
on Apr 5, 2022 at 3:23 pm
Ken Horowitz , another community
Registered user
on Apr 5, 2022 at 3:23 pm

It is disheartening that the faculty of a publicly funded community college resented input from the community, calling the community "outsiders". District voters have passed three major Bond measures totally nearly $3B and supported the FHDA Foundation with thousands of scholarships for our students. The faculty also spent all their time attacking President Nguyen without any expression of empathy for the students who so much wanted her return to Foothill College.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Apr 5, 2022 at 4:06 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Apr 5, 2022 at 4:06 pm

[Portion removed due to violation of terms of use] This 'dismissed person' (President) does not at all have the background to just "BE DISMISSED" by those who run our Public Community College. So - why doesn't the Voice do a Public Records Act on this district / and / get ALL the emails between "staff" on the "cabinet" that mention this. [ HR department internal personnel files excepted ] [but the 2 colleges don't evaluate their Own Presidents / right?]

"Interim Vice President for Instruction and Institutional Research Kurt Hueg told the board that the letter from the cabinet was unprecedented in his 26 years as an administrator.
"We did it not lightly, but with the full support of our members because of how critical this situation is," Hueg said / ===> "the cabinet" Hueg "reinstatement" key words!
[Portion removed due to violation of terms of use]


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Apr 8, 2022 at 3:33 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Apr 8, 2022 at 3:33 pm

the Voice reporter failed to note the correct legal basis for this community Agenda Item request
" Board policy allows members of the public to place items on board meeting agendas."

Rather - State law Requires the Board ... to place items on regular board meeting agendas.

Not "allows" - there is no FHDA Board discretion on this.


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