Reedley College president resigns after one year

The Fresno BeeJuly 5, 2012 

Reedley College President Mitjl Capet resigned this week after leading the community college for less than a year, his brief tenure rocked by deep budget cuts and a warning from the regional accreditation commission. His announcement blindsided some faculty and trustees, who said the departure -- which came with little explanation -- threatens to destabilize programs and deplete faculty morale.

"It hit me like a rock," said Board of Trustees Vice President William Smith. "It's a mystery to me. I have no idea what's going on."

The State Center Community College Board of Trustees accepted Capet's resignation Tuesday night and told employees Thursday in an email that Capet resigned for "personal reasons."

The board is "committed to confidentiality and respect for Dr. Capet's privacy," the email said.

District officials declined to respond to questions from The Bee on Thursday, and Capet could not be reached for comment.

District leaders moved swiftly Thursday to tap Michael White, vice president of student services and the college's former football coach, as acting president; in his absence, Dean of Instruction Jan Dekker will be the administrator in charge, according to an email sent to employees by Lucy Ruiz, the college's public information officer.

The district will immediately launch a nationwide search for a new president. In the meantime, things will likely be rocky.

Smith said college programs, confidence and morale "all have to suffer a little bit when someone ups and leaves like that. It causes a lot of speculation and uneasiness."

Some faculty said Thursday they were surprised; the email from the board was the first they heard of Capet's resignation.

"I was just as shocked as everybody else," said Lacy Barnes, a Reedley College instructor and senior vice president for the California Federation of Teachers. Barnes said she had been encouraged by her interactions with Capet in her role as a representative of the faculty union and academic senate.

"It seemed like things were going well," she said.

Barnes said Capet's departure is the latest in a string of administrative turnovers on campus and at the district office that have created instability.

The abrupt change in leadership makes it difficult to implement and sustain new courses and programs, said Conrad Perez, chairman of the Math, Computer Science and Engineering Department.

Reedley also lost its vice president of instruction, Marilyn Behringer, days before Capet resigned. Behringer took the job in January 2010 and retired June 30. Capet joined Reedley College on Aug. 1 after serving as assistant to the chancellor at College of the Canyons/Santa Clarita Community College District. He replaced Barbara Hioco, who led Reedley College for seven years as its first female president.

During his tenure, Capet was confronted with budget cuts that slashed course offerings and hiked student fees, and a rocky accreditation that cited the college for shortcomings in planning and student learning assessments.

In May, a group of citizens launched a website alleging financial aid fraud and crumbling academic standards at Reedley. The site, Advocates for a Better College, abettercollege.org, features videos and testimony from Reedley students intended to highlight the college's problems.

John Rankin, an Orange Cove business owner who started the site, said Thursday that district policies, not Capet, are the problem. He said the college enrolls too many students who aren't prepared for college and who drop out after collecting their financial aid.

Rankin said he would have preferred to see Capet "roll up his sleeves and take this head on. ... I quite frankly wish he would have hung in there."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hsomerville@fresnobee.com or @heathersomervil on Twitter.

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