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Tim Myers: In praise of Chancellor Van Hook

Myers' Musings

Posted: September 18, 2010 8:46 p.m.
Updated: September 19, 2010 4:55 a.m.

One can always tell when a person gains that rarefied place of beloved, important or longtime leader: when people begin referencing them with their initials. Our own College of the Canyons Chancellor Dianne Van Hook gained that status recently when commenters and bloggers discussing her most recent pay raise referred to her with the moniker “DVH.”

While one can provide many testimonials to DVH and her leadership at COC, perhaps the single-most important triumph includes her relative absence from the local media except to discuss her pay package, a more “well-known” leader associated with unending comments about the latest catastrophe befalling the institution under their care.

Even the recent budget reductions found COC soldiering through the crisis better than most, actually conducting a robust summer session while many peer community colleges shuttered their doors for cost savings.

Fourteen years ago, I wrote how a person possessed some type of serious, diagnosable mental pathology to run for an elected seat on any of the local school organizations’ governing boards. I must now amend that to exclude COC, where multitudes — particularly those hankering after higher office — scramble to fill open seats, since in their tenure on the COC board they can bask in the reflected glory of DVH’s leadership and use it to an advantage when they run for their next position.

I do not praise DVH for COC’s triumphs that would occur no matter who sat in the chancellor’s chair. I include in these the tremendous growth of COC since its opening and its excellent University of California and California State University transfer record. I see these driven primarily by demographics and the growth of the area served  producing a tidal wave that even a terrible leader could not stop.

But where I do praise DVH for the navigation of the bad things that occur from time to time. Two immediately come to mind.

First, the matter of a Canyon Country campus. Growth, the price of fuel and the wish for reasonable traffic patterns dictate that an institution perched on the extreme west side of the area it serves must provide brick and mortar to its farthest reaches.

COC did this, but not without bumps. The land purchased ended up quite expensive with all the attendant building problems associated with the sloped land remaining in the SCV, and legitimate questions surrounded the purchase and whether landowners “gamed” the public institution into paying a higher price.

While probably unfair, one cannot help but compare the ultimate result with the other large public institution in town: the William S. Hart Union High School District and its building of a high school in Castaic.

A nonprofit acting for the benefit of the Hart district purchased land more than 10 years ago for that high school and, just recently, the Hart board voted to begin the five-year process to build the high school on an entirely different parcel. The wait continues.

But COC, despite the controversy surrounding the purchase and building conditions, pressed forward and in a mere 18 months opened a functioning campus to serve the educational needs of the eastern part of the SCV. Quick success will forgive the worst missteps.

Second, I bring forth the nearly forgotten catastrophe of the Vital Express naming rights for what is now the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at COC. To much fanfare the thinly capitalized Vital Express made a $2 million “commitment” for the rights to name the center.

One year on, the COC Foundation revealed that no money changed hands and that the Boazes, the principles of Vital Express, planned for the company to pay off the obligation monthly over the period of the naming. In the end, Vital Express revoked more than 95 percent of its pledge, funded only modestly and primarily with the signage that announced the naming.

After the revocation The Signal reported, the Vital Express signage still remained and the paper published a quote from some mid-level COC functionary that no money existed in the budget to remove them. I drove by the arts center the next morning and found the signs gone. I often hold an image in my mind of DVH herself roving the parking lot at midnight and ripping out the signs with her bare hands.

While some “haters” may decry DVH’s most recent pay rise, they should ask themselves this question: If we were talking about the Hart district and its leadership, would the Vital Express signs still be there?

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Myers’ Musings” appears Sundays in The Signal.


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