Several African-American candidates for an opening on the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) Board of Trustees are challenging the board's decision to put David Vela in the seat to replace Sydney Kamlager-Dove, who is leaving for a seat in the state Assembly.
They say the move means there will not be an African-American on the board for at least the next two years.
"Black students comprise 12 percent of the LACCD student body, the largest number of black students in any system of higher education in the state,” said former L.A. City Commissioner Dallas Fowler, one of the candidates, in a press release. “Those students deserve to see gender parity in the leadership as well as someone reflected from their ethnicities. There are four times the amount of African-Americans in LACCD than all the UCs combined."
Fowler told L.A. Weekly that, of the 26 applicants for the seat, eight were African-American, and all were well-qualified. Half of the applicants were female.
Vela, after the June 8 vote, will represent Seat 3 for the remainder of Kamlager’s term, until December 2020. He is the fourth Latino and sixth male on the seven-member board.
The district oversees nine colleges and 250,000 students. According to laced.edu, 58 percent of the students in the district are Latino, 12.8 percent African-American, 12.3 percent Asian and 15.2 percent white. The district says 51 percent of its students are below the poverty line.
District officials described Vela as well qualified after an "extensive career in public service." A former senior adviser to Gov. Gray Davis and senior deputy to L.A. Supervisor Gloria Molina, he is now senior vice president of external affairs for the Lee Andrews Group, a public relations firm.
"Mr. Vela brings an important voice and lived experience to the Board of Trustees. His extensive leadership in the public sector locally and in Sacramento adds tremendous value toward meeting our educational mission and serving the diverse needs of our students,” Chancellor Francisco C. Rodriguez said in a statement.
Melina Abdullah, professor and chair of pan-African studies at California State University, Los Angeles, said she and other African-American candidates had strong backing at the board meeting.
“Community leaders filled the room and spoke powerfully for me," Abdullah said in a press release. "There was also tremendous support for Valerie (Lynne Shaw) from black political leadership. ... Our effort was to ensure that someone black — and especially a black woman — succeeded Kamlager-Dove as trustee.
"This was clearly a predetermined game wherein the will of the community — who refused to elect Vela twice in his previous election bids — did not matter.”
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Fowler said African-American students need adequate representation on which they can rely to fight for them to get the programming and resources they need to be successful. "From a procurement standpoint, the district is a multibillion-dollar economic engine of its own, and the diversity of procurement is also a huge factor for small [business], women and minority contractors," she said.
However, Fowler said that campus safety for students is at stake, and 50 percent of the student population is food- and housing-insecure. Steps need to be taken to ensure parity in the future, and Fowler believes that community education is key.
“Moving forward we will be working to educate communities throughout the district on how ... our population not having representation negatively impacts our growth as a district, and begin to push for the programming and policy agenda we have envisioned to give our students in Los Angeles the competitive edge they need to survive in a global economy,” Fowler said.
“We will also be recruiting a diverse pool of well-qualified women candidates to run for service on this board in 2020.”