By Ken A. Epstein
Supporters of Dr. Elnora Webb breathed a partial sigh of relief this week when the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees unanimously approved a one-year contract extension for the popular Laney College president, who was facing losing her job at the end of the school year.
However, community members are still upset that the renewal is only for one year, which does not guarantee stability at the college, and that the district is not giving Webb a sufficient budget to institute the programs that the college needs.
The vote to renew Webb’s contact was taken in closed session and announced at the beginning of Tuesday night’s board meeting.
The board as a whole is happy that the chancellor and Dr. Webb were able to reach an agreement on a new contract, said Boardmember Linda Handy, who emphasized that “the chancellor and Dr. Webb came to a resolution. Both of them of them are accepting the terms of the contract.”
Handy said she was excited to see the passionate community outpouring to support positive change at the community colleges. “Working together, there is nothing that our city and colleges cannot accomplish for our students,” she said.
Community members who spoke at the meeting said they remained deeply concerned that Chancellor Jose Ortiz and the board had even been thinking about getting rid of Webb, considering what they see as her outstanding record and close ties to many segments of the community.
“We’ve spoken to you in person, via letters, emails and petitions with over 2,000 signatures,” said the Rev. Cheryl Ward, a founder of the East Bay Coalition for Change, speaking to the board and the chancellor.
“You have taken the vote, (and) we hope you attempt to restore confidence in the community,” she said. “We will be watching. Do not make her job difficult by not equipping her with the tools she needs.”
Among the members of the coalition are the African American Chamber of Commerce, Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA), NAACP Oakland Branch, National Action Network (NAN) of Oakland, Oakland Black Caucus, Faith Advisory Council and Pastors of Oakland and Black Elected Officials and Faith Based Leaders of the East Bay.
“We are here in total support of Dr. Elnora Webb. We get to see her in action on the campus – she is a stalwart individual,” said Carol Ward Allen, a professor in African American Studies at Laney, who has worked at the college since 1970.
“We see a shrinkage of the number of African Americans in all areas at the college,” she said.
Mary Trimble Norris, executive director of the American Indian Child Resource Center, praised Webb for creating educational opportunities for young people in her program.
“She personally reached out to the American Indians who we serve and welcomed them to attend Laney College,” said Norris, who is Oglala Lakota.
“The American Indian community often feels shut out, like we’re invisible people,” said Norris, adding that Webb has demonstrated that she is a friend “by actions, not words.”
Local business owner Geoffrey Pete said that he considered the threat to Webb’s job to be part of the overall gentrification that is progressing in Oakland.
“ I live in a city in which there is an all out assault on the African American community,” Pete said.
“Gentrification has a myriad of moving parts,” he said, which mean getting “rid of us in the residential, educational and employment aspects of our community.”
Among others who supported Webb were Merlin Edwards of the Oakland African-American Chamber of Commerce; Carl Chan, known as the mayor of Chinatown; and Ada Chan from council member Rebecca Kaplan’s office.
Backers of Dr. Elnora Webb turned out Tuesday evening to support retaining her as president of Laney College. Top row from left: Dr. Elnora Webb; Merlin Edwards, Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce; Corrina Gould, co-founder of Indian People Organizing for Change; Mary Trimble Norris, executive director, American Indian Child Resource Center. Row Two: Carole Ward-Allen, professor of African American Studies; Bishop J.E. Watkins, Overcomers with Hope. Row Three: Lily Leung, library technician, Laney College Library; Evelyn Lord, head librarian, Laney College; Ada Chan, office of Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan; Rev. Cheryl Ward, East Bay Coalition for Action. Collage by Ken Epstein
Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 16, 2014 (www.postnewsgroup.com)