News Local/State

Parkland College’s First African-American Trustee Faces Questions Due To Faculty Position

Parkland College Trustee-Elect Rochelle Harden

Parkland College Trustee-Elect Rochelle Harden is a longtime member of the college's English faculty. Jim Meadows / Illinois Public Media

Voters on April 4 elected the first African-American to serve on the board of Parkland College in Champaign.

Trustee-elect Rochelle Harden is also a member of the Parkland faculty, a position that brings legal questions along with it.

Harden says part of the reason that Parkland went for so long without having an African-American on its board is because for many years it had an African-American president. Zelema Harris was president of Parkland from 1990 to 2004, and Harden says she provided stability and leadership for the African-American community at the college.

Now that she’s been elected trustee, Harden wants to see the hiring of more African-American faculty at the community college. She says currently there are just eight at Parkland, including herself. And Harden notes that due to recent budget cuts, two of those African-American faculty are slated for layoff.

 “We want to make sure that (African-American) students feel like they’re represented in the classroom, that they have someone they can go to, that they can see in themselves being successful,” said Harden. “So that (the layoffs of two African-American faculty) is pretty devastating. That’s definitely one of the very first things that we need to address right off the bat.” 

Harden wants the board to lobby harder for passage of a state budget. The lack of a state budget has forced community colleges in Illinois to go long periods with no state funding, including none since January 1. That's forced them to tighten spending, lay off staff and raise tuition.

Harden says she would have voted against the 4.46% increase in tuition and fees that Parkland trustees approved in February. She says she would rather cut spending further than increase the financial burden on students -- but that the real solution lies in resolving the state budget impasse.

Harden rejects the argument that state law bars her from being both a faculty member and trustee at the same college. That argument comes from Mike Monaghen, the executive director of the Illinois Association of Community College Trustees.

Monaghen, who notes that the Parkland College Board of Trustees is a member of  his organization, says Harden should not be both professor and trustee, because the Illinois Public Community College Act requires community college trustees to serve without compensation (Section 3-7), and not be involved in any “contract, work or business” with the college (Section 3-48).

Harden argues that the law only bars her from taking compensation for her work as a trustee -- and simply requires that she abstain from voting on matters affecting her faculty position, like faculty contracts.

“I think it’s completely resolved,” said Harden of the legal questions surrounding  her serving as a Parkland trustee. “Obviously, if they intend to take it to court, I’m certainly ready for that fight. But I consider it as much as resolved, and a non-issue entirely.”

Harden says her position as a faculty member will bring a needed perspective to the Parkland board, because she's on campus on a daily basis, and sees things that other trustees may not be aware of, such as the day-to-day challenges faced by low-income students and students of color.

Monaghen stands by his position that Harden’s position as a Parkland professor bars her from serving as a Parkland trustee. But he says he doesn’t plan to take legal action on the matter himself.

Harden expects to be sworn in as a Parkland College trustee at the April 26 board meeting.