The Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees, seen here at an in-person special meeting on July 22
The Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees, seen here at an in-person special meeting on July 22, voted Thursday to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for campus employees and students. People with exemptions will have to wear N-95 masks at SBCC and be tested regularly, according to the resolution.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk file photo)

The Santa Barbara City College board of trustees gathered in-person this week to discuss expectations for the interim superintendent/president, and the recruitment process for the college’s next leader.

After more than a year of virtual gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, six members of the board sat inside the college’s MacDougall Administration Center at Thursday’s regular board meeting.

Trustee Anna Everett was absent. 

Kathleen Scott, who is briefly serving as acting superintendent/president, sat alongside board president Peter Haslund and trustee Robert Miller.

Helen Benjamin, who took the helm of SBCC in 2019 on an interim basis, is returning to lead the college as interim superintendent/president for six weeks. She is the temporary replacement after Utpal Goswami’s resignation earlier this month

The board officially approved Benjamin’s contract at Thursday’s meeting.

Board member Veronica Gallardo abstained.

Benjamin is scheduled to begin July 26, according to her employee agreement. Her responsibilities cover all aspects of district operations, including student and instructional programs, faculty and staff, finance, facilities and non-instructional programs, as well as community relations and fundraising.

The board discussed its expectations for Benjamin during her six-week interim as superintendent/president of the college.

Members spoke of resolving issues regarding COVID-19 vaccine requirements and planning the return to in-person instruction in the fall.

Fully implementing SBCC’s return to campus plan and “the effort to get as many people vaccinated as possible” are important tasks for Benjamin to work on, Miller said.

“That references a lot of activity,” he said of the return to campus plan. “It’s ongoing.”

SBCC’s fall semester classes will start Aug. 23.

Another critical task is identifying a process for selecting a permanent superintendent/president, Miller said.

The board plans to interview candidates and make a final selection next month. The new superintendent/president is expected to begin work in early September. 

Board member Jonathan Abboud said his expectations for Benjamin include developing the college’s plan over the next 18 months, and resolving the COVID-19 vaccine-mandate issue. 

“She (Benjamin) should give us the clear actionable next steps,” Abboud said.

Gallardo said, “Working collegially and practicing the shared governance is going to be the biggest bulk” of Benjamin’s work as interim superintendent/president.

Board member Marsha Croninger said her expectations for Benjamin include working on “resolving conflicts between the board and our employees.”

With the start of the fall semester drawing closer, many SBCC faculty and staff members are encouraging the board to mandate vaccines for all students and employees.

As of this week, SBCC does not require students or employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but vaccination is “strongly” recommended.

The college requires everyone to use face coverings at indoor public areas, regardless of vaccination status, and check in via the “Healthy Roster” app before entering campus buildings.  

The idea of making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for everyone dominated the public comment period at the board meeting.

SBCC faculty and staff voiced their comments about the vaccine debate, with the majority of those who spoke strongly encouraging a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for faculty and students returning to campus before the fall semester begins.

However, a handful of speakers spoke against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate by SBCC.

The public comment lasted slightly more than one hour. It occurred both live and virtually.

The board president had to cut the public comment portion short.

“Normally, we allocate 20 minutes per issue,” Haslund said. “We need to move on to our next agenda item.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.