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College Panel Urged to Rehire Chancellor : Education: Latino and Asian American activists call on trustees to rescind decision not to renew contract.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A coalition of Asian American and Latino groups demanded Monday that trustees of the Los Angeles Community College District reconsider their recent decision not to rehire Chancellor Neil Yoneji, one of the highest-ranking Asian Americans in local government.

The activists, led by former Los Angeles Board of Education member Warren Furutani, said they were dumbfounded that leaders of the nation’s largest community college district had decided not to extend Yoneji’s two-year contract when it expires next fall.

Furutani credited Yoneji with bringing rock-solid leadership to the nine-campus, 97,212-student district during a time of fiscal turmoil and planned restructuring. “He is rocking the boat,” Furutani said. “He is challenging the district to do things differently,” In September, the trustees voted not to extend Yoneji’s $125,000-a-year contract when it expires next fall. Under the terms of the contract, they had to give him one year’s notice before termination.

Trustees said little publicly about their decision--which was discussed at a closed-door session--but it reportedly centered on board members’ complaints that Yoneji made several major decisions without consulting or notifying board members.

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But the Asian and Latino activists countered that Yoneji has worked hard to restructure the finances of the troubled district, which has been criticized for its declining enrollment, dilapidated campuses and outdated instructional programs.

“How can you possibly judge a person in that position after one year?” said Kerry Doi, executive director of the Pacific Asian Consortium on Employment, adding that Yoneji ought to be given a five-year contract considering the size and complexities of the district.

Monday’s protesters included representatives of state Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, the Los Angeles County Chicano Employees Assn. and the college district’s Asian employees organization.

After a news conference at the community college district’s Downtown headquarters, the activists took their complaints to the district’s seven-member Board of Trustees, which held its regular monthly meeting Monday.

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That prompted a public airing of strong disagreements among the trustees--who had split 4 to 3 over whether to rehire Yoneji--on his performance. Trustee Elizabeth Garfield said Monday the decision split the board in a way she had not previously seen.

Trustee Lindsay Conner, part of the board majority, said Yoneji “had not shown sufficient leadership in education.” And Conner said there was “a virtually complete destruction of the necessary trust between the chancellor and the board.”

But trustee Julia Wu contended that Yoneji “by far is the most outstanding chancellor in the history of the Los Angeles colleges. . . . We didn’t give him enough time to implement his programs. All the projects will be interrupted. And the district’s stability will be jeopardized.”

And board President David Lopez-Lee, who also favored keeping Yoneji, said the chancellor “made some discretionary errors, but not enough to warrant removal.”

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Yoneji, a Japanese American born in Hawaii, is publicity-shy and not well known to the public, but is one of the region’s highest-ranking Asian American public officials. Given that stature, the activists said, they found the board’s decision particularly troubling.


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