Concluding an arduous, yearlong search, Los Angeles community college leaders announced Wednesday that they had hired the former leader of a Texas college as president of Los Angeles Mission College in Sylmar, the district’s smallest and most crowded campus.
Adriana Barrera, 49, former president of El Paso Community College, topped a field of 35 applicants and four finalists. She will begin work July 1, drawing an annual salary of $121,000.
The search began a year ago when William Norlund stepped down. At the time, northeast Valley politicians and local activists alleged that he had fumbled an opportunity to secure $4.8 million in state funds for a campus expansion, and Los Angeles Community College District board members complained that he had lost touch with the surrounding community.
The first selection effort was scrapped six months ago after community leaders complained that they had been shut out of the process and district trustees said the candidate pool lacked administrative experience and ethnic diversity.
Several trustees said Wednesday that Barrera’s experiences in Texas seemed almost a perfect fit for Mission’s politically charged campus. Barrera presided over a 18,000-student college with multiple campuses that served a predominately poor and mostly Latino population. Mission College’s 7,000-member student body is 70% Latino.
Barrera oversaw the expansion of El Paso Community College by five buildings to allow the college to serve an additional 3,000 students. She also led reforms of the college management structure, putting in place a more democratic, inclusive decision-making process, officials at the Texas college said.
The improvements enabled the college to keep its accreditation, which had been threatened, they said.
Several Los Angeles trustees said they were most impressed by Barrera’s ability to manage the campus under a fractious board of trustees, which declined to renew her contract in 1998 after four years on the job. One of the Texas trustees who rebuked Barrera was an attorney who was later imprisoned for embezzlement and fraud.
“When I found out more about that board of trustees, I wasn’t worried about her leadership anymore,” said Los Angeles district Chancellor Mark Drummond.
Barrera, who has been working as a freelance educational consultant since 1998, said her departure from El Paso Community College has raised red flags at several institutions where she applied, but that Los Angeles trustees investigated her background more thoroughly than the rest.
“This institution and its board looked beyond the surface,” she said. “They talked to a lot of people.”
Rather than being a drawback, Pierce College President Rocky Young said, Barrera’s handling of the situation in El Paso worked in her favor.
“That she took a situation like that and came out a stronger person is a positive,” he said.
Barrera said it was too early for her to lay out a detailed agenda, but she called campus expansion at Mission a “key priority.” District analysts have projected that Mission will have to serve 15,000 students in the next decade to meet demand.
Barrera also said she will meet with community leaders soon after her arrival.
Barrera, a native of Benavides, Texas, received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a doctorate in psychology from Texas Tech University. She was an executive assistant to the president of El Paso Community College from 1992 to 1993, when she became interim president. She was appointed president in 1994.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the trustees unanimously passed a resolution to place a $1-billion facilities bond measure on the April 2001 ballot.
District leaders say they have a $1.4-billion backlog of capital projects at the nine campuses, and need the money for basic repairs to upgrade safety, installation of air conditioning systems and other improvements.