New interim president appointed at Fullerton College amid controversy

A sign identifying Fullerton College.
Dr. Monte Perez is at the helm of Fullerton College for now after a series of contentious board meetings over who should lead the campus.
(Gabriel San Román)

Fullerton College welcomed Dr. Monte Perez as its new interim president this week after the North Orange County Community College District passed on his predecessor.

A seasoned administrator, Perez most recently served as president of Los Angeles Mission College for a decade before retiring last year. He is expected to stay on at Fullerton College until the end of the year; in January, a new permanent president is slated to take over.

“Dr. Perez has been a consistent and steady force of influence and change in education throughout his entire career,” said Dr. Byron D. Clift Breland, the college district’s chancellor, in a statement, “particularly for communities that have been historically underrepresented in higher education.”

His appointment arrives as the previous two district meetings have played host to allegations about former interim president Dr. Gilbert Contreras’ past and debates about his future.

Rita Lopez walked to the podium to address trustees during the June 14 meeting with what she called her “Me Too” story related to Contreras from a time when she was an 18-year-old college classmate of his.

Lopez told the board that someone leaked her name and phone number. Once called by an unidentified person, she was asked to speak out on Contreras at the meeting.

“Gilbert did not get promoted because he failed his background check,” Lopez claimed.

She told the company conducting the background check during the district’s search for a permanent president about her story.

City Atty. Michael Gates again clashed with the City Council during Tuesday night’s meeting.

While Lopez didn’t specify any details about the nature of the allegations, aside from saying Contreras wasn’t being accused of rape, she told trustees that he had failed to keep her safe and has his own “title” in relation to an incident, one both they and the chancellor were aware of.

“They know if this ‘title’ comes out, the community will be horrified,” Lopez said. “Imagine if the community found out what he did to me and that ‘title’ has signed diplomas.”

A Fullerton College spokesperson declined to comment on Lopez’s statements before the board.

Contreras, who had served as interim president since being appointed by the board last summer, did address what he called “defamatory allegations” in a June 22 letter to the chancellor and trustees.

He claimed no recollection of any incident where he failed to keep Lopez safe from the harm of someone else’s actions.

“I have never, nor would I ever intentionally harm anyone,” Contreras also wrote.

The embattled administrator reaffirmed a commitment to providing a campus safe from assaults.

At the following board meeting, the district’s decision not to hire Contreras permanently as president prompted backlash from supporters.

Adela Lopez, a retired Fullerton College professor and a longtime member of Los Amigos of Orange County’s education committee, called for transparency on June 28 with regard to what happened with Contreras.

“We’re concerned because it was our belief that Dr. Contreras was filling an important position in an outstanding manner for the past year,” she said, “as a campus leader and a role model for all staff and students at Fullerton College.”

Dr. Therese Mosqueda-Ponce, a Cypress College counselor and co-chair of Latino Faculty and Staff Assn. at NOCCCD, claimed that the district passing on Contreras showed a lack of commitment to the Latino community— and even contributed to an anti-Latino trend in the district.

“Despite numerous contributions to the Fullerton College community, Dr. Gilbert Contreras was not only dismissed as the selection for Fullerton College president, he was also summarily dismissed in his interim position, even though a replacement had not been selected,” she said.

Mosqueda-Ponce also deemed Rita Lopez’s comments at the previous meeting as “slanderous.”

But Katie King, a Fullerton College English professor, disagreed and criticized trustees for not responding adequately to the allegations.

“Ignoring and lacking compassion for claims like hers in an act of gendered oppression,” she said.

King, who called on Contreras to resign from all posts, claimed that the district knew of Rita Lopez’s story since April, but it took someone else to have the courage to contact her directly in June.

According to Fullerton College, Contreras’ contract expired June 30. He returned to his previous position as vice president of Student Services.

Perez’s appointment is up for the board’s approval at its July 26 meeting.

The search for a permanent president for Fullerton College will resume this month.

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