In what came as a surprise to many people, Santa Barbara City College President Lori Gaskin announced Monday she would step down at the end of the school year after close to four years on the job.
Gaskin, who is 59 and has worked as a community college administrator for 35 years, said she made her decision to retire after the recent accreditation found SBCC is in “extraordinary” shape. The preliminary findings noted the college had 11 commendations and four recommendations after a three-day visit. “Had we received poor outcomes, I would have thought twice,” she said.
Where critics complained Gaskin failed to address on their concerns head on, others lauded her for being a solid administrator. In conversation, she is thoughtful and eloquent, and she charmed the Santa Barbara educational community upon her arrival. She took the helm in 2012, when the college was on warning for a number of institutional issues. “I was able to navigate through that,” Gaskin said. In 2013, the college received the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.
SBCC Trustee Marty Blum called Gaskin “the hardest worker” she knows. “She gets a lot of things done,” Blum said. “She’s done such a wonderful job and we would like to keep her forever.”
She inherited the college at a time when community issues — such as student housing — had festered for some time. The number of SBCC students who needed housing was thrown into the limelight after former City College student and Isla Vista resident Elliot Rodger killed six young people.
At an SBCC Board of Trustees meeting about two weeks ago, County Planning and Development director Glenn Russell dropped off a letter critical in tone about the college’s Program Location and Land Use Master Plan (PLLUMP), taking issue with the development proposal for the Wake campus. “It is unfortunate that the county and SBCC did not coordinate earlier in the planning process,” Russell wrote. He further took issue with the fact the college had not documented plans to undergo a comprehensive California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, citing law that states “EIRs and negative declarations should be prepared as early as feasible in the planning process to enable environmental considerations to influence project program and design.” Russell added, “Based on the information available, including a very detailed description of the proposed demolition and replacement of a significant segment of the Wake campus, CEQA review must be included at this time.”
Gaskin, on the other hand, objected. In an interview, she said she would not want to do CEQA review too early when the plans are too amorphous. “It’s just a matter of timing,” she said. The master planning process started a year and a half ago, Gaskin said, and five community workshops were held in late September. The audience feedback at those workshops was reportedly more pleasant than it was during a series of workshops held in March, when neighbors and Center for Lifelong Learning (CLL) students expressed frustration with possible changes. For instance, one idea (that was later squashed) was that all adult ed courses would be moved to one of the satellite campuses — either Wake or the Schott Center.
Another disappointment for Gaskin came over the summer when UCSB announced the University of California had purchased three Tropicana student-housing properties, which will eventually displace about 500 SBCC students.
Last year, Gaskin took the failure of Measure S — a $288 million facilities bond — hard, sources close to the issue said. She faced criticism from vocal agitators concerned about the city’s lack of affordable housing due in part to an increase over time in out-of-area students. A series of meetings with a number of city stakeholders took place last year to address such impacts, and the remedies such as the implementation of a noise ordinance and Friday classes to deter Thursday night partying are ongoing.
Where community concerns about the rental market have boiled, the college recently decided not to continue its contract with Kaplan International English. The international school currently enrolls 220 students and pays $600,000 a year to rent out the space on campus.
When asked if the aforementioned community difficulties had an impact on her decision, Gaskin said they did not and that disagreements are part of being in a leadership role. “All of this is par for the course,” she said.
Gaskin added she plans to travel, hike, and garden after she retires at the end of the school year. “I’m not used to putting myself first,” Gaskin said. “It feels a little odd, disconcerting.” She plans to stay in Santa Barbara.