Since 2008, Santa Barbara City College has witnessed five superintendents/presidents come and go. This week, Dr. Utpal Goswami — hired in November 2019 from a community college in Kansas City, Missouri — made it number six. But unlike the previous five, Goswami made his resignation effective immediately.
“I don’t have any significant comments to make. I don’t want to go into any detail,” he stated when contacted for an explanation. “The board and I don’t agree on some things,” he added. Perhaps the most obvious bone of contention remains the lack of any clear plan for what to do about the lingering pandemic once classes resume in just six weeks. “That’s a significant one,” Goswami conceded.
Right now, the Academic Senate is pushing hard for mandatory vaccinations for any returning students, staff, and faculty before on-site classes can take place. On this matter, the board itself is badly split. Goswami and the administration has yet to weigh in with any clear proposal; nor has he — his critics contend — brokered the level of consultation and collaboration among faculty, staff, and administrators necessary to achieve some form of consensus. In this lurch, individual faculty members have been left to figure out what sense to make of contradictory administrative emails and are on their own whether to teach some, all, or no classes in person or virtually.
City College has been notoriously hard on its presidents; some boardmembers privately concede it’s an impossible job. But when Goswami was hired, there were high hopes he’d prove such concerns wrong. “We are confident he will build collaborative relationships on campus and the community,” proclaimed then board chair Robert Miller. Goswami, the community was told, could restore the campus’s fiscal order and navigate the hot-button issues of inclusion, race, and diversity with empathy and effectiveness. Today, his critics contend, Goswami was autocratic in style but indecisive and ineffective.
Perhaps most unforgivably, he never cottoned on to the culture of “shared governance” that holds sway at City College with uncommon fervor. “What he ran into was the buzz saw of shared governance,” stated boardmember Kate Parker. “If you don’t respect that, you’re going to have a terrible time.”
And by any reckoning, Goswami has been having just that. Since May, the Board of Trustees has been meeting in closed session to evaluate his performance. Extra sessions have been required. No final verdict has been rendered. The length of the deliberations speaks for itself. This week, the faculty senate is scheduled to hold a no-confidence vote on Goswami regarding his lack of support for its mandatory vaccination proposal. He, it should be noted, is not the only focus of that vote; also included are the four boardmembers who voted on June 24 to reject it.
In the meantime, Goswami has had to contend with a budget deficit that veers from $3 million to $8 million while key administrators leave to take jobs elsewhere. COVID, clearly, has made his task infinitely harder. But it also became obvious to all sides — Goswami especially — that the time to repair burned bridges had come and gone.
Of the past presidents forced from office, Goswami is the first and only one to have quit immediately. He has agreed, however, to make himself available as a consultant for 30 days. For that, he will be paid. In addition, he will be paid his full annual salary of $317,000 as part of the severance package he negotiated when he was initially hired.
Kathleen Scott will be filling in for Goswami while a search is conducted for a permanent replacement. Scott had been hired from the Long Beach Community College to function as interim executive vice president to fill the void created by one of the higher-level administrative departures. Scott’s hiring for that position was just announced; most boardmembers have not yet met her.
UPDATE 7/14/21: Dr. Helen Benjamin — who previously served as interim superintendent/president for SBCC following former president Anthony Beebe’s 2019 departure — has taken over filling in for Goswami from Kathleen Scott.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misquoted Kate Parker as saying Dr. Goswami ran into a buzz saw of “self-governance” rather than “shared governance.”