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“Turmoil and Crisis” Sachi Horback Reflects on Navigating Her First Year at Clark

Correction appended

The college vice president strode into the STEM building to meet with Clark College faculty on May 13. Sachi Horback, the vice president of instruction, had invited the staff by email to an informal visit with her. Horback was joined by a handful of faculty including Suzanne Southerland, president-elect of the faculty union.

Sachi Horback. (Courtesy Photo/Clark College Communications and Marketing)

Southerland had many questions for Horback. Why was the college planning to cut jobs when the state had just announced new revenue? Was the college truly in a budget crisis? Or were the cuts in response to faculty asking for more pay?

Horback said that although the meeting in the STEM building was more intense than other similar meetings, it is not a conversation that she would shy away from.

“I feel like the conflict is just a part of life,” she said. “We have to have a conversation about it, and get to what we need to get to.”

Horback grew up in a largely Hindu community, both in Oahu, Hawai’i and Los Angeles and identifies as a woman of color. When talking about the recent meetings with staff, she also talked about her culture and the communication in Hindu community.

“There is more fluidity,” she said. She spoke of it as something she would like to see more of at Clark.  

Horback started at Clark in July 2018, when things seemed relatively stable. It later became a time she would describe as “turmoil and crisis.”

In October, OPB released a feature about seven prominent of women of color leaving Clark within a year of each other. Then in January 2019, President Bob Knight announced his retirement. In February, faculty marched across campus, campaigning for higher pay. All the while, Clark officials talked about budget cuts.

Horback had worked at Clark for four months when the OPB article was published.

“I think that was a painful moment for a lot of folks,” Horback said. “That article actually had ended referencing me and a colleague as being, you know, two new women of color and executive cabinet. My first thought was, wow, this is deep.”

In January when Knight announced his retirement, in a letter to the college community, he wrote that he would be retiring as of Aug 31. Knight also said that retiring was something that he and his wife had been talking about for awhile, but did not give a specific reason for his departure.

Horback acknowledged Knight’s many years of service and speculated that maybe there was more than one reason for him to want to retire.

“I think he’s put in a lot of years of work here,” she said. “I would guess that he also recognized that not only was he ready to retire, but also likely that maybe the college was ready also for change and transition.”

In a later comment to the Indy, Knight said that after 13 years on the job he started to notice things bothered him that didn’t bother him before.

“I’m ready for new leadership and the college is ready for new leadership,” he said

The board is looking for an interim president to come in and continue the work that needs to be done, Horback said.

“We don’t want to lose a year. We’ve got so much going on and there’s so much at stake, our students success is at stake,” she said.

Faculty and supporters have been wearing red throughout the year in addition to organizing rallies to call attention to their cause: higher pay. A consistent message has been that K-12 teachers in Washington state have a higher pay scale than college faculty.

On May 1, International Workers’ Day, many faculty participated in what they called a teach out. Some classes were cancelled, while other instructors chose lesson plans related to the topic of labor. Faculty and students gathered in Gaiser Student Center for the film “At the River I Stand,” and a panel discussion about labor rights history.

In a later comment to the Indy, Southerland commented on the future.

“I’m looking forward to salary negotiations being settled and the contract being ratified, so we can more forward,” she said.

Budget cuts have also been a topic at Clark this year. Knight called for five percent cuts from all departments due to a budget shortfall.

Horback said more than 80% of the college budget is in salary.

“This is a hard, painful process,” she said. “I mean, they are talking about people’s jobs and their livelihood and their families.”

She said because Instruction is the largest department, it is also the department that had to sacrifice the most.

“We knew we couldn’t hide from the fact that we had to come up with some cuts,” Horback said. “So in my mind, the best way of going about that is to have a transparent process as best as we can.”

During the monthly Board of Trustees meeting on May 22, the board announced that three programs at Clark would be cut: machining technology, business technology and computer aided design and drafting program.

Just prior to the board meeting some faculty had received their letter of termination. The Indy requested a list of faculty that were affected by the budget cuts from Human Resources, but at the time of printing had not received a response.  

Machining Technology Professor Pat Sevier was attending a union meeting just prior to the board meeting when he received his termination notice. When he spoke with the Indy he was still holding his termination letter.  

Since that day, Horback said that she has had a chance to speak with Sevier and realized that there was some confusion on that day about what exactly the termination letter meant. It had a date of termination of June 30, however according to Horback Sevier will be able to work for the next couple of years while the remaining students in his program finish their course work.   

When Horback was asked about how she felt about the year, she had this to say:

“I feel like we as a college and I in this position have been walking up a very steep hill in the rain, snow storm, blizzard getting hit in the face all day ,” she said. “I can’t see, I’m really hoping that we’re getting to this point where I can start to see over this mountain.”

Correction: This article has been appended to note that the state announced new revenue for Clark. The print version of this article, which went to press on June 7, says the administration announced new revenue. It did, in an email from President Bob Knight on May 1. But that email referred to new revenue from the state. The Indy regrets the error.

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