An investigation into the actions of former Clark College President Bob Knight should be viewed as a positive for Vancouver’s two-year institution of higher education. It is only by acknowledging problems that they can be fixed.
According to a 228-page report from Seattle-based D Diamond Consulting, Knight engaged in inappropriate, discriminatory behavior toward female staff members, particularly women of color. Knight served 13 years as president of the college before retiring in July. On Oct. 29, the Clark College Board of Trustees determined that four complaints saying Knight violated the school’s nondiscrimination and harassment policy were founded.
Details of the findings were reported Friday by The Columbian, following a public records request.
Investigators determined that Knight made repeated inappropriate remarks to women who worked at the college, referring to women of color as “trouble” or “troublemakers.” One witness recalled Knight saying, “If you wanted more money, you should have married better.” Knight also reportedly “tokenized” women of color, with one complainant saying, “In essence, he was saying that he did not hire us because we were talented individuals in our field or the most qualified candidates, but hired us just because we are women of color.”
The report also details Knight’s interference into the search for a permanent vice president, apparently for the role of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. On Thursday, Rashida Willard was hired for the position after serving in an interim role for 17 months.
Knight disputed the findings, saying, “It was an honor and a privilege to serve the community as the president of Clark College for 13 years, and I consider my productive tenure at the college as the capstone to my career.” But interim president Sandra Fowler-Hill said the college “acknowledges the seriousness of the claims and the findings made by a preponderance of the evidence as identified by the Board of Trustees.”
Indeed, Knight was a productive president. The report should not define his tenure but should lend context to it.
Now, it is essential for Clark College officials to move forward, gleaning lessons from the past and working to make the college more inclusive for both staff and students. This should not be conflated with putting the issue behind them, which implies that the findings will be ignored; attention is warranted and should inform college policy and the actions of current and future administrators.
The board of trustees has tasked Fowler-Hill with a series of steps to address the identified problems. Fowler-Hill said the college “is taking the lessons learned from this to make systemic and sustaining changes with support from leadership. … In respecting the dignity of this process, I hope we can focus on the changes that need to occur.”
Successfully embracing and cultivating diversity, ensuring equal treatment for people of all backgrounds, is not only a moral imperative but an essential one for the success of any organization. In the corporate world, numerous studies have found that diversity enhances a company’s profitability; in the academic realm, it augments the educational experience of students and ensures that a college better reflects its community.
Fully vetting complaints about the previous administration was an important step for Clark College, to not only examine past issues but to learn from them and find a path to improvement. If handled properly, the investigation can have positive results for staff members and students at Clark.