Judging by their expressions, Pam Horiszny shocked most of her fellow Washtenaw Community College trustees when she announced her resignation at their September board meeting. Declaring that “internal union relations have never been worse in my time,” Horiszny charged that “organized labor’s end goal is removing [president Rose] Bellanca from office.”
Chief faculty union negotiator David Fitzpatrick agrees. While that wasn’t his goal before the union voted no confidence in Bellanca’s leadership last year, he says, “It certainly is now. She needs to go.”
That tension was evident even in the choice of Horiszny’s replacement. When board chair Rick Landau called for the vote at the October meeting, members split down the middle. Landau and two other veteran trustees wanted Alex Milshteyn, a Realtor who chairs the board of WCC’s Washtenaw Technical Middle College and ran unsuccessfully for trustee last year. The three trustees elected last year with the union’s backing voted for Dilip Das, the U-M’s assistant vice provost for equity, inclusion, and academic affairs.
When Landau called the vote again, it split again. Then, in another surprising move, Landau and trustee Stephen Gill switched their votes to Das.
“I was really impressed,” says Das of Landau’s switch. “He asked them to change, and, when nobody did, he changed. That’s a mark of a good leader.”
The soft-spoken academic says he learned about the opening online–“I had not met any board members before”–and was surprised to be chosen: “The other candidate had a lot going for him.” New trustee and former faculty union president Ruth Hatcher says she voted for Das because “he has a lot of experience in higher ed and a lot of experience in the state. Alex brings a whole different set of tools, but Dr. Das has what we need now.”
Das says his top priority is keeping the school affordable, noting that 15 percent of county residents live in poverty (see “Feeding the Starving Student,” p. 43). With understandable caution, he refrains from commenting on the tension between the college’s faculty and its president, saying only, “I’ve heard there’s been more communication, and that’s always good.”