April 6, 2022
Kindred Murillo, interim superintendent/president at Santa Barbara City College, came out of retirement in fall 2021 to help steady the troubled institution. Murillo, who previously headed the Lake Tahoe Community College District and Southwestern College, is the fourth person to occupy the role in the last three years.
The college’s last president, Utpal K. Goswami, resigned after less than two years in the position. His predecessor, Anthony Beebe, left unexpectedly because of health issues in 2019 after serving for three years. Helen Benjamin, former chancellor of the Contra Costa Community College District, stepped in as interim president and superintendent twice after Beebe’s and Goswami’s departures, The Santa Barbara Independent reported. The college hasn’t had a president stay more than four years since 2008.
For Murillo and other California community college presidents in similar situations, stepping in after the exits of several leaders has meant trying to bring consistency and constancy to institutions that are in various states of flux. That could mean implementing strategic plans that have had multiple starts and stops, overseeing neglected hiring processes, or correcting misaligned budgets.
“I think systems stopped being adhered to and planning stopped, and if you’re not planning for the future, then you just basically get stagnant and then you’re not really focused on doing really great work,” Murillo said of her experience. “And I think there became a level of internal division, which is what we’re trying to heal right now.”
Leaders in the California Community Colleges system say this continual leadership turnover is a big problem, and the pandemic has only exacerbated it.
The demands of the president’s job and the emotional toll of the pandemic have led to burnout and prompted early retirements across higher ed, including in California. At least 17 of 137 California community college leaders have retired between January 2020 and March 2022, said Larry Galizio, president and CEO of the Community College League of California, an association of 73 local public community college districts.