Treasure Valley Community College president still working on doctorate degree

Eight years after stepping into the top slot at Treasure Valley Community College, President Dana Young said she is nearly finished with work on her doctorate in philosophy. The college board gave Young 20 paid days of leave each year to work on it. (Enterprise file photo)

ONTARIO – The enthusiasm was evident in the announcement eight years ago that Dana Young would become the next president of Treasure Valley Community College.

Peter Lawson, then chairman of the college board, said school leaders were excited about their choice. He expected Young to “lead TVCC into the future.”

Young, at the time a vice president of a Wyoming community college, was no less enthused.

“I am honored to have been chosen for this important role and look forward to guiding the institution toward positive, progressive, strategic and sustainable growth,” the hiring announcement quoted her as saying.

Tucked away in that announcement and in her application was the detail that Young was finishing work on her doctoral degree in philosophy. 

The college said Young would “finish her research and dissertation in May 2011.”

Young now is about to deliver on that promise, she said. She expects to finish her doctorate in June, a professional pinnacle she has long considered a personal goal.

But since her hiring eight years ago, Young has told the college board before that she was close to getting her doctorate. The board put a $10,000 bonus into her contract, to be paid if she got her doctorate. Four years after she took over TVCC and still with no doctorate, the board hoped to make it easier for her to finish that academic work. She was given an extra 20 paid days off a year to work on her degree – a benefit worth nearly $10,000 a year.

“I went to the board and asked them for their support,” Young said in an interview Monday. “I asked for the time and the board was more than happy to support it.”

She said the directors on the board never made the doctorate a requirement of her continued employment at Treasure Valley.

“It’s important to them,” she said. “It’s more important to me.”

A doctorate wasn’t required when Young applied in 2010, and the practice varies among Oregon community colleges. 

Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Central Oregon Community College in Bend and Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, prefer their presidents have doctorates and their current presidents do. Umpqua Community College in Roseburg requires the degree. Portland Community College and Chemeketa Community College don’t require the degree and their presidents don’t have one.

Young’s doctorate has been a nagging issue on campus. 

In a vote of no confidence, the faculty union raised the issue in 2013 and again in 2014. 

“When you were hired, this college passed over other candidates with appropriate presidential degrees, so the TVEA is feeling a little deceived,” the Treasure Valley Education Association said in a letter to Young in 2013.

The board in a June 2013 review of Young made several “specific suggestions,” including “completion of doctoral degree as per timeline submitted to the board,” according to the evaluation released to the Enterprise under a public records request.

That timeline had Young graduating by year’s end. It didn’t happen.

She submitted a revised timeline, this time showing graduation by the end of 2014. That didn’t happen either.

That year, the board granted her 20 days of leave annually to work on her doctorate – up to 160 hours to be paid at about $60 an hour. College records show she never claimed all those hours, with records showing the most she claimed in one year was 97 hours. Prior to 2014, Young said, she used vacation hours to cover her time off for her academic work. College records show she was entitled to 160 hours off for vacation but hasn’t used all that time.

Young said the problems facing the college, life situations and one board member stalled work on doctorate.

“There was a lot to fix when I got here,” said Young. 

Young said she believed in her timeline until the 2014-15 school year, when she was called to care for her sick mother and, after her mother’s death, to be a caregiver for her father. 

“Both my mom and brother died,” she said. “I also had two children marry and have three grandkids. I just could not keep up the pace. I asked the board for hours to work on the degree.”

Young said troublesome demands from a board member also disrupted her work. Roger Findley, a former TVCC instructor who went on the board in 2013, filed grievances and sought college records in volume.

“Roger did use a lot of college resources and caused attorney fees and took away from the college priorities of what needs to be done,” said Young. 

Board member Cheryl Cruson, who chaired the board in 2013, pointedly blamed Findley for Young’s slow progress on the degree.

 “Roger Findley filed grievances and delayed Dana in working on her doctorate,” said Cruson. “He did it out of spite and as a personal vendetta. He is an unconscionable person.”

Findley said Cruson’s views were “unfortunate … Cheryl has blindly supported the president and won’t consider common sense when confronted with facts.”

Findley said his re-election to the board in 2016 proves the community supports his actions.

Young said Findley supported her goal to achieve a doctorate. She said when she explained his actions were causing delays, he responded that was “not his problem.”

Findley disputed he is responsible for the lag in her graduation.

“I do support Dana in her goal towards a doctorate,” Findley said. “I don’t see what I have done has prohibited Dana in any way from obtaining a doctorate. Anything I have done has not really taken up a lot of her time.”

With so much standing in her way, Young said, she applied for and was granted extensions on the 10-year time limit set by the Colorado State University. 

Young said she was assigned three advisors over time, adding more challenges to finishing her academic work. 

She has also changed the direction of the doctorate. 

Originally concentrating in philosophy with an emphasis in community colleges, Young has now changed to an emphasis in higher education.

She now says she is back on schedule and will report to the board a due date of June 30 for completion.

Cruson says the completion date isn’t an issue.

“A firm date is not critical for Dana for me,” said Cruson. “I know it is going to be in the next year or so and I really don’t have an issue with it. She is doing a good job and is a good president for the college.”

Board chairman John Forsythe also said he isn’t concerned about the pace of Young’s academic work but criticized the Enterprise for reporting on it.

“You are attacking her again,” said Forsythe.

Young said she was concerned about the questions, fearing they were the quiet handiwork of Findley. For now, though, she is focused on finishing up what has been a long course.

“This has always been a dream of mine and for me, this sets an example for students,” she said. “I want to be done.”

Reporter John L. Braese: [email protected] or 541 473-3377.