There were six or seven people filing out of the conference room of Interim President Roanna Bennie’s office on Jan. 24. They had just exited a meeting, planning this semester’s commencement ceremony. The room filled with noise as they all spoke over each other.
Bennie emerged last with a smile and a large stack of papers, a visual cue as to how much she has on her plate these days.
Her desk is tidy, her papers in organized stacks and framed photos of her six grandchildren prominent viewing for herself and anyone who enters her office.
Bennie’s contract has been renewed until June of 2020 – an extension upon her last extension. She will continue to serve as the Interim President of Las Positas College until then, raising questions about how the search for a permanent president is proceeding. Keeping temporary staff in senior leadership positions is never ideal, but faculty rallied to support Bennie where she is.
“This is the first time in my eleven years of teaching at LPC where I feel that our leadership as a whole is stable, competent, transparent, thoughtful and listening,” said Ashley McHale, mathematics faculty at Las Positas College, at a November board meeting.
Adeliza Flores, chemistry faculty, called her a “force for stability and cooperation.” Sarah Thompson, sociology faculty, thanked the Board of Trustees for “creating a stable environment” by proposing the contract extension. Sebastian Wong, EMS faculty, said it is “an honor and a privilege to work with and work for President Bennie.”
So what makes her so integral? How did she become so crucial to the school in such a short amount of time?
The disarmingly soft-spoken leader began her term at Las Positas as the Vice President of Academic Services in the spring of 2015. Only one year later, previous LPC president Dr. Barry Russell became gravely ill, where Bennie and her colleagues stepped up to help him in his presidential duties. When he stepped down in the spring of 2018, she was appointed as his interim replacement.
“At first we thought it may be just one semester, and then in January (of 2018), they appointed me for the rest of the year, and then in June for another year,” Bennie laughed as she recounted.
Bennie was chosen for the VP position in the spring of 2015. During this time, she developed relationships with the faculty that ultimately led her to the college presidency. She insists that although she worked in college administration for a large part of her career, she never intended to pursue the presidency.
“It’s really for the college,” she said. “I love building programs and opening up opportunities for students. I love working with curriculum and the faculty, I really love working with the faculty.”
The faculty at LPC seem to love working with her, too.
In Nov. 2018, at least 13 faculty members addressed the Board of Trustees, praising Bennie’s work and requesting her contract be renewed. Ultimately, it was. On Feb. 6, Bennie led a Town Hall meeting and was surprised with a written copy of the statements given at the board meeting as well as other commendatory comments from other faculty members.
Now in her seventh semester working at LPC, Bennie’s leadership seems to have many optimistic about the future.
Kristy Woods, mathematics faculty, stated to the Board of Trustees, “Even when I am exhausted, I look forward to coming to campus and the work that feels like it is the right work to be doing.”
Bennie confirmed that her first permanent position at Las Positas, VP of Academic Services, has been posted to be permanently filled. That decision, authorized by Bennie, raised some questions about Bennie’s future in her interim position. However, Bennie said, there is no search currently for a permanent president. That has to be ordered by the district chancellor, a position that currently is in its third interim.
“As an interim, sometimes people think that because you’re going to be here for a short time that when you’re making decisions, that is not a long-term decision. So sometimes it’s hard for them to take you as seriously as the position warrants,” she said. “One of my real efforts has been to keep things moving, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”
Until the VP position is filled, she’s serving as both interim VP and President. Needless to say, it keeps her occupied. While Bennie has no problem keeping busy, she’s also keeping a watchful eye on the calendar.
After all, there is one question still looming over her head. What will happen when the search for a permanent president begins?
She smiled knowingly as she pondered the idea of applying for the position.
“I’m considering it, and I’m considering it carefully,” she said. “Each year, I get a little older. I’m moving more towards the end of my career, so I have to think carefully about that. It seemed a ways off a few years ago, and my grandchildren are getting older and I watch them get older.”
She motioned towards the pictures of her grandchildren on her desk. She eyed the framed photos and nodded to herself, “So I will think carefully about it. But right now I’m looking at my decisions in light of those decisions.”