As Battle Heats Up at Dallas College, Faculty Vote 'No Confidence' in School Chancellor

Another North Texas college is making headlines.
Another North Texas college is making headlines. Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash
Growing up in a violent San Antonio neighborhood, Richard Menchaca, a professor of integrated reading and writing at Dallas College, says he witnessed at least 20 murders.

These days, the 81-year-old’s own fighting spirit is coming in handy.

“I come from the west side of San Antonio,” Menchaca said. “If you want to fight, my first reaction would be, ‘Bring it on.’ Whatever it is.”

On Friday, led by Menchaca, 31.33% of full-time faculty cast votes for or against a "resolution of no confidence" in Dr. Joe May, chancellor of Dallas College. More than 71% of those voting favored the resolution.

Dallas College was once a district composed of seven independently accredited colleges. But in 2020, those schools united under one name to provide students “a more streamlined, more convenient experience,” according to Dallas College’s website.

Menchaca has a passion for teaching and has worked at the college’s El Centro campus for 55 years. But after the COVID-19 pandemic hit North Texas, he started noticing some serious issues.

Some have accused May of using the pandemic to build a corporate-style governance structure. Many outstanding professors are losing their jobs in the name of consolidation, Menchaca said, adding that he’s never met his coordinator and doesn’t know where his dean is housed.

May is also accused of creating a fear-based work environment for employees.

“It’s a corporate image that he’s creating where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand’s doing; the head doesn’t know where the body’s going,” Menchaca said. “People can be terminated. If they don’t like you, they can terminate you.”

Dallas College leadership’s “malicious” attempt to clean house to make room for their “own people” reminds Menchaca of another North Texas institution: Collin College. There, some faculty say they were fired in violation of their constitutional rights.

At both schools, employees have accused leadership of attempting to run education like a private business. In February, Jacobin reported that Collin College’s district President Neil Matkin likes using the term “Amazonification."

“He’s really proud about the ‘Amazonification’ of the college, and he wants to streamline treating students as customers,” said professor Audra Heaslip, one of that school’s terminated faculty members. “We’re there to provide services.”

On top of not having job security, Menchaca said some have complained that Dallas College’s administration is becoming too top-heavy. His own department is supposedly doomed to be "completely wiped out," he said.

"If they don’t like you, they can terminate you.” – Professor Richard Menchaca

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Still, Menchaca insists he isn't merely an “old man that's disgruntled.”

“I have nothing to be disgruntled about,” he said. “What precipitated my actions were the fact and the knowledge that we’re eliminating a lot of jobs that do not need elimination.”

Menchaca accused May of personally profiting off the changes implemented during the pandemic. The way he tells it, the chancellor has created a hostile environment for Dallas College employees, many of whom are too afraid to speak out.

At the same time that May has overseen the “ruthless dismissals of hundreds of valued college employees in humiliating and demoralizing ways,” his own salary, benefits and governance powers have increased, according to a news release. Records indicate that his 2016 base salary of $327,811 had increased to $424,360 as of Fiscal Year 2020.

Out of all Texas’ two-year public colleges, Dallas College's chancellor is the highest compensated CEO, the news release continued. May's package also boasts a $100,000 annual bonus for “student success”— defined by the number of degrees, transfers and certificates the school produces — plus other retirement and personal benefits like a “100K Golden Handshake.”

The release also accuses May of backing the elimination of rolling three-year contracts for full-time faculty — even though he's been on such an agreement himself.

Even though he plans to retire from his position by next August, May has asked to become chancellor emeritus of Dallas College.

Over the decades, Dallas College has gone through many changes, and students have responded to the school’s consolidation positively, senior director of communications Alex Lyda said by email.

Just a minority of all faculty cast a “no confidence” vote in the ballot that Menchaca emailed, Lyda said. More than 3,200 faculty are employed by Dallas College, including part-time, full-time and adjunct members. But the ballot was only sent to the roughly 850 full-time faculty there, “forgoing the opinions of a sizeable swath of faculty who also make significant contributions" to the school.

Of those members, only 266 replied, with 76 voting against and 190 voting in favor. All told, less than a third of full-time faculty voted, with fewer than a quarter of all full-time faculty voting yes.

“Faculty who may long for the days of old and a system that perhaps served their own needs better in the past, but is not serving the needs our students any longer, may be discontented by the transformation of the Dallas County Community College District to Dallas College,” Lyda said. “The fact remains that Dallas College reformed itself with the full support and backing of our Board of Trustees, for the sake of our students, a point that has been echoed by faculty who have stood in support of Dr. May, despite last week’s vote.”

Board Chair Monica Lira Bravo also backed May’s vision for Dallas College in an emailed statement. As no-confidence votes in academia become more common, the board is aware that actions like Menchaca’s are “more often a referendum on change rather than a particular leader," she said.

“The Board of Trustees takes the concerns of all employees, students and community members seriously," Lira Bravo wrote. "But we also have confidence in the direction Dallas College is headed as one institution, which was designed to better serve our students and communities, thanks to Dr. May’s tireless efforts during his tenure."

Moving forward, Menchaca hopes to see each of Dallas College’s campuses have its own identity, arguing that’s what makes them unique and special in their fields. He also wants to see May terminated as chancellor.

In addition, Menchaca said he'd like integrity and honesty to be restored to the school’s system. Faculty are tired of the attempts to control them through intimidation and retaliation.

Years ago, Menchaca said he realized that education doesn’t pay much, so he started to pursue business ventures. Thanks to that success, he’s uniquely poised to speak out — both for himself and his colleagues who rely on their job to support their families.

“I resigned myself to the fact that for every action I take, there’s going to be a reaction,” he said. “I don’t know whether it’s going to be good or bad, but whatever it is, I’m ready for it.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter