By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Roberts winding up seven years with Chemeketa

These administrators, along with members of the board, faculty and support staff, “are the ones who will carry on the tradition of Chemeketa,” she said.

“I’m good at letting go,” said Roberts, whose last day is June 30. “I don’t want to hold them back.”

It’s a bit sad to be saying goodbye to the regional community college, but she’s proud of the role she played in making it what it is today. She’s also excited about her future opportunities, which include a job as president of Shoreline Community College in Seattle.

One of the duties Roberts is concluding is an investigation into allegations against Patrick Lanning, president of the school’s McMinnville campus.

She placed Lanning on paid administrative leave in mid-February after a female employee accused him of sexual misconduct at a conference in Portland. While the case is continuing, he is collecting a salary of just over $150,000 a year. 

The Multnomah County district attorney’s office declined to pursue criminal prosecution, based on an investigation undertaken by the Port of Portland police. The issue the college is considering is whether its standards were violated.

“The process is not yet complete,” Roberts said Friday. “I hope it will come to a conclusion very soon.”

She acknowledged the time lag, which might seem excessive to some.

“We want to be fair to all employees, so we take the time required,” Roberts said. “We have to do our process in a respectful way. When all is said and done, people will see it that way.”

Roberts said she has enjoyed being Chemeketa’s president, but dealing with personnel issues has not been her favorite part of the job. It can be especially frustrating because members of the public don’t always understand what’s happening behind the scenes in an investigation, thus demand information she cannot provide,” she said.

In addition, she said, the public doesn’t always understand the difference between paid and unpaid administrative leave.

Paid leave, the kind given Lanning, is not pejorative, she said. It is simply a way of temporarily removing someone from duties during an investigation.

Unpaid leave, which she could have used but did not, implies a finding of wrongdoing.

Personnel issues aside, Roberts is free — and eager — to discuss what she’s accomplished during her years at Chemeketa.

She knew when she was hired that the governing board was planning to place a construction bond on the ballot. She didn’t realize, though, that she’d be on the campaign trail within four months of arriving.

Voters rewarded the college with passage of a $92 million bond issue in May 2008. “It was the right time,” she said.

The bond, coupled with a capital grant from the Oregon Legislature, paid for the new Yamhill Valley Campus in McMinnville. The new full-service campus opened in September 2011 on Highway 18, adjacent to a former outlet mall owned by Chemeketa as well.

Opening the Yamhill Valley campus fulfilled a dream Chemeketa officials had maintained for three decades by increasing offerings, allowing expanded enrollment and making it possible for many students to complete their entire course of study in McMinnville. Now it attracts students from all over the region for college transfer classes or study in programs such as hospitality/tourism, hemodialysis and medical or physical therapy.

The success of the 2008 bond campaign depended on showing voters the need for a new McMinnville campus and other facilities. To do that, Roberts visited each area that Chemeketa serves and assembled a coalition of community leaders.

“I’m all about building relationships,” she said.

She said she has continued to meet with those leaders and visit the various CCC sites throughout her presidency. Listening to the entire Chemeketa community is a key to the college’s overall strength, she said.

Roberts also has worked with business leaders to determine what they need, so that Chemeketa could offer the right programs to prepare the workforce.

“What do we need for a vibrant economic base, to grow the talent pool? We need more students going on to higher education, who’ll stay in school and do well,” she said.

“We can’t allow our young people to not be competitive in this global marketplace.”

At Chemeketa, she and the executive team discussed “who’s here, who’s not and who needs to be,” Roberts said. They decided they needed to attract more top students, convincing them that a community college, and Chemeketa specifically, is the right place for them start their post-high school studies.

The Chemeketa Scholar program was the answer.

Students from Yamhill County and other areas served by Chemeketa receive free tuition if they graduate from high school with a 3.5 or better GPA and pass a qualifying test and perform community service, such as tutoring. If they maintain their grades, they get full tuition in their second year at Chemeketa, as well.

The first year of the program, Chemeketa enrolled 232 scholars. This year, it enrolled 500.

More than 1,700 students have attended the program thus far.

It’s been good for the campus and for the community, helping the school to do its “job is providing quality education to help improve the economic wealth of the region,” said Roberts, who has taught a class each year she’s been at Chemeketa.

It’s beneficial for students, too — not only those in high school and college, she said, but younger ones who make good grades a goal in order to become Chemeketa Scholars.

Chemeketa also partners with McMinnville High School and other area schools on the College Credit Now program. High schoolers can earn transferable college credits at a low cost before graduating. Mac High’s Class of 2014, for instance, earned more than 6,000 college credits.

In addition to the scholar and college credit programs, Roberts said Chemeketa has served students by improving its financial aid process and keeping tuition increases small. And it has not had  to raise tuition the past two years, thanks to prudent fiscal management and stable enrollment, she said.

With two weeks left in her presidency, Roberts is starting to pack up her office, although the walls are still hung with art and on her desk is parked an H-scale model of a transit bus, its sides wrapped with the Chemeketa logo.

A real Yamco Transit Area bus served as a rolling billboard for the college. It ran the McMinnville to Tigard route, passing Portland Community College’s Newberg center on its way.

Roberts believes Newberg should be Chemeketa’s territory, just like the rest of Yamhill County. She wanted the bus to remind Newberg-area residents of all Chemeketa offers just a few miles away, at its accredited campus in McMinnville. PCC Newberg is just a center, she stressed, not a full campus like CCC’s Yamhill Valley facility.

Her bookshelves still contain plenty of photos of her parents and her mentor.

Her father flew in World War II as part of the Tuskegee Airmen. He and her mother were passionate about education. “No one can take that back from you,” they told her.

Roberts earned a bachelor’s degree in phenomenological psychology and a master’s degree in student personnel management. She first knew her mentor, Bernard Haldane, as a respected name whose work she studied in graduate school. Later, at the University of Washington, she had a chance to work with him on his life’s research on self-esteem and productivity.

Soon the pictures will be packed away with the going away cards and gifts she’s received from well-wishers. One of the most special is a gift from her Chemeketa friends featuring photos of her golden retriever visiting the college: A beautiful dog on a beautiful campus.

The book and other items will travel with her to her new office in Seattle. She is looking forward to joining Shoreline, a school she describes as “a miniature Chemeketa” with 18,000 students, about half the number she’s used to.

She’s eager to return to Washington, as well. Her grandchildren live there, she said, as does her husband — they’ve had a long-distance relationship ever since she took the Chemeketa job.

She said she’s missed him, but has no regrets about her time in Oregon. “Seven years has gone by fast,” she said. “I’m very grateful to Chemeketa, and the community, for its support and unwavering confidence in me that has allowed me to be successful.”

Chemeketa has gone through tremendous change in the last seven years, she said, and it’s in a good place now, with solid enrollment, a strong financial picture and positive employee relations, including a newly settled contract agreement with its licensed staff.

“I feel I’ve built on the work of previous presidents and built relationships,” she said. And today, she said, everyone is focused on a common goal: quality education.

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