Proposed sabbatical for College Chancellor Helen Benjamin raises questions

chancellor helen benjamin DVC

At its July 23, 2014 meeting the Contra Costa Community College District Board will consider a two-month, paid sabbatical leave request from District Chancellor Helen Benjamin.  On the same agenda Benjamin recommends hire of an interim replacement, former Contra Costa College President McKinley Williams, at a District cost of over $53,000 for two months’ work.  Williams retired from the District in 2011 following 21 years of service with Contra Costa College.

Waiving District’s no-cost sabbatical policy

District policy requires that two-month sabbatical leaves “not cause additional expense to the District.”  In considering Helen Benjamin’s leave request, on the same agenda the Board will consider waiving this policy in order to hire an interim Chancellor.  To date the District has made no exceptions to its no-cost sabbatical policy.

Notably, the staff report offers no alternatives to hiring a $53,000 temp contrary to District policy, nor does it discuss the fiscal or policy impacts of doing so.

This is the first sabbatical leave requested by Helen Benjamin in her 24 years with the District.  She proposes a “split” leave for two non-consecutive months, August 11-September 5 and October 27-November 21, 2014.  During this time Benjamin would remain in the area, as the proposed sabbatical leave project requires no out-of-area travel.

Is it worth it?

The purpose of the sabbatical leave is to allow Benjamin to study management practices of local corporations “associated with professional development and diversity and equity activities” for the purpose of developing “recommended practices, policies, and procedures” for the college district.  Benjamin’s leave would yield a work product in the form of a 15+-page term paper, due in January 2015, as stated in her leave application Chancellor Benjamin Sabbatical 072314 (agenda item 6B) that states, in part:

The completed sabbatical program will consist of a document containing at least 15 pages of text resulting from the four objectives outlined in the proposal. The document will provide information gleaned from visits and interactions with the CEO and/or key employees representing manufacturing, technology, healthcare, and/or a private or not-for-profit institution of higher learning. The research will focus on activities associated with professional development and diversity and equity activities, culminating in recommended practices, policies, and procedures that could be adopted by the District.

District officials advise this is the first two-month sabbatical requested in the past decade or more.  The last sabbatical leave requested and approved for a management employee occurred 4 years ago, for a six-month leave.

The proposed contract for services with McKinley Williams Interim Chancellor Contract 072314 (agenda item 6A) includes a monthly base salary of $22,500, monthly $600 auto allowance and $800 “community relations stipend” and limited benefits.  The total monthly cost for Williams’ services is estimated at $26,800, with the total two-month cost estimated at $53,600.

During her leave of absence Helen Benjamin would continue to receive full pay and benefits from the District.

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Author: Wendy Lack

Wendy Lack worked in city government human resources management for over 25 years. Wendy blogs on Contra Costa Bee on local government. Her articles have been published at American Thinker, Fox and Hounds Daily, and other blogs focused on California politics and local government. Wendy has a B.S. in Public Affairs from the University of Southern California and an M.B.A. from Golden Gate University, San Francisco. She lives in Contra Costa County, California and can be contacted at

4 thoughts on “Proposed sabbatical for College Chancellor Helen Benjamin raises questions”

  1. It’s disappointing the Contra Costa Times won’t use the $53,000 total cost figure in its reports of this story. Then again, reporters are notorious for writing puff pieces on sensitive topics, so as to maintain good relations with story sources in public agencies. So it’s no surprise some salient facts of this story were obscured.

    Here’s a link to the Times story re this week’s Board vote:

    Despite the kid-gloves treatment of this outrageous issue by local press, the Board of Trustees ended up doing the right thing — barely. The $53K contract for two months
    of “temp” staffing was rejected on a 3-2 vote, with Trustees Greg Enholm, Vicki Gordon and Matt Rinn standing up for common sense, fiscal responsibility and ethics.

    Trustees J.T. Nejedly and John Marquez appear to be wrapped around Benjamin’s pinky finger, unable to evaluate issues with the objectivity necessary for sound decision making. Why else would they attempt to defend the indefensible?

    Notably, Chancellor Benjamin’s knee-jerk withdrawal of her sabbatical request, immediately following Board rejection of the policy “waiver,” confirms suspicions this sabbatical plan had more to do with Benjamin’s efforts to boost Williams’ future candidacy as her successor (as well as lining his pocketbook), and less to do with the merits of the sabbatical studies. Why else would Benjamin refuse to bring forward alternative arrangements after the Board expressed serious concerns months ago?

    Benjamin’s actions make it clear that it was “her way or the highway” because the whole point of the sabbatical leave was to get Williams in as interim Chancellor. Otherwise Benjamin would have been receptive to alternative ways of addressing Trustee concerns. Instead, she went to the mat on Williams’ behalf and, when she lost, she withdrew her sabbatical request because it no longer served her political purposes.

    Thank goodness a Board majority had the courage to stand up to the politically-powerful Chancellor. Kudos go to Enholm, Gordon and Rinn for providing necessary leadership.

    Benjamin is expected to retire soon. District residents are well-advised to keep
    close watch on this District’s handling of the new Chancellor selection process. Benjamin enjoys control and insists her judgment is superior to that of others. It’s likely she’ll attempt more power plays to control selection of her successor.

  2. In June 2014, voters in Contra Costa County approved a $450 million bond measure (Measure E) for the Contra Costa Community College District. Here is what the bond did to local property taxes according to a, Ballotpedia, a website about Measure E: “The approval of Measure E nearly doubled the district’s annual property tax rate from $13 per $100,000 of assessed valuation to almost $26 per $100,000 of assessed valuation. The district board of directors briefly considered a bond amount of $650 million, which would have raised the tax rate to about $31 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.” Now, after Measure E has passed, Helen Benjamin, the district’s chancellor, wants a $53,000 proposed sabbatical. Why are voters finding out about this after the election, not before? Benjamin and the district’s board of directors should be fired if the sabbitical is approved.

  3. A two month sabbatical for an administrator? Why should she get a two month vacation? Sabbaticals are supposed to be for FACULTY to work on projects in their field, or to learn new material/techniques, that they don’t have time to do while teaching.

    And not only a two month vacation, but rack up $53,000 in additional costs. ABSURD.

    This is one of the biggest problems in academia – and one of the biggest expense builders in academe – administrators that are still classified as faculty.

    This also highly skews the reports of average faculty wages because of administrators that like to still be called faculty, and regretfully still can. While ADMINISTRATOR faculty wages have kept pace with (or exceeded) tuition increases, TEACHING faculty wages have been pretty stagnant.

    Where could all that new tuition and fees revenue really be going? Hummmmm….

    It is way past time that if you don’t teach a fairly regular load, and your job time is spent primarily in administration, your title changes to administration, no more hiding behind a faculty title.

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