Former Gov. Gary Locke will remain as Bellevue College’s interim president when his current contract expires in June, a year after he was named the Eastside school’s temporary leader.
The college’s Board of Trustees voted to extend Locke’s interim president contract through June 2023 in a meeting Wednesday to decide whether to keep Locke or begin the search now for a permanent president.
Locke, 70, was named interim president in May 2020; his current contract runs through June 30. He will continue to earn an annual salary of $281,459.
Locke served two terms as governor of Washington from 1997 to 2005 and served as secretary of commerce and U.S. ambassador to China during the Obama administration. He was the first Chinese American to be elected governor in the United States. Before his time as governor, he was King County executive and served in the Washington State House of Representatives.
At the time of the presidential search, Locke said the position hadn’t initially been on his radar but he thought he could help the college given his longtime interest in higher education and management. Board of trustees members said he would be helpful in navigating difficult budgets and forging important partnerships outside the public college.
On Wednesday, trustees praised Locke’s breadth of experience and grasp of financial issues but noted that he would need additional support to make up for his lack of experience in higher education. Vice Chair Richard Leigh said Locke has been engaged in working with the college community as it continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and online learning, social unrest and financial instability.
Locke said he felt gratified by the board of trustees’ vote and that he had enjoyed his term serving as interim president even as the college goes through “tough, tough times.” This week, he testified before state lawmakers on behalf of the state’s community and technical colleges and has been working with the other colleges’ presidents on a legislative strategy.
The college has aspirations of a permanent president who could serve for five to 10 years, said chair Greg Dietzel, and extending Locke’s contract allows for more time to conduct a search for that person.
“We wanted to have a chance to build that stable foundation, and it’s a big investment in people’s time to do a national search,” Dietzel said after the meeting. He added that it’s not a reflection on Locke, who he joked would want to retire at some point.
Locke succeeded Jerry Weber, who resigned in early March with Gayle Colston Barge, a vice president, in the fallout over Barge’s admitted involvement in the defacement of a campus mural that depicted two Japanese American children in a World War II incarceration camp. A portion of the artist description of the mural, titled “Never Again Is Now” by Seattle artist Erin Shigaki, was whited out to remove a reference to the late Eastside businessman Miller Freeman and his anti-Japanese sentiment.
Weber died in November following a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He was 70.