Tacoma Community College’s president resigned this week, about a month after members of the college’s faculty sent a scathing letter criticizing her leadership.
The college’s Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to approve a resignation agreement with Sheila Ruhland, who became president of the college in March 2015. Ruhland will cease to be president of TCC Jan. 13, according to the agreement, and will receive a financial settlement.
Through a spokeswoman, Ruhland declined to comment to a reporter. Her attorney, John R. Wilson, said “she and the college had jointly agreed that it was in the best interest of the college to amicably part ways.”
“Dr. Ruhland has greatly appreciated the opportunity to serve as president of Tacoma Community College, and has great respect for the college community and particularly for the students,” Wilson said.
Ruhland submitted her letter of resignation Monday, said Bob Ryan, president of TCC’s Board of Trustees. The agreement the board approved Wednesday gives Ruhland a $275,000 settlement, in addition to paying her for accrued vacation and sick leave.
In exchange, Ruhland is released from her contract and waives any legal claims against the college, Ryan said. She also agrees not to disparage the college or make untrue statements about TCC.
As president, Ruhland made $236,000 per year.
Last month, a majority of tenured faculty members at the college signed a letter outlining a series of complaints against Ruhland, including that she failed to notify staff and students when the college’s accreditation was placed on probationary status.
The letter said Ruhland showed “a pattern of racial insensitivity” in public interactions, and cited fear surrounding new hiring and firing practices under Ruhland’s watch.
Faculty members also criticized Ruhland’s lack of leadership in addressing problems with a new state software system that handles student registrations and financial aid.
The four-page letter concluded by asking the college’s Board of Trustees to start looking for a new president. In a subsequent email to faculty and staff, Ryan said board members planned to “give their full attention to the points raised by the TCC faculty.”
The president of the TCC faculty union, David Howard, said nothing about the faculty’s complaints Wednesday when given a chance to speak at the board meeting. Instead, Howard — whose name appeared toward the top of the faculty letter — wished Ruhland well.
“On behalf of myself and on behalf of the faculty, I want to wish Sheila Ruhland the best,” Howard said.
Ruhland came to TCC after serving for four years as the president of Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. She became TCC’s president in March 2015, succeeding Pamela Transue, who led the college for 17 years.
Wilson, Ruhland’s attorney, said Wednesday that Ruhland had worked hard during her tenure to resolve the issues that caused TCC to be placed on probation earlier this year. The accreditation process began before Ruhland arrived, Wilson said.
While true, the failure to meet the required financial audit deadline occurred on Ruhland's watch. Past TCC president Pamela Transue said the college had assurances at the end of her tenure in March 2015 that the state auditor's office could complete the audit required for accreditation on time.
Regarding the issue of racial insensitivity, “Dr. Ruhland was saddened to hear those allegations and respectfully but strongly disagrees with them,” he said.
“Her commitment to equity and diversity in education and the broader community is second to none,” Wilson said.
Ryan, the board president, issued a statement Wednesday lauding “the positive contributions (Ruhland) has made throughout her tenure.” As part of Ruhland’s resignation agreement, Ryan is required to write a positive letter of reference for Ruhland and speak positively about Ruhland to future employers.
The college’s board of trustees also moved Wednesday to appoint two acting co-presidents: Mary Chikwinya, TCC’s vice president of student services, and Bill Ryberg, the college’s vice president of college advancement and TCC Foundation director.
The two acting co-presidents will lead the college until an interim president is appointed, which Ryan said will probably be within the next month or two.
The interim president will lead the college for a slightly longer period as TCC leaders conduct a nationwide search for a permanent president, Ryan said.
The last time the college conducted a nationwide search and ultimately hired Ruhland, the process took about nine months, he said.