A protest against the impending firing of the highest-ranking African American administrator at embattled Irvine Valley College is being started by leaders of several Orange County organizations.
Supporters of Pauline Merry, the college's vice president of student services, spoke out Tuesday before trustees of the South Orange County Community College District, saying a recommendation against renewing her contract was unjustified and would represent a blow to African Americans in the county.
Trustees would not comment on the criticism, saying only that all of the administrators at the college were told last March that they would not have their existing contracts renewed, but that they might be continuing their jobs under new contracts as part of an administrative reshuffling.
But Merry, 60, said on Tuesday that she has learned she will not be offered any contract after professional differences with new college President Raghu Mathur. Mathur's appointment was opposed by many staff members at the 11,000-student college.
"Raghu told me personally he's going to recommend my contract not be renewed," Merry said.
She said she and other administrators received identical letters last March saying their contracts would not be renewed but that they might be eligible for new ones. But after that, she said, Mathur reprimanded her about a disagreement on a personnel matter.
John Williams, president of the college district board, which oversees Irvine Valley College in Irvine and Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, said he could not comment on Merry's status.
As vice president of student services, Merry oversees student admissions, records, financial aid, health and student activities at the Irvine campus, where she has been for three years after 20 years with Los Angeles community colleges.
Merry's supporters told trustees that she represents the contributions by members of the African American community in Orange County.
"This would be devastating to our community," said J.J. King, a retired community college administrator and a resident of Irvine. "We're supposed to have diversity in our community colleges."
The Rev. Randy Jordan of Unity in Praise Fellowship in Laguna Hills said blacks in Orange County already are underrepresented in local government.
"We are living here just like everyone else and we deserve to be represented," he said.
Merry also was praised as a mentor to young professionals and an advocate of education and community activism. She is president of the African American Community and Cultural Center Foundation and is a past president of the Orange County section of the National Council of Negro Women.
"She's always taken leadership positions and is highly respected in the community," said Shirley Richards, a member and past president of the National Council of Negro Women.