After slightly more than three years at the helm of the Yosemite Community College District, Chancellor Roe Darnell abruptly announced his retirement Wednesday night, citing a family illness.
Darnell's retirement is effective July 31; trustees will discuss whether to hire an acting chancellor and set up the search for a new leader at a special board meeting June 23.
Darnell, 64, declined to give details about the family member's illness when the announcement was made at Wednesday's board meeting. Trustees and several staff members wished him well and thanked Darnell for his service.
"He's putting his family first, that shows the character he has," board Chairwoman Pat Dean said Wednesday night.
Hired in April 2007, Darnell brought much-needed stability to a district struggling with turnover among the top ranks at the YCCD and Modesto Junior College, and the resulting lack of leadership.
Darnell served as a mediator after MJC lost its academic accreditation and when then-President Richard Rose encountered tension with campus groups.
In informing the public of his decision, Darnell highlighted the district's ability to navigate the state's recession and budget cuts without laying off employees.
Darnell noted a decision to purchase neighboring land for extra parking at MJC's east campus. The move provided more spots than a proposed parking garage and saved millions of dollars.
Longtime trustee Tom Hallinan was so excited when Darnell was hired, he decided to run for re-election.
"I had a rocky time with previous administrations. I finally had somebody I could work with for the first time," said Hallinan, who's been on the board since 1996. Hallinan said Darnell was successful and a good leader because he collaborated with all groups and "cuts to the chase."
MJC Academic Senate President and instructor Mike Adams praised Darnell for encouraging a culture of civility.
"Chancellor Darnell's retirement announcement is a surprise to me. I know his reasons must be serious, because he has always shown a great deal of integrity and professionalism," Adams said. "The MJC Academic Senate has always found him to be easy to work with."
After 40 years in college administration, including as the chief executive officer of the West Kern Community College District before coming to Modesto, Darnell had hoped to serve at YCCD for at least five years. His contract went through June 2012.
Darnell said his time in Stanislaus County strengthened "my convictions that community colleges are the cornerstones of improvement for this area."
"It's strengthened by belief in what a community college does, and reminded me of the tremendous potential that a college has in the Central Valley and the continuing need that we have."
Darnell's departure comes as the district, MJC and Columbia College prepare to further trim spending. Wednesday night, trustees approved a tentative budget for the 2010-11 school year that lowers spending to just less than $120 million.
Officials will continue to roll out construction projects at MJC and Columbia College, funded by $326 million in school bonds approved by voters in 2004.
Nearly $100 million in projects will break ground in the next several months.
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.