Cabrillo College.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Cabrillo College

Both sides of Cabrillo College name-change debate disappointed after board votes to delay renaming until 2028

Some who support renaming Cabrillo College say they feel the governing board’s 6-1 vote Monday to delay the name change until at least 2028 is a sign trustees are caving to threats made by donors to take their funding away if the school changes its name. Meanwhile, some name-change opponents say they think the board should have instead voted to scrap the renaming process entirely.

Supporters and opponents of Cabrillo College’s proposed name change both say they are disappointed in the school’s decision Monday night to delay the renaming process by five years.

Some who support the renaming say they feel the delay is a sign that the board is caving to threats made by donors to take their funding away if the school changed its name. On the other hand, some name-change opponents say they think the board should have instead voted to scrap the renaming process entirely.

John Govsky, the Cabrillo College digital media instructor who originally proposed changing the school’s name in 2020, said he was saddened by the governing board’s 6-1 vote Monday to delay any talk of renaming the college until at least 2028.

“There’s been a lot of very vocal opposition and they’re responding to that,” he said. “But I think they’re definitely overreacting, and putting a five-year timeline on making another decision on this or even discussing it, makes no sense to me.”

Linda Burroughs, a former Cabrillo College Foundation board president and current Santa Cruz Symphony board president who opposes the name change, said she’s disappointed the board didn’t vote to end the renaming discussion entirely. She thinks the name-change decision was a mistake.

“I think it’s unfortunate that they didn’t table it completely,” she said. “Because I think, to delay it for five years, continues the conversation unnecessarily.”

Their comments came after a tense board meeting Monday night where the school’s trustees heard from more than a dozen members of the public before ultimately voting to put off the renaming discussion for five years.

A subcommittee of the board recommended last week that the board delay renaming the college and instead start focusing next month on developing programs, services and courses that support Indigenous and Native students.

Steve Trujillo was the lone trustee to vote against the recommendation.

“The idea of postponing this five years is utterly ridiculous,” he said. “That’s like kicking the can down the road.”

Board chair Adam Spickler said he feels that allowing the community five more years to discuss the issue will be productive and help many people better understand why the board made its decision to change the name.

“Let’s spend five years talking about it,” he said. “I think we will see some phenomenal change.”

College leaders have faced mounting criticism of the decision to drop the name of 16th-century European explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and of the public consultation process the college has used since it started exploring the idea of a name change more than three years ago.

Both name-change supporters and opponents were vocal in public sessions, letters to the editor and on social media. Several major donors, upset by what they felt was a lack of community engagement before the school voted to change its name last fall, told Lookout in July that they were weighing whether to stop donating to the Cabrillo College Foundation, the nonprofit that raises as much as $6 million annually for student scholarships and programs.

Board members also voted to end the current Name Exploration Subcommittee and launch a new subcommittee of the board in October. That subcommittee will lead the development of the new programs and courses, as well as plans to establish an endowed professor position in Indigenous and Native studies.

The Cabrillo College governing board first received a petition to change the name in 2020. The board then created the subcommittee, which launched months of research and community engagement events leading up to its recommendation last fall to change the name of the school.

During their November 2022 meeting, board members voted 7-1 to rename the college and to choose a new name by August. But instead, ahead of a meeting last month, a community task force recommended Cabrillo not change its name right now because of how divisive the issue had become in the community.

Many people who support the name change said they were disappointed the subcommittee was recommending the delay, but some also thanked the committee for its work. Those against the name change thanked the committee for the recommendation to delay.

Trujillo made a motion to shorten the timeline to 11 months. It “doesn’t take five years to educate a county of this size,” he said. No other trustee supported the motion so it failed.

Trustee Christina Cuevas emphasized that the subcommittee remains committed to the name change.

“I know that many people were surprised by the recommendation” to rename the college, she said. But she added that she thinks it’s the right decision to delay to give the community time to engage in person.

Trustee Rachael Spencer said she loved the five-year plan — partly because by 2028, each of the trustees will have been up for reelection. She said she felt that people need a clear mind to move forward with the process and that a chance for the community to vote for its board after the name-change process could help people feel as though they’re starting with a “clean slate.”

“It’s going to be five years of turmoil,” she added.

Spencer motioned to add a statement to the recommendation that the board rescind its decision to change the name and agree not to rename the college. Trustee Martha Vega seconded Spencer’s motion, saying that delaying the decision was a bad idea. No other trustees support the motion, so it also failed.

Trustee Dan Rothwell said the one concern he has about the whole issue is the lack of funding.

“So to me, the delay makes a heck of a lot of sense,” he said. “We don’t have the money. And if we don’t have the money first, this is just a verbal exercise.”

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