Bellevue College names former governor as interim president

BELLEVUE, Wash. (AP) — Former Gov. Gary Locke has been named the interim president of Bellevue College.

The Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday, choosing Locke over Seattle Central College vice president Yoshiko Harden and East Los Angeles College interim president Raúl Rodríguez, The Seattle Times reported.

Locke replaces Jerry Weber, who resigned in March in response to vice president Gayle Colston Barge's decision to alter a campus mural of two Japanese American children in a World War II incarceration camp by removing a reference in the description accompanying the art installation, The Times previously reported. Barge also resigned.

Provost Kristen Jones has been serving as acting president since their resignations.

The project was brought to Bellevue College as the school recognized the Day of Remembrance, which commemorates the day former President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the imprisonment of Japanese Americans.

Board members have said Locke is expected to guide the school out of turmoil caused by previous leadership and through potential financial problems stemming for the coronavirus pandemic.

The alterations to the mural and subsequent presidential search “impacted the reputation of Bellevue College not only statewide, but nationally,” Locke said in an interview with the college community.

Bellevue College is currently holding remote classes for its 29,000 students.

Locke is scheduled to start June 15 with an annual salary of $281,459. His contract will run through June 30, 2021 or until a president is hired.

Locke has called himself a nontraditional candidate for the job because he has not worked in academia but instead has years of experience in politics.

Locke was Democratic governor of Washington from 1997 to 2005 and was the first Chinese American to be elected governor in the United States. During the Obama administration, he served as Commerce secretary and U.S. ambassador to China.