Luana K. Ross, who replaced longtime Salish Kootenai College president Joe McDonald in 2010, resigned Friday, citing “irreconcilable visions between myself and some members of the governing board.”
Ross’ departure comes less than a month after she called a news conference to announce changes at SKC in the wake of an investigation that showed grades were inflated for 13 “underperforming” students. Ross said at the time that making the incident, and the resulting changes, public was “part of our institutional integrity.”
In a statement released Friday, she termed SKC’s handling of that situation as one of her brief tenure’s proudest moments.
She also cited the creation of a campus Sustainability Commission; policies on violent and sexual offenders; support for the campus’ lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; and a faculty lecture series.
But Ross – an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes who returned home to the Flathead Indian Reservation to take the reins at SKC – also decried the difficulty of following the legendary McDonald, who spent 30 years at the college before retiring at the age of 77.
“Professionally, as the person chosen to follow in the footsteps of a long-serving former president, I anticipated significant hurdles associated with such a change in leadership and this proved to be true,” she wrote in her statement. Ross did not respond to Missoulian attempts Friday to obtain further comment.
Zane Kelly, who earlier this year finished a four-year stint on the Salish Kootenai College board, put it more bluntly.
“Joe ran the ship and Dr. Ross was never allowed to run the ship,” he said in a telephone interview. “Whatever she did, she was opposed (by people saying) ‘Joe wouldn’t do it this way.’ ”
McDonald himself said Friday he was sorry to hear of Ross' resignation.
"I wanted her to be successful," he said.
He said he'd heard the job was a source of stress.
"I'm sure there was pressure from some of the board members," he said.
McDonald said he didn't know the details of the conflict. "I've tried to stay out of it," he said.
Kelly termed Ross' departure "a tremendous loss," adding that "you have to position Dr. Ross as a woman who is tremendously educated, tremendously talented and tremendously in demand, giving up a tenured position to come to a small Native American college in Montana.”
Ross wrote “Inventing the Savage: The Social Construct of Native American Criminality,” for which she won a Best Book Award from the American Political Science Association.
Before coming to SKC, she was an associate professor of Indian studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, and adjunct professor of American Indian Studies. With her husband, Daniel Hart, she co-directed UW’s Native Voices, a graduate program that produces documentaries about indigenous peoples. Both are still included in the University of Washington’s faculty list.
Ross’ statement said she intends to return to instruction, academic research and writing at UW.
And despite her obvious dissatisfaction with some parts of her experience at SKC, she ended her statement with, “I am grateful to call many new people friends, and to hold dear to many cherished memories of my time spent at Salish Kootenai College.”
Tribal offices are closed on Fridays. One current member of the SKC board declined comment, referring calls to board president Jim Durglo, who could not be reached.
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, or firstname.lastname@example.org.