First published in the Oct. 9 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
After spending nearly a decade helping to right the ship at Glendale Community College, David Viar is retiring as president of the institution after the current academic year ends in June.
GCC announced the decision this week, with the college’s Board of Trustees committing to hiring an executive search firm at its Tuesday, Oct. 19 meeting to assist in identifying Viar’s successor. The board anticipates selecting his replacement on May 17.
Hired in 2013, Viar will cap a 45-year career in academia after he determined this school year was the best time for him, his family and the college to take a different path.
“For the last couple of years, I’d been thinking about it from time to time,” he said in a phone interview this week, “but only recently did I come to the conclusion that now is the best time for all of us.”
Prior to becoming the top Vaquero, Viar was president of American River College in Sacramento for eight years, and before that he spent 15 years as chief executive of the Community College League of California, which he co-founded in 1990 to advocate for the state’s 73 community college districts.
At GCC, Viar was tasked with stabilizing an institution that, in the wake of legendary President John Davitt, had hit choppy waters financially and administratively.
“When the Board of Trustees hired Dr. Viar, his original commitment was to serve for five years, yet we have been fortunate to have him for what will be a remarkable nine-year run,” said GCC Board of Trustees President Dr. Armine Hacopian in a statement. “During his tenure, his steady, patient, student-focused, collegial approach to decision-making has made a positive difference that will benefit this institution for years to come.”
“From the first day I met Dr. Viar in 2013, I knew his tenure at Glendale College would be a good one,” said Emily Haraldson president of the Glendale College Guild. “He brought a sense of collaboration to our college and worked in cooperation with our shared governance process and campus leaders. Dr. Viar has been an invaluable asset to our college community, and he will be missed.”
In his tenure, Viar touts the college attaining the highest-level accreditation for the past seven years, awarding record numbers of degrees and certificates, amplifying dual enrollment and passing the $325 million Measure GC item among the school’s chief accomplishments.
“We are much better off than we were when I arrived,” Viar said. “I knew of that history and those traditions of the period of John Davitt, because I had in effect been personally involved in a lot of the things he was doing. After his retirement, the college had lost its stability and moved in a number of different directions as a result of having three chief executives over a five-year time.”
Viar and the college’s legion of instructors, staff and administrators mobilized quickly in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which initially paused classes to transition to a remote instruction model and outright pulled the plug on a number of workshops and lectures open to the community.
“There are no [doubts] that over my decades of leadership that there have been serious emergencies for community colleges,” Viar said. “They have primarily been fiscal crises and about the state running out of money and slashing programs. For me, and others, there have been no issues as dreadful as this, which affects so many peoples’ lives negatively.”
The pandemic became an opportunity for the college’s new Office of Basic Needs to launch its Fresh Success program, which is designed to help at-risk students obtain food, shelter, transportation and other essential needs to help them finish their education. The city kicked in $1.3 million in the spring to fund a Low Income Student Rental Assistance Program, which GCC administered through Fresh Success.
Additionally, GCC ran a number of food collection drives during the pandemic.
“There’s no question that the pandemic did exacerbate what we already knew, which was that so many of our students seeking to improve and seek social mobility had issues related to food and housing stability,” Viar said. “It’s easy to imagine how hard it is to sit down and study when you’re worrying about how you’re going to get housing or food for your family.”
The college continued to distinguish itself during the pandemic, with its nursing students working with USC Verdugo Hills Hospital to earn experience hours by helping administer COVID-19 vaccines and GCC playing host to the city’s Jewel City Vax Clinic. Congressman Adam Schiff recognized GCC engineering instructor Nareh Manooki as one of his district’s women of the year for utilizing her program’s equipment and students to 3D print personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.
“I still, to this day, am pleased, not surprised, but heartened by what people did to keep us open and serving,” Viar said.
“Dr. Viar provided Glendale Community College with extremely insightful and stable leadership throughout his tenure as Superintendent/President, and especially during the past two very difficult years,” said Roger Dickes, GCC Academic Senate president. “As senate president, it was my good fortune to have been able to work with him and I enjoyed our conversations very much.”
In retirement, Viar will continue to live in Glendale with wife Jane. In their time here, Viar has been involved with Glendale Sunrise Rotary Club, Glendale Fire Foundation Board and the Glendale YMCA Board. He has been recognized as Man of the Year by the Glendale Latino Association and Community Leader by the YMCA of Glendale.
Viar said the decision to take the GCC job was made much easier by the fact that their son — and now a grandchild — live locally as well.
“My wife and I knew not only about the college and its needs, but we knew about this wonderful community in Glendale. It was all meant to be,” he said. “This is where we want to be and we’ll stay here.”