'Sanctuary' Designation Prompts Portland Community College Board Chairman to Quit

"On this issue I cannot commit," Gene Pitts wrote in his resignation letter.

PCC student Christian Calzada, speaking to Fox 12 News at a December event urging PCC to become a sanctuary campus. (Photo by Piper McDaniel)

Gene Pitts, the chairman of Portland Community College's board of directors, has resigned his seat because he doesn't agree with a decision last month to designate PCC a "sanctuary" campus for undocumented students.

"[T]he decision to use the term 'sanctuary college,'" he wrote in a resignation letter to colleagues sent just before Christmas, "politicizes the college, places risk on the backs of the 40+ percent of the college's students that receive Pell grant monies (and ultimately on the college's Federal funding), and alienates a percentage of voters as we approach the college's next bond campaign."

The former marketing manager for Intel, who represents Zone 6, from Beaverton to Dundee, went on: "From my Intel career, I understand and have embraced the importance of 'disagree and commit' in order to provide a one-voice on matters. However, on this issue I cannot commit. For that reason, I am resigning my position as Board Chair and as Board Member serving Zone 6."

PCC last month designated itself a sanctuary campus in response to student demands and following a wave of similar declarations at colleges across the country, including at Reed, Lewis & Clark and Portland State University. The designation is largely symbolic—meant to reinforce the fact that colleges themselves do not enforce federal immigration laws. But undocumented students have sought these designations fearing President-elect Donald Trump will pressure colleges to aid in their deportations.

Pitts, elected in 2009 and 2013, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Kate Chester, a spokeswoman for the college, says Kali Thorne-Ladd will take his place as chairperson. The board will appoint a replacement until voters can elect a new representative for Zone 6 in May.

"Gene is a strong supporter of PCC and the critical role it plays to enhance the economic vitality of the region," Chester wrote in an email. "[H]e wasn't in alignment with the board's recent decision to apply the term 'sanctuary college' to PCC, believing the term itself to be political rather than educational."


Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.