News Story

Michigan College’s $98k Equity And Inclusion Officer To Political Opponents: ‘F**k Trump’

Diversity has its limits at Kellogg Community College

The highly paid chief equity and inclusion officer at taxpayer-funded Kellogg Community College — who posted a picture of himself on social media in December holding a protest sign that read “F**k Trump” — will apparently face no formal sanction.

Trustees at the Battle Creek college heard comments that both denounced and supported Jorge Zeballos when they held a meeting last week, but they took no action.

Responding to an email inquiry from Michigan Capitol Confidential, a KCC spokesman said Tuesday the college “doesn’t comment publicly on confidential personnel matters.”

Zeballos’ 2019-20 salary as the college’s leading promoter of inclusivity is $98,033, KCC revealed in response to a Freedom of Information Request from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

By contrast, KCC’s president, Adrien Bennings, is paid $167,500, and the faculty pay scale for 2019-20 tops out at $91,480.

Adam Heikkila, a community activist and small-business owner in the Battle Creek area, said Zeballos’ profane expression against the president (and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham) didn’t surprise him.

Heikkila said Zeballos, with whom he has interacted with in community- building projects, is a promoter of radical solutions to perceptions of inequitable divisions of political power and a social justice warrior.

Zeballos removed the Facebook post, which promoted his participation at a Battle Creek rally protesting an appearance by President Donald Trump in December, after it drew criticism. He said in a statement that the protest sign is protected by the First Amendment, but he understood that, because of his position, it had repercussions for the college.

“I deeply regret posting the picture on my Facebook page and the controversy it has generated," Zeballos said in a Jan. 3 post on his Facebook page.

“I strive to have respectful dialogue on some of the most challenging issues with anyone who holds an opinion different than mine,” Zeballos said.

On Jan. 7, the KCC Board of Trustees released a statement of its own, declaring that “KCC is a politically neutral, tax-funded institution of higher learning, and does not side with any political party or campaign message.”

“However, this matter is a teachable moment and healthy reminder for all KCC employees that our actions as individuals can have an impact on the institution. Whether that impact affects an individual’s employment status at KCC ... is a determination made via KCC’s ongoing performance management process.”

Heikkila called Zeballos “a nice guy,” and said he doesn’t believe he should be fired. But his protest is an indication of his radicalism and a signal to the college that its commitment to diversity and inclusion and equity is a sham, he said.

“They should eliminate his whole department,” Heikkila said. “He’s not being inclusive. His actions are intimidating to other voices.”

Heikkila said he believes there is a good possibility the college will not renew Zeballos’ contract after this year.

Zeballos was hired last year as the head of a newly created Office of Equity and Inclusion. The college had said the hire demonstrated its “commitment to creating an inclusive environment that fosters respect, supports cultural understanding, demonstrates ethical behavior and champions social justice.”

Prior to his appointment, Zeballos served as the executive director of the KCC Center for Diversity and Inclusion. That office was financed by a grant from the Kellogg Foundation.