Tuesday, December 15, 1998

MATHUR’S INFAMOUS “CLAP” AND POINSETTIA EPISODES by Big Bill

From Dissent 14
12/15/98

[Editor: here's a typical factoid re the "conservative Board Majority." The article below refers to Trustee Fortune or "Dot." Fortune eventually resigned from the board amid allegations that she had for some time been living hundreds of miles to the north, in central California.]

This article was originally entitled:

THINGS COMING UNHINGED: THE INCIPIENT CRACKDOWN; CLASSIFIED GET THE “CLAP”; PURLOINED POINSETTIAS; AND MORE!

By Big Bill

clap n. Vulgar Slang 1. Gonorrhea. Often used with the.

Is it just me, or have things finally started to come unhinged around here?

Yesterday (the 9th, I think), I sought to duplicate something for one of my classes but found that the A200 copier was down for repairs. So I ventured into A100—IVC’s Administration Building—to use its copier, but, when I entered, I found that THE PRESIDENT, Raghu P. Mathur, was conducting a bizarre ritual. He stood before a crowd of perhaps thirty people; he said something—“Bla”—and then the audience responded with a single CLAP. Then he said something else—“Bla Bla”—and, again, a single, loud CLAP. These antics pleased him enormously, though his audience seemed disturbed, like that kid who had to hop on Saddam’s lap.

What, I asked myself, could this possibly mean?

Unfortunately, Raghu had chosen to stand on a spot that was only five feet from where I needed to stand in order to run the copier. This meant, of course, that I could use the copier only by sharing the “stage” with Raghu. Worse than that, it meant that I could use the copier only by joining Raghu in his bizarre clapfest, accompanying it with a rhythmic round of Xeroxing.

No matter; I had duplicating to do. So, to the horror, I’m sure, of Raghu and everyone in his audience, I entered, stage right, and commenced Xeroxing, while the clap-a-thon continued. Bla bla. CLAP. Bzzzzz-woosh (copier noise). Bla Bla. CLAP. Bzzzzz-woosh. Bla bla. CLAP. Bzzzzz-woosh. It was like performance art, only stupider.

It gets better. Later, I was told that, minutes before I entered the building, an enthusiastic Raghu had referred to this curious activity as “the Orange County Clap.” Really.

What could the poor man have been thinking?

* * * * *
On Friday, the 4th, I met with Trustee Wagner over coffee. I told him that I had arranged our meeting (Nancy Padberg was also invited), not to lobby him but, rather, to urge him to visit the campuses, getting to know the people who work for the district. It was unfortunate, said I, that some trustees never seem to mix with instructors and classified employees and deans—or at least they never mix with the ones in my building. If only they would speak to us and get to know us, they might actually learn how things work in the district. Such knowledge would preclude all manner of folly, such as groundless suspicions of nefarious intrigues, as were expressed at the last regular board meeting.

Wagner agreed, and so we began to plan his visit with faculty and staff at IVC—maybe on the following Tuesday. It was like we were pals or something. We did high fives and then exchanged dirty jokes. Well, not really.

* * * * *
Later that day, I got a call from a very worried friend. The friend had heard that the board (or was it the chancellor?) was about to lower the boom on me.

Boom lowerage was already in the air, of course, for we had heard that Pauline Merry, our popular VP of Student Services, was about to be canned—or, at any rate, such was the recommendation of our president, Raghu P. Mathur, puppet of the Board Four.

Pauline’s tenure as an administrator during the Mathurian Darkness has been punctuated by her refusals to accede to the Imperial One’s unreasonable demands. When, last summer, Raghu heard a story according to which—get this!—I had “called a student a whore”(!), he instructed Pauline to pursue the matter. She talked with me about it, and I assured her that no such event had occurred. Raghu pressed her to pursue the matter further. “How do I do that?” she asked, for no complaint had been filed, and Pauline had no idea who the student was supposed to be. “Call up Bauer’s students,” suggested Raghu. As anyone with half a brain knows, such inquiries would have been grossly inappropriate. (Imagine the calls: “Uh, has Professor Bauer been callin’ anybody a ‘whore’ lately? A ‘strumpet’ maybe? How ‘bout a ‘trollop’?”) Understanding this, Pauline told Mathur that, no, she would not make the calls. She pursued the matter no further. In the absence of a student complaint, what else could she do?

I have learned, however, that, both in his evaluation of Pauline and in his remarks to the Board during discussion of her contract, Mathur distorted the facts concerning this matter. According to the President, he alerted Pauline that there was a sexual harassment complaint, he instructed her to pursue it, and she refused to do so. Her conduct, thus misdescribed, was among the grounds for her negative evaluation by Mathur. It was also among the grounds for the board’s decision not to renew her contract. (During the Dec. 7 closed session discussion, Mathur’s remarks presupposed that the ‘whore’ incident had actually occurred. But if his complaint against Pauline is that she refused to investigate the matter, on what basis could he assume that the incident occurred? In fact, it did not occur.)

Are others as troubled as I am by the curious pattern of President Mathur’s reprimands, negative evaluations, admonishments, and the like? These things are visited only upon his critics—Kate, Bob, Bill, me, et al.—and those, such as Pauline, who fail to pursue his unprofessional and unseemly directives with enthusiasm. Others, no matter how venal or incompetent, entirely escape the Imperial One’s notice.

Padberg and Wagner—are you listening?

* * * * *
On the 7th, I drove down to Saddleback College for the public comments portion of the 5 o’clock closed session. Earlier, I had asked Pauline what I could do on her behalf. Since Frogue, Fortune, Williams—and, evidently, the Chancellor—view me as the anti-christ, my addressing the board was out of the question. I opted for silently auditing the public comments.

Those who spoke on behalf of Pauline spoke well. The always-marvelous Julie Willard listed Pauline’s many achievements. She was followed by Jerry Rudmann and Peter Morrison. The Irvine World News described the scene as follows:

Peter Morrison…spoke in Merry’s support before the board made its decision.

“On behalf of the faculty, the senate urges the trustees to reject this recommendation, which can do nothing to improve conditions at the college and will in fact inflame a situation that can only be described as deplorable,” said Morrison.

“Dr. Merry is highly regarded by the faculty, and the recommendation for her dismissal is, in our view, not only unwise but unwarranted. The consequences of such an action are certain to be adverse and will yet further polarize the faculty from the administration at the college.”
Jerry Rudmann, director of matriculation with the Student Services Department, presented the trustees with a vote of confidence in Merry by full-time faculty and staff members in the department. Forty-five out of 58 department members voted in the survey, and all supported Merry, Rudmann said. The survey, he said, included a definition of performance including effective leadership, service to students, promotion of student success and transfer compliance to board policies and other regulations seeking funding for student services activities and support for the spirit of shared governance. Participants were asked to vote confidence or no confidence in Merry, he said.

Rudmann, a psychology professor and one of the original 13 full-time faculty members of the college, said he has worked under five vice presidents of student services, including Merry.

“She’s the best. She’s an inspirational leader and has brought all the people in student services together,” he said.


T. Leon Berry of the NAACP also appeared, speaking of a “conspiracy” to remove Pauline.

And that was about it. Harry Parmer shooed us out of the room.

Outside, I ran into a friend who had heard the rumor that the board was “going to get me.” Maybe tonight.

I drove home to take care of my ailing cat, Buster. By then, I half believed—irrationally, I suppose—that, when I returned at 7:00 for the regular board meeting, I would discover that I no longer had a job. I looked at Buster and told him that I don’t need no stinkin’ job. The pragmatic Buster looked back and said, “Oh yes you do.”

DIGRESSION: The Board Meeting: “Dear Heavenly Father”

The regular board meeting started about a half hour late. John Williams, who, owing to his new mustache, looks just like Adolf Hitler, said the prayer: “Dear Heavenly Father,” it beguneth. The room was filled with people, many of whom covered the left and right walls. They weren’t the usual crowd; they prayed in earnest.

Soon, the Trustees held their “organizational” meeting. Fortune was elected President. Padberg was elected Vice President. Wagner was elected Clerk. I think Lang and Milchiker were elected pencil monitors. Hearts sunk. Someone said, “It’s the Board Five.”

The new board hit the ground running. Fortune sought to move up the meetings’ start time to 6:00. Padberg wanted to end all meetings by 11:00. Lang suggested that we return to the accomodating format whereby the public made all of their comments at the start of the meeting. Milchiker and Padberg agreed. Williams, who authored the current, idiotic two-stage public comments innovation, became peevish. He glowered unpleasantly.

Fortune suggested that Board member reports be limited to 3 minutes. Everybody liked that one.

Mr. Wagner explored ways to allow more public seating in the room. Board members converged on the idea that, from now on, the table would seat only the trustees and the chancellor. Everyone else—college presidents included—would sit in the audience with the hoi polloi, the riffraff. I saw smoke coming out of Raghu’s riffraffian ears.

Maureen Smith noted that it is not practical for a Senate President to sit in a chair in the audience cradling a bulky agenda book. President Fortune’s response—“You’ll be dealt with!”—evoked laughter.

Eventually, we returned to the regular board meeting. Closed session actions were announced. I had already guessed that no action had been taken against me, for none of the trustees was afraid to look me in the eye. The news about Pauline wasn’t so good. We learned that the board decided that she should receive a notice of non-renewal of her contract. The vote was 5-2.

More heart sinkage.

Chief Saddleback cop Harry Parmer was made the (Interim?) VC of Human Resources. Someone said, “Harry Parmer? The cop!? Wha?” (At least he’s a nice guy.)

Next, Teddi Lorch was given a plaque, signed by the odious Bill Morrow, which lauded her “fiscal responsibility” and her determination to “downsize administration.” No mention was made of her help in promoting the district’s insolvency and overseeing the district’s placement on the state’s fiscal watch list. Joan Hueter, too, received a plaque, from the California State Assembly.

Williams, the out-going president, also received a plaque. I think it was a turd nailed to a board. The audience seemed unenthusiastic. Williams glowered some more. Meanwhile, Padberg studied the audience like a hawk.

During the first round of public comments, the director of the Emeritus Institute explained that, thanks to the Board’s recent innovations, “things are now a bit fractured.” Speaking of the older students who give to the Foundation, she said, in closing, “they don’t want to be jerked around too much.” Nicely said.

Retiring senior secretary Alice P. started to read a letter that she had sent to the new trustees. It spoke of the “formidable task” faced by the new members in stopping the “decline” of the district and its two colleges. Before she could finish, however, President Fortune reversed herself and decided that Alice’s presentation did not concern an agenda item, and so she was told to siddown until the next opportunity for public remarks.

Kurt English (?), the president of the Orange County Young Republicans, welcomed Mr. Wagner. Apparently, fifteen members of the group had come out to witness Mr. Wagner being installed as trustee.

An absurdly clean-cut young man named Mathew Harper—Trustee elect of the Board that oversees Huntington Beach Union High School—explained that Mr. Wagner had been his inspiration.

The next speaker had evidently been on the search committee that chose Carol Ziehm (sp?) as the new Lariat advisor, replacing Lee Walker. The message: please approve Carol. Later, another speaker made the same plea.

But then Walker spoke. You will recall that, as Lariat faculty advisor, he has essentially destroyed the paper, turned his students against him, and has even inspired the enmity of his union pal, Ken “I only want to teach!” Woodward. The story is that, after the student-reviled Walker announced his imminent retirement, Woodward, Walker’s dean, with the support of President Bullock, acted to find a replacement student advisor. But Walker had a sudden change of heart, and even though a search committee had already identified his replacement—the excellent Carol Ziehm—he now demanded his advisor job back.

His fight, he said, is for full-timer rights!

Classy guy. I kept expecting Ziehm to burst into tears, but she never did.

The Board voted to table the Lariat advisor issue. (An attempt was made to approve Ziehm, but it failed.) This means, I think, that Lee is again the advisor, and Carol Z is left twisting slowly in the wind. Later in the evening, other speakers urged the Board to replace Walker and approve Ziehm, but the Board was unmoved.

The hiring lists issue came up again. In the course of the discussion, a speaker referred to WSCH (weekly student contact hours), a central organizational concept used by administrators. Naturally, Dot Fortune, the President of the Board, asked, “Would you explain what WSCH is?”

“It’s weekly student contact hours,” said someone. Dot looked confused.

John Allen explained the process that yielded Saddleback’s proposed hiring list. Though it is based on objective data, he said, it does have a “subjective element.”

“So there is no formula,” said Dot.

“There is no precise formula,” said John.

During the second round of public remarks, the Walker issue came up again. Josh Prizer seemed to say that, in effect, Walker actually teaches students to break the law and violate journalistic principles.

Carol Ziehm asked the Board to please make up their minds. She is the only care giver of her ailing mother, and she—Carol—needs to know now what she’ll be doing in the spring.

Alice P. read her bezingered letter for the second time. President Dot set her jaw.

During his report, IVC Academic Senate President Peter Morrison described an analysis he had written of Ms. Fortune’s assertions, in an LA Times article, regarding cost savings yielded by the reorganization. Evidently, Morrison’s findings do not support Fortune’s assertions. Whatever cost savings that were achieved by the reorganization, he said, were realized at Saddleback, not IVC.

* * * * *
The next day—the 8th, a Tuesday—I arrived at 10 o’clock in order to show Mr. Wagner around. We started in the Administration Building and then wandered over to A200. Eventually, I took the new Trustee over to B200, where Rich Z was waiting to continue the “tour.”

Wagner’s visit was, by all accounts, a grand success. It was obvious that faculty and classified were more than happy to speak with him, to begin to work with him. It is hoped that he and Ms. Padberg will come to campus often, getting to know the people who make the district work.

Later that afternoon, after my 12:30 class, I was hailed by the VC of Human Resources, who handed me a certified letter. Evidently, the letter, which was dated Dec. 2—only a few days after the appearance of my Register “Guest Column”—had been sent to my old address and then returned. I wondered if Georgiana had driven all the way up to IVC just to hand me the damn thing.

I went to my office and opened it.

It was from the Chancellor. The fellow seems to think that my publications have created a hostile work environment. He encouraged me to seek counseling. Evidently, the letter will go into my personnel file.

Hey! Whatever happened to process? I have never been advised that my publications are creating a “hostile work environment” for anyone. No one has even asked me if I am the editor of the ‘Vine or the Dissent or if I write for those publications. (In fact, one of the remarks cited in the letter by the Chancellor was penned by someone else.) No one has sought to discuss possible changes in the newsletters with me. No one has discussed with me the possible meaning of any elements of my publications. No. Instead, I am suddenly informed that I am creating a hostile work environment and that a letter asserting that “fact” shall be placed in my personnel file. Wow.

My best friend—an attorney—just received the latest issue of California Lawyer. It contains a piece called, “Lawyers who make us go postal.”

Pretty hostile, boy. Sounds just like Bauer. I wonder if Sampson will send the editors of that magazine a reprimand, too? Hope so. They need a good laugh.

* * * * *
Late Thursday, the 10th, everyone seemed to be buzzing about President Mathur’s latest outrage. He had imposed himself on a lunch for classified employees at around noon. Each table held a lovely potted poinsettia. The idea was to give the thing to the classified employee who had been with the district the longest.

Since she had been with the district for nineteen (?) years, classified employee Linda R was identified as the recipient of the plant for her table. But the President—Mr. Raghu P. Mathur—put a stop to that. He announced that he had been with the district for nineteen and one half years, and so, as he left, to the astonishment of everyone, and despite his never having been a classified employee, he took the plant.

“Can you believe it!” people said. “Who does he think he is?” “What next!” Some among the classified staff who had witnessed the infamy offered suggestions as to where Raghu might plant his poinsettia. (Oh, how they hate him.) My inveterate commitment to peace and loveliness precludes saying more.

At about 2:30, I briefly visited a Burrito picnic out by the temporaries that had been arranged by students. Naturally, people were still buzzing about the purloined poinsettia. Then someone appeared holding two plants that he and others had purchased at Ralph’s—poinsettias, of course. A group of about ten faculty and staff—I was told to stay behind by my self-appointed handlers—took the plants and entered the Administration Building. As they walked past the President’s open door, they loudly hailed Linda R and presented her with the replacement plants. Everyone clapped and cheered. Then one of the group halted the applause. “No,” he said. “One clap.”

Then, in unison, loudly: CLAP!

Again, smoke could be seen exiting Raghu’s riffraffian ears. —BB

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