Monday, March 20, 2000

The infamous "greenhouse" affair, part 2

—continued from Part 1

From Dissent 47, 3/20/00
Originally entitled:

“HELLO, MR. CHIPS”: THE MARCH 9 “SPECIAL MEETING”

By Chunk Wheeler [Roy Bauer]
Trustee Nancy Padberg
In the March 9 issue of the Irvine World News, we are told: “The community college board of trustees must decide at a special meeting today, Thursday, whether to allow an Irvine Valley biology teacher’s tenure [to] go forward…Or, they may fire the teacher, Jefferey Kaufmann, for alleged insubordination for his role in posting unauthorized signs naming a greenhouse he helped students build…Kaufmann’s contract will go forward unless he is notified otherwise by March 15.”

Here’s my account of that special meeting. —CW

The door is locked:

Jeff nowadays
3:55: When Wendy and I arrive at Library 105, no one’s around, except Harry P, who’s keeping the door locked, because, he says, the room’s “filled to capacity.” But when the door opens briefly, we get a glimpse inside, and, though the seats are filled, the walls are empty. “I’ve been to lots of these things,” roars Wendy, “and it’s been standing-room only!” Just then, Priscilla walks up and thunders: “You mean to tell me that the door is locked for a public meeting?!” Harry looks uncomfortable. “You’ve gotta understand,” he begins to say, but it doesn’t matter. He disappears inside, apparently locking the door behind him. We stand around like assholes.

4:05: The door opens, and evidently on Ced’s orders, Harry now ushers in the hoi polloi, who line the walls. Now, it’s standing room only. Apparently, the door is again locked, exiling more Rebels to the Trans-Siberian hallway.

Students had hoped to bring a camcorder for the public comments, but, somehow, that didn’t happen. No problem: Wendy E accosts a wandering camcordsky and recruits him on the spot. Wow! Other students take charge of the room: “Get your gold slips!” they announce—a reference to the public remark forms. “Last call!” shouts Didi, an apparent leader of the student Kaufmanniacs.

The unbearable lightness of Nancy:

4:10: BOOM BOOM BOOM! Board president Nancy Padberg mercilessly hammers her gavel, spraying splinters, and the meeting begins. Speakers will be “limited to 30 minutes” on the dismissal topic, she proclaims. She calls names in groups of three.

Peter Morrison’s name is called, and he immediately gives his time over to Jeff.

–Ah, but there’s a problem. Has the fellow filled out a slip? asks Padberg. (Are you kidding? murmurs the crowd.) “You didn’t fill out a slip!?” she asks. As the 30-minute clock ticks away, and amid derisive crowd mutterage, the Jeffster fills out a goddam slip. Even Wagner seems annoyed, momentarily putting down his reading material to glare at The Nancy. Finally, Jeff speaks:

JEFF: I want to say up front that I take my teaching seriously, says Jeff (more or less). “That’s who I am.” I’m not without emotions, he adds, emotionally. This is very troubling…I don’t like seeing so many people debilitated, incapacitated.

Naturally, Jeff is in no hurry to make his points, and he is not yet finished when his two minutes are up—BOOM!—Time’s up; move along.

Then, as an afterthought, Padberg decides to invite Jeff to closed session to complete his remarks. Jeff walks back to his part of the wall, and the audience breaks into furious applause, which lasts for about 25 seconds before it is drowned out by Padbergian poundage. She announces the next speaker:

DAN (a student): Naturally, he sings Jeff’s praises, and, again, the audience breaks into applause, but Padberg demurs, reminding us that the clock is ticking, and we’ve only got 30 minutes. Boom! NEXT! Hurry!

KATHY S: She says she was gratified that the board paused back on the 22nd of February, the night of the first Kaufmannian encomia. She reminds the trustees that the district is “an institution of higher education.” We are a college, she says, not a military or a corporate organization. (Wagner seems confused.) Kathy speaks of the need for process and reasonable decision-making “without whim or vagary.” When you go “outside the process,” she says, you do an “injustice…at all levels”—BOOM!—Time’s up; move along.

—So forceful is Padberg’s galvanic gavellage that some in the audience actually cower and scatter. NEXT!

His face is red:

Kathie Hodge
JULIE W: Jeff deserves to be tenured, offers Julie. Facts must guide your decision. She refers to a letter sent by attorney Carol Sobel to the trustees, which is filled with facts that undermine Mathur’s case against Jeff.

Some trustees aren’t listening. Williams, for one, concentrates instead on having as red a face as is humanly possible. NEXT! Hurry!

DEB B (a student leader): She’s presently in a Masters program in biology at Cal State Pomona, she says, and she’s doing quite well. I attribute my success, she adds, to Professor Kaufmann, among others at IVC. Noting that the trustees often begin their meetings with a prayer, Deb reads from 1st Peter 3:8—something about compassion—BOOM!—Time’s up; move along.

WENDY E (a student leader): She sees Jeff’s excellence “in the faces of [his] students,” she says. She compares the “good teacher” with the “truly great teacher.” The latter “inspires students,” and that’s Jeff all over.

Instructor Steve L’s name is called, but he isn’t present. (He arrives a few minutes late, delayed, I think, by traffic.) Someone wants to speak for him, but Nancy nixes the idea. NEXT! Go go go!

PRISCILLA R: She has two sons who have taken biology at IVC. One son has a learning disability; the other, at 22, is finishing his Ph.D. What does she think of Jeff? Sometimes, says Priscilla, people use the expression, “Put your money where your mouth is.” (She now hunkers down and looks straight at the trustees.) “Well, I gave Jeff my two sons!” This brings down the house. As Priscilla stalks off, the audience goes wild.

I look around. Almost everyone’s in tears. –NEXT!

The rubber band:

A STUDENT: She’s an OC taxpayer, a voter, she says. It’ll be a “great detriment” to the school to lose Jeff, ‘cuz he makes the complex seem simple, etc. Another student refers to the “huge line” of Kaufmann supporters outside. Jeff’s a great teacher, he says. “You,” he adds, looking directly at the board, “don’t have an impact on my life…You have no direct influence on my life—none. I’d like to keep it that way.” It’s a put-down, and everyone loves it. The kid’s a comedian!

During these speeches, Armando Ruiz, sitting next to Glenn Roquemore, plays with his special rubber band, which, at one point, he administers too strenuously, causing it to snap and smack Glenn.

These guys run IVC.

MORE STUDENTS: Jeff’s an “inspiration,” says one student. Another student—a “scholar athlete”—explains that Jeff works damn hard for the college. Jeff’s loss would be our loss, says yet another student.

Julie nudges me. “Look!” she says. “Wagner isn’t listening, ‘cuz he’s reading.”

“Hey!” says someone else. “He’s reading a Dissent!”

Podium teeterage:

JOE (a student): Though Joe has never taken one of Jeff’s classes, he was the president of the Bio Club, and Jeff really helped out, settin’ up field trips that weren’t lame, what with the tracking of coyote and fox turds.

Another student, a rather imposing former Bio Club president, explains that Jeff’s the cat’s meow, the bee’s knees. As he speaks, the Big Guy becomes increasingly emotional, even distraught. “You don’t understand what you’re doing!” he bellows. In the end, he shoves at the heavy podium hard, causing it to teeter! Then he stalks off to receive hugs. Whew!

–NEXT!

SEAN : Sean, the calm after a storm, steadies the podium and explains—calmly, articulately—that Jeff is a good teacher, a “most valuable commodity.” I’m passionate about this kind and gentle man, he adds.

KAY CLARK: Kay, who explains that she is not Kate Clark, is not Steve R either, but she is here to read his statement. Jeff, writes Steve, is exactly what a Bio instructor is supposed to be. He has made an “unimpeachable” contribution to the college…BOOM!—Time’s up; move along.

LEWIS L: Dr. Kaufmann, says Lewis, is an exemplary faculty member, loved by all. Lewis presents a letter of support for “this outstanding teacher,” signed by 51 of Jeff’s colleagues at IVC—all tenured. Untenured faculty, of course, were not asked to sign.

TRACI F: She reads statements of three students who could not attend. One notes the “moral support” that Jeff provided when she was ill. Another expresses bafflement and bewilderment regarding Raghu Mathur’s recommendation to withhold Jeff’s tenure. The recommendation is, she says, “beyond comprehension.”

I try to observe the trustees, but my view is mostly blocked by the crowd. I see glimpses of hideous glowing red flesh—that must be Williams. I also catch a glimpse of Wagner, who’s still reading his Dissent. Hey, he may be a right-wing lunatic, but he knows a good newsletter when he sees one.

“How can this be?”:

4:42: Just as the excellent Lisa A prepares to speak, Padberg declares that time’s up, and that’s that. She adjourns to closed session. Frogue, rubbing his hands with anticipation, mutters: “Mmmmm, dinner,” and scampers upstairs.

Meanwhile, Didi is visibly distraught, for she wasn’t allowed to address the board, and neither were many others. How can this be? she asks. Someone suggests to Didi that she go to the Chancellor to ask him how it can be. She does so.

Sampson informs her (says Didi, later) that all of the testimonials to Jeff’s excellence were irrelevant. “His teaching isn’t the issue.”

Wanna cookie?

I wander outside, joining the impressive crowd, which remains.

I find Jeff and, with Wendy, urge him not to speak to the board without his lawyer, Carol, who is in Los Angeles. Jeff seems determined to have his say, and he waits to be called in. The hold up: the district’s clueless “dismissal” lawyer, Allan Wilion, is stuck in traffic. In the meantime, the trustees are chowin’ down on the 3rd floor.

As the crowd mills about, Wendy and I get Carol on the phone and then ask Jeff to speak with her, which he does. Not long after, Jeff is taken upstairs and led into the trustees’ banquet room, where, evidently, he informs them that, on his lawyer’s advice, he has decided not to speak with them sans lawyer. Some of the trustees say they understand.
Jeff clownin' around at a party, years later
Jeff now notices the impressive spread upon which the trustees are feeding. Padberg offers Jeff a cookie. He takes two.

After spending a few minutes with his supporters, Jeff heads home to a bottle of merlot.

Meanwhile, some of us go to Chili’s, where we have chips and beer. When we return, at around 7:35, we find a still-large crowd dispersed between Library 105 and the elevators. Harry P announces that the board won’t be emerging from closed session for at least another hour. (According to the law, closed session “actions” must be announced in an immediately subsequent open session.) No one budges.

8:40: The crowd has thinned to about 30-35, but the die-hards are having a good time. Someone hands me the latest OC Weekly. I read aloud Matt Coker’s story describing Roy Bauer’s Feb. 29 court victory against Raghu Mathur and something called the “Trustee Accountability Project of Laguna Beach.” The crowd loves it.

“People! Go home!”

9:05: A jovial Vice Chancellor Poertner emerges from the elevator, telling the Tustin Base guy that the board isn’t gonna discuss the base tonight, that’s for sure. (Naming the base facility is on tonight’s agenda.)

9:25: The trustees begin to emerge from the first floor elevator, starting with Wagner and Lang. Wagner seems surprised to see so many people; he shouts: “People! Go home!”

We file into 105, waiting for the “read out” of closed session actions. I study the faces of the trustees as they emerge from the back room. One trustee flashes a subtle cock of an eyebrow. It seems to say, “It’s good.” I turn around and tell everyone, “It’s good!” “How do you know?” they ask. “I don’t,” I answer. They become peevish.

I study Mathur’s face: he smiles like a lizard. Someone says: “That’s no smile. That’s his look when he loses.”

A feeble mantra:

At 9:30, the board reconvenes to open session, announcing that “No actions were taken.”

That’s it. The board took no action, and so, apparently, Jeff’s tenure will occur, unopposed, in a week. At first, the crowd is unsure and wary. “No action?”

In the milling chaos that follows, I wander up to the trustees’ table and find Marcia. I ask: “So, is Jeff’s job safe?” “I think so,” she says.

I ask Dave Lang the same question. His lips say, “Well, we didn’t take action,” but his expression says: “Jeff’s job is safe” plus “leave me alone.” He then declares, for all to hear, that the chancellor will make “an announcement.”

The crestfallen Chancellor does no such thing, but he submits to questions from IWN reporter Laura Hayes, who, at first, encounters a feeble mantra: “no action was taken.”

So why did the trustees decide not to fire Jeff?

“Whadya mean? No action was taken.”

Yeah, but…

“Nothin’ happened; no action was taken.”

Laura, undeterred, presses for answers. Sampson explains that there’s more to being an instructor than teaching. Someone asks: so, will there be a surprise meeting some time before the 15th? Is that it? “No surprises,” he says.

Meanwhile, Mr. Frogue is determined to leave the building in a hurry. Everyone knows that he’s Mathur’s biggest supporter, and, tonight, Mathur lost bigtime, as did Cedric, who backed Mathur 1,000%. Avoiding all eye-contact, Frogue packs up his stuff and runs out the door, this time not even stopping to invite me to his house for dinner!

I ask (or someone asks) Trustee Wagner whether any action was taken concerning the PERB agreement, which was hammered out on the 29th. It had been ratified by the union on the 6th, and now awaited final ratification by the trustees. No action was taken, says Wagner. He seems to imply, however, that the matter was discussed.

And that was about it. —CW

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