Last night's board meeting: "diversity"
I showed up on time—6:30 p.m.—but the trustees were running late with their closed session, and so the smallish audience waited and grumbled and speculated. Someone asked me, “Is it still hot out there?” Yup. Very much so. The meeting hall was cool but muggy.
I overheard a group of administrators speculating that the trustee holdup concerned the “last item” agendized for the closed session. They looked at each other knowingly.
I checked the agenda, which listed “conference with legal counsel.”
What’s that? I wondered. Nobody said. They were pretty careful.
At about 7:00 p.m., a Saddlebackian came up to me and announced, “I may be ugly and an asshole, but at least I’m punctual.” He sniffed contemptuously. “Yeah,” I said, snorting agreement.
A motley group at the center of the room somehow gravitated to a discussion of favorite TV shows. Tracy mourned the passing of “Alias” and sang the praises of “The Closer.” An administrator boldly acknowledged his love of some game shows.
At about 7:20, Mathur wandered into the room, looking sickly. Then trustees trickled in.
At about 7:23, for no apparent reason, silence descended over the room. Most of the trustees were seated and still. They stared out at us. We stared back. We were in a tomb.
Marcia straggled in, seemingly discombobulated, even for her. Her busy jingling and jangling echoed through the nearly-empty hall. Don Wagner was a no-show. The meeting commenced.
Marcia led us into a moment of silence re the recent deaths of two VIPs. I thought her remarks would go on forever. Eventually, we did get to that five seconds of grim silence.
If you’ve been to board meetings, then you know that they are peevish affairs punctuated by snipage and occasional absurdities or controversies. Last night’s meeting was not peevish, nor did it offer controversy.
I sure did miss Don.
But Tom Fuentes was there, and he’s usually good for one or two howlers.
Item 22 concerned “privatization—contracting out.” Obviously, the phenomenon of colleges or districts hiring outside parties to do work—selling books, selling food, designing buildings, etc.—is routine. It sounded like the Chancellor and some trustees favored expansion of privatization in the district.
The Chancellor, however, noted that state laws greatly restrict our ability to pursue "contracting out."
As you know, Don is somewhat of a libertarian, and Mr. Fuentes has similar tendencies. If I know Don and Tom, they’ll want to take this opportunity to rail against Sacramento’s restrictions and to sing the praises of privatization. But that'll have to wait til July because the item was tabled on account of Don’s absence.
EXCITEMENT. The closest thing to excitement last night came with Item 23: “adoption of revised District Mission Statement.” In a more sensible world, the adoption of a Mission Statement would be crucial. But, in our "All bullshit, all the time" world, Mission Statements are trivial—a wheel in a mechanism that turns but that does no work (to paraphrase Wittgenstein). I mean, we could declare that we "shall encourage sex with farm animals," and things would still carry on pretty much as always. In fact, I’m pretty sure that our current MS does encourage sex with farm animals, and nobody’s said a thing about it.
That reminds me. Years ago, I used to frequent the downtown plaza in the city of Orange and its many antique (i.e., junk) shops. The window of one antique shop declared that "antique jewry" were on the premises. "Jewry"?
I laughed each time I saw that. The sign was up there for years. Evidently, nobody noticed what it said. NOBODY. I guess they read it and said, "Jewry. Antique Jewry. OK."
Mission Statements are like antique Jewry, aren't they? They're mostly marketing and propaganda that fail to register with anyone's consciousness.
Propaganda? Naturally, when the "Mission Statement" item came up, Mr. Fuentes was Johnny-on-the-spot. The fellow is nothing if not superficial. He has no problem with, say, the fact that we have a shitty Chancellor or the fact that our buildings are falling apart.
BGS moldy? A200 a hell hole? The Chancellor a Philistine and autocrat? –Who cares?
But the “mission statement”? He was all over it.
He read aloud the Chancellor’s proposed District Mission Statement:
Our mission is to facilitate opportunities for learning, cultural enrichment and social experiences to foster student success and contribute to a diverse community.
Nobody commented on the statement's awkward construction or the vagueness of “social experiences.” (And what's with this love of the word "facilitate"? It's a stupid word.)
But Mr. Fuentes did have other problems with the statement. What do you suppose he didn’t like about it, hmmmm? Hint: trustee Fuentes is a rightwing lunatic. (I mean that in the best sense.)
That’s right! It was the D-word!
The proposed statement sounded to Tom (and to me) like it included the job of encouraging or "crafting" “diversity.” He didn't like that. He offered the following revision:
“Our mission is to facilitate diverse opportunities for learning, cultural enrichment, and social experiences to foster student success.”
Well, that pretty much guts the original "diversity" idea. It's one thing to promote or "craft" diversity in a community; it's quite another thing to offer "diverse opportunities" to the members of that community. We're talking apples and oranges here.
Tom was careful. He didn’t say, “I oppose diversity”-- as, of course, he does. Rather, he suggested that it is presumptious and ridiculous to seek to craft diversity, even if the community is indeed diverse.
In the ensuing discussion, Dave Lang opined that he liked the statement the way it was (he did not read the statement the way Fuentes did). Padberg agreed but was not opposed to adding the guff about "opportunities." (I don't think she understood Fuentes' point.) Fuentes, ever the crafty politician, then offered the following "compromise" edit, which, again, guts the original "diversity" notion:
“Our mission is to facilitate diverse opportunities for learning, cultural enrichment, and social experiences to foster student success and contribute to the community.”
To hear Trustee Fuentes' remarks (and much of the rest of the discussion), click below:
Now, I sympathize with Tom. Without doubt, “diversity” is a politically correct buzzword, and it does seem that there exists a kind of philosophy—one that is far from self-evident—according to which diversity is good and should be encouraged.
If you’re gonna embrace a particular philosophy—a controversial one—then you oughta acknowledge that fact openly. Don't sneak it into everything you say, as though we've all agreed it's a good idea.
At one point, trustee Williams suggested tabling the issue, and, in the end, that's what happened, which means, among other things, that the old "mission statement" will remain in the college catalogs. Changing the statement will have to happen later.
I should mention that, in the course of the discussion (I edited that out above), Chancellor Mathur asserted that the proposed statement emerged from "Chancellor's Cabinet," where, he said, all of the governance groups were represented.
So it appears that, once again, the board is engaging in micromanagement. The governance groups came together to craft a mission statement, and then Tom came along to rewrite it. As things now stand, the trustees' suggestions will be sent back to Chancellor's Cabinet, where, presumably, that body will modify the statement to suit Tom and Nancy, etc.
Item 34 was approval of the “fiscal year 2006-7 tentative budget.” I’ll have more about this later today. The upshot was that we’ll be OK in the short run, but we’re likely headed for some tough times, given the state’s finances and the likelihood that housing prices will decline. (Our unusual funding is tied to local property taxes.)
I’ll fill this out as I review my tapes. Check in later today.
For Tracy Daly's helpful (if fluffy) highlights, go to June board meeting highlights.