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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The September meeting of the board of trustees—blow by blow

Trustee Nancy Padberg gave the invocation. It seemed to refer to the board, what with its references to “pettiness” and its hope that people would aim for “kindness” for once.

The only member of the public who chose to address the board was Steve Knoblock of San Clemente, who had come to urge the board to prepare the campuses for Virginia Tech-style violence.

How so? —By training students to throw books and chairs at “perpetrators.”

I’m not making this up. Honestly. (Go to Video. Jump to public comments.)

After Knoblock spoke, I expected laughter or snickering, but no. Instead, Trustee Tom Fuentes recognized the fellow and explained that he is a San Clemente city council member and a “community leader of considerable esteem.”

GOP's Knoblock: have "projectiles" at the ready
San Clemente must be one fucked up town.

During board reports, Trustee Bill Jay reminisced about the “Four Freshmen,” the latest incarnation of which recently warbled at Saddleback, I guess.

That’s a vocal group, right?

Don Wagner reported that he had gone to some event featuring that horse’s ass Dennis Prager. Prager’s address, said Don, was “rousing.”

ASKING FOR FORGIVENESS:

Board President Dave Lang noted that it is Yom Kippur. Accordingly, he asked for forgiveness, but, for my money, he wasn’t nearly sorry enough. He then explained that he had attended the recent 9-11 ceremony and had been “moved” by Sheriff “Gates’” speech.

Trustee Tom Fuentes wasted no time in correcting Lang: genuinely annoyed, he asserted that the sheriff’s name is Carona, not Gates.

Trustee Bill Jay stirred from slumber long enough to request that staff prepare a report that compares the amounts of reassigned time granted to instructors in community colleges across the state. Good idea. Didn't we already do all this last spring? I must be losing my mind.

ATEP:

David Hunt (of gkkworks) presented the “short-range plan” for ATEP, the district’s high-tech campus in Tustin. Our continued use of those 68 acres depends on the city’s confidence that we are making progress in its development. The “long-range plan” is the as-yet-undefined partnership now being negotiated with such entities as Camelot. The “short-range plan” is what we’ll be doing with the property in the interim, which, I gather, will be a period of years.

The short plan’s chief element appears to be demolition of buildings, the projected cost of which is about $7 million. The projected cost of the entire plan, not including some as-yet-to-be-determined elements (e.g., maintenance), is $9,231,610.

Hunt opined that this plan should be enough to satisfy the City of Tustin.

STUDY ABROAD:

You’ll recall that, in the past, Trustee Wagner has expressed dissatisfaction with efforts by Dean O’Connor, et al., to find cheaper “study abroad” programs to Spain than those that have been offered in recent years. Evidently, O’Connor has finally come through, though, I’m told, on the cheapy plan, students will have to bring their own liquor and contraceptives.


The board discussed Saddleback College’s $3,951,965 grant from the National Science Foundation for the center for “rapid prototyping” and whatnot. Wagner pursued questions the assumption of which seemed to be that the colleges—or Saddleback College in particular—are not doing enough to support ATEP, which has its own rapid prototyping program (actually, IVC's).

Wagner seemed annoyed by the answers he was getting. With an edge in his voice—come to think of it, there's always an edge in his voice—he said, “You’re not getting me.” He didn't want to hear about how Saddleback would move its program to ATEP when it ran out of room down south. He wanted more. President McCullough then said something like “we’ll look into that.” Wagner’s reaction (he had no time to respond verbally) was an expression that seemed to say, “Fuck you, college boy.”

Next, the board was treated to a presentation on “enrollment management," which described the colleges' successes in increasing enrollment/FTES. Vice Chancellor Andreea Serban explained that the district seemed to hit its enrollment peak during 2002-03 but then went into decline, only to trend upward again, though not up to the levels of five years ago. Evidently, this is a “common pattern.”

Serban (and later Mathur) noted that our gains in enrollment/FTES in recent years rest upon gains in Distance Ed (online courses). Without DE, we’d actually be trending downward.

Luddites beware.

Lang, briefly lapsing into intelligence, asked Andreea how our colleges compare with others in the county with regard to enrollments.

There was a terrible silence.

Turns out that, while we’ve experienced a modest 3% increase, some districts are reporting a 23% increase. Such figures, said Andreea, are dubious. No doubt they are inflated by college marketers, she opined. On the other hand, she added, when the dust settles, it will remain true that other districts are doing better than we are.

Andreea tried hard to put lipstick on that pig—she said something about how steady our progress has been compared to these other districts—but, in the end, all that could be heard in the hall was a lonely “oink.”

Lang then asked the inevitable follow-up question: why are other districts growing faster than ours?

Andreea offered two points: something about “programmatic offerings” at these other districts (I’ve got to get her to explain that to me) and the relative “aggressiveness” with which other districts pursue marketing. It is well known, of course, that some local districts poach in areas outside their own. We, however, seem to eschew such tactics.

I seem to recall that Trustee Fuentes has expressed strong reservations about joining in poachery.

Student Trustee Reynard then piped up. He suggested that students choose a college and course “because of the instructor.” He seemed to be saying that our district’s instructors could be better than they are. “There’s room for improvement in every profession,” he added. Some sort of mechanism of “constructive criticism” of instructors would help “the enrollment rate,” he said.

Reynard has been spending time with Tom Fuentes. He's very photogenic.

Trustee Marcia Milchiker suggested that the district should pursue a more “student friendly” calendar. As you know, a year or so ago, IVC pressed for exactly such a change, but (as I recall) Saddleback College was cool to the idea.

In the course of her remarks, Marcia, who is known for her way with words, noted that students “walk with their feet,” whereupon Mr. Wagner looked into space, donned a quizzical expression, and mouthed those same words. I nearly burst out with laughter.

Trustee Tom Fuentes asked Serban whether our efforts to gather data attend to the “realities” of different parts of the county. He seemed to be alluding to sensitive demographic factoids concerning ethnicity, income, and the like. Serban said, no, we haven’t attended to such facts.

Chancellor Mathur jumped in to assert the need to pursue 2-3 new programs per year (per college, I think). In general, we need to be “more pro-active,” he said. We need to consider sending more counselors to the high schools. That’s what other districts do.

THE ACCREDITATION MIDTERM REPORTS:

After a brief break, the board finally got to item 7.2: the Accreditation Focused Midterm Reports. Chancellor Mathur explained that the versions of the reports then before the trustees included the district’s “response,” which, you'll recall, had been discussed at the last board meeting. He was careful to note that the action before them concerned specifically inclusion of that response, not approval of the reports.

At the last board meeting, the Board Majority seemed to say that they wanted the Response verbiage to be “incorporated” into the already-existing drafts (that had been written by the colleges), but that direction is open to interpretation. In subsequent weeks, the college writers were pressured specifically to weave the Response verbiage (to which they objected, owing to its inflammatory character and lack of documentation) into their own reports—in contrast to simply adding the Response verbiage, making clear that it was the district’s, not the colleges’.

Essentially, the Chancellor was pressuring the college writers to add this unwelcome and incompetent verbiage with the idea that they would sign off on the resulting report as their own product. This, naturally, they were strongly disinclined to do.


Last night, IVC Academic Senate President Wendy Gabriella spoke. She did not repeat her points of August. She did say, however, that the “lack of process” involved in this latest incorporation episode has created much disagreement on the board and that it illustrates the very lack of process and collegial consultation that the Accreditors had noted in their criticisms of the district/colleges.

The reports are supposed to explain the “substantial progress” being made by the colleges. But, clearly, this episode is evidence of a lack of progress in the above regard. (I do believe she was hinting that she could not in good conscience sign the report.)

Wendy noted that, last week, the Chancellor had given IVC 24 hours to make the demanded changes to the report, thus preventing key persons from participating in an important event in which IVC was hosting other colleges.

Williams bloviated. He said that the board doesn’t respond to faculty issues, so why should the faculty respond to board issues.

Wagner said he echoed Williams’ sentiments. He explained that the board made a point of not interfering with the colleges’ efforts in writing the reports (until the recent “response” episode) exactly because it feared being accused of micromanagement.

He explained that the “response” document had been sent to all of the trustees two months ago, and so trustees could not now claim to have been left out of the process whereby that document was produced (as expressing the view of the board). If trustees fail to avail themselves of opportunities to participate in the process, then too bad. “This document was fully vetted,” he said.

(He was referring, among other things, to the complaint, expressed by Board Minority members (Padberg, Jay, Milchiker) at the August meeting, that some trustees were kept out of the loop in this regard and in other regards (by the Chancellor and by the Board Majority).)

Trustee Nancy Padberg asserted that “obviously, there is a severe divide on this board.” This episode, she said, is ironic and “symptomatic” of the problems that this board has. She bemoaned Mr. Wagner’s “personal attacks” and “swipes” against members of the board minority.

Marcia Milchiker defended herself against Wagner’s claim that she (and others) had simply dropped the ball. She said that it had never been made clear to her that the “response” document was to be included in the Accreditation report as the trustees’ view. She spoke of the appropriateness of seeking consensus within groups and between groups over time. But no such effort at attaining agreement had occurred among the trustees and between the board and other constituency groups re the “response.”

She noted that the board never scheduled a meeting or workshop devoted to arriving at a “response.” No effort was ever made to clarify how the trustees’ response was being produced. She explained that, when she was board president, she wrote Accreditation language on behalf of the board but she always made sure to get each trustee's consent before going forward.

But that never happened here.

Marcia explained that she would not object if the Board Majority simply appended the response document as theirs (not the minority’s). Nothing is preventing them from doing that.

The response verbiage, she said, attacks faculty and even attacks the accreditors. We are, she said, “shooting ourselves in the foot.”

MATHUR'S CURIOUS ACTION:

Marcia insisted on making one further point. Starting at the end of February, she said, Chancellor Mathur evidently took action to discontinue the automatic forwarding of college emails to the trustees. This, she said, left trustees in the dark concerning important college meetings. The Chancellor actually took this step without informing the college presidents.

Good grief.

When, very recently, she discovered this, she became “furious.” The Chancellor, she said, was “trying to keep trustees in the dark.”

Trustee Lang responded by noting that the subject of the accreditation report had been agendized for several meetings and that trustees had “ample opportunities” for input. He defended the “response” verbiage as “appropriate.” He asserted that trustees had both the opportunity and the “responsibility” to suggest ideas regarding the “response” draft that had been circulated.

At this point, Lang made an interesting admission. Evidently, he was unaware that the college accreditation report writers continued to object strongly to the “incorporation” process. As far as he knew, everything was fine.

I looked at Mathur. He sat there, silent.

Wagner then got hot the way he does. He ridiculed the notion that the Board Majority was attempting to sneak things past the other trustees. He produced a memo establishing when and how trustees were informed of the alleged process whereby the trustees were developing their response. The memo referred to “incorporation” of the response into the midterm reports.

At one point, Wagner asked Mathur if Trustee Milchiker had ever offered any input to him concerning the response draft.

“None,” barked Mathur.

Wagner got pretty wound up, eventually declaring that “you [Marcia] chose to stay in the dark yourself!”

Williams called for the question. That failed owing to trustee confusion.

Padberg responded to the memo to which Wagner had referred. She noted that she and the other trustees had no way of knowing that “incorporate” meant weaving the response verbiage into the colleges’ reports as had now been done.

At one point, Mathur asserted that they were “making too much of a deal out of all of this.” That evoked open laughter from Padberg and Jay.

Mathur then got very serious. “Some trustees,” he said, “—and it breaks my heart to say this—some trustees are not reading the board agenda and materials!”

Mathur then used one of his favorite phrases. Marcia, he said, is “inviting micromanagement” by getting those college emails.

Gosh.

Saddleback College Academic Senate President Carmen Dominguez clarified that the faculty do not object to inclusion of the district “response” into the report. Rather, they objected to “the way it was done.” Carmen explained the continual and routine efforts made by the faculty authors of the reports to gain input and run things by all groups in the college. These authors' writings really do have the support of the entire college. They really do represent consensus.

If, she added, the board votes 4 to 3 in support of the new drafts, then the board is the one constituency group that is fractured.

She then explained that she agreed with Wagner that the district response should be included as an attached element. The faculty had no objection to that.

Well, that was about it. You’ll get a chance to see the discussion of Item 7.2 yourself when Tracy Daly makes it available online. I do recommend that you view it. (Go to Video.)

One more thing: I got the sense that Wagner and Lang conceived the nature of “incorporation” of the district’s response differently. If the Board Majority had embraced Wagner's "and here's the district's response" conception of incorporation, then, I think, everyone would have been on board. But no. Ruthlessness and bullying prevailed, and now we've got a big frigging mess.

These people oughta get organized.

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