Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dreaming BIG and SECRETLY too! (Once again, Howard Gensler provides great summer reading!)

     A FEW WEEKS AGO, an old friend and colleague dropped off a flier, leaving it on my desk. It was campaign literature: Saddleback College Econ/Poli-Sci instructor Howard Gensler, it seemed, was running for Academic Senate President.
     My friend clearly thought this development worthy of a huge laugh. But I didn’t know what to make of it. I filed the dang flier away. It somehow annoyed me.
     But, today, someone sent me a perfect artifact of Howard’s long and painful career as a loon. —More about that in a minute.
     Howard is not fondly remembered here at Irvine Valley College, where he was the Dean of Humanities & Languages (among other things), starting in 1999 and until about 2002. Essentially, he was then-IVC President Raghu Mathur’s hatchet man (re Mathur critics, most of whom could be found in H&L), and, privately, he made no bones about that. Not to me, anyway.
     For those interested in the nature of Howard’s curious administrative rein—among other infamous deeds, he gave this Mathur critic an impossible teaching schedule; he fired adjuncts who dared criticize him or Mathur; he ruined building A300, turning it “inside out”; he declared that an innocuous painting that hung in the H&L office was sexually harassing him—be sure to read this post from Dissent 65 (September 30, 2001).
     Also curious was how Howard went from being a highly notorious administrator at IVC to being a highly notorious instructor (and colleague!) at Saddleback. That all happened back in 2002-2003. A few years after that, he was granted tenure.
     At IVC, many a jaw dropped. How, we asked, could the guy responsible for the astounding and stupendous HOWARD HILTON fiasco end up a tenured instructor in our district? What are they smokin' down there at Saddleback College?
     When you consider the facts, well, it's mind-blowing!

* * *
     BUT FIRST, let’s see what kind of colleague and professional Howard has been, post-IVC, down there on Marguerite Parkway in beauteous Mission Viejo, CA.

They don't like me
     Well, there've been problems. Back in early 2006, according to the Saddleback College Lariat, Howard sued the district because "[the dean and the chair] didn't give me priority in the summer classes...The procedure is that full-time teachers get their classes before the part-time."
     According to Howard's petition (said the Lariat), his dean and his chair "simply do not like the petitioner (Gensler) and have ignored the rules to harass and to injure him."
     That Howard saw himself as being “harassed” via his teaching schedule was highly ironic, of course. (See.) The factoid inspired many smiles up at IVC, especially in H&L, where the chief Genslerian targets of, well, harassment could be found.
     I have no idea what became of that lawsuit. Don't really care. (The district can be a real ninny when confronted with potential litigation. Think of how Teddi Lorch got her job!)

     YEARS LATER (in early 2011), the Reb and I came across Howard’s curious online presence qua Saddleback College instructor. We found that Howard’s SC faculty page & bio included (and still includes) such curious remarks as
  • I received the Daughters of the American Revolution Medal for U.S. History in Fifth Grade. It was the first time a student from my Elementary School earned one.
  • I … believe that we should have fun in everything we do. [In my class,] We generally play a roll [sic] game rather than just take roll. I use humor liberally. The vast majority of students enjoy my sarcasm and wit.
  • [As an undergrad at UCI,] I gave the Honors Convocation Student Speech, which was published by the University. It was the second speech ever published by UCI. The first was Hazard Adams’ retirement speech. He was a founding faculty member and considered one of the most erudite professors ever to teach at UCI.
  • I … got hired as an attorney/adviser at the national headquarters of the IRS…. I was appointed to the newly created Special Task Force, which worked on anticipating tax problems. I was assigned the most difficult regulations project ever tackled by the IRS and completed the project in record time. The Associate Chief Counsel tried to hire me to work on a project to simplify the tax code, but he was blocked by the Commissioner of the IRS.
  • … I accepted a position at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology as a Business Law Instructor…. I met one of the most distinguished accounting professors in China and established a partnership to translate China’s tax laws. This resulted in … a monthly translation service. We translated and published … all of the tax laws, regulations and notices from the establishment of China in 1949 to the current time. ... We were invited to be the official translator for China’s tax laws, but the government was unable to agree to a publication cycle as fast as we could provide and insisted on total control of official and unofficial publication....
  • I was the world’s foremost authority on Chinese Tax laws during the mid- and late-1990’s.
     Golly. (You shoulda seen this page before Howard decided to tone it down!)
     Howard’s Saddleback info page included (and still includes) a list of his "activities":
  • 8-ball Break
  • Backward Free-throws
  • Free-throws
  • Pool Shots
     The bullets are links to videos of Howard’s astounding feats.
     He also provides lists of his favorite songs, restaurants, historical figures, etc. Check out his advice to students!
Howard was "sexually harassed" by this painting by an IVC adjunct
* * *
     But enough about Howard’s very special understanding of himself as the most unappreciated person in the history of humankind. Let’s focus on the fellow’s legitimate claim to eternal notoriety: the Howard Hilton.
     Here’s how I reported the “HOWARD HILTON” affair back in 2001:
Howard and Raghu’s “top secret plan”:

About a year ago [i.e., c. 2000], faculty [at IVC] began hearing about a massive project that would provide facilities for Fine Arts (and fish). The word was that Howard was developing the project with the blessing and encouragement of his mentor, president (now chancellor) Mathur.

Howard eventually provided Chancellor Mathur with a “report” concerning the project on May 23, 2002. According to my sources, then, in early June, Howard and Raghu met with three Board Majoritarians, including Wagner, to discuss the project. (Ask Dot.)

That’s about when the L.A. Times caught wind of it [I called ‘em]. On June 15, the Times reported

Irvine Valley College officials are quietly trying to find investors for a private hotel, entertainment and office complex on campus that could cost as much as $800 million, officials confirmed this week…As described in recent meetings among campus officials, the project would include a hotel, a multistory parking structure, two 2,000-seat theaters, office buildings, a sound stage and a lake, replacing orange groves and an athletic field at the southern end of campus…The scope of the privately funded, for-profit project—whose cost estimates nearly double Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles—is believed to be unprecedented, not only for a community college, but for any public university in the state…The cost would be enough to build two community colleges, said Kirsten McIntyre, spokeswoman for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, which was unaware of the proposal…The project is a long way from reality and would have to be approved by trustees for the South Orange County Community College District, which includes Irvine Valley and Saddleback colleges.

According to the Times, some college employees had doubts about the project: “they don’t understand how the two-year college benefits from such a deal. ‘It would be a commercial enterprise that would not be a benefit to our students,’ said Jan Wyma, Irvine Valley’s choral director.”

The Times reported that Dean Gensler was the man behind the plan and that Mathur was aware of it. Glenn Roquemore, president of IVC, however, said that he hadn’t yet received a proposal.

The scope of the Gensler/Mathur venture was truly stunning:

The proposal has changed over the months, but the basic plan calls for construction on 25 to 35 acres…Several sources said Gensler was pitching the deal to investors as a 99-year lease, and that it would include a Hilton or Hyatt hotel with conference center facilities, restaurants, a four- or five-story parking structure, an office building of several stories, the theaters, an art museum, an observatory and a building with sound stages for TV and film…Also contemplated are a movie complex and soccer stadium.

Massive unbeknownstitude:

City officials were miffed about all of this secret planning. The Times quoted an Irvine official who said: “Any construction not associated with the college’s educational mission must be approved by Irvine.” Nevertheless, “she had not heard of the proposal.”

Three days later, the Register weighed in with a story that presented Howard’s project—now described as involving a paltry $463 million—in a less sympathetic light:

Board members interviewed said they were surprised at the planning that has gone into Gensler’s vision and that they should have been informed about it earlier…“Apparently this was really being pursued by just a few people unbeknownst to other members of the board,” said trustee Dave Lang…One instructor described the project as “absurd” in that it “flies in the face of the college’s long-term planning.”

During the Board Meeting of June 24th, trustees decided to pull the plug on the whole business:

Irvine Valley College trustees got their first official look Monday night at a controversial proposal to develop a $463 million entertainment complex on campus–and decided they wanted no part of it… “The feeling was that the proposal that came to us did not sufficiently meet the needs of the college and the students,” said board president Don Wagner, who said trustees first learned of the project in the press…“It came to us as a take-it-or-leave-it proposal, and we are going to leave it.”…. (OC Register, June 25, 2002)

On the 25th, the Times quoted Dorothy “Dot” Fortune, who carped that the Gensler/Mathur project would give “away half the land at IVC.”

Howard, however, defended his project; it would, he said, make IVC “one of the most important cultural centers in Southern California.”

Nonagenarian takes plan elsewhere:

The Times eventually reported the proposed project’s builder:

The complex was to be built by the Newport Financial Group of Newport Beach. One company figure is Charles Ross*, 91, of Laguna Woods, who proposed a similar project at UC Riverside, without success, Fortune said…Ross said Monday he would not discuss the plan, but that if the district turned it down, he would take it elsewhere. [See]

In an article for the Irvine World News on the 27th, Wagner is again reported as saying that “trustees first learned of the project after the top secret plan was leaked to the press.” Well, no, according to my [reliable] sources, he and two other Board Majoritarians heard about the “top secret plan” two weeks before the Times report. C’mon Don!

Some newspaper articles claimed that, on campus, the project was called “the Howard Hilton.” In truth, it had been dubbed “Howie World” by the Chevy Chase fans who have always dominated IVC.

“One has to wonder…”

On the 30th, Times editorial writers offered a harshly critical perspective on “the Howard Hilton”:

The DeShazer connection
Irvine Valley College’s mission statement…[says that the] college exists to provide quality education for students…The document doesn’t say anything about leasing a huge chunk of the campus to a private developer for a $500 million entertainment and office complex…That’s why people were caught off-guard earlier this month when word surfaced that an IVC dean had been meeting with a developer who wanted to build a massive, for-profit venture. The trustees of the SOCCCD are to be commended for putting the educational purpose of the district first by rejecting the plan last week before it could gather more momentum…The proposal was out of sync with the city of Irvine’s general plan and existing zoning. The city envisioned the orange groves…as one day hosting recreational facilities and college-related construction—not hotels, parking garages and a Hollywood production lot. City officials hadn’t had a chance to review the proposal, and from what it suggested, many of the plan’s elements also clashed with zoning in the area…The proposal also was at odds with IVC’s own planning process. Community colleges are required to create a master plan that describe how they intend to grow. There’s nothing in IVC’s long-range planning that was even remotely close to the proposal that was submitted to the board by Howard Gensler…College deans have a lot of clout, but one has to wonder how this kind of major campus land-use negotiation got to the stage it did. It probably should have been handled in the first place at a higher level of administration….

Hey, yeah! Then, on July 9, IVC issued an odd little press release. It announced plans to construct a modest “Performing Arts Building”:

Irvine Valley College submitted plans to the state…for the construction of a 400-seat Performing Arts Building… The…Building has been long in development as part of Irvine Valley’s Educational and Facilities Master Plan to unify campus services and to meet a growing demand by students and the community. The Educational and Facilities Master Plan and, in particular, the Performing Arts Building, is wholly separate from a recent $450 million proposal made by Irvine Valley Humanities Dean, Howard Gensler, who worked with a private investor to develop a possible alternative campus building project…
Yes, among his list of "accomplishments," Howard includes a book that he
self-published, an epic poem. This is one of its illustrations.
* * *
     Today, my blog partner sent me a document from that long-ago era of districtular and collegiate zaniness and corruption. It is a memo (a pdf), evidently sent to IVC Fine Arts faculty, dated, October 23, 2001.
     It is the “Fine Arts Village Draft.”
     Emblazoned upon it, in large letters, is “NOTE: DRAFT ONLY AND CONFIDENTIAL.”
     We had often heard about it. For the first time, we could see it for ourselves.
     I've provided pics of the pages of that pdf throughout this post.
     Amazing, no?
* * *
     Recently, a colleague at IVC asked if Howard had prevailed in his bid to become SC Academic Senate President. I said that I didn't know.
     I added, "If they elect him, then they deserve him." (Well, actually, I offered the consequent sans the antecedent. Sorry.)

*I could find virtually no information about Mr. Ross. I did, however, find the website for the Newport Financial Group.


Anonymous said...

You can't make this stuff up, can you? Even if you wish you could. And instead of being fired, he was given a tenure track position at Saddleback.

Anonymous said...

If any of us did such a thing we'd be out on our asses. Not Howard - and so many others I could name. Jee-sus.

Anonymous said...

I had heard about the fabled "Howard Hilton" but the scale of it is really amazing. What does Howard say about it now? Did he win the election at Saddleback?

Anonymous said...

Seriously? Fired for dreaming big? At an educational institution?

Anonymous said...

Howard's Avenger drawing is too sexy. I must meet this man, that is if I am lucky enough.

Anonymous said...

NOT fired for "dreaming big" - given a tenure-track job after being discovered trying to sell part of the college.

Anonymous said...

Not "selling." Have you never heard of public-private partnerships?

The district always rewards incompetency.

Anonymous said...

OK - not "selling." Entering into negotiations with a private party on behalf of the district without any oversight or authority. Staying up all night doodling the plans for a 14 story-plus megaplex of Howard's own delight.

Anonymous said...

I see Howard assigns the econ textbook he wrote (and self-published) in his classes. It costs $60.00. Nice work if you can get it. Isn't there any oversight at all?

Roy Bauer said...

10:19, do take a cold shower. As I recall, Howard's high school chum did the illustrations for the "book."

Anonymous said...

The illustration was sexually harassing me. Where can I file a complaint?

Anonymous said...

The #1 reason why newly hired do not receive retreat rights. If they suck as an administrator they will suck as an instructor.

Anonymous said...

His Facebook page is a hoot.

Anonymous said...

Didn't he give his faculty parking permit to his spoiled kid to use at IVC?

Anonymous said...

At least he lost his bid for Senate Presidency!

Great Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

An IVC female faculty members whose neck was "caressed" by Gensler has a copy, gifted by some friends a a present when he left. (Can you imagine anyone other than the SOCCCD leadership putting a guy like that with his history of conduct in the classroom?

Here's recent OC Reg profile of Gensler:

Everyone said...

We need a Howard update!

Anonymous said...

No we don't, really we don't.

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