Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this heated race is that it’s happening at all. Historically, City College board elections have been total nonevents. But for the first time ever, all four seats up for election, now held by incumbents, are being challenged. At issue is the fundamental relationship between City College and the broader Santa Barbara community — a relationship that has enabled City College to emerge as one of the best community colleges in the United States. In the past two years, however, while the board and administration tried to solve a budget crisis, they, instead, precipitated a more dangerous crisis — the destruction of that vital connection between school and community. By electing the four challengers, we hope that damage can begin to mend. We make this endorsement even though the four incumbents — who combined have served the board for more than 100 years — have, until recently, helped make the college what it is today.
In recent years, a new president took the helm at City College, a fleet of new administrators was hired, and the recession sent the state’s budget into terminal meltdown mode. If that wasn’t enough, the new administration, led by President Andreea Serban, seemed intent on creating challenges where none needed to exist. It wasn’t that the campus canceled 100 Adult Ed classes this past summer; it was the abrupt, last-minute, talk-to-the-hand manner with which these cancellations were executed. It wasn’t that City College cut funding for four of the school’s Parent-Child Workshops — each one a stellar model of excellence — it was the adversarial, accusatory manner with which the administration negotiated these changes. Time and again, the administration would argue such cuts were mandated by the state Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office in Sacramento. Time and again, the Chancellor’s Office told us that such was not necessarily the case. Thousands of Santa Barbara families, and even more individuals, have benefited from these programs, generating great good will in the community. This longtime relationship was, among other things, responsible for the successful passage of a multimillion-dollar bond measure in 2008 to improve the campus. Sadly, strangely, it appears the new administration does not fully grasp this reality. In such a situation, we should be able to look to the trustees to provide a reality check. None has been forthcoming. Instead, members of the board have reacted angrily, defensively, and downright insultingly to questions posed by the public. It left a bad taste in many mouths and, worse, left the impression that the board thought they were working for President Serban, not the other way around.
Happily for both Santa Barbara City College and its many community supporters, the four challengers bring impressive credentials to the table. Peter Haslund, a professor emeritus of political science at City College, has taught at the college for almost 40 years and has served as president of the Academic Senate. Lisa Macker, whose father taught at City College, is a certified public accountant with extensive experience with nonprofits, essential skills in solving the many financial challenges ahead. Attorney Marsha Croninger’s lifetime of professional experience working with complex state bureaucracies will help immensely. And Marty Blum, Santa Barbara’s popular former mayor, is no stranger to the give-and-take of high-profile public negotiations. The incumbents should be thanked for their dedication and hard work; but the challengers should be elected.