With just more than a week before a hotly contested Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees election, Barry Russell, California Community College vice chancellor of Academic Affairs, sent a curiously timed letter to SBBC President Dr. Andreea Serban “reiterating” his support for certain publicly unpopular actions by SBCC administrators — approved by incumbent trustees — during the past year. In the letter — sent on October 22 and almost immediately passed along via email to faculty and staff and various others — Russell specifically addressed hot-button topics such as the trustees’ decisions to switch certain Continuing Education cooking classes from free to fee, the elimination of long-running and hugely popular band and choir classes from the noncredit course offerings, and the still mixed-up relations between the four Parent-Child Workshops and SBCC. Referencing the free-to-fee switches implemented last winter, Russell wrote, “This was an appropriate and wise decision by SBCC to ensure compliance with state regulations.”
Lambasted for their perceived tone deafness to the public’s outrage over the handling of the aforementioned issues, not to mention taking courses of action that many felt weren’t necessary on said topics, the incumbents — Joe Dobbs, Des O’Neill, Sally Green, and Kay Alexander — are no doubt buoyed by what appears to be, at least on the surface, a late-hour line of defense provided to them from the state.
However, challenger Marsha Croninger — who joins Marty Blum, Peter Haslund, and Lisa Macker in a de facto slate of hopeful incumbent beaters — pointed out this week that the clarification provided by the vice chancellor is mostly resolved “old news, as the letter references multiple state memos sent to SBCC in 2010, whereas a majority of the issues goes back to 2009 or earlier.” “The timing is questionable at best,” explained Croninger, “and, more importantly, the letter is not about the actual issues in the election … The real issues are about the decision-making process and the handling of the public during that time. None of that has changed.” Croninger added — quoting a line in the letter in which Russell said it was his “understand[ing]” that SBCC, under Serban’s guidance, continues to review noncredit courses for potential compliance issues — that the letter actually works to support the challengers’ assertion that the current board has been choosing to initiate unpopular course cuts and changes rather than, as they have repeatedly said, doing so only at the behest of the state.