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An Insider’s Colorful History of SBCC Politics


For 24 years, I have had the privilege of teaching at Santa Barbara City College. Over the years, I revised the Finance Program, created the International Business Program, served as vice president of the Faculty Senate and as president of the Instructor’s Association. For 20 years, I chaired the Finance, International Business, and Marketing Department. In the twilight of my career, I am enjoying teaching our deserving students from Santa Barbara and all over the world. I am avoiding stress of academic politics and governance. I would like to avoid the current conflicts at SBCC.

Unfortunately, Lanny Ebenstein’s recurrent, misinformed, and misleading editorial in the News-Press (Tuesday July 19) compels me to write. (You may remember also his four editorials during the trustees election last fall, in which he endorsed the incumbents, all of whom lost.) SBCC has a tradition of resolving differences internally through consultation, rather than via media leaks and innuendo. Apparently, that convention has been abandoned by those who reject the voters’ decision to elect fresh faces to the SBCC Board of Trustees. Having been subjected to misinformation, your readers deserve a more complete picture of the issues. To understand how SBCC degenerated to its current condition requires some history.

Peter MacDougall served as our president until 2002. Though trained in education, he realized that he needed management and public relations skills and became a master of both. While listening to faculty and trustees, he accepted responsibility for college leadership, and SBCC grew in every way during his time. His leadership was so good that faculty and trustees became complacent, and this led to the natural leadership among the faculty to focus on teaching and learning, while others, whose major source of professional satisfaction was academic politics, moved into faculty leadership positions.

During the last decade of Pres. MacDougall’s era, he became more confident of his own expertise and encouraged the trustees and the faculty representatives to be acquiescent. A turning point came with “Project Redesign,” (1994-1995), initiated to reconsider how we operate to fulfill our mission. Many faculty and staff exerted enormous efforts only to be disappointed, when their ideas were ignored.

When the CEO ignores the inputs of his employees, mistakes will be made. And they were. Early mistakes were small. Perhaps you remember the Cattleman’s fiasco, when SBCC bought the Cattleman’s restaurant and motel with the idea of operating it, only to sell it again when the community revolted. The biggest disaster was the “Oracle program.” SBCC wasted more than $6 million and five years paying Oracle to design an integrated data management system which never worked and was finally cancelled by Pres. John Romo. This system was pushed despite the objections of knowledgeable faculty and staff.

During his term, President MacDougall, with the consent of the Trustees, followed a strategy of maximum funded enrollment growth and minimum hires of full- time faculty. This had the advantage of encouraging us to consider new and different ways to serve the community, and generated large surpluses with which to finance more and grander facilities. Despite a law requiring progress toward a goal of 75% of classes being taught by full time faculty, SBCC has been stuck for 25 years at less than 50% (slightly higher if over-load assignments are considered).

By hiring adjuncts who were paid 50% of full-time salaries (raised to 67% through negotiations in which I played a role), SBCC could save money for other purposes. During this period, faculty growth kept pace with enrollment growth (no reduction in teacher/student ratio was tolerated by the state), classified staff (technicians, secretaries, janitors, gardeners, etc.) grew at half that rate, and senior administrators grew 50% faster than enrollment. Of course, in a no-growth community, there were limits to the success of this enrollment growth strategy, and the strategy sometimes led to “creative” accounting, or what faculty and staff call “whoring for enrollment.”

Following a challenge to the strategy by the Instructors’ Association and the clear failure of the Oracle Program, Pres. MacDougall chose to retire. The search for a replacement resulted in an offer to a president from a San Francisco Bay area community college who had just received a vote of “no confidence” from his faculty (93% of faculty voting “no confidence”). Under pressure from the SBCC faculty, the trustees reversed themselves and barely avoided a costly law suit from the disappointed applicant. Subsequently, the job was offered to Romo, the former vice president of Continuing Education.

John Romo served for six years. In order to heal the college, he encouraged shared governance with genuine participation by all segments. Unfortunately, into this power vacuum stepped the executive vice-president, Jack Friedlander, and a small, closed, and very determined group of faculty. The majority of faculty tended to their teaching, knowing that their views were not really desired by the real centers of power. To the policies of enrollment growth and reliance on part-time faculty were added the recruitment of international students and padding the pay-roll with administrative sinecures. The trustees, who were self-selecting and who had learned passivity under Pres. MacDougall, continued to exercise minimum oversight, basically “rubber stamping” whatever the administrative cadre proposed. Though the trustees slowly became aware that all was not well, they refused to step forward to exercise their over-sight duties. Many times I heard complaints from trustees, followed by “When will the faculty take leadership on this ?” Of course, the answer is: It’s the job of the Board of Trustees to provide establish policies and evaluate senior management.

For this entire period, SBCC, and Alan Hancock and Ventura College, were “underfunded districts.” Whereas some districts received $6,000-10,000 per student, we received less than $4,000 per student. This became an excuse for low pay and benefits. The administration and trustees repeatedly claimed that there was nothing that they could do about this. As Instructors’ Association president, I discussed the matter with State Senator Tom McClintock and proposed a solution. He passed it on to the governor, and our plan was in the governor’s budget proposal within a few months. Only then did the CEOs and CFOs of the “underfunded” community colleges jump on the band-wagon to work out the details and take credit for the new money. For SBCC, these changes meant an increase in funding of 20% ($16 million). The administration wanted all the money for buildings and other new initiatives. We insisted that 50% go to improve part-time and laboratory faculty salaries. (Under state law, 50% of funding is required to go to classroom instruction.) The trustees were not happy.

In 2007, Pres. Romo announced his intention to retire. The trustees and the administration took six months to organize a search committee, missing the opportunity to announce early in the year and thus to attract a strong pool of candidates. Thirty-five applied; seven were interviewed; four were recommended to the trustees; all four dropped out. The enormous Search Committee, with representatives of every element of the college and the service area, went back to their list and recommended Executive Vice President Jack Friedlander and his former sub-ordinate, Andreea Serban. The trustees were at a loss. Neither of these candidates had made the first cut. Rather than appoint a temporary president or ask John Romo to serve for one more year, they chose the lesser known candidate, Ms. Serban.

Immediately, she set about alienating everyone who approached her. She told the deans that she intended to dismiss half of them and appoint her own people. She had a nasty conflict with E.V.P. Friedlander, a conflict that required mediation. Ms. Serban tried to cut salaries for classified staff and administrators. The senior managers formed a union to protect themselves from this arbitrary treatment. When Ms. Serban tried to cut faculty salaries, we proposed many viable alternatives, and she backed down. She alienated donors and visitors. The phrases that have been repeated over and over again were: “She is tone deaf,” “We tried to help; she appeared to listen; but her actions indicate that she just wasn’t paying attention.”

Her biggest blunder was to slash Continuing Education. The changes in funding of Continuing Education had been coming for several years, but they caught her unprepared. She ignored the viable alternative-savings suggestions of the staff, faculty, and the public. Her arbitrary and arrogant action triggered a community revolt.

The Board of Trustees has a duty to provide oversight and to represent the public in our service area. The Board had been passive. The outcome was two blown executive searches, and enormous wastes of money with Cattleman’s, Oracle, SOMA, and now the Theater Arts remodel. The most loyal supporters of SBCC, the people who were least likely to “make waves” or “upset the apple cart” were pushed into finding four citizens whose love for SBCC would allow them to sacrifice their personal lives to serve in the four positions on the Board of Trustees that were available last fall. {I was not part of the organizing group nor a candidate.} The new candidates had professional skills that the Board needed—a politician, an attorney, a professor, and an accountant. The community sensed that something was wrong at SBCC and elected all four.

These new trustees have pure motivations. They do not seek self-promotion. They have no ambition, other than to help the administration make better decisions for the sake of the whole SBCC community. This is needed. Remember that under Pres. Romo Measure V was passed, encumbering Santa Barbara property owners with new taxes to fund maintenance and new construction at SBCC. Part of the program was to be a $50 million School of Media Arts—a grandiose $1000/ft. monument for a small program. It was downsized to $34 million, then cancelled—all that planning expense for nothing. Then, there is the remodel of the drama/music buildings (the Garvin Theater). The cost over-runs are now $9 million and climbing, despite $4 million in construction supervision costs. Now, the administration proposes balancing the budget by cutting 350 more classes, but they refuse to consider consolidation of functions and reductions in over-head. In other words, “save every administrative job, but cut services to students.” This is not management. Clearly, this is the “gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”

The new trustees are merely asking for accountability and transparency. They are not trying to micro-manage the college. They are just trying to do their job. However, there is a small group who are jealous of the power that the trustees enjoy. They don’t want to be accountable to the trustees. This group will undermine the trustees in any way that they can. There are a handful of additional supporters of the administration, but most faculty and staff are unhappy and alienated. They also are fearful of retribution, if they voice their dissent. The number of resignations of key personnel and retirements of faculty is a very telling indicator of faculty and staff morale.

The administration, which doesn’t want to be accountable, had been running a very public campaign to discredit the trustees. They plant press releases with Lanny and others. You may remember when President Serban issued a press release to deny that SBCC favors foreign students. Remember that I teach many of these students in International Business. They are a great addition to our campus. However, they do get priority seating in my classes, because they are paying cash that stays here. The same week in which Dr. Serban’s disclaimer appeared in the News-Press, I was told to cancel a personal money management class which always fills every seat and serves young adults going out on their own, and told to add another international business class for foreign students. Was Dr. Serban lying? Did she know? I don’t know, but this happens at SBCC.

The Serban supporters circulated a letter among faculty and students urging the trustees to truncate their performance review of President Serban, an unprecedented intrusion into the governance of the college. The limited number faculty and staff who signed the letter, even under pressure, is a measure of the weakness of the insurgent support.

And now, there this is assault, using the Accreditation Commission. Why is the Accreditation Committee coming to SBCC? Answer: because one faculty member, who already has the scalp of an Athletic Director on her belt, and who dominated the Curriculum Committee for years but lost that job, wrote a long letter of fabrications. She and her friends, including the president, are the ones putting our accreditation at risk. This is unconscionable. They should work with the trustees to make the best decisions for the future of the college.

So, let me ask, who is distracting whom from the important work of the college? Who is violating the principles of shared governance? Who is misleading the public and bullying the faculty and staff? Santa Barbara deserves better.

Peter Naylor is a professor of finance and economics at Santa Barbara City College.

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