A letter sent to Santa Barbara City College by a regional accrediting commission paints the picture of a Board of Trustees that is arrogant, meddling, confused, and overreaching. The letter, signed by Barbara A. Beno, president of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), reports the findings from an investigative visit to the college on November 9 and 10 in response to complaints leveled by a group of students, faculty, and community members called Take Back SBCC.
Take Back SBCC alleged interference with governance processes, decision-making on the part of the newly-elected board members without input from the other trustees, interference with college operations, meddling with curricula, mishandling of the performance evaluation of former President Andreea Serban, and violations of the Brown Act.
ACCJC found merit in all of those allegations, but did, at points, stress that the new board members were still learning their roles. At the same time, the letter often rebuked board actions with strong language. For instance, it stated, “Board members, who embarrassed and belittled employees by questioning them at length about their job descriptions and other issues during Board meetings, showed lack of knowledge on part of the Board about appropriate Board conduct.”
The only two new trustees mentioned by name in the letter are Marty Blum and Marsha Croninger. The letter quotes from a conversation in which Blum criticizes Vice President of SBCC Continuing Eduation, Ofelia Arellano, and another in which Croninger requests copies of the college’s waitlists, both instances being — the letter claims — overreaches of authority.
Beno writes, “The evidence indisputably reflects efforts by one or more Trustees to micro-manage the operations of the college; to impose their styles of management on staff and administrators; to unnecessarily interrogate one or more administrators; and to bypass and diminish the authority of the Superintendent/President.”
As far as the handling of Serban’s evaluation, the letter says the trustees “failed in the most basic requirement, namely, the inclusion of the President in working jointly with the Board in developing the evaluation process.”
The letter ends by emphasizing the depth of the schism between SBCC faculty and staff. “On the one hand,” it says, “many believe that the new majority members of the Board of Trustees have created a climate of fear and intimidation” and that they give favorable treatment to the Parent-Child Workshop and the Association of Continuing Education students. “On the other hand,” it says, “a significant number of faculty and staff voiced virtually the opposite view, namely, that the new Board majority brings a needed change to the college, that the Board is making an assertive effort to understand the processes of the college and that the replacement of the Superintendent/President was needed.”
The leaking of this letter to local press illustrates the fissure within the SBCC community. Although The Independent issued a public records request for the letter, SBCC counsel decided it was exempt from disclosure. It was sent to us anonymously in an envelope with SBCC as the return address.
Trustees and administration would not comment directly about the letter, but SBCC President Jack Friedlander said in a statement that, “It is especially troubling in an institution of higher education, which is expected to lead by example, that someone associated with SBCC has chosen for his/her own personal reasons to leak this report. By not following established rules designed to result in a fair and unbiased process, the college and board members have been portrayed in ways that are inaccurate, unbalanced and not reflective of actual events.”
Trustee Peter Haslund called the leak of the letter an “ethical breach” and said it contained many incorrect statements. “There is another side to this,” he said. “We will prepare our response. I hope that it will be made public as soon as possible.”
Friedlander contends that the ACCJC assured him its findings are “preliminary” and meant to be confidential as is SBCC’s response, which will be and which must be issued within 30 days. The ACCJC requires that a public report be made only after it takes action “to ensure that institutional assessments are accurate and that candid communications can occur,” according to Friedlander.
ACCJC President Barbara A. Beno could not be reached because she is traveling and will not return to work until Monday.