Tensions Rise at SBCC as Faculty and Board Plan Return to Campus

COVID Violations and a Growing Divide Between Staff and Administration on Campus

During Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting, controversy rose over reports of an in-person “football eligibility workshop” on July 13, which was intended to inform SBCC players of COVID guidelines for next season. As seen above, many of the athletes were unmasked and packed into the lecture hall with no visible distancing measures. | Credit: Courtesy

The growing divide between faculty leaders and boardmembers at Santa Barbara City College intensified during Thursday’s trustees meeting, as the college remains on the fence over a COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

Supporters of the mandate argue that assured vaccination is the only way to welcome students back to campus without the threat of an outbreak that may send the school back into another lockdown, while opponents criticize what they call an “overreach” on bodily autonomy and medical freedom.

“Please establish a COVID vaccine mandate for our college to ensure the safest possible return to campus for all our students and employees,” said Cornelia Alsheimer-Barthel, the president of the Faculty Association. “Remember that the health and safety of this college community and our families is in your hands right now.”

Advocates on both sides were outspoken during the public comment portion of the meeting, which was the first in-person Board of Trustees meeting in over a year. The board originally voted 3-4 against the mandate when it was first proposed on June 24. Since then, the school’s superintendent/president has resigned. Meanwhile, the three faculty and staff groups backing the proposal — the Faculty Association, Academic Senate, and California School Employees association — have continued the push for a mandate similar to the one implemented at UC Santa Barbara and other Universities across the state

During the meeting, controversy arose over a recent report that the SBCC football team held an in-person meeting at a lecture hall on campus on July 13 in which many of the athletes were unmasked and packed into the room with no visible distancing measures. Also raising concerns was a separate incident involving an in-person English course that was forced online after a student contracted COVID.

“This all happened in a very small summer session,” Alsheimer-Barthel said. “Coming fall, this situation has the potential to be multiplied, as we will have hundreds of indoor classes.” She said that future incidents like this “could be avoided with a vaccine mandate in place.”

The board did not comment on the English class being placed online, but they began with a statement acknowledging the July 13 incident, which occurred during a “football eligibility workshop” intended to inform players of COVID guidelines for the upcoming season.

“They were not masked, which is a violation of our campus ruling,” said Peter Haslund, board president. “We have taken steps to find out what happened, we just want to acknowledge it and ensure to the very best of our ability that it will not happen again.”

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No discipline was discussed regarding the violation, and Coach Craig Moropoulos did not respond to attempts for comment.

Tensions grew during Academic Senate President Raeanne Napoleon’s report, when she was asked by Haslund to limit her comments after 10 minutes. Her comments were centered on the mandate, highlighting the voices of some outspoken faculty and staff, correcting false information received from some public comments, and responding to personal attacks, which called her and others “militant” for their advocacy on this issue. She spoke for just over 15 minutes during a five-hour meeting.

Napoleon said a survey found 71 percent of faculty and 80 percent of staff supported the mandate, something she said is rare among a group with so many points of view.

“There is a push to say that faculty indoctrinate our students, and we all have a liberal bias,” she said. “All it takes is one committee meeting with faculty to know that we’re not on the same page about anything.”

Napoleon, who has been outspoken on a number of campus issues, from race and gender to the recent handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, has risen through the ranks to the position of president of the Academic Senate. She said it is discouraging that even after earning her position to speak at these meetings, boardmembers chose not to listen to faculty voice on matters that affect them. 

“It appears as though some of you on the board choose political reasoning or motivations behind your decisions, and not public health reasons,” Napoleon said. “You don’t care what the faculty has to say.” The Academic Senate is still considering a vote of no confidence against the trustees for denying the mandate, as there are currently no plans for the board to vote on the issue again.

“Why is the Academic Senate considering a vote of no confidence?” Napoleon asked. “We literally have no confidence in you.”

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