An investigation into allegations of racial and religious discrimination in Santa Monica College's registered nursing program has found that some students have felt intimidated and demeaned and that relations between students and faculty need to be improved.
The five-member investigative committee, headed by Assistant Supt. James B. Fugle Jr., said that the nursing faculty and staff should receive special training in interpersonal relations to correct the problem and recommended that a grievance procedure be established to handle student complaints.
Although the study team did not confirm or deny the existence of discrimination, it found that "relations between some faculty and students need improvement to eliminate student perceptions of being intimidated or treated disrespectfully."
The college Board of Trustees has reviewed the investigation team's report and has agreed to implement its recommendations this fall, college President Richard Moore said.
College officials will present the report to the state Board of Nursing's educational committee on Friday after which the board will rule on accreditation.
The committee did not cite individual incidents of alleged intimidation or disrespectful treatment and summarized its findings to protect the confidentiality of those interviewed, Fugle said.
The six-week investigation included interviews with graduating nurses, students who have dropped out of the nursing program and members of the faculty, Fugle said.
An interim director of nursing was brought in from another college to ensure that the investigation would be "above reproach," Moore said.
The study was prompted by a Board of Nursing accreditation report last month that urged college officials to demonstrate that the nursing program was free of discrimination.
State officials made no specific allegations of discrimination, but gave the college an "informal warning" to review the program to be sure it is free of racial or religious bias, Moore said.
The committee suggested that a management-level person be hired to direct Santa Monica's nursing program, which until now has been under the joint supervision of a nursing director and a department chairman.
The report said that "divided authority for administration of the nursing program has contributed to poor faculty relations and has not permitted strong leadership in curriculum development and instruction."
The college's investigative team said that faculty relations "need improvement" and that instructional quality is "uneven."
The committee said an outside consultant should be hired to conduct workshops on interpersonal relationships for all members of the faculty and staff, and the college has already has hired a firm to present such a program.
The committee said a specialist in nursing education should be hired to help the college reorganize its curriculum and teaching processes.
To address students' concerns, a grievance process involving an ombudsman and the nursing director should be established, the committee said.
In releasing the committee's findings, Moore stressed that the investigation was not intended to address the program's strong and weak points, but was set up to study only its possible weaknesses.
"This study of our nursing program represents a thorough examination of the issues raised by the accreditation team's suggestion," he said. "It is my hope that the actions we have already taken and those contemplated will improve an already strong nursing program and that in the very near future Santa Monica College's nursing program will be the model for the state."
Officials said that the former nursing director Loann Haegele and former department chairwoman Sharon Reed will remain on the faculty and can apply for the new director's position.