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Blame Politics for the Debacle in South O.C. Community College

Voters, teachers group gave control to officials bent on accruing power and advancing their personal agendas.

September 07, 1997|LISA ALVAREZ | Lisa Alvarez is an associate professor of English at Irvine Valley College

Until recently, few had heard of South Orange County Community College District Trustee Steven J. Frogue. Then his proposed community education class on the JFK assassination accomplished what his earlier actions and those of fellow board members Dorothy Fortune, Teddi Lorch and John Williams had not; it elicited hundreds of telephone calls from an outraged community and attracted national attention.

Community college politics seldom rate the front page. Despite their significant role in preparing students for transfer to four-year universities or moving then directly into careers, community college issues are often lost in ballots crowded with propositions and candidates for the seemingly more vulnerable K-12 school boards.

Additionally, California community colleges--including Irvine Valley and Saddleback--have, until now, fostered a form of relatively democratic--if not perfect--decision-making called shared governance. Shared governance allows for collective decisions, for power sharing. It is designed to precisely avoid unilateral decisions or wacky headlines, and to encourage the smooth running of a diverse community.

But part of Frogue's mission includes undermining shared governance. He and the board majority have exploited that perceived public indifference to community college politics, quietly voting in devastating 4-3 decisions.

Who? Where? How?

In April, the board majority, in closed session, appointed Raghu Mathur as interim president of Irvine Valley, this an apparent violation of the Brown Act. Indeed, that misstep was ruled illegal when a Superior Court judge found that the notice requirement was not met, nor was public comment invited.

In July, the board majority, in closed session, fired 10 Irvine Valley school chairs, replacing them with appointed administrative deans imported from Saddleback. The board claimed fiscal concerns, but Chancellor Robert Lombardi, in a recent college forum, alluded to a perceived lack of "managerial control." This action followed a resounding Irvine Valley faculty vote of "no confidence" in the board. A suit regarding the legality of the board's action is pending.

In August, the board majority, in closed session, deviated from existing hiring practices in its Irvine Valley presidential search process, abandoning, in this case, uniform rules for selection of administrators in favor of a process that permits politics to prevail over merit. In a recent college forum, Lombardi acknowledged this deviation from district policy. Now, based on this bogus process, the board majority is poised to select its candidate, absent meaningful faculty and staff input.

Finally, there was Frogue's proposed class.

The board majority disregards a principal feature of shared governance: that is, working with the Academic Senate--the body responsible for representing the faculty on academic and professional matters--whose views and votes are required by law. Again, they're undermining the community in community college.

They thought they could get away with it.

I'm not sure why Frogue and his majority prefer a top-down, overly bureaucratic hierarchy to a cooperative power-sharing paradigm that has served California post-secondary education institutions so well.

But Frogue's opposition to shared governance, taken together with his other apparent prejudices, among them that "Lee Harvey Oswald worked for the ADL" brings his judgment into serious question. How did Steven J. Frogue become a trustee, much less president of the South Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees?

It's no conspiracy. He was voted in. How? A rogue faculty union so intent on raising salaries for a handful of members at the top of the pay scale that it championed four candidates who, like Frogue, brought them more trouble than they bargained for. Thousands of dollars from the local of the California Teachers' Assn. went to Frogue's reelection campaign. Why? Hopefully not because of pet theories that brought this district unwanted notoriety.


Consider the big picture: the battered body politic. Community colleges serve the needs of their communities. At the same time, they themselves function as communities--not as fiefdoms for petty, ambitious politicians bent on advancing personal agendas. Our united community took as much as it could stand but ultimately rose up to challenge Frogue, the board majority and, though most people did not know it, an undemocratic faculty union.

Our community college is in jeopardy because its elected, if overlooked, leaders violated not only the state open meetings law and their own district policy but also their covenant with our educational community. District employees who protest or question these moves have been reprimanded, and on occasion, disciplined. They've created an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, a hostile workplace where it's increasingly difficult to teach students.

If unchallenged, they will make it impossible to do what we have done so well in the past at Irvine Valley College: sustain a community dedicated to learning.

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