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College District Board President Is Recall Target

Administration: Decisions made in closed sessions fervently opposed by faculty and students who announce campaign to oust Steven J. Frogue.

September 10, 1997|MICHAEL GRANBERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MISSION VIEJO — Disgruntled faculty members and students in the South Orange County Community College District responded angrily Tuesday to the appointment of a new permanent president at one of its campuses and announced a recall campaign against board President Steven J. Frogue.

"It's very serious. It's going to go forward," Irvine Valley College professor Roy Bauer said of the recall attempt, adding that "organizing groups in the area" will seek 38,000 voter signatures in hopes of qualifying the recall for the local ballot.

Bauer is one of 10 department chairs at IVC who are angry that the board eliminated their positions in a purported cost-cutting move and recently named Raghu P. Mathur interim campus president. Mathur was given the position permanently Monday night. All the decisions were made in closed sessions.

Recall backers have criticized the board's closed sessions, which brought a lawsuit from Bauer that resulted in a Superior Court judge ruling last month that the board had failed to comply with the Brown Act that governs public meetings in California.

Other recent controversies include the board's decision to offer a course on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that was scheduled to include a guest speaker who contends the Holocaust is exaggerated and that agents for the Israeli government killed Kennedy.

Under protest, the board later rescinded the course, although Frogue plans to teach it on a private basis off-campus.

Mathur, who did not attend Monday's meeting, where most people in the audience opposed his appointment, said Tuesday that he was optimistic about his future at IVC.

"I'm trying to do my job in the most positive, constructive and professional manner and do what's in the best interests of the students," said the longtime chemistry professor. "I believe in open communication, in people working together . . . approaching things with an open mind."

Mathur was the focal point of discussion Monday night. Several picket-wielding protesters characterized him as Frogue's "puppet."

Mathur, 49, said Tuesday, "I am no one's puppet. I'm an independent thinker, an educator, and I'm here to serve."

Frogue did not return phone calls on Tuesday.

"The fix is in," Bauer said at the meeting after the board allowed about 30 minutes of angry public comment before going into a closed session and voting 4 to 3 to make Mathur's position permanent.

When the trustees emerged to announce their action, they were met by chants of "Shame!" and "Recall!" by the crowd, many of whom carried picket signs, such as "Mathur is Frogue's puppet" and "Board majority--you are a disgrace to this district."

Jody Hoy, a French professor at IVC, said Tuesday that she was "extremely disheartened" by the board's response to criticism at Monday night's meeting and noted that she supports the recall effort.

"The board is not responsive to its constituency," Hoy said, contending that trustees aren't heeding faculty and student criticism. "Apparently our only recourse available is a recall. Under Mr. Frogue, this board has caused terrible damage to the reputation and the functioning of the colleges in this district. More than anything, I'm saddened by it."

Said Bauer: "People are very angry with them and will stay angry. We will not quit fighting."

Other sources close to the recall effort, who asked not to be quoted by name, said Tuesday that they intend to present Frogue with papers at Monday's board meeting, informing him of their intention to try to recall him.

Bauer noted, however, that recall organizers intend to try to recall only Frogue and not other board members.

Fellow trustee Marcia Milchiker--who voted against Mathur's appointment--announced Tuesday that she plans to add an agenda item at next month's meeting seeking Frogue's removal as board president.

Although two people spoke on Mathur's behalf at Monday's meeting, commending his abilities as both a teacher and administrator, the majority spoke against him and blasted the board for approving both his appointments--interim and permanent--in closed sessions.

The board's recent dismissal of the 10 department chairs at IVC recently drew a rebuke from a Superior Court judge who found them to be in noncompliance with the Brown Act mandate that public entities conduct most meetings openly.

"IVC professors are being held hostage in a suppressive environment," said IVC instructor Bob Deegan, to thunderous applause.

Later, during an interview, Deegan said his primary complaint was that "the decision was made before the process began."

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