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Group of Local College Teachers Casts Doubt on Cal State Plan

Education: Shortly before crucial vote by trustees, letter says proposal lacks support. Official accuses instructors of trying to gain upper hand in ongoing labor dispute.


CAMARILLO — Two days before a critical vote on the future of a Cal State university in Ventura County, a group of community college instructors Monday questioned whether there really is broad community support for the proposed campus.

In a letter to top Cal State officials, the instructors said that a contentious battle to hammer out a new labor contract has forced many faculty members to withhold support for a joint campus arrangement proposed between the university system and the Ventura County Community College District.

"Without direct faculty and staff involvement in any joint venture, it cannot be successful," wrote Moorpark College teachers in a letter likely to be distributed to California State University trustees at their Wednesday meeting. "And at this time neither faculty nor staff are willing to offer the support and energy required to make it work."

The letter was immediately denounced by community college district Chancellor Philip Westin as a misguided attempt by a small group of dissidents to gain the upper hand in a prolonged labor dispute.

"I would hope and expect that Cal State trustees would see through this for what it is," Westin said Monday. "To put this out two days before the board votes on a Ventura County campus is irresponsible and should be repudiated by any person having any thinking ability whatsoever."

On Wednesday, CSU trustees will be asked to push forward with a plan to take over Camarillo State Hospital as the first crucial step toward launching a four-year public university in Ventura County, to be called Cal State Channel Islands.

For the first time since the planning process began late last year, the full board of trustees will review the blueprint for transforming the now-shuttered mental hospital into the university system's 23rd campus.

Cal State officials said Monday that the community college district and its labor struggles have nothing to do with the issue at Wednesday's meeting.

"I don't think the trustees will even consider it," said Handel Evans, president of the proposed Channel Islands campus. "This has no bearing on the university or whether the CSU occupies the hospital. That whole issue, at this moment in time, is irrelevant to the process we're going through."

In recent months, the community college district has come into play as Cal State planners look for partners to share space at the developing university, thus helping defray the costs of maintaining the sprawling Camarillo campus.

Last week, the college district's board of trustees approved a letter of intent to forge a partnership with the Cal State system, agreeing to explore various options for working together.

Those options include planning curriculum together and moving the college district's headquarters to the budding campus.

Alarmed that such a move might take money away from cash-strapped campuses, the 12-member executive committee of the academic senate at Moorpark College decided last week to fire off a letter of concern to Cal State officials.

"We think the idea is a great one. We would like to see a CSU in our area, but not with a big wad of money ripped out of our budget," said Elton Hall, president of the academic senate and a philosophy instructor at Moorpark College.

Hall conceded that if faculty and staff members had a contract, the letter probably would not have been written.

"You can't conduct a labor war on one side and then map out some massive plan for a joint partnership without including faculty and staff in that discussion," Hall said. "I would simply have the trustees vote with their eyes open.'

Westin said any talk of a partnership between the college district and the university system is preliminary at this time, adding that the money for such a venture would not come out of the district's operating budget.

He said the real issue is the current labor dispute, highlighted last week by a rally attended by hundreds of frustrated teachers.

The district's more than 1,200 teachers and hundreds of classified personnel have been without a contract since June 30. Nearly 400 union members voted last month that they had no confidence in Westin to lead the district.

Westin said he believes there is overwhelming support for the Cal State campus, even in the teaching ranks of the county's three community colleges.

"I find this unbelievable," he said. "This county is desperately in need of a four-year university. I would hate to see something like this used in some way to tip the scales."

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