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Study Fuels Frictions at Community Colleges


MISSION VIEJO — A new push to revamp two South County community colleges has reopened old wounds and started another round of warring between faculty and trustees even as students are registering for the spring semester.

Trustees of the 22,000-student South Orange County Community College District, citing the need for financial streamlining, asked for a department by department examination of Irvine Valley College in Irvine and Saddleback College in Mission Viejo.

The study began over the holidays, and this week, trustees spoke publicly about overhauling departments in the spring. But the reorganization plan contains what many faculty members charge is a fatal deficiency: It fails to consult faculty, students and staff, as district policies require.

"It seems to effectively preclude representation by any of the groups affected the most--faculty, students and classified [staff]," said Kate Clark, an Irvine Valley English professor and president of the college's Academic Senate. "We're left trying to guess what they want."

Trustees and top administrators said the overhaul is needed to make college operations more efficient and improve services to students. They want to study the structure of both colleges and recommend ways to consolidate and economize, said Kathleen Hodge, interim district chancellor.

Hodge said the study "will define ways to more effectively serve students and the district as a whole." She acknowledged the effort so far "excludes faculty and staff" views, but said the plan was hurriedly developed over the winter holidays.

The reorganization effort follows a reshuffling last summer in which a dozen department chairs were stripped of administrative duties and returned to classrooms and other administrators were pink-slipped without consulting students or faculty, creating a furor on the campuses.

Clark and other faculty members claim that trustees have violated district rules, which require decision-making that includes formal participation by various segments of the college community.

"We don't object to change," Clark said. "It's the process to which we object."

Raghu P. Mathur, president of Irvine Valley College, said he asked administrators to solicit reactions from faculty and staff "insofar as possible," but said it was difficult to do over the holidays.

Hodge said there would be consultations with other groups on campus, including faculty. But Clark said the reorganization study appears designed to concentrate decision-making in the hands of college presidents, Hodge and trustees.

Governance groups representing faculty members and clerical staff are meeting this week to discuss the reorganization, but Clark said many people already are angry about it.

She said district employees are not convinced economic streamlining is the basis of the reorganization. No cost-cutting goals are cited in the reorganization study plan, and problems with the existing organization have not been identified, she said.

"Power is what we're really talking about," Clark said.

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