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College President Asks Faculty's Help in Ending Dispute

March 19, 1998|MIMI KO CRUZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — On the eve of a no-confidence vote against her, Fullerton College President Vera M. Martinez called on the faculty in a conciliatory 30-page memo to work with her on resolving complaints about her leadership style.

The Faculty Senate alleges that Martinez has, among other things, failed to work with faculty on planning and budgeting issues, repeatedly violated district policy on hiring and refused to adhere to long-standing curriculum processes.

The contentions, outlined in a memo delivered to the college president last month, include a complaint about Martinez's recent decision to spend $17,000 on new office furniture for her two secretaries. In addition, the senate alleges that Martinez has retaliated against administrators who have disagreed with her by reassigning them.

In addition to the extraordinary memo released Wednesday, Martinez will meet with the senate to respond to its complaints immediately before it votes.

In her memo, Martinez reaches out to faculty, writing: "We must better communicate. . . . I invite you to step forward and pledge with me to work openly, constructively and responsibly for the good of our students and the well-being of the college community."

She said she bought new furniture for her secretaries to provide them an "ergonomically adequate work environment." Her two assistants had been suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome and, Martinez said, she wanted to prevent further aggravation of the work-related condition.

Martinez said she did reassign several administrators after having consulted with staff, faculty and managers, who recommended that they be given different job duties. None of the reassignments were retaliatory in any way, she said.

Furthermore, Martinez said she has not violated the district hiring policy and has accepted recommendations from campus committees on many issues including hiring, budgeting, planning and curriculum. "During my tenure, Fullerton College has hired 46 faculty," and complaints have arisen about only two of those, she wrote.

Callista Lee, a psychology professor and one of 33 senate members, said the faculty's allegations have a clear underlying theme: "shared governance."

The state's shared governance law requires community college leaders to consult with elected trustees, unions and faculty boards before making decisions on issues that affect the academic, fiscal and institutional health of the college.

"We want to work with a president who will respect all of her colleagues as professionals and who will support a real shared governance process where the decision-making power is truly shared," Lee said.

"It's been a frustrating three years," she added. "She came to us with promises that she would work with us and yet she has stalled attempts to develop a shared governance policy for this campus."

Lee said the senate believes that Martinez consistently disregards recommendations made by faculty members on a number of matters, such as curriculum and class-size reduction.

Martinez said she does recognize the experience and expertise of the faculty and fellow administrators.

Some faculty, student leaders and community leaders support Martinez.

Power is the bottom line and the senate wants it all, said student Raul Caudillo Jr., 22, managing editor of the school newspaper, the Weekly Hornet. "I think the Faculty Senate is on a rampage because it doesn't have enough power. They're on a warpath."

The student government and the classified employee union have not taken a specific stand on the fracas, but the student paper has denounced the senate's actions against Martinez.

"I feel like a target of all their pent-up anger and negativity," Martinez said about the senate in an interview.

Nevertheless, she said she is willing to work with the faculty and all other campus constituents in an effort to negotiate a shared governance policy. To that end, Martinez said she plans to ask the faculty senate to join her in seeking a mediator to address "our stylistic differences."

Her management style is a big issue, said Tom K. Harris, chancellor of the North Orange County Community College District, which oversees Fullerton College. He said that if the senate does take a formal vote of no confidence in Martinez, he will step into the fray.

"A vote of no confidence is really a vote of displeasure," Harris said. "It's a serious charge. . . . Dr. Martinez [has] worked hard to make Fullerton College a good place for students and faculty, and I think the faculty's concerns are about style and the way decisions are made."

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