The controversy buffeting South County's two community colleges is eroding financial support from charitable donors and corporate giving, a crucial and growing avenue of support for community colleges statewide.
Tentative figures show the amount of money raised by the Irvine Valley College Foundation sagged 10% to $611,000 from fiscal 1996 to 1997, when an administrative shake-up occurred and public controversy first began.
Year-to-date figures show a further 12% decline that, if it continues, would bring this year's total to $537,692.
In addition to the declines in annual donations, foundation officials said they were forced last year to shelve a capital campaign to raise as much as $2 million for an ambitious technology development plan. The plans remain on hold.
"It makes fund-raising very difficult," said Helen Cameron, a businesswoman in Corona del Mar, a former Irvine school board president and member of the Irvine Valley College Foundation board of governors. "We need to get the college off the front page of the newspaper.
"When you start communicating with people, they ask, 'Are you the people with the furor over the president?' Or 'Are you the people with the recall campaign?' They don't want to be involved if it's controversial."
Corporate supporters remain hopeful and continue pushing new initiatives. But the colleges' turmoil--changes in top administration leadership, infighting over administrative control, a recall campaign of a college trustee, budget woes--may be starting to delay needed improvements in educational technology and other areas.
The South Orange County Community College District operates Irvine Valley College in Irvine and Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. Both colleges have foundations, although Irvine Valley's has been far more active and better-funded, raising five times as much as the Saddleback foundation. Both foundations have been troubled by campus problems, officials of the agencies said.
The troubles date back to February 1997, when then-Irvine Valley President Daniel L. Larios announced his resignation, which led to a six-month power struggle on campus over who would replace him.
That in itself may have caused the 1996-97 decline in foundation fund-raising and led to the suspension of the technology capital campaign. Since then, however, the district has experienced a turnover in other administrators.
Then a new controversy erupted last August over Trustee Steven J. Frogue's proposal to host a non-credit seminar on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Although the seminar was canceled, theories on the assassination that were to be discussed led to contentions of anti-Semitism, which Frogue denies but are part of an active recall campaign.
"The most difficulty from the foundation's perspective is all of the changes that have taken place in the leadership at the district and at IVC and the uncertainty over what those changes all mean," said John Gaffney, the foundation president and former chief executive of the Irvine Medical Center. "That [administrative turnover] doesn't help in talking to corporations about contributing to the support of the colleges."
John S. Williams, the president of the district Board of Trustees, which oversees the two colleges, acknowledges that the foundations for both schools have been hurt, but he blames it largely on the recall campaign targeting Frogue, an ally of Williams on the divided board, even though others say Frogue is only one part of the problem with the foundations.
"The controversy hurts, no question about it," Williams said. "We need to get past the controversy."
Hope for an upturn in the Irvine Valley College Foundation's fortunes were buoyed Wednesday when attendance exceeded expectations at the annual foundation Awards Dinner, a semiformal function at which students and their charitable supporters were feted in a hotel banquet room decorated in star-speckled balloons, candles and mirrored centerpieces on tables crowded with stemmed glassware.
One student, Catherine Reinke, wept at the microphone as she told patrons that scholarships provided by the foundation made her education at Irvine Valley College possible. She is now going on to UC Irvine to complete her bachelor's degree. She thanked the supporters for believing in her, saying, "I will never forget you."
Still, the fallout from the changes and squabbling at the two campuses where 33,000 students attend classes continues to take its toll on the bottom line. While the foundation at Irvine Valley consistently took in from $675,000 to $680,000 a year for several years, it is dropping even when the economy is improving and when many other college foundations are growing.
"That whole area of controversy has had a negative impact," said David B. Lang, a district trustee and former Irvine Valley foundation board member. "It's had an impact on people's contributions, not only at IVC, but at Saddleback."