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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

College District Needs Reform

November 22, 1998

One chapter in the continuing turmoil over Trustee Steven J. Frogue in the South Orange County Community College District came to a close earlier this month. Organizers of a recall effort came up short on the necessary valid signatures. Frogue, whose current term expires in 2000, used the occasion to criticize his critics bitterly.

Recall or no recall, the entire Frogue episode remains an embarrassment for the district. The former board president attempted to provide a forum for speakers whose views have been characterized as anti-Semitic. He later announced that he would not hold the seminar on campus, but it was only after the district, which has a host of other problems to deal with, was flooded with protest.

A special election to address the problems Frogue brought on would have cost money, and money is one of the things already troubling the district. Those who want him replaced will have to make their best case another day. Frogue may have dodged his day of reckoning, but he bears responsibility for his part in fueling the atmosphere of controversy that has prevailed at the district.

For the short term, other district issues summon urgent attention. Last summer, the district was warned by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges that it needed to straighten out administrative problems. While there was an encouraging recognition that prior financial difficulties were improving, the commission raised concern about the effect of administrative changes, and noted a politicization of the atmosphere in the district. It said decisions were being made by trustees on an ad hoc basis, unsupported by a planning process.

Last month, examiners warned that Saddleback and Irvine Valley, the district's two campuses, could lose their accreditation if trustees did not change the way they operated. Meanwhile, the district has been engaged in a legal battle over the reassignments of department heads at Irvine Valley College.

So the Frogue recall effort turns out to be one aspect of a much larger set of concerns. In an Orange County Voices article last March, Trustee Dorothy Fortune argued that the district's long-standing financial problems have necessitated dramatic action by a majority of trustees to end wasteful programs, bureaucracy and expenditures.

However, the district also has a dangerously politicized atmosphere. The Frogue bitterness is not likely to go away easily. The district needs to focus on reform, fence-mending and providing the best education in an environment free of contention and politics.

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