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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

KOCE Watchers Debate: Sell High, or High Road?

The college district needs cash to instruct students and keep teachers

September 28, 2003|P. Kevin Parker | P. Kevin Parker is president of the Academic Senate and an assistant professor of English at Orange Coast College.

The Academic Senate at Orange Coast College has endorsed the sale of KOCE-TV (Channel 50) to the highest responsible bidder in a 13-1 vote (with three abstentions). We voted with heavy hearts, but our primary concern is for students.

We've been forced to cut a huge number of courses and are slamming the door on far too many students who need the college to ensure their futures. Sacramento has forced us to cut more than 500 courses this semester and at least 2,500 students were turned away. The faculty has increased the number of students accepted into classes but, in the long run, this practice only compromises the quality of education. It also sends the wrong message -- that we can continue to do more with less -- to Sacramento.

This fall's student enrollment is down 11%, and there's less money for spring and summer. With fewer discretionary funds, the administration is forced to cut in the only place it can: the adjunct budget.

Full-time faculty have a full load of courses to teach. But there has been an immediate and shattering impact on the tireless part-timers. The loss of 500 courses this past year means the loss of more than 200 part-time instructors at OCC alone, including a fine arts teacher who'd been here for 20 years.

By state law, one of the community college's primary missions is to offer academic and vocational instruction at the lower division level. Owning a public television station is a luxury when we're slamming the door on so many students. We need to draw the line when it comes to compromising the future of these would-be community college students.

I'm pleased that students in Long Beach and Anaheim can air their self-produced videos or learn Power Point on KOCE. But the station is draining resources from classroom instruction at Orange Coast College, Golden West College and Coastline Community College. Those of us who teach in core course areas and in affected vocational programs know that California's community colleges are underfunded even in the best years.

A KOCE manager once said a public television station is like a boat: It's fun, but you're constantly putting money into it. Unfortunately, this boat is sinking, literally and economically. The building housing the KOCE studios at Golden West is sinking; economically, KOCE continues to sink under its own deficits ($1.7 million per year in payroll plus $900,000 in incidentals).

As difficult a decision as it is, it has to be sold to the highest responsible bidder. Community college students deserve nothing less.

The viewers and subscribers of KOCE are dedicated, but since 1972, subscriptions and grants have not balanced KOCE's budget. It has taken money from the Coast Community College District's general fund to fill the gap. Those funds amount to about 40% of our discretionary funds.

The decision to sell should be based upon this one guideline: Does KOCE fit into our primary purpose of education? Unfortunately, KOCE's programming -- while vital to Orange County as a whole -- has no significant effect on our district's students. Even those who take telecourses can access them through local cable television; it's significantly cheaper than analog or digital broadcast. At the same time, each dime sucked out of our general fund by KOCE could go into classroom instruction.

It's regrettable to lose a resource like KOCE, but our primary commitment isn't to Washington lobbyists and corporate donors. Nor is our commitment to the targeted audience of KOCE: "upscale, affluent and educated opinion leaders and decision makers," including the 59% of viewers who live in L.A. County. Let them pay for the station, not the thousands of adults who need vocational training and/or a college education.

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