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Lion in winter: Dennis Frisch wants to lower the cost of getting an education

Adriane Hale

Retired Santa MOnica College history professor and current Board of Trustees candidate Dennis Frisch standing near the SMC clock tower.

Rachel Gianuario, Managing Editor

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Members of the Board of Trustees have gone on unopposed and endorsed by Santa Monica Renter’s Rights (SMRR) in the last two elections cycles, maintaining the same cast of characters for the last eight years. This is, however, with the exception of the recent appointment of Barry Snell in February and the passing of Vice President Randal Lawson in August.

This year, two challengers have stepped forward (queue Rocky music). One is Maria Loya, an active Los Angeles community member who has 20 years of experience in public policy as well as community organizing. The second is Santa Monica College’s former Faculty Association and Academic Senate leader and history professor of 28 years who recently retired at the age of 70, Dennis Frisch.

Serving as a president of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, as well as a representative of SMC to state level community college associations, Frisch announced his candidacy in June. “It’s time for a change in culture on the board. So here I am,” he proclaimed.

A member of community college administration for seven years, Frisch felt action was necessary to reverse the growing effects of corporatization. In recent years, he explains the college has begun to think more in business terms rather than educational terms when making various decisions concerning the students.

Currently as a part of the school’s push toward’s corporatization, SMC has roughly 300 full time professors and about 1,000 part time professors. In Frisch’s view, having more part-time faculty than full-time sacrifices students’ access to teachers for cheaper labor costs.

Students often are unable to meet with part-time professors because they are often not on campus and part-time professors do not qualify for health benefits unless they meet contract criteria. Frisch says this private sector model is one of the direct results of corporatization at SMC and negatively effects both students and professors.

Part of his clout on on the Board of Trustees, if elected, would be directed towards increasing the full-time faculty to 75 percent of the teaching staff, and reducing part-time to 25 percent.

The increase of administrative faculty in recent years as opposed to education staff has also been a growing concern to Frisch, feeling that the backbone of the community, the teachers, is shrinking. He notes the salary of administrators, including the president’s, is increasing, while the salary of professors remains stagnant.

Frisch also mentions that SMC has a much larger administrative staff in comparison to community colleges in the surrounding areas like El Camino and Pasadena.

“It’s disturbing because education is a public good, not a private good…These trends have to stop,” says Frisch.

Frisch feels the college has to come to rely on numerical values and quantitative data to determine student success and “normal progress”.

The amount of time it takes students to transfer and graduate, using the number of units a student takes per semester as a determinate, is one way the school numerically tries to measure success. Frisch feels that these numbers ignore the diverse population present at SMC, and doesn’t accurately explain what “normal progress” is.

“Our student body is so diverse, in terms of socio-economic background, that not all students are going to finish in two years…or even five years…So what?,” says Frisch. “They’re pursuing their goal. They’re reaching their goal. They are successful.”

He also feels that the college thinks of students in terms of dollar signs, citing the international population at SMC in comparison with the local demographic. Though he feels that the growing international population at SMC is one of the aspects that makes this college unique and diverse, Frisch has noticed that local students are undervalued and under-represented because their tuition costs do not bring in as much revenue for the college and the state.

As a Board member, Frisch wants to aggressively push recruitment locally, to better provide access, equity, and benefits to populations directly related with SMC.

Frisch also wants to spear-head efforts aimed at blocking the increase of cost per unit, attempting to reverse the “pay to play” culture being pushed by the current board. As a member of the Academic Senate, Frisch fought against the increase of tuition from $46 per unit to $90 per unit, considering the move completely contradictory to the school’s original mission statement.

Though he notes it would take a momentous amount of effort, Frisch wants to focus his efforts on returning to zero fee-based courses to help provide greater equity and access for everyone.

“Provide every Californian resident with higher education, regardless of their income or socio-economic status,” said Frisch. “I think that’s an idea that’s worth pursuing.”

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