Superintendent Jeffery Denies Knowledge of Racist Statements

President and Superintendent of Santa Monica College, Kathryn E. Jeffery (Left) and Chair Margaret Quinones-Perez (Center) at an earlier Board of Trustees Meeting at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, California on Tuesday April 2, 2019. Photographer (Tanya Barcessat / The Corsair)

President and Superintendent of Santa Monica College, Kathryn E. Jeffery (Left) and Chair Margaret Quinones-Perez (Center) at an earlier Board of Trustees Meeting at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, California on Tuesday April 2, 2019. Photographer (Tanya Barcessat / The Corsair)

Superintendent and President of Santa Monica College (SMC), Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery has denied knowledge of racist statements allegedly made by administrators during a meeting of senior staff.

At the most recent Board of Trustees meeting, which took place on Tuesday, May 7, Chair Margaret R. Quiñones-Perez stated that a source close to her heard a member of senior management make racist statements at a recent Senior Staff meeting.

"We don't want to talk about flavors anymore," Quiñones-Perez said, quoting what her source described hearing during the Senior Staff meeting. "There's too many Latinos and blacks here. They're bringing down our numbers."

An audible gasp tore through the room as Quiñones-Perez described what was allegedly said.

"People don't think we hear things," the Chair added, "but I hear things."

Jeffery, who did not attend the May 7 board meeting, has denied any knowledge of senior administrators making such comments. “I did not hear anyone say that black and brown students were bringing down [SMC’s numbers],” Jeffery said.

The statements were allegedly made at a Senior Staff meeting where SMC’s President and Vice Presidents discussed the college’s Vision for Success Goals. These goals provide target numbers for various measurements of success, including the number of students who earn a degree and the amount of credits taken to graduate. The goals were originally set by the Institutional Effectiveness Committee (IE), a joint committee made up of faculty and administrators. It focused on eliminating equity gaps — the gaps in success between white students and students of color.

The original timeline for the goals was for the 2021-22 school year. However, when the date was pushed back five years, to the 2026-27 school year, it lead to an outpouring of faculty and students who saw the change as an affront to students of color. Quiñones-Perez further supported their concerns when she quoted her sources as having heard senior management say, “Students of color’s achievement is going to bring down the status of SMC; that’s why we have to elongate the date.”

Quiñones-Perez did not reveal her sources, but maintains that she has complete confidence in them. "My sources — I check —  I trust with my life," she said.

Jeffery characterized the chair’s statements as unsubstantiated rumors. “Dr. Quiñones-Perez was not in the [Senior Staff] meeting, but she’s talking about other things people have passed on to her, that she trusts,” said Jeffery. “Someone else may have heard some words that they interpreted in that way.”

Jeffery stated that she was not in the room for the entirety of the staff meeting, but that she does not believe a senior administrator would have made any such statement. “I can’t imagine anybody in Senior Staff saying that in my presence, I can’t imagine them saying it that day,” Jeffery said.

“You can see who I am, visually,” said Jeffery, who is African American. “I fall into the category. So I would not be part of a discussion where we’re talking about people who look like me not doing well or bringing down performance at our institution. It makes sense that that would be a group I would care about, and I have cared about my entire career.”

Jeffery stated that the numbers she intended to submit to the board represented the more ambitious 2021-22 goals and that an error had taken place while she was out of town. But when asked why the timeline was changed, Vice President of the IE committee, Hannah Lawler, told the board that she was asked to change the dates.

“I want to apologize that you had to be directed to change those dates,” Quiñones-Perez said. “That is unacceptable. That is unacceptable. It’s inappropriate. It’s borderlining on harassment, and it’s a hostile work environment. And we don’t do that at Santa Monica College.”

Vice-President of Enrollment Development and the only senior administrator also on the joint committee, Teresita Rodriguez, offered the following statement: "SMC faculty, staff, and administration care deeply about the success of our students…While there was clearly some miscommunication, I have no doubt about our faculty’s, staff’s, and administration’s commitment to improving the lives of student and to closing the equity gaps for minoritized groups, specifically our African American and Latinx students." Rodriguez neither confirmed nor denied that the alleged statements were made.

Jennifer Merlic, Vice-President of Academic Affairs, stated that there “was and is unanimous support for the goals and the associated metrics that the IE committee developed,” and that “Senior Staff members share a long standing commitment to closing equity gaps.” When asked, she offered no response as to whether racist comments were made or who decided to push back the dates.

None of the school’s other Vice Presidents responded to repeated requests for comment. No Vice President has taken responsibility for the date-change.

Ultimately, the board voted to uphold the original 2021-22 timeline. The next public meeting of the Board of Trustees will take place on June 4 at 7 p.m. at the Board Room in Business 117.