President Tsang addresses budget concerns at Town Hall meeting

Santa Monica College's President and Superintendent Dr. Chui L.Tsang hosted a Town Hall meeting last Wednesday. The meeting was open to the public and took place in the Theatre Arts auditorium; the purpose of the meeting was to discuss next year's projected budget dilemmas, along with objectives and principles put forth by the Board of Trustees. Time was also allocated to a question and answer session, in which the audience could voice their concerns and put forth questions in the hope of receiving answers from Dr. Tsang. Other speakers included Executive Vice President Randal Lawson, Head of Academic Senate Dr. Eric Oifer, and Business and Administration Vice President, Bobby Isomoto.

Tsang explained to those present the plan put forth by Governor Jerry Brown to balance California's $26.2 billion dollar deficit; to essentially relieve 50 percent of that deficit through budget cuts to state programs, employees and services, and the other 50 percent through various tax extensions over the next 5 years.

Isomoto delivered a PowerPoint presentation to the audience of students and faculty, displaying a detailed list of possible fiscal scenarios for the community college system in California, and how those scenarios could possibly affect Santa Monica College.Tsang, standing on stage in front of the Theatre Arts' empty mock swimming pool, made it clear that "it's really important we do this together, and that we understand that the college has been doing really well, but these problems are due to the state budget crisis, not due to something the school did."

During the question and answer session of the town hall meeting, faculty and students asked questions and received quick answers from Dr. Tsang. One of the audience members, a 19-year-old student named Jasmine Tlaxcala, volunteered to approach a microphone off stage, where she offered to read something she had written on behalf of the grassroots student organization she belongs to, Student Unity Project. Tlaxcala offered a copy of her speech to Tsang and began speaking, but about halfway through her lengthy, tense deliverance, Tsang stopped her, explaining that he would like to give other people a chance to speak.Tlaxcala would ask the audience, "Does everyone want to hear the rest?" but her request was met with a resounding no from the audience, and at this moment a small police presence could be seen entering the auditorium.

One student pointedly asked Tsang about salary cutbacks for faculty members and administrators, and if Tsang could speculate on whether or not part-time faculty members will experience lay-offs.

Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, a professor of philosophy and social sciences, spoke out expressing his gratitude to Dr. Tsang for taking the time to speak with the public about SMC's budgetary issues, and closed by saying "we shouldn't point fingers and blame each other."

Moassesi Mitra, a professor of mathematics and President of the Faculty Association, attended the town hall meeting and left disappointed.  "This is a time we should get people together," she said, "not a time to scare people.""My feeling was we could have used the time to create positive energy," she said. Commenting about the police presence at the meeting, she expressed perplexity: "I didn't like that there were so many police officers around—it was uncalled for, and especially when the student [Tlaxcala] was stopped.                        Another participant of the Town Hall meeting was Howard Stahl, professor of computer science and Co-Chairman of the District Planning Advisory Committee (DPAC). Commenting over the phone, he said "I didn't learn anything new. All of the information has already been presented at the Board of Trustee's meetings, DPAC meetings and the Faculty Association budget subcommittee gatherings."

Stahl as well was dissatisfied about Tlaxcala's words cut short. "From where I stand," he said, "students are the customers. The first principle put forth by the Trustees states our commitment to student's access— so I thought there was a disconnect from that."

Asked if he felt Dr. Tsang answered questions fairly, Stahl remarked that "it was an interesting dialogue—but there aren't many answers available, simply because there isn't a whole lot of information, and that puts Dr. Tsang in a very tough position."