SMC President Exclusive

In an exclusive interview with The Corsair, President and Superintendent Dr. Chui L. Tsang met with Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Bue and Staff Writer Nathan Gawronsky for an hour to answer some very important questions about Santa Monica College's budgetary issues.

The interview took place a day after Dr. Tsang's held a Town Hall meeting, in which he met with members of the faculty, student body, and trustees to elucidate and talk about SMC's future fiscal difficulties in light of California's $26.2 billion deficit.

This large deficit has forced lawmakers in Sacramento to make difficult decisions in order to balance the state's books. The affects of these decisions have led to many adjustments in state-run institutions such as SMC.


NG: Please elaborate on salary cutbacks for faculty vs. administration.

DT:  I don't know why that is on the book here. The board has given us a set of principles to make sure that the entire college shares in the reductions, and I think that is a very good principle for us to work on. Basically the state has asked us to downsize, and in this college, our leaders have said that we want that to spread across the college; we don't want to pit one group against another… When we pit one group against another group, it's destructive--it's divisive--it does not get us to the solution, and it only serves to damage the institution.

NG: Which courses, programs, and departments will experience the biggest cuts?

DT:  We in our current discussion within the college, faculty, and trustees have not singled out any program. The state has emphasized that we need to go back to more of a reduced core, and the core is defined as transfer, basic skills, and career in technical education. The other activities they deem as less important at this time of rationed education; so, we need to take a look at that.

There are other proposals out there. For example, the legislative analysts have come up with a proposal that there are certain courses that they will not fund anymore, notably they have singled out athletics, activity courses, so called recreational courses that they will actually not fund anymore. They recommend there be no funding for those. They also recommend that students with more than 90 units should go back in the line or they should not be able to get college education in the same way that they've gotten before. They've also proposed repeatability restrictions. We have students who are taking classes over and over again, so they're saying you can't do that anymore so that we can make more seats available in the other classes or for other students. So all of these are being talked about, and we are waiting to see if we get a clearer direction from the chancellor's office as well as from our legislators.           

NG: Please elaborate on the specifics of international students: What programs will be offered to them? Will they be offered special priorities over regular students?

DT: No. International students do not have priority over regular students, and that's a very important principle. We want to take care of them, because they do need to have the 12 units, so what we have done if we've started this contract education—collaboration with entities outside, which we are authorized to do under the state law, so they can fulfill their 12 units. It's a cumbersome way of working that we hope will be able to address through some other ways, but it's important, as I've explained yesterday that for the nature of the programs we have here, Santa Monica is Santa Monica because of this special blend of the really cosmopolitan profile of the student body. People are attracted here because of that, students come here because they want to take advantage of that, and the international students come here because of that. So, we want to continue with that.

NG: How will financial aid be affected if students can't repeat courses?

DT:  These are some of the questions that probably need to be sorted out through regulations if these restrictions are put into place. There are a number of questions here. If a student is not allowed to repeat a course, is there ability for us to serve that student in any other capacity? So, to have the ability to serve you, I have the ability to charge you, to charge a student for the fee for the cost of education. At this point, community colleges do not have the authority to do that with resident students. I cannot charge you, Jonathan, a certain amount for a course that you want to take at a cost of the course like a UC extension program. We don't have the authority. But that's exactly what we're working with the state on—to seek that authority right now. And that should address that.  So, now to answer your question, in short is that no, at this point, because we won't be able to serve that student in that same course again. However, if we do have that authority to offer an extension program, than any students in that extension program can qualify for state and federal aids.

NG: Clarify what will happen to the 20 new faculty seats if the budget plan doesn't pass. Is there a contingency plan, and if so, what is it? You've said publicly that 20 new seats will happen, so are those an ironclad guarantee?

DT: That's my commitment to the faculty that we have allocated slots for 20 positions. And we're going through the process. When we were looking through the budget at the time with the governor's proposal, I said we're going to go with that. Now, it would be foolhardy for us to say that this is definitely going to go through, come hell or high water, alright? We need to be flexible about these things, so depending on what the state budget finally shakes out we're going to have to make a decision on what we're going to do about it; whether we're going to hire a portion of that 20, all 20 of them, or not hire anyone at all. Because the money that we spend here, we're going to have to take it away from somewhere else.

NG: Principle J [avoid layoffs of permanent employees. Seek salary freezes, furloughs, salary reductions, and other temporary or ongoing adjustments], which you put forward yesterday, can we foresee how many part time employees might be cut?

DT: We don't know, because we don't know what the numbers are. We don't know because we have a moving target at this time—

NG: But even in a worst case scenario?

DT: No—there are many moving parts here. You have this whole budget here. If we have salary freezes, we save some money. If we have furloughs, we save money, and if we save money there we don't have to lay off. There are all these moving parts. There are salary freezes, furloughs, and salary reductions. They're all collective bargaining items. So, we need to sit down and talk to the different groups about that. But the principle is that let's not try to lay off because that's permanent, and layoffs are pretty permanent, and in this time and age when we lay somebody off, whether it's faculty, a classified, or a manager, it's very hard to get another job. We as a family, by espousing this principle here, the Board of Trustees said let's try to keep the jobs as much as possible.

NG: In principle M, you mention planning to improve student success outcomes, but how will that be achieved if students can't repeat courses? How can that be achieved by reducing available courses and increasing class sizes?

DT: That's a tough challenge for us. But I think that what is important is that we want to make sure that the quality of the classes that we're offering are intact. It's important, and we want to make sure that the supportive services are intact as much as possible. To a certain point that you can increase the numbers, we just don't have the support anymore to make sure that everything is running to the benefit of the students anymore. So those are the really important points. If we can have extension programs, we can help with the completion rate and graduation rate of the students. That's important. That is part of the student success. All of these things that we're doing, you know, the connections we have with the outside support, the mentors, the businesses that provide internship programs, all of these we can continue to work on, and we don't want these to lag off.