What's Next for Contract Ed?

Researchers at Santa Monica College have recently released a stark report outlining the loss of two thirds of classes at 15 local community colleges in Los Angeles, including SMC. The report comes at a time when the controversial Contract Ed program, which would offer an additional 50 courses over the summer and winter sessions, has been both cancelled and postponed due to intense political opposition from students, faculty, and workers’ union groups.

Critics described the report as a political move to illustrate the district’s need for the Contract Ed program, which was sent to numerous residents of Santa Monica, as well as all faculty and staff members of SMC in a mass email on Tuesday, May 1.

The program, which has been postponed for the upcoming summer session, is now to be vetted by the District Planning and Advisory Council (DPAC), the advisory committee made up of various campus interest groups.

The special report outlines some of the dismal numbers regarding the negative trends occurring at local community colleges in Los Angeles and surrounding districts like Santa Monica. The number of summer classes provided has been slashed by two thirds since 2008, according to the report. That translates into a loss of 168,000 classroom seats across the 15 colleges, according to the report.

For students, this means waiting longer to transfer, waiting longer for certification to enter the work force.

DPAC met for their scheduled meeting on Wednesday, April 25, to attempt to find a new answer to the same question that prompted the Contract Ed pilot program.

The meeting ended with a resolution to publish a fact sheet, upon which alternative solutions to the ‘pain point’ of the course deficit will then be generated. The fact sheet would include a timeline of the budget cuts and resulting class cuts over the last few years, and the average time for students to graduate or transfer compared to past years.

At the meeting were representatives from the Faculty Association, the Associated Students, and the Academic Senate, each representing the interests of their own constituency.

The atmosphere at the meeting was cordial, despite the political tensions underlying the dialogue.

Eric Oifer, who is a professor of political science who sits on the Academic Senate, said candidly, “We each have our own narrative that we want to tell from the facts.” He suggested that the Academic Senate targets some of the existing misinformation. “There’s no fact sheet that we can provide that would give someone a comprehensive understanding of the issue,” Oifer said.

The special report was also discussed at a Board of Trustees meeting, which occurred yesterday. The meeting, which included over two hours of public comments, students, faculty members, and prominent union leaders, voiced a nearly unanimous opposition and trepidation over the Contract Ed pilot program.

Trustee Rob Rader expressed a deep disappointment at the attempts to demonize both the supporters and the opponents of Contract Ed that he’s seen during the past month.

“I’ve seen the caricatures,” he said, referring to posters disseminated around campus of greedy bankers holding bags of money in front of downtrodden, defenseless students. “And I weep inside,” he said.

Trustee David Finkel also spoke passionately at the meeting, at one point using language that cannot be printed in this newspaper. “I used to be a civil rights attorney, an old radical — I know what it is to fight.” Laughs were heard from the audience.

“I see higher education as a lifeboat,” said Rader during his comments. “And we can try to either make the lifeboat bigger, or smaller.”

The Student Organizing Community, a small group of vocal student activists committed to their opposition of Contract Ed, continued to organize protests on campus, including a “camp-out” on Monday, and a rally before Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting. They want Contract Education officially removed as a possible solution, as they believe it would cause a divide between poorer and wealthier students.

Randall Lawson, executive vice president of SMC, said that the April 3 incident in which 30 student protesters were pepper sprayed “put a spotlight on the plight of the California Community Colleges,” which he said is a good thing, but it does make things more “difficult” for SMC. He expects the fact sheet to be ready in time for the next meeting, which will be held on Wednesday, May 9.