Letters from outgoing AS Directors

By Johnathon Hughes, Jesse Randel, and Samuel Ross

How would you teach yourself?

AS Director of Student Assistance Jonathan Hughes

Associated Students Johnathon Hughes - Director of Student Assistance
Associated Students Johnathon Hughes - Director of Student Assistance

My own past has allowed me to view my time here at SMC with a specialized lens.

I served 10 years in the Navy in a highly technical field. My core job was to operate and maintain the electrical distribution system of a submarine nuclear reactor. I worked my way up through the ranks to become the supervisor of training for five nuclear trained divisions. I was in charge of the training of over 80 sailors. I finished my tour as the supervisor of electrical training for one of five crews at the Navy’s Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit, where I oversaw the training of over 100 junior sailors between the ages of 18 and 21, on average. At that command, I had zero academic failures. Each of the sailors that came through my door walked out with the knowledge needed to continue on to serve in the fleet.

It is through that lens that I am appalled at the failures of leadership and the lack of accountability and ownership at all levels here at SMC.

When I was transitioning out of the Navy and into college, I had this grand notion that it was going to be a place of higher-level discussion and learning beyond belief. I was finally going to truly understand the equipment I used to work on. My merriment came to a screeching halt as I learned over and over again that the acquisition of knowledge is less the goal than attaining the maximum GPA.

Teachers lecture and test while students cram and guess, and the world burns around them. I expected there to be this universal understanding that a teacher's job was to transfer the knowledge they have to the students so that we may understand the world we are to inherit. Instead our teachers are more like the absentee parents we have at home. It is up to the students to learn and any failure of the teacher lies with the inability of the students. The lack of motivation on the student’s part is their own inability to internally motivate themselves.

I understand that as teachers, you are under a great amount of stress these days. The administration pays themselves double what your salary is and leaves you with the scraps. The administrators doesn’t listen to your recommendations, but you have so much power if you would regulate yourselves instead of waiting for the administration to tell you how to do things.

However, the lack of ownership on the outcomes of your students is your fault. The education system is a tool. If I had a tool that was only 45% effective like the math department is, then I would repair or replace that tool with one that works. Over and over again, the same reasons are given for why our student success rates are low — blame the students. Let us not apply the scientific method or work together in new ways to address old problems — the status quo is fine. The greatest asset SMC has is its teachers. The administration needs to stop weighing them down so that they may get back to work.

I used to work with radiation sources. Radiation is harmful to the body. Knowledge, conversely, is beneficial to the soul. When working with radiation we applied the mantra: Time, Distance, Shielding. Because of the radiation's harmful effects, we would go to great lengths to minimize our time around it. We would maximize our distance from it and we would build barriers between us and it.

The exact opposite can be said for how to deal with knowledge. My critique of SMC mainly concerns how knowledge is being transferred from teacher to student. Knowledge is power, but the educational system is the means by which that power is transferred. In order to gain as much knowledge as possible, we must maximize our time with its source. We must minimize the distance between us and tear down the barriers that prevent us from accessing it. We as students cannot do this alone. We rely on our teachers to guide us. We walk into your classrooms blind. You used to be us. Show us the way to a more informed tomorrow.

An end to infantilizing intransigence: improving institutional outcomes

AS President Jesse Randel

Jesse Randel - 2015-16 AS President
Jesse Randel - 2015-16 AS President

We the students have an incredible ability at this school: we can speak our minds without fear. There is no one else on campus with the ability to do this because there are paychecks and careers on the line.

In the past year, serving as President of Associated Students, I have had the opportunity to be involved in many decisions made here on campus, during which time I have been treated as a respected peer by some, and as an ignorant child by others. I have learned that no matter how much you prove yourself, the people who look patronizingly at you will continue to do so no matter what. No matter how logical and rational you work to be, a condescending eye is cast by someone with an inherently negative perception of students, and so rationality takes a backseat to pride and insecurity.

While it is true that we have not yet completed the same level of schooling, we are just as capable of the same (or sometimes a higher) level of critical thought. There is a vicious cycle at play here: students get treated like children and as a result they act like children, which justifies the continuation of the treatment. We are expected to constantly give respect, and I would like to think that most of the time it is reciprocated. But in my experience, many “authority figures” think that it is a one-way street. The perception seems to be something along the lines of “I have earned my respect, but you haven’t yet.”

Respect is either mutual or it is earned — either both sides buy-in and agree to respect each other, or in the case that seems to be more common, one side has to prove to the other that they deserve respect. More often than not, students are in the position of the latter.

However, most of the “authority” at this school has absolutely no basis in reality. Professors have authority because grades directly impact our future, but how does the administrative chain of command in any way have authority over a student (assuming we aren’t breaking obvious rules/laws)? I get the pay structure for employees, but we don’t get paid. We pay to come here. The school exists because of, and solely for, us, the students. It is our money, both tax and tuition, that pays the bills of the school and the paychecks of the employees.

The entire point of the institution is to educate us; it is up to us to ensure that we get the education we want and deserve, and it is entirely in our power. It sounds cliché, but it’s really true: when we work together, we can inspire great change for the better.

In the past, students have all too often let in-fighting and drama take the forefront while actual issues affecting our education shoot through district committees with nary a discerning eye cast. Even when I started in office, I entered hearing horror stories warning about the headhunting Corsair newspaper reporters. The truth of the situation is that we are all students, and we are all in this together; while it is vitally important for our journalists to keep our representatives honest, it’s more important that students stand in solidarity when an issue affects us singularly as a constituency group. Our education is our issue, and our problems are ours to fix; no one else is going to do it for us. We cannot complain about anything if we do nothing to fix our own situation.

There is one way to break this aforementioned cycle: take responsibility, own our own authority, and most importantly, don’t abuse it. We need to act with integrity. Integrity is the backbone of progress. Even if we mess something up, we should own up to it and learn from it. There's nothing wrong with that — in fact, it should be encouraged. Lying and trying to obfuscate or distract only makes the inevitable truth more damning, and there is no better learning method than trial and error. When we act honestly, we take the fear out of failure, and we grow and advance as educated and honorable human beings.

Finally, I would like to commend this year’s Corsair staff. Every single one of them is a great example of students recognizing and not abusing their authority. They have worked incredibly hard this year to keep the students informed of the real issues on campus, whether it be holding the A.S., faculty, or administration accountable when necessary, or lauding the accomplishments of students on a job well done. They have done so with courage and a respectable unflappability. They have shown a dogged determination in searching out the truth, regardless of who it benefits and for that I thank and commend them.

I would also like to personally thank both Professor Jim Stramel and Professor Steven Kaufman for the incredible learning experiences they provided me, and the ethical bedrock they enabled me to realize.

Castles made of sand

AS Director of Budget Management Sam Ross

Samuel Ross - Director of Budget Management, 2015-16 Associated Students Board
Samuel Ross - Director of Budget Management, 2015-16 Associated Students Board

How naïve I was.

The institution, the rules and policies and procedures, the way things are done — it all seemed very deliberate, logically crafted, impressive in its scope — grand even, like a stone citadel carved out of the side of a mountain. However, I quickly learned that much of this is for effect and, ultimately, illusory.

After a year through the crucible that is the AS board, I finally feel qualified to discuss in a constructive manner some of the institutional failings here at SMC that impede student success. As much as I might find catharsis and probably a bit of schadenfreude in using this opportunity to list my specific grievances, I shall endeavor to keep my eyes on the horizon.

Critique is only valuable to the extent that it is in service of effecting change. We must be proactive and strategic to create the change we seek. The list of problems both past and present is long, but what comes next? Resistance, intransigence, rebellion, political gridlock, and an unwillingness to compromise are easy choices, but ineffectual. Just look at the Tea Party Republicans in Congress to see what that has accomplished.

There are essentially four constituency groups at SMC: students (for whom the institution exists in the first place), faculty (the educators), classified staff (who keep everything running and clean up our messes), and the administration (who run the college). Both the faculty and classified staff have organized unions (Faculty Association & Classified School Employees Association) that negotiate with the administration to ensure that their interests are adequately represented and clearly delineated in writing. Students are not employees of the college and have no need to negotiate salary, benefits, or terms of employment. But students frequently do not receive a fair shake because we don’t always know all the policies and laws that protect us. Fighting for our rights requires knowledge, organization and negotiation.

Unfortunately, the student voice is not adequately represented in the decision-making process at SMC. Unlike the institutionalized obstructions to representation that oppressed groups have been forced to overcome in the past, students here face no such barriers. State law ensures that students be given equitable access and a voice in any decision making apparatus that impacts us. Committees like the District Planning and Advisory Council (DPAC) provide recommendations to the Board of Trustees of the college, playing a crucial role in the direction of district policy and priorities.

Students get the same number of votes at DPAC as the other three constituency groups, yet our voice is rarely given equal weight to the voices of employees of the college. This is due to the fact that the employees generally maintain more consistent committee membership and have been here long enough to see how the sausage is made. The unavoidable truth is that it takes time and context to be able to provide sustained substantive input.

To combat this reality, we need a paradigm shift. We face an existential struggle to organize, attend shared governance meetings, and effectively advocate for the implementation of district policy that is in the best interests of the students. Success comes from confidently and rationally asserting student needs. Great strength comes from the willingness to speak up in the face of overwhelming resistance. Take bold initiative, challenge authority, think critically, challenge basic assumptions, reframe the debate, everything is negotiable, and don’t equivocate — they need us more than we need them. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We can be honest when no one else can. Don’t take anyone’s word for anything — do your own research, trust yourself, and know that changes to the system will always lead to denial and pushback — persist in the face of it! The castles are made of sand not stone; eventually they fall in the sea. Such fortune cookie wisdom abounds.

Sometimes the obstacles to change seem insurmountable, but students truly do have the power to effect change here. Programs like the Any Line Any Time with the Big Blue Bus, Activity Hour, free printing, free scantrons and bluebooks, the FLVR Food Voucher Program, and the upcoming extended library hours for finals all came from students who decided to pushback against the currents.

The sad truth is that the path of least resistance flows inexorably at cross purposes to the desire for change. Growth is key to the vitality and longevity of any entity. Change is the defining characteristic of the life of the student. Consequently, I have ridden the political crosswinds through ups and downs and some truly surreal moments.

The lens through which the administration generally sees students is highly limited. They live and breathe SMC — proud to be SMC to the core. It is their second home. Students, on the other hand, move through the massive bureaucracy by the tens of thousands each year, mostly reduced to numbers on a page in a budget meeting. Granted, such dispassionate analysis is necessary to effectively run an institution of this size, but it seems to me that there are certain employees of the college who have perceived being unengaged as being almost zen-like, and they shouldn’t enjoy it so much. Resistance, intransigence, rebellion, political gridlock, and an unwillingness to compromise — those choices are easy, but ineffectual.

If it appeared at times that we in the AS have been combative, this is why. The surest way to be truly heard is to go to the one place where students are accepted into the world as peers: shared governance committees (Thank you AB 1725). This is the entry point, the portal to the internal machinations of the college that shape the nature of our education.

There are many ways to “get involved,” but the most important thing is to think critically, think for yourself, and never accept “because that’s the way it’s always been done” as justification for the mediocrity of the status quo.

At the end of the day, the whole damn castle exists only to serve us students.