Promises for a better campus
"This campus can come together in a way that is unprecedented."
So says Santa Monica College political science professor and president-elect to the academic senate, Dr. Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein. And if the pieces of the faculty governance puzzle continue to fall into place as envisioned by him, SMC's fortunes will ascend to new heights and a more vital environment will ensue, benefiting every campus constituency.
At the 11:59 p.m. close of Academic Senate elections for officers on Monday night, Tahvildaran-Jesswein found himself joined by political science professor Dr. Alan Buckley and dance professor Judith Douglas, who were elected to the positions of secretary and treasurer respectively.
They will fill the two officer positions at stake for the faculty's governing body at the college. Dr.Michael Soldatenko, chairperson of the history department, was on the ballot for secretary, but withdrew from active consideration at the last minute. In almost parallel elections, the faculty continues an electoral process lasting a week (April 27 through May 8) for 20 open senator seats representing a third of those up for election every year.
Buoyant with enthusiasm and confidence in SMC's future, Tahvildaran-Jesswein (who will officially become president of the Academic Senate during a June 16 "Recognition Breakfast" at SMC) has an ambitious agenda planned for the coming year as he intends to emphasize "students as the top priority," as well as "improving the campus climate."
One of the first initiatives he will pursue with the help of his executive committee is to encourage the campus "to engage in a dialogue to explore 'plus-minus' grading.'"
Explaining that such a system of evaluation is a more accurate means by which to assess student's work, Tahvildaran-Jesswein said, "It's a question of greater equity for students."
Another area in which he hopes to improve student feedback to the college is with students' evaluations of professors.
Not only does Tahvildaran-Jesswein intend to see the process moved to the end of each semester, a time by which students will have gathered a more complete appreciation for their teachers' effectiveness, or lack thereof, but the format will be re-worked to include both qualitative and quantitative measures.
"We need a better tool to aid us," said Tahvildaran-Jesswein in explaining the choice of a more constructive feedback mechanism.
Assuming greater leadership in the ongoing process of shared-governance including faculty, students, classified employees and administration in their search for a replacement of Piedad F. Robertson who exited the college as superintendent/president last December, Tahvildaran-Jesswein hopes to facilitate a result that will be pivotal to the future of SMC.
"We need better relations on campus between the constituencies," said Tahvildaran-Jesswein. "Piedad Robertson leaving opens an opportunity to mend fences and create a better atmosphere on campus."Referring to a piece of controversial SMC history that remains relatively unknown to most students without access to institutional memory, Tahvildaran-Jesswein discussed the sense of betrayal those involved in the shared-governance process have felt since 10 years ago when the Board of Trustees selected Robertson as president.
At that time and after a long process to identify the best possible candidate, the faculty whole-heartedly recommended an internal candidate who was a highly esteemed vice president of the college. But the Board of Trustees disregarded the recommendation and went outside to sign Robertson.
Tahvildaran-Jesswein said, "The faculty believed their voices would be respected more than they were."
"I don't think Dr. Robertson was committed to shared governance," he said. " While she brought many good things to SMC, shared governance was not one of them." The climate at SMC was often rancorous as many perceived Robertson to be imperious and too strictly authoritarian, which engendered what some characterized as a "culture of distrust.
"It's been a difficult place to work," said Tahvildaran-Jesswein, referring to relations between the administration and both faculty and classified employees.
These problems were explicitly articulated in 2003 when both the Academic and Classified Senates separately voted no-confidence in Robertson. Now that Robertson is gone, there are rising hopes that a new, more positive space can evolve at SMC.
"We are working for a more collegial environment," said Tahvildaran-Jesswein. "I am committed to work with all constituencies in good faith. I believe this process will unfold with the selection of a new president. Tom Donner (SMC interim president) himself has proven to be a very good partner in support of this process and climate to a new and better campus government."