Democracy Or Dictatorship: The Search For A New SMC President
Santa Monica College last week was witness to the suppression of openness, transparency and the freedom of the press by the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees' consultant, Dr. Abel B. Sykes, Jr., whom the trustees hired to facilitate the search for SMC's next president
And that's just for starters.
Of equal importance, the unanimous voices of students at a meeting to submit student input regarding that search were rejected by Sykes when they didn't agree with his terms.
Corsair writers could not remain in the room to provide coverage for SMC's approximately 30,000 students.
All the students wanted us there, but not Sykes.
Or did the consultant, in what he described as "an unprecedented insistence of the press" (in his 10 or so years of experience) to attend, unintentionally and portentously tip the hand of the trustees early in the game?
After all, Sykes also suggested the feedback he hoped to glean was to be "massaged and distilled" before he forwarded it to the board. Hmmm.
Student feedback can't be communicated without distillation and massage, huh?
Good to know.
It kind of reminds me of a bit I once heard from Kevin and Bean, hosts of local radio station KROQ, when they talked about buying an Ebonicator 2000, a fictional device into which one speaks Ebonics and out of which comes English.
Some, but not all, people found that amusing.
But when an agent hired by the trustees - whom some suspect harbor a lack of commitment to shared governance, preferring instead the historic centralized command and control of autocratic governance which keeps more power in their hands - lets on that he is going to somehow translate student-speak to those self-same trustees, it feels like we're being played and it's not funny.
The big question is will the aforementioned violations of students' rights foreshadow a similar disregard for shared governance by the trustees in a manner reminiscent of their outright trashing of that process 10 years ago, when they ignored a well-researched campus consensus for the best presidential candidate, and instead picked outsider Dr. Piedad F. Robertson?
The trustees' perceived betrayal and choice for president back then commenced 10-years of on-campus rancor, often characterized by hostility and distrust, between the administration and trustees on one side and the faculty and classified employees on the other.
Of interest is that in 1989 the California Assembly passed A.B.1725, which mandated shared governance in community colleges statewide (plus significantly increased investment which has not been forthcoming and a required 75 percent of all credit instruction to be taught by full-time faculty, also not yet realized).
Nevertheless, it has been common that college boards of trustees (including our own) have resisted sharing power as required by law.
The process was and remains challenged as the state chancellor's office continues to provide scant enforcement of the statute and so college boards more easily resist compliance.
The struggle over the process represents a bigger and ongoing critical national battle over whether community college districts will respect democratic principles in their governance, or whether they will succumb to market models that promote corporate values which eviscerate and effectively replace shared governance.
More simply, will democracy prevail in community colleges by governing boards accepting their legal obligations to respect the participation of campus constituencies in co-governance?
Or will campuses be stamped with MBA-driven managerial ideologies which worship privatization as a universal panacea and which devalue people into commodities to be measured and translated into the bottom line?
And to the point, will the SMC's Board of Trustees fulfill their obligation to truly share governance with campus constituencies seeking a collegial, democratically inclined president, or will they give lip service to the search and foist upon SMC a CEO-like dictator, benevolent or not, as they have done in the past?