Search For A New President
During a series of emotional reunions, classified and community members as well as students respectively gathered at Santa Monica College's faculty on May 24th. Everyone from professors to students poured their hope into the search of a new president, who could jump-start the trust and communication that has been weakened by a decade of frustration and misunderstanding.
Hired by the Board of Trustees to assist the search committee in their mission to design a desirable portrait of a new SMC leader, the Association of Community College Trustees' private consultant Dr. Abel Sykes welcomed the key constituents of SMC throughout the day and proceeded to a routine procedure.
However, the strict guideline of confidentiality and media restrictions that Dr. Sykes had used during his 10-year career as a private consultant for other institutions caused an ethical turmoil when Corsair reporters were denied access to the students' meeting, as well as the classified and faculty meetings.
"Dr. Sykes' assumption that the Corsair should not be allowed to cover the meetings does not fit in our campus culture," said Bruce Smith, SMC's public information officer, who helped coordinate the dialogue between the private consultant and the Corsair. "At Santa Monica College, we pride ourselves to be open."
Unaware of Sykes' policy, Smith had even sent a press release inviting local publications to attend the community members' meeting a week before it took place.
Nancy Greenstein, the vice-president of the Board of Trustees also said she was not aware of Sykes' guidelines.
While she understood the private consultant's reticence to have reporters cover the classified and faculty members' meetings as it could inhibit some people to freely express themselves, Greenstein advised Dr. Sykes to let the Corsair and another local publication attend the open meeting of the community members as it had been planned ahead of time.
Acting like a family therapist, Dr. Sykes lead the employees to voice their frustrations about the past, and let go of any anxiety to be reprimanded by a higher authority for their honesty.
"It is the only way we have to encourage people to be open without fearing any attributions," said Sykes.
After attending the classified and faculty staff's meeting, Lantz Simpson, president of the Faculty Association, said the discussion had been helpful in brainstorming ideas and concerns as well as define the type of leader they want.
"We are looking for a bridge-builder between the city and the school and between the workers and the administration," said Lantz Simpson, who is one of the three faculty members of the search committee.
"We want someone who helps address the issue of deterioration of morale," added Simpson, referring to the domination of private agendas over public interest in decisions that have been made in the past.
As a common thread in all meetings that took place on May 24th, Simpson, like other staff and faculty members, expressed the wish to have a president who is accessible to all groups and understand collective bargaining.
Ultimately the new SMC leader will be expected to provide the trustees with first-hand knowledge about how these various groups interact on a day-to-day basis, and what the values that drive them are.
"We are tired of rhetoric, we want concrete results," said SMC Counselor Oscar Galindo at the community members' meeting. "We want a president who believes in social justice for working class families."
Bringing back the vocational programs was a recurrent theme during this meeting, as most community and faculty members agreed that it would be a crucial step into becoming more responsive to the community's needs.
Dr. Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, who is a community activist and a political science instructor, explained that because many students at SMC do not plan on transferring to a 4-year college, the "axing" of many vocational programs has refrained students in the surrounding areas from enrolling at SMC.
Trustee Rob Rader agreed that vocational programs, like the "automotive," are vital for the college.
"We will bring back the automotive club, but we want to reinvent it to integrate today's technology," said Rader. "We do not want vanity programs that would not lead students to find a job."
SMC Executive President, Randy Lawson confirmed the faculty's intention to restore vocational programs as he said Jeff Shimizu, the vice-president of Academic Affairs, is currently investigating the job market and the emerging technology in order to determine where the jobs are.
"We are talking to people in the industry to make sure that the program is viable," said Lawson.
Lawson said the next step would be for the faculty to design a curricular and submit it to the super-intendant for approval. The new vocational program would be available to students by the end of next academic year.
Another major point of contention addressed during the open meeting on May 24th concerned the college's infringement on the community with its plan to keep on extending their campus on the city's land.
"Students have become like gorillas leaning on the community!" said Communication Executive Eric Gabster, as he indicated that SMC is no longer a community college as most of its students are not Santa Monica or Malibu residents.
"We [the community residents] are brushed off like flies!" added Gabster, who did not hesitate to voice his disapproval with the decisions made by the Board of Trustees.
"If people are not happy with our decisions, they can have recourse against us: It's at the poll! We are the only one who can be fired," said Trustee Rader.
Although it is only the initial stage of the search for Santa Monica College's new President, the free-flow expression of feedbacks from various constituents during the May 24 meetings has already initiated a move toward becoming a more cohesive college.