This is What the Controversy is About

Accusations of Administrative Malfeasance - True or False ?

By Larry Mac Leitch

For 22 years, Larry MacLeitch has been a teacher of History and Political Science at Mendocino College. He has twice been president of the Academic Senate, three times given "Teacher of the Year" award, was the first ever to receive the Faculty Excellence Award. He is also a former president of Project Sanctuary, currently on the board of Plowshares, and a co-founder of Ukiah Youth Soccer League.

I have a number of concerns about the College: its shrinking full-time faculty (cut so that cheaper part-time labor can be hired), its growing and oppressive bureaucracy, the feeling on the p art of its students that they are overlooked and unimportant, the uneasiness of its part-timers who teach over 50% of the College's courses at exploitative salaries, its stifling both of innovative ideas and of outreach to the cultural diversity that surrounds it.

Most concerned about high level of fear

Most of all I am concerned about the fear and secrecy that seem to characterize every interaction among administrators, faculty, and staff as well as every communication between the administration and its faculty or staff.

On one level we shouldn't be surprised that Susan Bell's contract is not being renewed. It follows as the night the day that a rigidifying, narrowing, and fearful structure-such as the College is becoming-would squirm in the very presence of a woman like Susan Bell. It would seek to rid itself of her presence by whatever measures are necessary, even to the point of employing bureaucratic and behavioral routines-subtle but cumulative-that are designed to make her workplace uncomfortable, even hostile.

For at every turn Susan Bell challenges oppressive bureaucracy, seeking equity and opportunity for part-time as well as full-time faculty, and measuring her every decision by the impact it will have upon students and their needs. Her innovations in curriculum and program design represent the heart of the college's vitality, and her efforts to integrate the diversity of our communities, particularly Mexican-American and American Indian cultures, into the fabric of the College are well-known and applauded by citizens throughout our area.

Bell an administrator to be counted on

Even within the intensifying atmosphere of fear and secrecy, and often at the risk of her job or reputation, Susan Bell remains the one administrator that faculty, students, and staff acknowledge can be counted upon for meaningful support. She maintains the demeanor of honesty, openness, enthusiasm, and curiosity-curiosity not only about ideas but about the daily practices that constitute the College's operation. It is this curiosity, together with her keen sense of justice, that has raised the hackles of her superiors.

I believe Susan's questioning of hiring practices and the College's use of funds is absolutely legitimate. The recent outcries of protest from students and faculty in the hiring of the Public Information/Foundation Officer give credence to her charge of irregular process in hiring practices. Even more important to me, however, is her challenge to the Administration's handling of categorical funding, that is, state or federal monies specifically designated for a given program and for that program alone.

A decade as EOPS chairman

For ten years I have served as chair of the Extended Opportunity Program and Services Committee, watchdog of state funds that support outreach to low income students, those whose families have had no college experience and whose preparation is not yet at college level-largely Native American, Hispanic, and Black students and including a large number of single re-entry mothers. EOPS provides critical services for those students, e.g., small grants, tutorial services, emergency loans, and special activities that seek to level the playing field for them as they begin their college experience.

During President Lowry's term and continuing into President Ehmann's, the Administration has reasoned that since 20% of our students qualify for EOPS funding, 20% of other college expenses can be paid for out of EOPS allocations. Thus approximately $890,000 has been siphoned off from EOPS to pay for college-wide expenses, most specifically the salaries of College personnel who are not connected in any way with the EOPS program.

College was on probation

but funds not restored

When we reported these infringements to the state in 1988, the College was audited and found to be out of compliance with EOPS regulations; it was put on probation and given time to come within the guidelines. No provision was made, however, for the restoration of the $890,000 and no amount of requesting or demanding on our part-not even individual letters sent to their homes-has moved the Board of Trustees to make amends to EOPS students for this theft of their money.

EOPS funding decreased

Meanwhile our EOPS funding during the last seven years has decreased (because we have had fewer EOPS students as a result of lack of funds for outreach and services) and the Administration continues to attempt manipulation of our meagre annual EOPS allocation for use elsewhere at the College. Thus the EOPS program has not only lost $890,000; it is also forced every year to fight for the very funds that are legally its own.

Given my personal involvement in this struggle for EOPS allocations I am inclined to believe the rampant rumors and Susan Bell's suggestion that other campus programs supported by categorical monies may suffer similar fiscal irregularity. But until faculty and staff can be assured that they will not be punished for blowing the whistle on such malfeasance, or until an independent agency is charged with a full-scale investigation of fiscal practices at the College, such conduct could continue to go unchecked.

Board members appointed, instead of elected

Finally, I wish to mention the matter of Board elections. Board members serve four-year terms (staggered), and represent specific geographic "trustee areas" of the College District even though they are elected by a district-wide vote in both Mendocino and Lake Counties. It seems to be fairly common for a Board member to resign toward the end of her/his term so that another member may be appointed (by the Board) to finish out that term. The new appointee thus has the benefit of an incumbent's status on the ballot and, since candidates for the Board have almost always run unopposed, the election of the appointee is virtually assured. All three of the people whose terms are up this coming November were originally such appointees.

Have Administrators and Board forgotten the mission?

Even well-intentioned administrators and boards of trustees can begin to think of a college as only a business, a fiscal entity, rather than as a wellspring of knowledge, a creative community of seekers and teachers. Administrators and Boards can actually forget the mission of a college, and its promise. I think that's exactly what's happened here.

Mendocino College can solve its problems, but it can do so only with the help of community involvement, dialogue, and open debate of critical issues. Now as never before the College needs the interest, the insights, and the energy of the people it serves.

That dialogue can begin now, with an offer of time and interest on the part of involved citizens. For the College's part, it can begin with an immediate renewal of Susan Bell's contract, an act that in itself would testify to the responsiveness of the Board to community needs.

I urge that we begin the forging of this new relationship. Let's reach out to our community college and give some real meaning to that word, "community."

 

Copyright Mendocino College Eagle 1997
Permission granted to excerpt or use this article if source is cited.


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