OPEN LETTER TO MENDOCINO COLLEGE FACULTY
Recently, a letter written by Tony Latronica supporting President Carl Ehmann and Vice President Don Vasconcellos against allegations of mismanagement at Mendocino college was presented to the Board of Trustees. It was signed by seven faculty members, including the current president of the Academic Senate.
Other faculty members refused to sign the letter and many were not asked to sign. So while the letter may not represent a broad spectrum of college faculty, the opinions expressed in it are so unsubstantiated and inflammatory that a response is necessary.
The signatories of the letter are alarmed that members of the local community are interfering in affairs of the college. The letter accuses members of the community who attended a March 5th public meeting, and citizens who signed petitions, of operating on "blind faith", "hearsay" and "personal agendas." It accuses them of using tactics which create conflict, and of trying to discredit the college.
The letter is remarkable for the contempt it expresses for democratic public process. The 150 people who attended the meeting and 400 who signed petitions were exercising responsibility toward a public institution in their community. They did so in a civil and well-organized way. To Mr. Latronica, and other signers of the letter, this is an intrusion into the prerogatives of college administrators. These administrators are used to running a public institution as a private club and are threatened by any challenge to their control.
The letter warns the Board that its integrity is at stake and calls on it not to be "intimidated by public clamor which has served as a smoke screen to mask the issues." Mr. Latronica knows very well that without public clamor there would never be an independent investigation of the issues. In fact. without Dean Susan Bell there would be no "issues" at all. After trying for years to enlist the aid of the president and vice president to correct irregularities in-house, she was forced to bring allegations of mismanagement before the Board.
However, Mr. Latronica may be correct when he claims that "in our history, we have never had an issue that has so divided colleagues and friends alike." And he worries that "instructors, staff and administrators continue to pay the toll, in loss of morale, trust and effectiveness." Of course, another possibility is that the current malaise is caused not by controversy but by management neglecting problems, manipulating procedures, and subtly intimidating people.
For some, it may be a painful journey from a closed system to an open one. But the prospect of creative leadership capable of bringing out everyone's best and reinvigorating the enterprise of teaching and learning is worth whatever effort it takes. Both the college and the community deserve this much.
For the Community of Concern for Mendocino College
Copyright Mendocino College Eagle 1997
Permission granted to excerpt or use this article if source is cited.