Dear Eagle folks,
Attached is my response to your survey.
Thanks! Neill Bell
Neill Bell is an instructor at Mendocino College and husband of Dean
There were a total of 60 responses to the survey, all of which are published on this web site.
1) What do you think the controversy is about?
I think the controversy that became public last fall in the Eagle Extra is about control and the lack of leadership at Mendocino College. It is clear to me that the top administrationóMC president Carl Ehmann and VP for academic affairs Don Vasconcellos are intent upon controlling everything that matters at the college. They want to hear only those ideas that fall into line with theirs, money spent only on programs they deem worthy, and employees whose first loyalty is to their "team." Maybe this wouldn't be a problem if their first loyalty was to the community college mission, but their actions over the past few years show that this isn't the case.
As far as I can see, they use the bureaucratic "process" (they are so fond of evoking) as a means of control. Shared governance is the two-edged instrument they have turned to their advantage in making sure they get what they want. If a committee makes the "correct" call, its recommendation is acted on immediately. If things go the other way, there is "no money" to implement the recommendation. It may be shuffled to another committee for further study, ignored, or reversed at a higher level. If the boys at the top donít like it, the recommendation doesn't exist. This isnít the way shared governance is supposed to work.
The last thing these guys want to see is someone with integrity who doesn't go along with the program, so dean of instruction Susan Bell is in their way. The 1995 plan was for her boss Don Vasconcellos to turn up the heat on her so much that she would: a) realize what she had to do to survive-and get in step, or b) quit. Susan saw what was going on, but refused to roll over or get lost. Since then, Carl and Don have used all the bureaucratic resources at their command to erode whatever support Susan had among MC staff and students, and as the Chancellor's Office investigation farce has shown time is on their side.
The differences between Susan and Don are so striking that some kind of conflict was probably inevitable. As an administrator, he doesn't have a clue as to how things work. It ís as if he operates in a kind of thought vacuum, unable to see that his actions and inactions have consequences beyond the immediate. I wouldn't trust Don to administer a litmus test (placing litmus paper in a liquid to see if it is acidic or basic), because he'd be so concerned about knowing the outcome before the test is done that he tends to stack the deck. People can be unpredictable when they get to think and act independently. And when he gets caught with a card or two up his sleeve, he denies it. This man is managerially and ethically challenged. I can only guess that Carl is so impressed with Don as a "team player" that he doesn't seem to notice the VP hasn't done one creative thing (outside of creating more committees) in the past five years.
2) Do you think the controversy is good or bad for Mendocino College?
There isnít a simple answer, because it is both. No public institution benefits by having a controversy erupt in public. People read or hear about "problems" and assume that their tax dollars/community resources are being misspent. This makes some people shake their heads, wondering how "educators" have missed lessons they should have learned in kindergarten. Controversy is a black eye. On the other hand, without controversy coming to light, I'm sure there would be little if any change at Mendocino College. To be sure, there are a lot of good things going on here, good teachers, dedicated staff people and most importantly, students learning many things that will make them better educated citizens of the planet. But like most public institutions, MC needs to change in order to serve its community.
For one thing, the people who work here all of them should to be treated as the most important assets the college has. Well maintained buildings are essential and our beautifully kept grounds inspirational, but it's the staff that makes this college work. Trying to insure that everyone here thinks and acts alike is a sign of a sick institution, where the guys at the top are afraid of change. Would this institution be a better place if Susan and many other brave souls hadn't been willing to stand up and call a questionable idea*questionable? Should the Academic Senate have been expected sit idly by and watched as Carl stacked the hiring deck last August and once again in March?
Sticking doggedly to what seemed good enough in the 1980s doesn't get the job done in 1997 and for the future. The present administration is myopic, doesn't see down the road, or have the leadership ability to move the college forward. In that sense, the controversy is the only hope for getting people to think about the fact that changes are necessary.
3) Why do you feel that way?
Controversy always accompanies growth and change. Carl said as much himself. Unfortunately, his actions show a person who fears diversity, prefers that people "get along" rather than engage in honest discussion and air differences of opinion. Carl has demonstrated that he values team players more than dedication to making the college a place where ferment (on many different levels) makes for a better learning environment. Colleges shouldn't be "uneventful" places where everyone agrees on everything, any more than they should be places where everyone disagrees. The problem at MC is partly that there isn't enough leadership and confidence in open communication to carry on a real discussion about where the school is headed.
4) How do you think Mendocino College can best serve our community?
One thing MC needs to do is be a part of the community in which it exists, and have the community become a part of it. Like other colleges, MC is insular. There are people here (and some of them wield a lot of power) who feel that the school should remain aloof from the community. Somehow, it might become "contaminated" if it were to get too close.
This may work for ivy league schools, but MC is a community college. We must work with our community today, and it isnít the community that existed in 1973 when the college was founded. For example, we need to find ways to interact with the growing Latino community of Mendocino and Lake counties, to make sure the college serves their educational needs and becomes more of a resource they can depend upon to improve their lives. As welfare reform kicks into high gear, we have to restructure our educational program to provide the people who will be losing their eligibility for public assistance with educational skills that will help make them self sufficient.
And those life-long jobs people counted on a quarter-century ago full-time work and benefits are no longer waiting for students who complete their college educations at MC. We need to make lifelong learning, retraining and vocational programs more closely aligned with the realities of 21st Century life, in the workplace and outside of it.
All of this takes vision, and vision doesnít come from sitting in campus committee meetings 20 hours a week. Leadership means involving the community, reaching out, making mistakes, coming back and trying all over again. It means taking chances, trusting people who don't look, act or dress like you do. By getting more of the community involved in the college, we can discover how we can serve it and, ultimately, ourselves better.
Return to Index for This Issue
Return to Eagle Home Page