Since I’ve started attending the Southwestern College Governing Board meetings, I’ve discovered that these things are the best entertainment value to be had in the South Bay. Besides watching the campus police watching for a riot to break out, you can listen as members of the faculty, student body, and the public line up to fire broadside after broadside at the mostly-clueless Board. Or sometimes, like Wednesday’s mellow meeting, you can sit and listen as the Board runs itself into the ground.
Any psychology or sociology professor worth his or her salt would have a heyday using the Board meeting as a paragon of group dynamics gone horribly awry.
The December meeting was Election Night! for the Board, when the five trustees elect – among themselves – their Board President and Vice-President. They also appoint the current school superintendent, Raj K. Chopra, as the standing secretary. Since Southwestern College’s inception, there has been a customary ‘chain of succession,’ which would have elevated trustee Jorge Dominguez to the position of Board President.
That didn’t happen.
In a 3-2 push, Yolanda Salcido was elected president over Trustee Dominguez, and Terri Valladolid was elected vice-president – also over Dominguez (who was nominated both times by Nick Aguilar). Exiting president, Jean Roesch, supported both Salcido and Valladolid.
Why is this such a big deal? Since SWC’s beginning, this custom has been followed, up until this year. Salcido, in defending her right to be Board President, remarked that they needed strong leadership in times of such a fiscal crisis.*
The Governing Board has ascended all manners of buffoons and scoundrels to the board presidency, but when given a chance to elect one who is both qualified and a long-time educator, they chose not to – and instead went with someone without any sort of education background.
It’s an insult, and Dominguez admitted as much. He also let it be known that he would not run for a Board position, which leaves one seat open. It bears repeating – loudly – that these three members of the Board – Salcido, Valladolid, and Roesch – have succeeded in alienating a member of the board who usually votes with them, and that includes on issues regarding Raj Chopra and the school’s budget. Are they so short-sighted that they no longer think they need as much support as they can get?
Or is it something worse? Personally, I ascribe it to empire-building. I believe that these three board members are trying to carve themselves a little fiefdom at the top of Southwestern College. With three votes in lockstep, there is no way for any other member of the Board to challenge them.**
These three support Raj Chopra at every opportunity; support the class cuts, laid-off professors, and tossed-aside students; and, up until Valladolid’s ill-considered “open forums,” have basically ignored every criticism leveled at them. Valladolid also is the one who, during the October GB meeting, dismissed the layoffs of the adjunct faculty as not really layoffs – a fact that has personally offended many folks who heard it (and heard about it).
At this last meeting, she angrily made a comment about certain members of the Board being “unfairly targeted” by certain members of the community (the Recall Petition) – “the women.” The mind reels at her inability to see that the Recall Petition has everything to do with breaking up this up-and-coming empire and nothing to do with their gender.
Furthermore, Raj Chopra revealed himself to be an obstructionist non-pareil this month. When challenged by Trustee Aguilar on why Chopra hadn’t added one of Aguilar’s requested items to the agenda, Chopra dismissed him by saying he was the only one interested in it, and he didn’t find it necessary. Consider the fact that the items Nick Aguilar is trying to get on the agenda include putting GB meetings on streaming video; trying to make sure contractors, consultants, and the like aren’t given nepotistic positions at the college; and asking that the Board finally begin the process of evaluating Raj Chopra. The gatekeeper for actually getting something on the agenda is Chopra himself, who has simply decided not to add any of these to the agenda – in effect, he controls what is discussed, and if he doesn’t want it there, tough.***
In addition to all the above comedy, tragedy raised its ugly head as well. Union leader Phil Lopez had to steal away a few minutes again during the open “oral communication” part to give his report, and it should have been shocking.
Not to anyone who pays attention to all this, but to the Board, it should have been.
Using figures provided by the administration itself and a smattering of math that most of us learned in fifth grade, he was able to demonstrate that, not only was the school not in the worst financial position it had ever been in, but it had made a profit last year (when it was projected to lose millions of dollars), and was on track to make a profit this year, too.
That was before the class cuts and laid-off professors. He provided them with visual aids, and used very small words so the Board could understand, and when his time was up, he took his seat. At the very end of the meeting, after most of the drama had come and gone, and the Board had an opportunity to “request further information,” they failed to do so. Apparently the fact that the school isn’t in as bad a fiscal state as they were afraid isn’t good news to some of them.
To Salcido, Valladolid, and Roesch, it’s very bad news. Salcido claimed her Right of Presidency based on the financial crisis. Their entire empire is built on the idea that the school needs them – and only them – to guide it through these tough times. If the times aren’t so tough, then these three are attempting to build their castle on a foundation of shifty sand.
*Yeah, we’ll get to that line of horse poo soon.
**Unless, of course, somehow some folks manage to vote them out of office. That would be the Recall Petition people. We’ll get to that in a coming post.
***Yes, you read it right. If he doesn’t want it discussed, he just leaves it off the agenda. By my count, he admitted to doing that exactly as many times as Nick Aguilar asked why his requested items weren’t on the agenda.