Another Fine Mess

Photo by Keith MayClockwork asked Irvine Valley College (IVC) philosophy and ethics professor Roy Bauer the other day: Roy Bauer, you just won a $98,000 decision against the South Orange County Community College District. What are you going to do now?

"Why, I'm going to Disneyland," he shot back. "There's a fella there, and the trustees hope to appoint him president of Saddleback College. His name's Goofy."

Bauer sued the district, which encompasses Saddleback and IVC, twice for violations of the state's open-meeting law—once when trustees reorganized IVC to replace faculty department chairmen with administrators, and again when chemistry professor Raghu Mathur was named IVC president. A Superior Court judge on June 15 ordered the district to pay Bauer's $98,000 in attorney fees.

The district's lawyer has vowed to appeal, but he might have other matters to worry about first. Bauer says the trustees may have violated the state open-meeting law again recently when they allegedly discussed an accreditation report in closed session.

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges recently released reports on Saddleback and IVC that extended the schools' accreditation for six months instead of the usual six years because of the "hostility, mistrust, cynicism and despair that plague the institution." It marked the district's second consecutive six-month accreditation.

For several years, IVC and Saddleback had high enrollments and graduate acceptance rates, making them the envy of the entire California community-college system. Their faculty was paid accordingly, raking in some of the highest paychecks in the system. Instructors also played a large role in the governance of the schools.

About five years ago, the district suffered some financial setbacks that gave rise to the current conservative majority on the board of trustees, which suddenly set about changing everything—except those high faculty salaries. The faculty-union leadership—ostensibly of liberal ideology (you know how teachers are)—used their resources to get the conservatives into office with the understanding that the board could do as it pleased so long as their salaries remained high.

In the name of fiscal restraint, the board ushered in a massive administrative shake-up that sent talented career educators packing and, critics charge, brought in unqualified replacements whose only strength seemed to be support for the conservatives. The idea of shared governance—in which faculty members played a role in shaping curriculum and hiring—was obliterated. As court proceedings later proved, many of the board's controversial decisions were made in secret—a violation of state law. Meanwhile, dirty tricks such as misleading campaign fliers—paid for by the faculty-union leadership—maintained the board's conservative power block.

To top things off, one of those conservatives—trustee Steven Frogue—put the district on the international map of ridicule in the fall of 1996 for trying to conduct a John F. Kennedy assassination seminar at Saddleback that would have featured nutty, anti-Semitic speakers. For several turbulent months, the district's board meeting room became ground zero for skinheads, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and rabid Zionists. Two attempted Frogue recalls later failed, but deep divisions remain.

In the middle of it all has been Bauer. A full-time district employee since 1986, Bauer pretty much stayed out of board politics until he witnessed the uncomfortable rise of the conservatives. He would later become one of the board's most vocal critics.

Bauer says the accreditation team let IVC off easy. "The Saddleback College report, however, kicks the trustees and the union old guard in the ass," he said. "I like it. I like it a lot."

He's also chipper because the entrenched faculty union leadership was recently voted out of office—a development that Bauer and other observers believe might be the key to returning the South Orange County Community College District to its former glory.

So there is at last light at the end of the tunnel?

"Yeah," answered Bauer, ever the optimist, "but you need the Hubble telescope to see it."

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