Who you gonna call?
Who you gonna call?
LP Hastings

Long Beach City College Disputes Student Trustee's Account of School's Program Cuts; Student Responds!

Our news story this week told the saga of Jason Troia, Long Beach City College's (LBCC) student trustee who has declared war on the school's board over what he claims are financial irregularities in its decision to cut 11 vocational programs. After the release of the print story, Mark Taylor, the director of college advancement, public affairs and governmental relations at LBCC sent the Weekly a letter, which we'd print in the dead-tree edition if we still had a letters section. But since we don't, the letter is published here in its entirety--and just like we used to do in the dead-tree edition, we're allowing Troia to rebut Taylor. To the tape!

First, Taylor:

I write in response to your recent OC Weekly coverage of LBCC, to rebut the claims made by Mr. Troia and to provide you with additional information and context for your story.

Mr. Troia has made a number of false and misleading claims about the decision to discontinue programs at LBCC and has refused, despite repeated requests, to provide any documentation to support his accusations. While it is clearly his right to disagree with the outcome of the process, he has a responsibility to be accurate when making those claims especially since he is the elected student trustee representative and was a participant in the process.

The decision to discontinue programs was lengthy and involved input from a wide range of stakeholders. It was also done in accordance with education code and district policy. The decision to consider program discontinuance was announced publicly on Aug. 16, 2012, and discussed at length during several Board of Trustees meetings leading up to the Jan. 23, 2013, meeting where the decision was made. It received broad coverage in local media in these months and was discussed widely on campus.

Every affected program was given the opportunity to make a presentation to the Board of Trustees in public meetings and, as a result, the board heard testimony from affected faculty, members of the community and hundreds of students who attended the meetings. Mr. Troia, as the elected student trustee, was present for the board meetings where this was discussed multiple times but only raised his concerns in the months following the decision.

Mr. Troia repeatedly uses inaccurate and misleading data in support of his unfounded claims. Here too, despite repeated requests, Mr. Troia has refused to provide evidence for his claims, which makes it very difficult to rebut them. Despite this, the district has worked very hard to explain the discrepancies, offered to meet repeatedly with Mr. Troia (which he has refused to do), and prepared a detailed report that was presented at two student forums to address questions about the process from students and others.

A copy of the presentation is available on our website, http://www.lbcc.edu/ProgramUpdates/documents/StudentForums.pdf. Additional documents relating to the discontinuance process are available at http://www.lbcc.edu/ProgramUpdates/, and copies of the Board Agendas and minutes are available online at http://agendas.lbcc.edu/meetings.cfm?ID=10.

The presentation clearly shows that, as an example of inaccurate information, Mr. Troia has inflated the number of students affected by this by counting course enrollments rather than individual students. Most students enroll in multiple courses at once so the number of course enrollments is greater than the number of students affected.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the decision to discontinue programs comes after years of budget cuts from the state. Nearly a third of course sections have been reduced at LBCC since 2008-09, and more than 5,000 of students remain on a wait list for courses today at LBCC as a direct result of the funding reductions, which cap the number of students we can serve. Statewide, more than 500,000 students have been shut out of community colleges. In this context, the decision to shift resources away from programs that met several discontinuance criteria--including high cost, low productivity and low employment demand and job growth, for example--to programs that serve the needs of a greater number of students is sound policy.

If I can provide any additional information or assist you in speaking with [college] president Eloy Oakley to address further questions you have, please contact me on my cell phone or at this email.

Thank you.

Mark Taylor

Now, Troia's rebuttal:

As you will read in the OC Weekly and in various other publications, the facts from LBCC this year tell a story of rampant corruption, "intellectual" elitism, institutionalized racism and ongoing administrative failures that jeopardize the survival of a beloved institution. The people of Long Beach badly need LBCC to continue its 85-year tradition of educating this community--a future that is in doubt, given the gravity of the circumstances we face. This is a moment where bold leadership is required. Unfortunately, that leadership has come with immense personal costs, but I'll continue protecting the interests of the students I represent and see this through to completion--as the leadership isn't coming from anywhere else.

Since our board and administration tend to not pay much attention when students speak, it doesn't shock me to hear such a convoluted rewriting of history, as espoused by Mr. Taylor. I've criticized program discontinuance since the moment it became part of my lexicon back in August. In fact, if you read the "extensive" media coverage, referenced by Mr. Taylor, you will find several articles that reflect my grave misgivings throughout.

Though my rhetoric and tactics have obviously escalated in severity in recent months, I, for a time, held the naive notion that reason and facts would convince our board that I was right. That proved to be an errant assumption and I got tired of wasting my breath. Nobody should blame me for being short on patience with this administration or for amping the dialogue when this is the only mode that elicits a response from our leadership.

I've been widely characterized by the college as some vigilante/lunatic/liar with a vendetta who only speaks to gain applause. Frankly, I detest being in the limelight and am a private person and would love to have my anonymity back, but am willing to tolerate the temporary attention to save these programs.

The problem with our administration is that they have been telling so many stories that they can no longer distinguish fact from spin. Worry not; lucky for us all, I've been taking notes.

Would journalists be following this story if there were no substance to my claims? Would a publication as credible as the OC Weekly be publishing a story without exhaustive fact checking? This isn't TMZ.

I should take this moment to thank Governor Jerry Brown for signing an executive order that allows colleges to break the state education code in times of fiscal emergency. Our emergencies all began after you did that.

First, we came for the classified staff and cut 40 percent of them to make up a $5.1 million deficit. Surprise, our budget numbers came in and our cash reserves went up by $4.6 million because of that.

Then they came for the "Trade Pukes," as one administrator lovingly calls them, by claiming there was a $2.1 million deficit, but then we claimed it was $3.4 million, then $5.1 million, then $6.4 million and, finally, $7.6 million. How does that even make sense? At least pick one number and stick to it.

Most troubling, though, is Dr. Gaither Lowenstein, a.k.a. "Dr. Death," the man responsible for bringing this philosophy to Long Beach. He has done the same thing at multiple colleges around the country. He is a specialist in this sort of thing. Our president, Eloy Oakley, hired him against the recommendation of his hiring committee. Lowenstein was chased away from Modesto City College just months after cutting programs there. Now that his dirty deed is done here, he's interviewing in Texas and New Mexico. If he's capable of finding work, what college is next?

I'm glad to hear LBCC's lawyer finally owned up to program discontinuance not being about money at all, though, instead saying something to the effect of "We have plenty of money. We want to reallocate the money to better meet the needs of our students." Why are we placing the needs of some students above others? Why are we hiring 25 new academic faculty members after laying off 19 from our trades, and why do we want to give our faculty a 4 percent raise if this has one iota to do with money?

My research is sound--I'm a research assistant for a professor for a living. It is my job to do sound research. If you had retained my services, you would have used accurate data in the process. Unfortunately, there was ZERO student involvement in this process, which was in direct violation of Title V of the state education code.

The only reason I haven't presented the data publicly yet is that there is too dammed much evidence to translate it into a digestible form. As of now, there are more than 650 pages of damning data from multiple sources, just pertaining to program discontinuance alone. Honestly, I'm flummoxed that you have the nerve to question the data when 76 percent of our faculty say agreed that it was wildly inaccurate. Why hasn't our faculty, the supposed academics, said something publicly about such widely known issues? I must question the objectivity of anyone who doesn't stand up and say something at this stage, especially when it is so glaring.

With their army of lawyers, why wouldn't the board have filed suit against me by now? They know, full well, that their actions are indefensible, so they have chosen instead the desperate tactic to discredit me with ad hominem attacks.

This story has far broader implications than to just the taxpayers of Long Beach and the community members who badly need LBCC to survive because, at its core, it shows the inherent flaws in the Student Success Act, which effects 2.4 million community college students.

In a matter of weeks, I'm no longer going to be around to save these jobs anymore. Unless LBCC wants to wake up and find out that our accreditation was pulled and our classrooms boarded up--we need to act. Our only chance of preserving LBCC is to be proactive and make a voluntary self-disclosure to Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) and a plea for mercy. It is that serious.

Fun times!

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Email: lphastings@ocweekly.com.


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