Administration and board fail college

LCCEA President Jim Salt spoke out strongly against the cutting of programs at the Board of Education meeting.Photo: August Frank

LCCEA President Jim Salt spoke out strongly against the cutting of programs at the Board of Education meeting.
Photo: August Frank

Guest Viewpoint: Jim Salt, Faculty Association president

The Board of Education voted four to two to close the Auto Body & Paint and Electronics Technology programs on Wednesday night. Board members Matt Keating and Bob Ackerman voted against it, with Matt leading a valiant effort to try to convince his fellow board members of the nonsensical arguments behind Mary’s (President Spilde) proposal.

Following two hours of similar efforts by students, employers, former students, faculty members and other members of our community pleading for the board to be rational, to be empirical, to pay attention to the data, to challenge the unsupported and baseless assumptions in the administration plan, the programs were cut.

But it was clear when it came time for board discussion that, other than Matt and Bob, it didn’t matter what the facts were, what the evidence was, what the logic was or wasn’t, or how great the unsubstantiated assumptions of the administration; the majority of the board simply didn’t care.

Despite us documenting, in great detail, that the administration’s numbers were simply ignoring much of the revenues that these programs bring to our college, the board largely ignored the entire subject. Despite pointing out, over and over, that the administration’s numbers included a gross and totally unsubstantiated assumption that 88 percent of students, who would have come to Lane for these programs, will come to Lane anyway even without these programs, only Matt paid any real attention to that.

Despite us providing surveys of the current students in these programs showing that over 90 percent of them said that they wouldn’t have come to Lane if their program hadn’t been here, not one board member asked the administration to justify their assumption that 88 percent would still come, or to provide any evidence for it.

They just bought — hook, line and sinker — the administration’s claim (to quote former board member Roger Hall’s incredulous response to a similar argument) that we can stop making hamburgers but we’ll still get paid for them?’

Some board members tried to defend their support for the cuts by arguing that they ‘had directed the administration last fall to focus on the expense side and not raise tuition anymore, as if that’s a defense of cutting programs that will lose more revenue than will save in expenses.

Others lamented with crocodile tears the “hard choice” of cutting programs versus raising tuition, simply ignoring the proposal on their table from members of the Budget & Finance Subcommittee and supported by the ASLCC, LCCEF, and LCCEA (and very similar to the proposal from the administration) that balances the budget for next year without raising tuition rates or cutting programs.

The false dichotomy presented to them was embraced again and again; anyone who has read Paul Krugman’s columns excoriating the “austerists” in the US and Europe who take pride in their willingness to do “hard things” that actually hurt the economy they are claiming to save, would have recognized that syndrome in spades last night.

No board members held the administration responsible for Vice President Kelly’s refusing to even respond to three requests over two days to meet on Wednesday, so the subcommittee could try to work through the few remaining differences between the administration’s proposal and the proposal supported by the student, classified staff and faculty representatives.

And then we were criticized for bringing the proposal to the board at the last minute, something we would have sent the day before, but were waiting for the vice president to respond. No board members held President Spilde or other administrators responsible for stonewalling our month-long effort to correct their fantasy “numbers” projecting savings with no virtually no lost revenue, an argument that we had to take to the public via an ad in the Register Guard to try to get them to respond.

Still, no board members asked the administration to defend their case. And not even the chair, who had practically pleaded at the prior board meeting for both sides to work together to identify one set of numbers on the program cuts, questioned the administration for failing to do so, rewarding such a lack of honest participation.

As I noted in my closing remarks after watching the board shirk their responsibility to even question the administration’s assumptions and figures: the board’s action, as pushed by President Spilde, did something extremely dangerous for a college.

They ignored all the evidence from everyone except the college administration, ignored the testimony of nearly 100 people over two meetings, testimony that confirmed in great and moving detail both the importance of these programs to our community and economy, and the demand for the skills these programs produce.

Faced with having to choose between “evidence” cited by the administration that there will be only a handful of jobs in these industries in the future, and direct testimony from local employers in their own Boardroom that they individually will be hiring more employees with these skills and degrees than projected in the state data cited, board members incredulously chose to defend the surveys, even after it was pointed out that the administration was only looking at a narrow slice of the jobs that these programs prepare students for.

In short, never was there more of a kangaroo court than the board’s “adjudication” of the issues brought before it last night. It’s clear that we now have an administration and a majority of board members who don’t believe they have to even discuss, let alone seriously consider, the merits of the administration’s proposals, or to respond to the faculty and others pointing out the vast holes in the administration’s arguments.

They refused to provide data and refused to actually respond to the competing data or the holes in their own data and logic, or to even respond to requests from the College Council Budget & Finance Subcommittee’s calls to meet to work through differences in proposals, to balance the books, wait to the last hours before decision time, to make claims criticizing our data and do so in an email to all faculty rather than reply to association representatives directly.

Such manipulative techniques have no place on a college campus where data and logic and competing arguments must be explored seriously, and where the source of the claims should play little role in determining how the claims are considered.

But with this administration, and with the balance of the board we have today, such basic academic principles are nowhere to be found. We are all facing a very dangerous time for our college.

I do want to thank the great number of people who came to the board meetings and incurred insults from the board and administration, who refused to allow members in the room (for the first time in history citing fire marshal rules, despite many meetings in the past with as many or more attendees), even refusing to allow them to stand behind the windows outside the room, so that they could see and be seen, putting up “police tape” and suddenly claiming it’s “a construction zone” when no construction was actually going on and they weren’t interfering with anyone or anything.

I especially thank those who came last night having just learned about the event from our ad in the Register Guard on Tuesday; we’re glad to have been able to alert the public to what’s going on at Lane. I also especially want to thank the employers and former students who came to try, to no avail, to counter the misrepresentations made to the board about these programs and their value to our community.

I particularly want to thank Adrienne Mitchell for her many hours of work detailing the revenues these programs bring in that the administration knowingly overlooked, data whose only response came from Mary when she called it “bull poop” when she presented it in a college-wide meeting.

Finally, I want to thank Malisa Ratthasing and James Wessgert, ASLCC’s President and Treasurer, respectively, and Bob Baldwin, President of the Classified Federation, for working together and developing a joint proposal to the board that balances our books and balances our interests, without the damage to our college found in the administration’s plans.

It’s clear again this year that the administration has no intention of actually letting the “governance system” govern, and we’ll have to consider the significance of this latest usurpation of the subcommittee’s responsibility for developing a budget recommendation for how we address this in future years. But the three parties demonstrated beautifully how different interests and views can be worked through, and true partnerships can be formed despite efforts to keep us apart.

Finally, I ask everyone to reach out to our colleagues in the Auto Body & Paint and Electronics Technology programs, as well as the Medical Office Assistant program, who have suffered insults and attacks from administrators and board members, maligning their work and their reputations.

Please let them know that we recognize the immense contributions they have made to our college, to their profession and to our students. On behalf of all LCCEA members I personally thank them for all they have done for our community; I’m sorry that together we weren’t able to stop this preposterous attack on their programs. I am incredibly proud to have them as my colleagues and friends.

Editor’s note: These views expressed by Jim Salt were previously distributed to college faculty via email. The Torch has made minor edits for clarity.