College reaches crossroads; Program cuts provide the way

Commentary by Penny Scott, Torch Editor-in-Chief

Opinions are quite divergent regarding the recent decision to cut programs at Lane.
The administration and Board of Education support the decision, while most others oppose it. And as communications have become heated between faculty and administration this past week, it has become apparent that something else is going on.
It has been alleged that the survey used to make this decision about the programs was lightweight and not properly conducted. Some believe that the administration approached department deans and asked them which programs they were willing to sacrifice and that the rest was merely a display. The Faculty Council reported last week that members fear a trend where the administration will make curriculum changes without their input. These suspicions aren’t isolated. The college’s most pressing problem right now is the distrust and fear in the culture regarding the administration. Well-founded or not, these perceptions are widespread and driving people’s actions. It doesn’t matter how much money is saved in this current cycle if this isn’t addressed.
The hidden costs of serious cultural dysfunction far outweigh the financial costs of these three programs. Dysfunctions of this sort tend to persist over extended periods of time and for several reasons, not the least of which is that the financial costs can’t be measured. But they’re there. So are the emotional costs.
It’s quite possible that long-held unresolved conflicts are coming to the surface, I will assume for good purpose. What I believe is behind the conflict is that people have been afraid: of speaking up, of losing their jobs, or of retaliation. But they are starting to speak up now.
Being a strong supporter of open communication, I have brought this ongoing conversation into the Torch and encourage anyone to join in. This isn’t over by a long shot from what I can tell.
Rather than just sharing my views about the programs, I’d like to bring the deeper problem I’m seeing into the mix. We’ve got some people calling the administration out right now, and there are others who tell me off the record that they fear saying anything against the administration.
Others, mostly faculty, who have job security through seniority, say they’ve learned that it doesn’t pay to speak up at Lane. I’ve been hearing this for months regarding all manner of subjects, and it saddens me that fear informs the decisions of so many people in the LCC culture.
Every experience I’ve had with college administrators, without exception, has been cooperative, friendly and very pleasant. The information they’ve shared with me about the college has either been positive, or administrators have indicated dedication to open communication and fixing what needs to be fixed.
In contrast, some faculty and students say that the administration presents a public image that purports to be inclusive in its governance, but isn’t.
What accounts for this disparity between what administrators and other stakeholders are saying?
I’m reminded of a Ted Talk titled “The danger of a single story.” The speaker, Chimamanda Adichie, warns that when we hear only a single story about a person or a country we risk a critical misunderstanding. This is true, I think, of all things.
The single story that we have heard from the administration is that they are accountable, transparent, receptive and responsive. The single story that some faculty members tell about the administration is that they are duplicitous, political and agenda-driven. It’s apparent that these two stories can only yield winners and losers, not collaboration. It’s my sincere desire that a creative way forward will be found, not just about the three programs in the center of the current drama, but about how the Lane community operates going forward. Whatever causes contributed to so much upset, one thing’s for sure, something at Lane needs to change.
Stakeholders need actual power, not just an invitation to give input.
The Electronic Technology, Medical Office Assisting and Auto Repair and Refinishing programs hold center stage right now. The situation is critical, and there’s a lot at stake. I propose that they be used to effect the beginning of an equitable governance system at Lane.
The leader sets the example. The leader must win back the trust of the community, even if it means reversing a decision.
I don’t believe for one second that Lane will go under simply for maintaining these two programs for one more year. It is my understanding that there’s an emergency fund to see the college through a crisis such as this. As a sign of good faith, I recommend that Lane President Mary Spilde and the Board of Education table the vote as suggested by LCCEA President Jim Salt.
I then suggest the formation of a task force comprised of administrators, faculty and students, who will investigate all three programs currently on the chopping block, along with others. They can then present their findings to the entire college, along with a number of concrete options for helping alleviate the financial strain the college is facing.
Should there be a new and robust and representative governance system, the entire college will have the opportunity to vote on the new proposals.
Tabling the vote would not mean a win for Salt, nor a loss for Spilde, this is about something bigger. This is about having a college where people no longer feel defeated, but arrive on campus invigorated knowing they can make a difference.
Lane Community College is a public institution. As such, it is owned by all of us. Its future is at stake as are the careers and futures of its faculty, staff and students. It would be sad indeed if fear or indifference set the course for Lane going forward.
There will only be two more editions of the Torch this year, next week and the week after. Join the conversation if you care about your college.