Sunday, September 18, 2005

Rats Always Flee a Sinking Ship

A quick little lesson on self-serving interests among our SMC administration...

On or about 1991, Piedad Robertson becomes Secretary of Education for the State of Massachusetts. How did she fair in this position? According to the Chronicle of Higher Education:

"Angry over budget cuts and what they call a void in leadership, faculty unions at public colleges in Massachusetts are passing votes of "no confidence" in the Secretary of Education, Piedad Robertson. The goal is "to call the public's attention to the fact that the system is being gutted," says David Lenson, president of the faculty union at the University of Massachusetts system. "It's fallen on the faculty's shoulders to defend these colleges. Nobody else is doing it."

Eventually receiving a vote of no confidence, Robertson moves on to Santa Monica College around 1995 where she serves as president until on or about January 2005. Again receiving a second no vote of confidence, she leaves SMC to become President of ECS on or about February 1, 2005.

Here's a little snippet about Robertson's second vote of no confidence at SMC from the June 17, 2004 article published online by the San Francisco Chronicle:

The only reason there are spaces at Santa Monica Community College is that the college cut classes by 26 percent this past academic year, and reduced its enrollment by an astonishing 6,000 students. Enrollment plunged from 31,000 to 25,000 this year -- a precipitous drop experts say has never been equaled in state history. The college was put on the state's watch list of colleges with severe fiscal problems -- where it remains today. The college's Academic Senate overwhelmingly approved a no-confidence motion -- by 413 to 68 -- in Piedad Robertson, the college president.

According to the ECS website:

The Education Commission of the States (ECS) is an interstate compact created in 1965 to improve public education by facilitating the exchange of information, ideas and experiences among state policymakers and education leaders. As a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization involving key leaders from all levels of the education system, ECS creates unique opportunities to build partnerships, share information and promote the development of policy based on available research and strategies.

Can Robertson, as the newly founded President of the ECS "improve public education"? Well, let's see what she's accomplished while at SMC. According to the CSEA/CLASSIFIED STAFF ACCREDITATION SELF STUDY ADDENDUM ( Accreditation%20Self%20Study%20Addendum%2003-23-04.doc), here's a breakdown of what Robertson left in her wake as President of SMC:


The true story of Santa Monica College under the current administration and the current Board of Trustees is a cautionary tale for the future of publicly funded institutions of higher education. While the classified staff acknowledges that it would be counterproductive to deny Santa Monica College accreditation at this time, we would be remiss if we did not advise the Accreditation Panel of the breakdown of the system of governance at SMC and the deleterious consequences this has had on the College, financially, operationally, and academically. If a self-study is to be meaningful in any sense of the term, it must address the issues that impact the core business of the organization with a view toward improving that organization’s ability to adapt to the inevitable changes that present themselves.

While any organization inherently has conflicts, the intensity, duration, and intransigency of the conflicts at SMC absorb much of the valuable time of the administration and employees at the College. The disagreement between the stakeholders at the College has led to a series of decisions that cannot be justified as being in the best interests of the student body or the community that the College purportedly serves. The genesis of these conflicts was a decision by the Board of Trustees to hire Dr. Piedad Robertson, an administrator with a documented history of problematic relationships with employees, resulting in two prior statewide votes of no confidence, and an ideological bent toward privatization of services in the public sector. The rationale for the Board’s choice was that they wanted to concentrate their efforts on expansion of SMC’s facilities and felt that Dr. Robertson would achieve that goal.

We will demonstrate to the Accreditation Committee how things went awry at SMC. We will demonstrate how local control has failed. We will demonstrate how the shared governance process has failed. We will show what attempts were made to improve matters at the College and how all such attempts were rebuffed. We will outline how the District ignored and undermined the feedback loops that a well-functioning organization relies on. We will layout how mistakes were made and how they can be prevented in the future. From the evidence the Accreditation Committee can to draw its own conclusions and consider the broader implications of the SMC experience.


Examples of failed SMC leadership:
· Nine academically viable vocational education programs that were successfully placing students in the workforce were eliminated.
· The College was placed as a priority one on the State’s fiscal watch list.
· Management costs at SMC are at an all time high. Despite recent reductions, they are still 80% greater than they were in 1995.
· $5 million was spent on enterprise management software that the College never implemented.
· The level of and total of expenses for contracting out and consultants are at an all time high.
· The frequency and expense for litigation are at an all time high.
· The morale and engagement of the College’s employees is at an all time low.
· The classified staff and faculty nearly unanimously (85%) voted that they had no confidence in the President’s ability to lead the College.
· Sixty authorized classified positions were never filled. In addition, 10% (40) of the existing staff has been reduced, leaving about 400 employees faced with the impossible task of doing the work of 500.
· The College has aggressively and prematurely acquired property it cannot possibly use without substantial further investment of operating funds it has not budgeted.
· None of the campus computer labs that had weekend hours are any longer open on weekends.
· The newly constructed library is closed on weekends, though the old library was once open on weekends.
· Student enrollment is down 17% from last year vs. the statewide average.
· There is up to a 12-week waiting period for financial aid awards.
· There is a 30% student dropout rate.
· The Admissions Office has suspended all its evening hours and also closes student services early Friday afternoon.

Hmm... this doesn't paint a favorable light toward Robertson's role of improving public education. Maybe this is just one person's opinion. So, let's see what another source has to say...

The Ocean Park Gazette published an article on October 26, 2004 entitled "Trustees chair goes from gavel to rubber stamp." Carl Gettleman and Phil Hendricks voice their opinion as follows: "At Santa Monica College, the Chair of the Board of Trustees long ago traded her gavel for a durable rubber stamp. Margaret Quiñones and Piedad Robertson found a way to turn that rubber stamp into an ATM."

So, here's a few excerpts of how Robertson turned SMC into their own personal ATM:

Governor Schwarzenegger's and his Education Secretary Richard Riordan tap SMC Superintendent/President Piedad Robertson for their education transition team.

SMC Board of Trustees Chair Margaret Quiñones gets appointed to the State's Community College Board of Governors.

Due to budget problems, SMC winds up as "priority one" on the State's fiscal watch list (right alongside Compton Community College).

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Accrediting Team evaluates SMC and finds problems serious enough to warrant an unprecedented, interim progress report by March 2005, instead of the standard 6-year cycle.

Without skipping a beat, the SMC Board of Trustees, chaired by Quiñones, gives Superintendent/President Piedad Robertson a $25K salary increase making her, at over $200K, the State's highest paid community college president.

SMC Board of Trustees promotes President Robertson's Director of Marketing, Don Girard, who engineered an expensive campaign that fell short of recouping the College's enrollment losses and meeting growth targets.

SMC Superintendent/President Piedad Robertson and the Board of Trustees along with Senior Staff at the College contribute over $3K to Margaret Quiñones' reelection campaign (not including most current campaign filings), circumventing Government Code provisions that prevent community college district funds from financing board of trustee campaigns.

Hmm.... guess the first source was pretty accurate. Oh, but Robertson's got one vehement supporter here as quoted in the Santa Monica Mirror: "SMC is losing a great leader whose courage and vision have pushed this college to new heights," said SMC Board of Trustees Chair Dr. Margaret Quiñones. "We wish Dr. Robertson well and we know that she will help shape national education policy as brilliantly as she shaped our college."

Oh, but I forgot... Robertson, the Board of Trustees, and the SMC senior staff contributed to Quiñones' reelection campaign. Guess that blows her credibility out the window. Well, surely it wouldn't be fair to place all the blame on Robertson. She needed a team of people to help her create this kind of "mess." Where did she recruit this team?

Oh, look what a coincidence... Winniphred Stone seems to be following the same career path, although at a lesser position of power than Robertson. Stone was senior policy analyst in the Executive Office of Education in Massachusetts before following Robertson to SMC. In May 1996, Stone was "on special assignment at the college as workforce development specialist." Then, in a Feb. 27, 1997 SMC Press Release, she is "selected for the newly created position of associate dean of business and industry at Santa Monica College." How did she warrant this new title? According to the press release, "She will also be working on projects associated with SMC's Academy of Entertainment and Technology, scheduled to open this fall, as well as distance education and videoconferencing, an SMC project that recently received a $125,000 donation from GTE." (See the December 10, 1996 article, GTE GIVES $125,000 FOR SMC VIDEOCONFERENCING CENTER).

How nice of GTE to give away $125,000 to SMC's Academy of Entertainment and Technology (AET). In fact, in Jan. 16, 1999, GTE sat on the advisory board of the Academy. I guess they really cared about our school. Oh, but what do we have here? In SMC's Master Plan for Technology, Revision 1998-2000 (Last Modified 5/5/98), under Objective 7, it states that "Leased lines currently cost over $60,000 a year from GTE." So, in two years, GTE is able to recoup its money and keeps reeling in more. Guess that comment about Robertson and the ATM rings true.

Anyway, back to Winniphred Stone. She went on and "served as associate dean for distance education at Santa Monica College (SMC), where she created the Distance Education Program and administered the SMC Virtual Campus." Served? Isn't this in the past tense? So what's she doing now? She's become the Vice President of Planning and Development at the ECS since September 2005. Isn't that position effective as of this month? Oh, and we were trying to get her to provide documents under the California Public Records Act when we served the SMC Distance Education Department with 20 requests for production and inspection. Well, at least she's working once again with her buddy Piedad Robertson who serves as President of the ECS. As a matter of fact, their bios on the ECS page are right near each other on the same webpage.

So, as our verified complaint and petition alleges, Robertson left due to the mess at SMC. Now, Stone has also left. Was it also because of this "mess" or just for her unending loyalty to Robertson? Who is going to run SMC as President and who is now going to run SMC's Distance Education Department?

Well, as I said before, rats always flee a sinking ship. Too bad we are the ones, as students, who are left on this institutional Titanic with no remaining lifeboats.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2005: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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