Friday, January 06, 2006

Education Means Business

In a 2004 China-U.S. Conference on Community Colleges, then Santa Monica College President/Superintendent Piedad Robertson confirms the initial intention of the Academy of Entertainment and Technology review by the California Postsecondary Commission when she writes: "For colleges, the successful placement of students into better paying jobs is key in attracting business investors and grants. The relationship between colleges and business is symbiotic – each relying heavily on the other; and benefiting from each other’s commitment."

So, the high figures presented for lucrative employment in the entertainment industry were made to lure investors and grant money into AET's enterprise. What was the basis for the tens of thousands of jobs Santa Monica College promised the California Postsecondary Education Commission in 1997? Where are the labor market demand statistics as required by the California Education Code?

As Robertson wrote in her "Entertainment Means Business" abstract: "An example of such a model was created at Santa Monica College between the entertainment industry and the college. After a spate of publicity decrying the paucity of a trained workforce in a number of areas, Santa Monica College invited representatives for the entertainment industry to discuss their training needs. An advisory board was formed to work with college staff to determine what types of training the college should offer to meet industry needs."

So, why weren't the industry needs met? Remember that AET Chairman Bill Lancaster stated in 2001 that the AET industry partners did little more than merely sat on the AET advisory board. Why have no public records been released to us regarding these meetings between the entertainment industry and college staff? Yet, despite Lancaster's admissions, Robertson continued to state: "For its part, the industry has remained active as participants on the advisory board providing internships, donations, adjunct faculty, guest speakers, and essential information and expertise for the on-going revision of curriculum to the meet changing needs of industry. Regular advisory board meetings keep everyone in the information loop and allow for the easy integration of new board members."

As Robertson explains, "The college determined what needs it could best respond to and created several new training programs under the Academy of Entertainment & Technology. And a true partnership between the college and industry was born. As part of the commitment to meet industry needs, the college undertook the arduous state mandated process for creating new programs, sought and received a large grant from the state to develop the programs, purchased a new campus to house the new programs, obtained industry commitments for faculty and student internships, and worked with a variety of organizations and individuals to secure grants, gifts and donations."

Yes, but where did this money go if few AET students received jobs, scholarships, or an adequate education? Where is that over $1.25 million given to AET from then Governor Pete Wilson in 1997? Why did the theme park entertainment and entertainment business occupational certificates meet untimely deaths? Was the $8.8 million paid to the Gemological Institute of America for the AET satellite campus worth the taxpayers' money? And why was there a surplus of donations according to the Santa Monica College Foundation tax returns? Why did those scholarships never reach the AET students? Why can't SMC find the $200,000 Mary Pickford Foundation endowment for the Academy's students?

Robertson closes with the following: "True partnerships between education and business such as the Academy of Entertainment & Technology insure that students are being appropriately trained and will benefit by finding good paying jobs where their skills are in demand. And business has an available trained workforce ready to meet their needs. It’s a win/win for all."

But according to the job hire spreadsheets provided for us under the California Public Records Act, AET students received few jobs, let alone good paying ones. Also, keep in mind the AET Industry Partnership chart we made where there was a mass exodus of industry partners from AET after the year 2001. Where's the true partnership that Robertson claims 3 years later? In addition to the industry partners, most of the original AET faculty had left SMC to work elsewhere.

Even Robertson herself left SMC in 2005 to work for the ECS. Was it her second vote of no-confidence in her educational career that prompted her departure or her failure to deliver under her promises? As a November 12-18, 2003 article in the Santa Monica Mirror pointed out, the SMC faculty, students, and staff formed an "86 the Trustees" campaign, which was aimed at replacing Robertson's controlled Board of Trustees. The article states:

The trustees, Robertson and other administrators and the faculty/staff/student coalition are at odds over programs the administration cut and layoffs it made in the face of state budget cuts. The faculty, staff and students have charged that not only were the cuts and layoffs unnecessary, they were wrong — hitting too many students too hard. The coalition also offered an alternative solution to the budget crunch, but it was rejected.

The coalition cranked up the volume, and amplified its complaints, alleging, among other things, that Robertson was engaged in remaking the college along more elite lines and that the cuts hit minority students particularly hard. For their part, the trustees and Robertson remained aloof, refusing to engage in a public debate.

Even Dr. Susan Aminoff, Santa Monica College Board of Trustees Vice-Chair, claims that the board was merely a "rubber stamp for the administration." She was elected on November 2004. She discusses that Piedad Robertson "gave faculty a rough ride in Santa Monica." Robertson's position as secretary of education under Richard Riordan allowed her to expand her "anti-faculty posture" on a statewide level. Of course SMC Board Member Margaret Quinones opposed Aminoff.

Considering that Quinones was funded in her 2004 re-election campaign by Piedad Robertson, Richard J. Riordan, Thomas Donner, AET Internship Coordinator Gloria Mottler, Nancy Greenstein, Robert Sammis, Robert A. Adams, Katharine Muller and David Muller, as well as by other key SMC employees, it's little wonder Quinones would want Aminoff's outspokenness against SMC's anti-faculty policies and rubber stamp approach to grants and consultant contracts. However, according to the February 2005 Perspective article printed online by the Community College Council of the California Federation of Teachers:

When the polls closed, Aminoff came in first. Another candidate endorsed by the Education Coalition, Rob Rader, came in second, while their third endorsed candidate was narrowly edged out by Quiñones. “It was a very grassroots campaign, and the community responded,” Aminoff declares happily. Several weeks after the election, Robertson announced her decision to leave Santa Monica Community College District to take a position as the president of the Education Commission of the States, a non-profit, non-partisan interstate compact on education policy.

Yes, those who win under Robertson's ten year reign at SMC are not the community, the taxpayers, or the students, the three core entities, which Robertson had stated in writing she was entrusted to serve, but the select faculty, the administrators, the outside consultants, and the non-profit foundations that participated in Robertson's alleged scheme. According to Robertson, “Things could get better. We could have a $7 million deficit.” For of all us who have attended the Academy of Entertainment & Technology and who have funded it through tax dollars and rising tuition fees, it's a lose/lose situation.

The Santa Monica Mirror article offers its advice:

SMC is a place of higher learning, financed by taxpayers. We elect the trustees to manage it on our behalf. They, in turn, hire administrators, who hire teachers and staff. But the only people who really matter are the students. Unless SMC meets the needs of its students, it has no reason for being. Here and now, many SMC students feel they are not being well-served, and a majority of the faculty and staff agree with them. ... The administration and the trustees exist to serve the students and their teachers, not to rule them. If they are unable or unwilling to serve them, then they should be replaced.

Piedad Robertson, Winniphred Stone, and William Shade have all done us the favor and left SMC. However, Robert Sammis, Katharine and David Muller, and Margaret Quinones, among others, still remain. If "Education Means Business," as Robertson alleges, it is one in which we bear the deficits.

-- Des Manttari,
Editor-in-Chief,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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