Tuesday, April 25, 2006

SMC Faculty March and Rally

At approximately 11:15 a.m. today, Santa Monica College saw students, classified staff, and faculty march together through the campus and down the sidewalk along Pico Boulevard in support of the SMC Faculty March and Rally. A number of police officers and news reporters followed the crowd. One SMC student, Jeff Higley, showed his support for his beloved faculty by videotaping the event. Mr. Higley had previously supported the faculty by videotaping the April 10, 2006 Board of Trustees meeting.

Armed with bullhorns, picket signs, and whistles, the faculty cried their slogan "A Fair Contract Now." Many faculty members wore bright blue t-shirts that spelled their slogan out in huge white letters. As a reporter for Phoenix Genesis and a student concerned for the rights of the faculty, I was honored to participate in such a historic and worthwhile event.

SMC Faculty Fight for Their Rights
Photo of a previous rally for fair treatment of faculty at SMC.

The support of the students was simply amazing. As we marched through the cafeteria in Cayton Center, the hub of main campus, students cheered, applauded, and some stood up in honor for the men and women who have fought hard for their rights at SMC while burning the other candle to educate us. I never heard one single negative word from a single student. Clearly, the faculty were seen in their young eyes as role models to be admired, if not emulated.

Clearly, SMC's administration was not as receptive to the faculty's rally for their rights. In fact most of them were hiding, perhaps contemplating retaliation for what they considered not to be a legitimate redress of grievances, but as a spectacle that they felt they did not need. I personally witnessed the SMC Board of Trustees turn their deaf ears to the handful of faculty who addressed them with moving speeches on April 10, 2006. Will the SMC Board of Trustees be more receptive at the upcoming board meeting slated for May 8, 2006?

The Faculty March and Rally culminated in front of the SMC administrative office building, referred to by many in the SMC community as "Pico Palace," located on the corner of Pico Boulevard and Stewart Street. Like any palace with royalty, it was guarded from intruders. Two Santa Monica College Police Officers, armed with guns, stood with arms crossed, effectively barricading the front door. I recognized one of the officers who had previously violated my rights on March 24, 2006. If Robert Sammis, the Vice President of Planning and Development, was attempting to be fair in his negotiations with the SMC Faculty, including Faculty President Lantz Simpson, then why was he hiding behind armed police officers? Why didn't Mr. Sammis come out and address the faculty? Isn't Pico Palace a public facility? Why do the SMC administrators feel the necessity of being so far removed from main campus?

If Robert Sammis was in his office, located on the third floor, he was able to hear the moving speeches of the faculty, thanks to their bullhorns and loud cries for a "fair contract now." Mr. Sammis surely heard the honking cars that passed by and the cheers and applause. The faculty was asked, "What do we want?" They replied, "A fair contract!" They were asked, "When do we want it?" They cried in overwhelming unison, "Now!!!!"

Lantz Simpson, the faculty association president, stated that the faculty has not seen a new contract for over twenty months. Mr. Simpson added that the contract issues should have been "settled over a year ago," but that the Board of Trustees "sat on their hands." For over a year and a half, SMC has "refused" to settle this contract. Apparently SMC has a great deal of money to spend as they are ranked sixth in the state in funding. Next year, SMC will allegedly rank fifth. According to Mr. Simpson, "We've got 17 million new dollars in the last two years. Where has it gone?" The faculty repeatedly shouted in unison, "Where's the money?" Now, as a student, that's a question I would like answered. However, no one in administration was brave enough to step forth to answer this legitimate question.

Mr. Simpson continued, stating that the faculty has not seen a raise in three and a half years. Now, the faculty is not being unreasonable. They are not asking for an astronomical increase in their salaries, only a fair raise to keep up with the cost of living increases we all face. The faculty cried repeatedly, "Show us the money!"

Now, SMC's administration has become rather top heavy since Piedad Robertson appeared onto the scene over a decade ago. Although she has left SMC for the ECS, her top heavy administration remains. Mr. Simpson stated: "In the meantime, the administration has given itself two raises." The faculty was not very pleased with this alleged misappropriated allocation of public funds, and responded with repeated shouts of "Shame! Shame!" Obviously, the administration must have been ashamed as they continued to hide behind closed doors. I even asked the faculty: "Why is Robert Sammis hiding?"

SMC computer science professor Howard Stahl took the bullhorn and asked: "If the administration gets 5 1/2 percent, why do we get zero? I want what the administrators got. I want what the administrators got." The faculty responded in unison, "Yes, yes." Stahl continued: "I want what the classified got. I want what the classified got. Why won't they give it to me?" The faculty asked, "Why? Why?" Stahl urged the faculty to picket next week in anticipation of the upcoming SMC Board of Trustees meeting. The faculty cried repeatedly, "Now's the time!"

Mitra Moassessi, the chief negotiator for the SMC Faculty Association, took the bullhorn next. She cried, "Enough is enough!" She added, "Where is the money? Show us the money!" She stated about the faculty raise, "Two percent, that's all you got." When she asked when Thomas Donner, the former interim president of SMC, got his last raise, the faculty replied, "Yesterday!" Donner allegedly got a nice raise in 2006. According to the SMC Faculty Association website, SMC Administrators received a grand total of $1,803,737 in salary increases and related benefits between the period of 2004 to 2007. Those who benefited from this financial windfall included the Superintendent/President, classified administrators, classified managers, and confidential employees. Weigh the fairness of this increase on the scales of financial justice and you will see that that there were only 45 administrators in the year 2005 compared to 314 full time faculty and 995 part time faculty. Something is terribly wrong here at SMC.

The SMC Faculty Association advocates a "Call to Action." As stated on their website:

At this moment, the Negotiating Council needs your help in securing a fair, new contract. We believe an active, mobilized and united faculty is one of the greatest tools we have in reaching a settlement. If you care about your salary, benefits and working conditions, now is the time to get involved to improve the outcome of our contract negotiations. Your voice together with those of your colleagues heard by both District Administrators and the Board of Trustees will make all the difference.

A sample letter to the SMC Board of Trustees reads as follows:

As a faculty member I write to you today to convey my deep sense of dismay that the District has failed to reached an agreement with faculty after more than a year of negotiations.

The latest report from the faculty negotiating team clearly demonstrates that the District negotiating team is not interested in reaching a serious and meaningful contractual agreement. I am doubly concerned because the District's current position jeopardizes the positive campus environment with which we began this academic year. The college also is engaged in a Presidential search, which the lack of a contract with the faculty and deteriorating campus morale can only make more difficult and problematic.

I urge you together with your fellow Board members, to step forward and provide the leadership necessary to settle a fair contract quickly.

Historically, the Accreditation Team assigned to SMC has scrutinized institutional integrity. Standard Seven of the 2004 Accreditation Self-Study Response to Recommendations states the following:

The team observed that in reaction to a number of historical College events substantial interpersonal dissension threatens to distract the College from a critical focus on its recently developed Master Planning agenda and other significant issues. The team recommends that representatives of all stakeholders of the College be convened to identify these interpersonal issues and determine a process to reach an expeditious and lasting resolution.

As far back as 1998, contract negotiations between the District and the Faculty Association impacted campus climate negatively, leading to "tension" and "hostility." In January 2000, the SMC Board of Trustees stepped in with a unilateral 10 percent increase in salary for faculty. Two lawsuits followed and, still, SMC's administration continues to ignore the needs of its faculty. According to the Santa Monica Mirror, on January 14, 2000, "the State of California’s Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) had found the college guilty of bargaining in bad faith, failure to provide information and threats of retaliation from President Piedad F. Robertson." Robert Sammis, then Vice President of Human Resources, had claimed otherwise. Given my own recent negotiations with Robert Sammis this past Friday, I would have to side with the findings of the PERB and the SMC Faculty Association.

By the way, where is the money???

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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