Contentious Meeting at LBCC
From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 22
by Alison Keiser
While driving by the Liberal Arts Campus of Long Beach City College on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 22, one would not guess that things would be heating up inside.
The Long Beach City College District’s Board of Trustees meeting was anticipated to be a contentious one, as two items regarding the controversial Assembly Bill 955 were being voted on by the Board.
Normally, the Board allots speakers five minutes to testify during the public comment portion of the meeting. Since there were 14 speakers lined up, the limit was reduced to three minutes each.
“We drove seven hours today to be here at this meeting to support our fellow students at LBCC,” said Naser J. Baig, member of the Associated Students of Solano College.
“You are entrusted with advancing higher education in this community. And while AB 955 seems like a good idea by providing students with an alternative path to graduation, it flies in the face of basic principles of the California Master Plan for Education. The Master Plan was designed to provide access to higher education with tiers based on merit, not on ability to pay...
“A bill is never a bill. It is a gateway.”
The original six colleges listed in the bill, aside from Long Beach City College, were Pasadena City College, Oxnard College, College of the Canyons, Crafton Hills College and Solano Community College.
“Last semester I was attending Pasadena City College, and now I’m wondering if I made a mistake,” said current LBCC student Erin Hardiman. “Pasadena City College decided that they did not want to participate in this pilot program, and I’m really hoping Long Beach City College decides the same thing.”
Much of the controversy surrounded the issue of shared governance, or the matter collegiate consultation between LBCC administrators, instructors, faulty, staff, students, as well as the Long Beach community.
LBCC Sociology professor, Janet Hund, expressed her disappointment after the Board voted unanimously on both items concerning AB-955. “No consideration for the lack of shared governance and the concerns of the community and the students [was] raised.” said Hund. “I think this is a great opportunity for the community to think about their vote for the April 2014 Board of Trustees campaign.”
“In an email message, President Oakley gave the faculty assurances that we would be given an opportunity to provide input – after the passage of the bill, of course,” said LBCC Sociology Professor Carlos Ramos.
“It is a privileged pathway of broken promises. I don’t know how anyone can think that dramatically raising tuition is a way to create educational access for our students and our community,” said Dr. Lynn Shaw, President of Full-Time Faculty Union LBCC.
“Implementation of a two-tier structure will create a system of apartheid… this is not a good solution to under funding our educational system”
“Later on in the bill’s text – item 5 of article 2.3, which is the section which describes the characteristics of the program – it clearly states, quote: ‘the program shall apply to all courses leading to certificates, degrees, or transfer preparation,’” said Dr. Velvet Pearson, an English professor at LBCC, during the public comments. “So which is it? Is it high demand, or is it all courses? It seems to be all courses when I read it, but if that’s the case, isn’t that a violation of the community college mission?”
“It places undue burden on community college students,” said Karen Roberts, President of the LBCC Part-Time Faculty Union. Roberts said there are financial aid opportunities to relieve the pressure, “but the bottom line is that this will cost student substantially more than the $46 a unit they’re already paying to take one of the courses designated under AB 955.”
Roberts pointed out that many of her students currently cannot afford class textbooks, let alone the higher rate of inter session tuition. “Many are already drowning in student debt” at the beginning of their college careers. “Community colleges are supposed to level the playing field for all students.”
The two items relating to AB-955 on the docket before the Board were items 9.1 and 12.9. “Item 9.1 authorized the Superintendent-President to notify the California Community College Chancellor’s Office via letter that LBCC plans to offer courses through the Community College Intersession Extension program,” said Mark Taylor, LBCC Director of College Advancement, Public Affairs & Governmental Relations, in an email. “Item 12.9 established the fee structure for the courses offered through this program.”
“If you take a look at the GI bill,” said veteran Gregory Slaughter, “it pays all tuition and fee payments for in-state students.”
Slaughter is a candidate for the Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees for the 5th District. “The implementation of this bill simply raises their tuition and it passes on this load to our taxpayers and adds to our national debt.”
Slaughter is one of many U.S. veterans who earned his degree utilizing the GI Bill.
“I was shown a letter on your school’s stationary that indicated support for that particular legislation,” said Harry Weed, judge advocate of the Long Beach chapter of Disable American Veterans, during his testimony. “We had not had an opportunity to consider it, and had we considered it we would have urged the governor to veto it, and we certainly urge you not to participate in it.”
“I think it is disrespectful of veterans to claim we supported it when we didn’t,” said Weed.
Chris Ehling, a student veteran, said “I think that when you go home tonight, look in the mirror long and hard, and think about the great accomplishments that have been put forth to this board today and also think about how this is going to sit in your stomach and the fact that you’re making public education a for-profit business.”
In spite of “overwhelming opposition” by the community, Board members Douglas W. Otto, Board President Jeffrey A. Kellogg, Dr. Thomas J. Clark, and Mark J. Bowen all unanimously voted to implement AB-955 at Long Beach City College. Student Trustee Andrea Donado voted against, however “the student trustee’s vote is advisory only and is not counted in the formal tally,” according to Taylor. Trustee Roberto Urunga was unable to attend the meeting.
“This also shows disregard for those thousands of parents who see Long Beach City College as a place where their children can get a chance to lead productive – to be productive members of society with a decent future ahead of them,” said Dr. Marshall Blesofsky, who is a retired USC professor and former adjunct LBCC professor.
While most of the voices spoke out against the implementation of the bill, one student saw past all of the issues that had been raised against the bill to see its benefits.
Student Lauren Ho said, “I do want to stress that this bill provides an option for students who don’t currently have any alternative but to wait” Ho has already earned an associate’s degree, and as an older, returning student, doesn’t want any obstacle to impede her life any more than time already has.
Ho has mapped out her academic plan, but understands that barriers can arise. “That being said, if I’m in my very last semester, which is only three months long, and I only need one class in order to transfer, if I had the option of paying more in order to finish faster and go on and pursue my education – I’m sorry, my career in my life, I think it would be very beneficial. Do I personally have seven- or eight-hundred dollars that it would cost to take one of these classes? No, I don’t. But do I think that it’s important for the Board of Trustees to provide students with this option? Yes.”
LBCC President Eloy Ortiz Oakley offered his thanks to everyone that spoke and said a special thanks to Baig, the Solano student who came down from the Bay Area. “I’ll make sure that I notify your president that you made the drive down here and get you some extra credit or something for your drive.”
Oakley said that the intention of LBCC adopting of AB-955 was for the benefit of the LBCC students. “The fact of the matter is there has been a lot of time taken to work protections into the bill to ensure that the kinds of things that people are talking about don’t happen.”
“I’m only concerned about our students here in Long Beach and doing whatever we can do to increase access for our local students,” Oakley said during a break in the Board meeting. “If it works, great, and if it can be used by others, that’s great as well.”
The five year “trial run” for LBCC will be applied to the upcoming winter intersession. According to a release from LBCC, “regular winter intersession priority registration will begin November 18, followed by regular spring semester registration on December 2 and the newly added winter extension program registration beginning on December 9.”
Though the Board has promised to work with and listen to the community, faculty, staff and students, many think that promise ought to have been fulfilled from the get-go.
“We’re not even an afterthought,” said Hund after the Board’s decision. “And we’re on the front lines. We deliver the education to our community, and to think that we have a governing body that has no consideration is deeply disturbing.”