LA Times – Tensions at PCC Threaten School’s Reputation (July 20, 2014)

http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-pcc-conflict-20140721-story.html

Pasadena City College’s stature as one of the state’s best two-year schools wasn’t lost on members of a visiting team of advisors this year. “You’ve got a great reputation,” one member told campus employees.

But that reputation, and maybe even the school’s accreditation, was in danger, said Scott Lay, the president of the Community College League of California. Not because the school’s finances were in disarray or that academic offerings were suffering, but because faculty and administration couldn’t get along.

“You’ve got to find a way to move forward,” he said. Otherwise, “it’s going to hurt the students.”

Since then, communication appears to have worsened. Some faculty blame President Mark W. Rocha, saying he has ignored the school’s policy of consulting faculty on major decisions. Faculty leaders are mulling their third no-confidence vote and some even rooted for him to get a job on the East Coast, where he was a finalist for another position. (Rocha didn’t get it.)

Rocha, who makes nearly $250,000 a year, declined to be interviewed but said in an email that his detractors were a small group who “constantly complain to the press about ‘governance’ and the administration.”

Some outside observers and elected officials say there seems to be plenty of blame to go around for the school’s troubles.

“What you have is a breakdown of communication that’s developed into an untenable situation,” said Marshall Lewis, the newly elected student trustee. “It’s bad.”

Located near the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, Pasadena City College has enjoyed its status as one of the state’s most successful community colleges. Nearly 30% of students transferred to a college or university within four years, about 5% higher than the state’s average, according to the most recent state statistics.

But tension has risen as the college, like many others, has seen funding and class offerings decline because of the recession. Enrollment at the college has fallen from a recent high of nearly 30,000 full-time students in the fall of 2010 to about 26,000 in the fall of 2013, a nearly 13% drop, according to state statistics.

Statewide, the number of students enrolled in community colleges fell by about 10% during the same period.

Some faculty and students have blamed the school’s problems on Rocha, who was hired in 2010 after a four-year stint at West Los Angeles College. Before then, he had also worked at Seton Hall University and Argosy University, a for-profit school.

Professors say they were left in the dark about several crucial issues, including scheduling changes, canceling winter semester and opening a campus in Rosemead last year.

“These decisions have been made behind closed doors,” said Eduardo Cairo, the president of the Academic Senate. “We keep on telling them that we’re open, we’re here, let’s talk, and they never want to talk.”

Under a 1997 agreement, the college administration is supposed to “consult collegially” with the Academic Senate, a practice known as “shared governance.”
Faculty have taken two no-confidence votes in him and conducted an online review of Rocha’s leadership that produced scathing results, with most respondents saying he had done a poor job of guiding the school.

“Fascist approach to leadership,” one wrote. “Rocha is destroying PCC,” another said.

Some students have been equally harsh in their criticism of Rocha and the board, especially after the board agreed to cancel winter sessions two years ago. Without the extra six-week session, students have a harder time earning enough credit to transfer or graduate, said Jordyn Orozco, the president of the school’s student body.

“It was a huge step back,” he said.

Rocha said he would speak with a reporter only if the president of the Board of Trustees, Anthony Fellow, also attended. Fellow is teaching a course in Italy and will not return until the end of the month.

Trustee William Thomson, the former mayor of Pasadena, defended Rocha’s accomplishments, saying he had guided the college during a difficult financial time and helped raise nearly $7 million for student scholarships.

“I think he’s done a good job in some respects,” he said.

The board last year voted to give Rocha a four-year contract extension.

In an email, Rocha offered to supply a reporter with the contacts of “dozens” of faculty who supported him. But Rocha did not answer further emails.

Thomson said the climate on campus has to improve. “People have to work much more effectively together,” he said.

The Board of Trustees was heavily criticized this year for inviting Oscar-winning alumnus Dustin Lance Black to deliver the commencement address, then rescinded it over concerns about an illegally obtained sex video featuring the screenwriter. They invited him again and Black spoke.

Thomson also said he thought Rocha was committed to the college but was looking for work on the East Coast to be closer to his wife, an engineer who recently got a job in the New York area. Rocha was a finalist to lead Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn.

In an email, Rocha said faculty were resistant to change and more interested in being comfortable than offering courses in areas needed for graduation or at times that are convenient for students. “Faculty want to teach the courses they prefer,” Rocha said.

In the end, faculty and Rocha seem to agree on one thing: The current situation has to change.

“One path, the one we are on, is the beginning of the beginning of the end,” Rocha wrote in an email.

 

Mark Rocha about shared governance, the administrators that he’s fired, PCC as a business and faculty “standing in the way of his legacy of ‘reforms'”: CONFIDENTIAL internal memo (April 17, 2014)

Confidential Rocha Memo (April 17, 2014)

Confidential memo from Mark Rocha to his internal cabinet (aka: What Mark Rocha Really Thinks about Shared Governance, Faculty, PCC as a Business, His Legacy and  “Reforms”)

  • “Students will soon enough add one plus one to figure out that they are better off going some place else.”
  • “PCC’s enrollment will shrink, causing a reduction in revenue…”
  • “The essential pre-requisite for success – getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus — has been accomplished.”
  • ” I knew long ago that our “shared governance” system would not bear the weight of transformative reforms such as the calendar, restructure, … Pathways and saying no to the union.

Is it real? YES, at least according to the two VPs of the school.

This article sums things up nicely: http://www.pasadenaweekly.com/cms/story/detail/?id=13101

Factoid: 2010 there were 38 administrators; the 2014 org. chart lists 98 administrators

LA Times Article “PCC Graduates, Take Some Lessons from Commencement Speech Fiasco”

May 1, 20146:35 p.m.

 To Pasadena City College’s Class of 2014:

I am honored that you have chosen me today to give a fake commencement speech about your school’s botched search for a commencement speaker.

We can learn so many lessons from the way college officials mishandled the job:

They invited distinguished PCC alumnus Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” to be your speaker.

They disinvited him over a sex tape but forgot to tell him.

They replaced him with a public health doctor/Christian fundamentalist preacher who believes children’s cartoons are satanic and once boasted of refusing to treat a prisoner who had a pentagram tattoo.

After many of you objected to his anti-gay views, they claimed the doctor had a scheduling conflict.

They apologized to Black.

Then they reinvited him to speak.

As you close this chapter of your lives and begin to write the next one, always remember that if you do something that embarrasses you, your institution or a Hollywood heavyweight, you should lie about it, blame someone else, pretend it was all a misunderstanding or call your lawyer.

And by all means, never try to explain it in anything approaching plain English. Rather, waterboard the language until the words have lost their will to live. Then declare it’s time to move on.

Allow me to explain.

In March, your commencement speaker committee came up with a list of eight potential graduation speakers. People with connections to each luminary were asked to reach out. Student Trustee Simon Fraser, who had met Black at a community college conference where Black received an award, was asked to contact him.

“What an honor!” Black’s assistant Neville Kiser replied moments after the invitation landed. Black, who graduated from PCC in 1994, accepted six days later. He was the only luminary who did.

College President Mark Rocha, Deputy Supt. Robert Bell, and board of trustees president Anthony Fellow soon discovered that Black had a scandal in his past.

They were fuzzy on the details, but that didn’t matter. In 2009, after Black became famous, someone stole 3-year-old images from an ex-boyfriend’s computer and peddled them to websites. Black won a $100,000 judgment.

They didn’t care that Black was the victim. Nor that the incident has faded from public memory. Nor that last year, Black, who is also a playwright, director and producer, was named a distinguished alumnus by UCLA‘s School of Theater, Film and Television, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1996.

What they cared about was that PCC had already been dragged through two sex scandals in the past year. Black, Bell told trustees, was shown in the video having “unprotected sex.” The school could not risk tarnishing its reputation further, even if the risk was imaginary.

So it set about tarnishing its reputation for real, and mangling the language along the way.

“None of the speakers on the list were able to confirm for Commencement, and the one who could is a controversial figure,” Rocha told trustees by email in early April. Later, he would wrongly claim that Fraser had not been authorized to invite Black.

Rocha also told the board that he and Bell had selected a new commencement speaker, Pasadena Public Health Director Eric Walsh, a preventive health specialist and Seventh-day Adventist minister who preaches that evolution is bunk and those who teach it are “Satan’s ministers.” In 2006, Walsh said, “If God’s plan was followed, there would be no AIDS epidemic.”

Four weeks after Black accepted and nearly two weeks after Walsh replaced him, the college finally got around to letting Black know.

On April 14, Deputy Supt. Bell sent Black’s assistant an email that deserves a spot in the Mealy Mouth Hall of Fame: “I wish to inform you that Mr. Black will not need to rearrange his busy schedule to appear as commencement speaker.”

Black, who had already rearranged his busy schedule, did not take the news calmly.

“As PCC Administrators attempt to shame me, they are casting a shadow over all LGBT students at PCC,” a furious Black responded in an open letter published by the school newspaper. “They are sending the message that LGBT students are to be held to a different standard, that there is something inherently shameful about who we are and how we love, and that no matter what we accomplish in our lives, we will never be worthy of PCC’s praise.”

He implied he was contemplating legal action.

On April 21, the college apologized to Black for “an honest error” and said the board had unanimously approved Walsh as the new speaker.

But the board, according to trustee Ross Selvidge, had never voted on Walsh.

I asked the college to explain. Students, pay attention here because this locution may come in handy the next time you are caught in a lie: A spokeswoman told me the school would “stay within the statement without further comment.”

PCC’s LGBT activists began researching Walsh and listening to his online lectures. They were appalled by what student Renee Haserjian called his “sexism” and “homophobia.”

On Monday, the college announced that Walsh had withdrawn from commencement due to an “unforeseen scheduling conflict.” Walsh did not respond to my attempts to reach him.

On Tuesday, Black told the website Truthdig that his legal team was talking to PCC’s legal team.

On Wednesday evening, at its regular meeting, a chastened board expressed deep admiration for Black, apologized for “any actions that may have caused hurt,” and unanimously voted to re-invite him to speak at graduation May 9. Black had not responded as of Thursday afternoon.

Pasadena City Manager Michael J. Beck announced Thursday that Walsh had been placed on temporary paid administrative leave, pending an investigation into statements made “in his private capacity, and to assess the impact those statements may have on his ability to effectively lead the city’s public health department.”

Rocha, whose four-year tenure at PCC has been marred by student and faculty no-confidence votes, told me after the vote that, yes, he’s ready to move on.

“All I have control over is what we do moving forward, and I think we’ve done the right thing tonight,” he told me. “That was my clear recommendation.” (It was also his recommendation to disinvite Black in the first place. But why dwell on the past?)

“I’m angry,” Selvidge said. “This was an enormously embarrassing episode for the school.” Rocha, he said, “is really [messing] up our college.”

And so, PCC graduates, as you leave this hallowed campus and move on to your next adventure, what can I say?

Frankly, I’m speechless.

Read Robin Abcarian’s blog at http://www.latimes.com/local/abcarian. Reach her at robin.abcarian@latimes.com, check out Facebook.com/abcarian and follow her on Twitter: @robinabcarian.

 

LA Times Article – April 25, 2014 – Questions plague Pasadena college over Dustin Lance Black debacle

 

Dustin Lance BlackQuestions linger about the way Pasadena City College treated its alumnus Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter whose commencement speech invitation was rescinded by the school.(Patrick T. Fallon / For the Times / September 14, 2012)
Robin Abcarian

April 25, 2014, 5:20 p.m.

Is there something more to be said about the snafu at Pasadena City College that resulted in the snubbing of an Oscar-winning screenwriter who was invited to be the school’s commencement speaker then crudely disinvited?

Absolutely.

The school has tried to explain it all away as an unfortunate misunderstanding and has apologized, sort of, to Dustin Lance Black, class of ’92. Black, who wrote “Milk,” was told his services would not be needed at the school’s May 9 graduation after administrators discovered he was involved in a five-year-old sex tape “scandal” that might give the school a “bad name.”

They even seemed to realize that Black, an LGBT activist, was the victim in that case. The notion that Black’s misfortune could reflect poorly on his alma mater is such a stretch that it has inspired accusations of homophobia, which the school of course denies.

Still, important questions linger about how administrators handled this ridiculous episode, whether they should be more forthcoming in their account of how things went so terribly awry, and why they have clammed up.

On Monday, in an effort to bring an end to the controversy, PCC spokeswoman Valerie Wardlaw attempted a tortured explanation on behalf of the Pasadena Area Community College District Board of Trustees about how the debacle went down. She also announced that the official commencement speaker would be Pasadena Public Health Director Eric Walsh.

Sadly, there was no way to make this self-inflicted injury seem like an innocent mistake. Rescinding Black’s invitation was a fumbled attempt at controlling nonexistent damage that has now escalated into a situation requiring damage control for actual damage.

School officials pretended that Black was never approved as commencement speaker, when in fact they approved him. They said that his brush with a sex scandal has “no place in public discussion,” when in fact they discussed it with reporters, students and each other.

“At no time,” the statement insisted, “did a recommendation to invite Mr. Black ever reach the college president or the Board, nor were the college president and the Board aware that this invitation had been sent to Mr. Black’s assistant.”

Yet it’s very clear that the college president and the board of trustees unanimously approved a list of eight potential speakers a month and a half ago that included Black. What did they think would happen after they approved the list? That no one would be invited?

The others on the list were Father Greg Boyle, women’s rights activist and aspiring Democratic California state Sen. Sandra Fluke, the polytalented actor James Franco, motivational speaker Ramsey Jay Jr., basketball great Magic Johnson, California Supreme Court Justice Joyce Kennard and the acclaimed novelist and poet Luis Rodriguez.

Black, it turned out, was not just the first to respond, but the only one to accept.

Where else did the statement go astray?

It said that an invitation to a commencement speaker can only be extended by the college president. But the governing school policy, which was helpfully attached to the statement, says that invitations can be extended by the president, a superintendent or a “designee.”

Student trustee Simon Fraser was acting as just such a designee when he was asked by a school administrator to invite Black because the pair had once met at a conference and Fraser had an email address for Black’s assistant.

On March 11, Fraser emailed Black’s assistant: “We would like to formally invite Mr. Black to conduct the commencement address to the students as we celebrate our theme of ‘Proud Past, Global Future.’”

“What an honor!” the assistant replied within minutes.

(Emails were provided to me, and have also appeared in the Courier.)

Two and a half weeks later, on April 2, Pasadena City College Supt. and President Mark W. Rocha told the board of trustees that none of the invited speakers was available. Well, he sort of told them that. “None of the speakers on the list were able to confirm for Commencement and the one who could is a controversial figure,” wrote Rocha, who has a doctorate in English and teaches composition. Included in his note to trustees was an addendum from Assistant Supt. Robert Bell, elaborating on the “controversial figure.”

“Recently,” Bell wrote, “a 2009 sex tape was leaked without consent, showing Mr. Black engaging in unprotected sex. The incident has caused him to suffer embarrassment. We became aware of this after the initial offer was extended to Mr. Black.”

Bell felt that because the college had a sex scandal involving a heterosexual professor who taught pornography and slept with students, having Black as speaker “may not be in the best interest of the District.”

(By PCC’s twisted logic, Sen. Fluke, who was involved in a “slut” scandal, would not be suitable to speak. Nor would Franco, who was recently involved in an “underage girl” scandal. And don’t they realize that Father Boyle hangs out with known gang members?)

“This is latent homophobia,” Fraser told me Thursday. “I say ‘latent’ because overtly, the board members aren’t homophobic.” Fraser takes particular issue with Bell’s concern about “unprotected sex.”

“’Unprotected sex’ is not an issue when it’s a heterosexual woman having a baby. We don’t say, ‘We hope the father doesn’t have AIDS.’ To claim that Mr. Black was promoting unsafe sex to people is completely wrong.”

On April 14, four weeks after Black enthusiastically accepted the speaking invitation, he was sent one of the most mealy mouthed emails I’ve ever read:

“I wish to inform you that Mr. Black will not need to rearrange his busy schedule to appear as commencement speaker,” wrote Assistant Supt. Bell. “I understand that Mr. Black’s time is valuable and important and, again, I apologize for the delay in finalizing this with you and him.”

On April 2, at its regular meeting, the college board was abruptly informed that graduating students would be addressed by Walsh, who is, Rocha promised, a “dazzling” speaker.

“The important point here is how the Board acted as a whole, finally, and in public,” the college said in the statement that raised more questions than it answered. “The Board’s position to invite Dr. Walsh was voted on by the Board and stands as its final decision.”

That came as a surprise to two board members, with whom I have spoken on condition of anonymity. They said no such vote ever took place.

When I asked President Rocha, Board of Trustees President Arthur Fellow and spokeswoman Wardlaw about that, and other discrepancies, they refused to talk.

“The PACCD Trustees and the administration have issued its public statement on this matter,” Wardlaw told me, “and will stay within this statement without further comment.”

I am not sure what it means to “stay within” a statement.

But it must be getting kind of stuffy in there, what with all the hot air.

 

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