For the casual observer, four contested seats for the Rancho Santiago CCD board of trustees election this fall is not newsworthy. For someone like myself who has worked in the district for almost four decades, the upcoming November 8th election is unprecedented.
In the last half dozen election cycles, only three of 11 RSCCD trustee races have been contested. Going back almost three decades, I cannot recall a single election year when all four seats drew opponents.
It’s no wonder that the three incumbents are facing challengers. The current RSCCD board has been tone deaf to faculty and the community.
In March 2015 I informed the board that their proposed agreement to assist in the operation of colleges in Saudi Arabia was a losing proposition and did not support the mission of our district. I presented the financial statements from Algonquin College in Canada, who at the time had already lost almost one million dollars with their ill-advised Saudi partnership.
I was ignored.
Last week Algonquin cut off all ties with the Saudis and now are reeling in debt estimated to be $5.8 million.
I wasn’t the only one urging the RSCCD trustees to listen to reason. The Santiago Canyon College Academic Senate presented a resolution in opposition to the agreement and it was supported by the Santa Ana College Academic Senate. The Senate leadership was ignored.
Members of the clergy wrote public letters to the trustees as did the Anti-Defamation League. Neither received a response. Other than Trustee Phil Yarbrough who publicly opposed this agreement, the six other board members refused to listen, ask questions or respond. On September 29, 2015 the RSCCD Foundation entered into a partnership agreement to commence work with the Saudis – five months after a Saudi government investigation was opened into corruption against the RSCCD partner.
The few public comments made by the RSCCD trustees seemed to come from a script courtesy of the Saudis. In a Los Angeles Times article Trustee Arianna Barrios stated such an agreement would “facilitate progressive change” – almost the identical words used by the governing board members at Algonquin College when the heat was on them.
While facilitating progressive change is a worthy goal, RSCCD is a community college district with a limited reach. It’s not our job to facilitate change around the world. It’s a tough enough challenge to effectively serve our own community.
I’ve known some of our trustees for decades and they are good people. I just don’t understand why they have refused to listen or even ask questions. I suspect like many other matters, they simply believe everything their one employee, Chancellor Raul Rodriguez tells them. Just this past year the trustees, without asking a question believed the district was in a structural deficit. The ending year balance shows the district made over $10 million and is currently sitting on $36 million, but that’s an editorial for another day.
So, now for the first time in recent memory there will be no free rides for all the incumbents. Even the candidate anointed by the trustees for the open seat will be facing a challenge.
A trustee’s job is not easy; I know I’ve been there. But it’s not too tough to listen, ask questions and at least give the impression of being responsive.
Dr. Barry Resnick, a professor of counseling is in his 37th year as a faculty member in the Rancho Santiago CCD. He is the immediate past president of the District’s Faculty Association (FARSCCD) and served fours years as an elected trustee including one as president on the Orange Unified Board of Education.
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