Frances White faces uphill fight at COMBy Jennifer Gollan
Three weeks into her tenure as president of College of Marin, Frances White reproached former president Jim Middleton for fostering an internecine chasm between administration and faculty characterized by "a culture of distrust," and neglecting to incorporate all interests in decision-making.
In a wide-ranging interview, White also said there are numerous challenges facing the college, chief among them a dearth of course offerings for the county's growing population of English learners, budget cutbacks and declining enrollment.
She also talked about the upcoming campaign she'll spearhead to unite splintered constituencies in the community in the hope of garnering support for a $249.5 million facilities bond measure in November.
But perhaps most significant were her comments about a college that was embroiled for much of last year in a bitter battle between Middleton, who resigned under pressure, and the board, on one side, and the faculty and staff on the other.
White made it clear who she believes was at fault.
"Middleton's issues were relationships and issues of governance," White said in an interview this week. "There was a culture of distrust. People didn't feel he was approachable. ... People were demoralized."
Middleton did not immediately respond to a message left at his residence in Bend, Oregon.
White said she planned to change the dour mood at the college by building relationships with faculty, staff and students through regular meetings to discuss their concerns.
"To improve the relationship piece, you have to take it one thing at a time to re-establish trust," she said. "Structuring opportunities to communicate and keeping the channels of communication open - that will help."
In addition, she is eager to see the college establish a system of shared governance, something which is sure to please a faculty that has felt excluded from campus decision-making for some time.
"They need to have this (shared governance) in place to be in compliance with the law," said David Rollison, an English teacher and president of the College of Marin Academic Senate, which represents about 500 non-credit, full- and part-time teachers, and who appeared before the Board of Trustees this week to voice his concerns.
The absence of a shared governance policy at the college, Rollison said in an interview, was especially glaring when Middleton's administration ignored faculty protests over spending in 2002-03. The faculty showed their displeasure by approving an overwhelming vote of no-confidence in Middleton. His resignation, in June 2003, came a short time later.
White agreed with Rollison's call for shared governance, under which the faculty plays a critical role in the development and implementation of college policy.
"He's right," White said of the academic president's call for shared governance. "The college is working on a document that will delineate how decisions are made."
Pressed on why the college had not bowed to state law until now, White said: "People mistrusted, they would rather fight than switch. ... The fact that it hasn't been done goes back to the Middleton administration."
A system of shared governance, she added, would help "avoid the snags."
Perhaps the first test of White's approach to shared governance and cooperative relationships will center around her push to expand the college's offerings to meet the growing need of "non-traditional students," meaning low-income or minority students who may be the first in their families to apply to college.
"We need to think about what are the things that will keep our institution viable and relevant," she said. "It's been a privileged institution and now here comes a new population of students - and a new need. The demographics of the county are changing; it is browning. The college has an ESL (English as a second language) obligation to serve those populations."
But change may not be swift, she conceded.
"The institution is struggling with that dynamic," she said referring to a disagreement between some at the college she refereed to as "traditionalists" - those who would like to continue to concentrate on the college's transfer program - versus "non-traditionalists," those who would like to expand ESL and vocational programs that embrace the county's changing demographics.
She declined to specify which board, faculty or staff members were "traditionalists" or "non-traditionalists."
Under the state's Master Plan for Higher Education, community colleges' primary roles are to provide academic classes that allow students to prepare for transfer to the state's four-year public universities and to provide vocational education.
Some of those vocational programs the college could add could include training in bioterrorism or media, White said.
"We are a community college, not just a transfer college," she continued. "We need to pull our act together. I have to get this institution to understand the meaning of community college - that means everyone is our potential clients - not just the transfer and non-credit students."
Chris Schultz, dean of student development and special services, said he would welcome an expansion of job training and courses for English learners.
"I think it is an excellent idea," he said. "As the college can target new immigrant and ESL students - these people will be more prepared to find meaningful work."
Wanden Treanor, president of the College of Marin Board of Trustees, said any program expansions would largely depend on the number of students who enroll at the college as a result of being turned away from California State University or the University of California systems due to enrollment caps or grade requirements.
"The board has been supportive of ESL programs and we realize our responsibility to those students," she said.
"We'll have to see if enrollment increases due to UC and CSU requirements to assess that," she added, referring to White's suggestion that the college shift more focus to vocational and English learner programs.
Another issue is finding ways to revitalize the under-enrolled Indian Valley campus. Although in nascent stages, San Francisco State University in partnership with the College of Marin will offer courses this fall at the Indian Valley campus, the initial step in what could ultimately be a four-year bachelor's degree program.
Among the initial new offerings are "Professional Roles and Careers in Child and Adolescent Development" and "Alternative Health Practices."
Pressed on whether the partnership between the two schools was aimed at attracting students away from colleges in Sonoma County, including Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State, White said:
"There is no stated intent, but it would be a great by-product if we drew students away from Santa Rosa Community College because we could be cornering a need for students."
As far as budget management, the college last month approved a $43 million budget for next year that included $1.3 million in cuts and fee increases based on information that fiscal experts in Sacramento said was wrong. The cutbacks, based on information from the district's lobbyist, included freezing six staff and two management positions, the elimination of the position of academic director, and adding fees to some non-credit courses.
White, however, said the cuts probably will remain in place regardless of what happens in Sacramento.
In addition to the $1.3 million in cuts, White is having her staff review administrative costs with an eye toward making further reductions.
"I do know there is some opportunity to restructure the administration to make it more efficient," she said, adding that faculty and staff would be insulated from any immediate changes.
At least one union representative welcomed the move.
"I think that (the administrative staffing review) is a good idea," said Ira Lansing, a math professor and president of United Professors of Marin, which represents 385 full- and part-time teachers. "The number of administrators has grown while the number of faculty and course offerings has decreased over the last de-cade."
Meanwhile, White said it will be necessary to increase enrollment at both of the district's campuses.
The total number of full-time credit students declined from 5,918 in 1996-97 to 5,194 in 2003-04, and projections show they will remain the same next year, according to the most recent figures provided in the college's tentative budget through 2005.
"It's embarrassing," White said of the enrollment decline, referring to the fact that there are many potential students in Marin and elsewhere. "There is lots of room for improvement."
The college's enrollment figures, White said, would most likely improve if students received course catalogues well in advance of registration. In addition, White said the college would be reviewing course offerings to meet popular demand.
But curriculum aside, a large component of attracting students, White said, hinged on aesthetics, which is where the college's $249.5 million facilities bond measure - scheduled to go before voters Nov. 2 - would come in.
"Most of these K-12 districts here (in the county) have passed a bond or a parcel tax, their facilities are beautiful - their students are not going to want to come here with our facilities like this," she said, which she said looked like "a neutron bomb that went off."
In her 26 years as a community college educator she has led at least five successful bond campaigns, most recently while she was the president of San Mateo County Community College District's Skyline College in San Bruno, where voters approved a $207 million bond measure in 2001.
Copyright ©2004 Marin Independent Journal. Published 07/24/2004.