Trouble Continues at Former Saddleback District

September
1997
Kate Clark, Irvine Valley College

What in the world is going on in the South Orange County Community College District (formerly the Saddleback Community College District)? If we rely only on newspaper or other media accounts, all the notoriety arises from our Board of Trustees' initial approval of a controversial community education course to be taught on our campus by the president of our board, Steven Frogue. The course, espousing the conspiracy theories surrounding the JFK assassination, would have included guest lectures by well-known anti-semitics. Further complicating the issue was Frogue's tie-breaking vote cast to permit the seminar, on the advice of the Chancellor who said that it would be "all right" since Frogue didn't stand to profit financially from a course he volunteered to teach without cost.

For readers in Orange County, the issue would also appear to be the recent judgment by a Superior Court judge who ruled that the Board of Trustees willfully violated the California Open Meetings Act (commonly referred to as the Brown Act) when they met in closed session to appoint a chemistry professor as interim president. That decision has now been declared null and void as were all decisions the interim president made subsequent to the time. The right given to citizens to address our elected officials and to hear their deliberations has been routinely denied us. We have written letters of demand asking them to cure and correct, have warned them and our Chancellor of pending violations, and private citizens have repeatedly questioned the legality of decisions made in closed session without opportunity for public comment and public scrutiny. Yet those improperly agendized, clandestine meetings still occur, necessitating further court action.

Those violations have now implicated the Board of Governors. Recently a member of our state governing body was complicit in such an illegal action and may soon be deposed as part of the legal consequences that ensue when a public entity flagrantly violates the law and disregards court warnings.

For the vast majority of the faculty in our district, however, the real issue is the effort of the majority of our local board members to disenfranchise all those who are duly empowered to speak for their constituencies: the student government, the classified senate, the administrative management group, and the academic senates of our two colleges. And what concerns these groups? Process - or the lack thereof. It was the lack of process that resulted in closed sessions in which the academic senates were tripped of their reassigned time, in which our Chancellor was removed as an interim president and a divisive faculty member was selected in his stead. It is the lack of process in yet other closed sessions during which the Irvine Valley College (IVC) presidential hiring process, prescribed by adopted policy and state hiring regulations, was high-jacked to ensure results that the board majority sought; or the closed session that resulted in the removal of elected faculty chairs and their replacement by deans imported from other campus, without any prior discussion with affected parties and against the advise of all senior administrators - except IC's interim appointment. Appalling as these decisions themselves may be, we are most alarmed at the repeated violations of process that led to them.

The board majority would have the public believe that legal challenges are being pressed by a few disgruntled faculty; in fact, 73% of the Irvine Valley College faculty has voted no-confidence in this board. Saddleback College's Academic Senate has offered resolutions critical of Board actions, particularly the violation of hiring policies. Recall efforts among a number of groups arising independently in the community demonstrate the broad range of concerns about this board's ability to govern its own actions, let alone govern a community college district occupying 40% of Orange County. Legal actions queue up, supported by community members, students, district faculty, staff, and administrators - taxpayers all. Though ultimately costly to the district, these pending legal actions are undertaken to insist that the actions of our presidents, our chancellor, our board of trustees - and even our Board of Governors - be accountable to the law and to the highest standards of integrity.

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