Questions about the direction and leadership of the college dominated the conversation inside the Westerbeck Recital Hall during an open forum Wednesday night.
The forum, which featured candidates for the second and fourth seats on the Pasadena Area Community College District board, was moderated by the Pasadena Area League of Women Voters and co-sponsored by the Faculty Association.
The tone was set right from the opening remarks when Hoyt Hilsman, an author running for the district four seat, explained why he is running, and echoed the sentiments of many students and faculty in the process.
“[PCC is] a source of pride for the community, but in the past few years there has been real failed leadership here,” said Hilsman.
District four, which covers most of Pasadena, including PCC, is served by seven-year incumbent William Thomson. Thomson is running for his second re-election and third term on the board. He is opposed by former student trustee Marshall Lewis and Hilsman.
Despite world-class programs and consistently high rankings for degrees awarded, the school was placed on academic probation by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, which cited nine recommendations that the college must improve on by this time next year.
One of those recommendations—transparent, collegial, and participatory leadership—became the theme for the night.
“The very first thing you have to do is obey the law,” Hilsman said, responding to a question about how he would change the school. “You can’t meet in secret in violation of the Brown Act and expect to get away with it. You can’t cut down winter intersession in violation of labor contract and think you are going to get away with it.”
All the candidates agreed that an open atmosphere was needed, and each explained why they could provide a change of direction.
“It’s not enough just to say transparency,” Lewis said. “I was there along with some of the faculty and staff in the audience getting dragged out of meetings.”
Lewis, who does not have the polished resume of some his opponents, emphasized his active role in the numerous shared governance councils during his time at PCC.
“If you’re going to ask faculty, students, and staff to put it the work for shared governance you then have to accept [their decisions],” he said.
As the candidates outlined the way they would change the board for the better, it was incumbent for Thomson to highlight what PCC has done well.
“It’s easy to talk about these things but it’s difficult to do them,” Thomson explained. “I have a track record of listening.”
Thomson cited his availability to meet with anyone to discuss concerns and the recent decision to allow women’s basketball coach Peron to be reinstated after several groups lobbied the board as examples.
Thomson also explained some of the board’s past decision-making, saying the winter calendar was dropped due to budget projections from the state.
“We have to look at reality,” Thomson said. “Had we known [about the ability to fund winter] we would not have made that decision [to cancel it].”
“It’s not enough to just hand out your phone number,” Hilsman added.
Other topics of contention included what Selinske, PCC alum and former PUSD board president running for the district two seat, calls “the most important decision a trustee makes,” selecting a president-superintendent.
The current trustee representing district two, Jeanette Mann, is retiring at the end of the current term after 30 years on the board. Social scientist Martin Enriques and professor James Osterling are, along with Selinske, hoping to win the seat encompassing parts of Sierra Madre and Pasadena.
According to the ACCJC evaluation report, since 2009, PCC has had three permanent Superintendent/Presidents and two interims. The last of which, Dr. Mark Rocha, or “the $400,000 man” as Enriques referred to him, left amid controversy and discontent. Enriques also noted that it may have been worth the money and lawsuit to get rid of Rocha.
Lots of questions regarding the role and treatment of adjunct faculty were also on people’s minds, according to moderator Yvonne Pine.
“I have a great idea,” Lewis offered, “hire full time faculty.”
“There is something to be said for having a professor in their office, for having a professor that doesn’t have to run [between] three schools,” he said.
Osterling, as a part time professor of finance and real estate at USC, took a more tempered approach.
“I don’t think part-time faculty are going away,” he said. “We need to strike a balance between full-time and part-time.”
Osterling also suggested one of the improvements the school needs to make is to ensure students know “how to get two-year degree in two years.”
The candidates were available outside the Center for the Arts after the event, along with campaign literature.
The Board of Trustees election will be held Nov. 3 and voter registration ends Oct. 15.