Hernandez issues response to VCCCD accreditation issues and perceptions

July 12, 2012
By

Art Hernandez

By Arturo Hernandez / Board Trustee, VCCCD

This statement is in response to the recent public accusations against me in the April 16th, 2012 Report from the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, released by the commission on July 2, 2012. Up until now I have not publicly responded to the false accusations against me because I felt that the District, students and the community, were best served by not further alienating the Accreditation Commission. I believed that defending myself would not be the responsible or appropriate action. The VCCCD has been placed on probation status and although I deny the items attributed to me, I accepted the responsibility to work with the ACJCC to return the VCCCD to good standing. Now that the ACJCC report has been presented to the public and the inaccurate and libelous accusations made against me have appeared in the press, I believe that I have been defamed by false accusations and that it is now time to respond.

It was stated in the report that based on “behaviors described by two or more interviewees in separate interviews” it was concluded that I, as a Board member, had conducted myself in a manner that is contrary to expected practice for a Board member. The Report included a listing of twelve items that ranged from “displaying a lack of preparation for board meetings,” to “continuing to micromanage campus and District affairs.”

For the record, I was not interviewed by the Accreditation Team regarding the comments and perceptions that were presented to them in April 2012 and, therefore, I had no opportunity to correct the accusations. Had I been given the opportunity, I would have responded to the inaccuracies presented. Previous to the April 2012 report, over the course of my time as a Trustee with the VCCCD, I was never provided a single written item, written advisory, email, memorandum, or other forms of documentation or evidence advising me of anything resembling the noted concerns. It is my understanding that if the Accreditation Team followed their normal process, they made a request to interview certain individuals and they proceeded accordingly. This does not mean that the Accreditation Team was afforded the opportunity to interview me and/or other stakeholders, to validate the information provided to them. Since documented evidence is the guiding principle of the Accreditation process, in regards to the accusations presented to the Accreditation Team against me, as I stated, none exists or has ever been presented to me. As Vice Chair of the Board this year, I either spoke or met with the Chancellor weekly, and at no time did he present any issues or concerns he had with me or any of my actions or behavior. His retirement letter is the first time he presented his issues to me and the entire Board.

My statement today is not intended in any manner to minimize my commitment to fully support and abide by the recommendations of the Accreditation Team. I plan to do that wholeheartedly and I look forward to working with the other Board members to ensure that our VCCCD achieves full accreditation compliance. This statement is actually about my reaffirming my good name and the good work that I have provided to serve and enhance the the community college district over the course of the 12 years that I have served as Trustee.

In addition to serving on the College Board for the past 12 years, I previously served as an elementary (5 years) and high school board member (4 years) within Ventura County. In total, I have served over 20 years as an elected school official. A historical review of my performance in those roles over the years will clearly show that until these unfounded accusations, I have never been accused of partaking in any “disruptive and inappropriate” behavior.

There is probably no district within the community college system where Board members do not question college and district operations. In our district, over the past ten years, I have witnessed Board members, time and time again, who routinely contacted the district office and sometimes the campuses to question certain operations or to make requests of a college president for intervention on the situations perceived as needing their attention. Based on findings in the Report it appears that under the previous Chancellor, Board member questions were acceptable to the Chancellor unless the questions uncovered a lack of thorough analysis or the questions resulted in a staff recommendation being overturned.

This questioning seems to have resulted in complaints to accreditation officials about that Board member being “disruptive and inappropriate.” Also, it appears that if a Board member does not automatically, without question, approve district proposals, and instead asks for further clarification on the matter, he may wind up being accused of not being prepared for meetings. As far as I could tell or knew, up until recently the previous Chancellor did not view me as a “disruptive” Board member. However, that changed when my questions and stated concerns jeopardize approval of his recommendations because other Board members agreed with my concerns.

For example, it is public knowledge that during the recent round of cuts for the colleges, I publicly requested at Board meetings that the college administration share with the Board the analysis used to validate the proposed elimination of certain instructional programs at one of the colleges. In other words, I wanted to know if these programs were in demand by local industry. What was the enrollment history of these programs? How and why were these programs chosen for dismantling by the college administration? My questions stemmed from the many calls that I had received from community members, local elected officials, including members of the City Council, County Board of Supervisors, and from students, and administrators at the respective campus. I was also informed by one college administrator, that they were told by senior administrators at the campus that selection of the programs for elimination was based on the perception that “cutting those programs would draw the least flak from the community.” Based on this feedback, the decision was seemingly arbitrary and guided by what would avert repercussions rather than what was good for students and the college district. The requested information was not and has never been presented to the Board or to the students, faculty, and administrators of those programs leaving me unable to respond to or answer the questions posed to me in those phone calls. This placed me in a bad position as an elected official, and leaves the residents that we serve without a way to gain answers to their questions in a timely way.

I take my vote on behalf of all communities very seriously. When we are impacting our student’s future, or our employees positions, it is my duty and responsibility to gain clarification before voting on the abolishment of programs, jobs or other services. The college president eventually called a college-wide meeting to present the analysis he used to select program eliminations. Based on the feedback of those in attendance, it is my understanding that the president was unable to present any data to support his decisions.

My account of the aforementioned can be fully verified by the various faculty, students, and administrators who attended the meeting. What it amounts to is that senior administrators from the one college and the previous Chancellor were prepared to lay off long-standing faculty and to eliminate long-standing, feasible programs without logical, data driven review and analysis. Rather, it appeared, that the program was selected because it was assumed that nobody cared about the targeted programs. In effect, my opposition as a Board member to eliminating instructional programs without valid analysis to back up that decision was apparently viewed as inappropriate conduct on my part. I believe that my questioning of the process caused other Board members to question the process and to be concerned.

Ultimately the staff’s recommendations were not approved. When a recommendation from staff does not seem to be appropriate, and questions by residents of Ventura County cannot be answered, I believe as an elected Trustee that it is my fiduciary duty to seek clarification and logical answers.

Furthermore, much has been said about the previous Chancellor’s decision to retire a year earlier than he had planned and insinuations that I played a role in that decision. For the record, I never once stated or insinuated that the previous Chancellor should resign his position. The majority of the time that the Chancellor and I knew one another our relationship was positive, professional and cordial, despite the fact that we had some disagreements along the way.

In summary, I am looking forward to working with our new Chancellor. I believe that the Ventura County Community College District will achieve full accreditation compliance and I plan on doing my part to support that process. We all have room to improve, and I accept responsibility to provide the clarity of my role to the Accreditation Commission as an elected trustee, while representing the entire District I serve. I would like to ensure students, faculty, staff, and all concerned members of our entire Ventura County communities that I will continue to support their best interests.

Respectfully,

Arturo (Art) Hernandez

Trustee, Ventura County Community College District

***

For more information, see Ventura County Star story:

Oxnard trustee defends actions in face of colleges’ probation

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