Summer session restored, management pay cuts on table

Santa+Rosa+Junior+College+student+body+president+Evelyn+Navarro+attends+the+Presidential+Constituent+Council+with+other+campus+leaders+to+work+with+SRJC+President+Frank+Chong+following+the+recent+summer+schedule+cut+scandal.++Navarro%2C+who+wore+an+SRJC+Strong+shirt+from+the+wildfires%2C+said%2C+I+wore+this+shirt+for+a+reason.+We+all+know+what+it+says+on+the+back%3A+%E2%80%98After+the+smoke+the+love+will+remain.%E2%80%99%E2%80%9D

Brandon McCapes

Santa Rosa Junior College student body president Evelyn Navarro attends the Presidential Constituent Council with other campus leaders to work with SRJC President Frank Chong following the recent summer schedule cut scandal. Navarro, who wore an SRJC Strong shirt from the wildfires, said, “I wore this shirt for a reason. We all know what it says on the back: ‘After the smoke the love will remain.’”

Brandon McCapes, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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Santa Rosa Junior College students whose academic plans were threatened by a top-down proposal to cut the majority of summer courses need no longer worry. In a meticulous meeting, campus leaders voted to completely reverse the unpopular summer cuts this morning.

The vote came after Vice President Dr. Mary Kay Rudolph announced March 29 that the administration decided to cut up to 80 percent of summer courses to save $2 million against a potential $6.5 million budget deficit after years of decreasing enrollment, a decision met with criticism and protests from community members.

With the summer curriculum no longer in jeopardy, SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong said management pay cuts and layoffs were on the table and announced a recommitment to the 100-year-old college’s founding principle of shared governance in dealing with the budget crisis. The reconciliatory meeting included student, faculty, staff and administrative representatives.

The so-called Presidential Consultation Council decided to meet weekly to improve communication and advance shared governance in trying times.

The committee planning the school’s annual open house Day Under the Oaks also recommended cancelling this year’s event in response to faculty boycotts and to save $40,000; the recommendation was met with reluctant approval from the council.

“This unfortunate event sparked by last Thursday’s announcement has given us a tremendous opportunity to improve the way this college runs,” Academic Senate President Eric Thompson said in an email to The Oak Leaf. “This meeting was a very good start, in my opinion. Of course there is much to do, and this is just the beginning. But I am very optimistic that, if we use this opportunity well, we will come out of this in a much better place.”

Chong, who fielded the JC community’s criticism following last Thursday’s announcement, said he would ask management to forgo 1.56 percent of their anticipated 9 percent raise and volunteer an additional 3.44 percent reduction. Faculty have questioned if a 4 percent raise can actually be considered a pay cut.

“We’ve got to change things up,” Chong said. “This college has been here for 100 years and if we do things right it’ll be here for another hundred.”

The board of trustees’ decision to increase management salaries by more than 9 percent in December was also met with heavy criticism by faculty who face impending pay cuts.

The 5 percent management pay cuts would be compensated with additional time off, Chong said. He also suggested management layoffs to offset the budget deficit.

Chong said his predecessor, Dr. Robert Agrella, cut management pay in a previous budget crisis and inspired his change in direction.

“As the president and the highest-paid employee at the college, I am going to meet with my management team to ask that we do that,” Chong said. “I’ve been getting hammered by people saying the managers are making too much money.”

The college recently dropped below the 20,000 full-time-equivalent students (FTES) mark, which reduces state funding apportionment by millions of dollars.

The budget deficit would be $9.1 million if the state did not plan to award the college a one-time funding disbursement to make up for lowering enrollment caused by the fires.

English instructor Terry Mulclaire said in an all-staff email that the ad hoc funding from the Chancellor’s Office could have informed the decision to make the cuts because the school would receive money for the summer session independent of enrollment.

In a move that one department chair said showed a lack of confidence in Vice President of Finance Doug Roberts, Chong said he would bring in an outside budget specialist, provide regular budget updates to the JC community and include constituent groups in budget decisions.

Karen Furukawa, head of human resources, said although Rudolph and Roberts are credited for making the unpopular decision, they will not be fired as rumors have suggested.

Board of Trustees President Maggie Fishman said the board would evaluate Chong in its closed session on Tuesday.

“I support President Chong in his effort to move forward and reunite this school and bring this school together,” Fishman said. “That being said, our job is to evaluate the president.”

Community leaders had the chance to voice their grievances in an attempt to rebuild trust and comradery.

Vice President of the Academic Senate Nancy Persons said she was most concerned administrators sought budget cuts that would hurt students, and criticized them for ignoring students’ needs.

“I think the thing that really bothers me the most was there’s a complete lack of empathy and awareness of where our students are at,” Persons said. “The one thing that’s missing from this list is having a clear connection in your head and your hearts about where our students are at.”

English instructor Julie Thompson said she was glad Chong brought everyone to the table, but the problem goes deeper than the summer cut proposal.

“I would like to thank you for calling this meeting and for all the listening you’ve been doing lately,” Julie Thompson said. “I feel like a conversation about a plan feels premature to me. This is not an isolated incident; this is part of a pattern a lot of us have been trying to bring to the administration’s attention for some time.”

Student Government Assembly President Evelyn Navarro said the administration and faculty are out of touch with students, who pay tuition that partly funds their salaries.

“Students are saying that everyone in this room is here because they pay for it,” Navarro said. “And that comes because of lack of connection. This is more than just summer—this has been a long-term issue and this will continue being a long-term issue if it’s not addressed. There’s a huge separation between the institution and the students.”

Faculty members like communications instructor Susan Houlihan have suggested the summer cuts were so ill-advised that they may have been a political move amid strained salary negotiations with the All Faculty Union (AFA).

“One can cynically speculate based on the timing of the announcements,” Houlihan said in an interview with The Oak Leaf.  “What I know for sure is clear: in taking this action, the administration was either smart as a fox or dumb as a rock. In either scenario, our historically excellent college community deserves better.”

The administration has unequivocally denied the cuts were politically motivated.

Chong said the administration hired attorney Laura Schulkind to assist in mediation with the AFA. The negotiations, which have been at an impasse, will reopen without the planned fact-finding step.