Citing frustration over college administration’s threats of layoffs and his inability to get accurate budget figures, Southwestern College Governing Board Member William Stewart told The Sun he will resign this evening.
Stewart informed The Sun in an exclusive interview this afternoon that he was resigning out of frustration with district administrators whom he said were not providing complete and accurate information to board members or union negotiators. He also said he could not abide by the district’s negotiating strategies, “including the threat of layoffs.”
“Without information, all the information (his emphasis), oversight is a sham,” he wrote in his letter of resignation, which he said he will make public soon after The Sun posts this article.
Stewart compared the current state of district negotiations and fiscal management to the Titanic. In his letter he referenced Titanic Captain Edward Smith, who went down with the doomed ocean liner in 1912.
“If I am the captain of a vessel and I see clearly to port, but I have one blind spot to starboard, and I have crew members that will not provide me with a clear view off my starboard bow,” he wrote, “then I as captain am taking a grave risk to continue forward, a risk for me an my crew and all the passengers on board. I for one am unwilling to take such a risk.”
Stewart said he was dissatisfied with SWC’s campus governance culture, which he said was not shared governance, but merely “advisory.” The San Diego City College District, where he is a faculty member, has a truly collaborative shared governance system with meaningful input from all sectors of the district, he said. SWC, Stewart said, has a powerless Shared Consultation Council that the superintendent is free to ignore.
Stewart said he is very frustrated with the lack of transparency at SWC and its inability or lack of willingness to provide accurate budget figures to board members.
“There would be times when I couldn’t keep the data in order to analyze it,” he said. “From my perspective to the point when board members are not permitted to have access to the information to the point where they can analyze it, then they effectively don’t have access. That’s sort of like token access because to do careful in depth analysis means you have to study it. It doesn’t mean somebody waves a sheet in front of you.”
Stewart said there was particular information that he was not permitted to have pertaining to the budget.
“Any of the stuff I could draw down from public sites I could have just like anybody else could,” said Stewart. “Other documentation that I and the board have specifically asked for, I was not permitted to carefully examine it. Information that is vital for making decisions that are going on right now and I can’t make important decisions without truly understanding the numbers behind it.”
He said it is a board member’s responsibility to be properly informed. Without the proper information, he said, he cannot fulfill his duty.
“I’m not going to act as if I am fulfilling my fiduciary duty, like a good custodian, when in fact I am not being permitted to do so,” he said.
Stewart said his only viable choice is to resign.
“It’s as if someone said ‘hey we’re going to go 65 miles-per-hour down the freeway and by the way the fog is so thick you can’t see more than 15 feet in front of you’,” he said. “So I have a choice. I either get out of the car or take a chance of there being lots of casualties along the way.”
Stewart said he believes Southwestern College has a history of governing boards making important decisions without doing their due diligence. The results, he said, were catastrophic.
“They didn’t do careful examination of the finances and the financial records and we’ve seen where that’s taken Southwestern before,” he said.
Stewart said governance at SWC is from the top down in violation of the California Educational Code and state laws calling for shared governance of state community colleges.
“Shared governance means they’re sharing in the governing process, so it’s not a top-down system,” he said. “Shared consultation suggests they (staff) have a role as an advisor. I personally do not believe the direction faculty and staff would be inclined to move so quickly to discussions on layoffs if the whole college process involves a real collaborative model.”
When layoffs are being discussed first in negotiations with employees, it is clearly a sign of a top-down governance model, he said. College president Dr. Melinda Nish and her vice presidents are “good people,” he said, but “the way they approach their problem solving is radical.”
Stewart said his resignation is the best chance to force meaningful change at SWC.
“The people who for sure, for positive, were not responsible in any way for the negative financial outcome, are going to be the ones who pay the price,” said Stewart. “I cannot live with that.”