Now that five former college officials have admitted to criminal activities and the SWC portion of the South Bay Corruption Case is winding down, it is time for this institution to make a sharp turn. After 11 years of budget crises, revolving door leadership, multiple grand jury spankings, a reign of incompetence and terror, near-loss of accreditation, national headlines and the District Attorney indicting 11 people with SWC connections…it is time to breathe.
It is time to reflect.
It is time for a major change in direction.
It is time, after a dozen years of neglect, to refocus on academics. We are after all, a college.
We sincerely hope our college leaders listen to what we have to say on this topic. Our academics have atrophied from abuse, funding starvation, neglect, incompetence and distraction.
Think this is an exaggeration? Just look around. Our academic side of the house is in shambles. The energy of college leadership goes to practically everything except academics. We are too focused on Proposition R, accreditation minutia, labor issues and silly administrator awards.
In the meantime, the transfer rate at SWC is abysmal. Depending on who you talk to, the rate is 12 percent, 8 percent, 33 percent, 5 percent, 11 percent or 24 percent. These are all numbers provided this semester by college officials and state reports. Not a single source agreed with another. Our excellent transfer center director was the most forthright person we spoke to. She admited that she is not sure what SWC’s transfer rate really is, which bothers her greatly. Ascertaining transfer rates seems to be harder than forecasting winning Powerball numbers.
State education officials deserve the blame for confusion about transfer statistics. Shutting down the CPEC agency that collected date with no plan for an alternative really hurt. But SWC has been wandering in a data wilderness for years. It is hard to improve when we don’t really know how we’re doing. Deposed former superintendent Raj Chopra created this mess by laying off our director of institutional advancement because he didn’t like her. He suspended any meaningful collection of data for years. Research staff atrophied. Our director is back now and we wish her godspeed as the college works to re-establish a data baseline. Even if we do that this year, however, it will take years more before it begins to provide useful information.
Research and statistics can be used to describe student success in more detail and complexity, including transfer patterns, persistence, and certificate or degree completion regardless of level, and at any institution. Not to mention reputation. It is counter-productive to chase away brilliant local students who may go elsewhere because of a less-than-stellar reputation for transfer. Texas and Florida do it right. They know who comes in, who goes out, who makes it, who doesn’t. Let’s put a couple SWC administrators on jets and send them there to figure out how they do it.
Students and conscientious members of the community need to follow the money. It is easy to say that academics are a priority, but if our leaders are not applying resources (money, faculty) to teaching and learning, the words mean nothing. It is mighty discouraging to watch how money is spent around here. Millions and millions are spent on non-academic temptations. Our college is light on councelors, faculty and classes, and heavy on administrators, consultants and lawyers.
We understand that building money and academic money are in different pots, but it does send a funky message to the community that we are building a state-of-the-art football stadium when the college underfunds biology, engineering, math, visual art, journalism, women’s sports, forensics, theatre and many other academic areas. (Here’s hoping college football survives the NFL’s brain damage scandal that is already shrinking youth football programs across America, but that’s another story.)
SWC’s decade of scandals has our board and president putting out fires and cleaning up messes. We understand that. But SWC also has an academic VP, academic deans, a diverse and talented faculty, and other people who could start the process of reinvigorating academics. They can do the heavy lifting, but our top leaders need to send the message that academics will henceforth be the college’s priority.
As our beloved retiring baseball coach Jerry Bartow might say, this college needs to keep its eye on the ball. Academics is King. Period. Time to put our money and energy back into teaching and learning. Now.