Not Getting It

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

“I get it.”

—Palomar College President Joi Lin Blake

“Sadly, I don’t think you get it.”

—Anel Gonzalez, President of the Palomar College Council of Classified Employees

President Blake’s quote above is from last Tuesday’s Governing Board meeting, and she made it in response to the widespread rejection of her leadership, evidenced primarily by the faculty’s vote of no confidence, and the resolutions presented by faculty and staff calling for her removal. Blake claimed to understand the upheaval, to reassure everyone that she “gets it.”

But what, exactly, does she “get”?

Well, she gets how important it is to control a narrative and stay on point, and that’s what she is doing with the recent Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) report, which found that “the district has a high probability of fiscal insolvency in the near future.” The FCMAT report certainly deserves a lot of discussion as well as close examination, and I will leave that to the faculty leaders whose charge it is to look into these things. Once they compile and share that information, this blog will do what it can to amplify their findings.

For now, it is clear that President Blake is going to use one particular recommendation—to immediately renegotiate contracts—as a cudgel to beat her drum's song of entitled workers who are leading the school to financial ruin and who are upset because she’s going to take things away from us.

Which brings us to the second quote on the top of this page, this one by CCE President Anel Gonzalez and far more accurate: Blake clearly doesn’t get why people are upset.

As the resolutions by the school’s two largest employee groups make clear, her leadership has failed because of her unilateral, analysis-free, and costly decisions. The FCMAT representative pointed out that they do not assess the decisions that led to the current financial picture: “We don’t give As or Fs on the decisions you’ve made…that’s not our mission.”

To understand our current situation, the FCMAT report is but one detail; the larger context matters, too. And in that larger context, President Blake’s fingerprints are all over our financial woes—even the issue of salaries: any budgetary spike in that area has much to do with the fact that President Blake authorized the hiring of thirty-five faculty members above what the school was obligated to hire, to the tune of an additional $3.9M.

There’s a narrative at work here, and it’s one that’s all too familiar in corporate America: a CEO runs a company into the ground and the workers both get blamed and pay for it. As many can attest, the faculty and staff at Palomar College are dedicated and have been doing their job of providing top-quality education and support for our students; President Blake has not been doing her job. Or rather, she has not been doing it well.

Take, for example, her responsibility to be a good fiscal steward—something else that she doesn’t “get.” To understand this failure, one needs look no further than an incident during Tuesday’s Board meeting that may have escaped notice in the wake of everything else going on.

Buried in the consent agenda (a favorite tactic of President Blake’s), and included among the routine part-time faculty ratifications and job reclassifications was this nugget: the creation of a BRAND NEW DEAN POSITION (Board Exhibit J2; see highlighted area on p. 4). The annual base salary for this position is just under $134,000. That does NOT include benefits and pension contributions, both of which would likely add upwards of $160,000 to our budget—the budget that currently has us on the brink of financial collapse.

The first obvious question to ask is, Why did this item come before the board the way it did—more or less hidden in the consent agenda? The answer to this can be found, again, in the Faculty Senate and CCE resolutions, both of which detail President Blake’s lack of transparency.

Here are some other questions worth asking: Why do we need a new dean position when we are having serious financial troubles? Why are we hiring a new dean when we are in a “modified hiring freeze”? What are we NOT paying for when we commit a new $160,000 dean to an already deficit budget?

I’m sure there are many people on campus who can answer this last question, and I invite you to come forward and share your stories. My own department’s Writing Center is a place that is constantly looking for the money necessary to serve students. Here, though, I’m going to focus on the Math Center. According to its director, Professor Fari Towfiq, this important educational resource:

  • Serves upwards of 1,200 students per semester

  • Serves 30 full time and about 50 part time faculty

  • Staffs about 30 tutors

  • Serves the 11% of our Disability Resource Center (DRC) student population

  • Proctors all the exams for the online and hybrid classes

  • Proctors make-up exams for other instructors (over 1200 exams per semester)

  • Assigns and schedules 30 tutors for the Math Center

  • Organizes workshops for faculty

  • Generates at least $600,000 through FTES

In short, the Math Center is a crucial resource for our students, and its importance increases in the wake of AB705 since so many of our students who would have previously enrolled in basic skills classes will not have that option. They will need, as a result, the important support provided by the Math Center.

The Math Center’s previously categorical funding has gone away, and it has not been placed into the school’s budget. Because of this, Professor Towfiq has had to scramble for funds. In her latest effort to preserve this crucial resource for students, she has proposed to reduce its budget by 64% to a little over $134,000.

So now the question is, what would a responsible fiscal steward who has the students’ best interests at heart do? Would she create a new dean position, or would she make sure that the Math Center is a budget priority?

The answer, of course, is the Math Center. The answer from President Blake is a new dean.

She clearly doesn’t “get it,” and neither does her Board majority. But first, a little gratitude is in order:

  • Big thanks to Trustee Norma Miyamoto for catching the new dean position (with its $160,000 price tag) and pulling it from the consent agenda

  • Bigger thanks to Trustees Miyamoto and Trustee Nina Deerfield for voting against it

  • Biggest thanks to Trustee John Halcon for being absent

Halcon would have certainly voted for it, allowing it to pass 3-2 (the Board vote in so many important matters these days). Instead, his absence forced a tie—the first of two at the meeting—much to the befuddlement of Board President Nancy Ann Hensch, who clearly is so used to powering through votes as part of the Board majority that she seemed lost with how to proceed. Rather than declaring “the motion fails,” she muttered something about a “stalemate” and seemed to wait for either Miyamoto or Deerfield to change her mind (this also happened later in the meeting, when Miyamoto and Deerfield voted “Nay” to move the December meeting to a time when faculty would be off contract).

What is important to understand here is that Trustees Miyamoto and Deerfield were able to halt this only temporarily. President Blake said that she wants to bring this item back at the December meeting where, presumably, it will pass, and she will add another high-priced member to her administrative cabinet—again, while the college teeters on the brink of insolvency.

This kind of hypocrisy is the epitome of not “getting it.”

It is clear that the various stakeholders at Palomar College need to have honest, transparent dialogue about how to fix the school’s budgetary crisis.

It is equally clear that President Blake is incapable of fostering such a dialogue.

She has lost the confidence of the faculty. She has lost the confidence of the staff. And based on the many confidential conversations that members of those two groups have been having with administrators, she has lost the confidence of them as well.

No, she doesn’t get it. And what’s more, she seems to lack what it takes to “get it”—introspection. As she said at the Board meeting, “I am unapologetic for the decisions I have made because I have done what’s best for this campus.” This is the statement of someone unwilling—and perhaps unable—to look inward.

She must resign. If she is not willing to resign, then the Governing Board must remove her, as called upon by faculty and staff. If no one from President Blake’s group of “yes people” on the Board—Hensch, Halcon, or Evilsizer—are willing to make that necessary decision, then the voters will make it for them by breaking up their majority next November.

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