Updated: Dec 18, 2019
Last week, Palomar President Joi Blake penned a defense of her leadership that appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune. Her piece appeared alongside this one, in which English Professor Carlton Smith explained why 92% of faculty voted “No Confidence” in her leadership and why the two largest employee groups on campus called upon the Governing Board to remove her.
President Blake’s piece was, predictably, the same litany of half-truths and credit-taking that has defined her weekly campus updates and that have been taken apart elsewhere (HERE and HERE, for example), so I would like to narrow my focus to her closing salvo: “Despite the outrage and hostility thrust upon me by those who do not share my students-first focus and financial goals, I am confident in the bright, sustainable future we are working toward” (emphasis mine).
Let’s put aside President Blake’s by now tiresome language of victimization, through which she attempts to deflect legitimate criticism of her leadership, and instead examine her claim of having a “students-first focus.” Based on the facts, this claim prompts several questions that I invite her to answer:
How does spending the school’s vending machine funds on gifts to her Trustees put students first?
How does hiring an attorney for the District at a rate of $675 an hour—nearly 2 1/2 times the going rate at comparably-sized colleges—put students first?
How does spending over $50,000 on two robots that did little more than provide photo opportunities and are now in storage put students first?
How does her excessive travel—over $33,000 in just over two years—put students first?
How does spending over $10,000 on several staff meetings at expensive, off-campus sites—when we have plenty of room on campus—put students first?
How does pulling $7,400 from the Foundation (donated money meant to help students) to pay for her and two deans to go to Puerta Vallarta for the MITA Conference (a non-education conference meant for tech company executives) put students first?
How does taking another $6,000 from the Foundation and giving it to the Route 78 Rotary Club (of whom Trustee John Halcon is an active member) put students first?
How does paying a bond consultant $177,000 put students first, especially considering that bonds fund construction, and we have much more classroom and lab space than we’re already using? (FYI, this amount is just one example of the dollars President Blake throws at various consultants to look into ill-conceived, go-nowhere initiatives, and we are compiling this data for a future post).
How does paying $207,000 to a public relations firm put students first? (One ad campaign may have won a nice shiny award, but no evidence has been presented that these expenditures were offset by increased enrollment/FTES).
How does spending well over $1,000,000 of Prop M money on a 2200+ square foot office suite with a private bathroom put students first, especially considering that a portion of that money was meant to improve students’ access to student services? (It now looks like the $1M price tag is climbing, and a future post on this matter is forthcoming).
How does taking a 27% raise and lifetime health benefits put students first? This one is especially puzzling since she has clearly failed to meet the “most important” of her goals—to “improve the fiscal health of the college” (all her words); since she has been at the helm, our ending fund balance has gone down 60% and we are now looking at a $12M deficit.
Currently, one of the student-centered areas that has been impacted by the dire fiscal situation that President Blake has created is tutoring. These services are in danger of being drastically cut; in fact, faculty who oversee tutors have been told that they needed to let them go by the end of the year unless there was special funding available. Tutoring is a vital support service for our students, and even a cursory glance at the list above underlines the fact that any one of these wasteful expenditures would have gone a long way toward securing tutor services for our students.
President Blake’s repeated assertion that she puts “students first” demonstrates that words are cheap. But her expenses—her reckless spending, her excessive salary—are anything but cheap. They are, in fact, very, very costly to our school, to the surrounding community, and above all to our students.
Incidentally, if you’re wondering how students feel about all of this, here’s an answer.
As President Blake continues to unapologetically run Palomar College into the ground, the real question is, how much longer can we afford her “leadership”?