Report Assails Ohlone Trustees’ Infighting

By Todd R. Brown, The Argus, Fremont, Calif.

Jul. 3–FREMONT — Ohlone College has received an official warning from an accrediting commission that the school’s trustees need to set aside their differences, delegate policy work to staff and ensure stability and empowerment in the Ohlone community — or risk the college’s academic standing.

“A warning is a sanction issued by the commission,” said Gari Browning, Ohlone’s new president/superintendent. “If we were to ignore the commission and not respond to it in a timely fashion … it could linger. We would have two years to comply.”

Browning served as associate director of the commission for four years. While the college responds to the critique, Ohlone’s accreditation will stand and students should not worry about transferring credits or losing financial aid, she said.

Yet the stinging report by a team of evaluators who visited the college in the spring listed serious problems that must be addressed in order to lift the warning. The 50-page assessment went public this week with the commission’s decision mailed out Monday.

“There is significant dysfunctionality within the Board of Trustees that is perceived to have a negative impact on student learning and the quality of the institution,” the report says. “Board members often act as individuals, which has led to micromanagement of the president and other college staff.

“Board members who do not vote with the majority have an ethical obligation to not undermine the decisions

of the majority.”

The criticism, however, is part of a mostly favorable picture of the college. From a collaborative spirit among teachers and students, to the strides Ohlone has made in building its Newark campus and broadening its programs, the report says people in all walks of the academic community help in its success.

“All college constituencies are very proud of Ohlone, and only the inappropriate behavior of the trustees detracts from the very positive climate and progressive approach to challenges and opportunities demonstrated by faculty, staff, administrators and students,” the report says.

The Novato-based Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges certifies those schools in California and elsewhere on a six-year schedule. It has the power to uphold a college’s academic status, put it on probation or revoke its accreditation.

The commission considered Ohlone board activity going back to 2002, when the last accrediting process took place. The evaluators’ report detailed how one board member “has engaged in negative newspaper articles regarding the college” and pointed to other trustee actions that have sandbagged the group.

“Several students felt uncomfortable when approached by a board member who recently, and without the knowledge of his board colleagues, solicited complaints about faculty and administrators,” it said. “The board member set up a table on campus for the purpose.”

Browning called such behavior inappropriate for a representative of the college.

“The board is a body,” she said. “It’s not that they can’t speak, it’s that they can’t speak for the college.”

Board President Garrett Yee said the trustees already are working on recommendations by the commission, including plans for a July 19 meeting on the warning letter and report and an Aug. 13 workshop on improving the board’s self-evaluation process.

“We take the findings very seriously,” he said, adding of the unnamed renegade, “I hope the board member now knows that that kind of act is really beyond the scope of what a board member should be doing.”

The commission directed Ohlone to complete two reports, the first due Oct. 15 on the board and the next due March 1 on employee evaluations and other matters. Browning said evaluators also will return in November before the next commission meeting in January.

Trustee Rich Watters, who came aboard in 2006, said much of the bad behavior documented in the report occurred before his time and should not detract from the praise.

“Everything else was positive academically,” he said. “The board is really committed to making sure we aren’t going to be a thorn in the college’s side and that we hold each other accountable.”

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