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SBCC Drafting Response to Accreditation Warning over Lack of Governance Rules

Santa Barbara City College officials have spent months on a report addressing concerns raised by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, and the first draft was made public earlier this month for a College Planning Council meeting.

In the summer of 2011, a complaint was filed with the commission, claiming that SBCC’s Board of Trustees was not complying with its own rules of governance.

An investigation found that the board violated its own rules and refused to delegate authority to the former president, Andreea Serban — who was placed on paid leave until her contract was up. As a result, SBCC was placed on warning status.

SBCC must submit a special report to the Accrediting Commission by March 15, showing that the college has fixed the deficiencies and implemented the oversight agency’s recommendations. There will be another site visit in the spring, and if the commission is satisfied, SBCC will remain accredited.

SBCC was told it must train its trustees in the roles for governance; have a code of conduct — including ethics — for the board; improve student learning and services; and “create an environment for empowerment, innovation and institutional excellence” by working with campus stakeholders.

The draft report was put together by the Accreditation Task Force, and is now going through the College Planning Council, SBCC President Lori Gaskin said.

After input on the draft, the report will go to the trustees and eventually will be sent to the Accrediting Commission.

“It was important to do,” Gaskin said. “It was cathartic, as well. It’s very candid, and a reflective look at our processes ... not many new presidents get an opportunity to stand back and reflect. It was positive all around in terms of having the opportunity to take a real intensive look at our structures and systems.”

Gaskin was selected as president by a 16-member search committee, and started work at SBCC on July 1.

The team working on the project has been “phenomenal,” she said, noting that there won’t be any major changes to the governing system even with implementing the commission’s recommendations.

“There won’t be any big changes, no; what we are is more aware and conscious,” she said. “It’s just giving us a sense of who we are as an institution related to governance.”

The trustees published and adopted a code-of-ethics policy last spring in response to the recommendations, and the campus plans to go beyond the specific recommendations, Gaskin said.

“We are going to reach out to more key stakeholder groups, most notably classified staff and management, to make sure they have an active and engaged role in participatory governance,” she said. “It’s a recommendation that came out of our study.”

SBCC is also working on a document that explains its own governance structure all in one place so it’s easier to orient new board members and staff members, she said.

“We always strive for improvement in whatever we do, both personally and professionally, and as an institution,” she added.

The introduction to the staff report is more candid than the college has been so far in responding to the warning letter.

“The sanction of warning was painful and disturbing to the institution,” the introduction states. “At the same time, and more important, being placed on warning served as a catalyst for internal assessment, reflection, and difficult but genuine conversations.

“Over the past couple of years, the dynamic associated with leadership transitions at the board level, the nature and clarity regarding the appropriate and effective roles of the CEO and board of trustees, and internal/external divisiveness melded together to create an unprecedented level of discord across campus. This permeated into sectors of the community as well.”

The report, which includes the results of the fall 2012 Governance and Leadership Survey taken by 346 employees, goes beyond the three recommendations and examines the entire SBCC governance structure.

SBCC’s leadership wants to unify the campus and address the main issues that caused the level of discord and divisiveness, the report states.

The 129-page survey shows that Gaskin is rated highly, but it’s a mixed bag for the board of trustees and overall collaboration between campus groups.

Only 53.2 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “The board of trustees, administrators, faculty, staff and students work together for the good of the institution through established governance structures, processes and practices.”

Less than a third of respondents believe the board delegates responsibility and authority to the president to implement board policies without interference. Another 23.7 percent of respondents disagreed, with the rest neutral or undecided.

SBCC has a new board of trustees with the Nov. 6 election of Veronica Gallardo, Marianne Kugler and Craig Nielsen.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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