Layoffs and Turmoil

Cuts in California's Ventura County Community College District infuriate professors and students.
March 10, 2005

Fifteen faculty members -- some full-time and some part-time -- will lose their jobs this week in the Ventura County Community College District, and more than 100 other part-timers will be laid off by June under a controversial plan adopted by district trustees early Wednesday morning.

After hours of debate that started Tuesday evening, the Board of Trustees of the  three-college district voted for a plan that administrators said was needed to deal with budget shortfalls. Cuts will include academic programs taught by the professors who will be losing their jobs, two student newspapers, and the cafeterias at the district's three institutions: Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura Colleges.

Hundreds of students and faculty members packed the meeting of the district board, with many people speaking out against the cuts, professors whose jobs were being cut crying, and students threatening sit-ins.

Many of those who oppose the cuts say the college district could find other ways to save money. For instance, the faculty union has volunteered to give up scheduled cost-of-living raises scheduled for next year, which would have saved about $2 million, according to the union.

"None of these cuts are necessary," said Harry D. Korn, a professor of art history at Ventura who is president of the faculty union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

James Meznek, chancellor of the district, did not return phone calls or e-mail messages Wednesday, and other officials referred calls to him. The Ventura County Star quoted him as telling trustees that these changes were needed to save the district from facing one financial crisis after another. "We must change the way we do business," he said.

A fact sheet released by the district on Tuesday said that the district faces a budget deficit of $1.6 million this academic year and an additional $5.9 million next year. The fact sheet also said that the district ranks 11th out of the 72 in the state in faculty salaries, but is 13th from the bottom in financial support per student.

Faculty leaders in California characterized the cuts as short-sighted and mean-spirited.

David Milroy, chair of the California Part-Time Faculty Association, called the layoffs "pretty evil," adding that adjunct professors would face significant hardship in the district. "We're the ones without tenure. We have the most to lose, and the least input."

Much of the anger over the cuts focuses on the fact that faculty members say they are simply not needed. Korn, the union president, noted that California's state budget process always starts off with huge projected cuts, and those cuts tend to get smaller as the budget process plays out.

And he said that the union's offer to give up its cost-of-living raises was an attempt to help the district deal with any real budget problems without layoffs. He said that he was "really shocked" when the district rejected the union's offer and instead declared an impasse in negotiations over the next faculty contract.

Korn said that the union believes the district is using talk of a financial crisis to push for unreasonable changes in faculty compensation. For example, he said that administrators have been trying to get the union to sign off on a plan that would create "total compensation formulas" for faculty members. These formulas would cover both health insurance and salaries, so someone whose health costs went up might lose salary, Korn said.

"People wouldn't know from year to year what their salaries would be," Korn said. "How could people live that way?"

Korn said that word of the layoffs spread quickly among professors Wednesday, and that faculty members are depressed. "When you have all these faculty members with low morale and afraid of losing their jobs, that filters down to students," he said.

Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, said that eliminating faculty jobs can end up hurting the district financially. "When you lay off faculty and eliminate programs, you drive down student enrollment, and the formulas from Sacramento are based on enrollments," he said.

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