Imminent Collapse

To the Board of Trustees of New College of California,

I had meant to write sooner regarding the recent WASC report at New College of California and the ensuing public discussions about the implications of the report but have had a difficult time finding the names and addresses of current Board members. Each of you receiving this letter is or has at one time been associated with the Board of Trustees of NCOC.

I am a graduate of the Humanities Program (1997), and of the Grad Psych Program (1999), as well as Adjunct Faculty in Humanities. I returned to teach at NCOC because of my commitment to the vision and mission of the school; it is deeply distressing to me to see how those values have been so severely compromised by the decisions and actions of the NCOC Administration. I applaud the Board’s decision to replace Martin Hamilton and I hope that this step is just one of many prerequisite steps that need to occur before the necessary structural changes can be made and sustained at New College. As you are aware, the current WASC report cites institutionalized problems at the school that have lead to the erosion of trust among faculty and students, and have contributed to the College’s current state of financial jeopardy. These conditions have come about over the course of many years and it is imperative that the Board not relinquish its responsibility to make all of the necessary corrections that will enable the College to survive this Administration. First and foremost, I want to offer you a piece of my own personal history at NCOC as it relates to these issues.

I was a member of the Student-WASC committee of 1995/6 that organized in reaction to the faculty tumult that plagued the Undergraduate Humanities Program at that time. Our concern was that there was an absence of clear lines of power and responsibility at the College which prevented issues from being properly addressed. In the absence of mechanisms for redress these conflicts became personalized as the Administration sought to portray the faculty who raised pertinent questions about the governance of the College as ‘out to destroy New College’. Such accusations, sanctioned by school officials, created an atmosphere of distrust and division among students, the faculty and staff. In the words of Dr. Samuel Gerson, the consultant who was hired to observe and report on the situation in 1993, the pervasiveness of the problem was “…a direct outcome of the administration’s denigration of the common practice of instituting rules and procedures of faculty governance.” To be clear, by administration he meant Peter Gabel and Martin Hamilton. This entrenched hostility of the College administration, both past and present, to the establishment of the most basic structures of faculty and student governance and fiscal accountability has continued to erode the integrity of the College. Dr. Gerson’s observation of an administrative culture that attempts “…to deny or otherwise mask a pervasive interest in the covert exercise of power” is as true in 2007 as it was in1993. I have attached Dr. Gerson’s report to this letter – it serves as an historical document as well as an example of how deep these problems go at the College.

Our student group was formed in 1995 as a result of our belief in the necessity for transparency in governance, accountability with power, and integrity in academia. We organized because we believed that the absence of institutionalized structures of student and faculty governance were a hindrance to the effective functioning of the College and a threat to its long term survival. We were motivated because the absence of such structures precipitated a mass exodus of faculty, students, and staff from the College and jeopardized the academic integrity of our school. Our attempts to educate ourselves and other students about these issues were met with open mockery and hostility by certain members of the faculty and administration who continue to be involved with College today. I am explaining this to you so that you will have some sense as to how students and faculty are being made to feel today, as they are raising these very same issues and finding themselves on the receiving end of some particularly nasty comments from administrators and staff at the school. Unfortunately, this type of personalized attack in response to criticism of the institution is part of the history of this administration and emblematic of the culture that has taken root at New College.

In 1995 we appealed to WASC – as students and faculty have done again – because there was no one else to appeal to. This, in and of itself, is a core problem at New College, where a closed-system of power, often referred to as ‘a family’, is actually an entrenched group of people who brook no criticism, and who resist all calls for academic and fiscal accountability. Given the dramatic erosion of trust at the school, I suggest to you, above all else, the immediate creation of an independent ombudsmen position, staffed by someone completely and undeniably unaffiliated with the College (and unaffiliated with someone who works at the College), which would provide an office to which faculty and students may appeal to in the coming months.

As part of our work to create an independent WASC report that would convey our concerns about the school, we educated ourselves about the function and role of WASC and became familiar with the standards by which WASC determines accreditation. We believed then, as I believe now, that these standards are a fair and valid baseline for Colleges. I believe that meeting these standards is the least that a college can do; meeting them does not jeopardize the unique mission of NCOC, rather, I believe that accreditation serves to enhance it. It is imperative that these standards be met and maintained by New College and that any barriers to meeting them, whether individual or institutional, be removed from the College. Issues of governance aside, it is the importance and gravity that WASC places on the fiduciary aspects of the academic institution, and the coming investigation into these aspects of the school, that will ultimately lead to the more distressing truths about New College. It was in reaction to our questions about financial issues that we met the most open hostility from the Administration. Every avenue of investigation into the financial status of the College was, and has remained, blocked; requests for meetings with the Board of Trustees at that time were denied to us. Eventually we appealed to the Bay Guardian to assist us in exploring these issues (please see attached copy of this article).

Current allegations about the improper use of federal financial aid and the ‘shell games’ that enabled the College to purchase the Casa Loma building and the Roxie Theater, while being unable to meet payroll, only deepen my sense that New College is in danger of collapse. Continued resistance on the part of the administration to submit to financial oversight makes it unlikely that alumni/ae will continue to donate money to the College. The College’s continued reluctance to fully disclose the complex connections and relationships between administrators, employees, Board members and other staff only serves to reinforce the notion that there is indeed something very shady going on. Perhaps this is why there have been numerous calls for
investigations into the College’s handling of federal money. Fiduciary integrity and the creation of a just and sacred world are not mutually exclusive; the latter without the former is, in fact, hypocrisy.

Since 1993 faculty, students, and staff have been challenging the administration of New College to live by its own values and to create an institution that embodies trust and integrity in its own internal processes and governance. Our concerns have been dismissed as baseless, and those who have raised these concerns have been made the target of personal attacks on their character. Perhaps now the full weight of these issues is sinking in as it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore the signs of imminent collapse at the College. The Board of Trustees, students, faculty, and the larger New College of California community have an unprecedented opportunity to create a model for higher learning. For this to happen a radical restructuring of the College is necessary. The severing of all NCOC ties with Martin Hamilton, Peter Gabel, and the remaining Academic Vice Presidents is a prerequisite for the fundamental change that is necessary for the survival of this school. For the Board to allow these administrators to continue in any capacity at New College of California is tantamount to sacrificing the future of our college. It remains to be seen whether this Board has the perseverance, courage, and intention, to guide New College into the future. I hope so and I wish you well.

Respectfully,

Raymond Buscemi, Psy.D.

August 3, 2007

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~ by Jay Taber on August 12, 2007.

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