Southwestern faculty questions college’s education plan

Is inaccurate data guiding the way?

Staff photo of C.M. Brahmbhatt when he worked for Coast Colleges — also the former employer of Southwestern College superintendent Melinda Nish
  • Staff photo of C.M. Brahmbhatt when he worked for Coast Colleges — also the former employer of Southwestern College superintendent Melinda Nish

Members of Southwestern College's faculty are concerned that the college’s master education plan is based on inaccurate data that may inform the administration’s pink-slip plan or presage the closing of programs integral to student needs.

In July of 2012, the Reader reported that Southwestern’s interim vice president of financial affairs, C.M. Brahmbhatt, slid from his VP position to district consultant without missing a paycheck. The college hired Cambridge West Partnership, LLC — with Brahmbhatt as the managing director — to prepare an “Educational Master Plan” and a “Facilities Master Plan” for $425,000.

The data collected for the education plan will drive the facilities plan that will be used for Proposition R bond expenditures. In a July statement, Southwestern College superintendent Melinda Nish called the hiring of the company “a key component” in moving forward with proposition R.

Cambridge West partner Fred Trapp collected data that resulted in a December 2012 draft Educational Master Plan. The plan contains an extensive list of “Instructional Programs That Might Be Reconsidered.” This list of programs, possibly headed for elimination, includes: web design, nursing, administration of justice, accounting, real estate, English as a second language, and so on.

A February 20, 2013, Reader article regarding potential layoffs drew a number of faculty responses about problems concerning the data collected for the Educational Master Plan.

One faculty member responded: “I have very serious concerns about the Ed Master Plan process. The Ed Master Plan was full of errors because of the method for gathering information. Grossmont/Cuyamaca are in their Self-Evaluation Accreditation period. They had to update their Ed Master Plan, but did it in house without expending $400,000+ and hiring consultants as we did….

“I am told that of the consultant firms interviewed, Cambridge was the best; however, my strong issue is that this company was brought in for the sole purpose of rushing through simultaneously an [educational master plan] and a Fiscal Master Plan…. I believe that Nish wants to move on spending Prop R $ as a priority.”

Gail Stockin, a professor in the school of sciences, humanities, and business, expressed concern that the data collected do not accurately reflect the number of students who have received certificates from programs that are “being reconsidered.” Nor does she feel that the data reflect the fact that students have not been able to complete certificate programs because course offerings have been severely cut in the past few years.

Angela Stuart, professor of Spanish and ESL, is concerned about the future of the ESL program. “We are a Hispanic-serving institution. Many of our students have difficulty affording the co-requisite units required to earn a certificate. These are hard economic times, and we have to remember that we are here to serve student needs. We are taking a look at how to address this problem.”

Stuart said she attended an Academic Senate meeting on February 26 where the incorrect data was a common concern.

An early call to Cambridge West on February 26 was not returned.

Comments

We Need Your Support...

Please Attend the Special Southwestern College Governing Board Meeting to ask questions about this issue and others...

DATE: Wednesday, February 27, 2013

TIME: 6:30 p.m.

LOCATION: Southwestern College, 900 Otay Lakes Road, Chula Vista 91910

Learning Resource Center, Room L238 North & South

(L238 is In the Library complex)

This just all seems like a look backward. A highly driven, self vested President of a college (Southwestern College in this case) circumvents all the processes on campus in order to achieve their agenda. The skills and talents of in-house staff, administrators and faculty are overlooked and tons of money that could be used for classes, student support programs and budget reductions is throw at these LLCs.

It is as if these administrators create little "camps" in these colleges and pat each other on the back with contracts and pay outs. Two of them, Brahmbhatt and Praham are even rejects from Nish's old college (Coast) and she hires them without ever thinking that people on this campus actually have the talents to do the work. She has no clue. Except of course for announcing "pink slips." When questioned about what she is saying she simply ignores people or answers with information that is completely off track. Nish is arrogant, and believes that she does not have to answer to anyone.

Watching the last Board meeting, it seemed that the Board takes whatever this little clump of "consultants," new hire administrators and a newbie President say without regard to the historical reality of the college; the reality that it is the students and employees who are the real truth tellers at Southwestern College.

What is it with these disticts hiring consultants instead of using the administrators we ALREADY pay for? $400,000+ for bad data? Give me a break!

Why is it a group of outsiders comes in to analyze our community campus and tell us what we need? Reminds me of the last go round with Proposition R.

Well, the answer better not be fewer classes. There are little private colleges springing up on every corner dying to get the financial aid from students.

And if you think it is by accident that these colleges are "springing up", you are greatly mistaken...it is all part of a way for greedy people to divert the government's support of the military's upgraded G.I. Bill.

I think the support of education for the ex-military and their dependents is great--but I just want people to get something for their, and the goverment's money.

Lack of reliable and valid data has been an issue at SWC for years. SWCs past Superintendent/President, Raj Chopra, dismantled the research department and fired the person running it. When Interim Superintendent/President Denise Whittaker took Chopra's place, she immediately reinstated the research department. Why? Because the generation of accurate valid and reliable data is required by the CA Chancellor's Office and SWCs accreditors. No college can be accredited without a research unit.

SWCs research unit only has one researcher; it had two, but one recently left. Even the smallest colleges in CA have at least 3 researchers on staff. When requesting more researchers, the answer is no. We are not even allowed to use the high salary from the researcher who left to hire a less expensive researcher (or two).

Why so little support to generate and supply the community with accurate data? Could one reason be that without data administrators can make decisions based on anecdote rather than evidence? Without data and evidence, administrators can cut where they see fit as opposed to where it is proven necessary. The result of this lack-of-data has been $24,000 raises for top administrators, cuts in pay and benefits for employees, and the hacking instructional programs and services. It is heartbreaking.

The importance of Southwestern College to our South Bay cannot be minimized. Our community needs and deserves a wide range of course offerings. Our community needs this college with its "lifelong" learning mission, where we can pick up important skills.

Even in difficult budget times, college leaders must make the choice to invest in classes (which to us are more important than fancy buildings.)

For example: My next-door neighbor is a photographer he went to southwestern College to learn Photoshop on the computer; he got a promotion. My yoga teacher went to Southwestern College and picked up new skills and teaching techniques which makes us all enjoy our yoga class more. My son loves music; he's getting classical guitar training at Southwestern College from an expert. My close friend is a software engineer and he went to Southwestern College and earned a certificate Web Design and that qualified him for an extensive project in the technology company where he works. My niece studied AJ at SWC and now she has a job with the CVPD. I chose my babysitter because she passed a childcare class and an ESL class at SWC. My dentist employs two people who have certificates in bilingual medical office. My dentist takes a computer class at Southwestern. My realtor got her certification at SWC, and she got me into a nice home... The list goes on and on.

We all vote here--and we voted for a college board that understands the needs of the South Bay!

These programs could be cut by educational plan made by an outsider? A $400K plan based on data which does not count the immeasurable successes provided by these non-degree classes?

Ms. Nish would serve herself well to understand this - the taxpayers of the South Bay will no longer sit idly by while ANYONE rushes to spend our tax dollars - we now demand what we should have been demanding all along accountability and fiduciary responsibility. We have taken on a 'trust but VERIFY' mentality.

We are looking to her to lead Southwestern - to work with ALL staff, students and the community in an effort to bring to the students a first class education. The Southwestern staff is well known for their high standards and expertise, this should be celebrated by Ms. Nish.

The PINK SLIP issue has many in the community concerned - how do we give raises to some and yet ask the educators to take pay cuts? In order for Southwestern to succeed there must be balance - the South Bay CURRENTLY is focused on one dictator - his name, Brand of SUHSD - we expect our hired leaders to work respectfully with all of those they lead.

Now is the time to steer this ship of college education on the right course. Success would add much to Ms. Nish's current integrity.

SouthBayVoters: Great comments! Your examples of how our community college has benefited many says it all. This business of using outsider consultants must be stopped. Leave the "business model" to the entrepreneurs who only care about their bottom lines and profits, and let's get back to what has worked for so many years.

Looking over the original language for the ballot measure for Prop R and what is now happening to that money should be of great concern. The Educational Facilities Plan, which is driven by a document that lacks real data to justify its direction (The Educational Master Plan that Cambridge West has also developed), is grossly excessive and not in line with Prop R language. It calls for $600 million in "improvements," and calls for the destruction of the Student Center (which is only 12 years old), the Student Services bldg. (which was just completely remodeled a decade ago) to build a big amphitheatre in the center of campus--this is not "updating outdated facilities" it is wasting taxpayers money. Also, the parameter road, which we just finished on campus is now to be trashed and a new "ring road" that circles the campus is on the plan (justified by the statement "so students do not have to cross the street to get to campus")! Extraordinary!

Prop R language clearly includes funding for investment in "water recycling" facilities and "energy reduction projects (solar, etc.)." When asked about this by one of our students the Facilities Team (Cambridge) could not answer why this was not integrated into their planning. This is long term savings in terms of energy efficiency. Appalling! Then there is a discussion of building dormitories (for international students), and this is most certainly not an appropriate use of the Bond money--which is to improve existing facilities for home based student learners. And this Governing Board just lays back and acts like this is appropriate because someone like C. Brahmbhatt says so. This is Alioto and Chopra all over again.

Southwestern College under Nish and some members of this Board seem to be quite happy to create a construction industry version of "Extraordinary Desserts" with the community's money.

Improve our facilities, follow the original language (it is interesting how the original language of the ballot measure, which was voted on, has now morphed into this monster) that is what the taxpayers want. And where are they planning on getting the at least 250 billion in additional funds to execute this new Facilities Plan? Yet another Bond in a couple of years?

I thought SWC cleaned up their act a bit but I guess I was wrong. You are a college, an education institution and your data is flawed that doesnt speak much for the administrators does it. WTF on SWC and SUHSD hiring consultants to do the work that administrators are paid the big bucks to do. The only people getting anything out of these screwed up districts are the damn administrators. Have you recently tried to to sign up for a class it is all but impossible to get a class you need and if you do it is an online one, people like to have an actual professor in front of them not via e-mail. I am really starting to hate this community and their school districts.

Nickdanny's point about reviewing the original language on the Prop R bond is important. (Also applies to Prop O at SUHSD issues.) Proposition 39, passed in 2000 to provide for public school facilities bond financing with just 55% of vote, mandates that there be bond oversight by representatives of the community. Such oversight committees are tasked with many things for bond accountability, including reviewing plans to ensure that the bond funds are spent consistently with the language of the original proposition that the voters authorized.

With regard to the newly proposed ampitheatre (which I do not recall from the bond language) -- it seems to me that the natural incline of the bank on the west side of the 'dirt lot' would make a perfect ampitheatre without razing existing buildings in the center of campus. It would also be more convenient to members of the public.

Now a governing board member, William Stewart, has resigned from the Board citing SWC administrations' failure to be transparent in their information to the Board and asking the Board to do pink slips without adequate time to analyze budget data.

Why does the college continue to conceal information from the public and why does the current Board act like they are Nish's employee instead of the other way around? Disgusting!

I certainly hope that all the investigations are on-going, and that all those who are unhappy with 'business as usual' will make an effort to change things.

Surely with all this complete idiocy taking place in the public arena, the authorities might think that all is not right with the world at SWC...I am so flabbergasted by this report because it proves to me that people in charge must have completely taken leave of their senses...again, destroy all the buildings at the center of campus to build an amphitheater?

This is beyond self-indulgent and firmly in the ranks of the completely demented. Perhaps Mr. Brahmbhatt needs some guidance regarding right reason, responsible usage of public funds and how to distinguish between a good plan and a completely insane plan.

Oh--and if cuts are to take place, base them on real numbers...better yet, just cut the nonsense and do the work like an honest person, Ms. Nish. If that is too much for her, then she should go and peddle her magical thinking elsewhere and let responsible adults figure things out, based upon real numbers and sensible plans.

Kudos to the all amazing insight on this comment board!!!

What: Special SWC Governing Board Meeting When: tomorrow, Monday March 4 at 6 pm Where: L238 in the Library Complex

Correction

What: Special SWC Governing Board Meeting When: Monday March 4 at 6 pm Where: room 214 on the main campus

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