A College President Steps Down

Dr. Andreea Serban agreed to resign as President of Santa Barbara City College during a marathon closed-door meeting held on July 28 that ended sometime after 4 am the morning of July 29. Her contract was not set to expire until June 2014, but she has since signed a final agreement with the SBCC Board of Directors that places Dr. Jack Friedlander as the college’s acting superintendent-president through June 30, 2012.

Four new members – former mayor Marty Blum, Peter Haslund, Lisa Macker and Marsha Croninger – were elected to the SBCC Board of Directors in last November’s contentious election, and the four completely changed the makeup of the board. It was at the new board members’ urging that Dr. Serban was removed as president, or at least asked rather forcefully to resign.

We’ve had occasion to converse with Dr. Serban during her three-year tenure as SBCC President and, while her announced departure did not come as a great surprise – the new board members had openly and repeatedly expressed their dissatisfaction with Dr. Serban –, it did seem rather precipitous.

Montecito Journal believes Dr. Serban is a competent, judicious, responsible and effective executive who found herself on the wrong side of a number of delicate issues favored by an influential group of individuals. We also believe the negative press she received during her tenure was unwarranted and that she should have a forum to air her side of what transpired after the election of the new board members and the circumstances that led to her early departure. Here then, is an edited transcript of a conversation we held with President Serban:

Q. Before we get to the heart of the matter, there are some achievements you are proud of that occurred under your watch. Would you care to elaborate?

A. I am enthusiastic about and pleased with the many and significant achievements reached with the College's excellent faculty and staff during my three years as Superintendent-President.

In February 2009, we obtained Hispanic-serving institution status. As a result we could apply for Title III and V federal grants. In September 2010, for the first time in the history of the college, we obtained a Title V federal grant of $3 million, which has allowed SBCC to launch the Express to Success program, to make it possible for students to move a lot faster through remedial education. Seventy percent of students who come to the college are not college ready. They cannot read or write English at the college level, or do math at the college level.

In April of 2011, we were rated in the top ten percent of community colleges nationwide by the Aspen Institute. We were invited to submit an application to compete for a million-dollar prize. I led the team that worked on the application to advance the college to the next phase of this competition. The application was completed and submitted on June 17, 2011. Based on this application, an Expert Selection Committee selected ten finalists and will publicize each finalist institution's achievements broadly this fall. SBCC was selected as one of the 10 finalists based upon how much students learn, how many complete their programs on time, and how well students do in the job market after graduating. Aspen will conduct a site visit to SBCC at the end of September. Based upon additional evidence gathered during that site visit, a Prize Jury will announce in December at a highly visible event in Washington, D.C., a winner of the top Prize ($700,000) and two or three runners up (which will each receive $100,000-$150,000).

SBCC, as verified in the most recent comprehensive accreditation visit and through the numerous awards and recognition obtained in the last three years, is in excellent fiscal condition, contains a broad array of noteworthy and innovative educational programs, and highly participatory governance practices.

When you became president and you looked at continuing education, knowing that going forward budgetary restraints were about to possibly curtail the growth of some of these programs, what did you find?

There were two aspects. One, that there are state regulations in place that clearly outline what conditions need to be met for a college to claim state funding for continuing education courses. We had a number of courses that did not meet these criteria. Dr. Ofelia Arellano, Vice President of Continuing Education since February 2009, conducted a review, and found that a large number of the existing Continuing Education courses did not meet all the criteria for claiming state funding.

Such as?

For example: In order to claim state funding for a continuing education course, the course must have an outline of record which contains specific components prescribed by the state, this course outline of record needs to be reviewed and approved locally by the college curriculum advisory committee, then by the college Board of Trustees and then by the state. There has to be actual instruction happening and the course must meet for a minimum number of instructional hours. The course needs to fit into certain categories approved by the state. There were courses that we had in continuing education that didn’t meet these criteria.

Dr. Arellano communicated with staff from the State Chancellor’s Office, which guides all community colleges in California, and worked with them to develop a plan for bringing the SBCC continuing education courses in compliance with the state regulations. SBCC was given a grace period to complete the work to bring in compliance those courses which did not meet the criteria for state funding. Secondly, there was the issue of state budget cuts. In 2009/2010, we received an additional budget cut specifically targeted on reducing the number of enrollments at SBCC for which the state would provide funding.

There is a mythology out there in the public that the more enrollments we have, the more money we get from the state. That’s not true. Every community college gets a cap of how much enrollments they are funded for. If you enroll more people than that, it’s on your dime. So, when our funding for enrollment in 2009/10 was cut by $2.6 million, we canceled about 90 sections in continuing education in order to reduce our enrollment. It is as a result of the analysis which was undertaken to determine which continuing education classes to cancel in fall 2009 that Dr. Arellano and her staff discovered that certain continuing education courses that were in place did not meet the criteria for receiving state funding.

Can you give us an example of a course that didn’t meet the state’s criteria?

For example, “BBQ's and More,” “Soup, Salad & Dessert,” “Cake Decorating (Beginning and Advanced),” “Celebrate Spring, Chinese Cooking,” “Fresh Dishes from Vietnam,” “Indian Vegetarian,” “Salute to Sushi,” and a variety of other cooking, jewelry, and ceramics courses didn’t meet the requirements for state funding. In order to continue offering these courses there were several options: either the college would subsidize the cost of these courses from reserves, or start charging a fee to cover the cost, which actually is the case in other community colleges across the state that offer such courses. Another option, which needed more time, was to fundraise to cover the costs. So, in the spring of 2010, I brought to the board of trustees an analysis recommending that a number of these courses start being charged a fee, just for the direct costs only.

What did these courses cost?

Before, they were free of charge to students. The only fee that was charged is what is called the materials fee. For example, in the ceramics course, students would pay for the clay they used, but the tuition was free. We did a thorough analysis of what our direct costs were and so, for example, the new charge for a jewelry class would have been $150 per student for a 10-week course, three hours per week. We actually looked at other community colleges and our college had the lowest fee or no fee compared to other colleges. For example, an SBCC course such as the 30-hour “Picture Framing for Beginners” course, we were charging only a $25 materials fee. The same course – only six hours, not thirty hours – at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, is almost $100. We looked at many colleges up and down the state. We are actually quite unique with the variety of courses we offer in continuing education – like ceramics, jewelry, painting – that are completely free to students, except for the materials fee. These courses are not free, of course, they are subsidized by the college. Over the years, the college has heavily subsidized the continuing education division.

Before I became Superintendent-President, I had heard that continuing education programs were presumably a money-maker for the college, but nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, based on an analysis conducted by the Controller, in 2007/08 the continuing education division was in deficit of $1.6 million.

What would an instructor be paid for a thirty-hour Continuing Education course?

nstructors in Continuing Education are all adjunct, except for four individuals, but there is a longevity factor. On average, an instructor for a lecture hour in the continuing education division, is paid about $55 per hour, a lab hour is $45-50. However, I learned that there were some individuals who were paid at the instructional pay rate of about $50 per hour, basically, to open the classroom door, to make sure the proper supplies were in the particular room. This is clerical work which paid at a faculty rate of about $50-plus an hour for a level of work that, really, was not instructional work. It didn’t make sense to pay someone fifty dollars, sixty dollars an hour just to make sure the room is open and that the supplies are there. So we changed that starting in 2009/10 to pay an hourly rate of about $14 per hour for this type of work. This is the hourly rate for short-term hourly workers who are not faculty. Well, there were many people upset because of that. It touched their pocketbooks. That created a segment of individuals who were extremely unhappy.

There was some controversy about the parent-child workshops too, correct?

I think, unfortunately, much has been said that was not accurate about the reasons for the actions we have taken. There are four Parent-Child Workshops: Oaks, Lou Grant, Starr King, and San Marcos. The Parent-Child Workshops are 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporations which are not run or owned by SBCC. They are independent from the college and have their own Boards which consist of parents whose children are in the daycare centers. The relationship between SBCC and the parent-child workshops goes back decades. It is sort of an organic relationship that evolved over time and was all done informally. I actually tried to find documentation as to what agreements were made between the college and the workshops; there were none. We developed the first written memorandum of understanding between the college and each of the four Parent-Child Workshops in July 2010 after more than a year and a half of work and dialogue.

The issue came to light because there are four faculty-directors of the workshops, paid by SBCC at full-time rate, the same as the full-time tenured credit faculty, working full-time with these parent-child workshops. One of them retired in 2009 and this was one of the reasons to look into the responsibility of the college relative to the parent-child workshops.

The relationship is that a parenting continuing education course is taught at each of these workshops by a faculty member who is one of our faculty, called the director. The students of this course are the adults, the parents who have children in the parent-child workshops. Theoretically, individuals who do not have children in the daycare centers could enroll in this parenting course, but that hardly ever happens.

And being a “director” of the parent-child workshop would be their sole function?

Well, no. That’s the thing. Not only did they teach the parenting non-credit course, but basically, they were running the operation. They were doing the administrative work for running these workshops, which are daycare centers. There is a lot of administrative work: filing paperwork with Social Services to maintain the daycare center license, making sure adults working with the children have TB tests, making sure the supplies are there; everything that’s involved in running a daycare center. So their work was part teaching this non-credit continuing education parenting course, and part of their work was to do the administrative work for the Parent-Child Workshop.

Based upon opinions from outside legal counsel – Mary Dowell – and our own internal counsel – Sue Ehrlich, Vice President of Human Resources and Legal Affairs – they both told me this is a problem, because while it’s okay to pay someone to teach a course, for which we claim state funding, it’s not okay to use college funds to pay for work that basically benefits a 501 (c) (3) corporation. I was told this is a gift of public funds, and it hurts the 501 (c) (3), because they may lose this status since they are being gifted by another entity. And it hurts the college: it uses the college’s money for something the college is not paid for by the state. And, it is not legal.

To recap, the College is not responsible and cannot use public money to subsidize the costs – personnel or other costs – related to running the parent cooperative preschools (parent-child workshops). This includes any administrative duties required to run these daycare centers. The State does not reimburse the College for administrative work done to run the daycare centers, which are licensed under each individual parent-child workshop.

So based on that, in good faith, we met with the boards of each workshop, made up of parents whose children are there. We met and discussed what would be a fair and legal way to continue this partnership. After an arduous process that lasted about a year and a half, we developed a memorandum of understanding that says, basically, the college will continue to pay this individual for the instructional component. However, if the parent-child workshop wants to keep these people full time to do what they used to do, and continue to do, then each would need to reimburse the college for that component of salaries and benefits that relates to the administrative workload of each director.

Well, there was major upheaval. From the four directors, our own faculty teaching there, to parents, past and present, including some of SBCC’s current and past faculty and staff and current and former elected officials in town, who have had their children in the four Parent Child Workshops.

What are the actual dollar costs involved?

First of all, an individual doing this kind of work is making as much as $115,000 in salary and benefits, and they only work nine months a year. Most people who run a daycare center in Santa Barbara full time, twelve months a year, make $40,000 to $50,000 at most. Second, the parents paid, at the time, less than $200 per child per month for daycare – five days a week, from 9 am to 12 noon. [Equivalent] daycare in Santa Barbara per month, per child, is at least $800.

There are two reasons why the fee was so low. One, is because the college was actually paying the director for running this daycare center, so they were able to do a lot of the administrative work but be paid by the college. Second, it is true that the parents volunteer; part of the concept is that each parent volunteers one morning per week to help with the operation and assist with the care for the children: being there to play with the children, supervising, making sure they are safe. So, while it is true that the parents’ volunteering contributed to this low fee, more important was that the college was paying for a significant part of the work needed to run this operation.

Basically, current parents, former parents, and prospective future parents who may have benefited from the parent-child workshops became extremely upset…

You were really rocking the boat here…

Yes, I guess so.

How much more would it have cost parents if you were able to implement your plan?

The idea, if fully implemented, was that the college would pay sixty-seven percent of the salary of one instructor – the instructional component –; the other third would have to have been covered by the parents. We even offered a transition period: for the first year (2010-11), we said, “Okay, we pay eighty percent of the director’s compensation and the parent-child workshop reimburses the college for twenty percent.”

How many parents are involved?

There are about eighty to a hundred twenty parents for each of the four parent-child workshops; it’s about four hundred children.

What would that have come down to?

It would have meant, on average, about fifty dollars more per month – from about $200 per month per child to up to no more than $250 per child per month. It still would have been a great deal for the parents, but we could justify it. From my perspective, I thought I was doing the right thing because I was following the legal advice I was being given. I thought it was what was best for the college and how we use the resources of the college and taxpayers’ money.

I was actually personally surprised of the tremendous negative reaction and the interpretation that somehow I am attempting to destroy the parent-child workshops. First of all, I couldn’t close them. They are not college programs. Parent-child workshops are independent entities. We could have pulled out of the partnerships, since there were no formal agreements with them. That was not the intention at all. I value these programs, but we need to involve the college in a legal and appropriate way.

There were other problems in these partnerships that required a clear delineation of responsibilities between the college and the Parent Child Workshops.

Such as?

Around March 1998, a parent volunteer submitted medical bills to the board of Starr King for injuries allegedly suffered when the lid to a rabbit cage failed to remain open during cleaning and came down upon her head, neck and shoulders. The parent-child workshop board accepted these bills up to a point and paid them from its treasury. When the Starr King Board refused to accept more claims from this parent volunteer, the volunteer filed a claim against the College. The total cost to the College was approximately $20,000 when this matter was settled in 2000. A clear written agreement between the College and Starr King would have assisted the College in avoiding this claim entirely or provided for indemnification of the College by the parent-child workshop’s insurance.

Do you have another example?

San Marcos Parent-Child Workshop did some alterations to their playground that were not considered by the Santa Barbara School District to be ADA (Americans with Disability Act) compliant at the higher standard that the SBSD negotiated as resolution of a litigation. SBSD expected SBCC to pay to bring that playground into this higher level of compliance. Again, that is not the obligation of the College.

Parents whose children participate in the parent-child workshops pay fees that are established and collected by their boards, not by the College. The fees are used to pay for some of the operational costs such as facility maintenance and materials for the children. On occasion, some of the parents fall behind paying the fees. Also every so often there are disciplinary problems with parents or children. Because the relationship between the College and the workshop had not been clearly and formally defined, when such problems occurred there had been discussions about who should deal with the disciplinary issues: SBCC or the parent boards.

Because the College collects full-time equivalent students (FTES) and state funding for the parent education class, the parent education class taught at the workshops need to be open to anyone who can benefit from it. We are an open access community college. Three of the four workshops have a long waiting list. While there is a process for children to be placed on the waiting list for the preschool, the issue of true open access to the parenting education class still needs to be fully addressed.

There was an election; four new board members replaced four incumbents. You apparently found yourself at odds with the new board, and you’ve come to an agreement to leave…

We’ve signed a final agreement.

Many believe this situation will not work in your favor, going forward. You’ve said previously that you’re too young to retire and too old to start over. So, where do you find yourself? Is there something you can say about your situation and where you’d like to go?

First of all, I am disappointed that the working relationship with the new board majority hasn’t translated into what I hoped it would have become, which was an effective CEO/board relationship that worked for the benefit of the college. When I took this job in June 2008, I did so with the full commitment and conviction that I would be here for the next twenty years as the president of the college. I was fully committed, so it is a great disappointment that we have come to this point.

That being said, I love the College, the people and the community. Santa Barbara has been home to my husband and me since 1999. This is the place where I have had many rewarding personal and professional achievements, made great friends, became a U.S. citizen, bought our first house in the U.S. and felt a true sense of belonging and accomplishment. I am proud and passionate about SBCC, our mission and the significant and beneficial impact we make on the lives of many every day.

This situation will most certainly have an impact on my future career that is unpredictable, because this is a very unusual situation and I’m not aware of any other community college where something like this has happened in this particular fashion. So, it has created a precedent that is quite unique.

I hope that my record of accomplishment and my professional record will make the case for me as I look at other opportunities. I’m forty-three years old and have a lot to give in my professional career.

Much of what happened at SBCC is the result of an extremely difficult economic crisis in which a community college must somehow juggle the need for sustaining current programs with the reality of shrinking monetary and other resources. I plan to use my experience at SBCC, and the extreme reaction from some groups to my efforts to do the best thing for the College, as a true learning experience.

The fiscal crisis is not going to go away any time soon, so these challenges I have dealt with at SBCC are endemic throughout the community college system in California. I believe this adverse experience, like the difficulties I used to face as a child or young adult in my native land following my American dream, will make me a very strong candidate for future employment at the same and even higher or different policy-making levels in the field of community college education.

I also believe this was a unique situation and plan to move on and persevere, and to find a new position knowing that I can be proud of my accomplishments, and the stronger fiscal and other positions in which I left SBCC as a result of my work.

How did it go so wrong between you and the new board so quickly?

Well, that is a loaded question. It assumes, first, that things went “wrong” between me and the new board, and second, that it happened “quickly.”

I have lost a lot of sleep at night trying to understand the interests of the new board members so I could build a dialogue, as I thought I always had, over differences in viewpoints on the important challenges facing the College.

Moving into the second assumption behind your question, that something went wrong “quickly,” I have no idea. There isn’t enough information to judge whether this difference in goals and philosophy took place overnight, or over the course of several months. What I do believe is that being fiscally responsible in a time of diminishing resources steps on too many toes and touches too many personal pocketbooks. It’s easy to be fiscally responsible when resources are plentiful because we are not forced to reduce anything, per se. And we have done this for too many years: when budgets were good, when the economy was good, no programs were cut. We were always adding more and more. Well, it’s simply not possible. Being fiscally responsible in the current environment is about cutting, reallocating, reducing and somebody’s personal interest will be touched.

When such decisions, caused in part by our State’s budget crisis, result in changes in long-term practices experienced and expected by a constituent group, there will unavoidably be individuals and groups who are dissatisfied. People with personal interests really have become very vocal and maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that they will fight for their personal interests and pocketbook.

Going back to some of the courses in continuing education like cooking, and some jewelry and ceramics that have become fee-based and we were proposing to turn more of them to fee-based. There were students taking these classes who came and spoke at board meetings under the heading of “Hearing of citizens.” Recognizing that that they had been taking this class for twenty-five years, several classes, because that’s how they are able to make a living in Santa Barbara.

They use college resources: the kilns are very expensive to run, to produce pottery or ceramic things they can sell and make a living. While we can all appreciate that the cost of living in Santa Barbara is high, at a time when funded enrollments by the state are decreased, what comes first? What is the priority of the college? Is it to educate students to get a degree, to be able to transfer to a four-year institution, to get the skills to get their first job and have a future? Or, is it to help individuals, many retired, who find themselves in a position where they depend upon these continuing education classes to make a living? When resources are plentiful, we can afford to do both, but that is not the case anymore. The core mission of the college is to educate the students to either get a two-year degree, transfer, or prepare for a job.

You’re okay with Continuing Education programs, correct? As long as they are paid for?

Yeah. We wanted to charge a reasonable fee – no more than $100 to $150 per person for a ten-week course. These are reasonable fees. Some courses would have fees as low as $20 or $30 per person for a ten-week course, depending on the course. Look at the UCSB Extension. Look at other community colleges up and down the state, and see how much they charge for fewer hours of a similar course. We are extremely unique in having so many older-adult-oriented courses in arts, ceramics, painting, all of this has been free of charge to students, subsidized by taxpayer resources. Again, in good times we can afford it. Now, it’s a time of shrinking resources and the primary mission of the college needs to come first. A year ago we have started for the first time in the history of the college a scholarship program for Continuing Education students who have a financial aid and need help to pay for the tuition for fee-based classes. Fewer than 50 people applied for these scholarships each term.

Not to mention that we receive priorities from the state: career technical education, transfer education, remedial education, credit education. And, we are a state institution. We need to strike a balance between the needs of the local community and the demands of the state. I personally felt very strongly that we should fulfill the core mission, which is to provide the credit education for those individuals who are still to build a future for themselves when they are twenty or twenty-five, or, they find themselves in the unfortunate situation of being laid off later in their careers and they need to retrain to find a new job.

We need people to get jobs again and we as a college have an important function to play in that.

Thank you, Madam President.

Curriculum Vitae

Andreea Serban is an only child and was born in Romania during the Soviet era (1968); her father was an economist. He passed away in May 2003; Andreea’s mother, who worked in the medical field, died six months earlier.

Dr. Serban became Superintendent-President of SBCC on June 2, 2008. She was selected through a national search. Thirty-seven individuals applied for the position. Dr. Serban came to SBCC from South Orange County Community College District in Mission Viejo, CA, where she was Vice Chancellor of Technology and Learning Services. She knew SBCC well, having joined the college in 1999 as its first Director of Institutional Assessment, Research and Planning, followed by Associate Vice President for Information Technology, Research and Planning, a position she held until 2006.

Dr. Serban also held administrative and faculty positions at University of Redlands in Redlands, CA, Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, NY, State University of New York System Administration in Albany, NY, Institute for Educational Sciences and University of Bucharest in Bucharest, Romania.

She received a Ph.D. and a Master of Science in Higher Education Administration from University at Albany, State University of New York and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from University of Bucharest.