This is the winter of our discontent
It was gratifying to see that the majority of readers who responded to last week’s The Union poll, “Was the Sierra College Board right to remove President Kevin Ramirez?” did not approve of the board’s action. I suspect that, had The Union rephrased the question and asked if its readers approved of the manner in which the board removed Dr. Ramirez, the level of disapproval would have been even higher.
Granted that the board of trustees has the power to ask for a resignation or to renew or not renew a president’s contract. I and a great many of my colleagues at the college feel angry, insulted and deeply saddened by the way Dr. Ramirez has been forced out of office. I have yet to meet anyone in the administration, faculty or staff who supported every decision Dr. Ramirez made in the 11 years he served as president. I often disagreed with him myself. The fact remains, however, that during his tenure, Sierra College has become one of the top-rated community colleges in California. He not only helped the college survive the draconian budget cuts of the Davis administration, but with his leadership, the Sierra College District’s credit rating was upgraded last September by Standard & Poor’s from “A-” to “A+.”
Whether the district’s credit rating will remain at the present level, given the costs of buying out the president’s contract and hiring his successor, I can’t predict. But there is another column of figures that is not hard to sum up: it is the loss of goodwill the administration, faculty and staff used to have toward the board and the emotional climate on our campuses at the moment – a mixture of fear, anger and mistrust.
There is the fear of losing our jobs, driven by the realization that, if only four members of the board can take down the president, what chance do the rest of us have if members of the board disapprove of decisions we make?
There is anger at the lack of fairness in the personal attacks on Dr. Ramirez. Whether we supported his decisions or not, the majority of us would agree that he is a decent man who acted as reasonably as he could in what he saw as the best interests of the school. Taken only as a matter of simple fairness, he deserved better treatment for his service to Sierra College than he received.
There is a deep and pervasive mistrust of those members of the board who were so adamantly determined to remove Dr. Ramirez. Given the shift to the right in many school districts across the United States, it has been difficult for many of us to avoid the suspicion that the events of the past month are part of a deeper ideological agenda, the goal of which is to exercise control over the content of the classes we teach, especially those classes that deal with such hot-button topics as evolution, religion, sexuality and politics.
It may not be evident to the board of trustees or to the public at large that most of us who have chosen as our vocations the education of our children don’t become teachers and administrators because of a desire to make a lot of money – or to manipulate other people’s money for our own interests. We do it because we care about the future of our communities and our country. Most of us love our jobs and love our students. You don’t have to take my word for it; just ask our former students what Sierra College has meant to them. Then perhaps you will understand why so many of us feel sick at heart by the way the Ramirez affair has been handled and for the widespread feeling that the attack and removal of the president has been an attack on us and on the good work that we, and Dr. Ramirez, have accomplished.
Now it’s the beginning of a new spring semester, and I hope that the cliché about hope springing eternal in the human breast is really true. There are classes to be taught – and lessons to be learned. I expect that most of us in the faculty, staff and administration will learn how to bank the fires of our anger and make the best of what is now, unfortunately, an unpleasant and corrosive situation. Whether our mistrust and our fears of the board are misplaced – or right on the mark – is another matter.
John Michael Keating has been a resident of Grass Valley since 1982, and has taught classes in drawing and painting, the humanities, and the history of art at Sierra College since 1988.
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