Rift Widens Between RSCCD Trustees and Faculty Union

Trustee Arianna Barrios’ seat is being challenged by a faculty-endorsed candidate. / Jose Servin / el Don

The union that represents the faculties of Santa Ana and Santiago Canyon colleges voted overwhelmingly to endorse a slate of challengers recommended by the union’s political action committee for positions on the district’s board of trustees.

The vote came amid increasingly acrimonious conflict between the faculties of both colleges and the district board of trustees.

The Faculty Association of Rancho Santiago Community College District, which represents the faculty, voted to support Matthew Schauer, Thomas Anthony Gordon, Cecilia “Ceci” Aguinaga, and Rudy Diaz, none of whom are currently district trustees.

FARSCCD’s political action committee invited all the candidates for board of trustee positions to be interviewed. Six candidates accepted the invitation, but three incumbent trustees — Claudia Alvarez, Nelida Mendoza, and Arianna Barrios — who are running for re-election, withdrew their requests for consideration for the union’s endorsement and declined to be interviewed by the PAC, saying that the outcome of the endorsement process was “pre-determined.”

Their refusal to participate in the interview came after Santiago Canyon College counselor Barry Resnick, executive board member and past president of FARSCCD, wrote an op-ed for Voice of OC in which he argues that the trustees failed to listen to faculty members. “For the first time in recent memory there will be no free rides for all the incumbents,” Resnick wrote.

“I felt that [Resnick] writing that op-ed just days before we were to go through with what was billed as an open endorsement process, was really and truly disingenuous,” said Barrios. “It seemed to me that it was not an open process. He was coming with a predetermined idea of how he felt about us and how he felt about me and our role.”

In an open letter to select RSCCD faculty, the three incumbents expressed their reasons for not participating in the interview process and their desire to withdraw their requests for consideration of the FARSCCD endorsement.

READ MORE: Faculty at Odds With Association Over Saudi Lawsuit

“We have watched as members of your leadership, or those connected to them, have recruited candidates and consultants to oppose us,” they wrote.

After the PAC made its recommendations, Elliot Jones, Santa Ana College’s academic senate president, sent an email to SAC faculty in support of the incumbents.

“My experience with our current board members has been quite different than the experiences described by our FARSCCD leadership,” he wrote.

FARSCCD executive board members Kristen Guzman and Mary Castellanos were not pleased with Jones’ position and wrote an email of their own in response.

“Essentially, Elliott participated in the consensual process outlined in the bylaws, was outvoted, and then days later, decided to wreak havoc on the transparent and codified process by sending out an email, with his clear recommendation to vote against the recommendation of the FARSCCD Executive Board which is vetted and elected by all of the faculty, not just the faculty at SAC.”

Incumbent trustee Barrios said, “The leadership [of FARSCCD] holds the power by which to admonish and demonize anyone who doesn’t agree with them. And I think that’s a scary dangerous thing,”

What started the rift last year was when the district’s foundation, whose task is to raise funds for the district, agreed to a multi-million dollar consulting contract with Colleges of Excellence Company. The company is owned by the Saudi Arabian government and the contract was to upgrade a physical plant and provide teachers and curriculum at two technical schools in Saudi Arabia.

Individual faculty members, the academic senates of both colleges and FARSCCD officials have objected to the agreement on both substantive and procedural grounds.

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In March 2015, the academic senate of SCC passed a resolution rejecting the agreement.

“The contract stipulates … that participants working with the technical colleges in Saudi Arabia must not be female, Israeli, or persons who have an entry stamp from Israel on their passport,” the resolution said, and that this violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws and the district board’s own policies. Some SAC faculty members have also said that they opposed the contract.

Critics of the deal contend that there is no guarantee that the district would benefit financially from it. Algonquin College, in Ontario Canada, for example, lost millions before it pulled out of a similar deal with the Colleges of Excellence.

Resnick said that district trustees “were kept out of the loop,” and that “Chancellor [Raul] Rodriguez signed a binding letter of execution with the Saudis without any discussion or approval from the foundation board members.”

READ MORE: RSCCD Foundation’s Controversial Saudi Deal Gets Scaled Back

Ten people are running for the four positions to be decided in November.

The Area 1 seat, which was left vacant after Jose Solorio resigned, is being contested by Schauer, Zeke Hernandez and Frank “Tito” Alaniz, Jr. Schauer is a warehouse and inventory control and purchasing manager and a Santa Ana Housing and Redevelopment Commissioner. Hernandez, who has been endorsed by Solorio and several current board members, is an interim executive director of a nonprofit.

In a repeat of the 2012 race for the Area 3 seat, incumbent Yanez is challenged by Gordon and Anthony “Tony” Tapia. Gordon garnered over 30 percent of the votes for that seat in 2012 but was defeated by Yanez, with Tapia coming in a distant third. Gordon is an asbestos inspector with the L.A. Unified School District and a member of the Orange County Republican Central Committee. Yanez, an SAC graduate and Army veteran, is a paralegal with the Orange County Department of Child Support Services. Tapia is a laborer and student.

There’s also a three-way race in Area 5, with Aguinaga and Steven Nguyen challenging incumbent Alvarez. Aguinaga is a local businesswoman and Santa Ana Housing Commissioner. Alvarez, a prosecutor, won election to the district board in 2012, after serving on the Santa Ana City Council. Nguyen is a public safety recruiter.

In Area 7, Diaz, a lifelong Orange County resident who worked nearly four decades as an engineer for the county, is vying for the seat now held by Barrios, who is seeking re-election. Barrios owns and operates Communications LAB, a full-service marketing and communications agency in Orange.

The Rancho Santiago Community College District is one of four community college districts in Orange County.

The students of SAC and SCC elect one member of the district board of trustees. The other seven members represent distinct geographic areas within the district’s boundaries, but are elected at-large for four-year terms.

Four of those seats will be decided on Nov. 8.

“My job at the end of the day is to fight for students and to fight for my community, and I will do that,” said Barrios, “come Hell or high water.”

Additional reporting by Laura O. Garcia.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed trustee Barrios’ job as director of communications for HomeAid America. She is the former director of communications for HomeAid America and currently owns and operates Communications LAB, a full-service marketing and communications agency in Orange. El Don regrets the error.  

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