Students Vow to Hold Banned Forums : Dispute at Pierce Intensifies

Times Staff Writer

A controversy over development of Pierce College farmland that has pitted teacher against teacher has widened into a dispute between students and campus administrators.

College officials have ordered student government leaders at the Woodland Hills campus to scrap two public forums planned for this week to air proposals for a multimillion-dollar equestrian center on the school’s cornfield.

Forum planners have refused to cancel the events, pledging to stage them without official student body sponsorship, if necessary, at noon Wednesday in the Physics Building and 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Agriculture Science Building.

The Associated Students Organization voted last week to sponsor the forums. Advocates for two horse-facility proposals now under college review were invited to outline their construction concepts.


But college administrators, saying they feared that the discussions would be one-sided, ordered the forums canceled.

Officials also charged that the student government leader in charge of the forums is not a bona fide student representative and is not authorized to plan such events.

The intervention angered student leaders, who said Monday that they hope to meet with officials today to have the ban overturned. If that fails, the debates will be staged without student body sponsorship, they said.

“The forums are still going on as planned,” agriculture student Laurie-Suzanne said Monday. “I’m very disappointed in certain attitudes around here. Why are they trying to keep us from finding out information?”


Roney Hines, student body president at Pierce, said the future of the school’s 30-year-old farmland--the last major crop site in the West San Fernando Valley--is important to Pierce’s 20,000 students.

“Darn right I think students should be involved,” Hines said. “That’s what it’s for--students.”

School officials apparently have been quietly considering a horse complex for more than a year. College President David Wolf has indicated that such a facility is needed to modernize the school’s agriculture curriculum and bolster sagging enrollment in agriculture courses.

Wolf and leaders of the agriculture department are said to favor a school-financed, $3-million development plan envisioned by agriculture teacher Ron Weschler. It calls for 12 acres of new classrooms, barns, horse paddocks, arenas, a jumping field and a parking lot.

But a Burbank-based investment and management firm has proposed a privately financed, $10-million equestrian center. The 90-acre project would have public horse-boarding and training facilities, and a large-scale horse show and exhibition center, in addition to the barns and stables that Weschler has proposed.

Representatives of the Burbank firm have agreed to attend the forums to explain their plan, said Laurie-Suzanne. Weschler has refused to attend, however, the student said.

Weschler said Monday that he declined to participate because his equestrian plan is “a concept, a proposal. I’m not ready to present it.”

Because of that, the forums will not present “both sides of the issue” and student body sponsorship was inappropriate, said Art Hernandez, Pierce’s dean of students.


Hernandez said he also learned that Laurie-Suzanne, who has attended student government meetings as the senator from the agriculture department, did not have a proper departmental letter of appointment this semester. Without it, she lacks the standing to seek student government sponsorship of the forums, he said.

The flap was the latest in a series of controversies over development of college farmland, which has led to name-calling among agriculture teachers. The department is also split on the issue of a high-rise office project at the western edge of the campus.

“At this time, it’s inappropriate for the student body to set up a confrontational meeting,” Mick Sears, agriculture department chairman, said of the forums on the horse center.

But agriculture teacher Ed Boggess disagreed: “It’s critical to have these discussions. Decisions are being made unilaterally without input from the entire farm faculty, the students, the community.”