Two decisions by the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees were reported side by side (Feb. 13). One, rejecting a request to hold the San Fernando Valley Fair on the Pierce College campus, was rational and politically brave. The second, to begin construction on Mission College, was wasteful and politically expedient.
We must face the fact that in 1947, when Pierce College was opened primarily as an agricultural college, the land usage of the western San Fernando Valley was decidedly different than it is today. Then it was rural, and much land was devoted to agriculture. Today it is suburban residential and that same land is devoted to clean industry. And though two-thirds of the campus acreage is given over to the agriculture department, less than 5% of the Pierce College enrollments are in agriculture. And most of those enrollments are in programs unrelated to raising crops, such as floriculture, equitation (a fancy name for horseback riding) or veterinary assistant.
The only defensible reason for devoting hundreds of valuable acres to the agriculture department is its value as a showplace for elementary school kids. If the acreage were converted into a real, working, small farm, it would partially justify the immense expense devoted to very questionable educational practice.
The construction of buildings for Mission College is a blatant case of throwing good money after bad. The founding of Mission College was a needless concession to a few minority leaders in the area. Pierce and Valley colleges are a short drive from the area served by Mission College and they offer a much broader curriculum. And if you doubt that there is space available at either Pierce or Valley, stroll around the campus between 2 and 7 p.m. and note how many students or faculty members you see.
During the late 1960s and 1970s, when there was a lot of money available to colleges for the asking, the Los Angeles community college trustees needlessly opened the West, Southwest and Mission campuses primarily to appease black and Hispanic voters. The district has been spending the time since then trying to justify these inane decisions. I call them inane because minority students want to go to the best colleges they can, not the closest.
If the 4,800 mostly part-time students claimed by Mission College were considered as the equivalent of full-time students, there would be well under 2,000. That’s mighty few students on whom to spend tens of millions of dollars, particularly when there is an excellent college less than five miles away (Valley) and a second, equally good, about eight miles away (Pierce) in the same Los Angeles district.
I look forward to the time when all college boards of trustees make decisions based on sound educational practice rather than on political opportunism.
M. STEPHEN SHELDON