State officials have begun an investigation into the stormy relationship between faculty members and administrators at Irvine Valley College, saying the district's alleged exclusion of instructors from campus decision making may violate state regulations.
If it does, the South Orange County Community College District, which runs Irvine Valley College and Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, stands to lose more than $4 million in state aid.
Instructors at the college have been feuding with administrators for more than a year, saying the administration has not involved them properly in decisions about courses, accreditation and professional development, as state regulations require. School administrators deny the allegations.
Thomas J. Nussbaum, state community colleges chancellor, said in a June 5 letter announcing the investigation that complying with the regulations is a "minimum condition" of receiving state aid.
"The chancellor's office is required to investigate alleged violations of minimum condition regulations," he wrote to Kathleen O'Connell Hodge, acting chancellor of the South County district.
Hodge said the district is within the law and that the dispute with instructors is over compensation for serving on decision-making committees, not an unwillingness to involve them in decisions.
Relations between the faculty and administrators worsened last July after administrators curtailed a traditional practice that released instructors from their teaching duties to perform nonteaching functions, such as serving on curriculum committees or filling other decision-making roles. The move meant faculty members would perform those duties at reduced pay or on their own time.
In response, the faculty-run Academic Senate declined to appoint a faculty member to head the curriculum committee, which oversees course content. Administrators said they then had little choice but to appoint an administrator to oversee the process, which traditionally is the domain of instructors.
"Curriculum obviously is the fundamental tool of education, and it's very important that there is participation by the faculty in this process," Hodge said. But she added that she would not allow the dispute to hold up the process.
A new labor agreement between the district and the Faculty Association, which represents instructors, replaces much of the release time with stipends, or cash bonuses, for nonteaching work.
But if the state decides Irvine Valley has to pay instructors more to compensate them for their participation in nonteaching activities, the school plans to argue that there are insufficient funds to cover those costs and ask the state to pay the bill, Hodge said.
John S. Williams, president of the college district's Board of Trustees, said faculty members disgruntled over the loss of what he called lucrative release time are behind the state investigation.
"I think this is just the Academic Senate pleading their case for more reassigned time," he said.
However, faculty members said the district's new administrative approach is the problem.
"They've been breaking the law on this campus for more than a year, and it's finally got the attention of the state," said Roy Bauer, an Irvine Valley College ethics professor.
The $4.4 million in state apportionment funds represents about 6% of the budget for the two colleges, which serve about 33,000 students.
Kyle Orr, spokesman for state Chancellor Nussbaum, said the state office could not elaborate on the investigation other than to say the local district must respond by July 10.