Two faculty no-confidence votes didn’t hurt the career of Irvine Valley College President Raghu Mathur. District trustees promoted him to chancellor over Irvine and its sister college.
Undeterred, the 300 full-time professors at the colleges are taking another no-confidence vote on Mathur. It is expected to pass overwhelmingly, as did the two others, when the ballots are counted today.
And what will happen to Mathur?
“I don’t anticipate the board taking any negative action on the chancellor on a vote of no confidence,” said Donald Wagner, Board of Trustees president.
The no-confidence vote is the latest skirmish in the seven-year battle that pits the faculty against Mathur and trustees of the South Orange County Community College District, which serves 35,000 students.
In campaign literature leading up to the vote, faculty leaders say Mathur is disrespectful and dismissive of them, excludes them from college governance and “regularly distorts the facts and misrepresents the truth in his communication with the faculty and public as well as with the Board.”
At its core, it is a fight about control, with faculty members saying that Mathur and a conservative board are stripping professors of decision-making powers to which they are entitled under state law, and laying down rules to control the faculty further.
Wagner, a lawyer, said the faculty wants to run the district, “and the board refuses to be a rubber stamp. We just have very differing views of the responsibilities and roles of various players in the system. And, make no mistake, Mathur backs the board very strongly in the process, at the expense of the faculty.”
Tensions began in 1997 when the seven-member board appointed Mathur, a chemistry professor, president of Irvine Valley College, and he did away with a system that relied on faculty chairmen to handle many administrative responsibilities.
Conflict spread to Saddleback College, in Mission Viejo, when he became district chancellor five years later, and it now provides a screeching soundtrack at both colleges.
Joe Ryan, a business professor at Irvine Valley for 25 years, recently told colleagues that Mathur’s management so angered him that he will not give the district a planned multimillion-dollar gift.
Many faculty members’ deep-seated antipathy toward Mathur is well-known, born of their feeling that in pursuit of personal power, he has sold out his former colleagues.
They say Mathur is a vindictive and dictatorial bully, intolerant of criticism.
Greg Bishopp, a dean for 18 years before returning to teaching, said that early in Mathur’s presidency he asked administrators to sign loyalty oaths.
Faculty members point specifically to two of Mathur’s recent dean appointees, neither ranked high by screeners and each of whom left those posts in the face of wholesale faculty opposition.
Since Mathur became Irvine Valley president, 70 administrators in the district have resigned, retired or returned to the classroom, according to a list compiled by faculty members.
“It seems like competent or ethical administrators are unable to work within the current administration,” said Lewis Long, president of the faculty union.
Mathur declined to be interviewed. He said in a written statement, “I use the following as my guiding principle in the daily decision-making process: ‘How do our decisions benefit students?’ I work with everyone in the best interests of students, taxpayers and the community.”
Irvine Valley College President Glenn R. Roquemore also declined to be interviewed.
One of the few faculty members offering Mathur public support is Ray Chandos, a professor of electronic technology at Irvine Valley. He said Mathur’s strength is his experience and budget management. He said the chancellor’s opponents are trying to regain the power they lost with his ascension.
Standing solidly with the chancellor is a majority of the board, a group of politically ambitious conservative Republicans, some of whom have won or lost races for other elected offices.
Along with Mathur, the trustees “simply refuse to respect the opinion and viewpoint of the faculty,” said Irvine Valley anthropology professor Wendy Gabriella, a lawyer who has represented faculty in lawsuits against the district.
Faculty are supposed to have a voice in the running of the college as part of “shared governance,” said Linda Michalowski, director of communications for the state community college chancellor’s office. The state Education Code gives them the primary voice in academic and professional matters, including curriculum and education program development.
In south Orange County, even a policy on faculty duties and responsibilities was developed without input from the faculty.
“Raghu regularly leaves faculty out of the decision-making loop or ignores our recommendations,” said Long, the faculty union president.
Trustee David B. Lang, whom many faculty members consider the closest they have to an ally on the board, agreed that the faculty had often been ignored. “I don’t feel we have appropriately engaged people as much as we could have,” he said. “I’d like to think I would choose to have a much more participatory leadership style where people didn’t think they were disenfranchised.”
Questions have been raised about Mathur mixing politics and the classroom when he was a professor. Former students Vivian Pedziwiatr and James Jo told The Times that Mathur offered extra credit in his general chemistry class if they distributed campaign fliers in his bid for reelection to the Saddleback Valley Unified School District board in 1992. Mathur lost.
Mathur was turned down for at least two dean’s positions at Irvine Valley, said Terry Burgess, a former Irvine Valley vice president and now president of San Diego City College.
Mathur’s controversies began as soon as he started shifting to administrative duties. As chairman of Irvine Valley’s School of Physical Science, he was censured by a group of fellow administrators, said Majorie Luesebrink, then chairwoman of the School of Humanities, who proposed the censure.
Mathur’s selection as Irvine Valley College president was followed by faculty and student lawsuits charging the district with violating their 1st Amendment rights -- often, that was for speaking out against Mathur.
In 1999, a federal judge ordered the district to pay philosophy professor Roy Bauer $126,000 for being inappropriately disciplined for distributing newsletters critical of Mathur.
And in two other cases, a federal judge ruled the college district’s “free speech policy” unconstitutional because it amounted to prior restraint.
In 2002, trustees appointed Mathur chancellor even though he was not ranked among the top three candidates, said Lee Haggerty, then-president of the faculty union, who sat on the screening panel.
Board President Wagner defended the choice: “In doing a nationwide search for chancellor, he came through the process head and shoulders above any other candidates.”
Even as the school year draws to a close, new battles between the faculty and Mathur are playing out, including redefined faculty duties, which professors contend give more weight to attendance at meetings with the chancellor than on their teaching abilities.
But the faculty gripes may not be heard during Irvine Valley’s commencement exercises Friday. Mathur has banned the faculty from speaking at the graduation ceremony.