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L.A. Trade-Tech faculty demand ouster of president amid campus scandals

LOS ANGELES CA. FEBRUARY 21, 2018: Los Angeles Trade Technical College was photographed on February
More than 120 faculty members at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College are demanding the ouster of President Laurence Frank amid scandals on campus.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

More than 120 faculty members at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College on Wednesday demanded the ouster of President Laurence Frank, saying his failure to address scandals involving school officials’ grade fraud and questionable use of federal funds had caused bitter division and “utter chaos” on campus.

Frank, a former L.A. deputy mayor, declined to comment. L.A. Community College District Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez told The Times he retained confidence in Frank and did not plan to remove him.

Deirdre Wood McDermott, chairwoman of Trade-Tech’s language arts and humanities department, presented a petition of no confidence she said was endorsed by 127 faculty members at Wednesday’s district board meeting. That’s about 20% of faculty members but includes more than half the faculty in most academic departments, including English, math, behavioral and social sciences, business and civic engagement, and language arts, she said.

The sharply worded petition accuses Frank of “intentionally and repeatedly” misleading faculty about campus scandals and ignoring wrongdoing. Internal district investigations in 2017 found that college officials had falsified grades in a pilot program to help underprepared students improve their math skills and failed to justify $157,000 they received from 2014 to 2017 through a U.S. Department of Labor grant.

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Regarding the $19.2-million grant, the district’s internal auditor, Arnold Blanshard, found that two vice presidents did not do extra work beyond their regular administrative duties to justify the payments. His findings have sparked a criminal investigation by the Department of Labor.

Leticia Barajas, a vice president involved in both scandals, was placed on administrative leave in January pending the federal criminal investigation into her handling of the Labor Department grant. Kaneesha Tarrant, a second administrator involved in management of the federal grant, left the district last year for a job at Norco College.

Barajas, in a written statement last year, said only that the program has “improved our ability to prepare hundreds of students for in-demand jobs.” Tarrant did not respond to an interview request.

Frank previously told The Times that he had approved the assignments and defended the payments as proper.

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Criticism of Frank at the packed board meeting was fierce.

Of Frank and Barajas, Wood McDermott told trustees, “We’re disgusted by the mismanagement, misuse of position and disregard for rules.”

Lisa Moreno, who has taught English at Trade-Tech for nearly two decades, told Rodriguez and trustees that they had ignored student complaints about Barajas, Tarrant and Frank for more than two years.

“Your inaction regarding our corrupt administrators and their enablers has cost not only our campus but our entire district dearly,” she said.

During more than two hours of public comment, some speakers defended Frank. Student Blaine Fierro told trustees that Frank’s leadership had helped boost school spirit and improve student services. A faculty member from the college’s design and media arts department said “good things” were happening on campus, such as students landing internships in Hollywood and an arts collaboration with Mexico.

But the controversies have sown deep campus divisions and mistrust. At an Academic Senate meeting last month, faculty members sharply disagreed on whether to go forward with a vote of no confidence against Frank and Barajas. Faculty members from the applied sciences department and many of the vocational programs, such as transportation and manufacturing, said they should wait until federal investigators complete their work.

Wood McDermott said many more faculty members wanted to sign the petition of no confidence against Frank and Barajas but were fearful of retaliation.

Board trustees Wednesday approved a notice to Barajas that she would be removed from her Trade-Tech job as vice president of workforce development. Such a notice can serve as the first step toward termination, but Barajas could also resign or be reassigned.

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Although the board’s agenda item does not name Barajas, using only an employee number, a district document obtained by The Times confirmed she was the administrator in question.

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Twitter: @TeresaWatanabe


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