CBC President Dr. Beatriz Espinoza issued the warning before her leadership team Monday, ironically meeting in the same room the board of trustees met in executive session April 18 to decide not to renew the contracts of 13 employees.
“It was a very hard meeting,” she recalls. “I didn’t go home for an hour after I left here. It was the first time, ever, that I have cried on the job.”
She says she rode around in the car for an hour. “I have a 7-year-old; I didn’t want her to see me like that.”
The current and future cutbacks are part of Espinoza’s comprehensive reorganization of the college.
“The best way I can describe it is that we need to ‘right-size’ the college,” Espinoza says. “We need to be the best at who we are, not try to be everything for everyone. We can’t afford that.”
While the area CBC encompasses is enjoying the economic benefits of an unprecedented – and largely unexpected – oil boom, the availability of high-paying jobs is luring students who might otherwise enroll in the college.
Enrollment has been steadily dropping, and with it, revenue.
Espinoza is trying to focus the college firmly on the future.
“Who are we? Who do we serve?” she asks. “How do we serve them with excellence and how do we maintain that, knowing what our state reimbursement fund is, what our tax base is, what our enrollment is and what our community needs?”
Her harsh assessment?
“We are driving ourselves broke.”
“The problem is,” she says, “a lot of our programs are high-cost programs. It is very challenging to keep them going. We have had the luxury of using funds that have been put in reserve. We’ve used up those funds.”
CBC trustees have ordered Espinoza to find ways for the college to restore those funds to a three-month minimum — which she says will require an annual payment of $1.5 million for the next three years.
The budgetary adjustments are across the board, she says.
“For instance, we do not have a print policy. Student can copy as much as they want, free: textbooks, one-sided and in color, as many as they want. From now on, they will have to pay for that.”
Mark Secord, vice president of instruction, seconds the approach.
“At the end of the day, after looking at everything else, we were not even close to where we should have been. So, we had to look at the faculty. These cutbacks came late in the game.”
Espinoza cites two examples: the college’s machinist program and its business technology program.
“The machinist’s program requires a lot of expensive machinery. But it has had low enrollment over the last four or five years. We can’t keep a faculty member full-time just to teach six students, when the state mandate now is 25. If we don’t shut down the program,” she says, “the state will.”
The business technology program, which has attracted much of the attention during the cutbacks, was teaching more sections than the students needed, Espinoza says. “We’ve had 12 graduates over a two-year period, but with a full-time faculty of 10. If you right-size the campus, you don’t need half of that.”
“The harsh reality,” says Secord, “is that we are overstaffed.”
From now on, Espinoza says, faculty members will be expected to teach not only face-to-face in a classroom, but also online and via video conferencing.
The cutbacks, she says, should have come as no surprise.
“Some people did not do due diligence in their roles. Faculty members were responsible for their own roles and responsibilities in policy, which they weren’t. The division chair was responsible for working with them on a program review to make sure they were cost effective. At best, the reviews were weak. There were zero recommendations from the faculty, zero recommendations from the division chairs, zero recommendations from the dean. After begging for nine months to get some help but getting none, cutbacks were the solution.”
Some faculty members affected have complained that they neither knew who made the decisions nor what criteria were used.
Looking around the conference table, Espinoza said, “It was my leadership team. We looked at the budget line by line.”
Those whose contract were not renewed were picked using four criteria:
•Load Report — how many contact hours an instructor teachers in a week. The CBC policy is 450 contact hours a week. A contact hour is the measure of a teacher’s class time. A one-hour class with 10 students would equal 10 contact hours.
•Credentials — Can the instructors teach across several areas in order to offer a diversity of courses?
•Modalities — is the instructor capable of teaching online or via video conferencing? Can the instructor travel to other CBC sites?
•Special Services — What do the instructors do for the college? Do they represent the college at the state level to keep it current?
“To this day, I can tell you that (the process) was fair, absolutely fair. It was torture, but it was fair,” she says.
But not without controversy.
Dr. Emmanual Alvarado, the division chair of social sciences and humanities, also is the president of the 15-member CBC faculty senate.
Although he is leaving to take a position in Florida, he is not among those originally laid off.
(According to strict interpretation of CBC policy, having a contract not renewed does not constitute a “reduction in workforce.”)
“The senate meets once a month, usually by video conferencing,” he says. “Our relationship with the college president had been really good, until Dr. Espinoza came. The change was immediate. It’s almost as if we did not have access to the president or, if we did, it was a scripted type of access. It made us feel irrelevant.”
At a subsequent board meeting, he charged that the senate had been silenced.
“Shame on him!” Espinoza retorts, saying she sent him a memo about the various dates and times a faculty senate representative was supposed to meet with her.
Alvarado admits that the faculty may be viewing Espinoza’s reorganization from only one perspective but blames the CBC administration’s lack of communication with the faculty as the reason.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in a public college,” he says. “When I came here, there was a certain energy and excitement that I didn’t see even at the university level. Now, there is no motivation; morale is very low.”
The existence of a faculty senate is mandated by the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities, which sets accreditation standards for Texas facilities.
So, does the senate have any recourse over the cutbacks?
“We can give the president or a board member a vote of no confidence,” Alvarado says, “but it is a last-resort option.”
Such votes are non-binding; trustees decide a response, if any.
For Alvarado, what action the senate might take is academic. He has cast his own vote. “I am leaving here because I have no confidence in the president or the administration. If I don’t leave, then I am endorsing them.”
Espinoza is no stranger to that option. In 2007, while vice president of learning services at Arizona Western College, the full-time faculty cast her a vote of no confidence related to her carrying out orders of the campus president to reorganize leadership positions — a process that took 10 months.
“I don’t hide from the Arizona situation,” Espinoza says, who stresses her work in Arizona bears no relation to her reorganization plan at CBC. “I would have treated it better, I would have not have let the sensationalized media make more of it than what it was.”
“This place has gone completely nuts,” exclaimed Jeff Massengill, CBC’s communications division chair.
Or was. He had just received an email from Espinoza announcing he no longer was division chair, and that under her reorganization plan, communications now was part of the math division.
“I’ve been here for 12 years. It was the best job I ever had. I work with the best people on earth. They all are professionals. It’s gone from that to my being demoted.”
At the April 18 board meeting, Massengill told the board that his division had made adjustments for increasing contact hours and covering the needs of the students, but that his proposal had fallen on deaf ears. “There are solutions not as drastic as those that have been put forth. I beg you to consider what we have proposed. There are alternatives.”
That he was demoted just short of a month later, he says, is retribution.
“I can’t see any other reason,” he says, while clearing his office of the textbook acquisition of a dozen years. “It’s the only thing I can think of. I have been vocal but not disrespectful, and I’ve acted within the confines of the school’s policies. “It’s (the layoffs) all back-room deals and dirty.”
His demotion, Espinoza says, “has nothing to do with what he said…but I would like him to be accurate and true in his statements… As an individual, he can say whatever he wants. When he’s representing his position, it better be accurate, and it hasn’t been. I have an issue with that.”
With future cutbacks a possibility, Espinoza advises faculty members “when I’m delivering a message, whether in person or via a memo or an email, pay attention and read it.”
Previous warnings about the financial straits facing CBC, she believes, did not sink in. “It must not mean me; it must mean someone else,” she theorizes. “Well, it does mean you, and me and us together because there are solutions to this. You know exactly what I have in front of me. Help me find solutions.”
Such internal conflicts, dismissed or ignored, are mostly hidden from those that Espinoza says is her prime target – students in this area who are not being reached.
“Five percent of our students are first-term students. They walk in, pay their tuition and come out with zero credits. They’ve failed everything. Can I sit here and be OK with that?
“That’s not our new reality for higher education. We should be finding ways to make every student successful.”
Her concern for the scholastic outcome of each student also is motivated by state funding. Increasingly, Austin is indexing the amount of financial support with the number of students who are graduated.
And whatever the cost, or however unpleasant, she plans to assure that CBC is healthy.
“Our new biennium will not be based on our existence,” she proclaims, “but on our success.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.