Robertson runs for chancellor position

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By Matt Gilford

Piedad Robertson, one of the three candidates for chancellor of RCC. (Christopher Ullyott)

By Matt Gilford

Currently one of three finalists for the chancellorship of the Riverside Community College District, Piedad F. Robertson was once a supporter of Fidel Castro’s rebel army in Cuba, before his ascension to power.

Robertson was jailed for one week in connection to her support of Fidel Castro. The charge was of providing information, resources, and ammunition to the then-rebel leader.

She later renounced Castro, as she soon discovered that the new government had become what she described as “totalitarian.”

Leaving her home country of Cuba and coming to Florida, Robertson has had a long and controversial employment history.

During Robertson’s stay as president at Santa Monica College, enrollment dropped by 6,000 students.

No other college in the history of California has ever met that drop – which equaled 26 percent of the previous year’s enrollment.

The SMC Academic Senate, comprised of the school’s entire faculty, then approved a vote of no confidence in Robertson, passing it by a margin of 413 to 68.

The faculty’s vote of no confidence was primarily a result of her decision to discontinue nine long-standing vocational programs, including the automotive technology program, according to Lantz Simpson.

Simpson, the former union president at SMC, characterized Robertson’s managerial style as “authoritarian.”

In 2003, Robertson claimed that SMC would be facing a $6 million operating deficit.

She cut classes by 25 percent, resulting in the layoffs, forced retirement, or reassignment of nearly 300 part-time and 30 full-time faculty, according to Simpson.

“Turns out there was only a tiny state budget cut that year and none the next year,” and that “the college has yet to recover its enrollment as a result of these actions.”

“She was sincere about what she wanted to do and she did it,” Simpson said, adding that she was easy to contact and communicate with, but that she was “apparently not interested in what the faculty had to say.”

Gordon Dossett, the Academic Senate president at the time of the vote of no confidence, said it was “primarily the result of her actions to discontinue a number of long-standing vocational programs, including automotive technology.”

Mary Figueroa, RCCD Board of Trustees president, said that she wasn’t aware of the precise numbers regarding the votes of no confidence, but that she did have knowledge that the vote existed.

Figueroa went on to say that the search firm conducting the background checks on the three chancellor finalists now has the responsibility to report such facts to the Board.

This wasn’t the first bout of controversy at SMC that Robertson had weathered. Another came between the years of 1998 and 2000, when the faculty filed a complaint with the California State Public Employment Relations Board.

The complaint alleged that the district, under the direction of Robertson, engaged in illegal practices regarding the state’s 50 percent rule.

The 50 percent rule states administrators and faculty should be given equal finances under a given college’s budget.

According to the state’s decision, Robertson’s plan was to eliminate faculty positions in order to create more administrative positions.

During an October 1998 meeting, according to the decision, Robertson said that the district’s administrators were “sick of the faculty” and that the district might “eliminate all reassigned time for faculty and hire more administrators.”

The decision was handed down in January 2000. The state decided the “District unlawfully threatened the (teachers) Association to deny reassigned time because of its position on the 50 percent law.”

The decision went on to say that the District showed a “lack of compliance” and was in “bad faith” when it unlawfully threatened the teacher’s association.

Randal Lawson, vice president at the time of Robertson’s presidency at SMC, said that he has “the utmost respect for Dr. Robertson,” and that he “enjoyed a positive, collaborative working relationship with her, and feel that her leadership resulted in many accomplishments.”

While employed at SMC, Robertson helped to establish an innovative arts program that focuses on the future direction of filmmakers and animators in the Los Angeles film industry.

To strengthen the program, Robertson sent 10 faculty volunteers on a sabbatical to various jobs in the entertainment industry so that they could more substantially and accurately teach future students in the skills of filmmaking.

According to Robertson all returning faculty were then supporters of the program.

The SMC decision wasn’t the first vote of no confidence that Robertson had experienced. The first occurred in Massachusetts, where she served as secretary of education for four years.

Robertson established 25 charter schools throughout the state. The schools were later deemed unconstitutional, leading supposedly to the eventual 1995 vote of no confidence.

After Robertson stepped down from her office in Massachusetts, the position of secretary of education was eliminated, and the seat remains nonexistent to this day.

At an RCC public forum hosted by Robertson on March 6, she blamed the vote of no confidence on former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, stating that the true reason for the vote was a 25 percent education-related budget cut.

That budget cut occurred in 1991, four years prior to the vote of no confidence.

During Robertson’s employment by the Education Commission of the States, where she served as president for 15 months, income from contracts and grants dropped nearly 50 percent between the years of 2004 and 2005, triggering the resignations of two long-term the commission employees.

Due to the drop in grants received by ECS under the presidency of Robertson, the commission elected to max out a $1 million line of credit, contributing further to financial fears.

Kathy Christie, the ECS vice president at the time of Robertson’s presidency at ECS, resigned when the organization’s hidden financial problems came into light.

“The financial picture presented to (the commission) at last week’s steering committee in Delaware does not, I believe, accurately disclose the financial realities facing ECS,” Christie stated in her letter of resignation, going on to say that the cash flow situation was “dire.”

Following Christie’s resignation from the company, Robertson resigned, leaving several unserved months on her contract. Christie has since returned to her position at ECS.

Stephanie Woodruff, an accounting department employee who had worked at ECS for more than 18 years, was the second to resign.

Her May 4 letter of resignation stated that she had “lost confidence” in the leadership of ECS, going on to say that her decision was in part due to the implementation of “intimidation” and “humiliation” to control staff, according to Education Weekly.

Robertson was on campus the week of March 5 to host two forums, where she spoke for a total of two hours, covering many topics – from her extensive employment history to her plans for RCCD’s future.

For coverage of Robertson’s town hall forums:

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