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Board election sparks heated controversy

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By Michael Fortier

By Michael Fortier

Riverside Community College faculty stands divided over the controversy of Board of Trustees candidate Mary Figueroa being the college’s convocation speaker and being endorsed by the faculty union.

Figueroa spoke at the convocation ceremony Sept. 16, while she is up for re-election on Nov. 2.

Instructor Kathleen Sell-Sandoval said she was “disturbed by what seems to me a politicization of this event,” in an e-mail to the faculty.

“I’m not comfortable with one candidate being provided with a captive audience of faculty, students and staff while other potentially worthy candidates are not offered the same opportunity,” Sell-Sandoval said in her e-mail to the faculty.

Instructor Frank Stearns echoed Sell-Sandoval’s remarks stating in an e-mail, “I feel it clearly unethical for a candidate to be given time to speak during a district-paid for political rally, oops, strike that, convocation.”

Board of Trustees candidate Jim Real did not approve of Figueroa giving the convocation speech.

“I wasn’t happy with it, but that’s politics,” Real said.

Sell-Sandoval said in a telephone interview that she has since proposed a resolution to have a faculty that was committee with student input select the convocation speaker.

Figueroa said she tried to keep her convocation speech from being interpreted politically.

“I had wondered how that would be viewed and knew that someone, somewhere would make an issue out of it,” Figueroa answered in an e-mail. “It’s unfortunate that my election seems to divert attention from the real message of convocation.”

President Salvatore Rotella selected Figueroa as the convocation speaker and said his motives were not political in nature.

“This was decided a long time ago when we didn’t even have the election on our minds,” Rotella said in a telephone interview. “We wanted to put a role model in front of the students and I think she is one.”

Faculty also stands divided on the RCC chapter of the California Teachers Association endorsing Figueroa for the Board of Trustees election.

The CTA executive board had a vote of 5-3-1 in favor of endorsing Figueroa.

Instructor Scott McLeod disagreed with the endorsement of Figueroa.

In an e-mail to the faculty he said, “Why doesn’t someone (better yet more than one) from CTA who was part of the decision to endorse Mary Figueroa please enlighten us mystified faculty as to how and why she was able to gain your trust? Surely there must be some very compelling reasons that you are aware of that many of us who have only viewed her history of actions from afar are not.”

Instructor David Baker sent an e-mail to CTA President Karin Skiba stating his opposition to Figueroa’s endorsement.

“By voting to support Mary Figueroa’s re-election to the Board, you and your executive board have sanctioned the continued maltreatment of faculty given Figueroa’s long and bitter history of absolute disdain for the faculty,” Baker said.

“It’s troubling to think that the faculty not only has to fight an almost constant battle with the administration and the Board, now we have to watch our backs with the CTA,” Baker said.

Skiba declined to comment on the CTA endorsing Figueroa.

Stearns withdrew from the CTA in protest of Figueroa’s endorsement. He was investigated by the administration and fired by a vote from the Board of Trustees in August 2002 after he did an audit of the college. He went 20 months without pay until he was reinstated in February.

“I had requested a meeting, regarding the endorsement of candidates, but that was not accepted by the executive board of the CTA,” Stearns said in an e-mail. “I can not be part of the CTA endorsement of Figueroa. I have experienced her voting first hand, which has caused me to not have confidence in Figueroa.”

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