Faculty Senates Sue Districts Over Hiring Rules

Faculty Senates Sue Districts Over Hiring Rules

MISSION VIEJO, Calif.

In an unprecedented move, the academic senates of Saddleback and Irvine Valley colleges have voted to sue their district chancellor and trustees over a new districtwide hiring policy that gives more power to administrators at the expense of faculty.

Faculty within the South Orange County Community College District were particularly unhappy with new rules allowing the district’s human-resources director to change the scores awarded by committee members if she deems them too far off the norm. The rules also will allow the human resources director to unilaterally change interview questions, according to Irvine Valley instructor and attorney Wendy Gabriella, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the academic senates.

Professors also were displeased with a new ethics-and-confidentiality section of the hiring policy that allows the human resources director to investigate and punish any member of a hiring committee who is accused of violating confidentiality.

“The policy allows the human resources department to accuse hiring committee members of bias, change their scores and discipline them without any due process or opportunity for appeal,” Irvine Valley Academic Senate President Greg Bishopp says.

Filed earlier this month in Orange County Superior Court, the suit seeks a judge’s order to set aside the new hiring policy because it was not approved in advance by each college’s faculty senate.

In January, when the hiring policy came before the board of trustees, faculty representatives pleaded for more time to discuss them and potentially make changes. A divided board voted 4-3 to institute the new policy over the protests.

“We have already spent eight to nine months developing this,” district chancellor Raghu Mathur said in January at the board meeting where the new hiring practices were adopted.

The state’s education code requires that hiring criteria and policies for new faculty members must be developed “and agreed upon jointly” by board members and the academic senate.

Typically, new college instructors are selected by hiring committees made up of the head of the department and faculty members who are experts in the field. Their selection is usually ratified by the college president, the district’s board of trustees or both.

Mathur declined to comment on the lawsuit other than to say, “The reason we adopted this new board policy is we were trying to address some concerns about hiring practices in the district.”

In January, he told the board the new policy was the “result of concerns about hiring practices that have existed for a long time.

“I have heard concerns that we have not treated all applicants in a fair and respectful fashion,” Mathur told the board. “We have not maintained confidentiality and there are concerns about proper screening. Some candidates were given unduly high or low scores.”

In a prepared statement, district board President Donald Wagner said he was “disappointed that the academic senates have decided during these lean budget times to … force our district to spend money on attorneys, rather than students.”

Faculty members believe the new hiring policy is the byproduct of Mathur’s controversial appointment as chancellor in February 2002, when his candidacy was widely discussed and critiqued. Mathur has said the new policy was necessary to make the hiring process fairer.

A hearing on the matter is set for May 23 in Santa Ana Superior Court.

General Counsel Ralph Black of the California Community College Chancellor’s Office said the state education code provides that “a district is supposed to involve the academic senate in consultation on hiring policies,” although his office does not enforce that law.

“It’s pretty traditional that a committee would recommend three candidates and a president would pick from them, but there really isn’t anything in the law that would dictate how districts should do that,” Black says.

— By Marla Jo Fisher



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