Hartnell College cuts veterinary program; students complain to the D.A.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Brushing off accusations of violating the Brown Act and muzzling student testimony, Hartnell College’s Board of Trustees axed its Animal Health Technology Program on June 8. Students, mainly women seeking second careers and some stay-at-home moms, wept after the trustees voted 4-3 to terminate the beloved veterinary program.
Erin Jones will be one of the last 17 graduates allowed to finish her vet technician training by August 2010. Jones said the trustees’ decision is ridiculous because they never heard from students. “I think their agenda was just to get rid of the program,” she said, adding that AHT has the sixth-highest number of occupational program graduates at Hartnell.
ENDING ANIMAL HEALTH INSTRUCTION WILL SAVE THE COLLEGE $400,000 DOWN THE ROAD.
So why did Hartnell kick animal lovers out of their kennel? That depends on who you ask. College President Phoebe Helm said it wasn’t related to the college’s budget, although during the same meeting the board voted to cut $3.3 million from its general fund. “It’s being brought to you mainly because it’s producing jobs at low wages,” Helm told the trustees. Pay for vet techs ranges from $12.16 to $22.29 an hour, less than a dollar more than untrained veterinary assistants, according to a college report.
Kathleen Rose, associate vice president of academic and accreditation and chairwoman of the so-called Discontinuance Committee, says the program came up for review due to declining enrollment (24 students have completed the program since 2004) and decreasing market demand. But according to a study by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, there is a projected 41 percent increase in jobs for Monterey County veterinary technicians over the next five years, which equates to 46 new jobs.
Statistics aside, students claim the review process was illegal and biased. Karen Ivey, a fiery 4-H volunteer who takes AHT classes, recently complained to the District Attorney’s Office, alleging the college violated the Brown Act by not posting agendas, stifling student comments and shredding documents. “There is this general sense that we have our agenda and we are going to push it through and your voice is not going to impact us,” Ivey says.
Rose agrees agendas weren’t posted and student testimony was limited. “There is a student committee member that represents the voice of the students,” she says. “We did not bring in student testimony because we are an advisory committee to the board.” The committee doesn’t fall under the Brown Act, Rose adds.
Ivey says there was an air of confidentiality at the meetings.
Rose counters: “What was said is, we would be dealing with confidential information, student names, student enrollment information.”
Rose says she directed committee members to shred documents containing private student information, not a wholesale purging of records as Ivey describes.
At the June 8 board meeting, Helm backed the review process, saying the committee makes a recommendation to her – not the Board of Trustees – and therefore isn’t required to strictly follow the Brown Act.
But Chief Assistant District Attorney Terry Spitz says it’s not to whom the committee reports, but who created the committee that counts. If the board formed the committee, then it is subject to the Brown Act, Spitz says, adding that he is still gathering additional documents to make his opinion. Even if the college violated the Brown Act, the District Attorney’s Office usually comes to agreement with public agencies and doesn’t prosecute, Spitz says. In rare cases, the District Attorney has sued or filed criminal charges when there is evidence of an intentional Brown Act violation.
Regardless of the public process, the committee’s recommendation to cut the program was unanimous, Helm said. Ending animal health instruction will save the college $400,000 down the road; keeping it would require Hartnell to hire a full-time veterinarian to meet accreditation guidelines, Helm said. Ivey called Helm’s statement “a bold-faced lie,” saying two part-time vets count for one full-time position.
The committee’s analysis also shorthands the number of students in the program, Ivey says, citing a survey that found 71 percent of the program’s 175 slots were filled for the fall and 94 percent of AHT students plan to finish the program. “It doesn’t make sense to cut a program that is doing so well,” Ivey says, adding that the two-year course load is nearly impossible for students who work and can’t attend classes full time.
The Hartnell board didn’t dissect these details. The seven-member body, with trustees Bill Freeman, Juan Martinez and Ray Montemayor dissenting, followed Helm’s recommendation and eliminated the program.
AHT was one of seven vet-tech programs in the state. Come next year, local students will have to travel to San Jose to get a degree in pet health.