When will Saddleback College get a facelift

Update (18 Oct @ 16:05): As some are aware, President Dr. Elliot Stern of Saddleback College decided to make my article, When will Saddleback College get a facelift, the focal point of his President’s Update this week.

While it is great to see him spending his time diligently, he was responding to an article that I decided to unpublish last Monday after being live on the Lariat News site for 12 hours [Current Revision by Nik Lamas-Richie 4 days ago (14 Oct @ 17:18)]. I made this decision because I felt there weren’t enough supporting facts in my opinion piece.

I am at Saddleback to learn how to be an actual journalist with integrity, so I felt it was my duty to gather more information—hence the pull. I will be reaching out to Stern to request an interview; in the meantime, you can read his response at the bottom of this article.

Original article: President Dr. Elliot Stern sends a timeless message, with no real-time solutions.

Old payphone at Saddleback College. An estimated 100,000 payphones in the US remain as of 2018, with roughly a fifth of them located in New York. Credit: Nik Richie

As you enter the campus off Marguerite parkway, a sea of cars await you in the parking lot. Trying to find parking around 10 a.m. on a Monday is a daunting task. This semester, the solution was to build two extra dirt lots at the east and west ends of school.

The extended parking is not a paved situation. So, warning: Parking in these sub-lots can cause severe tire damage to your vehicle. I’ve had two punctured tires already this semester. And if you feel swindled because you paid a premium for a parking pass, you aren’t alone. The Saddleback College staff and faculty pay for parking as well.

Upon parking in main Lots 9 and 10, you will see the back faces of buildings BSG and SM. No, this isn’t Alcatraz or your local prison structure. This is Saddleback College, one of the top community colleges in California.

As a 40-year-old college student who attended this institution 21 years ago, I decided to come back to finish my education and was shocked to see that little has changed.

The same table I studied on in 1999. Credit: Nik Richie

Yeah, some buildings have received the latest technology, and the library seems to be up to high school standards. But as a whole, The Rock is still The Rock.

What concerns me the most is Saddleback’s President, Dr. Elliot Stern, whose messaging last Friday to his colleagues was unenlightened. As an invested student at Saddleback, I don’t understand his quest for long-term visions. I know he has only taken the helm for nine months, but the focus needs to be right now, not what this college will be in 2025.

“Still to be decided: Housing on campus? As these projects are completed in the next 5-6 years, we will empty the Village, which might open that up for housing—tbd!” said President Stern in an email to his colleagues.

Saddleback College walkway from parking Lot 10. Credit: Nik Richie

The college needs an immediate facelift, not more construction projects with open-ended completion dates. It’s bad enough that the school decided to spend $62 million on a football stadium when that money could have been used to build a realistic parking structure. The pressure to get to class on time, considering the 45 minutes it takes to find parking is rough.

President Stern has six projects envisioned that will make us see beautiful butterflies over the next decade: The main project is the stadium, and the others – a new tennis center, a gateway center for onboarding students, renovating the old abandoned TAS building, a new cafeteria with unique food vendors, and a Culinary & Hospitality program in Tustin – with hopes to build a Saddleback College restaurant.

“It’s exciting to think about what our campus might look like a decade from now,” said Stern.

The Lariat reported a tentative completion date of June 2020, but according to Stern, “Stadium—opening Summer 2020. (I’ve started using “seasons” rather than months when I talk about the stadium, but we’re reasonably confident about this target at this time.)”

This statement indicates more of the same, leading one to believe the target date may change once again. “Seasons” is not the word students desire. This interminable stadium saga needs closure.

But there is more: President Stern made mention, “Additional projects still in discussion include a perimeter nature walk, proposed years ago. If we advocate for projects like this from District construction budgets, it may mean putting off some building construction,” Stern continued. “But we want to be mindful that the end vision for our campus has to include more than new buildings. Green spaces and connections to nature are just as important to culture-building as shiny, new buildings.”

The Science and Mathematics building. Credit: Nik Richie

I’m all for a nature hike, but at this time maybe just some new paint, a sprinkler system, an extra paved parking lot, present-millennium tables, and real walkways to class would be nice. That is unless the Reagan-era amenities are part of our campus mission statement. The 80’s were cool, I guess.

Stern’s closing statement: “Now imagine more shade trees, more green space, and more connection to nature running between all this new construction. Are you getting the picture yet? How does it make you feel? Proud? Energized? Cared for? Like you belong? Exactly. And that’s precisely how our students will feel, too.”

It’s visible Stern has NO IDEA what “26,000 amazing students” want. Saddleback is an educational institution in one of the wealthiest areas in the world, and it looks like a correctional institution from The Walking Dead. Instead of larger projects that will show zero appreciation for your current invested students, maybe start with smaller real-time projects that will make an immediate impact.


Happy mid-semester, everyone!

Last week, I shared with you my proposed vision for major construction projects between now and 2025, projects that will change the face of our campus. In response to this update, an editorial briefly appeared in the Lariat, criticizing me (somewhat justifiably, I would say) for not making smaller projects (deferred maintenance and the like) an equal priority, as current students will not enjoy the realization of that longer-term vision for our campus infrastructure. The editorial was shared with me on Tuesday and disappeared from the Lariat website a few hours later. I had nothing to do with its disappearance and don’t know why it was pulled, as I make a point of not being involved in editorial decisions of our student newspaper, particularly when the editorial decision involves criticism of me!

So here’s why the editorial’s criticism was fair: In my update to our campus, I failed to include anything about the smaller projects now underway and on our list. I am very aware that we have a serious problem with deferred maintenance on this campus, and FMO is trying to catch up on years of complaints and obvious neglect that can’t be remedied in months. I failed to mention that we are planning on re-painting halls in Science, which are heavily scuffed and make the building look 50 years old on the inside. I failed to mention that after years of ignoring problems in old Math & Science because the building would be torn down “someday,” our FMO team is working to clean, spruce up and make safer the halls and active classrooms in that building. I failed to mention that we have multiple suggestions for improvements of the quad and are re-charging the Beautification committee, in part, to help us decide how to prioritize and coordinate those suggested improvements, so that they can begin quickly, before even the opening of our stadium! I failed to mention that we are looking at landscaping projects to spruce up our groundcover and other plantings that may have become a bit too naturalized over the years. The list goes on. Indeed, I’ve asked Jim Rogers to compile a list of these smaller projects already completed, currently underway, or on the schedule for completion. I will send that out when I have it. I accept the criticism for talking about construction without talking about smaller projects that are underway. I just didn’t think anyone cared enough about seeing the list of sidewalk repair, carpet replacements and painting projects, particularly because my updates don’t go to students; and I failed to take into account in that communication that current students want to know about what we’re doing to fix things up during their time with us. They are less interested in buildings that will go up after they have left us. Many of you may feel the same way. My oversight. My bad.

Here’s why I believe the pulled editorial was a bit unfair: First, its author never contacted me or FMO to find out what we were doing about the deferred maintenance and other unsightly problems on our campus, evidencing long neglect. Had they done so, they would have learned that our hard-working FMO team is actually doing quite a lot and has a long list of problems that we’re trying to address in a reasonable period of time. But that information would not have supported the thesis of the editorial, or, at the very least, would have made it a lot more nuanced, i.e. a less compelling read. Second, in between its title (“When will Saddleback College Get a Facelift? President Dr. Elliot Stern sends out a timeless message with no real-time solutions”) and conclusion (“It’s visible Stern has NO IDEA what ‘26,000 amazing students’ want. Saddleback is an educational institution in one of the wealthiest areas in the world, and it looks like a correctional institution from The Walking Dead…”) is a well-written narrative which supports the author’s thesis as well as corroborative photos–a pay phone on our campus, a cracked sidewalk, an old table and benches, and dead grass outside of Math & Science. There were no pictures of the quad or of carefully clipped hedges, hibiscus blooms, sparkly clean trash cans, fresh pennants expressing Gaucho pride, litter-free walkways, freshly-painted buildings and campus entrance signs, or carefully edged parcels of grass.

It is true that our campus needs a lot of work, and it’s not hard to find evidence of neglect if you walk around a lot, as I try to do. But this ain’t no zombie prison. The condition of our campus is not what we’d like it to be (for now); but nor is it a waste heap. The truth is somewhere in between a shining beacon on the hill and the description provided in the editorial. But no one has much interest in editorializing a condition that is neither horrifically deplorable nor worthy of superlatives.

And that’s why I’m sharing my thoughts about an editorial that most of you never had the chance to read, to make a larger point. I think we’re seeing a lot of stridency and data-dredging to support our theses in our culture, our communications, our politics and in our everyday lives. I think a lot of us are writing our headlines first and then citing the facts to validate our opinion rather than studying facts in order to form our opinions.

The Information Age has given us the freedom to live in a bubble, so we select information that supports hypotheses we create based on our values and gut instinct, replete with biases. I read a report not too long ago that said even neighborhoods are becoming political bubbles. People are choosing to live in neighborhoods where their neighbors vote the same way they do. Our bubbles follow us everywhere.

You may have seen recently that Ellen DeGeneres had to defend herself after sitting next to George W. Bush, her friend, at an athletic event. Exiting one’s bubble to take in a game with a friend outside of our bubble earns the wrath of those still inside of our bubble.

While the flood of information confronting us allows us to filter for the information that most validates our core beliefs, there is a corollary problem. In this flood of information and communication, it is harder to get people’s attention. So we speak and write with greater stridency. So does the media. So do those who leave comments on things published in the media. We have become desensitized to hyperbole. I have to catch myself on this, despite the fact that I am aware of the tendency. I was writing some reviews on travel and food sites after my recent vacation, and I had to stop and reflect for a moment on why so many of my ratings were 1s and 5s, with no 3s. Were the 1s really that bad? I didn’t get food poisoning after all. And was that monastery converted into a hotel really one of the nicest hotels at which I have ever stayed? (Yeah, I’m digging in on that one.)

In short, I think a lot of us are writing our headlines and conclusions and then filling in the narrative and taking the pictures to fit the headline. Nuance is disappearing. So is the age-old construct of Inquiry, in which we gather information before writing our hypotheses, let alone our conclusions.

We have a special obligation, as educators, to inspire inquiry and encourage nuanced thinking and communication. Such communication may not generate a lot of hits, and inquiry may create cognitive dissonance, to find that the facts of the world do not always support our instinctive beliefs about it; but if none of us likes the polarization and stridency that is infecting us, why aren’t we doing more to resist it? What if we were to role model nuance and fact-based inquiry in our interactions and communication? Could we have an impact on 26,000 students who, in turn, might have an impact on thousands of others? And yes, each of those 26,000 students is amazing in their own way.

Let me worry about the cracks in the sidewalk. Keep the reports and pictures coming to FMO (or me). Let’s talk to our students about more important stuff, like the future of communication, inquiry, and the fate of democracy in the modern Information Age.
Go Gauchos Football, #4 ranked in the country!