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September 19, 2006 > Firestorm - a diamond from the ashes?

Firestorm - a diamond from the ashes?

Recent TCV interviews with Ohlone President Dr. Douglas Treadway and Ohlone College Board of Trustees President Bob Brunton set off a wave of heated discussion related to a comment made by Mr. Brunton regarding the tenure of Dr. Treadway. Although statements including innuendo and inference can be misleading, it is just as important to look beyond emotional rhetoric and reaction to understand the content and validity of each of their observations. While this friction has created a firestorm of comment and criticism, the question of how the college and its board can operate effectively remains.

Both parties of these interviews had valid and reasoned arguments to make on behalf of Ohlone College. The problem of personality conflict is unfortunate, but when this is elevated to the central issue, it hides critical choices facing this institution of higher learning. Buildings are decaying and repair and replacement costs are increasing. Both parties agree that current schemes to create income will not solve this problem in the long run. The joint efforts of all parties should not only be concentrating on the present financial and strategic dilemma of developing a new campus while strengthening the present facility, but on how to inform and involve Ohlone's owners, the public, in the debate.

In the past, much of the political and financial affairs of Ohlone have been mired in public indifference and shrouded by a Board of Trustees that operates ineffectively. In place of active discussions of how to effect change and fund rehabilitation of a decaying infrastructure, discourse is often based on issues of loyalty and expediency. Board membership of active and informed Ohlone district residents who share the consequences of their actions along with committed administration, faculty and service personnel is essential to making choices that make sense and lead to expected and positive physical and fiscal consequences. Close examination of residency, past actions and present fitness for office has been too often overlooked by the public while placing a checkmark by an incumbent's name.

While Ohlone has made its mark in some areas of academia, the question of stewardship and long term health of the institution may be a more complex and difficult debate. Currently, numbered seats and individual races that guarantee two Newark resident seats belie the notion of a whole district. Instead, the board is elected and acts as two cooperative city-based entities. "At large" voting of numbered seats that are restrictive is mind-bending to say the least. Politics aside, this is a strange way to elect the board. If the idea is that Newark must maintain the two seats, why do all residents vote on those seats? What about the small sliver of Union City residents in the district? Should they have special representation? The ward system of elections to the board has created strange bedfellows and safe seats while others are continually targeted for replacement. Is this healthy?

The current Ohlone scenario can be likened to carbon atoms arranged in a complex organic mixture as coal. Carbon is pretty ordinary stuff, found in lots of places, especially in living things on Earth. When buried underground, left alone for awhile and subjected to heat and pressure, coal can be the result. Now coal can be pretty messy stuff but it has some good qualities. It can release energy! The current situation at Ohlone is beginning to build in intensity and pressure. It is messy too, but as scrutiny and pressure on the governing bodies build, resulting changes can bring about new ideas and significant results.

Coal is graded into categories depending on the level of carbon and reduction of other substances. As the content of carbon increases and other elements decrease, the compound becomes harder with greater potential for heating. At the highest concentration of carbon, depending on the level of pressure, either graphite of pencil fame or, under extreme pressure, a diamond emerges. As the pressure of public review and full disclosure of the issues facing Ohlone are revealed and public apathy is replaced by scrutiny, will the result be the opaque, slippery stuff of graphite or the clarity of a diamond?

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