It came as little surprise when, abruptly, Southwestern College President, Serafin Zasueta, was fired from his job. The firing was not in response to a dismal job performance or grievous misconduct, but as a casualty of the struggle over who runs the college the President or the Teacher’s Union (SCEA) and in this case a Trojan horse, in the person of newly elected Board Member David Agosto, aided the Union.
The rift between Zasueta and the Union can be traced back to the contract negotiations of 2002. And like most contract disputes negotiations dragged on and ultimately become nasty. It wasn’t long before the Union started lobbing accusations against Zasueta alleging misconduct on the President’s part. The Union was aided in its efforts by Board Member David Agosto, who concurrently was an administrator at Cuyamaca college, an element of the Grossmont College District. In Agosto, the Union found a perfect dupe to attack President Zasueta. The squabble occurred coincidently at the time that Grossmont College was involved in an effort to attract more students for Grossmont and its branch College, Cuyamaca. The Grossmont College District abutted the Southwestern College boundaries.
The Union, using Philip Lopez as its lightening rod, attempted to discredit Dr. Zasueta by filing various spurious allegations of misconduct. Unfortunately for the Union and its supporters, all the charges were investigated by off-campus lawyers and found lacking in substance or creditability. The majority of the actions attributed to Dr Zasueta were in fact actions taken by the Board and approved by them. Despite numerous investigations no wrongdoing was discovered.
It was during this period of time that the Teacher's Senate registered a no-confidence vote in Zasueta’s presidency. Their greatest grievance was that there was no shared governance at the college. This is a common complaint at State Community Colleges as many professors feel they should have a say in the running of the College.
The Teacher’s Union chose to pick this moment to field a slate of candidates for the Board of Trustees for the elections to run against the incumbent Board Members who were opposed to the idea of the Union running and controlling the Board of Trustees. Winning two seats they joined with board member David Agosto creating a board majority controlled by the Teacher’s Union (CSEA). With this new Board majority, the writing was on the wall. Zasueta was fired without cause. The Board released a statement that they were once again investigating Zasueta, but failed to identify a reason for the investigation, leading one to believe it was a witch-hunt. They will investigate until they find something with which to justify their firing!
What has been forgotten in this discussion has been the outstanding job that Zasueta has done during his tenure. Southwestern College is the primer educational institution in the South Bay serving the needs of the needs of the primarily Hispanic communities south of I-8. Southwestern has expanded its satellite campuses into National City, and has seen it’s San Ysidro campus grow. Zasueta has raised record amounts of funds for the campus. Has established unique channels of higher educational opportunities at San Diego State University, to name a few. Yet, none of these accomplishments are raised in the discussion about Zasueta’s tenure.
So what are the perceived Zasueta faults? One has been his trying to develop a shopping center on vacant college land on the corner of H and Okay Lakes Road. His rational was that it would create a steady flow of cash to fund college services. And with the drastic budget cuts going on now, a supplemental income would go a long way in maintaining many of those services and jobs.
In spite of the firing, the school board in all likely hood did Zasueta a favor! In light of the drastic budget cuts, impending cuts in services, and the huge firings on the horizon, Zasueta will be able to sleep at night with the knowledge he won’t have to hand out the pink slips, nor have to make the budget cuts in order to balance the budget those responsibilities will now lie with the new President and the Union controlled board. We are curious as to how they will preserve Union jobs and maintain the high quality of education at the school?
Eighty percent of the students are Mexican Americans. They are our root concern. Dr Zasueta created a Community College respected and admired through out the state and nation for its accomplishments. With the Governor’s cuts in the educational budget and the raising of fees at the four-year colleges there will be a heavy down flow of minority students at these colleges who will not be able to afford the higher fees. Those students will start a trickle down affect that will see them going to the Community Colleges. What is going to happen to our Mexican American students at Southwestern College? What is going to happen to all the middle class, working class students who depended on the vision of people like Dr. Zasueta to give them the opportunity to share in America’s promise?