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College Board Appoints Donner as Temporary President, Holds off on Reorganization

By Olin Ericksen

December 7 -- Santa Monica College Board members Monday began cautiously plotting a new course for the future, voting unanimously to make insider Tom Donner acting president for one year, but holding off on a major administrative reshuffling until two new board members take their seats next week.

The expected appointment of Donner -- who currently serves as the college's top financial officer -- comes just weeks after current president Dr. Piedad F. Robertson announced that she will be leaving the school next month to head the Education Commission of the States (ECS), a 40-year-old national education policy organization.

Chief business officer at Santa Monica College since 1976, Tom Donner served once before as interim president of SMC for several months in 1994 and 1995, before the college hired Robertson.

"Because of Tom's work experience with the college over the years, everyone has confidence he will be able to steer the college through the transition period of 2005," Board Member Nancy Greenstein said after the meeting.

Donner's career highlights include creating a fiscal plan in the aftermath of Prop 13 tax reform and developing an international student recruitment program to gain additional state funding.

He also led a team to rebuild facilities damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake and negotiated the establishment of increased off-campus locations for the school.

The Monday meeting, which Robertson missed due to illness, was as significant for the decisions the board didn't make as for those it enacted.

Pulled without discussion from the agenda was a proposal to reorganize several top administrative positions, including Executive Vice President, Vice President for Planning and Development, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost for the new Bundy Campus.

The decision to delay those reassignments until three recently elected board members -- current college board chair Margaret Quinones and newcomers Rob Rader and Susan Aminoff -- take their seats December 10 was significant, according to out-going Board Member Annette Shamey.

"There was a concern about perceptions and giving new board members the chance to take complete ownership of the new plan," Shamey said Tuesday. "Because there could be, not necessarily problems, but suspicions of action taken at the eleventh hour, it was important to wait on the reassignments.

"At the end of the day, it would have been inappropriate to act before the 'new' board members join the 'old' board members," she said, declining to name which current board members wanted to act before the new board was appointed.

Shamey did reveal that all the names circulated for the reassignments were from the college.

In what may come as the first step in burying the hatchet between faculty and administration over a 2003 budget controversy, members heard the first reading of proposals from a group of college administration and representatives for faculty known as the Governance Structure Work Group.

The controversy -- spurred by the elimination of eight programs, most of them vocational -- led to a vote of no confidence by the faculty against Robertson and the board.

College officials are hopeful the work group's recommendations -- which could be instituted as early as January -- can help bridge some of the differences that have persisted.

"The most important out of the four proposals is to figure out better ways for shared governance and (to close) the rift that has developed on campus from 2003," said college spokesman Bruce Smith.

"This is a good sign that everybody is on the same page," said Shamey. "I'm not so sure there was a fence to mend. I choose to look at this as a solution to make improvements in the future."

School officials said it was unclear whether Robertson -- who oversaw two major bonds totaling nearly $300 million, a major earthquake rebuilding effort and the college's consistent ranking as a top community college in California -- would address the board before her departure January 31.

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