I am writing to express my deep concern regarding recent news articles in the Napa Valley Register regarding the leasing of the Upper Valley Campus to the City of St. Helena.
As a Napa resident, I am very familiar with the college as I have taken several courses over the past 20 years at the college. Moreover, my wife served as vice president of instruction for eight years. I am also quite familiar with the California community college system as I served as director of governmental affairs for the CA Community College League and prior to that as an education consultant to the California State Legislature.
My greatest concern about the decision to lease the property concerns that fact that there has been no opportunity for public input into the decision. The only opportunity for comment seems to be the Jan. 16 board meeting, but from appearances, the decision has already been made. The decision to lease the campus facilities, and for all practical purposes eliminate the educational function of the campus, is a total abrogation of the public trust and violates the agreement for building the campus in the first place. Obviously, there was a perceived need for the campus. Local taxpayers supported the new campus with the expectation that it would provide valued education services to the larger Napa Valley community, particularly in the upper valley.
While it may be true that enrollment has declined, the critical question that remains to be answered is why. I’ve not heard any discussion about this and as far as I can tell, there are none. What I perceive is a decision to lease the campus facilities to the City of St. Helena principally because the City of St. Helena needs more and better facilities and can get the college campus at below-market rates. However, I don’t understand what the real problem is. Is it that St. Helena needs new facilities or that the college is underutilized? The former seems to be the main concern of current deliberations. But, the question that really matters and the one that is ignored is what can be done to create the kinds of programs that will meet the needs of Napa Valley? As far as I know, there has been no discussion, at least no public discussion, of what alternatives to shutting down the college might exist.
Leasing the college facilities for three to five years means the end of the college. Experience with higher education tells us that one doesn’t just open and close colleges and expect them to be high quality institutions of learning. What makes them colleges is not the façade that houses them, but the community of people who work in them. That takes years to build.
I participated in a week-long program at the Upper Valley Campus last summer. I hadn’t been on the campus for several years, and was shocked and saddened to see the totally neglected grounds. The Native-American monument that the college had promised to maintain was in a state of total neglect. I can only think that the kind of neglect observable in the state of the grounds may also extend to the educational programs at the campus.
The decision to lease the facilities strikes me as hasty and not well thought out. According to Ron Kraft, the campus will be on a “hiatus” the coming semester. However, the current catalogue lists dozens of course that will be offered in the coming quarter. Which is it?
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Leasing the campus facilities to the city would do a great disservice to the Napa Valley community. Rather than talks about shutting down the campus, I would like to hear serious discussions about how to revitalize the college to be what it was originally meant to be and to serve the educational needs of the Napa Valley community.
My recommendation is that the President and Board take some time to fully discuss the future of the Upper Valley Campus. The current proposal seems hasty, not fully considered. There are simply too many questions beyond the scope of this letter left unanswered.
Thomas Timar, Ph.D.