Senate President Honored As Freedom Fighter


Angelina Stuart

By: Albert H. Fulcher/ Senior Staff Writer

Published: Monday, May 21st, 2012 at 8:12 pm

It is a metaphor that is too obvious to miss. Angelina Stuart is a quilter, just ask all the people she has stiched together.

Painstakingly, stitch by stitch, she pulls together a panoply of colorful and textured fabric patches into patterns, creating striking quilts that become a treasure for their owners. She has done the same thing at Southwestern College, quilting together scattered fragments of SWC in the midst of dysfunctional leadership, accreditation battles and rebuilding the structure of an ailing educational institution.

People from around the state noticed. Stuart was recently awarded the Norbert Bischof Memorial Faculty Freedom Fighter Scholarship from her peers at the Academic Senate of California Community Colleges (ASCCC). Beth Smith, president of the Academic Senate Foundation for California Community Colleges, said this prestigious award is not given every year, only when there is someone truly worthy.

“(Stuart) was nominated by three different members of the executive committee and a unanimous vote occurred,” said Smith. “Each of them knew Angie from a different perspective and saw different talents she utilized in her role as a teacher and academic senate president. Her students are very lucky to have her and faculty the same. What she accomplishes with her students and colleagues works in every way possible.”

Stuart said that she had no idea when she began her role as SWC Academic Senate president in 2010 that it would take her through the trials of corrupt college leadership that led to a war-like relationship with a belligerent superintendent, an accreditation crisis, a revolution at the ballot box and a rebuilding process that required enormous vision, energy and patience.

During the tumultuous administration of Raj Chopra the college was in the national spotlight for incompetence, corruption and civil rights violations. Stuart said a friend in the ASCCC gave her advice that she took to heart.

“In a conversation with Jane Patton she told me, ‘You have to pick your battles,’” said Stuart. “I said to her, ‘I think my battle is the 10 Plus 1.’ Jane told me it was a great hill to die on.”

She said she based her leadership on the rights faculty have by law under California shared governance statutes that determine to help lead the college.

“It really helped guide me in my decisions,” she said. “Our district had never really looked at the 10 Plus 1, and so I kind of pushed the envelope, not by myself but with all faculty, we held out for what was right by law.”

The Academic Senate’s primary function is to make recommendations with respect to academic and professional matters and promoting shared consultation in the college’s process and procedures.

“I don’t think anyone could have foreseen what happened,” said Stuart. “Four years ago I had no clue we were going to go through what we went through.”

After resignation of Chopra and the selection of Denise Whittaker as interim-superintendent, Stuart said she is extremely happy with what the college did to restore its accreditation after nearly losing it.

“I am probably proudest of being part of that whole accreditation push,” said Stuart. “I think it is a new era for our faculty, the college and prioritization. It is not silos anymore, it is good. There is fresh air and the walls are down.”

She said it is the result of support and unity from the students faculty, classified and administrators to elect a new board and find a new superintendent.

“We were able to do it,” she said.

Linda Hensley, director of institutional research, planning and grants, said Stuart is a unique leader due to her collaborative nature and her compassion for her students and the college.

“I do not think anybody knows how hard she worked,” she said. “She did it for SWC, not herself.”

Hensley said Stuart endlessly labored during the summer, on weekends, late nights and early mornings. She said her ability to listen to and respect those she works with, her flexibility and responsiveness makes Stuart a great decision maker.

“We were extremely lucky to have had her during this period of time,” she said. “She repeatedly demonstrated her abilities to articulate and assert the opinion of the whole of the academic senate.”

Stuart said being part of shared consultation has been a revelation and taken away the chaos of the past. With the hiring of Superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish, she said she is very happy to see the college continuing in the right direction.

“I think Melinda is keeping true to shared governance and I am happy to see that she is giving the due diligence to the academic senate and the items that pertain to the 10 Plus 1,” said Stuart. “To me that is very telling, because if you have someone that dismisses them or chooses to ignore them or push them aside, that is not shared governance.”

Stuart said though she is honored, she is a bit embarrassed because the award only went to her and it is really about her team of colleagues.

“I couldn’t do what I did by myself,” she said. “Who am I? My philosophy is that your friends, team that you work with—they half the troubles, and double the joy. They shared that burden, they helped me, and when it is time to celebrate, they double it.”

When ASCCC Vice President Julie Adams, contacted Stuart, she said she thought it was a local or regional event and was shocked to find out about the award.

“To me it took on greater meaning once I read it was named after the founder. I had done the right thing,” she said.

Hired in 1990, Stuart teaches Spanish and English as a Second Language. Her term as academic senate president ends and she said she gets to go back to being a “regular faculty member” June 1 after six years as an Academic Senate Executive.

“I love what I do here,” she said. “I am looking forward to going back to teaching in the fall. I really miss my students.”

Time for a new quilt and time to admire some past masterpieces.

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