After nearly two years of uncertainty about the College of Santa Fe, we woke up on the morning of Thursday, July 30 to a full class schedule and open registration on the CSF website. We also woke up with a 26-year lease deal with Laureate Education, Inc.
She’s cute and she’s got some nice assets, but she’s still a stranger. Oh my god, what happened last night? Did I buy you a $30 million drink?
The number of people who are happy with the outcome are countered by a significant number of folks who believe the city found a cheap floozy. Here’s what went down and what happens next:
On Wednesday, July 29, the Santa Fe City Council voted to both purchase the campus and to lease 61 acres of it to Laureate, thus ensuring a fall semester beginning this September.
The council’s deliberations lasted more than four hours, but it was a charade. The “public comment” really began with “public official comment”: Gov. Bill Richardson, Santa Fe democrats Speaker of the House Ben Luján Sr., Reps. Luciano “Lucky” Varela and Brian Egolf, and Sen. Peter Wirth, as well as a generally star-studded cast of luminaries, all pressured the council to “do the right thing” and keep a college in the heart of Santa Fe.
Honestly, it was a more persuasive courtship than the council could resist: The following three hours of public input and council debate was just playing hard to get with a foregone conclusion.
Many people told the council they would be grateful for a courageous vote to “save the college.” Only one woman, who opposed the deal, pointed out the truth: A vote in opposition would have been a much braver move. It also would have been foolish. Everyone wishes the state had solved this problem for us, but that didn’t happen and the economic and cultural value of a campus in the center of town is too great to surrender on an ignorant vote.
But there was startling logic at work among the councilors. Many believe that Councilors Carmichael Dominguez and Ronald Trujillo were persuaded by Santa Fe Community College President Sheila Ortego (Trujillo said as much). They weren’t, however, swayed by Ortego’s adamant support of the Laureate deal but, rather, by the notion that she may be able to place an outpost of SFCC on the CSF campus and create a “Higher Learning Center” that would offer non-arts related education siphoned largely from state university programs.
There’s nothing wrong with Ortego’s plan—it’s a good one and it deserves to move forward—but it’s currently an ephemeral plan and only tangentially related to the issues on the table. To vote in favor of borrowing $30 million for the purchase of a huge campus and in favor of leasing 61 acres of that campus to a for-profit college corporation because of what might eventually happen on a couple of other acres is a rationalization that borders on the insane.
But then they were looking for rationalization to do what we knew they would. Councilor Patti Bushee managed to be the most stubborn—she voted in favor of leasing the property to Laureate but then against acquiring the property. Perhaps she was trying to construct a philosophical puzzle, but it came across as empty saber rattling in preparation for the mayoral campaign she swears she won’t launch. But if the people were simply to demand this one final service from her…well.
After the theatrics we now stare at Laureate in the crisp morning light and think, “Floozy or no, this is a long-term relationship.”
The community demanded that a college continue to exist and now it will be the community’s job to hold Laureate to its promise to be a “good corporate citizen.” A good college with a good presence in the community can’t be enforced by the council trying to dictate the minutiae of what uses will be permitted on the campus or how the college should engage with area public schools. Those are organic negotiations that can only benefit from the absence of city politics.
It will be the community’s job (and that of the press) to watchdog Laureate on several key issues that remain unanswered questions:
What administrative personnel decisions does it make both short and long-term?
How does it hold to its commitment to restore key programs that will be missing this fall, such as contemporary music and documentary studies?
Will Laureate follow through with establishing a local advisory board? If so, will the board have real influence?
When the city and state consider master-planning efforts for their portions of the property, how proactive and engaged will Laureate be? How sensitive to the community’s and the neighborhood’s concerns?
Will a real arts program be developed or will things be pushed steadily toward “applied” and vocational tracks?
But it’s early. We’ve only just woken up. It was a long night and neither one of us looks our best. Let’s get some breakfast and maybe kick it in the park. There’s time to learn about each other and eventually find answers to all those niggling questions.
Who knows? This long-term relationship could be hot.
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