Peralta Chancellor Report Clears International Office, By: J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

Friday February 10, 2006

A recently-released chancellor’s report on the Peralta Community College District Office of International Affairs concludes that the controversial office is not spending “lavishly” on foreign meals, accommodations, and travel, giving a sharp rebuke to charges made by Peralta Trustee Marcie Hodge. 

At one point, the report indirectly criticizes Hodge for failing to convert expenditure figures from foreign currency to U.S. dollars, making the expenditures seem vastly larger than they actually were. 

The report, compiled by Vice Chancellor Margaret Haig and scheduled to be submitted to trustees by Chancellor Elihu Harris at the trustees’ next meeting, concludes that “many facts” concerning the International Affairs Office “have been misconstrued and may have caused a negative impact either on the office or the staff involved.” 

The next trustee meeting will be held on Tuesday. 

A spokesperson for the chancellor’s office said that the report contains no recommendations, and is only intended as an information item for trustees, noting, “If there are to be any policy changes, they will come at a future date.” 

The report notes that the International Affairs travel budget has plummeted from a high of $79,000 in 2000-01 to $17,000 in 2004-05. The report also says that the department generated $2.6 million in revenue for the district last year. 

But Trustee Hodge disputes those figures, saying that district officials have still not demonstrated that the students paying “non-resident fees” to the district each year are actually being recruited by the International Affairs Office, one of her original complaints. 

“It would seem that the office could benefit from saying which students they have recruited from where, but that information has not yet been provided,” Hodge said in a telephone interview. “Right now, they’re just throwing around numbers. I’m still not satisfied. A lot of questions remain.” 

The Peralta Office of International Affairs is responsible for recruiting foreign students to the four-college district. Charges of improper foreign travel by faculty and staff through the office led to an Alameda County Grand Jury investigation of the office several years ago, leading indirectly to the firing of former Chancellor Ronald Temple. Harris re-placed Temple in late 2002. 

The Chancellor’s report grew out of a stormy Sept. 13 trustees meeting in which Hodge charged that Jacob Ng, the International Affairs Office Director, “has racked up thousands of dollars traveling around the world and nobody can tell me how many students have been recruited.” 

After complaining that Ng had not shown up at the September meeting as promised, Hodge asked “is there some kind of cover-up or something illegal going on?” 

That led to a virtual shouting match between Hodge and then-Trustee President Bill Riley when Riley tried to caution her against making personal attacks against a district employee. Trustees later voted to censure Hodge in part because of her actions at that September meeting. 

Criticisms of the International Affairs Office were also voiced at the meeting by Trustees Bill Withrow and Cy Gulassa, and Trustee Board President Linda Handy has said that trustee concerns about the department preceded Hodge’s attack. 

“We were already moving forward to make changes,” Handy said in an earlier interview. 

Last October, Hodge sent out a four-page mass mailing criticizing the International Affairs Office to constituents both in her own Area 2 trustee district as well as in the adjoining Oakland City Council 6th District, where she is contemplating a run against incumbent City Councilmember Desley Brooks. 

Last week, Hodge sent out a second brochure to voters in the two districts, showing a photo of a beach in Jamaica and the auditorium at Oakland’s Castlemont High School and asking, “Should the Peralta Community College District be recruiting students here? [in Jamaica] . . . or here [at Castlemont]?” 

In the brochure, Hodge writes, “I wish I could report to you that the lavish travel and wasteful spending in our community college district has come to an end. Unfortunately, it continues. . . . In recent months, college district staff have traveled to Jamaica, Brunei, Beijing, Singapore and Malaysia. We still have no system for verifying whether or not this expensive travel has resulted in the recruitment of one foreign student. I’m appalled at this ongoing waste and lack of accountability.” 

But the chancellor’s report noted that Hodge’s previous charges contained “inaccuracies that need to be addressed.” 

“Publicly distributed flyers quoted hotel and travel expenditures falsely as being in U.S. dollars,” the report said. “The amount on the invoice was actually in Chinese and Malaysian currencies. For instance, what was quoted as $316.20 Ringgit was actually $83 US. Another example was 300 Yuan, which were quoted in dollars, but actually equal $36 US.” 

The Chancellor’s report added that Hodge’s published allegations of six separate “lavish travel and wasteful spending” allegations came to an “alleged total” of $2,426.20, while the actual amount in U.S. dollars was $532. 

In her telephone interview following release of the report, Hodge said that she believes that the district “is beginning to put systems of accountability in place as a result of my criticism and the criticisms of other trustees. Hopefully, Vice Chancellor Haig will follow up this report with program reforms.›