Peralta Board Critic Silent As Officials Praise Program By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday February 21, 2006

The Peralta Community College District brought out the big guns to the district Board of Trustees meeting last week, with presentations by Chancellor Elihu Harris, two vice chancellors, and the chief financial officer to try to end the continuing controversy over the district’s office of International Affairs. 

“The office has been under not only some scrutiny and criticism but also under a microscope,” Harris told trustees. “The perceived excesses of the previous chancellor and trustees continue to haunt us.” 

But Harris said that past problems with the international affairs office have ended, that the office is “important and valuable to the district,” and the district is embarking on a program to make the office “stronger and more viable.”  

Along with Harris, trustees heard presentations by CFO Tom Smith, Vice Chancellor Margaret Haig, and Associate Vice Chancellor and International Affairs Office Director Jacog Ng, explaining Harris’ recently released 40-page report on the state of the office. 

The report contained no specific program recommendations. Harris’ office said earlier that the chancellor may present specific recommendations as part of its budget request for the next fiscal year. 

Ng told trustees that the purpose of his office was to “expose our students to cultures from around the world,” while Harris said that it was “vital to our educational program at Peralta to include students from other countries as well as afford our students the opportunity to travel abroad.” Both activities, he said, were carried out by the international office.  

“Most of our expenses involve support for international students once they are here,” Harris said. “This is not a travel junket program. Since I became chancellor, only a small portion of the budget is spent on international travel.” 

A chart included with the report showed that the office’s recruitment and travel budget peaked in 2000-01 at $78,700 out of a $480,000 total budget during the time when the office was under investigation, but by 2004-05 had dropped to $17,000 out of a total budget of $395,000. 

The International Affairs Office was developed in 1997 by Ng, who began his professional career 17 years ago as a counselor at Laney. The office first operated a program out of Vista College in Berkeley, now Berkeley City College, recruiting international students. 

International student tuition is an important part of the Peralta budget, bringing in some $2.5 million a year. 

Harris’ report noted that international students pay a minimum of $4,700 per year to the district on a $164 per unit tuition fee and a $26 per unit enrollment fee on their mandatory minimum of 12 units. Resident students pay no tuition fees, but only the $26 per unit enrollment fee.  

In addition, while the resident student fees are paid to the state with a portion siphoned back to the district, international student fees are paid directly to the district, and remain with the district. 

Haig told trustees that the international recruitment area was “a tough market. We hope to be extremely competitive in it.” 

The chancellor’s office has set a goal of 700 international students for the fall of 2011, up from the present 480. 

The chancellor’s report and administrative presentations were a carryover from the explosive September 2005 trustee meeting in which Trustee Marcie Hodge first leveled criticisms of the International Affairs Office. 

Ng did not appear at that meeting, leaving the reporting to his supervisor, Haig, who had only been on the job for 10 days at the time. Hodge’s criticisms of Ng by name at the September meeting led to her later censuring by the Board of Trustees. 

Harris made a backhand reference to that September meeting on Tuesday night, introducing Haig to trustees by saying that “unfortunately, she had a rude welcome to Peralta.” 

Hodge sat silent during Tuesday night’s presentations and did not ask any questions. Hodge did not respond when Smith made a point-by-point rebuttal of “travel excess” criticisms made by Hodge in a mass mailing to constituents in her Area 2 trustee district and in Oakland City Council District 6, where Hodge is challenging incumbent Councilmember Desley Brooks in the June election. 

In a telephone interview when the chancellor’s report was released two weeks ago, Hodge had said that she believed the chancellor “is beginning to put systems of accountability in place as a result of my criticism and the criticisms of other trustees,” but added that “I’m still not satisfied. A lot of questions remain.” 

In his report, CFO Smith spoke directly to Hodge’s original allegations about waste and mismanagement in recruitment-related travel, noting that “at my direction, Jacob now uses the IRS-based method of accounting, in which he documents everything he does every day he is overseas. I review every expense report submitted by Jacob, and I see no discrepancies.” 

Smith also pointed to a section of the chancellor’s report that outlined several audits and investigations of the International Affairs Office by outside agencies and the Peralta District in the past several years. 

Smith said that there had been “no adverse findings noted” in reviews by an internal Peralta audit, an external auditor’s review, and a California State Chancellor’s audit review. Smith also said that an Alameda Grand Jury investigation into the International Affairs Office ended with “no report or findings … issued.” 

The chancellor’s report also detailed a 2004 district investigation of Ng and the international office “upon receiving information from an anonymous source” of a conflict of interest within the department. 

Though it was not mentioned in the chancellor’s report, the allegations made against Ng were that he was working for pay for a college in China while he was supposed to be recruiting students for Peralta. 

The report said that Peralta General Counsel Thuy Thi Nguyen “concluded that Associate Vice Chancellor Ng did not violate the state law and district’s policy on conflict of interest,” but that another employee was disciplined as a result of the allegations and investigation and later resigned. A report by Vice Chancellor Trudy Largent on the matter had been turned over to both the board of trustees and the press. 

One of Hodge’s complaints in recent weeks has been that she was not given access to reports from that investigation.