ACC Run-Off: Levin Defends His Record
A preview of the ACC Board of Trustees Place 6 run-off election
Early voting begins June 7 in the Place 6 runoff election for the Austin Community College Board of Trustees, pitting Veronica Rivera against Marc Levin. Rivera garnered 32% of the vote versus Levin's 29% in the four-way race on May 15.
The trustee race is officially nonpartisan, and the candidates publicly agree on many issues. Both support increasing ACC's funds through broadening its tax base, as when Del Valle voters passed a proposition on the May ballot to join the ACC taxing district. Both also support increasing health benefits for adjunct faculty; neither is enthusiastic about full-time faculty demands for higher pay. Where they differ most strongly is ideology. Levin is a longtime conservative activist, and last week the Texas Freedom Network, a liberal watchdog group that focuses on public education, circulated a collection of statements Levin has made over the years in speeches and writings dating back to 1997 in which the former vice chairman of the Young Conservatives of Texas opposed gay adoption, advocated racial profiling of Arabs, dismissed global warming, denounced health care for undocumented immigrants, and took other stances the TFN called "out of the mainstream."
Levin, who just turned 28, chalked up some of the statements to youthful bravado and naiveté, and said many were irrelevant. "I'm frankly disappointed that the focus is not on ACC but on a lot of extraneous issues that don't have a lot to do with ACC," he said.
One issue that is clearly relevant is Levin's long-standing opposition to affirmative action, an issue on which he was one of the loudest campus voices during his years at UT. While ACC does not consider race in admissions, it is an issue with faculty hires. A 2002 comptroller's review raised concerns that about 19% of ACC's faculty is minority, compared to 37% of the student body (and half of Austin), and urged ACC to increase minority recruitment. Levin is wary. "I want to make sure ACC doesn't discriminate, and it should cast a wide net in looking for candidates, and should recruit from historically black colleges," said Levin. "But I don't support preferential treatment in hiring and promotion. It creates hostility and animosity among faculty and staff." He adds that the percentage of blacks and Hispanics in the student population is irrelevant anyway; what matters, he believes, is the percentage of blacks and Hispanics in the hiring pool of PhDs.
This stance worries some faculty. While the board does not have a direct hand in faculty hiring, the trustees are supposed to ensure the administration is working toward its official policy of increasing faculty diversity. This summer the college will be filling 26 new faculty positions, the first hires since the comptroller's report raised the issue. Faculty senate President Daniel Traverso said that while his group doesn't endorse candidates, Levin's stance concerns him. "The faculty senate has gone on record supporting the goal of diversity," he said. "If his voice could prevail, it would be a major change in board policy and would conflict with the faculty's position."
Plus there's the question of what a committed conservative with anti-tax leanings wants to do on the board of a large public institution in the first place. But Levin says his commitment to maintaining ACC's current tax rate does not conflict with his support for affordable public higher education. "I believe there's a difference between taxes for things that are not properly a function of government and those, like ACC, that are a proper function of government," he said. He cited his opposition to tuition deregulation and the fact that he voted for last year's ballot proposition to raise ACC's taxes as evidence of his commitment to public higher education. He also says his opposition to affirmative action dovetails with his support for ACC, in that community colleges give less-qualified applicants a chance to prepare themselves for transfer to more prestigious institutions.
Both the ACC teacher's union local and defeated Place 6 candidates Rodney Ahart and Guadalupe Sosa, have endorsed Rivera. However, Mark Goodrich of the ACC/AFT said Levin did "pretty well" on their assessment of his positions, and Sosa found him a "good candidate."
"I was surprised when I saw [Levin's] writings," she said, referring to the TFN crib sheet. "He didn't strike me as an extremist. He's very reasonable."
Rivera herself says that whatever Levin may have said in the past, what matters is her vision for the future. She emphasizes her support for increasing accessibility for ACC through creating scholarships for minorities and raising awareness of programs that allow high school students to earn ACC credits. "I'm just a better qualified candidate," she said. "I have a background in education, as a former schoolteacher. I have an MBA, so I can help ensure we'll pass a budget." Both candidates also hold law degrees.
As for Levin, he says that the issues facing ACC are not ones where ideology matters, and for these, he believes he has the most concrete proposals. "I've outlined a positive agenda for ACC that focuses on affordable education, expanding the tax base, and trying to make sure that people have access to the courses and the programs they need in campuses convenient to them," he said.