SMC — For over 30 years, David Finkel has served the public in one capacity or another, whether it was time spent fighting for the protection of civil liberties and workers’ rights as a young attorney; serving as a superior court judge settling disputes; leading Santa Monica as a City Council member; or fighting for greater access to public education as a Santa Monica College trustee.
Public service is in his blood, which is why it took a serious illness to finally force him to retire. Finkel, who has lived in the city by the sea with his wife, artist Bruria Finkel, since 1963, has announced that he will step down as a member of the SMC board today due to ill health.
Finkel did not wish to disclose his medical condition, saying it is a personal matter. However, he did tell the Daily Press that he is on the mend and looks forward to returning to the college, not as a trustee, but as a tutor, helping future law students navigate complex court decisions.
“It’s very hard,” Finkel, who turns 82 next month, said of his decision to resign during his second term as a trustee. “I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the college community for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is the most democratic and creative institution in Santa Monica and Malibu.”
Finkel, who was elected to the board in November 2006 and served as its vice chair in 2009 and chair the year after, regrets not being able to push through a plan to establish a mandatory funding mechanism for the arts when it comes to new construction on campus. However, he is confident his former colleagues will accomplish that task in the near future.
During the last few years, Finkel has had to deal with tighter budgets, increased demand and the uprising following a plan to charge more for popular classes as a way to free up seats. The so-called “two-tier” system was blasted by many students, some of whom tried to force their way into a trustee meeting on the Main Campus, resulting in one SMC police officer using pepper spray on them.
Video footage of the incident was shared across the country, forcing the college to examine its policies regarding open meetings and student protests.
The controversial two-tier plan was abandoned by the board, only to be later approved by Gov. Jerry Brown on a trial basis at a handful of community colleges.
“Our primary concern was increased access, or the ability to take classes at SMC,” he said. “Increasing access is a key mission of the community college system. We didn’t have the available classroom space because of cutbacks. We were exploring ways to generate new revenue and open up some more classes … .”
Finkel was also on the board during the fatal shooting spree in June of 2013 that ended at the Main Campus. The shooter, 23-year-old John Zawahri, killed his father, brother and three others before being gunned down by police at the Main Campus library. Police said Zawahri was armed with an assault rifle and 1,300 rounds of ammunition.
Students tutored by Finkel, who was an adjunct professor of political science at SMC prior to his election to the board, were in the library when the shooter came looking for more victims.
“Of course that was very scary, but I must say I am really proud of the way everyone on our staff handled that situation.”
He wishes he could’ve persuaded the college administration to become more of a leader in the gun control movement and the effort to expand mental health care nationally. Zawahri reportedly had some mental health issues and was able to assemble his weapon by ordering pieces and having them shipped to him after he was denied a permit to own a gun.
“I think the college was slow on that because they didn’t want to become the poster child for shootings on campus,” he said. “I get that, but I wish we would have mainlined it.”
He is proud of the fact that the city manager, president of SMC and superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District are working collaboratively instead of acting in a bubble, as had been the case for many years. Finkel said it is critical for City Hall, SMC and the schools to unite and share a vision for the future.
The same goes for his former colleagues on the SMC board.
“[Trustees] need to be good listeners. Everyone is going to give their two cents. They need to work cooperatively and harmoniously. … We can’t afford to slip into micro-managing and negative debating or politicking. If we can avoid that and keep our eyes on the goals described, I think we will be all right,” he said.
The Los Angeles County Office of Education has been notified of Finkel’s resignation and has responded with options for filling the vacancy, which include a provisional appointment within 60 days.
A recommendation to fill the vacancy by making a provisional appointment is agendized for the upcoming Jan. 14 meeting of the SMC Board of Trustees. The agenda also includes a recommendation to establish a schedule to fill the vacancy through a recruitment process that starts Jan. 15 with the appointment set for the regularly scheduled Feb. 4 meeting.
For more information, visit www.smc.edu