Saturday, December 26, 2009

Trouble at Southwestern College

Local artist Katherine Sweetman, in conjunction with Media Arts Center San Diego, has produced a short video, Trouble at Southwestern College.

Highlighting the role of electronic news sharing, the video documents the issues leading up to the Oct. 22 student rally and the ensuing suspension of four instructors.

Please share!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Censorship and the Sun

Award-winning student publication The Sun dealt another blow

According to sources, an "audit" (responsible agency unknown) has halted publication of the Southwestern College Sun. Reportedly, Vice President of Business and Financial Affairs Nicholas Alioto will not allow The Sun to transfer any money until the audit is complete, in effect stopping the presses.

For background and insight on this latest turn of events, please see Nick Furr's post at The Writer's Washroom.

December 09 Governing Board Meeting, Oral Communication Video

Thanks to student Veronica Golenia, we have some video of last Wednesday's Board Meeting:

Part I: "Oral Communication" begins at around the 11:16 mark with a report on the budget and reserve funds from SCEA President Philip Lopez*, who asks the Board, "Who will be held accountable? Who will take responsibility? Will you?" when come next Fall it turns out that cutting 429 course sections was unnecessary.

*Please also see Phil's comment on the board's inability to comprehend budget matters.

SWC Board of Govenors Meeting 12/09/09 PART 1

Ronnie | MySpace Video

Part II continues the last part of Philip Lopez's remarks, followed by Patti Flores-Charter, who observes that "leaders don't hold forums after a tsunami" and provides an "Update on the Injured"--an accounting of staff "lost in the proverbial brain drain."**

Next up at 2:53 is Valerie Goodwin-Colbert, President of the SWC Academic Senate, reading the text of the Senate's recent Vote of No Confidence in the SWC Governing Board. (At its regular Nov. 24, 2009 meeting, the Academic Senate unanimously voted no confidence in the Board.)

At 7:28, Jose Preciado, President of the South Bay Forum, comments on the Board's poor reputation in the community and the adverse impact of its recent decisions.

SWC Board of Govenors Meeting 12/09/09 PART 2

Ronnie | MySpace Video

** The full text of Patti Flores-Charter's remarks:

Governing Board Meeting
Oral Communication

The tsunami that was heading toward us has hit head-on.

Leaders don’t hold forums after a tsunami. They don’t ignore community leadership structures after a tsunami. They mobilize community leaders in triage efforts to rescue the injured and begin repairs.

The tsunami has hit and our leaders continue to ignore the injured and the damage.

By Friday we can add our web programmer, Patty Ramert, to the list of staff lost.

So here’s an update on the injured resulting in a proverbial brain drain on campus:

  1. Debra Fitzsimmons, Fiscal Affairs

  2. Fusako Yokotobi, Human Resources

  3. Greg Sandoval, Student Affairs

  4. Arthur Lopez, Financial Aid

  5. Nevada Smith, Community Relations

  6. Linda Gilstrap, Grants

  7. Fernando Poveda, Outreach

  8. Silvia Lugo, Performing Arts

  9. Eli Singh and Patty Ramert, Web Technologies

And these are just the injured I know about. But what about critical services after the tsunami? Here’s just an example:

  1. CSS remains so understaffed that the dedicated and limited staff must work almost round the clock to keep up with repairs and requests. They cannot keep up this pace.

  2. At a time when President Obama’s agenda for higher education is focused on student aid and grants we do not have Arthur steering the rescue raft or Linda Gilstrap’s experience guiding our fiscal rescue. Instead I heard we’ve hired yet another consultant for grants.

  3. After cutting 429 sections we find out from the Union Tribune we can have 50 back.

  4. After cutting 429 sections we now hear there may be faculty hiring
    and we’re supposed to scramble into this leaking raft and head over
    a new unseen cliff.

The fact is there was no rescue plan. There is no rescue plan. There is no leadership at Southwestern College.

The next regularly scheduled Board meeting will be held January 13, 2010 at the Otay Mesa Higher Education Center.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Spin

We all knew it was coming; we just didn't expect the San Diego Union-Tribune to go along with Chopra's spin game to such a degree.

On November 20, the Union-Tribune presented a damage-control "interview" with Raj K. Chopra under the name of "news."

Here is another version, courtesy mandrake1 and photographer X:

As someone who knows something about this let me play counter point here. Chopra is well known for being evasive and at times spinning complete fabrications. The vast majority of students, faculty and staff at the school live in a climate of fear and retribution. Let me answer the questions in a way that readers can understand the issues at SWC and that many who work and go to school at SWC believe are the real motivations behind the actions.

QUESTION: What do you see as the issues pertaining to the Oct. 22 protest?
Those faculty members are mostly union officers and have defied my will and have displeased me. This was a way that I could punish them and maybe even eliminated them for good. I was going to have them prosecuted by the DA but unfortunately, there were no unlawful actions so I had to drop it.

QUESTION: Why has the situation turned so volatile, and have you done anything to address it?
I hated listening to others, particularly when they don’t agree with me. That’s why I took vacation just hours after I suspended the 4 professors. I just didn’t want to face the heat for my actions (notice the director of HR also immediately went on vacation). I am so refractory to input that doesn’t match my own beliefs that I disenfranchise those that disagree with me. Even though, by law, I am supposed to work with faculty and staff to reach consensus, I believe that I am I charge and that is that. People get really really angry with that, but tough darts I say, I am president.

QUESTION: What is your response to criticism that the school’s free-speech zone is too small?
I got lucky on that one. The previous interim president and previous academic senate president (who was voted out of office before the end of her term) were able to craft a free speech policy that worked to my advantage. No matter that the policy violates the 1st amendment to the US Constitution. The school has been contacted by the ACLU about this and has been advised that we will be in court if we don’t change it. Oh well, it was great while it lasted.

QUESTION: Many don’t understand why so many course offerings have to be cut. Can you explain?
Well its really very simple, what I should do and what law says I need to do is consult with managers, faculty, staff and students to come to a consensus on how to make cuts with a minimum of impact to students and programs. But I want to do it my way and since the faculty and students have not supported me, its time that they faced the music. I decree that all of the cuts will come from the class schedule. No cuts from the administrative side of campus at all. I know that the faculty and students have come up with reasonable and prudent plans for saving much of the class schedule but I am not interest in that and don’t want to hear it. I already know what I want to do and the governing board is ok with it. After all they hired me, gave me a raise and a contract extension. Does that all make sense?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why a Recall?

As you may have heard, we are currently mounting an effort to recall three of the sitting board members. The letter below explains why:

Greetings Friends of Southwestern College,

Some community members may be questioning why there is a recall effort for Jean Roesch, Terri Valladolid, and Yolanda Salcido when an election is coming in Nov. 2010. There would reasonably be talk of cost.

Here are some of the reasons:

1. Work conditions are so bad at SWC and deteriorating so rapidly that this action is our only hope for change by summer 2010. We can’t wait for November.
2. There is too much at risk to wait until a summer/fall election.
3. The cost of the recall on the June ballot is a fraction of what these Governing Board members have cost our college to date in litigation and will cost us in future litigation. We need to stop the fiscal mismanagement ASAP.
4. We have more total administrators per faculty than any other college in our region, and we are hiring more. (*See table below.)
5. It costs less for the June recall than one year of Dr. Chopra’s exorbitant salary with benefits.
6. These board members have shown that they will not help us. Terri Valladolid’s offer of a forum to bring concerns is disingenuous at this very late date. For over a year the board has been hearing all the different and increasing problems at every meeting. (**See explanation below.)
7. Too much damage to our college infrastructure is happening now to wait, i.e. computing systems, budget, reorganizations, and morale.
8. We must get the truth out now to our community so that critical voter awareness is raised.

The community taxpayers deserve to know the truth about Southwestern College’s Governing Board majority. They deserve to hear all sides and voices so they can make an informed decision at the ballot box in June. All we want is a chance for democratic process.





Community College

Number Students Enrolled

Number of Vice Presidents

Number of Deans









San Diego Mesa







6/1 Senior Dean

San Diego City




Mira Costa




San Diego Miramar







5/1 Executive Dean

Imperial Valley





On Thursday, 03 Dec., SWC faculty received the following email:

On Behalf of Terri Valladolid
Governing Board Member

To: Faculty
Southwestern College
Board Member Terri Valladolid will host a forum for faculty and invites you to share your thoughts and concerns.
Date: Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Time: 6:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Room: 214
All faculty members are welcome to attend and participate in dialogues on issues important to Southwestern College.
Thank you.

Apparently, another email, announcing a separate forum went to classified staff. Faculty and staff were as puzzled by the separate forums and involvement of a single board member as they were about this very late invitation to "dialogue."

Superintendent/President Raj K. Chopra notified the other board members of the forums, and then board member Nick Aguilar sent the following email in response:

Date: Thu, 03 Dec 2009 14:04:15 -0800
To: Raj Chopra <>, 'Pick Nick Aguilar' <>, Jorge Dominguez <>, Jean Roesch <>, Yolanda Salcido <>, "'Salcido, Yolanda'" <>
From: Pick Nick Aguilar <>
Subject: Re: Terri Valladolid Forums
Cc: Terri Valladolid <>, "'Valladolid, Teresa'" <>, SWC Academic Senate President <>,

Dear SWC Governing Board Colleagues,

While Trustee Valladolid's outreach efforts are commendable, the appropriate forum for discussions of the SWC Governing Board Free Speech Policy is at a regular or special meeting of the Governing Board. With all due respect to Trustee Valladolid, the SWC Free Speech Policy is a matter totally within the purview and responsibility of the entire Governing Board, these forums are not an appropriate or acceptable substitute for the failure or refusal of the SWC Superintendent and SWC Governing Board President Roesch to respond to the request I submitted to both of them several weeks ago to place the SWC Free Speech Policy on the agenda of the November 2009 Governing Board meeting. In fact, this message will serve to notify both Superintendent Chopra and Board President Roesch of my standing request for the inclusion of the an item on the December 9, 2009 Board agenda for the Board to direct the immediate review and update of the SWC Free Speech Policy. Best regards to all. Nick Aguilar

At 02:35 PM 12/2/2009 -0800, Raj Chopra wrote:

For your information, Terri will be holding forums on campus to provide opportunities to hear from constituent groups on their thoughts and concerns regarding issues important to Southwestern College.

Thank you.

Raj K. Chopra, Ph.D.
Southwestern College

Full House at the Board

In comments that were in turn eloquent, angry, and moving--and often all three--over 30 speakers stepped to the microphone and spoke their hearts and minds for over two hours at the November 18 Governing Board meeting.

In response to requests from students, faculty, staff, and community members, the meeting was held in Cafeteria East (capacity 300) instead of Room 214 (capacity 85). The venue was packed.

Ranging from new and returning students to retired faculty, from community activists to suspended instructors, those speaking often pointed their comments directly at President Raj K. Chopra.

Several speakers, including those addressing the Board in Spanish, remarked on Chopra's refusal to make eye contact. "What have you been writing for two hours?" asked one student in exasperation, referring to Chopra's habit of looking down at the table while penning . . . something . . . as participants spoke.

Police presence at the meeting was heavy, and at one point officers moved in on speaker Frank Luzzaro, who spoke beyond the allotted three minutes.

Raymond Lutz of the Citizens' Oversight Projects was on hand to record the proceedings, and we look forward to the posting of that video on his web site.

In the meantime, here are a few photos taken that evening:

Dinorah Guadiana-Costa stands on a piece of cardboard labeled "free speech area"

Heavy police presence

Angie Stuart

Andy MacNeill

More photos coming soon. . . .

The next Board meeting will be Wednesday, Dec. 09, 7:00 pm on the main campus in Room 214.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Press Updates from the Best Source

If you've been missing our blog updates, do not despair because the award-winning Southwestern College Sun is on the job!

The latest issue (just out today) provides updates on recent concerns:

Speaking Up: coverage of the suspensions and aftermath

Governing Board Members Face Recall (need we say more?)

Filner, ACLU, FIRE Join to Blast College's Restraint of Free Speech

Computer Glitches Drop Thousands of SWC Students (a follow-up to our previous blog post. It should be noted here that VP of Student Affairs Angelica Suarez has not made good on the promise quoted from her email below. Students who were dropped in error are not being reinstated. Instead, they've been told there's nothing to be done.)

Sun Editorial: Board Needs to End Chopra Era, Begin to Repair Damage

For more on what's happening on campus, including more budget and program cuts, visit the Sun at

Thank you, Sun reporters, for continuing to provide outstanding coverage!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Panic, The Board, and The Spin (Part 1)

The Panic of November 2009

Faced with 25% fewer class offerings, SWC students and hopefuls rushed Spring registration with unprecedented fervor.

Registration opened on Monday, Nov. 9, by appointment. Students were given a specific date and time register and could do so any time at or after their appointment--or so they thought.

Unfortunately, even those with priority registration status were greeted with one of the following messages when they tried to log in to Web Advisor, the college's online registration system: "Too many sessions. Try again later" or "System Error Detected," ironically framed with the words "Enroll Today. Succeed Tomorrow."

Students tried frantically to register for classes, waiting up to ten hours to access the system. Many missed classes as they stayed at their computers while others recruited friends and family to stand by should Web Advisor become available. Some students gave up on Web Advisor altogether and traveled to the typically deserted Otay campus to register. Others braved long lines at Admissions on the main campus to register the old-fashioned way.

These newly-registered students' collective sigh of relief was cut short, however, when Web Advisor began churning out "you've been dropped" notices over the weekend. Traditionally given five working days to pay fees, hundreds of students were caught off-guard by a new five calendar day policy--and this in a week with a mid-week holiday.

Worse, the system was set up to count the five calendar days to include the day of registration. Students accustomed to a (rarely enforced) five working day deadline were then broadsided with just four days to pay, including days that the cashier wasn't even open.

The college now admits that the day count was a technical error, and in an email addressed to the college's deans, Vice President of Student Affairs Angelica Suarez writes,"The system was corrected yesterday [Wednesday] to ensure that students have a full, five calendar days before being dropped for non-payment (120 hours). As a result of this issue, Student Services staff has been working with students who may have been dropped prior to the five days."

However, to our knowledge no statement has gone out to students informing them of this error or the possibility of remedy. There is no mention in Web Advisor, nothing on the college's home page.

Students: If you were among the hundreds dropped in error, go to the One Stop Center and ask to see Angelica Suarez (office: S105A; phone: 619-421-6700 X6315) to get your classes reinstated.

Coming up next: Full House at the Board

Monday, November 16, 2009

Governing Board Meeting this Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 7:00 pm

Show up and speak up!

In response to requests from faculty, staff, students, and community members, the administration has agreed to hold this month's Board meeting in Cafeteria East instead of the usual Room 214.

This is welcome news to everyone who has spent the past two board meetings huddled outside in the dark listening to the proceedings over tiny (and tinny) speakers.

It should also be welcome news to anyone who has considered attending a board meeting but demurred given the circumstances. Now is the time.


Just show up a bit before 7:00 and fill out a "yellow card." (They should be available as you walk in.) The card will ask for several pieces of information, but all that's really needed is your name and city. You do not need to cite an agenda item. Turn in the card.

"Oral Communication" occurs at or near the beginning of the meeting, and names of speakers will be called by the Board. Each speaker has three minutes. It's not necessary to use all three minutes, but you have up to that limit.

Students are especially encouraged to attend and give their accounts of how the recent class cuts, registration problems, and free speech issues have impacted them. When the Board won't listen to faculty, when it won't listen to staff, when it won't even listen to the community, it will still listen to students. It's your college, students. Make your voice heard.

Here's the Governing Board Agenda.

Friday, November 13, 2009

SWC Drops Case Against Suspended Profs Shortly Before Free Speech Protest

At 9:44 am this morning, Acting Superintendent/President Nicholas Alioto issued
a message addressed to "the college community," informing us that the District has decided not to pursue criminal charges against Dinorah Guadiana-Costa, Philip Lopez, and Andrew Rempt. In the message, sent to college employees globally via email, Alioto wrote,
"in consultation with the College Police Department, . . . administration has demonstrated its desire to move forward together and the College Police have agreed to discontinue the investigation."
The email came out roughly an hour and fifteen minutes before the start of a Free Speech Rally scheduled to begin at 11:00 am.

Rempt, Lopez, and Guadiana-Costa

The protest continued as planned, and featured speakers included Rep. Bob Filner, CCA (California Community College Association) President Ron N. Reel, ACLU lawyer Sean Riordan, and Governing Board member Nick Aguilar. (Aguilar cast the lone dissenting vote when the Board declined to address Chopra's class cuts at last month's board meeting.)

Rep. Bob Filner

CCA President Ron Reel (on left)

ACLU's Sean Riordan

SWC Trustree Nick Aguilar

The well-attended rally was marred only by the district's refusal to allow those speaking to use a microphone because the rally fell outside the college's sanctioned "free speech" hours of 11 am-noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Nevertheless, the crowd's chant of "Chop from the Top!" was no doubt loud enough to be heard by Chopra, wherever he is. The vacationing president is expected to return to campus this coming Monday, two days before the next Board meeting.

Meanwhile, no word yet on how the recent turn of events will affect the letters of reprimand placed in the three professors' files.

More photos:

Additional coverage:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fiction 101: Report by District Investigator Released

In a report laced with speculation, exaggeration, and downright misrepresentation,
Nancy Solomon, a Los Angeles lawyer hired by the district, presents as fact what campus police and a couple college employees "believed," "thought," and "felt."

The redacted (names removed) report includes police testimony describing "around one hundred" people "surging" at and "shoving" officers outside the 100 building.

Of course, those of us who were there that day know that nothing of the sort occurred.

Here's your angry mob of a hundred:

Here's your surging crowd:

No yelling, no shoving, no riot.

If you were there on Oct. 22, please attend the next Governing Board meeting and give your version of events. The November meeting will be Wednesday, Nov. 18, and begins at 7:00 p.m., but come early and fill out a yellow speaker card. The meeting is currently scheduled to be held in Room 214, seating capacity 85, so bring a warm jacket too.

And remember the Free Speech Rally tomorrow at 11:00 am (no yellow cards required)!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Celebrate Friday the 13th with Special Guests (including the ACLU and CTA!)

Reminder: Free Speech Rally this Friday, Nov. 13, at 11:00 a.m. in front of Mayan Hall!

Guests will include speakers from
  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
  • The California Teachers Association (CTA)
  • The Southwestern College Education Association (SCEA)
  • The Southwestern College California School Employees Association (CSEA)
  • The Southwestern College Academic Senate

Food and beverages provided courtesy of SCEA

Faculty, staff, students, community members--all are welcome to come and speak!

(SWC employees: remember to avoid attending the rally during your service hours. SWC students: Don't cut class to protest class cuts. Attend only between classes.)

Rally co-sponsored by SCEA, CSEA, and the Southwestern College Academic Senate

Monday, November 9, 2009

ACLU Letter to Chopra

In an extensively documented letter to SWC President Raj Chopra, David Blair-Loy, legal director for the San Diego/Imperial County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, outlines how the college's actions and policies violate the First Amendment, California Education Code, and the California Constitution.

These are the primary points of the letter:

1. California law does not allow the college to declare most of the
campus off-limits to free speech.

2. California law does not authorize a prior restraint on college student

3. The First Amendment narrowly circumscribes the college’s right to
require an advance permit for speech or assembly.

    a. The policy may not delegate excessive discretion and must
    contain a mandatory deadline for issuing a permit.

    b. A permit requirement for small groups is an invalid prior

    c. Any permit requirement must contain an exception for
    spontaneous expression.

4. The college unconstitutionally restricts protected speech.

For the full details, citations, and references to case law, please see the full letter.

And remember the free speech rally coming up this Friday the 13th! (see previous post)


11:00 a.m. in front of Mayan Hall

We expect an impressive array of speakers, who will address
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Class Cuts
  • Broken Promises
Faculty, staff, students, community members--all are welcome!

(SWC employees: remember to avoid attending the rally during your service hours. SWC students: Don't cut class to protest class cuts. Attend only between classes.)

Rally co-sponsored by SCEA (faculty union), CSEA (classified union), and the Southwestern College Academic Senate

Sunday, November 8, 2009

And Now for the Musical Portion of Our Program

It had to happen: Chopra now has a song.

Local rapper Tweeker has just posted a piece called "chopras down fall update" on his myspace page (

Laid over a track recorded at last Thursday's rally, the rap begins and closes with ambient street noise punctuated by honking horns and protesters chanting, "Cut Chopra, not classes!"

In between, Tweeker shares his message to Chopra. Give it a listen.

Friday, November 6, 2009

It's NOT Over: The Latest on the Suspended Profs Case

As happy as we are to see the return to campus of Dinorah Guadiana-Costa, Philip Lopez, and Andrew Rempt, Save Our Southwestern College is appalled by the latest turn of events: formal letters of reprimand for all three.

Signed by Acting Superintendent/President Nicholas Alioto, the letters will be placed in each instructor's official personnel file.

Pending legal advice, the content of those letters cannot be released, but they are largely based on the results of an "independent investigation" conducted by a contracted lawyer (paid for by the district) who claims to have consulted many "witnesses." The witnesses are not identified; however, given the investigator's conclusions, we can be fairly certain that people within feet of what happened were not consulted. Individuals who were there have repeatedly stated that they witnessed no incitement to riot, no disregard of police orders, and no physical confrontation.

Given this most recent development, we must ask: who is pressuring these "witnesses" to give false testimony?

In addition, because the investigator's work has concluded, there should be a public report. The suspended instructors have requested it repeatedly to no avail, but rumor has it that the college is willing to produce it for (at least some) members of the media.

Finally, it remains unclear whether the instructors were permitted to return because the withdrawal-of-consent expired (per California Penal Code Section 626.4, "In no case shall consent be withdrawn for longer than 14 days from the date upon which consent was initially withdrawn") or because the "independent investigation" ended. The two appear to have occurred simultaneously.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Suspended Instructors Return, and Faculty, Staff, and Students Rally

Raising signs, waving U.S. flags, and chanting, "Cut Chopra, Not Classes," members of the college community took to . . . the sidewalk today
(not the street--it's illegal; not even the dust of campus property--it's illegal) as passing motorists showed their support with honked horns and thumbs up.

Attending the rally were three of the suspended faculty:

Janet Mazzarella (on the right), former SCEA (faculty union) president, who was suspended Thursday night but allowed to return to work on Monday.

Philip Lopez (center), current president of SCEA, who returned just today

and Andrew Rempt, also returning today.

Dinorah Guadiana-Costa, also suspended, was happily in class at the time of the rally but still there in spirit.

Please see our student paper, the Southwestern College Sun for in-depth coverage on the suspensions, the events leading up to them, and details on current campus climate.

And BIG thanks to both FIRE and the Huffington Post for the coverage and support! We are battling in our little corner, often wondering if any of it makes a difference. You have shown that it does.

Here are a few more photos:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

As Rally Nears, Channel 10 Covers Suspensions, and a VP Waffles

Reminder: Please attend the rally tomorrow, Nov. 5, 11:30 a.m.

We will meet at the area popularly called "the corner lot" on the edge of campus at Otay Lakes Road and H Street.
All are welcome!

Meanwhile, Channel 10 visited campus today and aired the following story this evening: Criminal Charges Possible for Professors' Role in Protest

Interestingly, in the video, VP of Student Affairs, Angelica Suarez, claims that "
At this time charges have not been filed with the district attorney's office."

First, we already know that the case has been referred to the DA. Second, the only entity that can "file charges" is the DA's office itself.

Is this yet another example of SWC admins waffling on words?

Rally to Protest Suspensions, Class Cuts this Thursday!

Southwestern College's faculty union (SCEA) has organized a rally for this Thursday, Nov. 5.

When: 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Where: Corner of Otay Lakes Road and H Street.

Who: Faculty, staff, students, and community members. All are welcome!

Important note for employees and students of SWC: Come to the rally during a break. Do not miss class or cancel appointments to attend.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

FIREd Up: The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Talks Chop

Earlier today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) issued a
letter to Raj K. Chopra, President/Superintendent of SWC, regarding the suspension of four instructors.

According to its mission statement, FIRE exists "to defend and sustain individual rights at America's colleges and universities." This is no flaky fringe group: the staff, Board of Directors, and Board of Advisors represent some of the most influential names in law, legal scholarship, and civil rights studies.

After an independent investigation, FIRE states that it

is deeply concerned about Southwestern College's (SWC's) violations of the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly of its faculty and students. SWC has unconstitutionally suspended three professors who did nothing more than join a group of students who peacefully protested SWC decisions and requested an audience with you. FIRE is also concerned about reports that the campus police have been used to intimidate faculty members and students and that students are being declared guilty of offenses for exercising their constitutional rights at SWC. Finally, FIRE has determined that SWC maintains and enforces an unconstitutional "free speech zone" policy restricting freedom of expression. SWC's policies and actions have chilled and restricted freedom of expression, making a mockery of students' and faculty members' constitutional guarantees of free speech and free associationrights that SWC, as a public institution, is bound by the First Amendment to protect.

The letter goes on to detail each of the above charges and concludes with the following statement:

Please spare SWC the embarrassment of fighting against the Bill of Rightsa statement of both law and principle by which the university is legally and morally bound. FIRE hopes to resolve this matter amicably and swiftly, but we are committed to using all of our resources to restoring justice at SWC.

The letter is lengthy, but if you are interested in an informed legal perspective on recent events, then please read it in its entirety. We also have a pdf version of the original letter.

And for other recent press updates, please see The Writer's Washroom, which continues to do an excellent job compiling recent coverage.

We Want Answers NOW!

The SWC administration is playing its cards very close to the chest, but here's what we currently know regarding the suspended teachers:

The college has referred the case to the San Diego County District Attorney. An online case search suggests that a case number has not yet been assigned, so we have no further information.

Yesterday, the college issued the following memo:

We would like to provide you with a brief update. The district had scheduled hearings at the request of three individuals currently on paid administrative leave to consider ending withdrawal of consent to be on campus. Those individuals have withdrawn their request for hearings. Therefore, the hearings have been cancelled. The Human Resources Department is diligently moving to conclude the investigation on this matter in the hopes that it can be resolved and that the three individuals may be returned to campus this week.

We are unable to answer any questions with regard to this matter at this time.

The memo indicates it is from the office of SWC Community and Media Relations, but gives no further indication of who "we" are. It does not mention the referral to the DA and that the referral is why the hearing request was withdrawn. It does not explain why an investigation is still continuing, nor does it explain why HR only "hopes" the individuals can return to work this week when the withdrawal-of-consent issued under California Penal Code Section 626.4 expires on Thursday anyway.

So we want answers.

We want to know who referred the case to the DA. If it's Chopra, ostensibly on vacation, why hasn't he come forward to speak to these concerns? Who is responsible for this latest action?

We want to know the basis for referring the case. Is the district recommending criminal charges? On what grounds? And what are the charges?

We want to know what HR is still investigating. One witness after another has come forward and stated that there was no incitement, no disregard of police officers or physical confrontation. Why isn't HR listening?

We want to know why the college is wasting valuable resources pursuing what increasingly appears to be a vanity case catering to Chopra's ego.

We want to know why the Governing Board hasn't called a special meeting to address these questions.

We want to know when the community is going to hold Chopra, the Governing Board, and other college "leadership" accountable for their actions.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"When Is a Suspension not a Suspension?"

Inside Higher Ed weighs in on this question:

Officials at Southwestern College, a community college outside San Diego, moved Friday to explain why three faculty members have been barred from teaching or stepping foot on the campus for more than a week, but the answers aren't quelling faculty anger.

Good overview of the issue so far, with updated info. And the article cites Save Our Southwestern College too!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Comments and Letters

Oddly, online comments on yesterday's San Diego Union Tribune editorial, "Community colleges in a vise," seem to have disappeared. (The editorial itself is intact.) Also missing are two letters to the editor in support of the suspended professors.

Possibly, the online UT is undergoing some formatting changes, and the missing items are the result of a technical glitch. Not to worry. We were able to recover the items, and in the interests of helping out the UT, we present them here.

First, the letters:

San Diego Union-Tribune 31 October 2009: E3 cached at

Southwestern protest and faculty suspensions

The suspension of instructor Andrew Rempt and three other Southwestern College instructors on the same day they took part in a protest at Southwestern College over plans to cut course selections for the spring semester is unconstitutional because they were exercising their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

For the school to suspend them immediately after that protest smacks of a local college government ruled not by democratic principles but rather a pure dictatorship. A contradictory statement released by the college states: “The college respects, values and is committed to freedom of expression.”

What freedom of expression is the college talking about in this case? I guess it's the a 7.9 percent pay raise — expression of gratitude — that the governing board gave President Raj Chopra.

San Diego

Regarding the four faculty members suspended after a protest rally at Southwestern College:

It is surprising to note that today's colleges limit free speech to a “free speech area” of the campus. If we had done that in the '60s, we'd still be in Vietnam. Picture a map of the United States. That's your free speech area.

San Diego

Here are the comments on the UT editorial:

"Community colleges in a vise" comments, San Diego Union-Tribune 31 Oct. 2009 cached at
capitlaist_menace 1 day ago:

Does the UT not support free speech? Why does only Chopra's distorted view appear in your product of free speech? The SWC administration is asserting that on the SWC campus there is only a 300 square foot area where free speech is allowed and that outside that area anyone who does not lick the boots of the administration will be censured and placed under criminal investigation. What would Gandhi say? What would Jessie Jackson say?

ReadBooks 1 day ago:

Allow me to answer the one question regarding the number of students that can be served by existing transferable courses that Professor Andrew MacNeill, on the spot, could not. Last weekend, when the Spring 2010 schedule was made available, I went online and counted the number of sections available at SWC for transfer to a college in the CSU system. For simplicity of argument, I will use one class as an example.

I examined the course requirement for Oral Communication. No student can graduate from a CSU without completing and passing an Oral Communication course (one that includes formal training in public speaking). In Spring 2010, Southwestern College is only offering 34 class sections that meet this requirement (COMM 103 with 24 sections, COMM 104 with 3 sections, and COMM 174 with 7 sections).

Each of these classes serve 30 students (having more is not practical as students must give at least 3 speeches each which, time-wise, takes up to at least 8 weeks of a semester). 34 classes can serve 1020 students.

There are 22,000 students enrolled at SWC. According to a statement made by Angelica Suarez, Vice President for Student Affairs, 80% of SWC's students plan to transfer to a university. While I do not have the numbers on how many want to transfer specifically to a CSU, my guess is that at least half of that 80% (most likely more) plan to transfer to a CSU.

So, for argument's sake, let's say we have 6000 (and I believe this number is generously low) who need an Oral Communication class. This semester SWC can serve 1020 of them. When Fall 2010 rolls around, there will be 4980 students who still need the course.

Match them with the thousands of new students who will enter SWC in Fall 2010, and their problem is compounded. Not only are they competing for 1020 slots against the people 4980 left over from Spring 2010, but the new folks for Fall 2010 will be added to the equation. Let's say SWC has 4000 new students enter the college in Fall 2010 who plan to transfer to a CSU, there will be 8,980 students competing for only 1020 slots.

For comparison, I looked up what other community colleges in the area were offering in Spring 2010 to satisfy the Oral Communication requirement for transfer a CSU. When I checked, only Grossmont/Cuyamaca and Palomar had their offerings available.
Grosmont/Cuyamaca offers 57 class sections.
Palomar offers 47 sections.

How bad is the situation regarding cuts to CSU transferable courses at SWC? You might want to do the calculations. Add the problem of getting the Oral Communication course needed for transfer to these additional mandatory transfer courses:
Math - a total of 32 course sections are available at SWC.
English 115 - a total for 46 course sections available are available at SWC.
Critical Thinking (COMM 160, English 116, and Phil 103) - a total of 31 course sections available at SWC.

I hope Dr. Chopra can reinstate the 50 class sections mentioned above that SWC students desperately need to the Spring 2010 schedule. In my opinion, transferable courses have been cut back way too far. If my calculations above are correct, right now, students only have about a 1 in 9 chance of even getting into transferable courses they need. Does this also translate to only having only a 1 in 9 chance of transferring to a CSU?

areyououtraged 1 day ago:

Check out Southwestern College's "transparency." All instructors' names have been deleted from the spring schedule:

ayayay 1 day ago:

Trick or treat! This is a Halloween prank, right? The UT trying to bump its circulation by being like The Onion, or more accurately The National Enquirer?

Your editorial board really needs to do its homework and stop taking everything Chopra says at face value. The guy is a carpetbagger who goes from district to district, padding his salary and leaving disaster in his wake.

Get some facts: No one is talking about "draining the reserves." The reserves far exceed state recommendations, and it's a travesty to cut classes while so much money sits in the bank. Faculty already volunteered to take a pay cut, but Chop said no. Obviously, doing otherwise could have put some pressure on him to give up his recent $15,000 raise.

I'm also not sure why you would expect a chair to know anything about the capacity in a completely different department, but I can tell you this: You guys just flunked English 116, Composition and Critical Thinking.

For real info, go to

Concerned_Father 23 hours ago:

Wow this editor is obviously a good friend of Raj! This is one of the articles that I was talking about in my last post, No Name for the author! Are we to believe that this is really the view of the UT? I would hope not! This is one of the worst articles that I have ever read in regards to balance! I have been reading as much as I can about Raj & his "friends in high places" and I feel that this editor is one of them! Look around you Mister or Ms Editor, do you see anyone else supporting this Idiot of a president? The answer is NO for a good reason, he stinks! Better regroup with your people and get the facts straight! Try talking with Maureen Magee, she seems to present Raj in a much more balanced light than you do "Buddy"! Get some Balance and "report the facts", not a drummed up view of how Raj would like the "smarter than you think Public" to believe this direct assault on our Kids and adult Students is the best course of action. From what I understand the Administration is not losing any positions, on the contrary, Raj is hiring former employees of the UT. Maybe you'll be one of them soon!

People, Please Speak Up about this highly slanted article! Wow I can't believe they printed it!!! Amazing what "Someone" without the fortitude to put their name on it can get into the public view!

Concerned_Father 23 hours ago:

If this unbalanced reporting continues, I am canceling my subscription to your paper! Where is Maureen Magee?

notsonormalmom 22 hours ago:

This editorial is a joke. Whoever wrote this is obviously not doing his/her research. Also, he/she is not paying attention to all of the other news outlets shouting the truth.

I wish I had more to say about how pathetic this piece is, but I'm just speechless.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

There They Go Again

Once again, the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune has chosen to disregard facts in order to praise their pal Chopra ("Community colleges in a vise"), but the community is answering back.

Several comments on the story attempt to set the record straight, and Phil Lopez, one of the suspended teachers, writes the following:

Your editorial “Community colleges in a vise” omits some very important facts about Southwestern College.

First, no one is proposing that we “drain college reserves” to provide classes for students. At the most recent Governing Board meeting, the public was informed that saving 429 class sections would cost anywhere from $1.3 to $1.7 million. Our current unrestricted reserves are about $11.5 million.

The State Chancellor’s Office recommends a “prudent minimum reserve” of 5%. Reserves at Southwestern College are 11.6%. Simple arithmetic reveals that this is more than twice what is recommended.

Next, your editorial states that faculty could “volunteer to take a pay cut” to help balance the budget. In 2003, faculty voted to do exactly that. However, we were inspired by the leadership of then-President Norma Hernandez who, in another bad budget year, served as Superintendent/President while receiving a Vice President’s pay.

In contrast, our current President, Raj Chopra, got an 8% pay raise last year. No one else on campus received a raise, and, in a bad budget year, we weren’t looking for one. Chopra also gets a $20,000/year housing allowance. His total compensation--salary, housing allowance, car allowance, discretionary expense account, health benefits, and retirement—totals $250,000/year.

Finally, last Spring, the Governing Board filled two vacant administrative positions. If you look at the school website, you will find that the District plans to hire four more new administrators this semester.

While it is certainly true that community colleges are “in a vise,” it is not only “militants” who are suggesting that cuts should begin from the top down, that sacrifices should be shared, or that students—the very heart of our institution—should be the last to be cut.

Philip Lopez
Southwestern College Education Association
For more details on SCEA's position on the budget and how classes and jobs could be preserved, see our earlier post A Plan to Save $2 Million.

Here's Some Press!

La Prensa San Diego says, "Southwestern College community wants answers!"

Previously firmly in Raj K. Chopra's court and supportive of both him and the Governing Board, La Prensa has taken a second look in the wake of recent events. In this editorial, La Prensa sums up current community opinion:
"For those at the college who have been outspoken opponents of the Superintendent, this only confirms their charges that Dr. Chopra's management style is autocratic. For those who have supported Dr. Chopra, this situation has put them into a very uncomfortable position. For those who have taken a wait and see attitude toward this administration, they have seen enough and are no longer in support of the management style of Dr. Chopra. And this has cast a dark shadow over the school board."
Read the entire article at La Prensa San Diego: Southwestern College community wants answers!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Where's the Press?

Yesterday's multi-college rally at Balboa Park received scant attention from the local San Diego media. Here are a couple of notable exceptions:

Channel 8: Protesters rally in Balboa Park against cuts in education
(includes video! Look for SWC folks in yellow shirts towards the end)

The Writer's Washroom: Professors and Students Rally, March, and Protest in the Street

Thanks, Channel 8 and Nickolas Furr!

Apparently anti-education San Diego Union-Tribune was mum on the protest. You can, however, read about gourds at that fine publication.