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.