Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tonight and Some Questions: New Board Members to Be Sworn-In, Followed by GB Meeting

New board members Norma L. Hernandez and Tim Nader and re-elected Terri Valladolid will be sworn-in tonight at 6:30 as part of a reception beginning at 6:00 p.m.

The reception and ceremony will be held in Room L238 North and South (the "big room" opposite the library). All are welcome to attend.

The regularly scheduled board meeting will follow at 7:00 p.m. in Mayan Hall (which provides far more seating than the usual board room 214). So come on down!

On the swearing-in: Some observers have raised questions about the pre-meeting ceremony. Why, they ask, not have the swearing-in on the regular meeting agenda as has been done in the past? Isn't this required by Brown Act rules of public notification?

A search of California Government Code, Elections Code, Education Code, the Brown Act, and board policy suggests the answer is no. In fact, if the freshly-elected board members aren't sworn prior to the meeting, there's no quorum. The outgoing members would convene the meeting, and the new members wouldn't be seated until swearing in. Clearly, this could be awkward.

(Relevant code sections: Ed Code sections 60, 5000, 5017, 5300, 72000; Elections Code 10554; Government Code 1302, 1360, 1362, 54952.2)

Some agenda items do warrant questions, however. Item 11D, page 6: Why does Alioto want to pay outside consultants over $4,000 for Opening Day presentations? Item 16C, pages 11-12: Why is Chopra requesting agreements with ten different law firms? (Hopefully, with his departure, this item will be tabled.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SWC Superintendent/President Raj K. Chopra Resigns

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone as we announce some more good news: Superintendent/President Raj K. Chopra has resigned from his position effective today.

Chopra announced his resignation with a global email sent to the SWC campus community:

Sent: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 1:41 PM

College Community,

Effective today, November 30, 2010, I will resign from my position as Superintendent/President.

Until the Board can meet to discuss this matter, the vice presidents will serve as administrators in charge on a rotating basis and will perform day-to-day duties on behalf of the District. Following is the schedule:

· December 1-2 Vice President Suarez

· December 3 Vice President Kerns

· December 6 Vice President Alioto

· December 7-8 Vice President Meadows

It has been an honor to serve the students and community of Southwestern College. I wish you all a happy holiday season and all the best in the future.

Raj K. Chopra, Ph.D.
Southwestern College


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. ~Margaret Mead

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Congratulations, and an Open Letter to Terri Valladolid

First, let us congratulate the challengers: Norma Hernandez, Tim Nader, and Jesseca Saenz-Gonzalez. All three of you worked tirelessly to run solid, honest campaigns. The results showed at the polls with wins for Norma and Tim and a very close second for Jesseca.

Jesseca's loss may actually be the biggest win of the contest. Everyone said it couldn't be done. They said the Valladolid camp is too strong and well-connected. They said Terri was a slam-dunk with the Democratic endorsement. Well, Jesseca proved them wrong. Terri may have won by a couple percentage points, but Jesseca accomplished something even more important: she showed us that influence and money aren't everything and that voters really do want to hear the truth. She showed us that there are no more excuses for not getting involved. She showed us there is always hope. Thank you, Jesseca!

Of course, now the really hard work of getting the college back on track begins, and we couldn't be more excited to get started.

Toward that end, an open letter to Terri Valladolid:


Congratulations on your win. Despite all that has passed, we do value your intelligence, and we trust that you do have the best interests of the college at heart.

This election process has been an education for all of us, and we're sure that is true of you as well.

We hope that along the way, your eyes have been opened to the reality of issues plaguing district management. We hope that you have recognized the level of community dissatisfaction with recent college governance. And we hope this new perspective will enable us to work together to restore the college's vision, integrity, and excellence.

Terri, please join us and help Save Our Southwestern College.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. ~Margaret Mead

Monday, November 1, 2010

Election Eve

Not that anyone needs reminding, but tomorrow's the day.

Please remember to bring an i.d. and proof of address, just in case.

If you aren't sure
where your polling place is, you can easily look it up at Smart Voter.

If you go to your polling place, and you don't show up on the register, you are still entitled to cast a
provisional ballot.

Know your
voting rights. Seriously.

Finally, look around you (and we're including cyberspace here). Look at the connections and support that has been generated. Look at the selfless work so many people--including you!--have done. Thank them (and yourself!). Thank the candidates.

And remember . . .

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. ~Margaret Mead

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trick and Treat: More Admin Wheeling and Dealing with Construction

A recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune by watchdog reporter Tanya Sierra reveals another layer of madness in the college's mismanagement: posh vacations for administrators and construction companies paid out of SWC Foundation funds.

Echo Pacific Construction "won" a silent auction prize, which included spending the weekend with Nick Alioto, SWC Vice President of Business and Financial Affairs. Alioto plays a key role in determining who gets construction contracts.

And guess what? Three weeks later, Echo Pacific did get a contract--for 4 million dollars.

There's more, much more, so please read the full article.

As November 2 approaches, it's as important as ever to get the word out and make sure voters are informed of the truth!

How can you help?
  • Contact everyone you know in the SWC district--an email, a quick phone call, a Facebook post, a tweet--and ask them to contact three other people they know, etc.
  • Participate in one or both literature drops organized by candidate Tim Nader:
Late-night Literature Drop to Get Out the Vote
Tomorrow (Monday) at 7:30 p.m.
Meet at 7 Kingswood Dr., Chula Vista, CA 91911
Early Morning Election Day Literature Drop
Tuesday at 4:00 a.m.
Meet at 7 Kingswood Dr., Chula Vista, CA 91911
  • Help out with sign-waving Monday morning or evening and/or Tuesday morning . Contact Veronica Burton at or just show up at one of the following intersections (7:00-8:30 am; 4:30-6:00 p.m.):
Bonita Road and Otay Lakes Road

East H Street and Otay Lakes Road

Terra Nova Plaza

E Street and 805

L Street and 805

The Governing Board incumbents and upper administration seem to think the C in SWC stands for "Construction." Let's set 'em straight.

Let's Save Our Southwestern College.

Monday, October 25, 2010

When Is News not News? When It's Business as Usual

In our last post, we told you about some shady dealings on the part of Governing Board incumbents. Now there's more.

We've just learned that the Southwestern College district itself sent out a mailer promoting the Board and downplaying accreditation problems.

How did they do this? By packaging the propaganda as "news."

This 8 1/2 X 11 inch mailer on glossy card stock pretends to be "News from Southwestern College," but its timing--right before the election--couldn't be more transparent. (Besides, honestly, if you wanted to send apolitical information to the community, would you choose to do so at the very moment people's mailboxes are overflowing with campaign literature? We think not.)

While not mentioning candidates by name, the mailer refers glowingly to the current Governing Board no fewer than eight times, once in bold red font.

Twice (once on each side), the mailer claims that accreditation problems date from 1996 and 2003 ("Southwestern College is currently resolving issues from previous WASC reports in 1996 and 2003")--a story the incumbents have been promoting throughout their campaigns, especially as a way to discredit former Superintendent/President Norma Hernandez, who is running against Yolanda Salcido for Seat #4.

The truth, of course, is that this Board and Superintendent/President Raj Chopra are responsible for the college's probationary accreditation status, as we've been documenting on this blog for over a year.

So what does it cost to manufacture this kind of spin? According to the label, these mailers went out ECRWSS (Enhanced Carrier Route Walking Sequence Saturation), which in US Postal Service lingo means the mailing had to go to every address on the route.

Assuming the district sent only to addresses in Chula Vista, National City, Imperial Beach, Bonita, and Coronado (skipping outlying areas like San Ysidro and Otay Mesa), that amounts to at least 100,000 households (and we're not even counting the business addresses on those routes). At the non-profit ECRWSS mailing rate of 11 cents per, the mailing cost alone comes to $11,000. And we haven't even included the cost of the mailer itself yet!

Even if we assume an incredibly modest 10 cents for each mailer, that brings the grand total to over $20,000.

And guess who paid for it, folks. Yep, that would be you, the taxpayer.

In case you didn't receive a copy in the mail, you can see the scanned mailer here:
Side 1
Side 2

Monday, October 18, 2010

False Advertising and Deals vs. The Truth

Like it or not, campaigns and election outcomes largely depend on money. Yard signs, commercials, banners, mailers, and other forms of getting the word out require cash. Lots of cash. We know this, and--grudgingly or not--accept it as the way business is done.

What some of us are not so ready to accept is bad business, deceptive business: candidates who misrepresent themselves and their supporters, figuring that no one will notice, and if they do, oh well, the lie got out there anyway.

We've already addressed
Yolanda Salcido's I'm-an-honorable-judge early Halloween costume. Now, a recent article in the Southwestern Sun [link updated Oct. 20] reveals that Salcido used Associated Student Organization (ASO) officer photos and a fake quote in her publicity materials.

According to The Sun, ASO President Manuel Lopez and Vice President of Public Relations Nick Serrano both "feverently denied supporting Salcido and demanded that she remove their photos and false endorsements from her campaign website and all printed campaign materials."

As they say in TV-land, though, that's not all! What many voters don't realize is that space on a lot of slate mailers is bought: despite the appearance of organization endorsement, all that's being endorsed is a fat check.

According to the
San Diego County Registrar of Voters Campaign Finance Disclosure Public Site, both Yolanda Salcido and Terri Valladolid have so far spent $15,311 each to appear on these mailers:

California Democratic Voter Guide: $4,500

California Latino Voter Guide: $3,811

California Voter Guide: $7,000


Total: $15,311 X 2 = $30,622 to buy two candidates the appearance of widespread support.

And where did all this money come from? Construction interests, of course!

Check it out for yourself by looking at their 460 Recipient Committee Campaign Statements:

Salcido's 460 Jan to June 2010 (shows early donations)
Salcido's 460 July to Sept 2010 (shows additional donations and expenditures)

Valladolid's 460 Jan to June (shows early donations)
Valladolid's 460 July to Sept (shows additional donations and expenditures)

(The third incumbent running for election, Jorge Dominguez, has raised and spent very little money, so we're not covering him here.)

For a comparison, look at Norma L. Hernandez's
latest 460. In contrast to Salcido's and Valladolid's big bucks construction money, Hernandez's donations are almost all from individuals and in the amount of $100-$200.

To be fair, Hernandez's campaign has also invested in some slate mailers, but on a much smaller scale, spending less than a third ($4889) what Salcido and Valladolid each have thrown around.

So how do you get a fair election when big money perpetuates itself by supporting candidates that will later reward it with contracts? You
fight the incumbent political machine any way you can: by donating, by volunteering, by painting your car window, by doing anything and everything you can to tell the truth.

Campaign contacts:

Volunteer contacts:

  • Campus outreach: Patti Flores-Charter
  • Phone banking: Veronica Burton
  • Precinct walking: Diane Gustafon
Tell the truth. Save Our Southwestern College.

Update: Here are a couple more articles from The Sun that you shouldn't miss:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Street Talkin': Some Examples

We've been talking about using our cars' rear windows to get the message out, and here are a couple more examples.

For both, a "glass pen" (available at KMart in the stationery section) was used on the outside of the window.
The results will be water resistant but still washable.

In case you missed our previous updates, you can also look for glass pens (or "glass chalk") at auto stores, hobby shops, and craft supplies.

Also, if you're going old school per our original instructions, a couple of suggestions are 1) add a small amount of liquid dish soap to the tempera to prevent flaking and 2) apply a light coat of hair spray to the window before and after painting.

Please send your photos to, and we'll post them with our next update!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Takin' It to the Street, Part 2: Free Speech on Wheels!

Last night, we gave you some info about how you can help spread the word about the election by painting on your car rear window.

Here's an update with some additional tips:

If you use tempera according to our previous directions, try lightly spraying the inside of the rear window with hair spray first. (If it runs, just smooth out with a paper towel.) The hair spray will dry clear (more or less) and help act as a primer: your paint will go on more smoothly and stick better. Let the hair spray dry thoroughly before you paint. After the paint is completely dry, you can apply another very light coat of hair spray.

An easy (though slightly more expensive) alternative to tempera is glass chalk, which can be used on the outside of the windows. Supposedly, it will hold up in the rain yet comes off easily when scrubbed with water. Check at auto supply stores and hardware stores for this one.

Finally, once you've done your window, please send us a photo of the job at, and we'll post it on the blog!

And keep those tips coming. Let's do this!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Takin' It to the Street!

With less than three weeks to the election (and absentee ballots already coming in), there is a quick, easy way that everyone can help get the word out: let your car's rear window do the talking.

It's a simple matter of buying some very inexpensive supplies, printing the template (provided here), and doing the painting.

Read on for more detailed instructions:

Supplies: You will need to purchase a bottle of white or yellow tempera paint (around $2) and some small brushes (around $2-4, depending on what you get).
  • Make sure you buy tempera paint (not latex or acrylic). Even when dry, tempera dissolves in water and is easy to remove.
  • Get smaller brushes than you think you'll need--the bristles will spread as you apply the paint. We used a 1/8" and a 1/4" brush.
Local sources for the paint and brushes:

Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts
1410 East Plaza Blvd
National City CA 91950
(619) 477-2230

Michaels Arts & Crafts
1242 Broadway
Chula Vista CA 91911

(619) 425-0209

and Walmart. (Note: Target does not carry tempera)

We splurged and bought a four-pack of brushes for $3.99 (at right). Keep in mind that one bottle of paint can do a lot of windows: share with your friends! For around $6 (paint and brushes), you can easily paint ten cars--a cost of 60 cents per car.

Templates: Because tempera dissolves in water (and also provides a tempting surface for initial-carving), you want to paint your sign on the inside of your back window. As a result, you'll be writing your message backwards from the inside so that it appears correctly from the outside. Using a template makes this task much easier.

Your end result will look like this (but window-sized):

When you print out the templates, they'll look weird! Text will be backward and cut off at strange places. That's okay! Once you cut out the lines of text and tape them together, you'll end up with something like this (but window-sized):

There are four different templates (ignore the "parent directory" link but click the others):

Each template consists of four different files: one for the top line (broken into two-three pieces for that file); two for the candidates' names (split down the middle); and one for the closing line (split into three pieces).

With files 1 and 4, cut out each piece. (Leave the lines in files 2 and 3 intact.) To match up lines, refer to the image above, and cut white space as needed. As you tape the parts together, you'll end up with three different chunks (lead line, candidates' names, and closing line).

Application of template: First, clean the back window inside and out! Some window cleaner, or even just plain water, will do the job fine.

To use the template, you will tape each "chunk" face down on the rear window from the outside. (As you do this, the strategy will make more sense: through the paper, you'll see how the print will appear for viewers.) Since there are three different "chunks," you can adjust spacing as needed. (The original template is based on an average rear window size of about 40" X 20".)

Painting: Now all you have to do is follow the template. Climb into the back of the car, and using a small brush with paint (you can work from the container or a small cup), trace the letters. Don't worry about getting everything perfect! Remember, drivers will be seeing your sign on the run; they won't be scrutinizing details. The message is the important part!

  • Trace the letters from top to bottom. If you are right-handed, work from left to right to avoid smudging paint. If you are left-handed, work from right to left.
  • Don't worry about little mistakes. Big ones can easily be cleaned up with a moistened paper towel.
  • As you move down the window, painting may become more difficult. Again, remember it's the message that's important; don't sweat the small stuff.
  • Depending on the quality of your paint, you may want to do a second coat. The image at the beginning of this post shows a one-coat job with cheap paint. Still, the message would be readily visible to other drivers. We'll do a touch-up tomorrow and post new pics. Note: let the first coat dry (might take an hour) before attempting a second.
  • Remember to wash your brushes with some warm water and a little dish soap afterward. In the meantime, you can let them soak in a cup of water.
This is an easy way to contribute to SWC; reading the directions will probably take you more time than to do the job. Speak up. Be heard. Make a difference.

Save Our Southwestern College!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Governing Board Meeting Wednesday! and other news . . .

Wednesday, October 13, is the last regularly scheduled Board meeting before the November 2 election.

The meeting will be held in Room 214 on the main campus and begins at 7:00 pm.

On the agenda will be approval of the college's first accreditation progress report (due October 15). Also planned is an Academic Senate resolution protesting the administration's multiple delays in securing an SLO coordinator--one of the conditions of accreditation.

For more details and reasons why YOU should attend, please see this post at SWC Board Must Go! As that blog states, "You want to address them about their attack on the Southwestern College Sun? You want to know why your children can’t get into classes? You want your chance to speak your mind and make them listen? This is it."

Perhaps, too, someone can ask Yolanda Salcido why her campaign web site refers to her as "The Honorable Yolanda Salcido" (plug for meet and greet event). Salcido is a not a judge; never has been. In fact, according to a search of the State Bar of California, she is not a licensed attorney and never has been. Perhaps she's confused her gavel at Board meetings with that of a judge? Or maybe she's taking cues from Nicholas Alioto, Not-a-CPA in bogus self-promotion? Either way, the college deserves far better governance--ethical, experienced, and not beholden to countywide construction interests.

Jesseca Saenz-Gonzalez is one of those contenders. Going up against what SWC Board Must Go! calls "a has-been opponent who couldn't be bothered to show up at an impartial candidate forum at Southwestern College," Jesseca has a new commercial coming out.

The ad will be airing on Animal Planet, FX, Lifetime, MTV2, SyFy, TLC, Travel Channel, Tru TV, The Weather Channel, and VH1. Watch for it!

Finally, if you want to revisit some of the issues that brought us to this point, Katherine Sweetman's mini-doc, Trouble at Southwestern College is a good starting point.

By the way, as part of the current art exhibition: CONTROverse: Contemporary Visions of the US-Mexico Border, Sweetman's latest microdoc, Living in Tijuana, along with Gustavo Vazquez's Que Viva la Lucha, will be shown on campus this coming Thursday, 6-8 pm, in Room 750. These are perfect examples of what is right with the college. Please help us fix what's wrong.

Please help us Save Our Southwestern College.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

TONIGHT: Student-hosted Governing Board Candidate Forum

In light of the upcoming Governing Board elections, Southwestern College's Associated Student Organization will be hosting a “Student Candidate Forum” this Thursday, October 7, from 6:30 P.M. to 8 P.M. in Student Union East.

This event has been designed for the student body to ask their own personal questions of the Governing Board candidates pertaining to their education at SWC, and in turn, allow them to formulate their own opinions about who they vote for on November 2.

Please note
: Only currently registered Southwestern College students will be permitted to submit questions at this event. However, college staff and the public are welcome to attend.

Event flyer

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thunder, Lightning, and the Sun Is Out!

Not to be silenced by an oppressive administration, The Southwestern College Sun releases an independent issue of the newspaper today. Read more at The Sun Goes to Press!

Also on the illumination menu today is the Governing Board Candidate Forum, on campus tonight. See our previous post
for details.

Come out of the dark; see the light. Save Our Southwestern College.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

SWC Governing Board Candidate Forum This Thursday!

REMINDER: This Thursday, CSEA and SCEA (classified and faculty unions) are sponsoring an open forum for all SWC Governing Board candidates on the November 2 ballot.

Invited candidates, listed in ballot order

Seat #2
Terri Valladolid
Jesseca Saenz-Gonzalez

Seat #4
Yolanda Salcido
Norma L. Hernandez

Seat #5
Tim Nader
William “Bud” McLeroy
Jaime Mercado
Jorge Dominguez

Where: Southwestern College, main campus, Room 751
When: 7:00 p.m. (doors open at 6:45 p.m.)
Cost: FREE; free parking available in Lot J
Campus Map

Format: The format will include a short statement from each of the candidates present and then questions from the public. Questions must be submitted in writing and be directed to the entire panel. Jordan Mills, SWC Speech and Debate coach, will moderate.

Also keep in mind these upcoming opportunities to meet, greet, and support our candidates: Have You Met These Candidates Yet?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

All Are Invited: Meet and Greet for Norma L. Hernandez This Friday

As many of you know, Norma Hernandez, former Superintendent/President of Southwestern College, is running in the current SWC Governing Board election.

Here is another opportunity to meet her in person, ask questions, and gather with like-minded folks who are seriously concerned about the future of our college!

The event will be held on Friday, October 1, 5:00-8:00 pm, at the home of Chuck and Patti Charter in Coronado. The address is 442 I Avenue.

Wine and cheese are on the menu, and I know that Patti and Chuck have been cooking up other tasty delights as well.

Step up and eat the hors d'oeuvres. Talk, make friends. Sounds silly, and yet, ultimately, that's the only thing that works when it comes to real change. . . .

More info on the event.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Meet Candidate Norma Hernandez at Bonitafest!

Today only, the annual Bonitafest: food, crafts, and fun!

Norma Hernandez, running for Seat #4 on the SWC Governing Board, will be there from 10 am to 4 pm. Look for the Hernandez for Southwestern College Board booth on Bonita Road, and stop by and say hi!

Bonitafest takes place along Bonita Road, approximately two miles east of the 805 Freeway, between Willow Street and Otay Lakes Road. The booths are located in the Bonita Village Shopping Center, McMillin Realty parking lot, and the Bonita Plaza Shopping Center. Bonita Road will be open all day. Parking: Kaiser Permanente (Bonita Road & Willow Street) and Bonita Valley Community Church (4744 Bonita Road).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Award-winning SWC Sun Shut Down

Twenty-six press awards, and what does the college do to the Southwestern College Sun? Cancel the first issue.

As reported in Southwestern Board Must Go!, twenty-six reporters just received San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. The administration has responded . . . well, it hasn't responded. Nothing. No press release. No "way to go." Nada. (And given that faculty union president Andrew MacNeill sent an email informing SWC Superintendent/President Raj Chopra and PR man Chris Bender at 6:40 this morning, there's really no excuse.)

Shortly afterward, The SWC Sun released the statement, "Publishing Crisis Update: Issue #1 Canceled." The statement points out that district PR claims that they were working to quickly resolve the crisis were "misleading or false."

Also revealed in the statement are four areas of concern:

(1) Suspension of the printing of the Sun.

(2) The threatened arrest of Branscomb [faculty adviser to The Sun] and three students who were stopped by campus police for removing a journalism computer from the journalism lab.

(3) The district's plan to remove the Sun's link from the home page of the college's website.

(4) An administrative prohibition of campus employees from talking to Sun journalists without the permission of district spokesperson Christopher Bender.

By now, the first three are still shocking but familiar to most. The fourth is downright flabbergasting.

How many times does the administration and Board of Southwestern College have to be taken to task for First Amendment violations? And how can they be stopped?


Watch for mailers that should be arriving soon, and please share and display. Let's Save Our Southwestern College!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Context, Convenience, and Controversy

image copyright Gary TaxaliAs we pointed out in our last post, controversial events easily capture the community's attention--for the moment. A more complete understanding of an issue's scope, its causes and possible solutions, however, requires a fuller grasp of context: what led us to here? how have similar events been handled? how does the current situation compare to those that occurred in the past?

Obviously, the answers to these questions can't be found in PR hack sound-bites. In fact, it's part of the PR hack's job to place a small frame around complex issues, cutting out the context so that only one interpretation is possible: theirs.

used by permission
© Gary Taxali

Here, then, to hack the hack are two pieces submitted for your consideration:

1. How (In)Convenient

Citing a policy that hasn't been applied in over fifteen years, SWC administration has halted the publication of the number one college newspaper in the country because the contract ( for a measly $3,000) between the Sun and the company that prints it hasn't been approved by the Governing Board.

How convenient.

The District has stopped the presses just a few weeks before elections involving a majority of Governing Board members will take place. And this decision is even more convenient considering that the Sun has been critical of administration, particularly Superintendent/President Raj Chopra, and the Board.

The District has some funny ideas about what is convenient. Last summer, when the faculty union learned that some teachers had not been paid for their work in June, union leaders took this issue to the District. "It would be inconvenient to pay them for just a few days," the District responded. " We'll make up the difference in their next paycheck."

Convenience is not the issue, the union informed the District. The California Education Code--the law, in other words--requires that faculty be paid on time.

The Ed Code also requires that all District employees be informed of the amount of sick leave they have accrued on their monthly paystubs. This does not happen at SWC, even though the union has been raising this issue with the District for years.

When it is convenient, administration and the Board will dig out a decades-old "policy," which does not have the force of law. But if a law is inconvenient, the same people will simply ignore it.

How hypocritical.

2. (As of Yet) Unpublished Letter to the Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune:

RE: College newspaper threatened with publishing roadblock

Taken out of context, the decision by Southwestern College administrators to halt the publication of our award-winning student newspaper because a contract with a printer hasn't gone out to bid might seem a reasonable, responsible protection of taxpayer money. But the big picture reveals something much different.

First, the shenanigans and dubious ethics involved in awarding multimillion dollar construction contracts to firms who later kick back thousands of dollars to re-elect incumbent Governing Board members shows that District officials aren't particularly concerned about protecting taxpayer money. Giving a $100,000 contract to a public relations firm whose job is to "isolate extremists" reveals the mindset of the SWC Governing Board and administration: Anyone with a differing opinion must be silenced.

This latest attempt to retaliate against the Sun is simply part of a long pattern of retaliation. The faculty adviser, who last year received the most prestigious national award possible for college and university journalism instructors, had his reassigned time eliminated. Just a few days ago, student journalists were threatened with criminal charges because they were taking school-owned laptop computers off campus to do their work.

Criminal charges are not laughable, but administrators' logic is. Laptop computers are designed to be portable. Student journalists routinely cover stories outside the boundaries of the campus, and laptop computers--and school-owned digital cameras, as well--are the tools they use to do their jobs. If all students were forbidden from using school-owned equipment for off-campus school activities, then the the football team would have to leave its helmets and pads behind when it traveled on the road.

Finally, the timing of this latest move against the Sun is curious. The student paper--containing articles critical of administration and the Governing Board--will not go to press just a few weeks before elections involving a majority of Governing Board members take place. Dusting off a decades-old policy, one which has never been enforced, to justify this action is simply another way of silencing dissent.

Philip Lopez
Former President, current Secretary, of SCEA faculty union

Friday, September 17, 2010

Feels Like Old Times

It was just one year ago that the Save Our Southwestern College blog got its start. The issues at the time: ham-handed administration, threats to freedom of speech, accreditation headed for the rocks.

My, how things haven't changed.

One of our first posts linked to a News 10 story:
College President Accused Of Targeting School Paper

Sounds familiar, don't it?

Posted the same day was a set of links to coverage from The Sun documenting problems with Raj Chopra's management going back to March of 2009:
If No News Is Good News . . .

After that came a series of posts documenting the efforts of people on the ground--faculty, staff, and students--to get the college back on track. In
October 2009, nine documents were posted, including a copy of the Academic Senate's Vote of No Confidence in Raj Chopra and materials explaining the importance of Shared Governance (a key area that the Accrediting Commission later found lacking).

Also posted in October '09 were alternatives to the 25% class cuts, a timeline documenting issues with adversarial leadership, other cost-saving suggestions, and the first Governing Board meeting protest, including transcripts of some of the speeches.

But wait! There's more--much more, and if you care to take a deja vu walk down memory lane, just start back in September 2009 and work your way forward. It's a lot of reading, but a lot has been going on for quite some time.

Southwestern's issues (and this blog) didn't start with the teachers' suspensions. That event merely put both the college and the blog on the map. The people who care, the people who know, the people who work in the midst of mismanagement, greed, ignorance, ineptitude, and spite (to name just a few oughta-be deadly sins) have been trying to spread the word, trying to Save Our Southwestern College.

Will you help them? More importantly, will you help the thousands of students who depend on SWC for their education?

Please visit the sites of the candidates currently running against Board incumbents. Please contribute. (See left sidebar.)

Meanwhile, here's the roll call of press pieces on the most recent free speech mess at SWC:

Sun Under Attack (from the SWC Sun)

Southwestern College Bars Student Paper from Printing (from the Huffington Post)

College Newspaper Threatened by Contract Policy (from SignonSanDiego)

Students Claim Administrators Looking to Shut Down Newspaper (from 10 News)

Southwestern College Halts Publication of Student Newspaper
(from The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Student Journalists Say College Trying to Squelch Them
(from Inside Higher Education)

Now is the time for change. Es tiempo de cambiar. What will you do to make it happen?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Plot Thickens

While the SWC administration puts school newspaper The Sun on hold, SWC Vice President of Business Nicholas Alioto spams faculty at their private email addresses. Meanwhile, students rally to raise funds for independent publication of The Sun.

It's official: SWC admins have issued a "cease and desist" order, halting publication of the school newspaper, which is ready to go to press.

Senior staff writer Lyndsay Winkley will be speaking tonight at 7:00 pm at the Eastlake Bonita Democratic Club Meeting at the Bonita library (4375 Bonita Rd, Bonita). She "will be requesting the support, both financial and ethical, of the citizens in our community to help us, as student journalists, fully employ our constitutional rights." You can read more on this issue, including Lyndsay's full email, at Southwestern College Board Must Go!

As the news of this latest act of free speech suppression broke, many faculty were also shocked to find an email from Vice President of Business Nick Alioto in their private home email inboxes. At this point, no one knows how Alioto obtained these private addresses, but suffice it to say that faculty feel concerned and violated.

The email, which makes spurious, unsubstantiated claims about a candidate running against an incumbent in the upcoming Governing Board election, was sent from Nick Alioto's private account at, site of the Public Business Consulting Group, Inc., headquartered in Wisconsin. (According to the site, Nick Alioto is or was--it's not clear when the site was last updated--the president/CEO of that company.)

Is this the same company that caused so much trouble for Wisconsin school districts, bilking the public of hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the result that Alioto was effectively run out of town? Why, yes it is! And, unlike Alioto's own specious claims about a candidate, this story is fully documented over at The Writer's Washroom.

Of further interest is Alioto misrepresenting himself as a licensed CPA. Typically signing emails, Nicholas C. A. Alioto, CPA, he implies that he is licensed in the state of California. However, a check at the California Board of Accountancy shows no Nick Alioto, Nicholas Alioto, Nicholas C. A. Alioto, or any other combination we could think of as licensed in the state. According to the California Board, "Only persons who are licensed by the CBA may call themselves a Certified Public Accountant or Public Accountant." (Incidentally, Alioto is not licensed in Wisconsin either; his license expired in 2009.)

The election is just weeks away. Please help Save Our Southwestern College!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Stop the Presses! (says SWC admin)

Previously, we've discussed the ongoing harassment of reporters and the faculty advisor for The Sun, Southwestern College's award-winning student newspaper (for example, Muzzle, Muzzle and Censorship and The Sun).

Well, the administration is at it again.

Excerpted from an email sent globally to SWC full- and part-time faculty by Janet Mazzarella, SCEA Vice-President:

We want to inform the faculty of some recent actions that have taken place regarding the Southwestern Sun, its advisor, Max Branscomb, and the SWC students that work on college newspaper staff. First, a couple of the students were stopped by campus police when they were moving a journalism computer off campus. Even though this has occurred before when the students participate in competitions or students are pressed to complete a story after business hours, now the students are being threatened with criminal charges by our administration.

Second, we learned today that the administration filed a cease and desist order to stop the newspaper from printing. Apparently, there is a policy that says that the contract for printing has to be approved by the Governing Board. Even though this has never happened in the past, now all of sudden this administration feels compelled to stop the Sun from printing.

There are many other forms of retaliation that the Sun, its advisor, and our students have been forced to endure. While the district may try to claim that it is doing its due diligence in following all regulations, it seems to us like an opportune moment to shut out this important (and legally protected) voice.

Some are wondering if this recent article from The Sun has something to do with this latest act of retaliation. . . .

In the meantime, please also see "A Diagram of Big Construction Payoffs at Southwestern College" at This post links to a Reader article providing background on the conflicts of interest that drive administrative decision-making at SWC.

Stay tuned. . . .

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Make a Difference (damn it) ¡es tiempo de cambiar!

The November election is just seven weeks away. But the election doesn't begin and end on that first Tuesday. It's happening right now as thousands of absentee ballots are prepared for distribution. It's happening right now as voters make up their minds based on misinformation and spin funded by private interests eager to make a buck and, yes, public money misappropriated to sway the public's own opinion. It's happening right now as the fat cats and people with power pat each other on the back and say, "Don't worry, this one's in the bag!"

And our college's future hangs in the balance.

It's time to make a difference, to step up, to take a few minutes or an hour, to spend a little to get a lot in return: a college with integrity and vision, a college for the students, a college with accreditation. And it won't cost you a dime.

Here's an easy and fun way to help: devote an hour of your time to precinct walking. It's not nearly as off-putting as it sounds. Highly organized, the effort focuses on active voters identified as supportive of education--it's not "cold calling" or door-to-door salesmanship. And walkers have campaign info and work in pairs, so you're not alone. So far, folks whose doors have been knocked on have been very receptive, even inviting walkers in. Please contact Diane Gustafson at or 619-253-7298 for more info. Really, do it. Now. And tell your friends and family!

If you're still not convinced of the seriousness of SWC's situation, read the comments (below) given at last Wednesday's Governing Board meeting. And note that the ethics policy lingers, as the GB saw fit to adjourn before that issue could be addressed and also before the Academic Senate, Faculty Union, Classified Union, and Associated Student Organization reports could be presented in a public setting (a legal requirement).

Governing Board Comments, Sept 8, 2010 (Janet Mazzarella)

I would like to address the proposed policy on the code of ethics, which is part of the agenda for this evening.

Especially in light of our current status of “probation” from WASC, I find that this proposed policy does not adequately address Recommendation 10: The team recommends that the Governing Board establish and implement a formal procedure for handling potential conflict of interest and ethics policy violations and document adherence to the protocol.

Proposed Ethics Policy 2715 has some reference to the Governing Board acting ethically by saying it has an ethical commitment (#2) or should use independent judgment (#6) or avoid of conflict of interest (#12) but clearly these are just words on the paper that this board does not understand.

Twice in the past couple of weeks Trustee Salcido has said that I was unethical because I, in my role as president of the faculty union, sent a letter to various vendors and contractors asking for campaign contributions 4 years ago for Ms. Salcido’s opponent in the last GB election. I do not deny this, although I find it interesting that I cannot find the letter in any of my documents but she has a copy passed on to her by some unknown party. All the same, I agree I did it. I have brought my campaign contributions which show that I received exactly zero dollars from any vendor. And even if I had received campaign contributions, it would not constitute a conflict of interest as I do not vote on their contracts with district. I have no interest in who receives these large bids or any influence over items on the GB agenda. The faculty union is a private enterprise whereas the members of this GB are public officials.

Ms. Salcido on the other hand does have a conflict of interest. It is unfortunate that she cannot see the difference between a private enterprise and a public official that votes on contracts of her donors. Because this board seems to be unclear what constitutes a conflict, I am recommending stronger, more clear language in the ethics policy #2715.

Here are some of Ms. Salcido’s campaign contributions:

Campaign contribution from Christopher Rowe, Business Owner Echo Pacific Construction Inc. on June 2, 2010 of $1000. One month later on July 14, 2010 Ms. Salcido voted approval on a total fixed fee to Echo Pacific Construction of $4 million.

On May 12, 2010, Ms. Salcido voted to approve a contract to Rocky Coast Framers for $151,000. One month later on June 2, 2010 she received a $500 campaign contribution.

I do not see how the public can believe there is not a “pay to play” attitude between the vendors of Southwestern College’s construction projects for the use of the public tax dollars.

Here are just a few of the other construction dollars donated to GB members Yolanda Salcido and Terri Valladolid. I do not have these matched up with voting records, but I do find it interesting who is financing their election campaigns.

The Seville Group: 2500
Gould Electric: 1000
An engineer/Climatec Industry : 250
Able Heating and Air Conditioning: 200
La Jolla Electric: 400
TMT Tile/Marble Corp: 200
Richardson Steel: 200
Standard Drywall: 200
Advance Plumbing Co: 200
CJR Concrete: 400
Infrastructure PAC of the Asso of General Contractors: 2500
HAR Construction: 300

We know that this particular fundraiser on June 2 at the home of Nick Alioto, VP of Finance and controlling party of the bidding process, brought in $35,000 for these two candidates. If that is not a conflict of interest I don't know what is.

Previous faculty union president and current secretary Phil Lopez had this to say:

Last week, I emailed an article, "The Making of a Real College Newspaper," from one of the best sources of commentary on higher education--Inside Higher Ed--to all of you. I did so because of the comments from Trustee Jean Roesch that were published in the online edition of the SWC Sun.

Dr. Roesch was offended by some negative comments published by the Sun--and that's OK. The Sun has been critical--more than once--of me, and I didn't like it, either. But a crucial difference between Trustee Roesch and me is that I'm not a Governing Board member. I don't vote on reassigned time for the advisor to the Sun. Dr. Roesch does.

My concern is Trustee Roesch’s statement that negative articles are somehow bad and that the Sun has "a responsibility to put the college first." That is simply wrong. Southwestern College already has cheerleaders, and we pay their advisor. We have a brand-new PR person, Chris Bender, and we pay him, too. But a college newspaper and the role of its advisor is something else entirely.

Apparently, when student journalists do good work--the Sun was the number one college-newspaper in the US last year—something has gone wrong. We all know what happened: The faculty advisor to the Sun lost his reassigned time.

Let me quote briefly for the IHE article:

"Firing the advisor [or in this case, eliminating his reassigned time] is not the best way to produce a strong student newspaper. The difficult and mature choice is to learn to live with a free student press the same way the government must live with the professional press."

"The Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment knowing full well that the press and the government would be at odds forever. The same healthy battle between leaders and the press must play out on campus, too."

I need to remind you that California has the strongest laws in the country protecting the independence of college newspaper advisors. We don't want to go there, but we will if we have to because the pattern and history of retaliation here is clear.

When the advisor to the Sun first lost his reassigned time, the explanation given to the SCEA was that he was "double-dipping" because he received both a stipend and reassigned time for his work. Compensation in the form of both time and money is a common practice in many California community colleges, and it is not unusual at SWC, either. Department chairs receive a stipend for their work over the summer as well as reassigned time, and Head Athletic Coaches get reassigned time and an eleven-month contract.

A few months later, when this issue was covered in local newspapers and on TV, both the Superintendent/President and the Vice President for Academic Affairs insisted that the ONLY issue was money. "We're in the middle of a budget crisis," they said. "The District simply cannot afford this reassigned time."

You've heard me say--many times--that there is no dire budget crisis at SWC. I'll say it again: We will end the past fiscal year with several million dollars in reserves over and above the seven percent Governing Board reserve that you insist on maintaining,

Furthermore, in late Spring and during the Summer of 09, you approved dozens of reassigned time positions at costs that were wildly inflated. For example, reassigned time for department chairs and Academic Senate officers was reported to cost $1.17 million. You approved this expenditure. The actual cost was only 1/3 of this. The $800,000 difference between what the Board approved and actual costs is one hundred times more than sufficient to pay for reassigned time for the newspaper advisor. So money is not--and never has been--the real issue.

Next, the SCEA and the Academic Senate tried to get reassigned time placed on the Board agenda so you would have the opportunity to make a clear and public decision about our student newspaper. Our requests were ignored twice, and once the issue was agendized as a discussion item, not an action item. No decision could be made.

Finally, in March at the Board meeting in Otay Mesa, reassigned time for the advisor to the Sun appeared on the agenda as an action item. It appeared that the Board was very close to approving it, but then someone pointed out that three other faculty members who had also lost reassigned time were not included in this agenda item. It would have been easy to approve one position in March and the others in April, but the Board decided to consider all four positions the following month.

In April, I thought this issue would be put to rest. Board members praised the Sun and the work of its advisor, and you praised the work done by the coaches of our award-winning debate team, too. "But we can't approve reassigned time for these faculty members," you said. "That would be micromanagement." You also indicated that these positions should be negotiated.

The SCEA agrees. Because reassigned time costs money, it is a form of compensation and is therefore a mandatory subject for bargaining under the provisions of the Education Employment Relations Act. The SCEA, following your direction, brought all current non-contractual reassigned time positions--the Puente Project English instructor and counselor, BSI coordinators, the swimming pool director, everything--to the bargaining table. That's what you said to do. We also included the position of the SLO Coordinator in our list, and we filed an official "Demand to Bargain" the job description and compensation for that position because it's a new one.

Realizing that the Sun position is controversial and that the SLO Coordinator is important for accreditation, the SCEA indicated that we should bargain these positions first. The District said no. We were told that the District did not want to bargain these positions on a "piecemeal" basis. We'd do them in a block, and, furthermore, the District wanted to bargain all contractual reassigned time positions as well.

Of course, that's a huge task that will require considerable time. In the meantime, we have no SLO Coordinator--a position that is crucial to accreditation.

[At this point in my speech, I ran out of time. GB President Yolanda Salcido would not allow me to continue. I ad-libbed for a bit, but I don't remember exactly what I said. What appears below is the remainder of the speech I had written. Please note that the important information the Board needs to know--the SCEA wants to to sit down and negotiate these issues as soon as possible because accreditation is at stake--was not heard by the Governing Board.]

Here’s where things get complicated and uncomfortable: Last week, the District posted an internal job offering for the SLO Coordinator, listing the job description and compensation for this position. However, neither of these has been bargained, much less agreed to, by the SCEA. Because we have filed a “Demand to Bargain” these issues, the District’s decision to move ahead without negotiating constitutes an Unfair Labor Practice. Of course, we will file a ULP complaint with the State, but this action also appears to violate the Board’s direction to negotiate all non-
contractual reassigned time positions. It is also entirely self-contradictory: The District says it does not intend to bargain these positions on a “piecemeal” basis, but by separating the SLO Coordinator position from the others, it is doing exactly that.

I need to be absolutely clear here. The SCEA is ready, willing, and able to sit down with the District’s negotiating team to discuss the SLO Coordinator position. We can begin tomorrow. But the SCEA must also insist that we discuss reassigned time for the advisor to the Sun at the same time.

In the language of interest-based bargaining, the SCEA and the District share a strong common interest in maintaining our accreditation by moving forward with the SLO Coordinator position. However, the SCEA also has a strong interest—one we share with students and our entire community as well—in a free press, students’ First and Fourth Amendment rights, and the independence of our college newspaper advisor. Apparently, the District does not share this interest. Apparently, the District is willing to do anything—even risking our accreditation—to eliminate reassigned time for the advisor to the Sun.

Let me be even clearer: The SCEA cannot and will not sacrifice one of these sets of interests to preserve the other. This is a battlefield we are willing to die on. But it is a battlefield the District has created.
This is it. If you care about the future of education in the South Bay, now is the time to act. Later will be too late. . . .

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. --Martin Luther King, Jr.