Thursday, June 17, 2010

Muzzle, Muzzle, Who's Got the Muzzle?

Turns out it's Chris Bender, in charge of SWC Community and Media Relations.

The following is adapted from the “When Will They Ever Learn?” file, SCEA (SWC faculty union) Newsletter:

As we previously reported, Southwestern College’s administration has won a national award from a prestigious institution, The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. Due to the Chopra administration’s reaction to a peaceful student protest which resulted in the suspension of four faculty members, it was awarded the Jefferson Muzzle. The Jefferson Center created this annual award to call “attention to those who in the past year forgot or disregarded Mr. Jefferson’s admonition that freedom of speech ‘cannot be limited without being lost.’” (

This award is the latest result of the Chopra administration’s egregious behavior in regards to students and faculty speaking out against wrong-headed decisions and mismanagement, and just as the faculty suspensions before it, this award made national news (see our earlier post for a list of the outlets and articles). Naturally, it was also covered by our own Southwestern Sun, a paper whose work has won awards of the honorable sort, in their April 13-26, 2010 edition. (See "College Administration Named One of Nation's Worst First Amendment Violators")

Chris Bender, PR man for Chopra and the Board, took issue with the article in the Sun, and felt it was appropriate to respond by emailing the student who wrote the article to complain that the administration’s point of view wasn’t presented to their liking. Here are his issues as quoted from the email he sent to the student:

  1. When we talked, you indicated this would be a small item. Conversely, it’s the lead item in the paper. If you were changing the story in any way, I believe I should have been informed so I could have decided if the college’s response was appropriate.
  2. The college’s response (my quote) is literally the last item in the story, whereas the story is front-loaded with quotes from other people. To me, that is not balanced. We deserve the opportunity to respond and respond early, especially if the story is about a member of the administration. They way this story is set up, no one would even know our view if they didn’t make the jump (and the jump isn’t even on the correct page).
  3. You cite VP Alioto when VP Alioto is not even mentioned in the public documents released by the Jefferson foundation: Such a citation is misleading. The last line of the public release clearly states: “Southwestern College’s administration clearly merits a 2010 Jefferson Muzzle.”
I’d like a quick response on all of these points.
(Chris Bender, Friday, April 30, 2010 10:31 AM)

Now we could go point by point, and in fact, Sun advisor Max Branscomb, also a winner of honorable awards and the man who should have received the email, did just that, but the email speaks for itself. Even after receiving their Muzzle and being named “one of the nation’s worst First Amendment violators” as the headline from the Sun declares, the Chopra administration continues to attack the First Amendment by attempting to intimidate a student journalist.

It should also be pointed out that in the article in question, Bender refers to the suspension of the four faculty members and the Muzzle award as an “issue” of “public safety.” He goes on to say that “the Jefferson Center has confused protecting free speech with protecting people.” This is a curious assertion for anyone who was actually there at the time of the event, as Bender wasn’t, and even more curious in light of the fact that the Chopra administration has failed to devise an emergency notification system for the campus as required by the Clery Act, federal legislation designed to ensure colleges take steps to protect their people.

Section 68.46(g) of Clery states that SWC must establish, “Procedures to immediately notify the campus community upon the confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat occurring on campus.” To date, the college hasn’t developed such procedures and shows no signs of doing so.

The Chopra administration is willing to harass students and faculty in the name of public safety, but comply with the law? Not so much.

But wait, isn’t there a Freedom of Expression committee working to right all of these wrongs? Sure, and the ACLU has responded to the committee’s proposed policy and procedures with a six-page letter dated May 7, 2010 outlining the Constitutional issues with the new policy that’s being brought to the Board for a first reading at their June meeting. The ACLU’s objections include the fact that the new procedure “unconstitutionally authorizes censorship based on the content of speech,” and that the “Permit provision presents Constitutional problems.”

Furthermore, FIRE has been excluded from the revision process entirely, as noted in a May 12, 2010 letter from the organization: “While FIRE was initially invited to offer input into the drafting process, we were subsequently denied the opportunity to do so.” The letter concludes with the following:

A fundamental condition of teaching and learning in any accredited public institution of higher learning in the United States is that the institution respects basic First Amendment freedoms. For many months now, SWC has proven it does not do so. Not only does SWC maintain an unconstitutional policy, but it has failed to produce a replacement policy that passes constitutional muster.

The SCEA finds it appalling that the Chopra administration, with the blessing of the Board, continues to operate in this manner. Its initial actions resulted in national condemnation, but instead of being humbled and attempting to ameliorate the situation, they continue down the same path. Chris Bender spams our email day in and day out with missives that laud this administration and Board at the same time they try to smother the First Amendment rights of any who would disagree with their wrongheaded decisions through intimidation and arrogant disregard. They hide behind claims of “public safety” while flaunting federal law. They continue to bring shame and dishonor to our college, and they show no signs of stopping.


  1. It's bad enough Chopra makes me want to vomit, now I'll end Bender to the list.

    THANK YOU for keeping us up to date.

  2. His first point is by far the funniest -- "I assumed this would be buried so I didn't give it my full attention!" Since when is it the writer's job to tell the subject what the nature of the exposure could be. Don't blame others for your apathy.

  3. very well written, THANK YOU for lending an eloquent voice to an issue that is being silenced at swc