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 (As of Yet) Unpublished Letter to the Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune: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


  1. This is just unbelievable! Who could imagine that a college newspaper would be shut down? Ever? But especially in this century, at this time when so many of ou college students are risking lives for the principles of freedom the SWC Sun represents! Free speech, explorative research, independent thought, critical thinking, and thoughtful examination of many view points are some of the rights I hold most dear. How about you?

  2. Prop R is the key to all of this.

    We have been trying to find reason behind the Board's nonsensical decision making for years now. We didn't see what is now obvious, the motivation for this mess...

    Greed. and avarice.

    Prop R is manna from heaven, a bushel-full of taxpayer cash dropped into the laps of the Board. Its now just a matter of finding out how they've decided to divvy it up among themselves and their cronies.

    Heck...their cronies MADE IT APPEAR, like magic! ("YES! on Prop R"). Sounded good! Sounded GREAT for the college!! I voted for it! Now, I see that it is the fuel for this engine of madness. It is the motivation for ALL the Board's bullshit! They are publicly-elected TRUSTEES! But they obviously don't give a tinker's damn about SWC!

    They may have gotten away with it if they had only played nicely with others (e.g. the REST of the SWC community!) But no...they've played it stupidly. And now they're going be exposed. As thieves of public funds, hopefully! There's GOT to be some criminal charges for one or more of them in this whole shit-storm somewhere!

    They may continue to get away with it, if they aren't voted out in November.

  3. Heads up everyone. There is a special governing board meeting tonight at 5:30 p.m. in room 214. It is a workshop to be conducted by Dr. Barbara Beno, President of the Commission that accredits community colleges in this region. Look at the agenda and the enclosure, because the enclosure outlines what is expected for colleges to meet each of the Accreditation Standards. It seems a little late, almost at the 11th hour, for this workshop, but perhaps better later than never.
    The more people who hear the information, the better.
    Because it is a scheduled meeting of the board, the Brown Act requires that there be an opportunity for public comment. That is scheduled at the beginning of the meeting.